Tag Archives: Gay/Queer

LIST CANDIDATE: MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: River Phoenix, , William Richert

PLOT: A young, narcoleptic gay prostitute searches for his mother, with the help of a slumming fellow hustler who is heir to a fortune.

Still from My Own Private Idaho (1991)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: My Own Private Idaho weaves two weird premises together: the story of a narcoleptic searching for his mother and a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Part I.” The movie then adds surreal touches and sets it all inside the world of gay street hustlers.

COMMENTS: Sometimes the line between a “glorious mess” and a plain old-fashioned mess can be very thin, and very personal, indeed. I couldn’t really argue with anyone who sees Idaho as an eccentric gem, but the film has always seemed more like a failed experiment to me. A “Henry IV” adaptation set in the world of street hustlers might have made a good movie (although Idaho suggests that a different approach, with less actual Shakespearean dialogue and no Keanu Reeves, may have been required). Similarly, a bittersweet indie about a narcoleptic hustler searching for his lost mom might have made a good movie. But when slapped together, the two storylines don’t really work; Idaho feels like an interesting story that keeps getting interrupted by a high school class’ Shakespeare rehearsal.

River Phoenix, only two years away from his fatal overdose, is beautifully cast as the fragile prostitute who falls into a spontaneous slumber when stressed (and the life of a street hustler does tend to arouse the occasional stressful situation). He’s dreamy, in both the literal and figurative senses of the word. Keanu Reeves, on the other hand, isn’t very good—but in this case, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At this point in his career, the world did not yet know that Reeves was a bad actor, and the same pseudo-sophisticated mannerisms that would earn him well-deserved jeers for his portrayal of Jonathan Harker in Dracula play here as a campy stylistic choice. Since his lean torso and boyish sensuality suit the character physically, his weak-jawed, ersatz Prince Hal somehow fits into the entire subplot’s unreal design. It’s a case of a director turning an actor’s weakness into the film’s strength. William Richert is fine as Bob, the Falstaff substitute. Regular readers will want to keep their eyes open for weirdo favorites (in a rare seductive role) and (in a more substantial and stranger part).

Mild surrealist touches (the hustlers carrying on a conversation from the covers of male jerk mags) jostle with gritty street realities and scenes lifted almost wholesale from “Henry” to form a concoction that is occasionally interesting and touching, but which also feels cobbled together and frustratingly inconclusive. Idaho does, however, unquestionably tilt toward the weird end of the spectrum. The Criterion Collection upgraded this catalog title to Blu-ray in October, 2015.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…cracked and beautiful… a strange duck of a film, beyond comparison: street-boy angst intermingled with Shakespearean conceit.“–Stephen Hunter, Baltimore Sun (contemporaneous)

214. DER SAMURAI (2014)

“…there seems to be some sort of secret anarchic urge within me to see the monsters set loose and rampantly reclaim what’s theirs, to witness them bringing back some wonder and excitement into a world so controlled by order and reason that it at times threatens to suffocate all sense of joy and opportunity.”–Till Kleinert

DIRECTED BY: Till Kleinert

FEATURING: Michel Diercks

PLOT: Young policeman Jakob deals with a wolf menacing his rural east German village by placing bags of butcher scraps in the woods, hoping to lure the predator away from inhabited areas. One night he receives a mysterious package which he is instructed to deliver to an abandoned house; inside the home is a man in a dress who unwraps the package to reveal a samurai’s katana. The transvestite then runs into the night, where he embarks on a campaign of murder and mayhem to which Jakob must put an end.

Still from Der Samurai (2014)

BACKGROUND:

  • Der Samurai is Till Kleinert’s directorial debut, and his graduation project for the German Film and Television Academy.
  • The film was denied a government funding grant because it was deemed “incompatible with the taste guidelines of German public television.” Much of the budget was instead raised through a crowdfunding campaign.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: When your movie stars a blond-haired samurai in a floor length backless white party dress, you have a good idea what the indelible image is going to be.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Transvestite samurai; flamingo punch; explosive decapitation

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Exploring the weirdness in queerness, Der Samurai is a primal confrontation with the Other, embodied in the person of a wolf man come to life as a dress-wearing, sword-wielding maniac who taunts a repressed country policeman into a confrontation with his own desires.


Original trailer for Der Samurai

COMMENTS: Jakob’s long duel with a mysterious cross-dressing Continue reading 214. DER SAMURAI (2014)

BEAUTIFUL FILMS: JOHN HUSTON’S REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE (1967)

In hindsight, Reflections In A Golden Eye (1967) might mark a type of penance for director John Huston. It certainly represents a shift in his cinematic oeuvre. Huston, of legendary macho fame, had cemented his reputation with virile opuses: Treasure of the Sierre Madre (1948), The Red Badge of Courage (1951), African Queen (1951), Moby Dick (1956), Roots of Heaven (1958), and The Bible (1966). Yet, Huston also was occasionally drawn to sensitive or eccentric material. Both The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Beat the Devil (1953) became cult hits. Huston went from working with  in Barbarian and the Geisha ( 1958) to Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clift in The Misfits (1961).

Having worked well with Clift in The Misfits, Huston cast the actor in the title role of his dream project: Freud (1962). Unfortunately, that production  was plagued by a pedestrian script and the tension that resulted when Huston walked in on Clift bedding a male reporter. It proved the wrong film for Huston to vent his homophobia.

Huston aggressively acted out his homosexual repulsion on Clift throughout the production, and the hypersensitive actor responded with a professional and nervous breakdown. A post-production lawsuit rendered Clift uninsurable for four years.

Clift’s friend and one-time co-star Elizabeth Taylor came to his rescue again (she had literally saved his life in a car accident during the making of 1957’s Raintree County), ensuring him for the part of Major Weldon Penderton in Reflections in a Golden Eye. Tragically, the insurance company and Huston demanded Clift do another film first to prove his capability. The result was the wretched The Defector (1966). Clift, already in extremely fragile state, would not accept a stunt double and put himself through rigorous physical demands, which literally contributed to his death shortly after filming.

On the surface, the self-loathing latent homosexual Maj. Weldon would seem to have been ideally suited for Clift. However, both Freud and The Defector reveal a glassy-eyed actor literally on the verge of self-implosion.

In the wake of Clift’s premature death, Huston cast the actor’s one-time rival method actor, , in the deceased’s intended role. Brando, who has rightly been called one of the greatest actors in cinema, delivers a very strong performance, as does Taylor and Brian Keith.

Reflections In A Golden Eye is based on Carson McCullers’ popular 1941 novel and familiarity with the literary source undoubtedly makes the film more accessible.

Still from Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)Huston’s direction of Reflections is Flannery O’Connor-like: impressionistic language combined with objective, clear-eyed view of darker themes and people within an exquisitely austere Continue reading BEAUTIFUL FILMS: JOHN HUSTON’S REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE (1967)

366 UNDERGROUND: THE GAYS (2014)

DIRECTED BY: T. S. Slaughter

FEATURING: Chris Tanner, Frank Holliday, Mike Russnak, Flip Jorgensen, Matthew Benjamin

PLOT: The wacky adventures of the Gay Family, matriarch Bob Gay-Paris and patriarch Rod Gay, who raise their gay sons, Alex and Tommy, and teach them valuable lessons in empowerment.

Still from The Gays (2104)

COMMENTS: The Gays is T.S. (Skull and Bones) Slaughter’s twisted take on the family sitcom, where everyone learns a lesson along the way. It also spoofs the Conservative Nightmare about The Gay Agenda: what would happen if gay parents educated their offspring about being gay?

It’s intentionally over the top, in ‘ style, so conventional viewers should find a couple of things to be scandalized by.  Aided by the performances of the two leads, Chris Tanner and Frank Holliday, most of the intended audience for the film should find it empowering and hilarious, and in that aspect, there’s much to recommend.

Objectively, some might find most of the humor a bit one-note to sustain a feature, and some of the other performances aren’t up to the level of Tanner and Holliday, but I think that most of the people who’ll like this film will be more than willing to overlook the lack of Hollywood polish.

The Gays is now available on DVD and streaming video; visit The Gays official site for ordering information.

Still from The Gays (2014)

 

JAMES WHALE’S THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) ON BLU-RAY

“With a few exceptions, The Bride of Frankenstein represented the last gasp of the horror film as a serious genre,” claimed Andrew Sarris. The late critic had a point. By now, Whale’s blackened horror comedy sequel to Frankenstein (1931) has become so legendary, it is almost too easy to forget how much Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is a standalone film, possessing a texture unlike anything before or since. Genre classifications be damned.

Director  had vehemently and repeatedly refused Universal Studio’s pleas for a sequel to his runaway 1931 hit, but when they promised him carte blanche, his enthusiasm was inspired.  Whale set to work on a high camp satire, playing havoc with Western family values. Our contemporary idea of a Gothic celluloid baseball bat taken to the bourgeoisie might be Barry Sonnenfeld’s Addams Family Values (1993). Compared to Whale’s authentic island of misfits, the creepy, kooky klan are comparatively status quo.

It may be tempting to dismiss the endless essays addressing the film’s homosexual themes as wishful revisionist hindsight, but the head-in-sand  types are as clueless as yesterday’s batch of “Liberace is gay?”naysaying muggles. Yes, James Whale was gay; shockingly, openly gay for the 1930s. The queered eye of Bride‘s hurricane blows in the form of Ernest Thesiger’s Dr. Pretorius, extending his role of Horace Femm from Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932). Accompanied by his horticultural box of little people, Pretorius endorses necrophilia, snubs his beautifully bitchy nose at homophobic mores, and constructs a deco bride for a simpleton bisexual monster, gesticulating with all the subtlety of a high-dive belly buster.

Still from Bride of Frankenstein (1935)Although Thesiger practically walks away with thespian honors, Boris Karloff excels in his greatest performance. Karloff initially objected to the monster’s dialogue, which is understandable in light of his mastery of silent pantomime that rivaled both Chaplin and Chaney. However, Continue reading JAMES WHALE’S THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) ON BLU-RAY

I AM DIVINE (2013)

DIRECTED BY: Jeffrey Schwarz

FEATURING: (archival footage), , Frances Milstead

PLOT: This documentary chronicles the life of Glenn Milstead, from a chunky effeminate nerd who got beat up at school to the iconic, outrageous and obscene 300 pound drag queen Divine, the main attraction in John Waters’ transgressive early comedies.

Still from I Am Divine
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: As a straightforward documentary on a strange guy who just happened to star in some pretty weird movies, it’s purely supplemental material.

COMMENTS: One of the biggest questions raised by I Am Divine is, do you refer to Divine as “he” or “she”? John Waters, the foremost living authority on the subject, always refers to Divine as “he,” probably because when he thinks of Divine he thinks of Glenn Milstead. Other interviewees are inconsistent, swerving between gender pronouns. Divine, the foul-mouthed three-hundred pound harridan in clown makeup, is clearly a she, while the performer who portrays the character is clearly a he. There isn’t much conflict in this haigiographic documentary that means to celebrate Divine’s life and legacy, but to the extent that there is, one of the two key tensions is the one between she and he, between Divine and Glen. Divine swallowed Glen, and he was unable to escape her mighty maw and forge the independent career as a male character actor that he desired. (The other important conflict, which occurs more on the surface level, is between Glen and his parents, who initially reject him as a freak, then touchingly reconcile late in life).

I Am Divine does a fine job of shrinking this giant career down to a ninety minute snapshot. It’s thorough (even fitting in Divine’s brief stint as a disco diva) while remaining fast-paced and succinct. The John Waters years are covered in detail, and some may appreciate the clips of rarely seen pre-Pink Flamingos films like 1968’s Eat Your Makeup (with Divine as Jackie in an incredibly tasteless recreation of the Kennedy assassination). Although little is revealed here that will shock Divine’s hardcore followers, there are a few surprise tidbits for casual fans: salacious stories suggesting that Milstead’s appetites for sex and pot may have rivaled his love of doughnuts, and scenes from his live show that demonstrate his talent for Don Rickles-styled improvisational insult comicry. Milstead was large enough to have his own gravitational pull (his image even dwarfed a character like John Waters) and some of the movie’s most revealing insights involve Divine’s satellites. Belated credit is given to Van Smith for creating the arch makeup that defined Divine, and the curious will learn the sad answer to the question, “whatever happened to Dreamlander stalwart David Lochary?”

Divine is inspirational to gays for obvious reasons, but the character’s appeal crosses the sexual orientation line. Divine is appealing because she represents the triumph of the misfit, the ugly, the loser. As Waters points out, Divine takes everything that people laughed at Glen Milstead for—his effeminacy, his weight—and “exaggerated it and turned it into a style.” Divine proves that “undesirable” traits can be turned into assets when they’re embraced rather than hidden away, which is a powerful solace to anyone who feels like an outsider forced to pretend to be normal.

I Am Divine was a Kickstarter success story, raising over $50,000 (of a requested $40K) for post-production and licensing costs. Hundreds of names of fans who paid $10 or more for the privilege appear in the seemingly endless credits. Given that the film was made explicitly “BY and FOR” Divine fans, nothing appears here that is too penetrating or negative. The reverential interviews and clips meet, but don’t exceed, your expectations for a documentary about Divine. Still, true priests and priestesses in Divine’s peculiar cult of trash camp will eat this movie up like Divine eats… well, you know.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…shows how the future John Waters muse transformed from an isolated, weird kid into an over-the-top, proudly freakish star… a striking tribute to the pioneering spirit, radical queerness and sheer divinity of Divine.”–Ethan LaCroix, Time Out New York (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: MYSTERIOUS SKIN (2004)

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Brady Corbet, Michelle Trachtenberg, Jeffrey Licon, Elizabeth Shue, Mary-Lynn Rajskub, Bill Sage, Chase Ellison, George Webster

PLOT: Brian, who is missing memories from part of his childhood, believes that he was abducted by aliens; his investigations lead him to Neal, a street hustler who may have had a similar experience.

Still from Mysterious Skin (2004)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This searing and graphic drama about two damaged boys and their opposite approaches to dealing with trauma is Gregg Araki’s masterpiece, his best movie by a wide margin. Ironically, however, it’s also his least weird film, with only a few dreamlike moments thrown in to relieve the harsh reality.

COMMENTS: Alternating stories in the lives of two former Little League teammates, one now a teenage hustler and the other a UFO-abduction fanatic, Mysterious Skin plays something like Midnight Cowboy with a touch of “The X-Files.” The performances of both young leads are astounding, and it’s actually a little unfortunate that Brady Corbet’s turn as nerdy, asexual Brian is overshadowed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s (literally) sexier performance as a prematurely dissipated teenage prostitute. Gordon-Levitt’s role interacting with the various johns, from lonely middle-aged businessmen to touchingly pathetic AIDS sufferers to the inevitable angry sadist, is simply meatier than Corbet’s, who only spars sexually with a frumpy fellow alien-abduction enthusiast. Gordon-Levitt, in his first major part after concluding his run as an alien inhabiting the body of a precocious kid in the sitcom “Third Rock from the Sun,” announces himself here as one of the great upcoming actors of his generation in his dark performance as a cocky boy-stud who isn’t nearly as in control of his life as he believes himself to be. Each kid has a very different character arc, but they have more in common than it seems. The story’s big “secret” will probably become obvious very quickly, but the drama doesn’t come in the mystery of the big reveal. This is more of a dual character study depicting opposite but equally dysfunctional strategies for dealing with the unthinkable. It’s difficult to watch at times, but it’s played with exceptional compassion and insight that steers well away from survivor clichés—the hustler’s story, in particular, reveals a disturbing but credibly sick psychology. Scenes with cornfed Kansas grotesques finding mutilated cattle with their genitals removed make the Midwest look a little Lynchian; but, other than a misty shot of a Fruit Loop shower and hallucinatory glimpses of an actual UFO, Akari makes very few departures from raw reality here. The supporting performances are all excellent, as is the unobtrusive shoegaze score. This is filmmaking at its most humanistic.

Araki wrote the Mysterious Skin screenplay from Scott Heim’s novel. According to a Heim interview included on the Blu-Ray edition, the director consulted the original author on the adaptation, although Heim decided to get out of the way and not meddle unless asked after the contract was signed. Heim was then invited to tour with the cast and crew as they took the film on the festival circuit. The dynamic between the original author and the adapter here appears to be a model working relationship.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The film has a weird buoyancy…”–Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.com

(This movie was nominated for review by “Tori.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)