Despite its title, there’s little sexy about Liz Canner’s long-in-the-making documentary about Big Pharma’s rabid pursuit of a drug designed to cure all female sexual ills. Although scattershot in its approach and relying a bit too heavily on cutesy animation, Orgasm Inc. is an eye-opening exposé that, unlike the dubious drugs that figure in its proceedings, should have a long shelf life after its theatrical run.
The filmmaker was first exposed to the subject when she was hired to edit erotic videos used in drug trials by a pharmaceutical company hoping to create the female-oriented equivalent of that medicinal cash cow, Viagra.
Since the FDA thankfully requires that new drugs must treat, um, actual diseases, the pharmaceutical companies, in all their wisdom, created one: Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD), a catch-all designation essentially covering any numbers of ills, both physical and psychological.
Featuring interviews with subjects ranging from pharmaceutical company executives to doctors in cahoots with them to a physician who has invented a spinal implant device dubbed — shades of that visionary Woody Allen in Sleeper, the “Orgasmatron,” Canner lays out a devastating case for the profit motive that drives the supposedly altruistic attempts to help women achieve the big O.
There are numerous detours along the way, including an examination of such dubious medical practices as “vaginal rejuvenation” surgery, which is essentially likened here to the sort of genital mutilation practiced in many third world countries.
Also showcased are such figures as the proprietress of an antique vibrator emporium who proudly shows off her wares and a middle-aged woman who all too belatedly learned that clitoral stimulation was key to reaching climax.
The film reaches a suspenseful conclusion with its account of Procter & Gamble’s beating other companies to the finishing line with their testosterone patch, dubbed Intrinsa, and its battle for FDA approval.
Anyone who’s seen drug commercials on television, with their ubiquitous and endless list of potentially devastating side effects, will certainly appreciate the many doses of dark humor leavened throughout this unfortunately all too relevant doc.
Opens: Friday, Feb. 11 (First Run Features)
Director/producer/director of photography: Liz Canner
Executive producers: Julie Parker Benello, Wendy Ettinger, Judith Helfand, Marc Weiss
Editors: Sandra Christie, Jeremiah Zagar, Liz Canner
Music: Stephanie Olmanni, Alex Barnett, Don Glasgo
Not rated, 80 minutes