Word Is Out
You can't know where you're going until you know where you've been. This is never more true than in how we think about Civil Rights issues. A documentary recently restored and released onto DVD through a joint effort of Outfest and UCLA's Film & Television Archive, Word Is Out, is an enormously moving survey of the lives of ordinary Americans who happen to be gay or lesbian. It was made in 1977 and it features a variety of people from many different walks of life. It manages to be riveting for most of its running time and this is especially noteworthy considering it features nothing more than people talking about growing up gay and how their sexual identity has enriched their lives and simultaneously made their lives more difficult. This is fairly benign stuff, the kind of thing you might hear on This American Life week after week, but its cultural and historical importance as a record of gay life in America in the post-Stonewall/pre-AIDS era is priceless.
In 1977, the gay rights movement was just getting under way in the U.S. before AIDS would ravage the community a few years later. The interviews with gay and lesbians in Word Is Out don't feature any talk of AIDS because it hadn't devastated the community yet, but it was hard not to wonder whether anyone interviewed in the film had their lives destroyed by the disease in the years since the interviews took place. Still the interviewees had plenty to contend with. Some of them were sent to mental institutions by their families when they came out to them. One woman was discharged dishonorably from the army. One woman lost custody of her kids when she left her husband for a woman. And yet, through these interviews, one gets the impression that these regular folks have an incredible sense of perspective and peace of mind that they earned the hard way. Their friendliness, optimism, and bravery shine through in these interviews and it's hard not to wonder whether gay equality would have been on the radar sooner if a plague wasn't about to derail the movement.Continue Reading
Ma Vie en Rose (My Life in Pink)
Ludovic is not a boy. God had a great big book and under the name Ludovic Fabre, "girl" was written next to it. God sent down Ludo’s other X chromosome, but it just got lost somehow…at least that’s what Ludo thinks. Ma Vie en Rose is the sweet and accurate tale of a family torn apart by the fact that one of their number will do anything to convince himself and his community that he was always meant to be a girl.
Hanna and Pierre Fabre (Michèle Laroque and Jean-Philippe Écoffey) move into a wonderful suburb and are now next-door neighbors with Pierre’s boss, Albert. They have a daughter and three sons, the youngest of them all being Ludovic (Georges Du Fresne). For years, Ludo has been convinced that he is a girl and waits patiently for his transformation, and comically, his first menstrual cycle. His family tries delicately to dissuade him from that belief but, in failing, they hope that he will simply grow out of it. For show-and-tell at school, he brings dolls and successfully confuses or convinces the children there that he is, or will become, a girl. During play, he dresses in only the prettiest princess dresses with lipstick and jewelry or dances in a wedding gown, hoping that when he comes of age he can marry his neighbor’s son. The only problem is that their neighbor's son is the child of his father’s boss—a sheepish and traditional family man who forbids his son to play with Ludo.Continue Reading
Not counting the fairly recent 300, the '60s produced my favorite gay films: Basil Dearden’s Victim, Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George, and particularly Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter's The Servant. The three form a trilogy to my mind: all are British; like the kitchen sink realism of the period, they foreground class in their sexual politics; both The Victim and The Servant feature Dirk Bogarde, the finest of cerebral actors, making you feel every thought his characters have; Losey trained and will always be closely aligned with Robert Aldrich. Although Aldrich was more of a bare-knuckles kind of director, his film shares with the more intellectual Losey an approach to sexual identity and politics that I prefer: as a just-so given, full of suggestion, and with a good deal of nuance.
Compare the matter-of-fact presentation of lesbianism in Sister George -- where the indignities heaped upon its protagonist, June 'George' Buckridge, are more common, a fact of modern existence -- to the more literal minded identity politics of Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia. In the latter case, oppression becomes a matter of sexual identity, whereas in the former, said identity is just another method those in power might use as a means for subjugation. Not that there's anything wrong with the more particularized morality of Philadelphia in principle (Victim is, in fact, a much better example), but unless one already sympathizes with its gay protagonist, the story remains one about the Other. Aldrich’s film requires no such identification, but is instead a reflection of power itself, irrespective of the particularities of sexual orientation or gender.Continue Reading
Chris & Don: a love story
The first thing that I loved about Chris & Don: a love story was the DVD sleeve—a black and white photo of two men, the titular love birds, with a clean white backdrop and the title spelled out in red, yellow, and blue lettering in a font that could be described as optimistic looking. It has the effervescent simplicity of a Hockney painting. Even the fact that “a love story” is left lowercase gives clues to the sweet and simple nature of the love story at hand. The film profiles two celebrated men, novelist Christopher Isherwood and artist Don Bachardi, and their relationship together as lovers that constituted as much a marriage as anyone’s. During a time when the idea of a homosexual was someone who was tragic, dysfunctional, and, above all, essentially alone, they lived openly and unapologetically together. And as filmmaker John Boorman points out, they were the only Hollywood couple he knew who actually stayed together.
Theirs is a California story, two men who met on a Santa Monica beach in the 1950s when Don was a teenager from Glendale and Chris was a novelist with a flourishing career. People, even some of their friends, were scandalized by the age difference. Chris was a man of the world. Born in 1904, he had a privileged upbringing in England and was educated at Cambridge before eventually absconding to Berlin to shake off his family’s stifling expectations and to experience the sexual freedoms famously associated with Germany under the Weimar Republic. He later distilled his experiences into a short story collection that became the inspiration for the play and later film Cabaret. Don was a boy who loved movies and movie stars and was in the early days of his first sexual experiences when he met Chris. They couldn’t have been more different, but they were drawn to each other almost immediately.Continue Reading
Dustin Lance Black won the Academy Award for his screenplay, which is tense with information, but never loses sight of its human content. The story has a dynamic structure and has many scenes that pack an emotional punch.Continue Reading
When it was announced that Exorcist director William Friedkin and Serpico star Al Pacino were teaming up to make a gritty, New York police thriller in 1980, nothing grabbed the attention of cinema-goers more than the idea of Cruising--especially America's gay community at the time. Immediately considered grotesque and too dark for middle America, and exploitative, and wholly offensive to everyone else with its seeming portrayal of gay men as nothing more than leather chap-wearing, bushy mustache-sporting, sadomasochistic party animals, Cruising was quickly buried in the studio vault shortly after its quick life-span in theaters. But today the film can finally be viewed and appreciated for what it is: an over-the-top, campy, cult classic with a surprisingly engaging story, and an ambiguous twist ending that will linger with you for hours afterwards.
Al Pacino stars as Detective Steve Burns, who receives an assignment to go undercover after a serial killer starts preying on New York City's gay, S&M community. Dawning tight leathers and various colored handkerchiefs in his back pocket, Burns takes to the streets and investigates the underground clubs of Manhattan's Meatpacking District (really--no pun intended). As the detective comes closer to finding his target, he starts questioning his own sexuality and violent urges--making him a loose cannon with the police department, and an enigma amongst the sub-culture that occupies his new daily life.Continue Reading
Small Town Gay Bar
Small Town Gay Bar is a sometimes sad, sometimes uplifting account of the collective efforts of a few every day small town Americans in red state U.S.A. to create a sense of community for GLBT people where they live. What ultimately resonates from this documentary is that there is something deeply heroic about their efforts to create a safe place for people to live openly where it’s needed most even if it’s just for a few precious hours before last call....Continue Reading
Un Chant d'Amour
French writer Jean Genet made his only film, Un Chant d'Amour (A Song of Love), in 1950, but because of its explicit and homosexual content, it was banned and later disowned by Genet. Now, we are fortunate to witness its release and wide distribution. Jean Genet, like Kenneth Anger, used classic cinema's formalities to tell the story – and within that we are like the prison-guard character in this film – voyeuristically deemed the romantic and erotic desires of men who, in their absolute loneliness, can only dream of each other. The walls retain their physical isolation, but somehow their fantasies materialize through masturbatory sexual acts and sharing cigarette smoke through the tiny holes in the wall.
The characters, repressed and alone, interact in the most poetic and arresting ways. Most interesting to watch is the prison guard's journey, whose turn of motives are surprising yet beautiful. The images are shot in the classic black-and-white fashion, and the silent factor contributes to the driving visual style. To both the experimental film viewer and the classic cinema audience –here's a film that we are privileged to watch – earnest, original, and authentic in its very own right.Continue Reading
In Germany in the 1970s, a group of young leftists calling themselves the Rote Armee Fraktion (more commonly known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang) coalesced around their shared opposition to the perceived conservative bias of Germany's post-war government (which included former Nazis) and the right wing media exemplified by Axel Springer's media which opposed the student opposition movement and their goals of fighting racism, sexism, police brutality and imperialism. The RAF trained in Jordan alongside the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and then used their newly acquired techniques to wage violent actions against the German police, U.S. military bases, and the Springer Press before most key members were killed or committed suicide (depending on who you believe).
Raspberry Reich portrays a group of modern leftists, inspired largely by the RAF (as well as the Weather Underground and the Symbionese Liberation Army) to adopt their radical views. Their leader is a strong-willed woman named Gudrun. To prove their dedication to subverting the patriarchy, she teaches that "heterosexuality is the opiate of the masses" and forces her followers to engage in sex with one another. Gudrun speaks/barks in gayified leftist slogans including commands like "Put your Marxism where your mouth is" and "The revolution is my boyfriend" (the latter of which she tells her former boyfriend when he resists her demands to have sex with another gang member).Continue Reading