Today started my 10 day saturnalia of gay films (21 on slate), starting with the breakthrough English television series "Queer As Folk"

For me watching the production on the big screen with a totally enthusiastic audience of 600 or so Hollywood gays (who gave it a 10 minute standing ovation at the end of part 8) was something between an ordeal and an epiphany.  I might have enjoyed it better spaced out over 8 weeks; but it hardly mattered.  I'll gladly go to a screening of the next season's shows even if I have to buy a PAL tape recorder to see it if they don't play at OUTFEST next year or the year after (the scripts for season two are currently being written.)

It also matters little that I can hardly relate to this paean to being 15 or 29 and gorgeous and living in fabulous fucking Manchester, England, apparently the queer capital of the bloody  universe.  I still got into every moment: loved and hated the characters while identifying like crazy; got turned on by the sexiness, the raunchiness, the liveliness; admired the brave politics, the witty writing, the wonderful way the dykes, fags and straight parents intermixed, the...

Oh, hell.  Hopefully it will come to HBO or DVD.  Or maybe in some alternate universe the WB will carry it on Wednesday nights after "Dawson's Creek."  So you can all see it and marvel.  England's finest hour since the RAF kicked Goering's butt. (****, the best gay epic film ever made.)

I'm not even going to bother to discuss the Boy's Shorts film program this year.  Gay shorts seem to be on the downswing the past two years, if one trusts the programmers at OUTFEST (which I'm not sure that I do.)  In any case, only one of 7 short films was even worth watching (a reasonably funny charmer about sibling rivalry over "The Boy Next Door") and that wasn't by any means outstanding.   There doesn't seem to be any shortage of pretentious, arty, boring shorts however;  which is a real shame since I usually love the format.

The Peruvian feature, No se lo digas a nadie ("Don't Tell Anyone"), directed by Francisco Lombardi, is possibly worth your custom if you're at all into subtitled movies.  It is the story of the only son of an upper class Lima family who is aware from childhood that he is gay in a culture and family which is very macho, and where only highly closeted bisexuality is marginally acceptable.  The production values are high, the actor who plays Joaquin progresses realistically from age 15 to late 20s and is attractive and well up to the task.  One problem implicit in the story is that Joaquin's attempts to adapt and blend in by playing at being straight led to a dismaying number of failed attempts at full frontal heterosexual sex, and almost no scenes of the character's supposedly more natural gay sexual experiences.  Trimming about ½ hour of tedious repetition might have made the film tauter and more involving.  **  (all ratings are out of 4 stars)

Speedway Junky, was written & directed by Nickolas Perry whose short from a couple of years ago,  "Must be the Music" (part of "Boys Life 2"), was skillfully done, if somewhat flashy and superficial.  Unfortunately his first feature, executive produced by Gus Van Sant, is something of a hack job,  despite a good cast and some outstandingly realistic cinematography by Steve Adcock (who also did  the memorably slick color photography on "Must be the Music".)

Basically I went to see it, despite my reservations when I read of its teen screen provenance, because it stars Jesse Bradford whose promising career I've been monitoring since his amazing performance in Steven Soderbergh's "King of the Hill."  Bradford ultimately doesn't disappoint.  He plays a resolutely str8 army brat who has run away from home to become a race-car driver and gets taken at every turn as he lands in the lower depths of Las Vegas.  He's befriended by a young gay boy, beautifully played by Jordan Brower (new to me), who shows him the ropes, saves his ass over and over, falls in unrequited love etc. etc.  Lots of clichés here.  Daryl Hannah is excellent as the surrogate mother figure; and Jonathan Taylor Thomas does a weird turn as a pragmatic, amoral hustler.

This film will probably get a one-week release at your local movie house.  The boys are attractive, and if that's enough to overcome the strange amalgam of bent love story and teens-gone-wrong flick (actually, come to think of it, this is a plodding version of "Go" with feet of clay) give it a whirl.   At least it's easy on the eye.  * 1/2

Oh, yes.  I also went to a screening of Spike Lee's Summer of Sam tonight.  There isn't a great deal of gay interest to it: the  predictable homophobia, of course.  But along with this were a  surprising number of gay sensitive characters and situations, too.  Especially memorable was the punk rocker/gay hustler/exotic dancer character played by Adrien Brody, and his exploitative boss played slyly by one of my favorite actors, Michael Imperioli (who also got co-writing credit on the film).  Spike Lee is one of the all time great movie directors who always seems to make horrible movies, similar in that way to Oliver Stone, imho.  Even trimmed by a full hour, SOS would be too long and excessive.  Still, it is powerful stuff.  ** 1/2

Monday:  a full evening of films.  Fortunately I have a highly developed sitting reflex.  Three films each night this week except Thursday.  And four on Friday. All three films on Monday just about sold out the 600 seat Director's Guild I theater...pretty remarkable  in this day and age for a slate which included two subtitled films.  Even his honor the Mayor of Los Angeles was somehow persuaded to attend the first (and worst) film, acting like "jus' folks".

I'm not going to waste much time on Can't Stop Dancing.  Think of every cliché about six dancers from the sticks trying to make it in Hollywood.  Then imagine a so-called comedy where every one of these clichés are brought gloriously to life with cameos by 3/4 of the cast of "ER" and many of the hippest actors in town.  Then imagine the concept being rammed down your throat with little subtlety, costumes which make Priscilla look tasteful, choreography which tries hard but comes up totally lame, and a 300 lb. lead dancer/choreographer in totally revealing spandex with no talent but *lots* of enthusiasm.  Now raise it to the 6th power, and add the obvious fact that the production team *meant* the film to be totally and outrageously bad as part of the concept, and you'll get some idea of what this film is like.  I actually enjoyed it while it was happening...even entertained the notion that this was some sort of a camp classic.  Until, like a cheap Chinese meal, the effervescence fizzled about 5 minutes after the movie ended.  Or maybe 20 minutes before.   * 1/2

One amazing fact of life about a large film festival like OUTFEST is that there are actually two almost separate events going on at the same time:  one festival for lesbians and another for gay men.  You can see this reflected at the very beginning of every film by observing the segregated line-ups for the respective films.  Rarely are both groups integrated in line.  This did happen on Monday night for the French film Pourquoi pas moi? ("Why Not Me?"), and it did portend that a very special film...one appealing equally to both groups...was about to unfold.

It is much harder to write a rave than a pan.  There's something distancing and cool about disliking a film.  But when a film works totally, a different sort of energy arises in a festival theater; and it is hard to describe this shared feeling of excitement and discovery.

Pourquoi pas moi?  is the story of 5 young people who work together at a Parisian publishing cooperative.  3 are dykes, one a straight girl who feels left out, and one an enormously personable gay guy.  Most of them share the same problem:  they're closeted to their parents.  Only the PFLAG type mother of one of the lesbians is in the know, and she offers to throw open her country mansion for a party where all the parents would be invited (including the straight girl who initially felt left out, but decides to tell her parents anyway that she's a lesbian to see what their reaction would be) and where everybody can come out together.

This is the set-up for a very special party, for the parents end up being just as interesting and amusing a group of characters as their kids.  The film evolves into the kind of warm, intelligent, sexy farce that only the French seem to be capable of doing.  In fact, for this viewer, the closest analog to the feelings of this film are to be found in Renoir's masterpiece "Rules of the Game", which it resembles in many ways, not the least of which is the director's skill at limning a large group of fascinating characters and keeping the entire enterprise in motion and focused.

The director, Stephane Giusti, is a talent to be watched.  And it is going to be very hard for any film at this festival to be better than this one.  ****  and only the second film so far this entire year that I've given such a high rating to.

After that, the Spanish film Amic/Amat (Beloved/Friend) had a hard act to follow.  I'm a tremendous fan of the current Spanish cinema. There is something about the post-Franco freedom which has infected a large group of directoral talent all at the same time to produce a climate where many wonderful, popular films are being produced with regularity; and unfortunately American audiences are largely unaware of this phenomenon.  Anyway, gay audiences have known for years about one of the giants of the Spanish cinema, Pedro Almodovar.  But there seemingly are dozens of great directors currently working in Spain of equal interest.

Ventura Pons is one of these excellent almost unknown directors.  He has made a stylish and intellectually challenging movie about a dying gay college professor and the two objects of his affection, a straight colleague he's loved for years, and a student who turns out to be a cruel bisexual male hustler.  The story is a complex round of coincidences and happenstance which also includes the wife and daughter of the straight colleague.  I would have loved the film if only I had been able to understand the motivation of all of the characters.  But that central fact eluded me, and with it went most of the movie...a waste of a superb cast and a superficially beautifully produced film.  When a film so totally misses the mark it sets for itself, I have to believe that there is an intellectual failure on my part to understand the script.  I have rarely felt so out-to-sea as I did at the end of this movie.  But I have to believe hat it is a case of the Emperor's Clothes, and that all that intellectual angst that I couldn't fathom really was insubstantial.  Don't I?  Anyway, Amic/Amat gets an A for effort and effect;  and only  ** from me.

I have little enthusiasm for any of these films I saw on Tuesday night, so this group of reviews will be short.

Frank Pinto's super low-budget 16 mm B&W film When I'm 35 has very little going for it. The director is virtually talentless: static, unimaginative set-ups;  actors out of control;  writing suffering from rigor mortis.  There is one reasonably good performance, the character of Peter who is an 18 year old borderline schizophrenic who has been institutionalized most of his childhood. He comes to live with his straight sister who has rented a cabin with her gay male roommate for a semester of college, and turns into a homophobic bitch when her brother falls for her gay roommate.  It's not worth going through the permutations of the plot, which might actually have worked in less plodding hands.  Needless to say, don't bother.  *

Kutlug Ataman's Lola & Bilidikid (Lola and Billy the Kid) is in German.  But it really is a film steeped in the expatriate Turkish culture in Berlin, a culture of macho male hustlers and their transvestite drag girlfriends.  It is shot (beautifully, incidentally) as a thriller mixed with a family saga mixed with a coming of age story.  I only found the 1/3 part that was the coming of age story to be at all compelling and disliked the other 2/3 of the movie.  Your mileage may vary.  Unaccountably, several people I know liked the film a lot.  It is probably a politically "important"
film.  And the director, who did Q&A afterwards, is personable and cute.  Not enough to recommend.  **

Perdona Bonita, Pero Lucas Me Queria a Me (translated weirdly as "Excuse Me Duckie, But Lucas Loved Me") is a Spanish farce directed by Felix Sabroso and Dunia Ayaso.  I love the current Spanish cinema; but this isn't one of the films worthy of my affection.  Three nelly roommates are about to be evicted and run an ad for a roommate.  "Kiss Me Guido" style,  they choose a gorgeous str8 man (sort of a young longhaired Mel Gibson type) after interviewing several losers.  All three fantasize about making it with him, and maybe one or more did...who
knows?  The farce is so lickity split that the subtitles had trouble keeping up...and it just wasn't funny.  Until it turns into a murder mystery with a pair of female bumbling cops, who have more than a little personal involvement in the murder.  Then it engenders a couple of mild chuckles.  But not enough to make the movie worth watching.  * 1/2

Some festival days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed.

Just when Tuesday night's screenings had me convinced that things were pretty darn bleak at this fest, along come three highly enjoyable flicks on Wednesday.

First time director Christopher Livingston's Hit and Runway is definitely one of the super successes of the festival.  Hey, it is a slickly made gay themed comedy that is actually funny!  First of all, the cast is perfect.  Alex, Italian straight boy (played with increasing confidence as the film unfolds by Michael Parducci), underachiever but ambitious to make it as a writer in Hollywood, sells a story idea he invented in a dream to his producer cousin, and now must come up with the goods.  Only he can't write dialog worth the paper it's written on.

Fortune brings him in contact with Elliot (played with impeccable comic timing by Woody Allenish Peter Jacobson), an unsuccessful gay Jewish writer who has the chops but no luck.  The mix includes a handsome young gay waiter ("Dawson's Creek"'s Kerr Smith, who is apparently getting typecast in gay roles) who has a thing for older Jewish men; and a smart girl with glasses who becomes sexy when her glasses are taken off.  Yup, the film has that kind of obvious stuff...but in the hands of a writer (Jaffe Cohen) who writes sparklingly original scenes and roaringly funny one-liners; a director whose sense of comic pace and blocking puts him in *very* rare company - oh, Woody Allen maybe? a nascent Preston Sturges even?  - and back to that perfectly cast ensemble...this is a breakout hit.  I hope somebody is smart enough to release it and give it the right publicity.  This film has everything.  *** ( it is just a feel-good comedy, after all - let's not get carried away).

The French comedy, Sitcom, is another genre entirely...a black comedy which is a takeoff on everything from "Willard" to "Theorema" to a warped, sexually kinky version of "Father Knows Best". The story is best described as undescribable...the characters:  perky mom, uninvolved intellectual dad, gay son, weird daughter, daughter's gorgeous and mistreated boyfriend, and the wacky Spanish maid.  It's ironic, satiric, silly, sophisticated, well made...and yet somehow misfires by the end...maybe just too much of a good thing.  I loved it until about 1/2 hour from the end when the humor just sort of curdled.  Still, it's worth a look if it comes your  way. ** 1/2

Hermine Huntgeburth's German film Das Trio (The Trio) is going to be released in this country.  I saw the trailer playing with "Lovers on the Bridge" a couple of weeks ago.  It's a character study...40-something gay man raising his (now 18 year old) daughter with his 40-something lover as carneys and pickpockets living in a Winnebago type trailer and driving from sting to sting.  Into the mix comes a totally bisexual young man who appeals equally to the daughter and father and can't make up his own mind which he likes more.  I fell head over heels for the young guy, played winningly by Felix Eitner.  I have to qualify this by saying that it isn't going to be to everyone's taste.  The film has trouble settling on its tone.  Is it an arty and psychologically complex character study?  A kinky romantic comedy?  Or a bittersweet road picture? For me it worked as all three:  ***

Thursday night brought a respite from the heavy schedule of films, as I only watched one film,  Dan Ireland's The Velocity of Gary.  It has already opened in Los Angeles, and will be playing in selected markets.  I chose to see it in a festival setting after being somewhat impressed by the trailer.  It stars two established Hollywood actors, Vincent D'Onofrio and Selma Hayek, along with an up and comer, attractive blond Thomas Jane, this year's Robert Redford (or is it now Brad Pitt) wannabe.  They portray a triangle of 42nd St. New York characters in the age of AIDS: a bisexual deranged former str8 pornstar, a saucy sleezy-coffeeshop waitress, and the new Midnight Cowboy in town.  The story is a series of slice-of-life vignettes emphasizing the NYC street-life vintage late '80s.  And how they try to make a family while coping with illness and dying.

It isn't a very good movie.  It tries to tug at the heartstrings, but consistently misfires.  Only at the very end of the movie was I remotely moved...and by then it was too late.  D'Onofrio, usually a very good actor, hams this role shamelessly.  His big kissing scene with Tom Jane seems rather get-me-out-of-here! hysterical.  Hayek, usually a horrendously bad-but-beautiful actress, actually does a fairly credible job here. However, her best scene was during a Halloween parade when she lip-synchs to Diana Ross, every bit the epitome of the drag queens she's surrounded by.  Tom Jane showed much presence and little acting talent here.  It remains to be seen whether he has the chops for a big career in movies.  * 1/2

Friday was one of those nights.  Four films scheduled, and amazingly enough, I ended up liking all four, more or less.

The Story of a Bad Boy is the most trivial of the bunch.  It's an  uneasy amalgam of "Rushmore" and "Edge of Seventeen", only without the spark of talented filmmaking that those movies had.  Pauly is a sweet, baby-faced boy who is too horny for his own good.  He's kicked out of Catholic school (which he has insisted on going to even though he's Greek Orthodox) for attempting to kiss a nun.  When he transfers to public school, he tries every extra-curricular activity to find his niche.  Finally he finds the school play (a horrendous musical version of "The Scarlet Letter"), being written-directed by a college student temp whom Pauly becomes smitten with and manages to seduce without much problem.

The boys are attractive, if not quite good enough actors to pull the film out of mediocrity. Julie Kavner plays Pauly's mother with just the right note of whiny kvetch (though, it did seem like she was a Jew lost in a gentile world.)  Tom Donaghy's writing and direction seem somewhat flat at times: zingers that don't zing, scenes which start promisingly, but peter out from lack of energy.  It's too bad, because there was the kernel of in interesting movie here.  **

The rest of Friday night brought a couple of wonderful surprises: two noteworthy films in French.  This isn't surprising, since the French presence at this festival has been heavy.  Also, my own personal tastes seem to prefer the French way of looking at things:  four out of my five favorite films this entire year have been French, and three out my four favorites at OUTFEST.

The festival has been a breeze of well coördinated organization. Sold-out performances starting on time.  Easy lines for those of us with memberships and preferred seating badges.  I've been sitting consistently in the 4th row and have made some friends, Bill, Dennis and Tom who have attended most of the same movies.  We call ourselves the 4th Row Mafia.  I started bringing my festival diary to screenings and sharing them with my companions.  Tom even was interested enough to lurk for a day in soc.motss and report back his perplexity at the goings on.

Un Homme est une femme, commes les autres (badly translated as "Man is a Woman"; but really meaning man has a feminine side) has a fascinating premise.  Gay man, impoverished klezmir clarinetist living in contemporary Paris, suffering from a lifetime thwarted attraction to his straight male cousin, is offered 10 million francs  by his banker uncle to rescue the family name from the extinction of the Holocaust by getting married and having a child.  His mother, high class lady working at a department store perfume counter, is all for Simon's going for the money...and arranges for Simon to meet Rosalie, beautiful American, virginal kosher Jewess, who has become a singer of Yiddish folk music in France after running away from her tyrannical Hassidic father.  They woo each other with music, and actually fall in love, though true-to-life their inevitable marriage is hardly consummated and destined to fail.

Antoine de Caunes plays Simon Eskanazy with convincing soulfulness.  And the lovely Elsa Zylberstein (so magnificent in the movie "Mina Tannenbaum" a decade ago) plays Rosalie Baumann with heartbreaking understatement.  They are magnificent actors.  The film is beautifully written and directed by Jean-Jacques Zilbermann and deserves a release in the United States.  I chatted with the director and asked him if there was a chance that the film would get distributed here...and he said that he's powerless to make it happen, but he has hopes.  I do too. ***

Every once in a while a film appears out of nowhere which breaks new ground.  Such is the Swiss film,  F. est un salaud ("F. is a Bastard").  For me, it was the summit of the festival; and even though as a film it probably is not a masterpiece, as a gay film it is so amazing and mindblowing that it has replaced Almodovar's "Law of Desire" as my all-time favorite gay film.  Vincent Branchet plays Beni, a schoolboy in 1974 Switzerland, who develops a crush on Fogi the notoriously gay lead singer/guitarist of a local punk band, "The Minks".  They form a relationship which starts out as innocent puppy dog attraction with wonderful sex, and which devolves to heavy sado-masochism as Fogie descends into heroin addiction and starts hiring out Beni as a callboy and treating the willing and cooperative Beni as his dog (too bad the more apropos title, "My Life as a Dog" was already taken).

It sounds unpromising, I know.  Yet the film is such an unsparingly realistic portrayal; the actors so outstanding (Branchet is both the most attractive young actor and one of the best actors period that I've seen in several years; and Frederic Andrau, who plays Fogi is no slouch, himself) that it all works. The film is shot in a realistic style with a very mobile camera which defies description (a scene where the characters have dropped LSD and the whirling camera is used as a metaphor for their internal disequilibrium is simply stunning.)  It is really exciting and innovative filmmaking, and the director Marcel Gisler is one to watch for.  *** 1/2.  But subjectively, for me it was even better than that.  It's a film I would go back to see over and over if it were ever to get a release here.

After the Swiss film, I was tempted to give the midnight film, a piece of performance art by innovative porn filmmaker Wash West a miss.  I didn't want to break the spell of the previous film.  But, being the movie slut that I am, I couldn't avoid going, and I'm glad I did.  West's Kingdom Cum, where he showed brief clips from his work interspersed with amusing stories told in his midland English accent, was fun.  His porn is well above average, and he's a thinking director who is about to branch out into mainstream films.

Saturday night brought the end of an outstanding OUTFEST with two interesting, if ultimately barely more than mediocre films.  The French film Le Traite du Hasard ("Treaty of Chance") is one of those overly talky, intellectual slice-of-life films which come out of France with regularity.  I enjoyed it for the total immersion into an intriguing Parisian gay culture of men "of a certain age".  The director, Patrick Mimouni, who also played the main character named Patrick (and who reminds me of a gay Henry Jaglom, as does his film) makes the rounds of his decadent, AIDS decimated group of friends. One of them is an extremely attractive intelligent HIV+ hustler played by newcomer Laurent Chemda, whom I'd love to see in more movies.  Most everybody hated the film; and in truth, if I hadn't understood 80% of the underlying French dialog, I think I would have been mystified by the underachieving sub-titles. Anyway, for me it was an honorable attempt, a film which I found worth watching,  ** 1/2.

Bishonen ("Beauty") is a really strange Hong Kong film based on a true story of a Hong Kong policeman who is involved in a sex scandal with two call boys and a rock star.  It was made by fashion photographer Yonfan, in a style which can only be called super glossy.  The cinematography and sound design were both extraordinary...beating anything I've seen from Hollywood for sheer lushness.  I was involved with the story, which was intensely erotic and teasing without being in any way graphic about its smoldering sex steeped in culturally imposed guilt.  I'd recommend it for filmgoers who are into a different sort of experience.  Definitely not for the politically inclined gay filmgoer.  ** 1/2.

Thus came to a close my OUTFEST experience for another year.  It was definitely a good year for the gay male film, especially the work being done in France.  When I was a young fagling, I was heavily influenced in my life by French cinema (Truffaut, Godard, Clement, Melville, Renoir etc.) and lived for a while as a starving student (fsvo) in Paris in '63.  I'm feeling the same influential tug by the French gay cinema on myself in 1999.

Back in July, I missed the Australian film Head On when it played at OUTFEST since I had a scheduling conflict.  Still, it was hard to avoid hearing about it, since it was one of the most talked about films of the fest...and its star, Alex Dimitriades was universally praised by friends who saw the film.

The film has now been released in the U.S. by Strand; and has been playing to great reviews and sell out crowds for a couple of weeks here in L.A.  I finally saw it today; and I can certainly see what all the shouting was about.  It's a tough, gritty film about sex and drugs among the youths in the Greek community of Melbourne, made by a lady director (Ana Kokkinos) who is definitely a talent to watch.

The film is unsparing and not for the squeamish.  Lots of rough trade gay sex, including one masturbation scene where Mr. Dimitriades shows erect cock...not an every day occurrence in a film good enough to be an official entry to the Cannes film festival.  Lots of drug use...coke, speed, reefer, alcohol and cigarettes. There's brutality aplenty:  two cops humiliate and mercilessly beat our hero and his tranny friend; and our hero brutally rapes the one man who expresses true affection for him.  All sorts of racial slurs, including the constant usage of the word "wog" in the Australian sense.  As I say, not your everyday G rated fare.

Dimitriades is a fine actor (and one of those people who commands the camera and has incredible star quality); and Paul Capsis gives a great performance as his cross-dressing, bravely out cousin. 

This is one of the best gay films I've seen.  It's both dramatically satisfying and...um...stimulating.  I hope it comes out in DVD, since I'd like to own it. ***

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