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. Chloƫ 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.