Alien Sex Cult?

This bizarre documentary has full frontal, butts, and chaotic bisexuality

One night, back in the days before Netflix had original content and would put anything and everything on streaming, I stumbled upon a truly bizarre artifact while searching for something to watch. This was years before the major true crime wave that would give us excellent docuseries like The Vow and Wild Wild Country, and those of us in search of such fare had to do our best with what was out there. And what was out there, on this occasion, was the 2007 documentary The Workshop.

I rarely head into movies blind—especially documentaries—but something told me that this particular film required no introduction. I was correct: nothing could have prepared me for the deeply strange experience that was The Workshop. By the time the film had finished, I had seen enough butts, boobs, bush, and balls for a lifetime.

Among its many other unique achievements, Jamie Morgan’s 2007 documentary might be the only cult doc on record where the filmmaker ends up joining the cult in the end. Perhaps it’s not quite fair to call it a cult: the thrust of Morgan’s film is that he, a British filmmaker approaching midlife after a career of false starts and brushes with fame (Morgan was a child actor and also a one-hit wonder whose single was featured on Top of the Pops in 90s), is in search of the truth. Specifically the truth about himself, which he feels he’s been hiding from. It’s an admirable instinct, but it leads Morgan to a 10-day workshop in California with a man named Paul Lowe. Lowe is your typical white guru—he’s managed to appropriate bits and pieces from Eastern spirituality practices and add his own brand of Russell Brand-esque college freshman talking points to create what some in the workshop happily term an “alien sex cult.”

Lowe’s ideas are absurdly predictable. For a start, he has everyone take their clothes off as an introduction, so they can stop “hiding” behind their swag and get in touch with who they really are. At least, that’s what Lowe claims the nudity is all about: in reality, it’s mainly an excuse to get everyone loose and in the mood for the nonstop orgy that the workshop quickly devolves into. Lowe is also not a fan of monogamy: he goes so far as to claim that monogamy is not natural to us as humans. And while this thinking is supposed to generate an atmosphere of pure, unashamed, uncritical sexuality, it comes as absolutely no surprise to the viewer when it turns out that all the straight men—many of whom are physically repulsive—gravitate toward the three or four young, perfect-bodied women who have just been told that they need to break up with their boyfriends and become “open” to the idea of sex with men in the workshop because monogamy is bad.

Into this environment enters Jamie, who is all too willing to buy into Lowe’s bullsh*t. That’s the thing that sets The Workshop apart: it’s not a scary cult story like we’re used to seeing. Instead, the manipulation of these lost, searching people just feels sad. It reminds you of how desperate and delusional we all can be when we’re in pain. And it shows in the attendees: of the 50 or so people we see attending the retreat, there is only one person of color in the bunch. He is the first to strip down, and when he does, Lowe accuses him of being too “actorly.”

Basically it’s the worst kind of new age bs, and anyone who’s been given the hard sell at a crystal store will be able to recognize it. But there’s one thing The Workshop gets right: it’s chaotically bisexual, and nobody seems to care that much about the fact that back in 2007 you couldn’t even see bisexuality on TV, much less in the wild. It’s weirdly refreshing to see that, when people are told to take their clothes off and get it on, bisexuality and queerness will make themselves known. Is it terrifying to see a group of women basically doing the crying scene from Midsommar? Yes. But do you get the sense that some of these people are being given permission to be bisexual for the first time in their lives? Also yes.

By the end of the 10 days, Jamie has completely bought into Paul Lowe’s cult of personality. The mention of belief in aliens on the part of some members doesn’t phase him: he’s come to find out who he is, and he’s found out. He’s a guy who goes to a 10-day workshop, finds out it’s sort of a sex cult, and spends the rest of his footage zeroing in on cocks, nipples, and butts. So basically, he’s all of us. He’s the classic everyman.

I’m not saying this movie is good by any stretch of the imagination, but if you have a Kanopy account, you might want to take a walk on the wild side and give it a try. It’s not every day you see a documentary so radically, comically uninhibited as The Workshop.

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