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