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


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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


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