December 28, 2010

Queer Review: Easy A

Objectively speaking Easy A is not what one would call a great film. There are flaws aplenty and some of them are significant. However, thanks to an amazing lead performance by Emma Stone and some sharp writing, Easy A was definitely the most enjoyable film released in 2010 that I was able to see.

The plot is straightforward enough, although demonstrates more ambition than most comedies set in high-schools. Olive (Emma Stone) is a slightly nerdy, but otherwise "normal", teenage girl. After spending a weekend bemoaning how she never gets any dates, she finds herself lying to her best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka) about losing her virginity. This fib is overheard by the school's ultra-conservative Christian, Marianne (Amanda Bynes). Soon, the whole school is abuzz about Olive's sexual tryst. The fact that it never happened does not matter, Olive is soon perceived to be the new school slut by the entire student population.

Matters are further complicated when Olive shows sympathy to the schools lone openly gay student, Brandon (Dan Byrd). He manages to convince her to fake having sex with him to help prevent him from being bullied, a situation exacerbated by the homophobic school principal and apparently unsupportive parents. From there, Olive finds herself "helping" other male students be perceived as more manly by agreeing to also appear to have sex with them in exchange for gift certificates and other favors.

Throughout all of this, the movie manages to analyze some deeper thematic material, such as how guys generally can have their reputations enhanced by having sex (as long as it's with a female) while girls engaging in the same behavior end being referred to as sluts or worse. Also at play is how the gossip mill works. The stories that end up being told about Olive never happened, but that doesn't matter as far as the student population is concerned, and is of even less concern to the guys that Olive helps out.

As I mentioned at the beginning, Easy A has several obvious flaws. Some are minor, such as the movie's slightly too self-aware tone and that Olive's parents, in spite of some nice performances by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, never feel like real people. The most egregious sin though, is the clichéd portrayal of the schools Christian group, and particularly Amanda Bynes deeply religious character. The film is constantly taking cheap shots at Christians and unfortunately resorts to some of the worse Christian stereotypes to do so.

Arguably though, the only reason more than a few supporting players and sub-plots come across as a little flat is because of how great most of the other elements in the film are done. Whilst Easy A may not earn the grade the title tries to suggest it deserves, this is the most fun one can have watching a B+ flick.

December 20, 2010

Queer Review: Wilde (1997)

Oscar Wilde (Stephen Fry), the writer, poet, and playwright, is best known for his wit and humorous sayings. Wilde the movie biopic starring Stephen Fry, presents Oscar Wilde's life as he finds fame and love with other men. The problem though, is that "homosexual behavior" was considered a perversion in Victorian England and he finds himself persecuted for the mere act of loving another man.

The film has a few problems with accuracy. For instance, it portrays Wilde as being a rather devoted family man and therefore torn between his wife and children and his gay lifestyle. However, the historical record indicates that he was not a deeply committed husband or involved father to his two sons - at least not to the degree that the movie portrays him as being.

However, in spite of a few flaws, the movie is an enjoyable diversion. The earlier portions of the film showcase Wilde's witty quotes and pithy humor. Proceedings become increasingly depressing and dreary though, as the authorities close in and Wilde finds himself facing imprisonment and other harsh penalties for his "crimes".

This is an unquestionably an actors movie, with many strong performances and nary a weak one in the bunch. Stephen Fry is his usual charming self, playing the man who wrote Dorian Grey and The Importance of Being Earnest. Jude Law has the hardest role, which he pulls off admirably, as Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglass. Bosie was Wilde's deepest love, and at least as portrayed here, was also the charming yet immature son of the Marquees of Queensbury (Tom Wilkinson). Jude manages the difficult task of playing someone who is essentially a jerk, yet still showing a side of the character that would have caused Wilde's passionate obsession for Bosie. Excellent support is also provided by the likes of Vanessa Redgrave, Michael Sheen, and Jennifer Ehle.

As I mentioned earlier, there are minor flaws with the film, in addition to the historical inaccuracies, the fairy tale The Selfish Giant is overused as a parallel allegory for Wilde's life - every time Stephen Fry starts reciting passages via a voicover from it, I found myself zoning out. These complaints, however, amount to little more than minor quibles. The film brings a fascinating historical individual to life, and I can easily recommend it for anyone who might want to know more about one of the most brilliant and influential writers of the Victorian era.

December 13, 2010

Queer Review: The Ritz

The Ritz is a 1976 film directed by Richard Lester. It's probably most remarkable for being one of the earlier films that does not portray gay men as completely disturbed, mentally ill, serial killers etc. Rather it's progressive attitude - for the time - presents gay men merely as sex obsessed buffoons or stereotypical effeminate queens. A small step forward, but a step nonetheless I guess...

The premise of The Ritz has Gaetano Proclo (Jack Weston) on the run after his brother-in-law, mob boss Carmine Vespucci (Jerry Stiller), orders a hit on his life. After asking a cab driver to take him to the last place where he could be found, Proclo finds himself at The Ritz, a gay bathhouse, thus setting up a night of misunderstandings, mistaken identities, and "comic" hijinks.

The acting is arguably The Ritz's strongest asset. Jack Weston is fun to watch as the bumbling Proclo. Rita Moreno is also a hoot as lounge singer Googie Gomez, who mistakes Proclo for a big shot producer. Another notable performace comes from F. Murray Abraham who plays an older queen and somehow manages to give the character some dignity in the midst of all the chaos.
Richard Lester (who would later go on to direct Superman II and III) directs and manages to keep the film from going completely off the rails, in spite of the best efforts of the storyline.

The Ritz is more interesting as a historical artifact then it is as a motion picture. Many bathhouses were forced to close during the AIDS crisis, so therefore lavish places like The Ritz no longer exist. The Ritz is, well, ritzy. Today most bathhouses are crummy rundown affairs and while exceptions exist, they are exceedingly rare. Furthermore, the film can be seen as demonstration of societies slowly changing attitudes towards sexuality. While it's portrayal of gay men is not entirely positive, it's worth noting that Proclo is presented as being open minded, while his evil brother-in-law is clearly homophobic. Someone could make the argument that the movie paved the way for the far superior Victor Victoria, which came out a few years later - although I leave that to someone with a better knowledge of film history than myself.

To finish this up, The Ritz is neither a terrible film nor a great one. It's a product of it's time and while it could have been better, it could also have been a lot worse. There are at least a few laughs to be had, but there's too little here for me to offer a whole hearted recommendation.

December 5, 2010

Queer Review: Kinsey

Alfred Kinsey became a legend when he published The Sexual Behavior of the Human Male in 1948. People were shocked, titillated, angered, outraged, and flabbergasted and it's publication made Kinsey a household name virtually overnight. However, that was nothing compared to what happened when he published The Sexual Behavior of the Human Female. People were even more shocked, titillated, angered, outraged, and flabbergasted by its' revelations. While The Sexual Behavior of the Human Male was a success for Kinsey, albeit an extremely controversial one, the publication of The Sexual Behavior of the Human Female nearly resulted in his professional ruin.

Kinsey was truly a pioneer. His work changed how people viewed our own species sexual practices. Homosexuality was considered a diseased sin by many, and whilst there are still those who do, their claims do not have the backing of credible research thanks to Kinsey. That is not to say that Kinsey's work was without legitimate criticism. For instance he relied heavily on prison populations and misrepresented testimonies that he had received from a pedophile.

Kinsey, the 2004 bio-pic of Alfred Kinsey's life, presents the details of his life story. It's competently made, but otherwise uninvolving. For a man who inspired scorn and hatred from religious conservatives and praise and adulation from liberals, Kinsey - as portrayed here - is boring. Perhaps that is the case in real life, but the movie version of Kinsey (played by Liam Neeson) is the stereotypical nerd, who develops an interest in researching human sexual behavior only after realizing how little science and academia know about the topic.

Speaking of Neeson, he does a decent enough job, but he's consistently overshadowed by the supporting cast. Laura Linney gives an entertaining performance as Kinsey's free thinking wife. John Lithgo is suitably fiery as Kinsey Sr, a fundamentalist protestant preacher who thinks that sex is only for procreation, anything else is perversion. Naturally this sets him up as the film's antagonist, to a point. Peter Sarsgaard is alluring as the assistant who first seduces Kinsey, then his wife.

Furthermore, many details are potentially tiltilating, but are otherwise underdeveloped. For instance, the partner swapping that goes on within the Kinsey Institute is presented in the film, but the consequences, with the exception of one scene, are left almost entirely to the imagination. There is also the fact that Kinsey and his associates made films of themselves having sex, but this material seems to also have been truncated. For instance, did any of the members of the project object? Was there any intrinsic value to creating what was essentially pornography in order to study sexual activity, when the main thrust of the Kinsey project was focused on interviewing human subjects?

At the end of the day, the film ultimately offers little insight into Kinseys life. The details that are used to form the structure of the film are well enough known for people who would like to know about him can just do the research. With that said, this would make for good viewing for a professor who wanted to introduce their class to Kinsey's life, but the production as a whole has little to recommend it.

December 1, 2010

Queer Review: Dorian Grey (2009)

All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

-From the preface to The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde

In Plato's Republic he gives the opinion that most art, generally speaking, is a really terrible thing. Plato's reason has to do with his idea of the forms, to which Plato were these unchanging ethereal objects of awesomeness, from everything in our world is a copy of. Art therefore - be it a painting of a bed or the story of tragic lovers - exists as a copy of something that was already a copy to begin with. What Plato was getting at, in other words, is that Art is like receiving the handy-me-downs of clothing from your cousins that they had also received as hand-me-downs from even more distant relatives.

The story of Dorian Grey (Ben Barnes) starts with his commissioning his portrait to be painted by his friend Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin. At the start of the story, Dorian is an innocent, but is slowly corrupted into decadence by the suave and amoral Lord Henry Wotten (Collin Firth), who finds himself infatuated with Dorian's youth and good looks. Dorian's descent is aided by his discovery that his painting absorbs anything bad that happens to him, giving Dorian access to a seeming fountain of youth. The painting functions as a whipping boy, allowing Dorian to imbibe drugs, drink excessively, and cavort with prostitutes without having to worry about any of the negative consequences of his actions.

The story of Dorian Grey can therefore seen as a response to Plato's challenges to art. The painting by becoming the symbolic embodiment of Dorian Grey's sins, ends up as a better reflection of Dorian Grey's true soul or form, than his physical body. It's almost as if Oscar Wilde was trying to argue that art can act as a deeper and more meaningful mirror of reality than our physical forms are capable of.

As for the 2009 film adaptation, Dorian Grey is fairly well done on the whole. Collin Firth is suitably charming, as he recites Oscar Wilde's dialouge - adopted by for the screen scribe Tony Finlay. Firth gives the best performance in the film, by playing Lord Wotton as a callous libertine who simply does not give a damn about how the consequences of his actions effect other people. Ben Barnes is less successful as Dorian Grey. Barnes is stiff enough in most scenes to be easily mistaken for an actual painting or sculpture. Director Oliver Parker does a good job though, of creating a moody atmosphere and effectively pacing the film so as to generate enough suspense to keep audiences interested.

On the whole, I recommend this adaptation. It's not perfect, nor is it as intense as it could be. However, for a Gothic horror story, it has enough going for it, I believe, to warrant people seeking it out.

November 29, 2010

Queer Review: Victor Victoria

Victor Victoria is notable for being one of the first American movies to show a gay character in a positive light. The movie is an absurdest quasi-musical, that relies on a fair amount of slapstick to keep the plot moving. It came out in 1982 - the same year as Tootsie, another picture about cross dressing.

The setting is 1930's Paris. Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) is a high-class singer who can't find a job because all the clubs are not looking for the kind of act she's offering. She becomes so desperate that she tries to scam her way out of paying a restaurant bill by sneaking a cockroach into the salad. This allows her to meet Toddy (Robert Preston), a flaming, yet gentle queen. The day after the two meet, Toddy becomes inspired to try a different kind of scam. Dress Victoria up as a man and have her play a male-to-female impersonator. At it were, female impersonation was a well respected form of entertainment at the time Victor Victoria was set, as it was considered very difficult for a man to pull off such an illusion.

In any event, Victoria - now Count Victor Grazinski - is introduced by Toddy to a talent scout, and soon her/his opening night is a smashing success. This is when she catches the eye of Chicago mobster King Marchland, who immediately sees right through Victor to see Victoria. Naturally all sorts of complications arise, as the other Chicago mobsters now think Marchland is gay, which they don't like. Meanwhile, his burly body guard "Squash" Bernstein (Alex Karras) is also inspired to come out of the closet and the owner of another night club who has a beef with Toddy and suspecting that all is not as it appears, hires a private investigator to look into the matter.

The movie features a fair amount of low brow slapstick (such at the misfortunes that befall the private investigator), some nicely choreographed song and dance numbers by "Count Victor", and suitably witty dialog. The acting jobs are all well done, with Alex Karras's performance being my favorite, despite his character being secondary. Julie Andrews is fun to watch, ethier when she's playing Victor and Victoria. Even though it's pretty obvious to the audience watching that Victor is really a woman, Andrews carries herself with enough of a swagger to make the ploy seem plausible. On the production side, Blake Edwards provides the sort of low key direction needed for the movie to work.

Thematically, Victoria's cross dressing allows the movie to address a variety of feminist topics. At one point, Victoria openly confesses that she has many more doors open to her, now that she's playing a man, than when she was a woman. The movie doesn't belabor too many points, but they are there for those who want to look for them.

Victor Victoria was made in the 80's, but feels more like a well aged classic thanks to the historical setting and high caliber production values. In the end, this is simply a fun and very enjoyable movie.

November 27, 2010

Queer Issue: The Results of the Uterus That Never Fell Out.

Sometimes parents can be really embarrassing. Come on, I'm sure we've all been down that road, haven't we? Your mom asks you to go to some function to honor her track coach from high-school and you agree, because she asked all the while thinking "how bad can it be?"

Then you get there, there's your mom's classmates and fellow track runners and naturally your mom just has to introduce you to everyone as "proof that cross country running does not cause a women's uterus to fall out". I wanted to put a bag over my head while she went on to talk about another myth from that time. This one apparently was used to prevent women from running more then half a mile by claiming that they were guaranteed to collapse after more than two laps around the track.

Actually, I should admit that my embarrassment at the "proof the uterus won't fall out" comment was momentary. I also found out at the event that my mom was also the first female cross country runner at Unatego Jr. Sr. High after the passing of Title 9, which forced schools to allow equal access to sports for both genders. Which probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise to me. After all, my family has something of a history of women breaking down the gender barrier. For instance, my grandmother was the first women on my mothers side to attend and graduate college and faced, as I recall from the stories I was told, huge resistance from her parents in order to do so.

In any event, this all got me thinking about the lies being spread about the LGBTQIA community by newly inducted groups onto the Southern Poverty Law Centers List of Anti-Gay Hate Groups, such as the American Family Association and Americans For Truth About Homosexuality.

Lies such as Homosexuals molest kids at higher rates or have shorter lifespans than heterosexuals. Every group that attempts to challenge the status quo, to shake things up, is going to get push back. Or blow back, if we go with CIA terminology. Society never appreciates the rebel.

Misinformation about the physical inferiority of women was made up to prevent them from directly competing against men in sports. "Your Uterus will fall out" is no more legitimate then claiming that being raised by a same sex couple will cause psychological harm to a child.

The above lies about the LGBTQIA community are still being propagated to prevent the repeal of DADT, marriage equality, or same sex couples from adopting kids. Using scare tactics to promote oppression will probably never go out of style. In short it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

November 24, 2010

Queer Review: Boys Don't Cry

Boys Don't Cry falls into the general category of films that can be very difficult to watch, but that should not necessarily a reason to avoid watching it. Two scenes in particular stand out for there uncomfortably graphic presentation of a rape and multiple murder. This movie is a downer and I came to the end of it feeling unusually depressed. What makes this movie redeemable is that this is a non-exploitative presentation of a real trans female-to-male individual who was brutally violated and then later murdered for daring to live according to his true identity.

The story follows Teena Brandon, who at the beginning of the movie, has just moved to a small rural Nebraska town. At the start, Brandon seems to fit right in. He wins over the girls with his sensitivity and the guys like him as he appears to be just like one of them with his drinking, cussing, and bumper riding. Then its discovered that Brandon is not biological male and events spiral out of control towards their tragic and inevitable conclusion.

The movie's cast is headed by Hilary Swank, who gives the most memorable performance. Swank presents Brandon as cocky and fearless, yet her performance also shows subtle moments of uncertainty and fear beneath the swagger. Chloë Sevigny and Peter Sarsgaard also give strong performances as Brandon's lover and main antagonist respectively.

Kimberly Peirce directed Boys Don't Cry and - other than a few pretentiously surreal shots and short scenes - provides a firm grounding for the film. She does a very good job of building a sense of dread and making the audience acutely aware of the danger Brandon is in once events have reached a tipping point.

A couple of scenes stand out that I want to mention. One, where Brendon is being cruelly forced to expose himself (to determine his biological gender) he looks up and sees himself standing outside the bathroom he's in, watching himself being violated. It's a brief, yet powerful moment and made me think about how many people undergoing traumatic events often report having an out of body experience.

The other scene, is where Brendon is raped. The scene is not presented any more graphically then is necessary, but this is the point where most people will find themselves involuntarily looking away from what is happening on screen.

I am recommending this film in spite of it's depressing and disturbing content on the grounds that it is telling a worthwhile story and told it rather well. The only negatives are the aforementioned surreal scenes. Overall, this film deserves to be seen for Hilary Swanks superlative performance and the strength with which it tells the story of Teena Brandon.

November 23, 2010

Queer Issue: The Feminine Insult

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association recently wrote an article entitled "The Feminization of the Medal of Honor" which angered pretty much everyone who read it, feminists and those who felt that Bryan Fischer had insulted Medal of Honor recipients. Which Fischer pretty much did by using feminization as a pejorative.

Before I get into the larger point I want to make, I am going to point out that I am not sure which is worse, Fisher's grasp on theology or his grasp on basic logic. I can not help but shake the feeling after reading this article that I somehow skipped the part of the Bible where Jesus decided to introduce the Roman Centurions to his "little friend" before mowing them all down in an epic blood bath.

I personally think Fischer needs to put down the X-Box 360 remote and realize that the Medal of Honor is not a video game that can be won by destroying the most lives. Killing people is easy. In this day and age, technology has given us a myriad of ways of doing so without putting ourselves in danger. Killing should not be considered the mark of a hero or proof of masculinity.

However, I'm ignoring the larger point I wanted to get at. While Fischer equates killing and destroying things as marks of manhood, he uses femininity as an insult to imply weakness. This not only insults all women serving in the armed forces, it also begs the question of why the feminine can be used as a sign of weakness to begin with.

What I want to say is this. Just because someone is male, female, or any other gender, does not mean that they are weak or cannot fight or risk it all for a worthy cause. Courage, honor, integrity, and strength are all characteristics that no gender has a monopoly on.

Queer Issue: DADT Commercial that Fox News Refused to Air

In case people haven't noticed, I'm rather opposed to the very concept of censorship. If it's that worth censoring, it's that much worth viewing. So, be sure to enjoy the repeal DADT commercial that Fox News refused to air.

November 12, 2010

Queer Review: Hedwig and the Angry Inch

It's obvious that the soul of every lover longs for something else; his soul cannot say what it is, but like an oracle it has a sense of what it wants, and like an oracle it hides behind a riddle. -From Plato's Symposium

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a roaring quasi-musical about a transsexual rock singer - Hedwig/Hansel (John Cameron Mitchell) - who tours the U.S. giving concerts in run down venues while pursuing his ex-boyfriend Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt) who has gained fame and popularity by stealing Hedwig's songs.

The plot is little more then Hedwig giving his performances, with interludes where he describes his back-story of growing up in east Berlin to his band mates. Desperate to escape the terrible conditions behind the Berlin wall, he ends up falling in love with an American GI, and then having a sex change operation that goes horribly wrong and leaves him with an "angry inch". After that, he sees all of his efforts wasted when his lover leaves him on the same day the Berlin wall comes down.

The Berlin Wall of course functions as an obvious metaphor for Hedwig/Hansel's divided life. He does not know if he is male or female and like Aristophanes explanation for the origins of love in Plato's Symposium - which the Hedwig tells at one point - he is searching for his missing half. The story of Hedwig therefore, is a story of her odyssey to become whole.

This is a bawdy film, with John Cameron Mitchel's furious - yet quite nuanced - performance being the most memorable. The musical scenes are wild and over the top, with a couple of sentimental numbers to balance things out. This is the good stuff, hard classic rock-n-roll, with no over synthesized auto tuned crap to be found.

This is a great movie, wild, fun, and with enough of a philosophical undercurrent to give the film some gravitas. It's rare to find a film that is both highly visceral and genuinely intellectual, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one of them.

November 9, 2010

Queer Issue: The Stigma of HIV

World AIDS Day is December first and local groups that I'm involved with are currently in the process of planning events. So I thought I would take some time to offer some thoughts on the issue of HIV and AIDs.

By now most people should know that HIV is a Sexually Transmitted Disease that causes AIDS. People who engage in risky behaviors should be tested for HIV on regular basis. Common sense, right?

As I view leaders as the ones who should be setting a good example, when I was asked at a recent doctors visit if I would like to be tested for HIV (and with the approach of World AIDS Day on my mind) I naturally answered "yes". This way - I thought at least - I could tell people that I had been tested, and yes, it is a good thing!

This of course meant that I had to spend the next few minutes trying (awkwardly) to act like "yes, I do have unprotected sex with multiple partners and therefore my risky behavior is a very good reason for me to be tested for HIV."

It also meant getting a lecture on the dangers of having unprotected sex with multiple partners from my doctor and lab orders for pretty much every other STD that can be tested for. At least now, I'll have peace of mind... not that I was worried or anything.

Also, in terms of leadership theory, misleading your doctor is generally a bad idea and people really should be doing as I say (do not mislead medical professionals) not as I did. Seriously!

In any event, this also got me thinking about the stigma and prejudices that still exist against those infected with HIV. One of the most common reasons I've seen used to argue for "homosexuality" as being an immoral sin (other than quoting biblical texts) is the rate of incidence of HIV infections among Men who have sex with Men. Which is a rather terrible reason when one thinks about it.

Here's why. While HIV is a virus that is most readily spread through unprotected sex, it is not the only way. Granted, certain activities are more likely to spread HIV then others. Populations that engage in those activities typically have higher incidence rates of infection. Anal sex has the greatest chance of infection, but vaginal intercourse can also lead to an infection, among other possibilities, such as sharing dirty needles.

Furthermore, according to the CDC website "...even though more men than women have HIV, women are catching up. In fact, if new HIV infections continue at their current rate worldwide, women with HIV may soon outnumber men with HIV." If HIV really were God's wrath against the "homosexual" lifestyle, you would think he would pick a more discriminating method.

Logically, to me at least, it makes no sense to judge an individual who has HIV then it does someone with the flu. Would we ridicule someone with skin cancer for not wearing proper sunscreen? A disease is a disease. Some are more deadly, spread easier and through different means, and kill more efficiently. But still, at the end of the day, whoever gets "it" is not "immoral" or suffering punishment under the whims of a omnipotent deity.

November 8, 2010

Queer Review: Km.0 (Kilometer Zero)

Km. 0 can either refer to the central square of Madrid Spain or the title of an ensemble romantic comedy that is set there. Zero also does a pretty good job describing how much enthusiasm I can muster up about this film. As I've said before, I don't get romantic comedies, and this isn't exactly a stellar example of one. It is better then Latter Days, but only by a small margin, due to the fact that it *feels* more realistic and is less predictable overall.

The characters all agree to meet at the same time and place, although most of them do not know each other and therefore confusion ensues. There is the aspiring filmmaker who plans on staying with his sister's friend, whilst he studies film making, but ends up going home with a prostitute instead. She was supposed to meet an uptight young businessman who is still a virgin due to his anxiety and repressed feelings regarding his sexuality. He ends up spending the time with another man that he meets at the square. Meanwhile, the filmmaker's sister's friend, who is an aspiring actress who is desperate to land a role, throws herself in front of a famous director's car and then tries to blackmail him into giving her a part in his next movie. Another story features a middle aged women, who hires an escort, only to come to believe that he may be her long lost son that she was forced to abandon shortly after birth.

There are more sub-plots but each one is more boring and less interesting then the ones above. Pretty much all of the stories revolve around contrivances big enough to blot out the sun on the hottest day of the year in Madrid - which is when this story is supposed to be set. The only two stories I was able to develop any interest in were the one with the filmmaker trying to improve the life of the prostitute, and the businessman, who is so uptight and repressed, that he's willing to consider a dalliance with a whore, even though he is engaged to soon be married. The others failed to affect me at all.

The plots feature both straight and gay couples, with practically everyone being paired off at the end in some manor. The quasi-happy, yet completely unbelievable, ending was probably where the film fell apart altogether. In spite of the contrivances and plot holes, I was willing to give the film a certain amount of latitude, but the ending destroyed any good will that it had built up.

I'll admit the acting is uniformly good, with completely naturalistic performances all around. There are also plenty of reviews out there that describe Km.0 as "charming" and "funny". However, whatever charming and funny moments the film has are vastly outweighed by it's numerous flaws. If you don't mind the subtitles and ridiculously contrived plots, then you might enjoy it. Otherwise, I would think it's best if one kept ones distance from this film far greater than zero kilometers.

Queer Review: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is the story of 3 drag queens as they make their way across the Australian outback to a hotel where they've agreed to give a major performance. The title takes its' name from the bus Priscilla, that they are making their zany trip in.

Adam/Felicia (Guy Pierce) is the most immature (and annoying) member of the group. He's balanced out by the more mature Bernadette, in a brilliant turn by Terrance Stamp. Tick/Mitzi - played by a pre-Lord of the Rings/The Matrix Hugo Weaving - is the husband of the Hotel Owner that they're going to be playing for - although the other two don't realize this or even that he's actually married.

The film is a quasi-musical, with the group frequently lip syncing in outrageous costumes to songs by Abba. The film is wildly over the top, but with enough scenes of pathos to keep it grounded. It contains enough scenes high lighting the bigotry trans and cross dressing individuals to get the point across, but does not dwell on this theme.

See this movie, it's fun and entertaining. Features some memorable acting, awesome costumes, great musical numbers, and a story that never grows old.

November 5, 2010

Queer Issue: Beyond Gay and Straight and Other Forms of Binary Thinking.

I am not the first to point out that bisexual individuals have traditionally faced discrimination even within gay and lesbian communities. While I'm not going to attempt to give a comprehensive explanation as to why here, I can think of a few possiblities. We're a species dedicated to classifying things, and then adding labels like "good" or "bad" to those categories.

Traditionally, whether it be a cultural or racial group, an exclusive club, etc. people tend to think "anyone in our group is "good" or "superior", while anyone in that other group is "bad" or "inferior". We stratify our society, based on these groups, with groups that are easily visually identified (race, gender) with whatever group that holds power (political/economic) and uses that power to place themselves at the top.

Any individual who breaks with societal classifications, creates a logic problem. "You're not in our group, therefore you're not good enough to be one of us." Bisexual individuals, by not having relationships with one gender and only one gender, break off from the gay/straight dichotomy.

Then there are those who lack a strong sexual desire to any sex. According to Wikipedia, "asexuality in its broadest sense, is the lack of sexual attraction... or the lack of interest in and desire for sex." In an over sexualized world, asexual individuals cannot be accused of following the norm.

Next up, there's the issue of transgender. Where sexual orientation deals with external attraction, gender identity refers to how one one identifies oneself internally. People who do not identify as either male/female can most broadly be classified as transgender.

The term transgender also encompasses a broad spectrum, including:
-Intersex - the condition where a person is born with indeterminate genitalia.
-Transvetism - used to describe a person who dresses up and assumes the mannerisms of the opposite gender.
-GenderQueer/Genderf*cks - Those who wish to flaunt the system entirely, usually will take on deliberately provocative styles of dress, usually incorporating both masculine and feminine features.

Of course this is just skimming the issue, but I also want to point out that in addition to the term bisexual, there are also labels for sexual orientations like pansexual and omnisexual which were created to acknowledge that there are more then two genders.

Getting back to the original point, transphobia is a very real issue. One could make the case that the bullying faced by gay and lesbian youth, is just as much about gender conformity as it is the result of homophobia. Boys and male teenagers who display weakness or effeminate traits, are the most likely of all to be bullied by their peers.

We believe in the absoluteness of good and evil so strongly we often forget to acknowledge the grey areas in between. Creating diversity is not about redeveloping superior/inferior paradigms, it's about believing that there is nothing wrong with being different.

November 4, 2010

Queer Review: Watchmen

I can remember when I first saw Watchmen in the theaters. I was immediately entranced by the characters and the off center world that had been created by the filmmakers to bring Alan Moore's and Dave Gibson's comic book world to life.

Watchmen tells the story set in an alternate version of history, where the U.S. won the Vietnam war and costumed vigilantism/crime fighting - which had become popular for a period - has been outlawed. This is a dark world; where each character is more flawed and twisted then the next.
The impetuous that moves the plot forward is the murder of The Comedian/Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Rorschach - the one vigilante who refused to give up crime fighting after it was outlawed - begins to investigate, believing that his death is part of a secret plot to kill off all former masked crime fighters. At the same time, the world moves closer to nuclear holocaust as the U.S. and U.S.S.R (the current part of the story is set in the 1980's) engage in an international version of chicken.

Zach Snyder (who also directed 300), tells the story in a highly stylized manor, that some people may find off putting, but which I found to be perfect for this tale. The musical score is one of my favorite soundtracks. I would say that only Black Snack Moan has a better soundtrack.

Watchmen has a complex back-story, which is better fleshed out on The Ultimate Cut version then the theatrical version - which also includes The Tale of the Black Freighter edited into the story, just like it is in the comic book. The Tale of the Black Freighter is a story within a story, that tells of a ships captain, whose shipping vessel has been sunk by evil pirates resulting in him being stranded on a deserted island. He escapes by creating a raft using timber from the ship and the bodies of his deceased crew and heads to save his family, who he believes to be the next next targets. However, his struggles to get home leave him delirious, and he inadvertently kills his own wife, believing her to be a pirate.

This story has many thematic parallels with the main plot of Watchmen, particularly the ending, which asks the age old question of, do the ends justify the means? In addition, the movie also focuses on the reasons why the films "heroes" choose to fight crime. Is if for love of violence? (The Comedian) Fame and attention? (Silk Specter) To soothe dark personal demons? (Rorsach) In this sense, the film, like it's comic book counterpart, is a deconstruction of superhero mythology.

One character I want to discuss is, Adrian Vight/Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), who in the comic book is openly gay. In the Ultimate Cut, Rorschach refers to him as a "possible homosexual". In both comic book and movie, Vight is frequently surrounded by pink or purple triangles and pyramids.

Rorschach, whose mask consists of the changing ink blots from the test that shares his namesake, is also very homophobic, yet I loved the character anyways. The only thing that can forgive me for that, is that he's searingly portrayed by Jackie Earle Haley, who gives the movie's most memorable performance.

Also, Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman (Billy Crudep) is the only character with any sort of superpower (other than perhaps Vight who's super smart and fast enough to catch a speeding bullet, which he does at one point). Dr. Manhatten spends much of the movie in the buff, which means every reviewer, male and female, pretty much ends up mentioning his giant blue penis, so I might as well. So I agree, and will admit that it's very blue.

To round this all up, Watchmen is the type of movie that will appeal to people who like their villains dark and their heroes darker. It's not for everyone, and having read the comic book first will certainly aid in comprehension. I count Watchmen as among my favorite movies and therefore, naturally, highly recommend it.

November 1, 2010

Queer Review: A Jihad for Love

A Jihad for Love is a documentary directed by Parvez Sharma that tells the stories of LGBTQA Muslims from around the globe. Most of the interviewees are from very fundamentalist countries, like Pakistan, and therefore the story that is told is that of intolerance towards queer Muslims.

Many of the subjects speak of the prejudices and fear that they face on a daily basis from within the Islamic faith. One memorable passage has a Muslim scholar speaking with imam about passages of the Qur'an that deal with homosexuality. When the scholar claims that the Qur'an passage regarding the fate of the Sodom and Gomorrah nations is really condemning male on male rape, the imam replies with that one cannot interpret the Qur'an as one pleases. The imam then goes on to claim that the only debate should be about the method one uses to kill a convicted homosexual.

There are also plenty of moving and intimate stories told by A Jihand for Love. The dreams of the films subjects are those of ordinary humans, the desire to be close to friends and family or to be able to live openly with their true identity.

The faces of most of the people chronicled are usually blurred or otherwise obscured, thereby underlining the danger most of them face. In an interview with The New York Times, Sharma said, "One young Afghan woman I've interviewed, if her family found out about her being lesbian they would undoubtedly kill her. So it's unavoidable. In certain circumstances, I'm going to have to conceal faces. But I'd rather not."

The film was obviously shot on a low budget, with grainy footage and other then a couple of talking heads segments, uses mostly hand held cameras. This greatly helps to enhance the immediacy of the film and the subject matter that it deals with.

In the end, this is a fascinating documentary and I highly recommend it for anyone who wishes
to know more about LGBTQA issues within Islam.

October 29, 2010

Queer Issue: Coming Out

It's been said that "coming out" is a process that can last a lifetime. Certainly, no queer has only had to come out once and only once.

When I first came out, it was in high-school. I did it during a presentation on same sex marriage and gay adoption for my participation in government class. When I gave the presentation, I explained that the reason I had chosen my topic was because I actually was gay. That was the hardest time I had coming out. Before then, I had told a few friends and family members, but that was the first time I had come out to a large group.

In college, I found it very easy to come out to people as being gay. A lot easier than in high-school at least. I cannot recall receiving any negative attention at all, for coming out while I was in college. I even gave a presentation on the implications of biological causes of same sex attraction in regards to free will. I even received plenty of positive feedback from my peers for it.

Of course, coming out in college is not the same thing as coming out on the job. Once, when I was volunteering at a place I'd rather not specify, I experienced what I felt - but could never actually prove - to be a homophobic incident.

The incident was that I was unexpectedly asked to leave by one of the regular staff members. Whilst no homophobic slurs or language was used at the time, I felt that the individual was acting on homophobic impulses, due to the way that they had been behaving that evening and their inexplicable anger at me. Afterwards, I was mortified and embarrassed. I complained to the administration and the staff member in question was subsequently let go.

While, I got over my embarrassment, the incident got me thinking about how difficult it must be in many places for LGBTQIA individuals to come out at their place of employment. Anti-discrimination laws are all well and good, but I can imagine many cases in which they would not offer adequate protection to those who would need it.

In my case, I was lucky, I was a volunteer, providing (what I would like to think) constituted a much needed and appreciated service.

"Coming Out" is not a simple one step process. Whilst I certainly experienced a great deal of personal difficulties as the result of being closeted for nearly my entire adolescence, it bears remarking that the reason for it was that I knew deep down that there would be hard consequences for coming out. My experience as a volunteer of being asked to leave, was not the first time, nor do I expect it be the last, that someone made it clear that I was not welcome because I was gay.

October 25, 2010

Queer Issue: "Hidden Voices: The Lives of LGBT Muslims"

I have just returned home tonight after attending a presentation, "Hidden Voices: The Lives of LGBT Muslims" by Faisal Alam, the founder Al-Fatiha. According to their website, the purpose of the group is as follows:

Al-Fatiha is dedicated to Muslims of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, and questioning or exploring their sexual orientation and/or gender identity (LGBTIQQ), and their families, friends and allies.

Al-Fatiha promotes the progressive Islamic notions of peace, equality and justice. We envision a world that is free from prejudice, injustice and discrimination, where all people are fully embraced and accepted into their families, faith and communities.

Alam started his presentation with a general discussion of Islamic culture, before talking about the struggles specifically faced by LGBT Muslims. To be honest, I sometimes like to think I had it rough, knowing I was gay since 6th grade, yet not being able to discuss the matter with anyone. Yet, Alams' presentation showed that what I went through was nothing compared to the difficult trials that some Queer Muslims have been forced to endure.

Another point that Alam brought up that while it is true that many conservative Islamic societies do oppress women, this is not always the case. To prove his point, Alam showed pictures of women modeling expensive clothing at a fashion show.

Alam also relayed his personal story and what led to him from being a model Muslim, to how the silence he was forced endure resulted in him founding Al-Fatiha.

At the end of the day, the experiences of non-white, Christian LGBTQIA are too often ignored. Fortunately, Faisal Alam is willing to break the silence in order to bring attention to the experiences of Muslim LGBTQIA. The world is certainly a better place for it.

October 23, 2010

Queer Issue: Normally Queer

"We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile." From Star Trek: First Contact

It has been said that America is a melting pot where people of various cultures, nationalities, and racial heritages can come together and coexist. Or try and coexist, as at times it may seem that we fail and fail to do so quite badly. With this article, I will be merely scratching the surface of a much larger issue, but I wanted to put some ideas out there get people thinking.

Let me start with a simple question. How does one maintain a queer identity within a broader social context? Or rather think of it this way, is there any such thing as a "normal" gay, lesbian, trans, bi, asexual, individual? In short, is it possible to be normal and still be queer?

The reason I ask, is that in the fight for LGBTQA individuals to be accepted within society and to receive equal treatment, there has been an increasing amount of talk of "we are normal and just like everyone else". I think this claim is not only wrong, but rather dangerous. I say this on the grounds that "normality" is relative and in trying to establish it for a queer culture marginalizes those who fall outside certain boundaries.

I quoted the Borg Star Trek's most fearsome villains for a reason. The Borg - for those who never saw Star Trek: The Next Generation - are a collective of individuals, all wired into a singular mind. They take the characteristics of the individuals they assimilate and make those characteristics a part of their collective. What makes them so frightening therefore, is the complete loss of individuality and free will that occurs for those who are assimilated.

And so too it goes with the assimilation of queers into mainstream culture. I am not the first to point out that such assimilation would result in the loss of anything that makes queer culture unique. We are all unique, just like everyone else, or so the positive and upbeat divirsity promotional posters would have us believe.

But it is within here that lies the heart of the conundrum lies. A melting pot, by implication, destroys the individuality and diversity of the starting elements. Therefore, the key question arises, should an individual maintain ones' individuality at all costs or allow oneself to be melted down and assimilated into a larger culture?

We demand equality by asking for marriage to be for more than just opposite sex couples. We demand the repeal of the military's policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. At times, this seems to be the limits and focus of our drive to create a more equal society.

Don't get me wrong, these are good things to work for, but should they be all? Should we not also work towards measures that will allow for the acceptance of trans people? Shall we not accept that human sexuality and gender is a fluid concept that goes beyond the dichotomies of male/female or gay/straight? In the struggle for true equality, will we take into account the fact that people do not fall into easily defined categories?

October 20, 2010

Setting the Record Queer: Alan Turing

From xkcd by Randall Munrow.

Alan Turing was, arguably, one of the most influential queers of the Twentieth Century. Without his work on mathematics and computer science, modern computers would not be nearly as sophisticated or advanced as they are today. His Turing test, while heavily criticized and controversial, is still used as a measure of the Artificial Intelligence of computing devices. His first lover was Christopher Morcom. Morcom's untimely death lead Turing on a lifelong quest to better understand the human mind, specifically, the nature of consciousness and how human mind could survive death.

Turing also worked as a code breaker during World War II for the Allies. He was so successful, that historians claim that Turing's work on breaking German Codes most likely helped shorten the war in Europe.

Turing's life was ultimately tragic. In 1952, he was convicted of "homosexual acts", which were illegal in England at the time. His punishment consisted of chemical castration, whereby he was forced to take female hormones in order to "cure" him. He died on June 23rd, from poisoning resulting from eating a cyanide laced apple. Turing most likely committed suicide, although his family denies that he would have tried to kill himself, instead claiming that the incident was accidental.

At the time of Turing's conviction, he was unable to discuss his work as a Code breaker as it was highly classified at the time. Thus, he was unable to even bring up in court, his pivotal role in World War II. The irony here, should not be lost on anyone.

Recently, I wrote about the Nazi persecution of queers during World War II. It is easy enough to condemn the Nazis for their persecution of many different populations. Even harder to do, is to face the hypocrisy that exists in our own culture. The Bible tells us, "Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye." Mathew 7:5

I could draw further parallels, to what is going on in today's political climate, but I'll leave those to readers imagination.

Queers in History by Keith Stern
Alan Turing, Wikipedia

October 19, 2010

Queer Review: Latter Days

There are many movies I like and many movies I love. Latter Days, a 2003 gay romantic comedy, is not one of them. Maybe it's because I don't 'get' the genre, but I'm not a fan of mindless romanitc comedies, irregardless of the sexuality of the couple in question, but this movie irritated me.

To start, the characters and entire plot are stolen from Elementary Clichés 101. This might be forgivable, except that the movie is extremely shallow, not funny, nor remotely entertaining in any other way.

Aaron is your typical straight arrow Mormon missionary, who also happens to be a closeted gay. Christian is a shallow party boy, trying to make it big as an actor in Hollywood and Los Angelos. They meet when Aaron and several other Mormon missionaries move into the same apartment complex as Christian. Christian makes a bet with his friends that he can bed one of the Mormons, and targets Aaron, who in turn, starts to fall for Christian. What happens from there on out, is easily predicted, with the movie hitting all the notes that one might expect from any other romantic comedy with a similar premise.

As I said, my dislike of this movie probably has a great deal to with my dislike for romantic comedies in general. In other words, if one likes romantic comedies and does not mind knowing how everything will end once the wheels have been set in motion, one might have a more enjoyable experience then I did.

For those who share my feelings on the matter, Latter Days is not going to change any minds. In any case, feel free to put off watching this movie until later for many many days.

Setting the Record Queer: Ernst Röhm, the Gay Nazi.

Ernst Röhm was among Adolf Hitlers closest friends and supporters. That is, up until he was assassinated by Hitler on the Night of the Long Knives.

A founding member of the Sturmabteilung (SA), Röhm eventually became its commander. Reports indicate that Röhm and Hitler became such close comrades, that Röhm was the only individual that Hitler addressed with the German Familiar term 'du'. Likewise, not only was Röhm the only person who could address Hitler as such, but he alone could refer to Hitler as 'Adolf'.

Röhm had a reputation for being brutal street fighter. In addition to saying "All revolutions devour their own children, Röhm also claimed:
Since I am an immature and wicked man, war and unrest appeal to me more than good bourgeois order. Brutality is respected, the people need wholesome fear. They want to fear someone. They want someone to frighten them and make them shudderingly submissive.

This illustrates Rohm's theory that the most effective form of terrorism, is terrorism that targets the lower classes, rather than the rulers of a society. The idea of course, that the rulers are better protected as well as being easy to replace. However, the result of targeting the lower classes is a clampdown on their rights and freedoms, ultimately resulting in chaos. Compare that to what is going on today in the world today after 9/11 or the society created by George Orwell in his novel 1984.

Ernst Röhm eventual downfall came about from Hitler's growing belief that Röhm was his greatest threat. Fearing a possible SA take over, Hitler had members of the SA Command arrested and executed. In the case of Röhm, Hitler initially refused to order his execution, instead giving Röhm the opportunity to commit suicide. Röhm refused, famously saying "If I am to be killed, let Adolf do it himself!" He was executed on July 2nd, 1934.

It's important to note that Röhm's sexual orientation was well known to both Hitler and the German public while Röhm held power in the SA. This never seemed to bother Hitler as he defended Röhm, saying "the SA are a band of warriors and not a moral institution."

Furthermore, one of the often overlooked aspects of the Holocausts was that the Nazi's also targeted gay men and trans individuals, in addition to Jews, Catholics, Jehovaha Witnesses, people with disabilities, among many other groups.

Why bring this up? Because there are always new lessons that history can teach us. It appears there is nothing stopping the oppressed from becoming the oppressor. Röhm's sexual orientation was no secret, yet he still supported an organization that led one of the most vicious attacks against queers in modern history.

Queers in History by Keith Stern
Ernst Röhm, Jewish Virtual Librry
Ernst Röhm, Wiki Quotes
Ernst Röhm, Wikipedia

October 16, 2010

Queer Review: Invisible Monsters

Invisible Monsters is by Chuck Palahniuk, the same author who wrote the novel Fight Club. Readers of both will readily identify the extraordinarily chaotic, yet still, somehow, understandable narrative that marks each book.

The plot of Invisible Monsters is revealed piecemeal, non-chronologically, through the eyes of a former beauty obsessed model, now hideously deformed "monster", by the name of Shannon McFarmland. After Shannon's life is nearly destroyed through an unexpected accident (the lower part of her face is shot off), she meets Queen Brandy Alexander, a former male on the last stages of a gender reassignment procedure. Wishing to escape her life, Shannon joins with Brandy in hopes of escaping the hideous monster that she now has become. Because no one will now look at her, Shannon steals a chicken from a supermarket, just to see what would happen.

What follows is strange journey through America as Shannon, Brandy, and their male escort Seth, that is like Alice In Wonderland minus the fantasy elements and the weirdness raised to the highest possible level, plus a few more. In short, this book is not for the faint of heart or the easily offended.

The plot is a lot more complicated then the preceding description would imply, but there are a lot of violent plot twists and daring turns, a few of which I was able to guess at, though mostly I failed to see coming. This is the type of story that works best when one finds out those twist and turns for oneself.

There are plenty of themes and ideas that Palahniuk analyzes, deconstructs and willfully attacks, sledgehammer swinging merrily away. An ongoing theme revolves around the visibility of "beautiful people" in our culture versus the way plain people are usually just ignored, thus leading to the extreme lengths people will go to either become more beautiful or retain their good looks as old age advances. Invisible Monsters is a truly fascinating work, that says a lot about how outward appearance can shape one's inner identity and the impact of societal perceptions.

The usual cliches apply "Invisible Monsters is a real page turner" or "I couldn't put it down" or "a modern masterpiece", which is ironic in a way, as Palahniuk is not the sort of writer who deals with cliches or predictable plot points. In the end, I found this to be a rare combination of smart writing that contains more then a few visceral gut punches. Invisible, this book should not be.

October 14, 2010

Queer Issue: Bullied to Death.

I intend to talk about a very sensitive and personal issue here. I make no apologies for what I am about to say here nor do I believe that I have any reason to hide now from the public eye events that occurred years ago.

Recently, news reports have focused in on a string of suicides committed by LGBTQA teenagers. They have successfully brought to light a serious problem, one that is not new, but has existed for decades. While this issue is now in the public eye, I have decided to talk in detail about my own experiences during my senior year of high-school.

It started while I was working on my Boy Scout Eagle Project. For those who don't know, the Eagle Scout award is the highest rank in Boy Scouts.

My memory is a little fuzzy on the details. I remember that on the last day of my Eagle Scout project, which was a Sunday, I can remember making some excuse to my Mom to skip church. Once I was alone I got a knife and proceeded to try and slit my wrists.

I don't remember now, why I wanted to kill myself. Nor do I recall, what compelled me several weeks later to try and suffocate myself with duct tape on my 18th birthday. I'm not sure either, as to my motivations when I found myself in front of the garage with a plan to park my mom's car inside and leave it running.

What would drive anyone to do this?

I can come up with only one rational answer. By living in perpetual fear. By being told that being queer was something to be ashamed of. That being queer is inferior, gross, and disgusting. That queers should not be seen or heard in public. That you should never, ever tell anyone who you were.

This is the message that was not sent to just me, but sent and reinforced to every queer teen in this country by their peers, parents, teachers, social institutions, the media, and even our government. Don't ask Don't tell has been the mantra of the U.S. Military and the Boy Scouts of America. That's so gay! was the in way of expressing disdain for anything "dumb" or "stupid" for as long as I can remember.

Should I wonder now, why I did what I did? Is it any surprise, that after I found the will to stand up in front of a class of my peers and tell them that I was gay, that I never once tried to commit suicide again?

I'd like to make a few points in closing:

1) It's important to note that bullying of anyone is a problem. Children and teenagers need to understand that picking on, insulting, or intimidating their peers, is absolutely unacceptable.

2) While media attention has been pointed towards a few recent suicides of LGBTQA youth, let us not forget that this is an on going issue, involving many, many more people. And it is not limited to queer youth, but the scope and problem of bullying expands even further.

3) In my experience, society in the form of teachers, parents, clergy and other authority figures, frequently reinforce the idea to youth, that simply being different (in any way) is somehow "wrong".

And so, let us not forget about those who have gone before. Those who were bullied for being different. Those who were victims for no other reason then being themselves. That is all I ask.

October 6, 2010

Queer Review: Angels In America

Angels In America was a TV mini series, produced by HBO and based on the Tony Kushner play of the same name. The plot is an elaborate affair, focusing in on the evolving AIDS crisis of the mid 1980s and featuring an ensemble cast of fictional and non-fictional characters.

Prior Walter (Justin Kirk) has just been diagnosed with AIDS and now faces a long, agonizing slide towards death. His Jewish lover, Louis Ironson (Ben Shenkman) finds himself unable to cope with watching Prior die, abandons him, eventually hooking up with Joe Pitt (Patrick Wilson). Joe is friends with Roy Cohen (Al Pacino) who is offering Joe a high placed position, which would force him to move from New York City to Washington. When he discuses Cohen's proposal with his wife Harper (Mary-Louise Parker) she refuses to go along with him due to her severe depression and anxiety. Joe Pitt is a closeted gay man because of his firm religious beliefs and their relationship is deteriorating as a result. Roy Cohen is also closeted, but his reasons have more to do with wanting to maintain his high social status and influence.

While all of this is going on, Prior Walter is receiving visions of Angels (Emma Thompson) proclaiming him to be a prophet. As the plot progresses it is revealed that God has abandoned heaven and the Angels blame mankind for this. Their message therefore is for humans to stop changing or "moving". Along with the assistance of his friend Belize (Jeffery Wright) and Joe Pitt's mother, Hannah (Meryl Streep) Prior must decide to whether or not to believe these visions, which have many implications for the future.

Roy Cohen is also receiving visions, but of a much more ominous type. As he too begins to die from AIDS, Cohen is being haunted by Ethyl Rosenberg (also played by Meryl Streep), who was executed for being a communist spy and blames Roy for her death. It is worth noting that Cohen and Rosenberg are based on the real life individuals who share their names.

Thematically, the movie is asking questions regarding the role of religion in a modern society that is struggling with acceptance and tolerance of all people as well as how it is possible to live when one is dying from a disease that has no true cure and results in slow, agonizing death for almost all its victims. As for the religious concepts, the movie relies a great deal on Mormon mythology, in fact all of the Pitts are all devout Mormons.

At the end of the series, a note of hope is offered up for AIDS sufferers. In a lesser movie, this might not have worked, but it does here due to the graphic and realistic way the ravaging effects of AIDS has on its victims - which was practically a death sentence at the time when treatments were less effective. I made the mistake of trying to watch the movie while eating dinner. Not since I watched The X-Files in high-school, have I found myself looking away from the screen so often while trying not to up-chuck.

The story is effective in it's portrayal of issues affecting queers - religion, acceptance and tolerance, living with HIV/AIDS. The acting by the leads is excellent, without a weak performance to be found. I was particularly fond of Meryl Streep's performances as Ethyl and Hannah and Joe Kirk as a man who has been abandoned as he faces a terrible death.

I would recommend this movie to those who are interested in dramas that portray real issues and weighty ideas, rather then simply skimming over them to get to more exploitative material. Ultimately, this is a rare gem, a well made movie with messages and themes, that is not afraid to say what it has to say.

October 3, 2010

Queer Review: Let Me In vs. Let the Right One In

The 2010 film Let Me in is an American remake of the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One. Directed by Matt Reeves, Let Me In tells the tale of a boy being bullied at school Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and the friendship that developes between him and a feminine vampire Abby (Chloe Meretz). In the Sweedish film, the characters are Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and the vampire is Eli (Lina Leandersson).

Overall, the American remake is competently done and retains many of the qualities that made the Swedish version so beautifully frightening. However, it also features some rather shoddy special effects work. Furthermore, the two key relationships - those between the boy and his new vampire friend and the vampire and her guardian - are presented with less ambiguity than in the original. This is critical in the sense that it's clearer much earlier in the film what is really occurring plot wise, thus dissolving some potential tension.

Another big difference, is that Owen is less disturbed then Oskar. In Let the Right One In he is a potential serial killer or school shooter. We even see him collecting material on murders and serial killers in a scrapbook. In Let Me In, he's merely lonely and angry with being bullied.

Also of note, in the Swedish original, there's a brief shot, that suggests that Eli is not a girl, but rather a castrated boy - which follows from the back-story of the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist that the Swedish movie was based upon. However, in the American version, the shot is absent - although set up, which made me wonder if it might show up in some extended edition on DVD. Also, here in the American version, Abby is presented as much more feminine, whereas in the original, the presentation of her character was more androgynous.

With this change comes a fundamental shift of the dynamic of the two movies key relationship. In the American version, it's much, much more suggestive of a romantic relationship, whereas the original skewed more towards the main characters developing a very close friendship. Although, Abby keeps insisting (as in the original) "I'm not a girl".

One of the few upsides to the remake (besides the reduction of an annoying subplot about a woman who is turned into a vampire by Abby/Eli) is that Chloe Meretz gives an amazing performance as Abby, giving a subtle and mature performance as a hunted and ancient creature. Not that Lina Leandersson didn't give a strong performance, just that Meretz gives the more memorable one. None of the other actors in the American version, in my opinion, are better or worse, when compared to their counterparts.

With that said, if one has a choice, I would recommend the Swedish version over the American remake. Let the Right One In overall has better atmosphere and more interesting character development, with none of the embarrassing special effects work of Let Me In, thus making it a clear decision.

September 13, 2010

Queer Review: Capote

It has been said, that great writing is born out of great suffering. Irregardless of that being the case, Truman Capote certainly suffered in writing his most famous novel, In Cold Blood. The film Capote directed by Bennett Miller, chronicles Capote's experiences writing In Cold Blood as his growing obsession with his subjects nearly leads him to ruin.

After reading about the murder of an entire family, Truman Capote travels to Kansas to investigate the killing. He brings along with him his good friend Nell Harper Lee, who had just finished the manuscript for To Kill a Mockingbird. Together, Lee and Capote investigate the killings and the subsequent impact on the community they took place in. At first Capote's fay mannerisms and big city style, leave him on the outside. Perseverance and a some help from Lee, eventually land him on the inside, including the good graces of the local chief of police (Chris Cooper). When the killers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Richard Hickock (Mark Pellegrino), are caught, Capote interviews them, eventually developing a sympathetic relationship with them. Capote even ends up going so far as to pay for a lawyer to provide for their defense.

The main thrust of the movie shows Capote's growing obsession with the killers, particularly Perry Smith. The relationship that develops between these two is incredibly twisted, with each using the other for their own ends. Capote wishes to know the grisly details of the killings, while also having sympathies for Smith's plight. It's less clear what Smith wants (besides a high priced defense lawyer). A sympathetic posthumous portrayal in the novel Capote is writing? A friend and intimate? Something else?

In real life, rumors suggested that Capote and Smith engaged in a more intimate relationship then is what is depicted on film. Certainly the suggestion is there in the actors performances as to what *might* have happened, but the audience is never privy to those details.

Overall, this is a powerful movie. Great acting and direction come together to create a heady brew. Capote was an effemite and openly gay man, with a distinct and recognizable voice. Hoffman doesn't merely mimic him, he fully inhibits Capote and brings him to life in all of the late writers flamboyant glory. Of note, is also Catherine Keener, who plays Nell Harper Lee.

I've never read In Cold Blood, but I have read To Kill a Mockingbird. It therefore struck me as odd, at the beginning when Nell is running around acting as Capote's secretary and doing most of the dirty work. Granted, this is right before she became famous but it still seemed weird to me.

Overall, this is the type of film that will appeal to more mature viewers. Capote is smartly written, acted, and composed. Those that are willing to stick with a slow moving, yet very engaging movie, will find themselves rewarded.

September 7, 2010

Setting the Record Queer - Harry Hay and The Mattachine Society

If my father could be wrong, then the teacher could be wrong. And if the teacher could be wrong, then the priest could be wrong. And if the priest could be wrong, then maybe even God could be wrong. -Harry Hay

Radical Fairies and the Revolt of the Homosexual! Oh My!

The Mattachine Socity was the second major homophile group in the U.S. - the first group being the Chicago based Society for Human Rights. Harry Hay and Henry A. Wallace formed the Mattachine Society in 1950 - after first conceiving the idea two years earlier - for the purpose of advancing homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle and culture. The name, chosen in 1951, refers to the Société Mattachine from Medieval France, which consisted of masked travelers, who revealed and mocked the injustices perpetuated by the French Monarchs. The name is in reference to gays and lesbians being an invisible minority in the 1950's, thereby being masked from the mainstream.

Many of the founding Members of the Mattachine Society, including Hay, were members of the Communist Party and based the structure of their new organization upon it.

The Society reached it's peak in 1952 during the trial of Dale Jennings, who had been arrested and charged with "lewd behavior". The publicity the Mattachine Society was able to generate (under the name "Citizens to Outlaw Police Entrapment") gave the group a huge boost, drawing both volunteers and attention to it's cause.

The fall of the group came about as a result of the 1950's McCarthyism driven Red Scare. Accusations of communist ties drove conservative voices within the group to challenge it's communist roots, before ultimately taking control following the ouster and resignation of the founding members.

Once in the hands of the conservatives the group fell apart. Their goals were of accommodation for gays and lesbians, rather then advocating for social change. This change in outlook proved devastating to the Society, which entered into a period of extended decline before fading away altogether following the Stonewall Riots in 1969.

Harry Hay though, continued to be an advocate for social change and was certainly not afraid of embracing controversy. One of his greatest desire was for the formation of an organized queer culture, which was also arguably his greatest contribution (through the Mattachine Society) to the LGBTQA rights movements.

Philosophically, Hay was adamantly opposed to the assimilation of queer culture into the mainstream. To put it in his own words: "We pulled ugly green frog skin of heterosexual conformity over us, and that's how we got through school with a full set of teeth. We know how to live through their eyes. We can always play their games, but are we denying ourselves by doing this? If you're going to carry the skin of conformity over you, you are going to suppress the beautiful prince or princess within you."

In the 1980s' he protested the exclusion of NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association) from LGBTQA rights organizations, which at the time were making serious attempts to distance themselves from NAMBLA. In 1986, he attmepted to march in the Los Angelos gay pride parade, with a sign stating "NAMBLA Walks with me". He also opposed Act Up! (a direct action group for improving the lives of AIDS patients) believing the group was too aggressive and macho in it's tactics. His argument went that this discouraged divirsity by denying effiminate and soft men a place within Act Up!.

"The assimilation movement is driving us into the ground," Hay once remarked. Indeed. It can be noted that the change in the Mattachine Society where more emphasis was placed on assimilation, that caused it to die. While his support of NAMBLA and opposition to Act Up! certainly can be considered at the very least controversial, there is no denying his impact and influence on the queer rights movement.


August 31, 2010

Queer Issue: My experiences with religion.

When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’* And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’ John 8:10-11, New Revised Standard Version

Everyone has a different experience with religion, this post is going to be about mine.

When I was a child, I attended regularly the services at the Otego United Methodist Church. In 6th grade, I was confirmed as a member and continued attending until around my senior year of high-school. I then started attending, the youth services at a local Baptist Church. At one point, someone suggested that the Oneonta Unitarian Universalist Society would be a good choice for me. I have now been in regular attendance at the UU's religious services ever since.

When I was attending the Methodist Church, the minister that was there for most of my adolescence was Pastor Fred Albrecht or as most people called him, Pastor Fred. To put it bluntly, there are few people out there who had the kind of deep impact on my life that Pastor Fred had on me. I do not hold the religious beliefs that I had as a child, I don't call myself a Christian (but rather would describe my religious beliefs as Agnostic. However, the impact of his teachings and the example he set, had a fundamental and significant impact on my deeply held moral compass.

I remember that Pastor Fred's services often placed Biblical stories and lessons in a historical context. Something I found interesting and useful for understanding what was really going on in a particular story. For the most part, the emphasis was placed on parables such as that of the good Samaritan or the stories from the Old Testament. The "Rule Books" - Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy - were never really covered in sermons or Sunday school

I can recall that intolerance and bigotry were to be considered among the lowest forms of evil and that helping others were to be considered among the greatest goods. If people disagreed with you, you should still show respect for their beliefs, was a lesson I learned over and over again in sunday school.

It therefore came as somewhat as a shock to me, as I grew up, to discover that not all people who fell under the Christian umbrella felt that way. Finding out that there were those who used faith and religion to promote bigotry and discrimination came as something of a shock to me. Coming out to Pastor Fred was easy, coming out to the reverend at the Baptist Church was... a different matter. Churches that used Biblical passages to condemn GLBTQA individuals were so far removed from the church that I had been raised in, that I had trouble reconciling the two different versions of Christianity that seemed to exist.

While over time, I came to question the faith that I had been raised in, turning eventually to a position that abandons faith altogether, I believe that there is no reason to abandon moral principles. I cannot say what true Christianity is all about, but those who hide behind the Bible while promoting fear of those who are different are so far removed from the Christianity that I grew up with, that I almost hesitate to use the term. It also really, really bothers me, when I hear queer individuals express contempt of Christians (or religion of general) and lump all people of faith with those few who promote fear and hatred.

In any case, that is my experience and views on religion. I'm always curious as to what other peoples opinions and experiences are when it comes to religion and GLBTQA individuals.

August 29, 2010

Queer Book Review: The Skull of Truth

On one hand, we give high honor to truth. On the other hand, we know the social value of the little white lie, the not-quite true words spoken to spare someone's feelings, or avoid an unnecessary argument.

It's all very confusing.

Which is why I keep writing about it.

-Bruce Coville, The Skull of Truth, A Note from the Author

Bruce Coville is the rare type of author who is not afraid of putting in complex themes or addressing controversial issues in children's literature. His The Skull of Truth is about a boy, Charlie Eggleston, who manages to acquire the skull of truth, which goes by the name of Yorrick. The skull of truth an ancient artifact that forces anyone in it's immediate vicinity to tell the truth and only the truth. For Charlie, Yorrick has a special surprise in store, when he curses Charlie into always telling the truth, even when they are not near to each other.

Charlie, who is a compulsive liar, ends up with a bit of a problem on his hands. He finds himself in humiliated at school when he is forced to tell everyone exactly what he thinks about his classmates. The biggest problem occurs when he ends up being forced to leave Yorrick in the closet next to the dining room during a family gathering. This of course causes all kinds of havoc, particularly when his Uncle is forced to reveal to the whole family that he is really gay. Some good does end up coming out of Yorrick's stay with Charlie, such as when during a public forum Charlie uses Yorrick to force politicians to reveal the full extent of the environmental impact of a proposed construction project. If only getting polititians to tell the truth in real life were this easy...

Coville takes care to show both the upside of telling the truth and the downside, such as when Charlie ends up making a very hurtful comment to a friend who lost their hair while undergoing chemotherapy. Like all of Coville's other works, this one is funny and witty, yet with a touch of pathos to keep it grounded. Highly recommended for all ages who can grasp the ideas that Coville is presenting here.

August 16, 2010

Queer Book Review: That's Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation.

Whatever item I may be reading, I try not to base my opinion or how much I like/dislike what I'm reading based on how much I agree/disagree with what the writer is saying. So, let me put out a disclaimer first, I do not agree with everything that was written or said in That's Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation.

However, this is precisely the sort of book that is worth reading - not in spite of - but rather, *because* it represents a radical position that many people are not going to agree with, at least initially. However, it is powerfully written, so much so that it could end up changing some peoples' minds. The essays are all very well written, thought out, and informative. Some of them are shocking, some may even be described as vulgar and offensive. All of the essays are worth reading.

The central premises of That's Revolting! are as follows:
-That the LGBTQA movement, in its fight to promote Gay Rights and universal acceptance, has destroyed queer identity and along with anything that made being queer special and in the process created new kinds of discrimination.
-It is the assimilation and the acceptance of dominant institutions, such as marriage, that ultimately ends up destroying Lgbtqa identities and anything that made being queer special.

Humor,insight and provacative ideas are all found between the covers. Essay topics range from attempts to gain gender neutral bathrooms at one campus "Calling All Restroom Revolutionaries", to how racism can be present even within queer organizations.

Again, not everything that was said in That's Revolting! I agreed with nor do I expect that many people are going to agree with the conclusions the writers come to. However, in spite of the fact that this book is hard to find - it's currently out of print - those who take the extra time to track it down, will find their efforts well rewarded.

August 4, 2010

Queer Review: Querelle

Querelle, the 1982 film from R.W. Fassbinder, is about the most surreal film I can recall seeing. It takes place in Brest, France, but there is no clear indication as to the time period. There are some props from the 1980s, including a video game I have strong memories of playing with as a kid and a tape recorder. The costumes, particularly the outfits worn by the sailor, point to an earlier time period, indicating that the filmmakers didn't want the movie to be set in a specific time frame. The novel takes place in the 1890s.

The plot revolves around Querelles', a sailor, murderer, and drug dealer, as he explores his sexual desires with other men. These include his "brother" Robert, the bartender Nono, and Gil (played by the same actor as Robert). Lieutenant Seblon, Querelles' superior, also displays desire and longing for him.

I'm not sure I'm up for a more detailed plot synopsis than that, much of it only made sense to me in the most abstract way. This is at its' most basic, a 1980s art film and is also pretentious as hell. The complicated plot moves at a glacial pace while the characters wax all poetically about The Human Condition. Querelle in particular is very articulate and has a vocabulary above and beyond what one might expect from a sailor from any time period. Although, to be fair, Lieutenant Seblon is the greatest offender when it comes to spouting way too much purple prose. To put it bluntly, people in this film talk like most of their lines were stolen from the sort of angst ridden poetry many people write when they are teenagers.

The imagery also contributes to the surreal nature of the film and is highly sexualized. There's a little nudity, but nearly every shot contains some sort of artistic rendering of male genitals or at least an obvious phallic symbol. Anyone who might doubt that Fassbinder was primarily attracted to men, might consider that there is only one significant female role in this movie, who is always stately dressed, while many of the male characters wear skimpy tight fitting outfits, emphasizing their bulges, muscular and otherwise.

There exist people and critics out there who might like this film, but I would not count myself among them. Instead, the whole thing grated on my sensibilities. I wouldn't recommend this film to anyone except those bold few who wish to experiment with alternative forms of cinematic storytelling.

July 23, 2010

Queer Review: A Dirty Shame

John Waters' movie A Dirty Shame certainly lives up to its' directors reputation and its' title. A satirical look at our cultural views on sexual practices, fetishes and taboos, this movie pushes envelopes and many people may feel uncomfortable with the sort of material employed here.

The main character, Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ulman), starts out the movie as what some may call a prude but what the movie refers to with the term neuter. She soon receives a concussion which causes her to turn into a sex addict under the influence of Ray Ray Perkins (Johnny Knoxville). Ray Ray, it turns out, is the messiah like leader of a group of sexual freedom fighters, each with their own fetishes. They believe that Sylvia is the one who can lead them to the discovery of a new kind of sexual gratification.

As the description implies, this is not a movie that is strictly set in reality, but in a movieverse alternative, where getting an accidental concussion can cause anyone to switch from being a neuter to being a liberated sex addict and vice versa.

The social message the Waters seems to be pushing here -- that many people are too uptight when it comes to sex and too few are tolerant of other peoples private lives -- is somewhat obvious to many of us. However, I don't think that a social message was even close to being Waters primary objective. A Dirty Shame is a farce through and through and arguably only fails if audiences don't laugh at it. The imagery and language is always overtly sexual, never subtle. From the numerous suggestive shapes taken by trees and fauna to Sylvia's daughters Ursula Udders' (Selma Blair) enhanced breasts, this is a movie designed to shock and titillate.

I can recommend this movie to those who don't mind the sort of over the top hijinxs Waters employs. There aren't any well developed characters, the actors play their roles well, but there are no moments of stand out acting, and the plot is somewhat trite. For anyone who isn't put off by any of that, the movie can be uproariously funny for those who aren't afraid or put off by the sort of outrageous and potentially offensive material that Waters uses to tell this story.