December 29, 2011

Queer Issue: Will Fincher's remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo make Oscar History?

Usually, I have very little interest in the Oscars. Very rarely do films or directors that I like actually win and my general impression is that Hollywood politics, rather than cinematic quality, is the primary driving force behind who the oscar goes to. There is also the issue of the allegedly liberal Hollywood - which if certain groups are to be believed, is one of the primary forcers of The Homoesexual Agenda down everyone's throats - almost never allowing films with genuine queer content to win.

Given the subjectivity of art, one can certainly debate the very notion of placing the label "Best Picture of the Year" on any film. What qualities make a movie "the best" picture anyways? Then there is the issue of the cultural significance of the Academy Awards themselves for there exists a long and storied history of the Academy choosing "Best Picture" films that lacked, shall we say, staying power.

For example consider the story of Citizen Kane being booed at the Academy Awards thanks to William Hearst's campaign against the film, while How Green Was My Valley was the film that came out on top. After that, the reputation of Citizen Kane only increased over the years, eventually being given the #1 position on the AFI's list of the Top 100 Films. There are of course other examples that cast doubt on the Academy's ability to pick out the "Best Film", Do the Right Thing losing to Driving Miss Daisy, Taxi Driver being passed over for Rocky, Shakespeare in Love winning over Saving Private Ryan. I could go on but these are generally considered as cases where the Academy picked "safe" pictures over more daring films that had greater cultural influence.

In any case, this year I might actually be paying a small amount of attention. Why? Because there are faint whispers that Fincher's remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has a shot at Oscar glory. What makes Fincher's remake interesting (to me at least) is that it belongs to the rather elite class of films that queered up their content, rather then straightened it out.

In the original Sweedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Lisbeth Salander was shown in one brief scene, waking up naked next to another woman. In Fincher's remake, Lisbeth Salander is also shown actively seeking this female partner in a nightclub, plus we get a girl on girl kiss before she departs.

I admit that this is not a lot, but it is significant given that Lisbeth Salander is also the rare film heroine who gets to save the straight male hero, not once but twice. Not only that but he never gets the opportunity to repay her the favor. In the one situation where that she required saving, she does the all the work herself before she even meets her male co-star.

Too often when Hollywood adapts material featuring bisexual characters - or any queer content for that matter - what happens is what I call "straightening out". Same sex lovers turn into friends, overt romance becomes subtext, or in the case of The Lost Weekend guilt over a same sex encounter turns into dealing with alcoholism. The topic of Hollywood's insistence upon straightening out queer characters as, well as queer historical figures, is one I have addressed before and unfortunately, one that I will probably have to again.

Furthermore, films with genuine queer characters almost never win, while movies with straightened out characters have frequently taken home Oscar gold. For example, Shakespeare in Love and the aforementioned The Lost Weekend both straightened out bisexual individuals and were able to win the big prize. One could also make a case for A Beautiful Mind except John Nash, in spite of certain evidence to the contrary, has denied being bisexual. Also worth bringing up is the transphobic The Silence of the Lambs winning the "Best Picture" statue as well.

While films with queer characters do often get nominated, they almost never win. For example, movies such as The Kids Are All Right, The Crying Game, Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Cabaret,The Hours, The Full Monty, and Kiss of the Spider Woman have all been nominated but none of them were able to take home the statue. American Beauty is probably the most recent queer friendly film to win, but Wings - the first "Best Picture" winner (back when the honour was referred to as "Outstanding Picture") - was also the first picture to feature a full man on man kiss.

However, if The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo wins, it will be the first motion picture with a genuine and openly queer protagonist to do so. One could make a case for Lawrence of Arabia but as I understand it, that was pretty much subtext. No other film, to my knowledge has featured a genuine lgbtq character in a lead role and still pulled off an Oscar win.

Of course, the chances of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo actually winning best picture could charitably be classified as comprable to the proverbial snowball in hell. If history is anything to go by, Mara Rooney at least stands a much better chance at winning best actress, as the Academy has never been shy about giving out top honours for portrayals of lgbtq characters. However, even if Fincher's film does not take home a statue, it is still a significant film in terms of queer content. No matter what, my fingers shall be crossed.

December 23, 2011

Philosophical Issue: Dear Politifact, Please Learn the Difference Between Fact and Opinion.

As for me, all I know is that I know nothing, for when I don't know what justice is, I'll hardly know whether it is a kind of virtue or not, or whether a person who has it is happy or unhappy.

I'll start out by saying that I used to like Politifact. Liked it a lot, in fact. When polititians, political parties, and other groups make claims about legislation, about the economy, about each other, or anything else, there needs to be as many legitimate sources as possible making damn sure whether or not those claims are accurate. However, I lost a lot of respect for Politifact over their recent decision to bestow the ignoble title of 2011's "Lie of the Year" on the Democratic parties claim that "Republicans voted to end Medicare".

Let's summarize what happened here. The Democrats claimed that "Republicans voted to end Medicare" because Republicans voted to replace the current system with a very different system - referred to as the Paul Ryan plan becuase he came up with it - that would still bear the moniker of Medicare. That the Democrats used hyberbolic scare tactics in the process is undeniable. I wont get dragged into a discussion on whether or not Paul Ryan's plan is better as it is not particularly relevant.

Furthermore, it has been suggested that Politifact made the decision to label the Democrats claim as "Lie of the Year" for political expediency in order to appear more objective. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant, there is still a fundamental problem with Polifact's decision, one that I have not seen anyone else point out. The question is this: On what grounds is the Democrats claim a lie?

It goes like this. Back in first grade, one assignment I remember doing involved distinguishing between facts and opinions. Now most people I imagine can (usually) tell the difference between the two. A factual claim is one that can be verified as true or not ture. An opinion is a matter of perspective, one that is dependent upon the values, likes, and/or dislikes of the holder. One is entitled to one own's opinion but not one's own facts, as the saying goes. If one makes a factually inaccurate claim, then one is lying, but making statements of opinion cannot possibly be lies. Fair enough?

Regarding the Democrats claim that "Republicans voted to end Medicare", I think it's easy enough to see that this is an opinion, based upon how one defines Medicare. Basically, the Democrats are arguing that the Paul Ryan plan is a different system, one that has too little resemblance to Medicare to be called Medicare.

Of course, there is one possibility that would make the Democrats claim a factual one, rather than an opinion. Now what would this situation be? It comes down to the linguistic method one might use to define Medicare.

First, there are two competing theories of language. One is prescriptivism which holds that there can only be one correct use of a language. The other is descriptivism, which holds that there is no correct or incorrect use of a language, we can only talk about which uses are more popular.

Since the Paul Ryan plan that the Republicans voted to replace the current system with will still be called be called Medicare, there is a legitimate argument to be made that Paul Ryan's plan is still Medicare, so long as we are sticking to the descriptivist view of language.

However, if one subscribed to the prescriptivist view of language, then one could reasonably "fact check" the claim of "Republicans voted to end Medicare". So, how would the prescriptivist view of language go about this? Well, since originally Medicare was one system and the Paul Ryan plan is a completely different system that just happens to fill a similar purpose using a different method, then the Paul Ryan system is not Medicare.

Therefore, it would be incorrect to refer to the Paul Ryan plan as Medicare and the Democrats are factually correct in claiming that Republicans voted to end Medicare. To be fair, I am not a prescriptivist, so if someone out who is and would like to make an argument for why the Paul Ryan plan is still Medicare using the prescriptivist school of thought, then go right ahead.

In any case, what I am getting at is that, as a descriptivist, the claim that the Democrats are wrong can be considered a valid opinion, but so is the opinion that the Democrats are right. What Politifact has done here, is present a valid opinion as to why the Democrats are wrong. What the Politifact editors have failed to establish though, is why exactly they believe the Democrats are lying. In order for the Democrats to be lying, they would have to be making a claim that is factually incorrect, not merely holding an opinion to which there happens to be an equally valid counter opinion.

In a free society, in order to know the truth, we must be able to freely express our opinions and others should be able to freely express their counter opinions. I will allow Politifact the benefit of the doubt in arguing with the Democrats claim here is incorrect. Politifact has the right to claim that the Democrats are wrong, but to call a validly held opinion a lie is misleading. Worse, to engage in this type of propaganda, particularly by an organization that claims to check facts not censor opinions, should be anthema to any one who legitimately supports free speech.

In labelling the Democrats claim 2011's the "Lie of the Year", the editors at Politifact have clearly conflated fact and opinion, thereby making an already contentious debate even more inflamatory. Not to mention, in doing so they would have failed a test that any first grader should be able to pass.

December 22, 2011

Queer Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Director: David Fincher
Writers: Steven Zaillian. Based upon the novel by Stieg Larsson.
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson

David Fincher's remake of the Sweedish The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is, strangely enough, darker and more daring than the original. Even more notably, Fincher's version includes a rare and slight, but arguably significant, case of queering up.

Having recently been convicted of libel, disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) finds himself being offered the job of investigating the 40 year old disappearance of Harriet Vanger (Moa Garpendal). Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) believes that Mikael has a chance where everyone else has failed. Reluctantly and only because of his recent conviction, Mikael accepts the task. While investigating the disappearance, Mikael comes to believe that Harriets disappearance was related to a serial killer whom Harriet may have discovered the identity of. Because of this discovery, Mikael decides to seek out the help of the hacker Lisbeth Salander, whose punk attitude helps her to hide her own dark past. Together these two find themselves wading into deeper and more disturbing waters regarding the Vanger families violent history.

The Queering
It is rare for a Holywood film adaptation of previously established material to retain anything queer about the original characters, if such queerness existed. It is therefore extremely refreshing for me to be able to state, that not only is Lisbeth still bisexual in this remake, but we see more girl on girl action then in the original. Not a lot granted, but not a lot was shown in the original film, which only had one brief shot of Lisbeth waking up next to a female lover. In Fincher's remake, we see Lisbeth not only picking up another chick in a bar but also sharing a brief kiss with her when Mikael shows up to ask for Lisbeth's help. I know it's not that much but to my knowledge this queering up of sorts places Fincher's remake in an elite catagory. A category, that as of this writing, only contains one other film, V for Vendetta.

Not only that, but as in the original, Lisbeth gets to save Mikael not once, but twice. The one time that Lisbeth ends up in a tight spot, she saves herself by turning the tables and blackmailing her assailant.

For those who think they misread that, let me reiterate. A bisexual female heroine not only gets to save the straight male protagonist (twice!), she never once needs to be saved by him. Remarkable is it not? Usually it would be the other way around.

While not quite as remarkable, there are other characteristics of Fincher's remake that are also unusual. These being that the violence and sexual content has been upped. Increasing the violent content is not that unusual, but the upping of the sexual content, which in this case includes anal rape and other forms of sexual assault, is almost unheard of. Usually, Hollywood remakes tone done anything that could be considered disturbing or offensive, but here Fincher does the opposite. His The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is not only different, it is a whole lot darker.

Boiled down to it's essence, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a traditional detective story but the characters, particularly Lisbeth, give it a much different feel. Played here by Rooney Mara, Lisbeth's hard exterior is a front to hide her difficult and violent past, which is never explained in detail but we are given enough of the broad strokes to be able to fill in the gaps. Daniel Craig gives a low key, but rather decent performance, not once did I find myself thinking of a certain James Bond.

Overall, Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is not only is able to stand on it's own, but actually manages to tackle bolder material than was covered in the original. Certainly that can be considered the mark of a great remake.

Getting a tattoo can be both painful and expensive, but both pain and money are worth expending in order to see this movie.

The Rating


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reviews posted listed alphabetically.

December 17, 2011

Social Constructs and The Natural Order: Part 1: Introduction

Note: the following is the first in a series of planned philosophical essays that I shall be writing regarding what can be called the Natural Order. First, allow me some pretension in assuming that I am capable of doing what I intend to do. I make no claim that what I am about to argue here is anything more then the ravings of an individual who thinks he understands "How The Universe All Fits Together".

Social Constructs and The Natural Order

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: The Evolution and Survival of Systems
Part 3: Free Will, Choice, and Self Determinism Within Social Constructs
Part 4: The Role of Science and Religion
Part 5: Social Constructions Involving Race, Ethnicity and Culture
Part 6: Social Constructions Involving Gender and Sexuality
Part 7: Thoughts on Creating more Ethical Systems

To begin, let us consider some history. The universe was created in a bang, either by some grand God saying "let their be light", a flying spaghetti monster waving a noodly appendage, or through physical forces we don't yet fully understand. Whatever. At some point, galexies formed out of gasuous nebulas, then a solar systems came next, one which happened to have star we call the Sun at it's center around which would revolve our planet earth. Then upon this earth came a series of increasingly complex organisms which would separate and evolve out into different species. Over time at least one of these species would develop what can be called rational consciousness.

Now let's stop right here because this development is key to everything else I'm going to talk about. Why? Because up until now, everything that happened in the universe followed certain hard rules, what we might call "the natural order", that is "the rules governing the way the universe is". Organisms follow the rules of evolution, which is grounded in the rules of chemistry and physics and influenced by the geological environment. In general, scientists study these rules in an attempt to know them. Most importantly, these rules must be followed. If a rule or law science has decreed to be a part of the natural order is broken, then science was wrong about that rule. It is important to note, that there is no proof that we humans are capable of knowing the natural order in it's entirety.

So why is the development of of rational consciousness so important? Because with the development of self awareness, we humans were capable of developing new rules and systems. Specifically, we developed what could be labelled most generally as social constructs. Now by "social construct" I am of course referring to any rule or system that is dependent upon the faith of rational beings in order to exist. This makes social constructs very different from the natural order, which does not depend upon faith in order to exist.

In distinguishing between the natural order and social constructs, I must distinguish between two different kinds of beliefs. Beliefs about the natural order can be either right. For example, if I believe that there exists an all powerful god who sends good people to heaven and bad people to hell, then I can be either right or wrong depending on if there actually exists an all powerful god who sends good people to heaven and bad people to hell depending upon their faith in that God. Technically, I could also be considered to be partially right if there actually exists an all powerful god who sends people to heaven or hell depending on the number of snickerdoodles they consumed during their lifetime.

Beliefs about social constructs though are different, since social constructs are dependent upon belief in order to exist in the first place. Therefore, beliefs that are solely regarding social constructs technically cannot be "wrong". They can be called misguided, they can have devastating consequences for those who believe in them and for others, but they cannot be incorrect. If people believe in governments, economies, languages, then these things exist and the beliefs of the faithful legitimize and give power to those constructs.

Another important point needs to be made though, while social constructs are catagorically distinct from the natural order, they are also constrained by the natural order and cannot break it. It is however possible for false beliefs of conscious beings in the natural order to be created or develop within social constructs. It is also possible for social constructs to develop that ignore or are ignorant of the realities of the natural order.

-Social constructs need to be believed in order for them to exist and therefore are categorically distinct from the natural order which needs no rational conscience being to justify it.
-Social constructs are constrained by the natural order but false beliefs are still possible within them and to be generated by them.

(I imagine this introduction is going to seem silly to people, but bear with me, I plan to start covering more interesting and complicated ideas in future instalments)

Coming Soon: Part 2: The Evolution and Survival of Systems

Gay Celluloid

This is just a quick note to say that I'm now listed at Gay Celluloid (on their links services page). I've also listed them on my Queer Links page.

In any case go and check out the great work that they do reviewing gay movies!

December 16, 2011

Queer Review: Farewell My Concubine (1993)

Farewell My Concubine
Director: Kaige Chen
Writers: Bik-Wa Lei, Pik Wah Li, Wei Lu. Based upon the novel by Pik Wah Li.
Cast: Leslie Cheung, Fengyi Zhang, Li Gong, Qi Lü, Da Ying, You Ge, Di Tong, Dan Li, Han Lei, Chun Li, Mingwei Ma, Yang Fei, Zhi Yin, Hailong Zhao

A true epic, Farewell My Concubine tells the story of two opera stars and male lovers, whose rise and fall from fame is set against the backdrop more then 5 decades of Chinese history.

Abandoned by his prostitute mother in 1920 China, Douzi (Mingwei Ma, Zhi Yin, and Leslie Cheung) whose name means "bean" was raised by a theatre troupe. There he meets Shitou (Hailong Zhao, Yang Fei, and Fengyi Zhang) and over the following years the two develope a routine around the opera "Farewell My Concubine" that as adults, brings them fame and fortune. When Shitou marries Juxian (Li Gong), Doutzi becomes jealous, the beginnings of the acting duo's explosive breakup and tragic fall take root.

The Queering
Movies like this are rare but well worth the effort it takes to find them. At nearly three hours in length, Farewell My Concubine may test some viewers constitution but they will also find their patience rewarded. The characters, along with their changing relationships and circumstances, are what drive the plot of Kaige Chen's film forward. There is little in the way of action or comedy to spice things up but watching Farewell My Concubine will probably make most people realize how unnecessary those elements can be.

The acting across the board is fantastic, with the best performance being Leslie Cheung's Douzi. In the opera, Douzi plays the doomed concubine to Shitou's Hegemon-King Xiang Yu, which causes Douzi to develop confused feelings regarding his gender and his off-stage relationship with Shitou only makes this worse.

Watching Farewell My Concubine I could not help noticing that while distinctly Asian (the Farewell My Concubine play which Shitou and Douzi perform and mirrors the plot of the movie is a traditional part of Chinese theatre) there are also clear Western overtones and themes present throughout. The beginning in particular, with it's focus on the cruelty the children in the acting troupe are forced to endure, is very Dickensian. Other elements seem straight from Shakespeare, right down the nitty little detail of having males playing female characters. Not to mention Farewell My Concubine has the grandiose feel of many of Hollywood's greats, such as Citizen Kane or Gone With The Wind.

Unfortunately, I don't have time to analyse where certain themes and motiffs orginated or who might have been borrowing or stealing from whom. What is clear to me, is that while Farewell My Concubine is set in a particular place and within a specific culture, it still manages to touch upon common threads of human experience. One does not have to have lived through Chinese history in order to be able to understand or empathize with the characters, their experiences are intimately depicted, yet still universal. To me, that is precisely the sort of characteristic that makes a great movie.

Say farewell to anyone you know if they try and stop you from seeing this movie.

The Rating


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

December 14, 2011

Otsego County Pflag: Positive Connections in Need of Help

Otsego County Pflag: Positive Connections in Need of Help: Hello everyone, I received the following from Bill Phar, the head of Positive Connections. I hope people can do whatever they can to help:...

Queer Issue: A Christmas Wish List on the Future of Queer Cinema

I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.
-Mahatma Gandhi

It's easy to rant and rave about what one does not want to see in films, but all the ranting and raving will do nothing in the end towards creating a robust and thriving Queer Cinema. That is not to say that I wish to discourage any anger directed towards the movie industry regarding the lack of diversity and inclusiveness on the silver screen. There are huge problems when there is a near total absence of queer youth, queer people of color, and feminine traits are used almost universally to denote evil. Although, I must add that on a micro level there is nothing wrong per se with an overly feminine antagonist. The problem is one that exists on the macro level, when nearly *every* movie ever made will take the time to point out the macho manliness of the hero while highlighting the lisping femininity of the limp wristed bad guy.

And so I decided that I wanted to create a Christmas Wish List to make clear what I want and what I believe the movie industry should be doing. I am not looking merely to vent, but to make a statement of what should be.

Dear Santa,

This is a wishlist of what I want for the future of Queer Cinema.

When it comes to queer cinema, I want more of everything. I do not want erasure, I want exposure and truth. I want cinema to depict honestly how queers have been integrated into the full history of human culture. I want to see the stories of how queer sexuality was accepted by some societies, ignored by others, and oppressed by far too many. In short, I want it all.

I want more stories with gays, lesbians, asexuals, bisexuals, pansexuals, and omnisexuals. Deliver to me characters who are transgender, transsexual, gender queer, intersex, and do not forget the flaming drag queens and kings. I want to see depictions of those genderfucks who ate the livers of society's gender paradigms with fava beans and washed them down with a nice Chianti.

I want the film industry to tell me the stories, as Clint Catalyst would say, in praise of the prancy boys, as well as the tales of butch dykes, of femme lesbians, and of the manliest of gay men. Show me the stories of leather daddies and leather mommies. I want the celluloid closet to be destroyed utterly and completely.

I want to know the stories of queers of every religion, of every culture, and of every race and color. Show me queers who are Atheist, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Deist, Animists, Taoists, or Agnostic. Tell me of queers who are African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latino, Hispanic, European, or Native American. Give me the chronicles of all the different queer peoples of color.

Give me queers in space, battling evil empires and boldly going where no queers have gone before. I want to be able to unravel queer mysteries with fabulous detectives. I tell you, do not skimp on tales of queer cops and robbers, queer monarchs and peasants, and queer cowboys and Native Americans. I don't know why I cannot quit any of them. Give me myths of fairy godfathers making offers that cannot be refused. Give me the story of the spy who took her martinis stirred, not shaken.

I want romantic comedies about queer protagonists who search desperately the whole movie to find love and at the end do so. But tell to me also the stories of those queers who reject "love" believing it to be an invention of an oppressive heternormitive society.

Give me narratives with angry inches, at least 20 centimeters, boys who cried, and those who like it hot.

Create for me legends and fantasies of queer wizards and demons, of queer witches and warlocks. Tell me the tales of queer vampires and ghouls. Try and scare me with tales of queer psycho slashers stalking hapless victims through showers and dreams.

Give me queer heroes and villains, queers who can fly and queers who fall, queer saints and sinners. Give me the good, the bad, and the ugly of all things queer. Feed me the queerest soylent green you can find.

I want desperately to see a queer on the bow of the Titanic, screaming defiantly into the wind, "I'm the QUEEN of the WORLD!"

Show me the money of the queer wealthy, but please do not forget the suffering of the queer poor and homelessness.

Give me tales of queer youth and queer seniors. Do not hesitate to tell the stories of queers who are disabled. I want narratives with queers who are fat and thin and of those queers who are handsome or beautiful and of those who fail to meet their society's standards of good looks.

I want stories of queer couples who stayed together in pure monogamy until death bid them part. Then show me the chronicles of the queer sluts, whores, prostitutes, gigoloes, and porn stars. Do not forget those queers that never found love, the unlucky virgins, or those who willingly took vows of chastity.

Tell to me the tales of queer artists, for I want to know the experiences of queer poets, writers, painters, composers, sculptures, actors, actresses, directors, authors, and musicians. They are the stuff dreams are made of.

Show me the stories of queer scientists, professors, academics, thinkers, philosophers and journalists. But do not ignore the stories of queer idiots, morons, and dunces. They all had me at hello.

Give unto me, queer firefighters and arsonists, queer athletes and qeeks, queer teachers and students, queer doctors, nurses, paramedics and the queer patients they treated.

There are stories of extraordinary queers to be told and of those queers who were extremely ordinary. So give me queers who coulda been contenders.

I wish to know the stories of queer radicals, liberals, and conservatives, of joiners and rejecters.

Spin for me the stories of queer warriors, soldiers, and generals and of those who committed brave feats in battle. But tell me also of those queers who protested the unjust nature of war and of those who committed even braver acts of civil disobedience.

I want to be told the stories of queer politicians and leaders, of queer activists and social reformers. Tell to me of those whose impact throughout history is so great as to be immeasurable and of those who lived in obscurity their whole lives. I want queers who cared passionately about worthwhile causes and those queers, who frankly my dear, didn't give a damn.

Tell me the stories of queer marxists, socialists, and capitalists. Queers who are completely selfless and queers who believe that greed is good. I want to see queers screaming, "you are not your bank account!" I want the first and second rules of Queer Club to be that you do not talk about Queer Club.

Tell me the sagas of the queer working class, of queer farmers, factory workers, waiters, waitresses, airplane pilots, train operators, ship captains, postal workers, and tollboth collectors. I want to know the experiences of queer secretaries, administrative assistants, bureaucrats, tax collectors, telemarketers, childcare workers, personal aides, and taxi drivers. And, yes, *I* am talking to you.

Since I am greedy, spin for me myths of queer weirdos and freaks, and of rainbow flying monkeys.

Tell for me the histories of queers who accept the fate dealt to them and those who are now mad as hell and ain't going take it any more.

Document, I beg you, the stories of Sylvia Rivera, Glenn Burke, Ernst Röhm, Ruth C. Ellis, Georg Joachim Rheticus, Margaret Mead, John Reith, John Maynard Keynes, George Washington Carver, Alan L. Hart, Alan Turring, Bayard Rustin, Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès, Solon of Athens and too many other queers from history to list here. I want them all to be as widely known as that of Harvey Milk.

May not want a single story go untold because we were too afraid tell them.

Thank you.

December 13, 2011

Queer Review: Alexander (2004)

Director: Oliver Stone
Writers: Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle, and Laeta Kalogridis
Cast: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Christopher Plummer, Rory McCann, Gary Stretch, Ian Beattie

Note: This is the review of Alexander - The Director's Cut. I have not had a chance to see any of the other versions, such as Alexander Revisted - The Final Cut, as of this posting.

Oliver Stone's bio-pic of the most influential queer in all of history - Alexander the Great, "conqueror of the known world" - is unfortunately something of a dud. Confusing battle scenes, an unnecessary use of non-chronological storytelling, and a weak lead performance all conspire to create a movie far short of greatness.

Following the assignation of his father, King Philip II (Val Kilmer), Alexander of Macedonia (Colin Farrell) began a campaign to avenge his death, that ultimately took him all the way across the Middle East and into India. Even once Darius III (Raz Degan) - the one suspected of orchestrating the murder of Philip I - is dead, Alexander continues onward, driven by an extraordinary thirst for greatness and other inexplicable forces. Along the way, for the purpose of producing a heir, Alexander marries Roxana (Rosario Dawson), much to the consternation and jealousy of Alexander's lover Hephaestion (Jared Leto).

The Queering
I am not sure where Alexander went wrong. Most obviously, I think is that Oliver Stone took on more than he could handle, thereby making an ambitious but ultimately flawed movie. I give Stone credit for being willing to take on a project of this nature, where multiple competing interests had to have placed undue strain and pressure on the project itself. On one hand, I think Stone set out to make a movie that was honest to the known historical record, namely that Alexander had a relationship with Hephestian that was most likely both of a romantic and sexual nature. Unfortunately, the final result only shows how easily compromised even the best directors can become when working with a large budget.

It might not have been too bad, after all great pains are taken to show the depth of feelings that Alexander and Hephestian had for each other and the two are frequently shown being affectionate. However, while Alexander is shown actually having sex with Roxana, we get nary a hint that Hephestian and the conqueror of the known world did anything other then embody a certain stereotype often applied to lesbians, as we only ever see them cuddling. The double standard employed here is something I found rather troubling.

Beyond that, Alexander simply is not a terribly good film. The battle sequences are nicely shot but are edited in such a way that sucks both tension and coherency from them. Narration provided by Ptolomy sheds little insight into anything important and only serve to bog down the plot. Furthermore, the non-chronological way Stone choose to tell the story does little to keep proceedings from becoming tedious.

There are a few good things about Alexander. The recreations of ancient Babylon and other areas of the ancient world is beyond impressive. The historical accuracy, while not perfect, is damn good for a Hollywood flick. A few battles were condensed and one might assume that Alexander was plagerized by Virgil, given Alexander's perchance for quoting the writer some 200 years before Virgil was born but on the whole, more effort than usual was put into respecting the established historical record. Also, Angelina Jolie gives a beguiling performance as Alexander's mother, Queen Olympias, a woman who spends a great deal of time cuddling with snakes.

Unfortunately, Jolie gives the most memorable performance in the entire film. Collin Farrell is wishy washy performance as the titular character and Val Kilmer is given little to of interest to do as King Philip II. No one else, with maybe the exception of Jared Leto and Rosario Dawson, is really around enough to leave much of an impression.

In the end, the greatest crime is the lack of insight into Alexander's character. By the end of the film we know little of what motivated him beyond the standerd pop psychology explanation of "he had unresolved mommy/daddy issues". Combined with Farrell's problematic lead performance, and it becomes hard to for me to defend the movie when so much is wrong with the development of the lead character.

Unfortunately, greatness eludes this Alexander. Not worth the trouble to seek out unless one has a strong interest in the subject matter or in watered down depictions of queer love in mainstream movies.

The Rating


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

December 10, 2011

Queer Review: Howl (2010)

Directors: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Writers: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Cast: James Franco, Todd Rotondi, Jon Prescott, Jon Hamm, Aaron Tveit, David Strathairn, Bob Balaban, Andrew Rogers, Mary-Louise Parker, Heather Klar, Jeff Daniels, Allen Ginsberg (in archival footage)

The issues of censorship and the question of what constitutes obscenity come together in this dramatic telling of the trial for Allan Ginsberg's poem "Howl". The trial itself is a little dry but the imaginative sequences inspired by the poem itself make the time spent viewing worthwhile.

One part of Howl focuses on the obscenity trial for Allan Ginsberg (James Franco) which features several literary experts testifying on the literary merits of the the poem. Another part features Ginsberg in a mockumentary segment answering questions about the poem from an inquiring researcher. The third part has Ginsberg reading the poem at Six Gallery Reading on October 7, 1955, which was the public debut, and also features some glorious animated segments inspired from the poem.

The full text of Howl can be read here.

The Queering
It is sometimes easy to forget that America in the 1950's was the very epitome of intolerance, as evidenced here when Allen Ginsberg's publishers are forced to justify the legitimacy of the poem in order to avoid criminal charges. You read that right, actual criminal charges. Shig Murao (who was unfortunately not depicted in the film) actually went to jail for selling Howl and Other Poems. First Amendment, what First Amendment?

The problem with the film Howl is that we didn't really need to see a dramatization of the trial itself. The scenes where literary critics debate the worthiness of the Howl are tepid and add little to the movie. The scenes where Ginsberg is being interviewed are a bit more interesting, as these feature James Franco giving a completely natural performance of the late poet and his defence here that Howl represents a sort of pure expression of human expression makes more sense than anything we see in the trial.

However, where the film really takes off are when Franco reads the poem in public and during the animated segments. These sections, set to Franco's narration, are what make the movie worthwhile. We did not need the trial to see the literary merits of the poem Howl, these wonderful sets of animated imagery - which honour Grinsberg's work and bring the poem itself to life - should be enough to convince anyone of the poems merits.

No reason to go around howling like a mad man to find this, but worth taking some effort for those interested in the subject matter.

The Rating


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

November 27, 2011

Queer Issue: When Good Charities/Organizations Go Bad.

It's that time of year again and probably most people reading this have heard the ringing of bells for the Salvation Army. Most people probably even dropped in their lose change or maybe some dollar bills.

What many people who are donating might not realize is that the Salvation Army has a long and sordid history of discriminating against homeless and disenfranchised queer individuals as well as actively pushing for anti-queer legislation, a history that can be read about here. PFLAG of Genesee County and other organizations have engaged in boycotts of the Salvation Army because of their discriminatory policies.

The thing is, the Salvation Army is not the only charity/organization that does good deeds while otherwise promoting bigotry. Catholic Charities for example, has been in the news recently for discriminating against same sex couples and unmarried couples in their adoption programs. Much like the Salvation Army, this is an addition to promoting homophobic policies within their organization.

See also:
- Illinois, Catholic Agencies At Odds Over Gay Adoptions
- Illinois’ Catholic Charities Lose Right To Discriminate Against Same-Sex Couples
- Catholic Charities chooses worst option for complying with DC law...and pretends it has no choice
- Same-sex marriage leads Catholic Charities to adjust benefits

Another homophobic organization is the Boy Scouts of America and their bigoted Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy regarding sexual orientation. I can recall when I was in the BSA collecting food for a local food pantry and participating in a high-way cleanup where we picked up liter on a section of I-88.

Yet the BSA's DADT policy is one that is very harmful for queer youth. During my senior year of high-school, while working on my Eagle Project to achieve the highest rank that the BSA offered, I attempted suicide. My reasons had everything to do with having been forced into the closet as a result of the BSA's homophobic policy.

Now I can already hear the protests of but these organizations do good things! they feed the homeless! they provide structure and activities for youth! they rescue kittens and puppies from burning buildings! and so on...

Yes... true. But any organization that discriminates against a particular group is reinforcing bigotry and the long term effects of bigotry pretty much always include increased poverty, homelessness, suicide, delinquency, and more for the individuals against whom that bigotry is directed. In other words, charities that actively discriminate against minorities are not merely denying services to those minorities, they are contributing to a broken culture that helped to create the problem in the first place. Furthermore, any support of these organizations by outside individuals does exactly the same.

In the long run, it is better to give to and support organizations that do not practice discrimination as these organizations will have a much better effect at actually solving "the problem" (whatever "the problem" may be).

Here are a few examples worth drawing attention to:

Doctors Without Borders
American Red Cross
Ruth Ellis Center
Sylvia Rivera Law Project

Local Organizations for Oneonta/New York State:

- Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth and their LIFE House Program Oneonta
(runaway and homeless youth, foster care/adoption, various other youth related services)

- Habitat For Humanity Otsego County

- Oneonta Community Health Center
(Free Health Services for the Uninsured)

- Positive Connections: An HIV/AIDS support network in Upstate New York.

November 26, 2011

Queer Review: Partners (1982)

Director: James Burrows
Writer: Francis Veber
Cast: Ryan O'Neal, John Hurt, Kenneth McMillan, Robyn Douglass, Jay Robinson,

A cop "buddy" comedy, like so many that were made in the 1980's, with the exception that here, one of the Partners happens to be gay. While some may label this "progress" and such, it's not difficult to find a dozen or so films that came earlier that were more daring and radical, not to mention better made.

After the police department is criticized for failing to solve the murder of a gay man, Chief Wilkins (Kenneth McMillan) assigns the clichéd manly Detective Sergeant Benson (Ryan O'Neal) to go undercover with the clichéd gay desk officer, Kerwin (John Hurt). Naturally, this means that the two will spend the remainder of the film bonding with each other, while tracking down clues about the killer. For the most part, Benson works through his homophobia by uttering homophobic remarks whenever he gets angry and having sex with lots of women, while Kerwin cooks and does the laundry for both of them.

In other words, see Cruising and just add gay sidekick!

The Queering
As a viewer, you know your in trouble when a scene in a comedy that's played for drama gets more laughs then most of the scenes that are meant to be funny. Yup, that's right. This is a comedy minus any intentional comedy, a dramatic romance that veers into comedy, and a central mystery most likely likely to provoke the same kind of yawns suffered by a high-schooler trying to read War and Peace.

In the film's defence, it never manages to sink to Cruising's level of homophobia or become as painful to watch as Another Gay Movie. Instead Partners falls into pretty much the same category as I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry of a well meaning film that could pass for progressive and radical under certain circumstances, such as having been released back in the 50's. Thankfully, there's no equivalent scene here of having to watch Adam Sandler fondle a women's breasts, while she blissfully thinks he is straight...

There are many issues that I had with John Hurt's Kerwin. For starters, he never mentions having a boyfriend or having ever been in a relationship with another man. Given Kerwin's age, this is certainly rather odd. Then there is the fact that Kerwin is such a wall flower that he never defends himself whenever Benson uses a homophobic slur. As such, the relationship that develops between Benson and Kerwin felt borderline abusive to me, with Kerwin acting more like Benson's clingy servant than equal partner.

Then there is the ending, which has Kerwin saving Benson from the killer and getting shot for his efforts. Thankfully he does not die for this, but while part of me appreciated that Kerwin got to be all heroic and such, another part of me wanted to yell out, "Hello! The Hays Code was over before the 70's. You no longer *need* to punish someone just for being gay! Sheesh!" Progress, this is not.

If your partner suggests watching this, it's not time to break up, but it would still be worth considering.

The Rating

(Quick, spot which one of them is gay! It's so hard, ain't it?)

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

November 23, 2011

Queer Review: The Devil's Playground (1976)

The Devil's Playground
Director: Fred Schepisi
Writer: Fred Schepisi
Cast: Arthur Dignam, Nick Tate, Simon Burke, Charles McCallum, Thomas Keneally, John Diedrich

Fred Schepisi's film is a slow moving and moody coming of age story about the repressed students and priests at a Catholic boarding school in Austrialia. Nicely shot and entirely evocative, The Devil's Playground raises questions regarding the necessity of self control and the consequences of living in a society so strict, even something as innocent as masturbation is forbidden.

Set in the closeted confines of a Catholic Seminary, The Devil's Playground tells the story of a young Tom Allen (Simon Burke) who must struggle with his burgeoning sexual desires. However, there is a great deal of contention amongst the the Brothers in charge of the seminary as they debate their merits of the strict rules everyone must follow. Meanwhile, a secret society has been formed by a small number of students that engages in sadomasochism. They try to recruit to Tom, but he rebuffs their advances.

The Queering
The Devil's Playground develops slowly and at first it is not clear who the main characters are. However, like any well constructed mosaic, the plot slowly comes into focus as it progresses and the whole picture can be seen. While the slow pacing might cause boredom amongst easily distracted viewers, Director Schepisi manages to find the right tone and to keep things focused on what is really important. However, this makes watching The Devil's Playground into something of an intellectual exercise. Personally, I found myself caring for the characters in only the most superficial manor.

From a technical perspective, it's worth noting that there is no flashy cinematography or quick editing to provide distraction. A few short scenes are shot entirely in take and more then a few memorably shot and edited sequences, such as when Tom kisses a girl for the first time while lying on his back looking up at the trees around him. All of this serves to enhance the contemplative mood that Schepisi was certainly aiming for.

Acting wise, the performances are strong across the board. As Tom, Simon Burke manages to find some subtle ways to convey repressed tension - while watching, pay attention to his hands during several key scenes when the camera focuses on them. Nick Tate, as a kind priest who finds himself tempted by the freedom of life outside the seminary, is also strong.

On the whole, The Devil's Playground is a well told story with a strong sense of style that doesn't resort to cheap gimmicks or sudden plot twists to keep it moving forward. While the story may be focused on human sexuality, there is only enough nudity as is absolutely necessary. Most of the naked flesh occurs during one sequence on a day break outside the seminary changes in a public locker-room and finds himself both uncomfortable and titillated with the blatant nudity of the men around him and with the flashes of female flesh he witnesses once in the pool.

Recommended, there may not be a whole lot of fun to be had while playing in The Devil's Playground but the experience will not be forgotten.

The Rating

(Sorry about the gory opening, but this was the only trailer I could find)

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

November 16, 2011

Queer Review: Vampiros Lesbos (1971)

Vampiros Lesbos
Director: Jesus Franco
Writers: Jaime Chávarri, Jesus Franco, and Anne Settimó.
Cast: Soledad Miranda, Ewa Strömberg, Dennis Price, Heidrun Kussin, José Martínez Blanco, Andrés Monales, Paul Muller, Jesus Franco

Vampiros Lesbos is a lesbian themed exploitation flick from the early 1970's. Granted, I would not consider myself in the target audience, but I was surprisingly bored by the slow moving plot and a narrative that rarely makes any sense. I would say it was the worst vampire movie I'd ever have the misfortune of seeing ever but then I have seen the trailers for all of the Twilight movies.

Note: This is about how much of the plot I could make sense of. There are plenty of random elements and characters and the line between what is a dream and what actually happened in the plot is almost never clear.
Countess Nadine Oskudar (Soledad Miranda) keeps appearing in the dreams of Linda Westinghouse (Ewa Strömberg), a lawyer for the firm Simpson & Simpson. Simpson & Simpson, upon the request of Nadine, assign Linda to oversee the transfer of the estate of Count Dracula to Nadine, who he apparently selected as his heiress. Nadine attempts to seduce Linda but things go wrong and Nadine finds herself under the influence Linda. Shortly afterwards, Linda collapses and ends up under the care of Dr. Alwin Seward (Dennis Price), who wishes to become a vampire himself.

The Queering
It's not surprising that Vampiros Lesbos is completely incoherent, given its pedigree but it is shocking that there is nothing else worthwhile here either, not even the slightest visceral thrill is to be had. That is because the pacing makes the whole movie feel about as much fun as watching the paint used as fake blood used in this film, dry. Most scenes go on forever while managing to avoid advancing the plot and random non-sequiters are frequent and time consuming.

Given the reputation of Vampiros Lesbos, I somehow expected more then a few tame lesbian sex scenes and a couple of splatters of obviously fake blood. A common interpretation of vampire stories is that the drinking of blood is a stand in for actual sexual seduction and conquest. More then a few storytellers, have keyed into this interpretation and gone all the way and depicted sex while the drinking of blood is occurring, while other filmmakers have used a more sophisticated approach and leave the seduction part to the viewers imagination. Vampiros Lesbos director, Jesus Franco takes the former approach.

However, there's a very obvious and very disturbing subtext here. Lesbianism and vampirism become one and the same, with the purpose of making lesbians appear dangerous seductresses. As Countess Nadine pulls Linda away from her male partner by invading Linda's dreams and subconscious, the metaphor is obvious. The dangerous lesbian is seducing/recruiting Linda into becoming another lesbian, and Linda must fight back in order to remain straight.

I had originally thought a different subtext was going to play out, one in which lesbians and vampires were equated in a more interesting manor. What this interpretation would have entailed was that the female vampires were both social outsiders and the victims of male dominance, and that in the end Linda would throw of the oppressive shackles of society to become another vampire. My reason for thinking this was because Agra (Heidrun Kussin), another woman whom Count Nadine had seduced, appeared to be the prisoner of Dr. Alwin Seward and his clinic being a metaphorical representation of an ex-gay clinic. However, the ending eliminates any possibility of this scenario being the case.

In my estimation therefore, there is not a single worthwhile element in the hateful mess that is Vampiros Lesbos. The plot tries use surrealism in place of good storytelling in an effort to prevent audiences from realizing how lame the story is but ends up being boring and incoherent instead. The direction is stilted, with the extreme close ups fast becoming a nuisance. Then there's the acting where every performer appears to be in a competition to see who can best imitate furniture.

Pretty much only for those looking for a soft core porno and are willing to spend time fast forwarding through the parts where nothing interesting occurs or better yet, for those in need of a sleep aid. In spite of it's reputation, Vampiros Lesbos would be best served by being marketed as a cure to insomniacs, whether they be vampires or mortals.

The Rating

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

November 13, 2011

Queer Review: Queen Christina (1933)

Queen Christina
Director: Rouben Mamoulian
Writers: H.M. Harwood, Salka Viertel, Margaret P. Levino, S.N. Behrman, Ben Hecht
Cast: Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Ian Keith, Lewis Stone, Elizabeth Young, C. Aubrey Smith, Reginald Owen, Georges Renavent, David Torrence, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Ferdinand Munier

This rather fictionalized account of Christina, Queen of Sweden, served as a star vehicle for Greta Garbo. While there are scenes and elements to Queen Christina that have not aged well, it can comfortably be labled a genuine classic and what is particularly extraordinary is that it is among the earliest positive portrayals of a queer icon.

When her father dies at age 6, the crown passes to Christina. When she grows up, Queen Christina (Greta Garbo) finds herself compromised on several levels, mostly due to the fact that she must marry in order to fulfill the obligations of the thrown. This becomes an even bigger problem when Christina falls in love with the Spanish diplomat Antonio (John Gilbert). Soon, Christina must choose between abandoning Antonio or abdicating the throne.

The Queering
Queen Christina is well made (at least for the time period) and Greta Garbo's performance as the cross dressing, sexually ambiguous Queen, is legendary for a reason. Garbo plays the iconic queen with a masculine flair that I doubt any other performer could hope to imitate. Queen Christina herself is at times both beguiling and mysterious, refusing to see her own behavior as strange or unusual, whether it includes dressing as a man or staying up all night reading.

Speaking of dressing up as a man, I could not help but wonder if this behaviour were reversed, if a male member of the royalty dressed up as a woman, would this kind of behaviour flown at all? The Celluloid Closet did a good job of addressing the way effeminate men, or sissies, were portrayed (usually negatively or for the purposes of comedy) during the 1930's. As far as Queen Christina is concerned, outside of a situation where Christina is actually mistaken for a man, her cross dressing is not used for comedy and overall Christina herself is treated fairly respectfully. However, I could not help but wonder if this would have held true if the movie had been about a King dressing up as woman.

In any case, it's not really fair to judge a movie on what it is not, rather than what it does and Queen Christina itself represents a progressive and overall positive portrayel for a queer character. While Queen Christina is heavily fictionalized, the romance between her and Antonio appears to have been an almost total fabrication, many of the Christina, Queen of Sweeden's characteristics are portrayed reasonably accurately here, at least as far as my non-historical expertise self can tell.

Overall then, Queen Christina is a rather good movie, one that earns it's reputation as a minor classic and is deservedly known for it's portrayal of a historical queer icon.

Recommended for all queens and non-queens alike.

The Rating


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

November 9, 2011

Queer Breviews: The Celluloid Closet, Being John Malkovich, Orlando, Pink Flamingos

Okay, first things first. I haven't updated this blog in, well, some time due a variety of factors, such as I'm now taking an EMT class, having to put a beloved pet that I had since I was twelve to sleep, finding out a close relative has terminal cancer, and getting rear ended twice in two days at the same intersection.

In any case, there are a couple of movies I never did formal reviews of since I started writing movie reviews for this blogs. The reasons are varied, lack of time, lack of interest in the movie itself, etc. I would not want to offer of a full, formal review of a movie that I have not seen in some time, but I don't see the harm in offering up some brief, informal thoughts on some of these movies.

Being John Malkovich (1999)
Spike Jonze's vision of a Charlie Kaufman script is a true delight. The story of a man, Craig (John Cusack) who finds a portal that leads to John Malkovich's head and for a full 15 minutes, a person can experience everything that John Malkovich experiences. Being John Malkovich is very funny and quirky, but it also provides some provocative material that investigates the meaning of personal identity. When Craig's wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz) goes into the Malkovich's mind she comes out believing she's either a lesbian or a trans man.

Highly recommended, whether one wants to be John Malkovich or not.

The Rating


The Celluloid Closet (1995)
Based upon the book by Vito Russo and narrated by Lily Tomlin, The Celluloid Closet chronicles Hollywood's portayels of LGBTQ's from the early silent era to the early 90's. Not surprisingly, most of these portrayals were invariably negative, although the film is able to end on a note of hope, as the rise of independent cinema at the time The Celluloid Closet was made, pointed towards a brighter future.

Highly recommended. This is one piece of celluloid that does not deserve to be kept in the closet, anyone who considers themselves gay, lesbian, straight, bi/pan/omnisexual, trans, queer or otherwise, should see this highly informative film.

The Rating


Orlando (1992)
After watching The Hours I made an honest attempt to read Mrs. Dalloway, but only made it half way through before having to give up in frustration. Based upon that experience, I can say that director Sally Potter has managed to successfully capture the *feel* of Virginia Woolf's writing style. Orlando has a surreal and hypnotic feel to it, much like Woolf's stream-of-conscious prose. It's too bad ultimately that this does not translate into a more compelling cinematic experience. Tilda Swinton gives a beguiling performance that manages to save this tale of a man who becomes a woman and appears able to live forever, but otherwise, there are not a lot of reasons to be seeking this out.

Recommended pretty much only for die hard fans of Virgina Woolf, literary enthusiasts, or those for whom only pure art house films will do.

The Rating


Pink Flamingos (1972)
The characters of this film (the drag queen Divine and her rivials, Connie & Raymond Marble) compete for the title of "The Filthiest Person Alive", a label unequivocally earned by director John Waters. Poorly made, there is not a taboo that Pink Flamingos does not attempt to violate, leaving a trail of stickiness composed of something you dare not even guess at. Admittedly there is a certain thrill to be had with trying to figure out what disgusting thing the filmmakers are going to attempt next. I admit it, I did not even attempt to watch the "Divine Eats a Dog Turd" scene. In fact, there were plenty of times where I was looking at anything other then what was happening on screen.

In the grand scheme of things, Pink Flamingos works where other movies that attempted to be shocking failed because Waters' film does not attempt to make any kind of political points/achieve any kind of thematic depth (Women in Revolt) or deal in a bland menagerie of commercialized cliches (Another Gay Movie). Furthermore, I have to say that personally I would rather watch Pink Flamingos than sit through any generic romantic comedy (Latter Days, Imagine Me and You)

Recommended only for those with a strong constitution and a high tolerance for crap, and I mean that literally.

The Rating


October 20, 2011

October 17, 2011

Just a heads up, but after a few false starts, I was able to succesfully upload and post a new cartoon that I've been developing for awhile over at The Queerest Selections From the Library of Babel.

Check it out here: The Amazing Sassy - 01

October 4, 2011

Queer Review: Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane
Director: Orson Welles
Writers: Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles, Roger Q. Denny, John Houseman, Mollie Kent
Cast: Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick, Orson Welles, Harry Shannon, Ray Collins, Everett Sloane, William Alland, George Coulouris, Paul Stewart

The Big Kahuna. Frequently cited as one of the greatest films of all time due to it's superb cinematography, astounding technical achievement, beguiling story, and larger than life characterization, Citizen Kane is among the few pictures that can be considered truly legendary.

When the mighty newspaper mogul Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) passes away, his dying word, "Rosebud", motivates journalist Jerry Thompson (William Alland) to investigate its' meaning. Thompson starts by tracking down and reading the unpublished memoirs of Kane's adopted father, banker Herbert Carter (Erskine Sanford). Later, during the course of this investigation, Thompson interviews Kane's second wife, Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore), business manager Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane), close friend Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten), and lastly, Kane's shady butler Raymond (Paul Stewart). During these interviews, we are shown the trajectory of Kane's life, with the accounts often overlapping, each providing a different perspective into the actual Charles Kane. From these interviews we learn that when Kane was a child, he was sent away by his mother to live with a cold hearted banker. Later, at age 25, Kane took over The New York Enquirer and used it to build a media empire.

However, Kane's attempt at becoming Governor of New York State, which he intended to use to run for president, crashes and burns when rival Jim Getty uncovers an affair Kane was having with Susan Alexander. When Kane divorces his first wife, Emily Monroe Norton Kane (Ruth Warrick) and marries Susan, he spends the rest of his life trying to earn her love, first by buying an opera house so she can reluctantly pursue a singing career and then by building the expensive and elaborate palace Xanadu. However, none of this is enough to keep Susan from leaving him and so Kane dies alone, a faint shadow of his former self.

The Queering
For various reasons, I usually avoid reading reviews of a movie during the time between viewing a movie and completing a review of that movie. Citizen Kane I not only watched twice but during the time in between those screenings, I took the time to read several reviews from other critics. So legendary is the reputation Citizen Kane that nearly every review opened with some variation of what I now like to refer to as the Citizen Kane Standard Disclaimer which can be summed up as follows: "So great is the reputation of Citizen Kane and with so much written about it, that this critic will not be able to offer any new or original insight". All things considered, I cannot pretend any differently.

On Citizen Kane Orson Welles and the crew were either able to pioneer or popularize numerous early innovative cinematic techniques. Most notable was the deep focus method, where both the foreground and background could be filmed in perfect clarity, allowing for some truly astounding shots.

The most notable for me were:
-The shot of a miniscule child Kane playing outside through a window, while his domineering mother signs him over to the wealthy Carter in the foreground and in the midground, his poor father attempts to persuade Mrs. Kane not to go through with the deal. Note how each character's position and the amount of space they occupy on the screen perfectly corresponds to their relative influence and importance to what is occurring.
-When Kane signs his declaration of principles for the fledgling newspaper he recently acquired,
his face falls into complete shadow.
-After Kane gives his rousing campaign speech where a large portrait his face dominates the entire scene, there is a shot of Boss Getty overlooking the proceedings, while everything else, including Kane's portrait now appear in miniature.
-Shortly afterwards, there is a long take while Boss Getty confronts Mrs. Kane with her husbands duplicity in his dalliance with Susan Alexander, that uses perfect timing and staging to demonstrate the shifting power and allegiances of the characters involved.

From beginning to end, every shot in Citizen Kane is a piece of a larger puzzle to the main character's life. Not a frame goes by when there is not some metaphor or symbolism on display. But what does the larger puzzle represent? What sort of person is Charles Foster Kane really? The literal revelation of the term rosebud provides the biggest clue, but it's symbolic meaning is open to interpretation.

There is also a subtle queer subtext in the character of Kane's friend Leland. Jebidiah Leland never marries or expresses interest in any female character. Throughout the time he is being interviewed by Thompson, Leland aggressively tries to get the reporter to sneak into the convalescence home where Leland now lives some cigarettes, which he is forbidden by his doctor who cites the health risks of tobacco. What struck me about this scene is that, while a small number of doctors in the early forties believed that smoking posed a significant health risk, it would not be another decade before the first major study linking tobacco and lung cancer would be published. However, the false belief that "homosexuality" did pose serious health risks to gay men and lesbians was very widespread. Furthermore, during the Hayes code, smoking and particularly the sharing of cigarettes was a common way to subtly suggest sexual activity. Basically what I am saying is that the entire scene plays as if Leland is hitting on our intrepid reporter.

Speaking of Thompson, we never learn anything of his past and outside of a few brief shots, never see his face either. Thompson is clearly intended to be an audience surrogate, everything we learn about Kane -- other than the opening scene of Kane dyeing at the beginning and the big "rosebud" reveal at the end -- we learn through Thompson.

To go along with the sexual subtext, it's interesting to me to note how the film views on innocence and sexuality. Most notably are two instances when Kane appears the most human. The first is when he comes into the newsroom, shy as a bashful school boy to announce his first marriage to Emily Monroe Norton. The other is when Kane meets Susan Alexander while she was suffering from and he has just been splashed from mud from a passing carriage. Susan invites him up to her place to wash off and he accepts her invitation, he pays back her kindness by making shadow puppets and trying to make her laugh in order to distract her from her toothache. These instances show Kane coming the closest to recapturing the innocence of his youth. But the affair that results with Susan ultimately destroys Kane, while Boss Getty clearly committed some sort of actual criminal activity, it is a sexual affair that began with the most innocent of intentions that destroys Kane.

The idea of innocence is key to understanding Citizen Kane. Rosebud clearly refers to the loss of childhood innocence that Kane experienced when his mother sent him away with Carter. When Kane arrives at the newspaper to announce his first wedding, he not only acts like a bashful schoolboy but he is wearing an all white suit, in stark contrast to the dark clothing worn by everybody else. But when he meets Susan, he is literally covered in dirt and mud, although when she takes him up to her place, the snow globe that he will be holding during both of his utterances of rosebud can clearly be seen sitting on a table.

Given all the praise that Citizen Kane has recieved over the years, I feel somewhat obligated to point out two obvious flaws. The first is that Kane's last word could not have been heard by anyone as he dies alone, without even any servants in the room. The other is what could be considered Citizen Kane's lone technical flub. During a late scene where Kane takes Susan on a picnic in a vain effort to win her heart back, what look to be Pterosaurs can clearly be seen flying around in the background. This was due to footage from either King Kong or Son of Kong being reused here to save money.

Overall, Citizen Kane can be most easily summarized as a character study of an ambitious, yet flawed man. There are no traditional heroes and villians here, merely varying degrees of vices and strengths. However, more importantly, is it the greatest film of all time? I cannot say as it would take a certain amount of arrogance on my part to declare any movie "the greatest of all time". I would not say it was my personal favourite film that I have seen, but if I were to give it some thought, I would probably place it in the top 10. However, it is certainly among the most powerful and contains an intellectual depth that few films aspire too and almost none obtain. And for that reason, it is most deserving of it's reputation.

Strongly recommended. Regardless of what country, all citizens should see Citizen Kane.

The Rating

AFI's "A Hundred Years... A Hundred Films" Tribute

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September 27, 2011

Queer Review: Ma Vie En Rose (1997)

Ma Vie En Rose (My Life in Pink)
Director: Alain Berliner
Writers: Alain Berliner and Chris Vander Stappen.
Cast: Georges Du Fresne, Michèle Laroque, Jean-Philippe Écoffey, Hélène Vincent, Marie Bunel

This Belgium import from director Alain Berliner is notable for not only featuring a pubescent queer youth (something that almost never happens in Hollywood) but also uses some sublime acting, great writing, and superior direction to deliver a powerful message on the evils of bigotry.

Ludovic Fabre (Georges Du Fresne) is not an ordinary boy, in fact technically, Ludovic does not believe that "he" is a boy at all. But that is a problem as his parents (Pierre (Jean-Philippe Écoffey and Michèle Laroque) not only have difficulty accepting Ludovic insistence on dressing in girls clothes and wearing makeup but the whole family is ostracized by the neighbors, who refuse to tolerate anything "bent". Ultimately, this causes the family patriarch, Pierre Fabre to be fired.

The Queering
Ma Vie En Rose is a gorgeously sublime film about a child who claims that "he" is really a she. Don't get me started on the ridiculousness of the MPAA rating this as R. In a world where quality movies that tell the stories of queer youth are incredibly hard to come by, restricting the audience to those who would have to obtain parental permission to see it, is absurd. It pretty much beats out the MPAA's stance of "it's okay to show a guy getting his brains blown out, but a lingering shot of a woman having an orgasm is a no no" regarding Boys Don't Cry. With this rating the MPAA is officially synonymous with blatant absurdity. There is *nothing* in Ma Vie En Rose that justifies anything beyond a PG-13. I could go on but that would distract me from reviewing this wonderful film.

The opening sequences of Ma Vie En Rose, which show different couples getting ready to attend the Fabre's housewarming party, is set up to demonstrate the enforced heternormativity of the neighborhood. Therefore, right from the start, we know that anyone who violates the unspoken rules dictating societal standards will be in trouble.

As for the central character, Ludovic this is less an issue of sexual orientation but of gender identity. Ludovic is a child who believes that his true gender is feminine. At one point he explains that his second X chromosome got lost when he was being born, so he got an XY, thereby making him a girl boy. This is perfectly natural and obvious, therefore when the adults react negatively, Ludovic merely reacts with confusion. How can his parents not understand so simple a truth?

The acting is all superb, with Georges Du Fresne giving a completely naturalistic and charming performance as a kid caught between his desires and parental approval. Jean-Philippe Écoffey and Michèle Laroque both manage to convey the normal fears and anxieties of parents caught in the dilemma of doing right by their son and being turned into social pariahs by those who refuse to accept any form of diversity.

The cinematography is also noteworthy and uses lighting and color to effectively convey mood. Most of the scenes feature bright tints and shocking contrasts, except during several key sequences where filters are used to subtly create a more oppressive atmosphere, creating a clash with the brightly lit fantasy sequences.

These fantasy scenes, where Ludovic dances and cavorts with the Barbie like character Pam, are frequently filmed from his mother looking directly at Ludovic, not in the real world but where he imagines himself to be. The first occurs when she looks up at Ludovic while he is having an out of body experience and the other when she ends up frantically searching for him in a Pam billboard. This suggests that his mom's perspective is what is off and that Ludovic's feminine personality is not merely a figment of his imagination.

Strongly recommended, this is simply a great movie worthy of being seen in any lifetime, regardless of how pink.

The Rating


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September 24, 2011

Petition New York State: Pass GENDA! Help end discrimination against transgender individuals!

From The Empire State Pride Agenda:
"The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (A.5039/Gottfried)(S.2873/Duane) is a bill that would outlaw discrimination in New York State based on gender identity and/or expression. Currently it is legal in New York to be fired from your job, kicked out of your home or be denied credit or public accommodations (like service in a restaurant) simply for being transgender. GENDA also expands the state’s hate crimes law to explicitly include crimes against transgender people.

The Facts
Transgender New Yorkers face severe discrimination. For example, a report released this year by the Empire State Pride Agenda showed that: 20.7% of transgender New Yorkers have incomes under $10,000 a year. Most recently, in 2011, Findings of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey completed by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force report that 74% of transgender New Yorkers experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job, 20% lost a job and 37% were not hired at all. An alarming 18% of transgender New Yorkers had become homeless because of their gender identity or expression. Health care discrimination for transgender New Yorkers is also very alarming with a 17% rate of individuals who were refused medical care due to their gender identity or expression.

September 23, 2011

Queer Review: Myra Breckinridge (1970)

Myra Breckinridge
Director: Michael Sarne
Writers: Michael Sarne and David Giler. Based upon the novel by Gore Vidal.
Cast: Raquel Welch, Rex Reed, John Huston, Mae West, Tom Selleck, Roger C. Carmel, Roger Herren

Based upon the controversial novel by Gore Vidal, Myra Breckinridge is widely considered to be one of the worse films of all times. However, this appears to be due primarily to bad publicity combined with conservative standards at the time regarding human sexuality, as the final product is more of a muddled mess than an outright disaster. I am not going to defend Myra Breckinridge by any means, but Michael Sarne's film is nowhere near as bad as it's reputation suggests.

Myron Breckinridge (Rex Reed) has just undergone a sex change operation to become Myra Breckinridge (Raquel Welch). Her next course of action is to approach Buck Loner (John Huston), who heads the acting school that Myron owns half of. Pretending to be Myron's widow, Myra attempts to persuade Buck to buy the half of the school that she now technically owns while Buck attempts to prove her claims wrong. Meanwhile, now a professor at the school, Myra falls madly in love with one of the students, Rusty Godowski (Roger Herren) and makes every attempt to destroy his masculinity.

The Queering
Myra Breckinridge is not only listed on Wikipedia's List of films considered the worst but it is also the only film from the 70's on the list. Furthermore, Myra Breckinridge was also included in Harry Medved's book, The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way). Gore Vidal also distanced himself from the movie adaptation of his book.

By no means am I going to defend Myra Breckinridge but I will say that it is nowhere's near being among the worst films of all time. I can think of plenty of films that are a million times worse, such as Another Gay Movie or Half Baked where the experience of watching becomes so intolerable that one will very quickly wish to be doing something more pleasant, such as undergoing Chinese water torture. In fact, if forced at gunpoint I would not hesitate to choose Myra Breckinridge over watching any lame rom com such as Latter Days or Imagine Me and You.

This is not to say that Myra Breckinridge is flawless. On the whole, it would be charitable to label Michael Sarne's direction and writing as "muddled". This is backed up by reports that Sarne would spend up to 7 hours at time alone "thinking" while the production crew was forced to wait around. Too bad that given the evidence at hand that "thinking" does not appear to be among Sarne's strengths.

The one thing that makes Myra Breckinridge enjoyable or at least watchable, was the frequent use of clips from old movies, inserted at appropriate moments, often to provide an exclamation point to the humour. This sort of creativity is something I would like to see a lot more of in films. Also, Raquel Welch's performance is worth a look, as is Mae West as a talent scout who only wants studs due to the fact that she sleeps with all her clients. John Huston also manages to generate a few sparks as the fake macho buck who spars with Breckinridge. All of the other performances are mostly forgettable.

In the end, Myra Breckinridge was doomed by bad press and the conservative standards of the day turned the explicit sex related humour into the films albatross. Toss in the fact that the final product was not all that great and it is easy to see why this universally panned by critics.

While not even remotely close to being a candidate for one of the worst movies of all time, this is still pretty much only for those with a tolerance for experimental films or a very strong interest in the history of queer cinema.

The Rating


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September 22, 2011

Queer Issue: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to be "gayed up"

After all the moping I've had to do recently about Hollywood's unholy obsession with straightening out originally queer characters and historical figures, I'm glad to have some good news to report. It appears that David Fincher's remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo will be retaining heroine Lisbeth Salander's bisexuality. Yes! Not only that, but the 3 1/2 minute trailer features more girl on girl action than was in the original movie.

To be fair, I'm not sure how much or how explicit the same sex activity was in Stieg Larsson's original novel, as I never read it, so I can not say that Fincher's version will be queerer than Larsson's. The gaying up I'm referring to of course just with regards to the first movie that was directed by Niels Arden Oplev.

In any case, feel free to enjoy the trailer.