For the first time in its 28 years, Out on Film can be legally married in Georgia! Well, I’m not sure the Supreme Court ruling covers festival marriages, but Out on Film director (and Georgia Voice contributor) Jim Farmer tied the knot with Craig Hardesty July 2 and yours truly got hitched in Florida to Dan Warren (formerly Smith) January 15.
In other words, a lot more than Caitlin Jenner’s gender has changed since last year’s festival. Have the movies kept up with the times?
As Sarah Palin (remember her?) would say, “You betcha!”
You can see how well if you look back at the early days of Out on Film, which holds its 28th edition Oct. 1-8 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinemas. A typical festival would include a rom-com about a gay man looking for (and finding) love, a drama about a woman leaving her husband after realizing she prefers another woman, and a documentary about the nascent “gay” (or “gay and lesbian”) movement in another country.
Films about transgender people were rare, and even L, G and B films were often in short supply, though helped by distributors of those newfangled homevideos trying to build word of mouth for their upcoming releases.
Cut to 2015, when we have all kinds of narrative and documentary films about people all up and down the Kinsey Scale, in various phases of transition, and mingling freely in a diverse society.
Production values are up too, at least equal to those of hetero indie films, because there’s increased competition from cable, Netflix and other distribution outlets. As GLAAD pointed out recently, TV series with at least one LGBT character have become the rule rather than the exception.
Remember when we were lucky to have one film with LGBT content (e.g., “Philadelphia,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Milk”) carrying the banner for us in Award Season?
This year’s acting Oscar winners, Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne, are in contention again, Moore for playing a lesbian in “Freeheld” (showing in Out on Film Oct. 4), which also features this year’s acting nominee Steve Carell as a gay man; and Redmayne for playing transgender in “The Danish Girl.” There’s also award buzz around Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as a lesbian couple in “Carol,” Elle Fanning as a transgender teen in “About Ray,” and Tom Hardy as the Kray twins, one of whom is gay, in “Legend.”
With all these and more, including the controversial “Stonewall” (opening Sept. 25) and “The New Girlfriend” (opening Oct. 2) coming to theaters, you have to wonder what’s left for a festival. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the answer.
Here are my thoughts on more than half of the festival features, which I was able to preview. Being a critic (a.k.a. professional bitch) I didn’t love them all, but that doesn’t mean you won’t.
ADDICTED TO FRESNO (***) (Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m.) Sex addiction is a real thing and no laughing matter. Tee-hee.
Hey, there’s nothing a properly twisted mind can’t find humor in, and screenwriter Karey Dornetto’s mind has all the right twists. Her wife, Jamie Babbit has continued growing as a director since her 1999 debut “But I’m a Cheerleader,” mostly through episodic TV work. If they click personally as well as they do here professionally, theirs should be an enduring show business marriage.
The movie was originally just called “Fresno,” but focus groups must have told them that people who don’t know what Fresno is would have little interest in seeing it, while those who do would have less.
If you’re in the former group, Fresno is an armpit of a town in California. That’s where Martha (Natasha Lyonne) lives and works as a maid in a cheap hotel. Her older sister Shannon (Judy Greer, a fine actress who deserves major attention and this role could get it for her) comes home after a stint in court-ordered rehab for her sex addiction (and before, we see in a prologue, being in prison two years later), and Martha gets her a job at the hotel.
Before long Shannon’s up to her old – er, tricks – and avoiding serious relationships. Martha is pining over a straight girlfriend while initially ignoring the advances of gym instructor Kelly (Aubrey Plaza).
An “Oops!” moment leaves a hotel guest dead and the sisters trying to dispose of the body while being blackmailed by pet cemetery owners Fred Armisen and Allison Tolman, forcing them to go on a crime spree.
For a lesbian-made film “Addicted to Fresno” has a record number of dick jokes (and dildos), but we’re all about diversity. My husband and I watched it with a lesbian friend and we all had a great time.
The movie needs word of mouth because Shannon’s line “Oprah’s a bitch” will likely limit its promotional opportunities.
BEAUTIFUL SOMETHING (** 1/2) (Oct. 4, 9:15 p.m.) “Beautiful Something” is a throwback that eschews 21st Century assimilation for old school gay ghettoization. It’s set in a nighttime world of men looking for love and finding sex.
Like the old joke, “SEX!” Now that I’ve got your attention…,” the movie includes two hot sex scenes in the first 15 minutes. But now that it has your attention, what does it do with it?
There are some pretty postcard images where cinematographer Matthew Boyd tries to do for Philadelphia what Gordon Willis did for “Manhattan,” but there’s also a lot of talk. Filmmaker Joseph Graham obviously attracted his actors by promising them a lot of intense dramatic scenes that would look good on their demo reels.
Graham has a lot he wants to say about artists and their muses, but he doesn’t need so many words to say it in a visual medium.
There are four main characters. Brian (Brian Sheppard) is a poet with writer’s block since the man who inspired his one published book decided he prefers women after all.
Drew (Colman Domingo) is a sculptor with a live-in model, Jim (Zack Ryan), who’s itching to move out, even though Drew keeps professing his love for him.
Then there’s Bob (John Lescault), who cruises around in a chauffeured stretch limo. He’s an agent by profession but that’s not the kind of “talent” he’s looking for tonight. He thinks he’ll know what he’s looking for when he sees it, but he’s basically trying to fill a hole in his heart.
With most of the actors encouraged to overact, Zack Ryan, a younger, slightly prettier version of Steve Buscemi, stands out for his natural performance, except for a scene where Jim practices Shakespeare to establish that he’s an actor.
None of the performers are bad, except at choosing material, but there’s entirely too much drama here for a movie men will only want to see for its sex scenes.
FOURTH MAN OUT (***) (Oct. 1, 7:15 p.m.) Not every movie has to be cutting-edge. “Fourth Man Out” takes a refreshingly obvious sitcom approach to the story of Adam (Evan Todd), a 24-year-old mechanic who comes out to his three straight besties: Chris (Parker Young), his closest friend; Nick (Chord Overstreet from “Glee,” with facial hair), the vain one; and Ortu (Jon Gabrus), the fat one and the only one in a serious relationship.
As close as they are and constantly up in each other’s business, I don’t know which is harder to believe, that Adam has been able to explore his sexuality in secret or that his buds have never suspected. But this is a romcom. If you want reality, watch a reality show. (joke)
There’s a lot of initial awkwardness, and a little more later (especially a key moment that’s perfectly staged), but basically the guys are true to Chris’ initial promise: “Nothin’s gonna change, man.”
Well, some things change. His friends take a crash course in Gay so they can be supportive of Adam, who can now be open in his search for romance.
It’s a 21st-Century premise that could easily translate to a TV series (although in some respects it was already done in “Happy Endings” four years ago). Todd and Young have the kind of good looks people tune in to watch every week and people of all orientations have someone to relate to. (Well, they can work in lesbians and a transgender or two.)
For the moment “Fourth Man Out” is a movie, and an entertaining one. With their first feature, director Andrew Nackman and writer Aaron Dancik show a lot of promise.
GAME FACE (***) (Oct. 8, 6:30 p.m.) After seeing “Out to Win,” a survey course on the topic of LGBT athletes, you’re ready for the more specialized “Game Face,” which focuses on just two. Belgian cinematographer Michiel Thomas, directing his first feature, follows lesbian transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox and gay college basketball player Terrence Clemens as they compete for championships and face their biggest struggle: coming out.
Fox is older, having a daughter in high school. Her daughter is supportive but her own parents rejected her when she transitioned, leading her to consider suicide. Professionally she thought she was in the clear when California and Florida licensed her after she was honest on her applications; sore losers, prejudiced fans and a general lack of understanding made things more difficult. She got support from LGBT organizations and her friend Kye Allums, who was the first transgender college basketball player.
Clemens had a rough time in high school when a gay rumor led to his close friends and teammates abandoning him. He switched schools, fell in with a bad crowd and wound up spending eight months in prison. Eventually he got into Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, a two-year college whose basketball team won the regional championship in his second year. NBA player Jason Collins came out about the time Clemens needed a role model and mentoring, and gave him good advice.
Between having cameras around and taking advantage of clips from a long list of credited sources, the filmmaker was able to assemble comprehensive stories of the two subjects. We don’t get into Clemens’ love life but Fox finds a girlfriend in the midst of the firestorm surrounding her.
As Fallon and Terrence were helped by those who came before them, they are committed to helping those who will follow, until the whole thing becomes a non-issue. This film will reach many young people they won’t get to touch personally.
GUIDANCE (***) (Oct. 8, 8:30 p.m.) David Gold (writer-director Pat Mills) is a hot mess. (Well, not so hot. At his best he looks like a much less attractive Ryan Reynolds.) He may be the least heroic anti-hero ever, but you can’t quite hate him. He’s a raging alcoholic and a flaming queen, but he’s as much in denial about the latter (“I just have a gentle voice”) as he is about the stage 3 skin cancer that’s getting ready to kill him.
A TV child star more than a generation ago, David still tries to find work as an actor; but when it all dries up he applies for a job as a high school guidance counselor. “I’m an actor,” he says. “I can be anyone. I can do anything.” He prepares for the “role” by watching a YouTube-ish video and even adopts the real counselor’s name: Roland Brown.
The school is desperate to fill the job and doesn’t even bother to check “Mr. Brown’s” driver’s license. The funny thing is, David actually likes kids and wants to help them.
So on the one hand “Guidance” is one of those sentimental movies about a noble educator who breaks through to his students; but on the other – much larger – hand, it’s a dark comedy about a pathetic creature who relates to his charges by sharing booze and smoking weed with them – in his office!
In the meantime Scott (David Tompa), the gay gym teacher, tries to bring David out, but if David were any deeper in his closet he’d be in Narnia.
It’s a delicate balancing act, all the more so because it looks so indelicate. Mills, flying solo as writer and director on a feature for the first time, pulls it off superbly. You can’t wish for David to fail when he’s trying so hard…to fail!
THE GUY WITH THE KNIFE (***) (Oct. 5, 5:30 p.m.) Movies I saw in my youth left me with positions (e.g., anti-war) that haven’t changed to this day. Alison Armstrong, debuting as director, made me change – or at least question – long-held views within 85 minutes. Her documentary is more dramatic than most screen dramas you’ll see this year.
The facts: One night in 1991 ten suburban youths, who became known as the Woodlands Ten, came to Houston’s gay Montrose neighborhood and got into an altercation with three gay men, one of whom, Paul Broussard, wound up dead. Activists led by Ray Hill stirred up the community in rallies that might have been dubbed “Gay Lives Matter,” getting media attention that made sure the police did their job.
There were no trials, but plea deals left the perps with sentences ranging from probation to 45 years in prison. By 2008 all but Jon Christopher Buice were free.
In the meantime Hill, himself a former convict, had gotten to know Buice, believed he was truly repentant, and mentored him in surviving the prison system.
At this point I’m like, yeah, Buice changed, but Broussard never got a chance to. Let Buice suffer the consequences of his actions. But I don’t know the whole story yet.
Other details are gradually revealed as the film follows Buice’s parole hearings over the years. Hill feels he may have initially been too successful in stirring up public sentiment through the media; but those who haven’t been swayed, including Broussard’s mother and Andy Kahan, from a group advocating for crime victims, are still at it. Kahan may be working the secretive Texas parole board to keep Buice in prison.
We also learn how Broussard’s life might have been saved and why it wasn’t. A case is certainly made that well-intentioned individuals can do as much harm as those with ill intent.
Not mentioned is how many gay lives may have been saved when potential gay-bashers saw the punishment meted out to the Woodlands Ten.
Armstrong presents voices from both sides, including some who have switched sides over the years. Minor quibbles: She jumps confusingly between the 2003 and 2007 parole hearings and lets her visuals get too self-consciously arty at times, but the story keeps pulling you back in.
“The Guy with the Knife” could be a training film to show potential jurors the importance of keeping an open mind, and it should be an instrument to push for reform in the Texas prison system.
There’s a certain sleight-of-hand involved in discussing the manipulative power of the media in a manipulative medium, but Alison Armstrong performs it deftly. If she can do such a powerful job of storytelling in a documentary, I’d love to see what she would do with a narrative film.
HENRY GAMBLE’S BIRTHDAY PARTY (** 1/2) (Oct. 3, 10:45 a.m.) “Sure are a lot of stories,” says one of the older guests at “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party” after hearing one of them. He’s right, and it’s to the credit of writer-director Stephen Cone that we’re able to follow as many of them as we do, but less would have been more.
The central story is Henry’s (Cole Doman). We meet him on the eve of his 17th birthday. His friend Gabe (Joe Keery) is sleeping over and they’re jerking off in bed together. They’re talking about a hot girl at school but Henry’s mind is obviously on Gabe.
It’s OK. The boys are Christians and Henry’s father (Pat Healy) is Pastor Bob, who won’t have “vulgar” music at the party, where most of the film takes place, but watches ultra-violent movies on cable.
Conversations at the party suggest what being a Christian means to different people these days, especially in attitudes toward otherness – different races, religions and sexual orientations. It’s not just generational. Some of the teens are as conservative as their elders, while others are open and accepting.
With 20 characters to keep track of – more than twice as many as “The Boys in the Band,” which likewise took place at a gay man’s birthday party – you can’t tell the players without a scorecard; but some will stick with you.
Logan (Daniel Kyri) is the obvious gay boy, the one who gets bullied at school, taking the heat off the Henrys of the world. Ricky (Patrick Andrews), a late arrival, is obviously troubled and just as obviously gay. One girl – not a church member – is openly lesbian, so you can draw your own conclusions about her inseparable best friend.
From the very beginning, undercurrents – including tension between Pastor Bob and his wife Katherine (Elizabeth Laidlaw) – tell us all kinds of secrets will be revealed before the end. In this sense the movie is a mystery, with each scene providing clues along the way to the ultimate mini-denouements.
Cone made “The Wise Guys,” one of my favorites on the festival circuit four years ago. “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party” isn’t bad but it’s not the follow-up I was hoping for.
HOW TO WIN AT CHECKERS (EVERY TIME) (*** 1/2) (Oct. 5, 7:35 p.m.) “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)” is a story of brotherly love and an 11-year-old boy’s coming of age among the exploited poor of Bangkok. It’s not the gayest film in the festival but it may be the best.
Their parents having died, Oat and Ek are being raised by their aunt, who cleans houses for a living. Ek works as a bartender for the sleazy black marketer who virtually owns their neighborhood, and whose son Junior is a bully.
Ek has a boyfriend, Jai, who is “richer, taller and whiter” than he is. Among their best friends is Kitty, who is “not your average girl. Not your average boy either.” She’s transgender but hasn’t yet had surgery. There’s no indication that anyone finds any of these things unusual, let alone objectionable.
Thailand still has a military draft, with young men required to participate in a lottery when they turn 21. Some of them will serve for two years. Like the U.S. draft back in the day it’s rigged in favor of the wealthy and well-connected. I couldn’t help thinking of “The Hunger Games” as Ek, and a decade later Oat, took their chances.
I don’t want to give away much detail of the fairly simple plot, which had me in tears at the end. I’m sure some cultural specifics went over my head, but it’s really a story of family values in the 21st century, when families are more diverse and inclusive.
Writer-director Josh Kim adapted his screenplay from two short stories in a best-selling collection. He makes good use of bits of documentary footage, including the positive testimony, partway through the credits, of a transgender woman who really served in the Thai army.
Checkers is a metaphor for life in this lovely film I’m still too verklempt to review rationally. Just see it.
IN THE GRAYSCALE (** ½) (Oct. 5, 9:10 p.m.) There aren’t 50 shades of gray in this Chilean drama, but it’s repeatedly made clear that not everything in life is black or white.
This is a story of one of the Q’s in LGBTQ. Bruno (Francisco Celhay) is a 30-something architect who takes a break from marriage and raising a ten-year-old son, moves into his grandfather’s workshop and takes some me time. (He says “I want to be alone” more than Greta Garbo.)
Hired to design some kind of landmark by the kind of guy who gives rich people a bad name, Bruno is paired with Fer (Emilio Edwards), a historian and tourguide in his late 20s who happens to be openly gay.
Although it takes a while, Bruno and Fer come together faster than Bruno’s projects; but Bruno’s still not sure that’s what he wants. When Fer says “I hate happy endings” it could be an omen.
Directed by first-timer Claudio Marcone, “In the Grayscale” develops at a slow pace that’s sometimes appropriate, sometimes annoying. Some plot elements, such as why the Santiago native would need a full-time consultant, are strained or fuzzy; but the acting is good, the basic story plausible (if frustrating, since we’re likely to side with Fer in wishing Bruno would make up his damn mind already), and the men have a hot sex scene about halfway through.
Approached with reasonable expectations, “In the Grayscale” will deliver.
LIZ IN SEPTEMBER (** ½) (Oct. 5, 8:15 p.m.) It’s been 32 years since I saw Jane Chambers’ play “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove.” I don’t remember much except liking it (though I suspect I called it a lesbian version of “The Boys in the Band”), so I can’t say how faithful the screen adaptation, “Liz in September” is.
I’m surprised Lifetime never made a movie of it, but since that task ultimately fell to Venezuela’s Fina Torres, the result is a cross between a Lifetime movie and a telenovela – and not the fun kind “Jane the Virgin” has got me used to.
The two main characters start off by talking about death, Liz (Patricia Velasquez) vaguely and Eva (Eloisa Maturen) more specifically about the death of her child.
They meet when Eva’s car breaks down (yes, that old device) on the way to meet her husband. The only place she can find a room in the nearest small town is in a hostel that appears to be a lesbian commune. Some of the six guests are paired up. Liz was formerly paired with Dolores, who is now with Coqui, who is trying to get with Liz (which is silly because it’s well known that Liz’ unfaithfulness is what caused her split with Dolores).
When Liz sees Eva it’s lust at first sight. It’s apparently that way when Liz sees any woman, but this time it develops into something more intense. Eva is uncertain how to react to the unusual situation, but can’t seem to stay away from Liz. When she is away Liz bets she can bed Eva within three days.
That’s the fun part, but romance, melodrama and tragedy lie ahead. Like Chekhov’s gun, you can’t introduce death into a story like this without using it.
A lovely underwater sequence provides some respite, and the acting and direction are splendid; but there’s just too much drama for my taste. (Yes, I’m gay. Why do you ask?) You know if you like this kind of movie and if you do, you’ll like this one.
MARGARITA, WITH A STRAW (** ½) (Oct. 4, 11 a.m.) Political correctness can be a bitch. In the beginning you’re watching an Indian family with a daughter, perhaps 20, who has cerebral palsy. Laila’s (Kalki Koechlin) best friend is a boy who’s also physically challenged, and one day she gets up the nerve to kiss him.
But the guy she really likes is a hot singer, Nima (Tenzing Dalha). She writes lyrics for a song that wins his group a battle of the bands, but the moment is spoiled by a patronizing speech that says they won because a “disabled” girl wrote the lyrics. If you’ve been feeling sorry for Laila – and how could you not? – the speech will make you feel guilty about your feelings. Or is it just me?
The point of “Margarita, with a Straw” is that people with “special needs” have regular needs too. Laila has to break away from her sheltered life in India to learn who she is and what she wants.
She gets the chance when she’s accepted at NYU and goes to New York, with her mother accompanying her until she gets settled. Before long Laila has a blind girlfriend, Khanum (Sayani Gupta), and a British boyfriend, Jared (William Moseley).
The affair with Khanum is more serious. They move in together and Khanum, who is of Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent, accompanies Laila to India for spring break.
So far so good, but now the movie veers into Lifetime territory by giving Laila’s mother colon cancer. And while the ending is meant to be positive, I found it disappointing.
Koechlin bears an amazing resemblance to Hilary Swank, who would win a third Oscar if she were the one giving this performance. It’s difficult to watch (or am I being un-PC again?), which means she’s doing it right. The rest of the film has some good parts but it’s not consistently worthy of Koechlin’s work.
NAZ & MAALIK (***) (Oct. 1, 9:30 p.m.; Oct. 8, 3 p.m.) “Naz & Maalik” are obviously connected by more than an ampersand. The black 18-year-old Muslim Brooklynites are best friends (with benefits) in Jay Dockendorf’s film that builds slowly into the festival’s sweetest surprise.
For most of the first half hour we get mostly a series of street and subway scenes as Naz (Kerwin Johnson Jr.) and Maalik (Curtiss Cook Jr.) buy lottery tickets, snacks and other items and resell them at inflated prices. They’re not breaking any laws – except Sharia law, when they duck into an alley to make out – but thanks to racial profiling they attract the attention of the NYPD and the FBI.
In a clever – possibly true – moment, a Muslim prayer service begins with words of welcome to anyone from law enforcement who may be infiltrating the service.
There are no shootings, major action scenes or overwrought drama – the most intense discussions come when Naz and Maalik argue over what constitutes charity, and when Naz arouses Maalik’s jealousy by taking advantage of a gay man’s interest in him to unload some merchandise – but this turns out to be the most eventful day of our heroes’ young lives.
Though he hopes to go to college, Naz is a pessimist. That automatically makes optimistic Maalik the more likable character and Cook milks it, coming across as a taller, more serious Kevin Hart.
It’s not likely to win any Oscars but the Independent Spirit awards should take note of “Naz & Maalik” and of Dockendorf, whose low-key first feature shows a lot of promise.
OUT TO WIN (***) (Oct. 4, 5 p.m.) There are dozens of dramas in this year’s Out on Film festival, 12 of them in “Out to Win,” Malcolm Ingram’s documentary about high-profile LGBT athletes. With the significant omission of the late Glenn Burke, the first major league baseball player to come out, the film covers the major historical figures and a few up-and-comers.
A timeline would be useful, as there’s considerable jumping around, especially returning to last year’s big story of Michael Sam and the NFL draft.
In the old days players (starting with David Kopay) didn’t come out until they retired or were outed (Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova). Later they faced overt homophobia (John Amaechi received death threats, British footballer Justin Fashanu was driven to suicide). In this decade players are coming out early in their careers (Michael Sam, Jason Collins) and homophobes (e.g., Tim Hardaway) are being punished.
Also featured are women’s hockey Olympian Charline Labonté, women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, baseball’s Billy Bean, football player/activist Wade Davis; and teenagers Conner Mertens and Chandler Whitney, who were inspired by those who went before not to wait to be famous before coming out. As in every other field and society in general, each generation’s trailblazers make it easier for those who come after them.
Ingram has done a public service, besides making an entertaining film, by compiling this historical record. I don’t care about sports but I salute these groundbreaking athletes.
THE ROYAL ROAD (**) (Oct. 6, 4 p.m.) Jenni Olson reads what sounds like a series of blog entries over a virtual photo album – not stills but they may as well be as each lingers for up to a minute or more – in a very personal documentary about lesbian crushes, favorite classic films, the value of nostalgia and the taking of the American southwest from Mexico.
As a queer critic, festival director and website curator, Olson has seen enough movies to avoid the mistakes she makes here – or if they’re intentional the reasons are beyond me. That I enjoyed as many moments as I did may be explained by our shared love of San Francisco and the idea that if you throw enough against a wall, something will stick.
Olson introduces herself by explaining that movies were her escape from “growing up in the Midwest as a gender-dysphoric tomboy.” She says she’s going to tell us two love stories, and cites several movies in which the potential lovers don’t end up together.
The first, “My Hollywood Love Story,” gets sidetracked when Olson takes a train – we see pictures of tracks but not a train – in pursuit of Juliet. She explains that the main road between San Francisco and Los Angeles is El Camino Real (The Royal Road), and goes into a history of the colonization of America. (It would have come in handy in a recent debate about immigration I had on Facebook.)
The visit to Hollywood is brief and unresolved, and we’re into the San Francisco love story, “The New Girl.” There’s a little more detail scattered over a longer period, but we never learn the name of the “girl” involved.
Olson defends nostalgia against Tony Kushner’s putdown of an “overly intense attachment to the past.” She makes a good point that it represents a physical, analog presence in a digital world, but weakens it somewhat by linking nostalgia to the photos she’s been taking for years to preserve the San Francisco that was.
All this time I’ve been thinking the images we’ve been seeing are from this collection of Olson’s. That might excuse them not always showing what they’re supposed to be illustrating, and giving the impression that San Francisco is a city of unattractive alleys and power lines instead of the usual chamber of commerce depiction of the city.
In the closing credits Sophia Constantinou is listed as cinematographer, so these are new pictures Olson requested for her film.
Olson gives “The Royal Road” a personal touch by reading her own story, so we don’t mind too much that she’s not a dynamic speaker, even when she delivers a dramatic speech from “The Children’s Hour” in a dull monotone. But her repeated mispronunciations of Real (in Camino Real), Junipero (Father Serra), Madeleine (Kim Novak in “Vertigo”) and Giacomo (Casanova), bad as they are, become even worse when we learn she had a voiceover director. Would it have been too digital for one of them to check the pronunciations online?
Finally, it’s obviously a choice but an odd one that Olson tells this very personal story with no people on screen, other than those presumably driving the cars we see occasionally.
It’s one thing to watch movies and another to make one, but Olson has made enough that she should be able to do better than this.
SEED MONEY: THE CHUCK HOLMES STORY (** 1/2) (Oct. 6, 9:20 p.m.) Porn involves at least two of the Seven Deadly Sins: Greed on the part of the pornographer and Lust on the part of the viewer, usually with a side of Envy because the guys on screen are getting more than you. (If they weren’t why would you be watching?)
Chuck Holmes tried to add Pride to the mix – not the sinful kind, but the self-esteem gay men needed before and soon after Stonewall (and some still need today). The Indiana boy moved to San Francisco in 1970 and never looked back. He co-founded Falcon Studios, which set higher standards for gay porn than had previously existed.
According to this documentary by Michael Stabile, Holmes wasn’t totally greedy – he gave his friends Rolexes like Elvis gave out Cadillacs. Toward the end of his life Chuck considered building a mausoleum as a monument to himself but was persuaded that only a few – er, hardcore fans would want to see it. Instead he built a “living legacy” through donations to political and charitable causes, though some candidates returned his money when they learned how he earned it. Two years after Holmes’ death San Francisco’s LGBT Community Center was named for him.
A documentary is another form of living legacy. While this one captures some LGBT history from a different angle, Stabile doesn’t make it special enough to appeal to a wide audience; and while there are plenty of pretty men, often naked, in clips from Holmes’ movies, his fans will be disappointed by the absence of hardcore sex. This isn’t that kind of movie.
Talking heads include Falcon co-founders “John Travis” and “John Summers”; directors John Waters and Chi Chi LaRue, porn stars including Jeff Stryker; musician Jake Shears, Chuck’s partner Steven Scarborough; and film reviewers and historians, especially my old Bay Area Reporter colleague John Karr, who offers an intelligent analysis of Falcon’s work but overstates its importance in the overall scene.
It’s true that Falcon films (among others) document the era when we celebrated our newfound freedom and offer a gallery of the “looks” gay men adopted at that time – at least the ones Holmes found attractive. It’s also true that during the early days of AIDS, when porn provided an outlet for men afraid to have sex with other men, Falcon was one of the last holdouts to resist using condoms in their films to protect their actors and educate their viewers. A montage of pornstar obituaries is a sad reminder of this downside.
There’s considerable nostalgia and valuable history and analysis in “Seed Money.” It’s worth watching but nothing to get excited about.
SUMMER OF SANGAILE (** ½) (Oct. 3, 10:35 a.m.) Probably the first Lithuanian film I’ve seen, “Summer of Sangaile” is visually stunning but overly minimalist in its storytelling. While there’s a romance of sorts between two 17-year-old girls, Sangaile (Julija Steponaityte) and Austé (Aiste Dirziute), it’s outweighed by Sangaile overcoming her fear of flying.
Sangaile wants to be a stunt pilot but suffers from vertigo, which is ironic because her mother was a ballerina. She’s spending the summer at her parents’ villa, an odd multilayered, multicolored building. She’s a moody teenager who doesn’t smile much and is into self-mutilation.
Austé spots Sangaile at an air show and becomes instantly obsessed with her. Sangaile eventually accepts her offer of friendship. We don’t know if Sangaile has a sexual history, but in the movie she has sex with one boy and then one girl (Austé), only returning to the girl for seconds – and thirds and fourths…
Austé makes a dress for Sangaile and photographs her in a variety of costumes and poses. When she learns of her friend’s passion she arranges for her to take a test flight, which doesn’t go well.
After that Sangaile sets out to overcome her fear of flying on her own, and while she and Austé remain friends, the two-years-later epilogue leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
You don’t have to read a lot of subtitles in “Summer of Sangaile” but you might have been willing to make the tradeoff to flesh out the story.
TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL (***) (Oct. 3, 6:10 p.m.) “Hello, I’m Tab Hunter, and I’ve got a secret!”
If you recognize that TV clip, which we now know had a double meaning, you’re probably old enough to have stained a few sheets thinking of Tab while masturbating in the 1950s, the peak of his Hollywood career. If you’re under 60 you probably don’t remember Hunter from much besides the camp classics “Polyester” and “Lust in the Dust.”
Hunter survived being outed by Confidential magazine, after reportedly being thrown under the bus by agent Henry Willson to keep them from outing Rock Hudson, but he made the mistake of buying his way out of his Warner Bros. contract (they essentially replaced him with Troy Donahue) and went for two decades without starring in a major film. By that time his boyish charm had long since faded.
Jeffrey Schwarz met Hunter when he interviewed him for the film “I Am Divine,” about Tab’s biggest leading lady. Now Schwartz follows that with “Tab Hunter Confidential,” billed as an adaptation of Hunter’s like-named 2005 autobiography.
In the best sense the film is like an illustrated audiobook. Tab does most of the narrating, sometimes on screen and sometimes off. He tells his own story, mostly chronologically, while Schwarz cuts away to hundreds of photos and clips, mostly from the ‘50s, and comments from a surprising assortment of people (Clint Eastwood!), many of whom worked with Tab – or lived with him, in the case of Neal Noorlag, his first long term (seven years) relationship; and Allan Glaser, his current partner, who’s been with him longer than the difference (30 years) in their ages. (Why they haven’t married is not mentioned.)
Forgotten starlet Venetia Stevenson talks about serving as a beard while Tab was dating Tony Perkins. Other actresses of the period, many of whom played a similar role and appear here, include Debbie Reynolds, Connie Stevens, Terry Moore, Dolores Hart; and Etchika Choreau, who came the closest to marrying Hunter. Natalie Wood spent a lot of time with him when they made back-to-back films together and toured to promote them. Her widower, Robert Wagner makes some comments. And Schwarz has even located the winner of a 1956 “Win a Date with Tab Hunter” contest!
In addition to Hunter’s film, television, recording and theater (mostly dinner-theater) careers, we see he was also a skilled ice skater and has had a lifelong love of horses. He gives his real name as Art Gelien, rejecting his birth name Kelm because his abusive father wasn’t around very long. Tab’s brother died in Vietnam and he took care of their mother, who had raised them by herself and later had bouts of mental illness.
There’s a major disconnect in this otherwise excellent film. Hunter mentions several times what a private person he is, and of course he had to be in the old days; but he never explains why he decided to go public with his book and this film. It’s probably like when he agreed to do “Polyester” at a low point in his career – “What have I got to lose?” – but with all his talk of privacy it needs to be addressed.
THAT’S NOT US (**) (Oct. 7, 7 p.m.) The title is misleading. The whole point of “That’s Not Us” is to appeal to multiple demographics by letting gay men, gay women and heterosexuals look at one of the three featured couples and say, “That’s Us!”
Sisters Liz (Elizabeth Gray) and Alex (Sarah Wharton) and their respective partners, Dougie (Tommy Nelms) and Jackie (Nicole Pursell), are sharing a cottage with their friends James (Mark Berger) and Spencer (David Rysdahl) for a “beach weekend” a ferry ride from Manhattan.
Each couple has something to deal with this weekend. The women haven’t had sex in a couple of months and can’t seem to get on the same page about it. Spencer’s been accepted to grad school in Chicago, which means a possible prolonged separation from James. And because straight people don’t have real problems, Dougie can’t ride a bike and Liz is determined to teach him.
Maybe a great writer could develop these situations and stretch them into a dramatically satisfying film, but director/editor William Sullivan and producer/cinematographer Derek Dodge, who share screenplay credit, had the cast improvise most of their dialogue.
I’m not a fan of the so-called “mumblecore” genre, pioneered by the likes of Joe Swanberg and the Duplass Brothers. If I want to see real people having natural conversations I don’t have to go to the movies.
Some dialogue scenes here are choppily edited, the result of being shot in one take with one camera and needing to be tightened.
Some of these people might be fun to spend a weekend with in real life, but watching them anguish over their situations for an hour and a half is not my idea of a day at the beach.
THOSE PEOPLE (** 1/2) (Oct. 2, 9:15 p.m.) “Those People” is largely set in the kind of fabulous Park Avenue apartments most of us only spend an occasional night in. (Er, don’t we?) It shows that people with no financial problems can have as hard a time finding – or recognizing – true love as the rest of us.
Writing and directing his first feature, Joey Kuhn has done a beautiful job in most respects; but unless I missed something (which is possible when I’m in festival mode watching one movie after another), his screenplay takes far too long to clarify the relationship between the two central characters. Are they really the wealthiest gay couple since Leopold and Loeb?
For 15 of his 23 years, Charlie (Jonathan Gordon) has been best friends with four-years-older Sebastian (Jason Ralph). They’re obviously devoted to each other and spend a lot of time together with their tight social circle that includes two women and a “token straight boy.” When, early on, Sebastian asks Charlie to move in with him, it sounds like a proposal. And Charlie accepts.
Only after Charlie becomes involved with Tim (Haaz Sleiman of “The Visitor”), a Lebanese pianist, do we learn that he and Sebastian have been friends without benefits all this time. Still, Charlie’s feelings for Sebastian keep him from fully committing to anyone else.
Meanwhile Sebastian is dealing with infamy caused by his father, who is in prison for financial crimes in which Sebastian may have been involved.
We care about Charlie, Sebastian maybe not so much (he seems like he’ll always be screwed up in some way), and Tim looks like a good catch.
A minor character who helps bring things to a head asks, “What’s the point of having gay friends if you can’t sleep with them?” That may be debatable but it brings the point of “Those People” into question.
I liked the film well enough to watch it again – if I had time, with dozens of other festival films stacked up – to see how it plays with a clearer understanding of the “friendship” at its core. At least now you’ll know going in.
TWO 4 ONE (***) (Oct. 3, 2:30 p.m.) In the early ‘70s there were a couple of movies (e.g., “A Slightly Pregnant Man”) about men getting pregnant. They were silly fantasies, but it was the same era as a serious movie (“The Man”) on the equally fantastic topic of the first black president. Meanwhile on television, Norman Lear was producing sitcoms (e.g., “All in the Family”) that found humor in serious issues of the day.
Two generations later, Canadian filmmaker Maureen Bradley combines a pregnant man with seriousness and humor in “Two 4 One.” The man, Adam (Gavin Crawford), used to be Melanie; and he got pregnant while helping Miriam (Naomi Snieckus), his former lesbian lover, artificially inseminate herself. Adam, now 40, hasn’t completely transitioned and was off his testosterone. (I’m not sure how scientifically accurate this is but it’s presented believably enough for a movie premise.)
Miriam’s current lover, Julia (Andrea Menard), hates kids and is opposed to Miriam having one. Adam is finally getting a job in the field (engineering) he studied for, but his colleagues are more like construction workers. His supportive mother (Gabrielle Rose) is the very definition of unconditional love.
Even though Bradley piles on a little too much baggage (Adam loses some sympathy because while saving up for “bottom surgery” he’s defaulted on his student loans, as a result of which he’s declaring bankruptcy), she keeps the tone light enough that the film never bogs down in melodrama; but neither does it get so fluffy that you don’t take the characters and their problems seriously.
There’s romance, comedy and drama, making “Two 4 One” as hard to label as some of its characters and their relationships; and that’s the point it’s trying to make: Let everyone be themselves and let consenting adults get together in a way that works for them, and stop worrying about what to call them.
UPSTAIRS INFERNO (***) (Oct. 3, 12:20 p.m.) There are queer slasher flicks, but the real LGBT horror movies are the historical documentaries. The young need to learn and the old to remember how things were for us less than half a century ago.
“Upstairs Inferno” tells a story I thought I knew – I remember the night it happened – but I learned a few things, in addition to reliving the emotions of that night, from Robert L. Camina’s (“Raid of the Rainbow Lounge”) well-made film.
On June 24, 1973, an arsonist torched the Up Stairs Lounge, a New Orleans gay bar on the fringe of the French Quarter. More than two dozen people died on the scene and the final death toll was 32. The local Metropolitan Community Church congregation had worshipped there until recently, and many members still socialized there. Two of their clergy and several members were among the fatalities.
I was attending a Sunday movie night at what was then MCC Atlanta (now City of Light) and remember the shock when word came in about the fire. It was the third MCC (after Los Angeles and Nashville) to be arsoned in six months, but the first where anyone was killed.
Rev. Troy Perry, the church’s founder, flew to New Orleans from L.A. with activist Morris Kight, and they were met by MCC Atlanta pastor Rev. John Gill. They took charge of memorial activities and addressed the press, to the chagrin of some bar owners who didn’t want the closeted community exposed by outside agitators.
The fire marshal continued investigating for years while the chief of police closed the books on the case within months. The apparent arsonist was identified but committed suicide before any charges were filed – if they ever would have been. He was Rodger Dale Nunez, an internalized homophobe who’d been thrown out of the bar earlier in the evening.
The city’s mayor, the governor and the Roman Catholic archbishop were strangely quiet about the event after having been quite vocal following two other recent fires whose combined death toll equaled half of this one. If we thought like our opponents do, we might say Hurricane Katrina was God’s belated punishment of New Orleans for the city’s general lack of compassion.
Books have been written about the fire and their authors contribute to this documentary, as do survivors who escaped the blaze and various others, including Troy Perry, as emotional and charismatic as ever.
The narration, mostly at the beginning before the talking heads take over, is handled by Christopher (son of Anne) Rice.
Like so much of our history, “Upstairs Inferno” evokes anger and tears, and determination to keep fighting until we have full equality; but it also gives us cause to celebrate all we’ve achieved so far.
Award winners from the big summer festivals that are showing in Out on Film include:
Frameline (San Francisco): Audience Award Best Feature: Margarita, with a Straw Audience Award Best Documentary: Game Face Jury Award Outstanding First Feature: In the Grayscale
Outfest (Los Angeles): Audience Award Best Dramatic Feature: Fourth Man Out Audience Award Best First U.S. Dramatic Feature: Those People Jury Award Actor in a U.S. Dramatic Feature: Curtis Cook Jr and Kerwin Johnson Jr in Naz & Maalik Jury Award Actress in a U.S. Dramatic Feature: Judy Greer in Addicted to Fresno