Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Passport to Hell, anyone?

In an attempt to revitalize my interest in an artier brand of cinema (I'm currently working on a project about white women whose babies are abducted - hence a plethora of Jodie Foster and Julianne Moore movie, Lifetime...), I picked up a couple foreign Queer films that I have been hearing both praise and condemnation of for some time. Figuring it was time to have a say so myself, sat down over the course of two evenings with the Portuguese film, O Fantasma and the post-Punk, Germanic Prinz In Hölleland(Prince in Hell).

Film Comment sings to the high heavens about the films of João Pedro Rodrigues, whose most recent film, Odette (or, if you're the American distributer, Strand, and know you can only market foreign films by catering to the flesh hungry Zombi... errr homosexuals, Two Drifters - replete with image of 2 boys kissing, when the film is in fact about the eponymous girl). O Fantasma was a film I wanted very much to like. Bare bones plot, appreciation of minimal cinematic devices. Yet when the credits flashed upon the screen, the perplexing discernment which makes a film like Claire Denis' L'Intrus so rewarding ultimately cripples O Fantasma

In our hour and a half in the narrative's clutches, we are treated to the slow, psycho-sexual downfall of our protagonist, Sergio. A pervert, through and through with a consistence which could set him aside some of cinemas cherished perverts (Karlhienz Böhm from Peeping Tom comes to mind) were it not for his hustler brooding and flawless beauty. I love snogging just as much as the next, but I yearn for the day in which someone makes a sexually charged gay film in which the protagonist is not such a looker (and no, Big Eden doesn't count - there, his lack of appeal was of greater point than his coincidental joe-ness). Auto-erotic asphyxiation, pissing, licking, sucking, fucking, being fucked, trespassing, biting, fetishizing found skivvies, gloves, garbage ensues but to an obtuse end which involves a less than effective narrative shift which leaves one wanting for the seldom usage of the effective figure in [Safe], whose full body suit shielded him from the outside world, yet also from us, as his presentation was so spare in the movie that his awkward trek about the outskirts of the compound was ghosted upon our retinas. Here, our sexually enclosed figure eats garbage and abuses animals, but to no true great purpose. This is no Jodorowski - whose alternate worlds maintained a grizzly consistency. It is merely odd and uncompelling.

There is, on the other hand, a peculiar sweetness to Michael Stock's Prinz in Holleland(Prince in Hell). Like a slightly less self-absorbed Bruce LaBruce (though still starring and directing) Stock's film functions best as a social document. Like Jarman's Jubilee, the film reminds of a more hopeful moment in time. The nineties were not alien to alienation - not in the slightest - but their brand of disenfranchised was far more active, utopian. Here, we have a caravan of misfits (including a jester who would seem to have just blown in from the Porno adaptation of Rudolf's Island of Misfit Toys) who quarrel about drug use and politics. There's a child about who imbues the film with a wide-eyed optimism echoed in the eyes of our polysexual degenerates. Of course, nothing good can ultimately come of this, but there are some surprisingly endearing moments along the way.

Keep your eyes peeled for Harry Baer, the Fassbinder regular. Though, if you're like me and found him devastatingly sexy in whatever incarnation Rainer through his way, you are bound to have some dreams shattered. His, if I may make a rather abstract analogy, is perhaps a telling appearance - his inclusion in this film, at the wane of an international German cinema is symbolically potent. As the washed-up pervy dealer Ingolf, he can barely muster the energy to slip on more than a bathrobe. This is how the doomed function, and sadly, an international German cinema is still nowhere nearer.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Neil Jordan's Cautionary Tale of Homosexual Adoption

In celebration of Nathaniel R's Vampire Blog-a-thon and in conjunction with the Halloday, though I have not recently partaken in the orgiastic bloodblath of Vampire Cinema, I figured I would republish one of my most comical and thoroughly campy reviews of Interview With The Vampire.

Neil Jordan has to be about the gayest heterosexual filmmaker the world has ever seen. From The Crying Game to Breakfast on Pluto, Jordan's universe is filled with trannies and homos - all refreshingly depicted with an acceptingly frank and appreciative eye. His film, Interview With the Vampire certainly shaped an odd end of my sexual psyche. In a declaration that may alienate some readers, I was but a wee 5th grade burgeoning homosexual when the film was released, and believe you me, seeing Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt not-quite-kiss was a treat to my would-be nubile mind. I bought Interview the other day in a $10 sale bin and watched it last night for the first time as an "adult" (if we can venture so far as to call myself that).

Oh, my god! Tom Cruise, wow... This has got to be one of the more comedic moments in good-old-Hollywood cinema, proper. Since most of my focus rests on a Camp sensibility, I think I can safely say that Tom Cruise had positively no idea what he was doing in that movie. The high camp figure of Lestat is played by the "actor" with such earnest candor that he reaches an entirely different level of camp, one of the unintentional variety. Brad Pitt, meanwhile takes his stab at brooding, Claire Danes style, by pouting his lips as quickly as you can say crucifix. And those pouting lips resemble all-too-frighteningly those of his current babyfarm counterpart. And let's not forget Kirstin Dunst in, what could be her only good job as an actor. At times, you actually believe she is a sixty year old woman/child, and her role in Louis' life is a (surprisingly) satisfyingly complex one. Oddly, hers is the most compelling figure of the film. Certainly not the positively laughable performance phonetically-cue-carded by Antonio Banderas who looks like he's got last year's Lagerfeld Shag boot on his head. He, more than any other actor, gays it up to the max. I suppose it was to allow his character some intrigue, but he arrives too little to late in the narrative to allow any interest other than as a Lestat comparative.

The movie at large is fun, dull atmospheric smut. So in a sense, it succeeded in replicating Anne Rice's pulp novel. Jordan's direction is clunky and quite odd, but not necessarily in a bad way. His women more frequently than not resemble Dill from The Crying Game (including Thandie Newton in a non-bodily fluid excreting role). And the apparent homosexuality of the Vampires is pretty unoriginal. Many people have written about the parallel between the two -It's in his kiss!:Vampirism as Homosexuality, Homosexuality as Vampirism from The Culture of Queers by Richard Dyer, for instance. Though, in keeping with Jordan's ouvre, they are presented in a much more respectful way than, say, the Count's son, Herbert from Fearless Vampire Killers or Pardon Me But Your Teeth Are In My Neck. Instead, you have a converse universe where there is nothing apparently wrong with the sexual bond between two male Vampires, perhaps because they are apparently evil to begin with, but the movie never becomes that black and white, thankfully. Instead, the characters are far more significant when united, than isolated. Louis is the heterosexual here, but still, the object of his desires is a 10 year old girl (perpetually, true... but still)which certainly connotes a certain air of perversity. The aesthetic of the film is still very beautiful when it's not explicitly spelling STUDIO SHOOT. Even the outdated graphic effects read more graphically juicy than these alternate universes created in post-production CGI studios of today. File this one under guilty pleasures with very few actual redeeming qualities. But, come on... we're talking about a Tom Cruise vehicle here folks. To quote Lauren Becall, "When you talk about a great actor, you're not talking about Tom Cruise."

Friday, October 27, 2006

Folk Fight

So I have a rather embarrassingly invested history with the American adaptation of Britain's completely disarming original series Queer As Folk - which, on a very basic level does not translate well, moniker to start. I was in high school when the show first aired (yes, I'm young), and empathized with the insidiously saccharine Justin - if not his approach, then perhaps his plight: his first venture into boys' town yields a one night stand with a gorgeous and experienced (that would be the polite word) man more than a decade his senior; this, of course, becomes mistakenly steeped in meaning. My guilty reception of the show certainly had something to do with the steamy, porno approach the American version mounted. Here I was, a 16 year old queer in a Midwest public school being handed an unlabeled VHS my friend had recorded for the night prior (I've never, nor will I probably ever have premium cable). On this discreet and furtive little cassette was not just very soft-core smut, but emotional porn which would, to a certain (devastating?) extent, inform my underdeveloped understanding of a homosexual community. My nubile heart yearned for these flat character-types . And, I must admit, it is nothing that has dissipated with maturity. I still sat rapt through the dreadful series finale when I apprehended a screener DVD promo of it a couple years back. I'd been always curious of the British series which spawned it, but never actually partook. Until the other day...

Likening the British incarnation to its American counterpart is like seating Grace Jones next to Tyra Banks. No contest. Of course, it's not that simple. Many readers might say, 'Tyra!' Wrong. Tyra is s shallow imitation whose integrity lacks the complexity and purpose of her predecessor. Likewise, I shrieked in delight as I saw the fleshed out characters posing reprehensibly - more thoroughly vile yet more humanly wrought than their American doppelgangers. The latter, like Tyra seemed palatable because better was not within a lazy reach. Short on the glitter, sparkle and porn-pizazz of the American show, the British presents us with a flawed crew of humans who go about daily life. They are naturalistically flawed. Evil, yet mortally faltering. Brian Kinney would never have mewed a quite 'yeah,' when asked if he wanted company. But then, Americans, ever short on the greyscale of human existence, couldn't have their Hero/villain complicated in any overt sort of way. That being said, Stuart Jones (the British Brian Kinney) is far more cruel and plotting than Kinney ever manages - which is why his fall from grace is all the more appealing.

Monday, October 23, 2006


Last night I attended FilmForum's Warhol weekend screening of some assorted screen tests and Harlot, a 66 minute sound film (Warhol's first - it is rather worthy of note). The film stars Jack Smith's superstar Mario Montez, attempting to assure a niche for herself in an underground on the verge of a great transition. Working with Smith in the early 60's - who, in turn, found his initial labors as actor in the works of Ken Jacobs and Ron Rice - Montez's performances were unconditional labors of love. With the arrival of Warhol, the successful fashion illustrator cum pop artist, a sudden economy was given to an otherwise impoverished medium. Harlot is a fantastically poignant exemplar of this divide. Montez, who is accustomed to Smith's jittery and oscillating camera movement, first imbues a figure of performative prowess, yet as the stationary camera glares on, loses more and more confidence.

Warhol regular Gerrard Malanga is seated behind her, arms positioned over the edge for the couch. He is unusually well coiffed. The performative struggle for power teetering between the two, with Malanga holding little but sexual control over Montez. But then, when is sexual control ever little? Seated beside Montez is Carol Koshinkie, also dressed to the nines with a beer can in one hand and a large white cat in her lap. She sit before the devastating cruiser Philip Fagan - Warhol's assistant/boyfriend, at the time - both figures, in the film's most fantastically dynamic formal device, seldom break the courting stare they shoot directly into the camera(or subsequently at you, dear viewer). In the minimalist formalities of Warholian cinema, these stares create a remarkable dramatic tension. Watching Fagan watching me turned me on with its delicate balance of exhibitionist-voyeuristic way. Your eyes dart from the exploited Montez, as she erotically downs countless bananas (taking a sad departure from her gender-free, "creature" status in Smith's cinema), to the cruising onlookers, to the rather clueless Malanga. Though limited, Warhol's framing is fantastically diverse in its composure and even when Montez begins to lose steam (and to a lesser extent, the film along with it) you never find yourself resting on one image for too long.

Harlot's endlessly amusing soundtrack features great spoken word performances by Smith collaborator Ronald Tavel and Factory documentarian/mole person, Billy Name. Tavel, a poet who would later go on to pen numerous scripts for Warhol, engages our interest with his unusually quick plays on words. A marriage of convenience becomes "a cat of convenience."

"What do you call a person who eats only fruit?"

"A liar!"

Ultimately, however, Warhol's cold glare on the lovable Montez is sadly cruel for anyone who knows her work from Smith's films. Unsure of what to do around the static shot's 50 minute mark, Montez begins to stimulate herself with one of the film's great many bananas. First tracing her legs languidly, the fruit slowly disappears into her skirt. On most this could be quite thrilling or rebellious, but Montez, in all of her naive innocence, merely looks lost.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Criminal Lovers

Chances are, you're not like me. I saw last year's Capote and then countlessly braced myself in the countless conversations which followed suit as I expressed my luke-warm feelings for the film. "I enjoyed watching it." was my guarded response. I thought it was a finely made work, but it didn't really hit any of the chords which audiences abound seemed to be hemming and hawing over. Hoffman was fine - in truth I'll never really get over his "pump pump pump..." monologue in Happiness, but that's my problem. Well, now we have a counterwork on the writing of 'In Cold Blood' and though it is no masterpiece, it is certainly my preferred retelling. But then, I'm a sucker for Christine Vachon.

Most people are not really familiar Vachon. Though we cluster our directors' ouvres together ceaselessly, the general movie going public remains unawares of the integral feat of Production. However, a quick perusal of Vachon's resume finds a shocking many successful and varied works: Poison, Swoon, Go Fish, Kids, [Safe], Kiss Me, Guido, I Shot Andy Warhol, Happiness, Velvet Goldmine, Boys Don't Cry, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, One Hour Photo, Party Monster, The Company, A Dirty Shame and The Notorious Betty Page, to name just a few - a veritable who's who and what's what of independent film. Vachon has been singled out as a producer to receive the primarily Director fueled Outfest achievement award and been nominated for more Independent Spirit Awards than I have pairs of underwear. Helming yet another masterful crew of art directors, costumers, cinematographers and a plethoric assortment of indie deities, Vachon's hand is everpresent in Douglas McGrath's telling of this now known tale.

Yet she doesn't get all the cred, here. First off, allow me to applaud Toby Jones' fearless (and assuredly Oscar-nodless) portrayal of a - gasp - sexualized Truman Capote. Early on, I believe the reenacted Gore Vidal - though I may be mistaken - describes Capote's sibilance as "if a brussel sprout could talk..." And, true to form, Jones' take at the faye scribe is grating and flamboyant to an excruciating degree. Yet here, we are allowed to see just why he was the icon of the New York social scene. His countless quotables are peppered in with slightly less severe depictions of his careless betrayals. A shared secret "shall die inside me," only to be recounted in the following scene.

For the most part, however, the artist-as-monster theme is cast by the wayside for a slightly less complicated tale of criminal love, as Capote and Perry(Daniel Craig, mmmmm....), the more artistically inclined of the killers, fall hopelessly in love. Capote is of course betrothed to Jack Dunphry so his affections are more or less sequestered. Craig's turn at Perry is calmly brutal, recalling his role in Love Is The Devil: Study for a Portrait By Francis Bacon where he portrays Bacon's tormented subject/lover George. Here, he gives Perry the same debonair panache, not quite as sturdy as Jones' Capote but radiating a sensitive Genet style eroticism(How many other Bonds can you say that about?). And though a feeble and trite musical cue towards the film's end made my eyes roll rather than well up (the desired result, assuredly), I forgive its slight maudlin tendencies for its impeccable production design and impervious writing.

The only real stinker here is the casting of Sandra Bullock as Miss Nelle Harper Lee. Catherine Keener's depiction of Lee was about the only thing I wildly celebrated in the other Capote movie. Here, Bullock seems to figure if she slaps on an Alabammy accent, she's good as gold. It simply isn't so. Draining Lee of all her masculinities (which even Keener played down significantly), nary a black leather jacket (Lee's signature item) wears the actress. Instead, they make Bullock look dull as dishwater. But then, doesn't she always.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Being Boring returns to the Blog scene from a month-and-a-half meltdown/hiatus with a review of one of the most relevant films of the decade. I've been meaning to start up again. I was waiting for the right film to get me back in action. After my afternoon screening of John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus, I realized, not only had I found the film, but I had also discovered a beautiful reminder of just why I do this in the first place.

Certain films become phenomena long before a moment of their celluloid is shed onto the screen. The magnitude of these expectations may work in both ways. Typically, when it comes to works of a more independent variety, it results in a crippling span of disappointment – those grandiose, imagined ideals which the viewer had nurtured can seldom find any sort of fulfilling release in the very “real” events on screen. The other side to this is that ardent base of admirers who know, full well, that they will be enjoying that which they are about to see as, like a sexual climax, the partaking is the desired end for this long quest. The trials and travails, which director John Cameron Mitchell endured to see the actualization of his sophomore feature, are already quite infamous. Of course, the impeccable status of his debut work only helped. The phenomenon which became Hedwig and the Angry Inch was steeped in its cabaret origins, its quite cultish subject matter and fertilized by the buzz that enveloped the film after its release. It caught on. It was not insane at first. Now there are weekly midnight parties, á la Rocky Horror. John Cameron Mitchell’s follow-up has been one rocky road from the get go. I won’t go into that here. Let’s just say it took him a while and, with baited breath, an avid crew of the curious sat poised to see how his next offering would hold up. Would he merely be Hedwig?

No. (resoundingly)

I wept during Shortbus. (Isn’t that illegal for a film critic to admit?) It’s the kind of film you hear of in recollections. It’s something you might stumble across as a distorted still in Vogel’s ‘Film as Subversive Art.’ Kind of. Most of those works – Vienna Actionists and the like come from a darker place. Ono’s in there, and I would certainly cite her as an impetus for this film. It’s honest and heart-felt – all without the guiding hand of direct (or cheap, perhaps) sentimentality, directing your every emotive sway. It recounts the story of a handful of very common people. They are average. Some critics have had the poor taste to write that these are people you would not particularly care to watch having sex. I think that’s a tad naff. I think that stems more from a need for the critic to divorce his/her titillation factor from the critical job at hand. Ain’t possible. Sorry. True, none of these figures is Ashton Kutcher, but in a great many respects they are all the more compelling for not being so. I would much rather watch Sook-Yin Lee’s Sofia masturbate on a park bench than watch Kutcher in a similar sexual act. And I am a homosexual.

It has also been written repeatedly that the “real” sex which the film does depict is not the clinically pornographied version of coitus that someone like Catherine Breillat (Romance, Anatomy of Hell) has made an art form out of, nor is it the performative sex which made the most of Michael Winterbottom’s insipid Nine Songs, but in fact brief and unsensational sequences which clock in at the same length an R rated film might devote to them. They are just scenes to a whole, nowhere near as important as the press would demand. (Question: When will Americans get over this abject fear of all things direct? We are flooded with sex and yet this film is controversial? Have the viewers who will see Shortbus not been to a foreign film in the past 10 years?) And it is unfortunate, as that taboo which Mitchell set out to brake might prove to be the fatal error, attendance wise, in this must see magnificent film. Of course, it would do the film itself a great disservice to simulate what is quite fundamentally its essence. But fucking is never really just fucking, and in when the frigid Sofia finally enters the “back room” of the film’s eponymous club, you get it. You see fucking, true. You also catch wind of promise, nurturing, fear, isolation, devastation, and transcendence – all of this in a swirling, slurping pool of bodies. The impeccable Justin Bond (here proving his legitimacy to me, after never truly being hooked by his Kiki and Herb material) says to Sofia (in the much quoted line) “It’s like the sixties only with less hope.” And that line could completely sum up Shortbus were it not for Mitchell’s signature fairytale styling which renders the film a jubilant concoction of desolation and celebration.

In sequences which made me empathize with the crowd of onlookers who tried to interpret Jack Smith’s Normal Love (for non-regular readers, this is just about the highest compliment I could pay to Mitchell, Smith being a director I hold most dear), I encountered a world which I knew, yet felt foreign, so was it infused with such a fantastic optimism typically deficit in our contemporary, cynical malaise. Sex, or more importantly, human interactions (sex being just one of them) can be endowed with the love which we all too quickly tend to deny ourselves. There’s a photography show of Wolfgang Tillmans on display in Los Angeles right now. Sitting through Shortbus, I could not help but liken both artists’ view of the everyday as quietly utopian. Tillmans’ photograph of two men kissing (which is magnetized to the board in my office) may be read as desperate as a woodblock of Munch’s Kiss, (next to which it is placed). But what if we were to instead to focus on the magnetism of the lovers – the frank and intense want which they display. It is something primal and yet sensitive, never neglecting for a moment the immaculate lighting or similarity of the shirts’ hues. These are real people. They, unlike Munch’s depiction of the kiss, are divorced by the constraints of their own bodies. In many of his versions on this image, Munch fuses his two by removing the line that separates their faces. His is ultimately a warning, where I read Tillmans’ as more of an empathetic invitation – a celebration.

People are sure to find aspects of Shortbus disarming. Mitchell’s film works so magnificently because of its mundanity. In an opening scene, James (Paul Dawson) attempts at autofellatio. Sensational as it may sound (and there is certainly a granted amount time which casts every initial sex act as slightly more scintillating than it truly is as the viewer settles in to the film’s narrative approach) the scene is played out as a quietly domestic one – a way in which this man chooses to come to terms with some form of conflict. All of the actors are so humanized, rather than the typical idolized sex object of our contemporary culture, which is why I would expect some to be startled by the film. Sex, it reminds us, is a product of love. It can be used, like a great many other vestiges of human interaction, as a method of transcendence. It can also be a big Fuck You to all of the conservative powers that be.

Shortbus excels in its refusal to submit to a calculated drive. It is aware that it may become sentimental at moments, yet it also wonders how much of a crime that truly is. Do we not need more swelling, earnest sentiment? Do we not need to be reminded of all the potential for connection and love the world just might have in store for us? Do we not need to be reminded of self-empowerment? In a time when so few provocative films allow for optimism, let alone humor, Shortbus emerges like a consoling and intense gale, reassuring us that there is purpose, that the world really does hold both magic and beauty. There is a community for everyone, no matter how estranged. And if there’s anything we need right now, this is it.