July 31, 2012

Queer Review: The Mechanic (1972)

The Mechanic
Director: Michael Winner
Writer: Lewis John Carlino
Cast: Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn, Jill Ireland, Linda Ridgeway

While a greater film than the 2011 remake, and with better subtexts (both philosophical and queer), the original The Mechanic still ends up being a disappointment.

A seasoned hit-man , Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson), ends up receiving a kill order for his long time friend, Harry McKenna (Keenan Wynn). While mildly upset by the news, Arthur carries out the hit, only to be approached afterwards by Harry's son, Steve (Jan-Michael Vincent). Steve, it appears, wants to also to be a hit-man (who in this film are referred to as mechanics). Arthur eventually consents to take Steve on as his tutelage. However, the company Arthur works for quickly make their displeasure with this arrangement known, which places both Arthur and Steve's lives at risk

The Queering
According to The Celluloid Closet by Vito Russo, the original script for The Mechanic had Arthur and Bishop becoming lovers, but scribe Carlino was unable to secure funding and many actors turned done the lead roles for obvious reasons. Which of course makes the version of The Mechanic that made it to screens in 1972 another example of Hollywood's drive to censure and straighten out anything queer related. Once the queer relationship is erased, then Arthur and Steve's partnership takes on a rather creepy father/son dynamic - particularly considering there is still a very clear homoerotic subtext between the two.

That issue aside, I will admit there were a few aspects of The Mechanic that I aprecciated. Carlino's story is actually fairly ambitious, with deep philosophical undercurrents present throughout. Arthur is a clear nihilist, obeying only a simple set of rules and is otherwise quite sophisticated. In addition to being a fan of classical music, he owns a copy of Bosch's "The Garden of Earthly Delights".

While displaying greater thought and intelligence than your typical thriller, the best response I could muster for The Mechanic was "eh". Granted there are a few intriguing ideas here about the nature of social constructs, particularly those constructs that dictate who can kill whom and under what circumstances. However, those points were neither deep nor incisive for me to feel that they contributed anything of real meaning to the film.

Ultimately, between the failed attempt at including a gay love affair in a mainstream motion picture and the lugubrious mood created by the stabs at philosophical depth, The Mechanic ends up becoming a very dull movie to endure. While a few plot twists at the end manage to create some suspense, there are ultimately too few tools in the The Mechanics toolbox to build a complete motion picture with.

For those who enjoy intelligent, nihilistic, thrillers, this could make your day, few others will want to trust this mechanic to fix a fender bender.

The Rating
2.5 out of ****


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

July 22, 2012

Off Topic: The Media, Violence, and How the Care Bears Caused the Greatest Crime Epidemic in U.S. History.

Following in the wake of the disturbing attack at at midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in an Aurora, Colorado theater that left 12 dead and many more wounded, a rather predictable response came forth. Somehow, the entertainment media's obsession with depictions of violent acts was to blame.

Certainly, Nolan's Batman movies are not short on violent content, which is making them a lightening rod for this kind of thinking. But has there ever been a link established between violent media and real life violence? No, there has not been.

My partner, Dr. Jeffery P. Dennis, is a sociologist and this happens to be a topic I get lectured on a lot, whether I want to or not. The point he loves to drive home is that consuming violent media is not a predictor of violent behavior.

Consider the following, he will often ask of me. In the 1940's through the 60's, television programming consisted primarily of Westerns, which also consistently promoted violence as a means of solving problems. The Western was ubiquitous and unavoidable. The generation which was raised on this programming would then go onto to become part of the most massive anti-war movement in U.S. history during the Vietnam conflict.

A counterpoint to this, Jeffery also points out, is the 1980's approach. As a result of criticism of violent content, television made a concentrated effort to purge violent content. The 80's saw the purge of violent Saturday morning cartoons and the rise of "nice" children's programming. Programs, such as the Care Bears, went out of their way to promote values such as tolerance and cooperation. This did not rub off very well on the children who saw it, as the year 1993 - 11 years after the Care Bears first aired - saw the highest rate of juvenile crime in the U.S.

In short, the message of the entertainment media via the Western (violence does solve problems) combined with the message sent by U.S. government (violence is necessary to solve our problems in Vietnam), was not enough to convince the throngs of college students to stop burning their draft cards, having love ins, or fleeing to Canada.

Meanwhile, the efforts in the 80's of television programming to promote peace, love, and understanding, did little to prevent the juvenile crime rate from peaking in 1993. What I'm getting at is, there is more evidence to support the idea that watching the Care Bears cause people to engage in violent acts, such as what happened in Aurora, Colorado, than there is to support the notion that watching violent media leads to violence.

My partner is not a fringe member of sociology either. Other researchers have also decried the notion that violent media consumption causes violence. In "It's Not the Media" by Dr. Karen Sternheimer, she states that:
Media violence enables American discussion about violence to avoid the
tough questions about actual violence: Why is it so closely associated with
poverty? How can we provide families with resources to cope in violent communities? By focusing so much energy on media violence, we avoid our responsibility to pressure politicians to create policies that address these dif­ficult issues. To hear that "Washington (is) again taking on Hollywood" may feel good to the public and make it appear as though lawmakers are onto something, but real violence remains off the agenda. This tactic appeals to many middle-class constituents whose experience with violence is often lim­ited. Economically disadvantaged people are most likely to experience real violence, but least likely to appear on politicians' radar. A national focus on media rather than real violence draws on existing fears and reinforces the view that popular culture, not public policy, leads to violence.

I would also like to point out that attempts to censor violence in media often generate peripheral targets. Both the Hays Code and the MPAA were ostensibly about censoring violence but both also contributed to the erasure of queer lives from Hollywood films. The Hays Code was very explicit in it's forbidding of "homosexual" behavior and characters. The MPAA, which was created to replace the Hays code, is well documented in it's pattern of assigning harsher ratings to films with queer content or contain positive depictions of female sexuality. This Film is Not Yet Rated is an excellent primer on the MPAA's hypocrisy.

As was pointed out in This Film is Not Yet Rated, the MPAA is notorious about assigning higher ratings in general for sex and nudity while ignoring violent content. The truly weird part of the MPAA's policies though, is the way that bloodless, non-consequential violence is typically let off the hook. Kirby Dick used the James Bond Goldeneye film, which featured lots of extras being gunned down to little effect, to illustrate this point.

Ultimately, maybe this gets at the heart of the issue. The news media loves to blame the entertainment industry for senseless acts of violence. But I would argue that the news media deserves a lot of criticism for it's sanitizing the devastating impacts of U.S. military interventions around the globe. This was not the case during Vietnam, when graphic footage was regularly broadcast into people's homes during the evening news program.

Perhaps this is what helped fuel the anti-war protests during Vietnam. That the heightened knowledge the protesters quite likely had of the consequences of violence - brought about thanks to violent depictions in both news and entertainment - made more people wish to take a stand against U.S. military intervention in Vietnam.

Therefore, I would argue that we should *not* be calling for less violence in media but for more. Rather than cries of censorship, we should be calling upon the news and entertainment media to make more of an effort to show the consequences of violence, no matter how disturbing or upsetting those consequences may be.

I will be honest, the efforts to erase violent media often feel more like an effort to shove the issue under the proverbial carpet. If we want to live in a more peaceful world, than perhaps we should stop pretending that the devastating impacts violent acts have on those who are subject to violence (be they physical, psychological, or sexual) do not exist.

Maybe we should spend less times chastising films such as The Dark Knight and focusing more energy on ensuring that the victims of violence can make their voices and stories be heard.

July 18, 2012

Queer Review: Patrik, Age 1.5 (2008)

Patrik, Age 1.5
Director: Ella Lemhagen
Writer: Ella Lemhagen. Based upon a play by Michael Druker.
Cast: Gustaf Skarsgård, Torkel Petersson, Tom Ljungman, Amanda Davin, Annika Hallin

(note: as previously promised, this is a properly formatted review, but due to the fact that I have not had a chance to transfer files from my old computer there is one difference viewers may notice from previous reviews)

Patrik, Age 1.5 is unfortunately a contrived melodrama about a couple whose attempts to adopt go terribly awry. In short, mediocrity, thy name is Patrik, Age 1.5.

Göran (Gustaf Skarsgård) and Sven (Torkel Petersson) are your proverbial "normal" couple who desperately want to adopt a child. When the opportunity arieses, they jump on it, thinking that they are adopting a child who is 1.5 years old. Unfortunately, the letter they were sent contained a typo and a surly 15 year old named Patrik Eriksson (Tom Ljungman). Worse, Patrik is extremely homophobic and has a record of criminal violence.

The Queering
Some movies are truly bad and some are simply mediocre. Patrik, Age 1.5 falls into the latter category rather than the former. The blandness and stale taste keep on piling on top of each other until some semblance of a middle sized morass of a cake come forth. I cannot think of too many element that was exactly mishandled or poorly done, but neither can I think of anything that stood out.

There is a huge problem though with the number of contrivances and unnecessary plot complications that keep coming up. I cannot think of any reason why an adoption agency would drop a minor off on the doorstep of the adoption parents and not bother to walk the kid to the door. Seriously?

There is one salient point that the film makes that I did appreciate. Namely that countries that have legalized same sex marriage and allow adoption for queer couples still have to deal with homophobia. Sweeden, where Patrik, Age 1.5 was made and set, has legalized same sex marriage and gay adoption but our intrepid couple still have to deal with homophobic neighbors and the social services agent they work with tells them to their face that they are the agencies last choice for allowing to adopt. I do not want to politicize this review too much, but this is something that those who relentlessly push for marriage equality should consider.

If you can see pass the melodrama and contrivances, Patrik, Age 1.5 may be tolerable. Everybody else will have a more enjoyable time trying to spot typos and misplaced punctuation on their tax documents.

The Rating
2.5 out 4 stars.


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

July 17, 2012

Queer Issue: Why the BSA's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Policy Matters

Everybody should know by now of the homophobic "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy held by the Boy Scouts of America, so I won't spend time rehashing the history. Today the BSA put out a press release, describing a secret committee that they put together for the purpose of "evaluating" said policy. In short, the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is here to stay.

There are those, such as Alvin McEwen, who will argue that the policy does not matter, that it is not worth the LGBTQ community fighting. To this I must strongly disagree. The BSA's policy does matter and it does have a negative impact on the LGBTQ community, particularly the youth.

I was a member of the Scouting movement until I turned 18. I came within a few merit badges short of earning the rank of Eagle Scout, which less than 2 percent of all scouts who enrolled in the program complete. In Troop 16 I eventually ended up serving as Senior Patrol Leader, which is essentially the youth leader of the troop. I was also inducted into the Order of the Arrow, Boy Scouts honor society.

Even though as a youth I had known for years about my sexual orientation, I stayed in the closet until I turned 18. My reasoning for doing so had a great deal to do with the Boy Scout's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

Hiding ones identity always comes with a cost. During my senior year of high school, I worked diligently on completing the final requirements for the rank of Eagle Scout. Deep down, part of me wanted to spite the BSA. To say, "Ha, Ha, you're wrong, we are just as good as you."

It was during my senior year of high school that the hiding took it's toll. The mental dissonance that comes from being told a constant message of "you are inferior, get lost freak" from all authorities wore at me until I finally broke.

While I was in the middle of working on my Eagle Scout Project (which consisted of repairing an old storage shed at the Methodist Church I attended) I attempted to commit suicide.

On the second day of the project, while my mom went to church, I played hookie so I could have some time alone. I got a knife from the kitchen and attempted to slice my wrists.

If there is one thing I am really grateful for being lousy at, it is committing suicide. My mom came home to find me on the kitchen floor, knife in hand. I ended up wearing a baggy long sleeved shirt to cover up the scratches I had made on my wrist. Somehow I managed to complete the Eagle Project, although I would later be unable to finish the requirements for the Eagle Rank itself.

Which brings me to the crux of the matter. No one can tell me that the BSA's policy is not harmful to LGBTQ youth. No one can claim that the message it sends is not without consequences.

While there are signs that things may actually be getting better, LGBTQ youth continue to face bullying and harrassment based upon their sexual orientation. There is no doubt in my mind that the BSA's policy encourages and empowers the bullies in these situations.

Consider as well, the influence the BSA holds in rural areas (such as Upstate New York where I grew up) where LGBTQ organizations are going to be few and far between. It is vital that LGBTQ youth have access to organizations that do tell them that they matter, that their lives are no less than those of their straight counterparts.

When an organization as influential as the BSA tells LGBTQ youth the opposite, that their lives mean less and that it is okay to discriminate based upon sexual orientation, something has to be done.

I'm not going to argue that the LGBTQ community should work towards repealing the BSA "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. That's not the issue I want to bring up. But we cannot allow the BSA to go unchallenged in this issue. Whether this means transforming the BSA into an organization that does not discriminate or by providing viable alternatives in every community across the nation, is another matter.

What does matter is that the BSA's policy exacts a steep price and it is the youth of our community who pay it.