I am very much conflicted about writing a journal for OUTFEST this year. I didn't even attempt it last year, which I now regret. Such a diary does help to keep the films in memory. This year I made the mistake of starting to read an extraordinary book (J.N. Stroyar's monumental first novel, The Children's War) just before embarking on the festival; and I'm finding that my mind is rebelling from any time away from the alternate world of that 1200 page novel...even the movies that I'm seeing seem trivial in comparison. However, for the sake of self-discipline, I'm going to work on this journal anyway.
It's not as if I'm going whole hog at this festival...only planning on watching 15 movies in 10 days. I saw many of the movies playing here at SIFF under better circumstances. I'm becoming increasingly disenchanted with the way that OUTFEST is run. The best films are programmed as special programs with exorbitant tariffs (the entire festival seems to be focused on extorting the most money possible out of the attendees.) The queues before the screenings are now even more hierarchical than ever...you have to pay mucho bucks to get in the real preferred seating line. My paltry "best boy" status, which put me in the good line in years past, no longer affords much status. Luckily, when I get into the theater, there's always seating in the front center where I prefer to sit anyway; so I have not reason to complain. Still, the entire festival experience suffers in comparison to the user-friendly festival interface one encounters in Seattle with a full-series pass.
Anyway, enough about that: on to the films.
Friday, July 13, 2001
ON THE BUS (documentary directed by Dustin Lance Black)
This film documents a failed experiment in internet reality programming. Back in 1998, the now defunct Digital Entertainment Network bankrolled a web site devoted to the adventures of 6 young gay guys on a bus...sort of a gay version of MTV's Road Rules and The Real World rolled into one, pitched, apparently, by director Black. They hired a producer, Bill Kaufman; and Black and Kaufman then cast the show, always with the sexual tastes for attractive young boys of the Network powers-that-be as a priority. The first adventure was to be a road trip to the Burning Man experience, a yearly happening in the desert near Reno, NV with hippie, alternate lifestyle and radical faerie overtones. After the failure of the network, the tapes remained unused until Black and Kaufman obtained them and cut this 2 hour documentary out of the footage. The film documents the various adventures which ensued, especially the sexual tensions (one of the boys was Justin, an 18 year old gay pornstar from a small town in Minnesota, complete with an accent right out of FARGO. One was a Swedish Olympic diver, on vacation from his exactingly disciplined life style and out for a good time. Another was Damon, an overweight young composer of musicals, who added a great sense of humor and inferiority complex about his body to the mix. Yet another was a very good-looking guy who was the object of everybody's lust, but who never seemed to say anything to the camera.) The air bristled constantly with sexual tension during the trip, though we didn't actually get to see any action. There were other interesting touches...the filmed diaries of several of the subjects, the producer doing a Jewie Jewstein take-off of Harvey Fierstien as host on SNL doing interviews of the weird people at Burning Man.
I liked this documentary a lot. It was set up to give an intimate glance of interesting, if by choice deliberately shallow, people; and I'd have probably watched the net production if I'd ever encountered it. The film was probably a little too long, though I'd be hard pressed to criticize any of the editing choices. Actually, the film was brilliantly edited, in my opinion as a person who has worked as a documentary editor in the past. It brought shape to the mass of material, and even a point of view. But most of all, I liked the personas of the documentarians getting mixed in with the subject. The people were likable enough and photogenic enough to withstand a lot of scrutiny. This is definitely among the best docs I've seen this year. *** 1/4
I enjoyed this film somewhat; but it was very poorly made, and ultimately disappointing. More later. It's much later; and things aren't looking up. Shafer shot this film on digital video bumped up to 35mm, and it looked dingy and poorly photographed. The acting and direction were entirely mediocre. The script was made up of cliché after cliché: closeted gay ex-cop from the sticks comes to the big Orange and is seduced by the party scene and drugs. He befriends a self loathing but gorgeous male prostitute who contracts to murder-for-hire the ex-flame of the evil older guy who runs the local circuit party scene. And, gee, our stalwart hero also has his female sweetheart from college days, who happens to be a stand-up straight comedienne in the gay club, move into his rustic hillside trailer. Yeah, whatever. It goes on and on, a complex, absurd plot which barely holds together. The partying...especially the real Palm Springs White Party which is the scene of the culmination of the affair, does have a certain je ne sais quoi about it. But all in all the film is pretty bad. * 1/2
I'm not enjoying this festival so far. I've seen most of the best films that are playing here at the Seattle film festival...but here they are "centerpieces" and "special performances" which have jacked up prices. I'm having trouble getting it up to write about the films I have seen so far, so I don't think I'll go into much detail in this journal.
BOYS SHORTS (various)
The two best short films Tom Clay Jesus and Jeffrey's Hollywood Screen Trip I've already reviewed at SIFF 2001. An Australian film The Big House, about a young guy in prison befriended by an older cell mate, was reasonably well made, if at times difficult to understand.
The title is short for the Long Island Expressway; and this is a brave little coming of age film about an intelligent 15 year old kid (remarkably well played by Paul Franklin Dano) whose life is falling apart and who gets involved with a tough little hustler best friend and a rather surprisingly sympathetic chicken hawk (played by Brian Cox in another triumphantly ambiguous role...remember he was the original Hannibal Lector in MANHUNTER.) This one is well written and well directed. It's one of those controversial little films which make festival going worthwhile. ** 3/4
FRIENDS AND FAMILY (director:
Sort of a cross between THE WEDDING BANQUET, LA CAGE A FOLLES and THE SOPRANOS: a silly farce centered on two gay mafia soldiers. The plot is fairly ridiculous and predictable; but the direction is assured, the production values quite high for a low budget film, and all-in-all a fun, if vacuous comedy. **
LA CONFUSION DES GENRES ("Confusion
of Genders" director: Ilan Duran Cohen, France)
This one is a talky French comedy rather reminiscent of Patrice Chéreau's THOSE WHO LOVE ME CAN TAKE THE TRAIN, and also stars Pascal Greggory as a conflicted gay man. I liked it a lot...the plot is complex and intriguing (I'm not even going to try to summarize it); the acting very fine. Vincent Martinez and Cyrille Thouvenin make attractive objects of desire. Not great; but at least a reasonably intelligent film about interesting people. Refreshing in a festival of mostly banal films.
CHILL OUT (director:
Andreas Struk, Germany)
A triangle, two guys and an annoying woman. The plot barely holds water, about some inheritance scam. But the director is talented in an early Goddard type of way...quick cuts, raw slacker realism, original set-ups. An interesting film, if ultimately a failure. ** 1/2
MY LIFE AS A TROLL (director:
Sweet and sappy ultra-low-budget video film. Simply unbelievable that West Hollywood men would act the way they do in this film. One very nifty performance by David Chisum as a sympathetic straight man...but other than that this film is pretty dumb and worthless. *
PLAY DEAD (director:
Another low budget clunker...sort of a black comedy about teen age necrophelia, think WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S only even dumber. I must admit that I laughed at some of the scenes, for the sheer audacity of it all. But the direction and acting were mostly terrible (though the guy who played corpse was remarkably still for some very lengthy sequences.) * 1/2
TREMBLING BEFORE G-D (documentary
directed by Sandi Simcha Dubowski)
An extremely well made documentary. More later. It is later, and I have little to add. This is a documentary about the plight of gays who also wish to be Orthodox Jews...an impossible paradox to most other Orthodox, both lay and clergy. I found this film both moving and well made...the editing and photography were first rate. *** 1/4
HEY, HAPPY! (director
Noam Gonick, Canada)
Just when it seems like the festival has hit bottom, it falls even further into the muck. This one is a paean to Winnepeg's fabulous queer community. Wide screen, yet. But amateurville all the way. Over the top, puerile, boring, even high gloss totally unreadable titles...this film has it all. It makes my previous all-time-low film, THE DARK BACKWARDS, look like well-acted Shakespeare. 0*
It's just no fun going to movie after movie that I dislike. What in the world is up with the gay film scene? If I trusted the organizers of this festival and didn't know better from my experience at other festivals, I'd think the gay film genre was in desperate straits. Well, maybe it is.
It's now several days later, and my mood has been vastly improved by some good weekend movies (nothing better than quality movies to dissolve an existential funk).
1-6, directed by Rikki Beadle Blair, UK)
This tv series from Channel 4 isn't like Queer as Folk. In fact, it's like no other tv series I've ever seen...but like the best of the genre it got its hooks into me and left me wanting more. It's a fast-paced, hip-hop sensibility type of affair, about an extended family of two gay fathers (who happen to be black, though race is not a central theme), their mostly straight son and his gay friends and on and on through dozens of characters who are slow to differentiate themselves; but over the course of these six episodes do manage to become fully realized people. Music is central to the show, the action is occasionally carried forth by the characters singing...though it doesn't make this a musical show by any means. This show has style to burn...a riot of clashing pastel colors, pinks and greens dominate the costumes and scenic design...titles drawn in luminous magic marker on the characters dancing in white limbo...hair styles, tattoos, the panoply of hip moderne, British style. I didn't love it the way I loved Queer as Folk. But it worked for me; and once again I found myself victimized by British-envy. Why can't we get classy, hip shows like this in the U.S.? Well, maybe we do on MTV and I'm just not watching them. This show would work well on MTV I think and that network should run it in its entirety without trying to Americanize it. ***
OUR LADY OF THE ASSASSINS (director:
Barbet Schroeder, Columbia)
This one is the best film of this festival, and one of the best films of the year. I had to miss it in Seattle; and now I'm sorry that I waited, since I'd like to watch it again and I'm going to be in Europe for the entire first run that it will have here in L.A. in September. The film is actually a remarkable achievement, considering that the film was entirely shot in Medellin, Columbia, one of the most dangerous places on earth for a foreigner (murders, kidnapping for ransom, this is an evil, lawless place.) It's about an urbane gentleman of a certain age who has spent most of his life in Europe and now returns to his roots in Medellin to die. He is gay, and gets fixed up by a friend with a young teen-age boy assassin-prostitute. They fall in love amidst the most terrifying of environments. I'm not going to hint at the rest of the story; it is both moving and remarkable for its unsparing non-PCness. The naturalistic acting by the young non-actors is so good that it lights up the screen. This HD digital film, while not of the best digital quality I've seen recently, is beautifully photographed under trying circumstances. An amazingly effective movie: *** 3/4
101 REYKJAVIK (director:
Baltasar Kormakur, Iceland)
I'd already seen this film once last year at the local Icelandic film festival and loved it there. It's a black comedy of sorts about an emotionally stunted 20-something man who is loath to leave home until his mother comes out as a lesbian and starts a relationship with a Spanish dance instructor (fabulously well played by Victoria Abril as Lola, complete with Ray Davis inspired leitmotif on the soundtrack). The film is a gentle farce, the characters well written, and it is an altogether charming film: ***
KISSING JESSICA STEIN (director:
Like All Over the Guy (see review from SIFF 2001 screening), this is an auteur film by a pair of writer/actors (Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt) who were smart enough to get another director to make the film, thus avoiding the hyphenate ego-trip trap. And let's face it, this is a really wonderful romantic comedy which might just break out and become an indie hit. Straight Jewish girl, fed up with men and bad dates, decides to explore women, with the advice of her coupled gay friends and closeted from her otherwise close work friends and family. The film is anchored by a well-honed, sharp script and excellent performances from the two writer/actors (and a wonderful performance by Tovah Feldshuh as the perfect Jewish mother). This one is a keeper...much more than a genre lesbian flick, it rings true as a universal story of human relationships. *** 1/4
So there it is: a lousy festival saved by
a great third act.
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