October 20, 2014

Queer Review: Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Writers: Brian Clemens. Allegedly based on the novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Luis Stevenson.
Cast: Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick, Gerald Sim, Lewis Fiander, Susan Brodrick, Dorothy Alison, Ivor Dean, Philip Madoc, Paul Whitsun-Jones, Tony Calvin

Overview
A gory retelling of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, the Hammer Horror film Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde inserts numerous transphobic elements into the classic tale and also uses the trope of female transgender villains as thieves of womanhood. The story also blends bits of history, such as references to the Jack the Ripper murders in addition to including the characters Burke and Hare.

Synopsis
Dr. Jekyll (Ralph Bates) has reached a point in his research where he believes that he can find a cure for most of the common disease and ailments that plague mankind. The catch is that he also realizes that it will take him many decades to complete this research. To solve this problem, he begins harvesting female hormones from deceased female corpses and begins utilizing two thugs by the names of Burke and Hare (Ivor Dean and Tony Calvin) do so. Instead of extending Dr. Jekylls' life, the hormones end up turning him into a woman (which leads to the requisite Hammer Horror nudity). He winds up explaining away his new identity as Ms. Hyde, Dr. Jekylls' sister, to his inquisitive neighbors. Ms. Hyde however, winds up completely dominating Dr. Jekyll and soon takes up stalking and murdering female prostitutes in the same manner as Jack the Ripper, just in order to maintain a fresh supply of female hormones.

The Queering
No one would mistake Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde for a historical bio pic revealing the "true" story behind the infamous Jack the Ripper murder cases. However, in that it clearly draws inspiration from historical events, can be seen writing queer identity onto a historical villain where no hard evidence of one previously existed. As I have previously noted, the only time history is guaranteed to remember someone as being a member of the LGBTQ community is when they kill someone. If you are queer and do something heroic, good luck with history remembering your true identity. However, being heinously evil is a great method for coming out of the closet, even for those who are 100% straight.

This is of course on top of all the more overtly transphobic elements. In this case, the filmmakers appear to be promoting the idea that transgender or transsexual woman can only become "true" woman by stealing something from other woman. In this case, female hormones. TERFs (trans exclusive radical feminists) will love it.

It is possible of course, to get lost in a debate as to whether or not the character of Dr. Jekyll is supposed to represent an actual transgender or transsexual individual. After all, he (the character) continues to maintain his masculine identity after starting the female hormones, rather than being written as an individual whose gender identity does not align with the one they were assigned to at birth. That is, the story is not about a "true" transgender or transsexual individual. However, I think this would ignore the obvious intent of stories involving gender non-conforming characters. That is, not only are they intended to associate gender non-conforming behavior with general evilness, but they also get to promote the idea that there is no "true" transgender or transsexual identity (along with other misguided mistruths about transgender and transsexual identity). To put it another way, the filmmakers get two shots off at transgender and transsexual identities for the price of one.

In a more philosophical vain, I found myself wondering about about the ethics of what Dr. Jekyll was attempting to do with his research. He believes he can find cures for most of the most common diseases and thus end a great deal of suffering for humanity. While this itself is a little arrogant, his solution for expanding his lifespan to complete his research is a little out there. Most researchers in the real world would do as much as they could in their natural life, then hope succeeding generations of scientists and doctors would be able to complete it. This being a Hammer Horror film, Dr. Jekyll naturally chooses the most horrific (not to mention unethical) option available to him. Although I suppose pointing out the absurdity of his motivations in this case makes about as much sense as using female hormones to extend ones lifespan because women live longer than men.

Recommendation
It would probably have been a lot more fun to have been operated on by Jack Ripper than to see the transphobic mess that is Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde.

The Rating
2 stars out of 4.

Trailer


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October 10, 2014

Queer Review: Nymphomaniac Vol. II (2013)

Nymphomaniac Vol. II
Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Jamie Bell, Christian Slater, Willem Dafoe, Mia Goth, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Udo Kier, Michael Pas

Overview
Nymphomaniac Vol. II continues the story told in Nymphomaniac Vol. I as the two movies were originally conceived as one single story before being split into two films). Nymphomaniac Vol. II takes Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg/Stacy Martin) in a darker and grittier direction, as she goes to increasingly extreme lengths to satisfy her sexual desires.

In the plus column, Nymphomaniac Vol. II has the first openly identified asexual character to appear in a major motion picture. In the negative column, the ending is one of the most problematic I have had the displeasure to witness, both from a dramatic *and* social justice perspective. Not only does it do a grave disservice to the characters, it's very nature reinforces accusations of misogyny against director Lars Von Trier.

Synopsis
After being found injured in the street in Vol. I, Joe continues to tell her story about her life as a nymphomaniac to Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård). In her quest for sexual release, Joe seeks out K (Jamie Bell), an unusual BDSM practitioner, but this leads to her neglecting her child and the end of her relationship with Jerôme (Shial LaBeouf). After K, Joe winds up working for L (Willem Dafoe) as a shady "debt collector". After Joe becomes a successful "debt collector", L suggests that Joe take on a protege P (Mia Goth). Joe is reluctant due to P's young age, but ends up cozying up to her anyways. The two end up forming a lesbian relationship, yet things quickly fall apart when Jerôme comes back into the picture.

The Queering
Never before have I found myself disliking a movie based solely on a single moment tacked onto the very end of the story. Not only does this moment dramatically undermine everything that comes before, it is both pretentious and serves absolutely no purpose other than to stroke Lars von Triers' ego. Everything that can be wrong with a piece of filmmaking is embodied in the last few moments before the end credits roll.

Before the ending Nymphomaniac Vol. II is on the same level as Vol. I. There are a few new wrinkles, such as Joe having to deal with being unable to seek sexual release and later engaging in a sexual relationship with a woman half her age. But for the most part, as with Vol. I there is a great deal to appreciate.

From a queer perspective, Vol. II expands upon elements that were only hinted at in Vol. 1. Seligman comes out here as asexual, making him the first character in a major motion picture to do so. Previously, asexuality has been limited to subtext, and for whatever reason, strongly associated with characters who engaged in cannibalism. (Examples: The Silence of the Lambs and Eating Raoul). Thus, I almost want to call him the first non-cannibal asexual character as well, but for the fact that potentially, there are other subtextual asexual characters out there I am unaware of.

One thing that occurred to me, is that both Seligman and and Joe go against gender stereotypes. Joe seeks out sexual pleasure, no matter the cost, in spite of society constantly telling woman that they should play hard to get. Seligman is asexual and seeks pleasure in the study of music and mathematics, in spite of society constantly telling men that they should do everything possible to spread their wild oats. While this perhaps makes sense, I cannot help but wonder what this might mean for the possibility of female asexual characters. Would most people even think a thing like that strange or would such a character ultimately appear perfectly normal to audiences? This is another reason I am little nervous about declaring Seligman the first openly identified non-cannibal asexual on film, it is quite possible there is a female character out there who fits the bill, but due to our society viewing woman as sexually passive, the characters' identity could easily slip by unnoticed, even by me.

In Lars von Triers' defense, both Joe and Seligman are complex individuals who both happen to exhibit elements of queer identity. There is also plenty of dialog (mostly from Seligman) defending human sexual desires and practices. While this at times borders on an author tract, it is still welcome to hear. Admittedly there are problematic places that Lars von Trier goes with this. For example, in the first film when Seligman defended Joe sexually assaulting a man on a train, and here Joe defends pedophiles who do not act on their desires. While I understand the sentiment, I don't see what is so great about a pedophile merely failing to harm a child. Shouldn't adulation be reserved for those who do genuine good, not merely fail to do bad?

One could potentially find things to criticize in the horrible way Joe's lesbian relationship ends in disaster, but that would ignore the fact that every relationship Joe develops ends badly. There is much more to criticize in the way Lars von Trier chooses to end the story and the way in undermines Seligmans' earlier claims of being asexual. While I try to keep in mind that films themselves are not obligated to adhere to social justice principles, there is much to mourn in what might have been. As it is, while it is nice to have an openly identified asexual character in a major motion picture, I cannot make the argument that this actually represents a step forward for asexual identity on the silver screen.

Recommendation
Pretty much only for completists who viewed Nymphomaniac Vol. I and want to see how the story ends. Just be warned about the pointless awfulness of the ending.

The Rating
1 star out of 4.

Trailer


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September 29, 2014

Queer Issue: Moral Dilemma: Would You Work For a Homophobic or Transphobic Employer?

Recently, my partner and myself moved from Pennsylvania to Minnesota, due to a job my partner was offered teaching Corrections for Minnesota State University. My partner is from the mid-west, so the cultural shock is not quiet so great for him, but I personally don't think that I will ever get used to hearing "soda" referred to as "pop". Also, I'm used to there always being hills or tall buildings around, so the wide open sky is a little off-putting for me. As it is, one reason for the lack of posts recently, is that I have been getting used to the area and am still trying to figure my way around a new location.

Otherwise, I'm doing fine and am finishing up my B.A. degree in Criminology for Wilkes University. I ended up having to take incompletes in two classes in the spring semester, so I'm finishing up my work for those while I search for a job here in Minnesota. I also am in the application process for a job at a local newspaper writing as a freelancer.

However, I am still looking elsewhere for work and recently came across an add for a staff position at a homeless shelter. At first glance the position looked good. The hours for the shifts they were hiring for were a little inconvenient, the pay was not great, but I figured it would be a good chance to obtain valuable experience working for a cause I believe is important. Plus I already have a lot of work and volunteer experience that would make me appear to be an ideal candidate for the position. Everything seemed set. Then I looked up the address in the ad.

As it turns out, the organization in question is one that has a history of discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community. The name of the organization isn't relevant, but for the record, this organization has both turned away homeless LGBTQ people seeking their services and there is at least one documented case of an employee being fired after coming out as LGBTQ that I am aware of. Also, at one point there was a link on their website to a virulently homophobic organization.

It is perhaps also worth pointing out that the link was taken down when it was pointed out to the organization and I could (if I wanted to name the organization in question) point to several news articles talking about the organization claiming they would mend their ways. However, a brief search turned up no news articles about the organization actually creating concrete policies to eliminate discrimination against the LGBTQ community, so it seems unlikely that such change has occurred.

Which brings me to my dilemma, it is possible that the local chapter does not discriminate against LGBTQ people and if the local head honcho was open minded, I might be able to get hired. But if I was hired by this organization, what would the implications be?

There are more than a few ways of looking at this issue. For example, the field of law enforcement and the criminal justice system have a reputation for being particularly homophobic and transphobic (in addition to engaging in other forms of prejudice) and thus one might reasonably question why an LGBTQ person would seek employment as a police officer or other wise within the criminal justice system. But the reputation of law enforcement officers in this case might be misleading that homophobia and transphobia (in addition to other forms of prejudice) are prevalent (or at least present) in just about every other career field imaginable, from science and medicine, to higher education, to politics and government.

One of the key features of systemic forms of discrimination and prejudice is that they are, well... systemic, and in general, it would be virtually impossible to find a career in which they would not be present.

But can a career choice be compared to working for a specific employer? This is the question that gives me pause. There are further complications here as well, namely that as far as I can tell, this organization runs the only homeless shelter for a long way around and thus an argument could be made that it would be better to have me working for this organization than not, as hypothetically, I could potentially work from within to make the local chapter more queer friendly so to speak. This latter choice is definitely a gamble though.

But at the end of the day, I simply do not like being put in this position in the first place. I want to work and put the skills that I have gathered during my life to good use. The choice of having to let them go to waste (if I am unable to find steady work elsewhere) or putting them to a use in a situation that might potentially increase homophobia and transphobia in our society is not a choice I look forward to making.

August 17, 2014

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies has a trailer now but little Bilbo

Went to see Guardians of the Galaxy today. Not much to report there, except it took itself a lot more seriously than it looked like it would in the trailer. But it was still entertaining in all it's 80's glory.

Oh and there was a trailer for The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies shown at the beginning. I watched it again, and the main question I have is... Bilbo who? Why even bother calling this The Hobbit other than marketing? I think there are like 6 seconds where you have a clear shot of Bilbo's face out of the entire 2 minutes of the trailer.

Also it almost deserves a trigger warning for the deadly serious mood. The style is very much the same for the trailer for The Return of the King and even uses a song from the movie itself.

Here be the trailer:

August 16, 2014

Queer Review: Nymph()maniac Vol. 1 (2013)

Nymph()maniac Vol. 1
Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Connie Nielsen

Overview
In Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 Lars von Trier examines the issue of female sexuality through the experiences of one woman, Joe. Volume 1 is a fascinating look at a myriad of subjects, ranging from nymphomania to fly fishing, and hopefully Volume 2 will continue what von Trier started here.

Synopsis
A battered and bruised woman, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg/Stacy Martin), is discovered battered and bruised on a sidewalk by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), who takes her in. While recuperating in his house, Joe begins to tell Seligman about her life as a woman with a voracious sexual appetite. While she regales him with tales about the 7-8 men she slept with per night, he makes references to fly fishing and the Fibonacci Sequence. Key stories that Joe tells Seligman involve her participation in The Little Flock, a club Joe formed with her best friend B and whose purpose was the denial of the existence of love, as well as her losing her virginity to Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf).

The Queering
Lars von Trier is a director who deliberately swerves between general pretentiousness and legitimate insight more frequently than a drunk driver trying to zig zag through an obstacle course. Naturally, he is a divisive filmmaker amongst critics. Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 tones down some of his more off putting qualities, creating a final product that is at least highly watchable.

Lars von Trier has a habit of focusing his lens on female characters who fall into the Broken Birds trope and Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 is no different. It's one of the reasons that von Trier has been accused of misogyny in the past. However, here he makes a clear effort to present Joe in a non-judgmental light. Seligman offers he up reassurances to Joe (who refers to herself as the worst human being ever) that her behavior is not as bad as it seems and her sexual appetite is not the result of some dark trauma in her childhood.

In Vol. 2, Seligman will "come out" as asexual (a first for a character in major motion picture I believe) and Joe will experiment with BDSM, along with engaging in a lesbian relationship. However, for part one, all of the relationships are hetero and there aren't any hints regarding Seligman's sexuality (unless you count that most of his interests and obsessions, like fly fishing, are completely non-sexual). That is, there really isn't anything *really* approaching a queer subtext in Vol. 1.

Performance wise, the most memorable one in Vol. 1 belongs to Stacy Martin, who plays young Joe's sexual awakening with a verve rarely seen from a performer of any age. As the older and more damaged Joe, Charlotte Gainsbourg is more subdued. Stellan Skarsgård doesn't have much to do besides listen and react non-judgmentally to Joe. Those who associate Shia LaBeouf solely with the Transformers films may be surprised at what he puts on display here (both bodily and acting wise). Uma Thurman has what amounts to an extended cameo, but she has fun with it in a scene dripping with gallows humor.

While Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 is a worthwhile endeavor, the more interesting (and problematic) content is contained in Nymphomaniac Vol. 2. However, it is possible to view Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 as a an almost complete motion picture, and it's non-judgemental take on female sexuality means it has enough virtues to stand on its own.

Recommendation
Nymphomaniacs and non-nymphomaniacs alike should be able to get something out of this film.

The Rating
3 out of 4 stars.

Trailer


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

August 13, 2014

Queer Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Writer: Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, and Evan Daugherty. Based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Tutle characters created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman.
Cast: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Johnny Knoxville, Jeremy Howard, Danny Woodburn, Tony Shalhoub, Tohoru Masamune, Whoopi Goldberg, Minae Noji, Abby Elliott

Overview
This most recent incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise manages to capture some of the fun one expects from a film bearing the title Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Synopsis
Intrepid reporter Apri O'Neil (Megan Fox) is desperate to land a big story about a vigilante group fighting against the dreaded Foot Clan but finds herself being relegated to covering puff pieces by her employer. However, during her investigation into the Foot Clan and the vigilantes pays off, and April manages to snap a few key photos of the vigilantes, who turn out to be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and are led by the anthropomorphic rat, Splinter (Tony Shalhoub). The four turtles it turns out, were once Aprils' pets and she had named after famous Renaissance Artists: Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Donatello), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), and Donatello (Jeremy Howard). Unfortunately, Aprils' involvement with the group leads The Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) directly to the Turtles liar. After suffering a devastating attack, the turtles must regroup to save Splinter and stop Sacks and The Shredder from releasing a deadly toxin that will kill thousands.

The Queering
I grew up in a home without a television, as my mom refused to pay for that unnecessary contraption. What I do remember though, is watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at my babysitters and I visited my Dad on weekends, who did not share my mom's Luddite views on the boob tube. I was, back in the day, a bit of an obsessed fan. I owned the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action toys and a punching bag with one of the characters emblazoned on it -- I think it was Michelangelo as he was my favorite Turtle. I also remember watching the first two movies repeatedly when I was visiting my Grandma Gladstone. As it was, she owned a TV, which since she lived in the country, only got one channel through one of the biggest satellite dishes ever, which sat out in the middle of the field across the street. Thus, one of the primary activities I engaged in at Grandma Gladstone's being watching movies on VHS.

In any event, the current movie holds up pretty well. The role of the Shredder and the foot clan has been reduced to being Sacks' henchmen, which is a disappointment. On the other hand, April O'Neil has been given an expanded role, including playing a key part of the Turtle's origins. Megan Fox is not the strongest of performers, but does a good job in presenting April O'Neils' determination in becoming a crack reporter. Michelangelo spends a fair amount of the movie trying to convince her to be his beard. In a sense, the key appeal of the Turtles is the ridiculousness of the premise. There isn't much for the filmmakers to do, other than to make sure the goofiness and humor are translated to the big screen. Personally, I thought this at least was done well enough.

The four Turtles are named after Renaissance artists. Three of them, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Rapheal, are thought by historians to have been gay or bi. Michelangelo engaged in numerous same-sex affairs, primarily with the male models he based his work on. Donatello once chased a thief with the intention of killing the criminal, but ended up being seduced by him instead. Leonardo made a self portrait of himself in drag into one of the most recognizable paintings of all time (if analysis of the bone structure in the Mona Lisa's face is correct). (Source: Queers in History by Keith Stern)

Meanwhile, the one turtle who is not named after a Renaissance artist who was as queer as a 3 dollar bill, was Rafeal, who is presented as a perpetually angry warrior who rebels against Leo. What else could Rafael represent, but a warning against all of the dangers and negative aspects inherent to the Heterosexual Lifestyle?

All things considered, the conclusion is obvious. Given all the hours I spent watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles growing up combined with their queer inspirations, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made me gay. Clearly, the LGBTQ activist looking to lead fresh, young youthful members into the homosexual lifestyle could not a find a better recruiting tool and the Gay Agenda has no better weapon in it's arsenal, than Leo, Mikey, Raf, and Donnie.

Recommendation
There is enough Turtle Power in this film to be worth it for fans to check out. And be sure to bring a few potential recruits along as well!

The Rating
3 pink shells out of 4.

Trailer


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August 5, 2014

Queer Review: The Trial (1962)

The Trial
Director: Orson Welles
Writer: Pierre Cholot and Orson Welles. Based on the novel The Trial by Franz Kafka.
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau, Elsa Martinelli, Suzanne Flon, Madeleine Robinson, Romy Schneider, Orson Welles, Akim Tamiroff, Max Haufler

Overview
A surreal tale about a man accused of an unknown crime, The Trial represents the best kind of cinematic absurdity to be directed by Orson Welles.

Synopsis
Josef K. (Anthony Perkins) awakens one morning to find his apartment being searched by police officers, who demand that he bribe him to make his life easier. He is told that he is under arrest but not that the crime he is being charged for. Not knowing what to do, Josef seeks the advice of L'avocat (Orson Welles) but finds his council less than useful. As he goes about trying to clear his name, the surreal experiences he undergo increase in their bizarreness. L'avocat all but tries to seduce him and after Joseph files a complaint about the police officers, he walks into a room to find them about to be whipped. As his ordeal becomes increasingly absurd, Josef becomes desperate enough to seek the advice of the painter of the courtroom judges. But for all his efforts to avoid it, Joseph K. is drawn inevitably to his ultimate fate.

The Queering
While I was working towards obtaining a criminology degree from Wilkes University (which I am still working on), I participated in an internship which involved observing court cases. Many of the people who found themselves in court, of course were poor and lacking in eduction. In most cases, it was obvious to me, that many individuals, victim and accused alike, must have found the entire experience with it's multiple hearings, appeals and counter-appeals, and adherence to technical overwhelming. In any case, I can imagine that there are many people out there who would identify quite strongly with the experiences of Joseph K.

The casting of Anthony Perkins in the role of Joseph K. was a deliberate push by Welles to add a queer subtext to the film. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review of The Trial:
Perkins was one of those actors everyone thought was gay. He kept his sexuality private, and used his nervous style of speech and movement to suggest inner disconnects. From an article by Edward Guthmann in the San Francisco Chronicle, I learn that Welles confided to his friend Henry Jaglom that he knew Perkins was a homosexual, "and used that quality in Perkins to suggest another texture in Josef K, a fear of exposure."

There are other ways that The Trial suggests that Josef is not entirely straight, although these primarily boil down to him being seduced by a series of woman and having Josef fail to return any kind of affection back to them. A late scene has him being chased down a long corridor by a gaggle of female teenagers. However, a more interesting subtext emerges though, when L'avocate comments that being accused makes men more attractive, right before requesting that one of Josef K.s' fellow accused kiss his ring.

Generally speaking, I am not a fan of surrealist motion pictures, but for me The Trial works. There is a bit of writing advice that goes that it is important for characters to want something, even if it is simply a glass of water. The problem I find with surrealist films (or absurdist narratives in general) is that such stories tend to forget this advice and present characters who lack the most rudimentary of motivation. Josef K. at least, clearly wants something, to prove his innocence. It is just unfortunate that he is forced to do so under the most absurd of circumstances. It helps in no small measure, that Orson Welles with his astounding visual storytelling abilities is at the helm. Visually, this is almost as impressive an achievement as Citizen Kane. Welles was clearly willing to push the envelope as far as he can with each picture he made (and retained control over) and this is evident in every shot of The Trial.

Recommendation
Would be worth being tried in the most Kafkaesque of trials in order to see.

The Rating
3 stars out of 4.

Trailer


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.