December 31, 2012

Queer Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, and Peter Jackson. Based upon the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien
Cast: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Billy Boyd, Brad Dourif, Bernard Hill, Christopher Lee, Ian McKellen, Dominic Monaghan, Viggo Mortensen, Miranda Otto, John Rhys-Davies, Andy Serkis, Liv Tyler, Karl Urban, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham,

Note: As with The Fellowship of the Ring this review applies only to the Extended Editions, since that is the version I have available to watch.

Peter Jackson's epic translation of the Lord of the Rings to the big screen continues in The Two Towers. As bold and invigorating as The Fellowship of the Ring In this second entry into the trilogy, the subtexts both queer and with World War II are expanded upon.

Following the breaking of the fellowship, Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Samwise (Sean Astin) continue their journey to Mordor, but the dangerous dead marshes force them to accept the help of the traitorous Gollum (Andy Serkis). Meanwhile, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) pursue the band of orcs who had kidnapped Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd). Their pursuit takes them to kingdom of Rohan where they join forces with King Théoden (Bernard Hill) to repeal an invasion of orcs sent by Sarumon (Christopher Lee). Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin attempt to convince Treebeard (John Rhys-Davies) and the other Ents to join in the fight against Sarumon and Sauron.

The Queering
Yes, I love the Lord of the Rings films. Yes, I know that there can be read into them all kinds of problematic pro-war and racist subtexts, although I will be neither exploring nor refuting those here. What I want to talk about are the same subtexts both queer and with regards to World War II that I talked about in the previous entry. So before I lose my head talking about how awesome the special effects/cinematography/acting/direction is, I'll just jump right into that.

In The Two Towers, the relationship between Samwise and Frodo is complicated by the inclusion of Gollum, whose help they are forced to accept. This causes Gollum and Sam to now compete for the attention of Frodo, who is finding the ring an increasingly difficult burden to bear.

Frenemies Gimli and Legolas have bonded now. In an early scene, Legolas shows he's willing to kill anyone who merely threatens Gimli. While a threesome is not in the cards for Sam/Frodo/Gollum, there is now one going on between Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn. In one scene Eowyn (Miranda Otto), who inexplicably develops the hots for Aragorn, says of Legolas and Gimli, "They fight beside you because they would not be parted from you! Because they love you."

Also regarding Aragorn, with Boromir out of the picture, the future king is now free to bond with King Théoden. Before and during the Battle of Helms Deep, the two appear to be drawing a certain strength from each other as they inspire each other to face the horrors of Sarumon's army.

Then there are the Ents, who have lost their Entwives, who presumably ran off to form some sort of Lesbian Tree Nymph Commune, leaving the Ents to their own devices. Since the Ents are now practicing some rather harsh gender segregation, one wonders exatly what it means for their love lives.

It also made me wonder what exactly Tolkien thought of the United States, given that the Ents reluctance to join in the war against Sauron/Sarumon reflects that of the United States reluctance to fight against the Axis powers. It is only after Treebeard finds out about Pearl Harbor the destruction of Fangorn Forst, that the Ents end up going into battle.

Another parallel from World War II is the way in which Sarumon draws much of his power from his voice, a reflection of the way Hitler could manipulate others through his words and speech. The way he goes about destroying Fangorn Forest was not only an expression of Tolkien's horror at gross industrialization but also mirrors the ways that the NAZI's turned the entirety of the German population and production resources into a singular war machine.

Recommended more highly then the tallest towers in Middle Earth.

The Rating
**** out of ****


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

December 30, 2012

Queer Review: Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson. Based upon the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Cast: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, John Rhys-Davies, Harry Sinclair, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving

Note: It's been a long time since I've seen the theatrical cuts of any of The Lord of the Rings films. Therefore, this review technically only applies to the Extended Edition.

Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring represented the first live action motion picture of Tolkien's fantasy epic to be brought to the big screen. It was a rousing success that has not been equaled or surpassed since.

When lost ring of Sauron, created for the purpose of dominating Middle Earth, comes into the possession of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), the young hobbit must flee for his life. At the start of his journey he his accompanied by three other hobbits, his gardener Samwise (Sean Astin) and the inseparable mischief makers Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd). As the danger grows, they are joined by others. When it is decided during the council of Elrond (Hugo Weaving) that the one ring must be destroyed, the Fellowship of the Ring is formed. Comprised of Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Boromir (Sean Bean) and the four hobbits, the fellowship sets off to brave the dangers of Morodor. Meanwhile, the treacherus Sarumon (Chris Lee) plots with Sauron as they prepare for an all out war to reclaim the one ring.

The Queering
Given that this film is over ten years old and how nearly every critic out there has already praised Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and how this widely regarded one of the greatest cinematic accomplishments ever and how, along with the success of the Harry Potter films, they caused the fantasy genre to suddenly be uber-respected, yada, yada, yada, I'm just going to skip the part where I sound like a frothing at the mouth fanboy and jump right into talking about the subtexts.

To start one must wonder what exactly Tolkien thought of traditional marriage given that his ultimate symbol of evil is a gold ring that rules over and binds all of the other rings together. Of course, with the ring, that's not the only subtext possible. As I already mentioned in my review of The Hobbit: A Not So Unexpected Gambit to Force Tolkien Fans to Buy More Tickets By Overstretching the Material Into Three Films Sauron's One Ring can be compared to the development of nuclear power during World War II or to the Ring of Gyges which is discussed in Plato's Republic.

As I also mentioned in the prior review, the dwarves can be seen as representing the Jewish population, which gave me a new perspective on the Mines of Moria scenes. For it was in the mines of Moria where Gimli discovers that an entire host of his kin was destroyed by a Balrog, one of the darkest and oldest evils in Middle Earth.

Of course, I can't forget the treasure trove of queer subtexts dangling all over the place now could I? With a couple of exceptions, this is pretty much a boys only endeavor. There are relatively few female characters of note that Tolkien created in the books. The role of Arwen was beefed up for the films in order to provide a little girl power and amp up the romance between her and Aragorn. Speaking of straight romances, the only two male characters who ever express any interest in females are Aragorn and Samwise.

Now there isn't really enough room for me to document all of the male bonding that takes place, all I can really do is document the highlights. There's the relationship between Frodo and Sam (which has been discussed in depth elsewhere). In Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring we see Sam, in spite of the fact that hobbits supposedly hate boats and water, willing to risk death and drowning rather than face separation from Frodo.

Then there is the relationship between Merry and Pippin, the unseperable comic relief duo. Frenemies Gimli and Legolas haven't gotten past their differences by the end of Fellowship, but will be best buds by the end of The Two Towers. However, the other frenemie couple Aragorn and Boromir do get a touching scene at the end of this film, during which they hold hands and swear undying allegiance to each other.

There are several scenes where other characters ask Frodo to give them the one ring or where Frodo offers it up to them (Galadriel, Aragorn, Boromir, Gandalf) and I couldn't help but think "Gee, don't these sound a lot like marriage proposals? Shouldn't he be down on one knee?" Of course, given the apparent ratio of males to females in Middle Earth, Frodo is offering the ring up most of the time to a male character (Galadriel represents a brief bi-curious phase I guess).

One may not simply walk into Mordor, but it certainly would be worth braving that desolate land to see this film.

The Rating
**** out of ****


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

December 29, 2012

Of the Day (12/29/12)

The Amazing Sassy
The Amazing Sassy - Sassy the cat

Why Nate Silver is Not Just Wrong, but Maliciously Wrong by Cathy O'Neil
3 New Year's Resolutions for the LGBT Community by Zach Stafford

Being queer is regarded as shameful by barbarians and by those who live under despotic governments just as philosophy is regarded as shameful by them, because it is apparently not in the interest of such rulers to have great ideas engendered in their subjects, or powerful friendships or passionate love-all of which the state of queerness is particularly apt to produce.

Historical Queer Poetry
For the Courtesan Ch'ing Lin by Wu Tsao
On your slender body
Your jade and coral girdle ornaments chime
Like those of a celestial companion
Come from the Green Jade City of Heaven.
One smile from you when we meet,
And I become speechless and forget every word.
For too long you have gathered flowers,
And leaned against the bamboos,
Your green sleeves growing cold,
In your deserted valley:
I can visualize you all alone,
A girl harboring her cryptic thoughts.

You glow like a perfumed lamp
In the gathering shadows.
We play wine games
And recite each other's poems.
Then you sing `Remembering South of the River'
With its heart breaking verses. Then
We paint each other's beautiful eyebrows.
I want to possess you completely -
Your jade body
And your promised heart.
It is Spring.
Vast mists cover the Five Lakes.
My dear, let me buy a red painted boat
And carry you away.

-Translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung

December 28, 2012

Queer Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro. Based upon the novel The Hobbit, There And Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O'Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett

In spite of being too long and overly padded, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey manages to offer up a few small pleasures (in addition to a couple of interesting subtexts).

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) an ordinary hobbit is roped into joining a dwarven expedition to reclaim a lost city by the mischievous wizard, Gandalf (Ian McKellen). The dwarves, lead by Prince Thorin (Richard Armitage), are without a homeland to call their own, but in order to slay the dragon that now occupies the city of Erebor, they will need Bilbo's help to find a secret entrance into the cave. After the journey is started, Bilbo meets a strange creature, Gollum (Andy Serkis) and acquires a strange ring from with mysterious properties.

The Queering
Tolkien is not a writer who ever made it his goal to say what he needed to with as few words as possible. One of the huge advantages The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy had over the books was how they condensed Tolkiens work without losing too many of the details and nuance of Middle Earth. Unfortunately, with An Unexpected Journey Peter Jackson seems dedicated to mimicing Tolkien by drawing out every unnecessary detail possible. There's also a couple of battles with orcs that I do not recall from the book, although it has been almost two decades since I read it.

I'll grant that some of the additional material is interesting, such as how it's suggested here that Saruman has already gone over to the dark side and Radagast discovering the Necromancer (who I'm guessing is supposed to be Sauron), but I'm really not convinced that there is enough material to support three films. The Hobbit is light fantasy story about slaying a dragon and lacks the epic structure that helped build The Lord of the Rings into one of the greatest film series in recent memory.

With the additional material, The Hobbit could have been built up into two films, both of which could have received the Extended Edition treatment. In fact, there's plenty of material here that I think would have worked better in that context. Scenes such as those with Bilbo Baggins interacting with Frodo or the scene with Gandalf and Galadriel where Gandalf explains why he choose Bilbo for the expedition would have been fine for an extended cut. In the theatrical edition, they feel self indulgent and only served to remind me of how quickly movie theater seats can turn into torture devices.

There is also the issue of that feeling of "been there, done that, got the t-shirt that says I Survived the Mines of Moria". I kept finding myself in a perpetual state of, "Haven't I seen this set/locale/character/prop/shot/battle/fight/scene before?" Howard Shore seems to have been paid just so he could cannibalize his score from Lord of the Rings. I actually enjoyed the superfluous material that came with the inclusion of Radagast the Wizard, simply because he was a completely new character. However that does not change the fact that this issue would have been alleviated if some of the redundant material could have been relegated to an extended edition.

As for queer subtexts, there are almost none. This is rather unlike the Lord of the Rings where they were all over the place, (Frodo and Sam, Gimli and Legolas, Merry and Pippin). However, it did seem to me that two of the dwarves, Kili and Fili, were based upon Merry and Pippin and that they shared a similar bond. Also unlike the Lord of the Rings movies, there are no beefed up straight romances. I will say though that Richard Armitage seems to have been cast in order to provide a little dwarven eye candy. In fact, the dwarves are presented as more human in appearance here than one typically finds on film.

There are also a few other subtexts I want to comment on. Here, the dwarves quest to reclaim Erebor reminded me of the Jewish attempts to secure their own state. Not only that but the dwarves appearance, with their unshaven beards and braided sides reflect that of Hasidic Jews. A certain stereotype of Jews is also reflected in the Dwarves pursuit of riches and wealth through mining. This subtext becomes more interesting when one considers the ways Lord of the Rings mimics World War II, with the ring Bilbo discovers reflecting the development of nuclear power.

Speaking of the ring, it has it's own subtext as well in the way it seems to have been inspired by the Ring of Gyges. The Ring of Gyges was a mythical ring that turned it's wearer invisible, thereby granting them unlimited power. Socrates argued in The Republic that if such a ring were to exist, anyone who wore it would be corrupted by the unlimited power that would be granted. In a way, Tolkien and the filmmakers appear to refuting Socrates by arguing that human empathy can over come our petty quests to dominate one another. Indeed, the scene where Bilbo decides to spare Gollum's life is among the most compelling out if all the movies, especially when one considers the ultimate consequences of that decision.

In spite of the pacing issues, I do still recommend this, but with qualifications. It's simply that this not so unexpected journey is just not as great as it could be.

The Rating
*** out of ****


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

December 27, 2012

Of the Day (12/28/12)

The Amazing Sassy
The Amazing Sassy - Getting Wet

The Young Protectors a comic about a closeted young superhero. I'm intrigued even though I have my doubts. I have a lot of concerns about the direction The Annihilator might go, but there's also a lot of potential as well.

Scapegoating Schizophrenia: Paul Steinberg’s Shameful New York Times Op-Ed Column

ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives Photograph Collection

Historical Queer Poem
Love in Bloom by Abu Nawas
I die of love for him, perfect in every way,
Lost in the strains of wafting music.
My eyes are fixed upon his delightful body
And I do not wonder at his beauty.
His waist is a sapling, his face a moon,
And loveliness rolls off his rosy cheek
I die of love for you, but keep this secret:
The tie that binds us is an unbreakable rope.
How much time did your creation take, O angel?
So what! All I want is to sing your praises.

Queer Review: City Lights (1931)

City Lights
Director: Charles Chaplin
Writers: Charles Chaplin, Harry Clive, and Harry Crocker
Cast: Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee, Harry Myers, Al Ernest Garcia, Hank Mann, Charles Chaplin

City Lights, released in 1931, was the last major hurrah of the silent era. While Wings and The Artist are the only two "silent" films to ever win the Best Picture Oscar, City Lights shines out high above both of them.

The Tramp (Charles Chaplin) falls in love with the blind Flower Girl (Virginia Cherrill) but his lowly status makes it difficult for him to woe her. That is until he saves the live of an eccentric Millionaire (Harry Myers). Afterwards, the Millionaire takes the Tramp for a night out on the town and provides him with means for Tramp to woe the Flower Girl. Eventually though, the Tramp discovers the help of the Eccentric Millionaire is complicated by the fact that the Millionaire is only capable of recognizing the tramp at night when he's drunk. Thanks to the Millionaire's jealous boyfriend butler who refuses to help the tramp in any way, the Tramp is forced to seek other means to impress the Flower Girl.

The Queering
City Lights is primarily a straight romance, with Chaplin's well known brand of physical comedy providing comic relief. However, the relationship between the Tramp and the Eccentric Millionaire has such a strong queer subtext to it, that it at times threatens to become pure text. I realize that Chaplin's brand of physical comedy requires a lot of physical contact, but that only explains why the two are constantly grabbing and groping each other (and groping here does mean buttocks). I'll even go so far as to point out that the constant hugging the two engage could be chalked up to the relaxed rules regarding male affection of the 1920's and 30's

However one can only go so far with this line of thinking, for not only do the Millionaire and Tramp hold hands and kiss (in public no less!) but after one rambunctious party the two of them wind up in bed together, which of course infuriates the Millionaire's boyfriend butler. Furthermore, there's also the fact that the Millionaire's behavior closely mirrors that of a man suffering from internalized homophobia, which help explains why he wants to kill himself and why he only recognizes the Tramp at night, rather than during the day.

As for the Tramp, there is a scene where he attempts to raise money for the Flower Girl so she can pay her rent by participating in a boxing match. Prior to the start of the match, the Tramp flirts with his opponent so much, the other boxer goes behind a curtain to change.

Now admittedly, as I said before, the main story is about the Tramp trying to woo the Flower Girl and this material is presented as effectively as it can be. The ending is often cited as being one of the most emotional and moving in the history of cinema. It certainly makes for an interesting study in understatement. Personally, I wasn't that moved by it. Although that was probably due to me not only knowing what was going to happen but because I also had become more interested in the relationship between the Tramp and the Millionaire, which was abandoned somewhere between two-thirds to three-fourths through the film.

For lovers of classic cinema and silent films, this is highly recommended. Buy all the lights in your city if it is too dark to find your way to see City Lights

The Rating
*** out of ****


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

December 26, 2012

Of the day (12/27/12)

The Amazing Sassy
The Amazing Sassy - Fetching


New Gay Bible Prevents Homophobic Misinterpretation of Key Verses; Titled The Queen James Bible

Historical Queer Poem

A Hymn to Venus By Sapho
O Venus, beauty of the skies,
To whom a thousand temples rise,
Gaily false in gentle smiles,
Full of love-perplexing wiles;
O goddess, from my heart remove
The wasting cares and pains of love.

If ever thou hast kindly heard
A song in soft distress preferred,
Propitious to my tuneful vow,
A gentle goddess, hear me now.
Descend, thou bright immortal guest,
In all thy radiant charms confessed.

Thou once didst leave almighty Jove
And all the golden roofs above:
The car thy wanton sparrows drew,
Hovering in air they lightly flew;
As to my bower they winged their way
I saw their quivering pinions play.

The birds dismissed (while you remain)
Bore back their empty car again:
Then you, with looks divinely mild,
In every heavenly feature smiled,
And asked what new complaints I made,
And why I called you to my aid?

What frenzy in my bosom raged,
And by what cure to be assuaged?
What gentle youth I would allure,
Whom in my artful toils secure?
Who does thy tender heart subdue,
Tell me, my Sappho, tell me who?

Though now he shuns thy longing arms,
He soon shall court thy slighted charms;
Though now thy offerings he despise,
He soon to thee shall sacrifice;
Though now he freezes, he soon shall burn,
And be thy victim in his turn.

Celestial visitant, once more
Thy needful presence I implore.
In pity come, and ease my grief,
Bring my distempered soul relief,
Favour thy suppliant's hidden fires,
And give me all my heart desires.

Of the Day (12/26/12)

The Amazing Sassy
The Amazing Sassy - R-Rated Films

President George H.W. Bush's Letter of Resignation From the NRA.

Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils — no, nor the human race, as I believe — and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.
-Plato, The Republic, Book V

Historical Queer Poem
But Ruth replied to Naomi:
Do not ask me to leave you,
or to turn back from you.

Wherever you go, I shall go,
and wherever you stay, I shall stay.

Your people will be my people
and your God my God.

Wherever you die, I shall die
and there I shall be buried.

May the Lord deal with me
be it ever so severely
if even death separates you and me.
-Adapted from Ruth 1:16-17

December 25, 2012

Of the Day (12/25/12)

Awhile back, I attempted to create a web comic, The Amazing Sassy, and host it here on blogger. I did this by creating a new blog, The Queerest Selections From the Library of Babel and putting the comics there, along with other bits of fictional stuff that I was working on at the time. Needless to say it didn't work out very well. Frankly, blogger really is not the right platform for what I wanted to do.

However, I eventually abandoned that project after a brief attempt to combine the content of both blogs. What I eventually decided to do after a bit of research is to have the comic strip hosted at
Comic Fury.

Now, in the past I had also toyed with the idea of creating superficial content for this blog as a means of increasing hits and traffic. I mean, I could do things like have a regular link of the day post. But I'm not in the business of simply linking to content I found elsewhere, although I do like to post links I have found on the web on to my twitter account and I find twitter to be a much more agreeable format for such a purpose. I want to produce my own content, not simply link to work done by others.

Now in the same vein, I could also do things like post random pictures I find interesting or post interesting quotes. I mean, having a quote of the day would be nice, I like quotes.

However, what I have decided to do is this: Every time I create and upload a new The Amazing Sassy comic strip, I'll promote it here in an "Of the Day" post, where I'll include (potentially) a quote, a link, and perhaps a Historical Queer Poem. Because randomly combing random things for a random purpose is totally awesome, trust me.

By the way: Historical Queer Poetry was something I tried to create for The Queerest Selections From the Library of Babel but I think I could revise that project for this purpose.

Now without further ado, I shall give you the first "Of the Day" post:

The Amazing Sassy
The Amazing Sassy - Listening

"The shallow consider liberty a release from all law, from every constraint. The wise man sees in it, on the contrary, the potent Law of Laws."
- Walt Whitman

How to be a Fan of Problematic Things by The Social Justice League.

Historical Queer Poem
Abraham Lincoln
Originally published in The L.A. Weekly, 1829
I will tell you a Joke about Jewel and Mary
It is neither a Joke nor a Story
For Rubin and Charles has married two girls
But Billy has married a boy
The girlies he had tried on every Side
But none could he get to agree
All was in vain he went home again
And since that is married to Natty
So Billy and Natty agreed very well
And mama's well pleased at the match
The egg it is laid but Natty's afraid
The Shell is So Soft that it never will hatch
But Betsy she said you Cursed bald head
My Suitor you never Can be
Beside your low crotch proclaims you a botch
And that never Can serve for me

December 21, 2012

Queer Review: The X-Files - I Want To Believe (2008)

The X-Files - I Want To Believe
Director: Chris Carter
Writers: Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter
Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Xzibit, Mitch Pileggi, Marco Niccoli, Adam Godley

This second film in The X-Files franchise is pretty much a fans only endeavor. With some nice atmosphere and well written drama/character interaction, I Want To Believe does at least manage to succeed in being a subtle meditation on the nature of faith and the limits of science. However, there is one problematic element in that the I Want To Believe has a pair of queer villains as it's main bad guys.

When an FBI agent goes missing, Agent Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) and Agent Mosley Drummy (Xzibit) approach former Agents Dr. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny). It turns out that former priest and convicted pedophile Joseph Crissman (Billy Connolly) has had psychic visions of the kidnapping and Whitney and Drummy want Fox and Scully's help on the case due to their expertise on paranormal phenomenon. Meanwhile, Dr. Scully finds herself fighting a hospital bureaucrat who wants to send a boy with a rare and terminal illness to hospice care, but whom Scully thinks there may be a chance she can save.

The Queering
When The X-Files first started airing back in 1993, it was commented that Dana Scully bore a striking similarity to Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs. A first season episode Beyond the Sea even had Scully forgoing her role as a skeptic in order so that she could more effectively follow the road traveled by Clarice Starling. The plot of I Want to Believe also appears to have been inspired by The Silence of the Lambs, right down to the unfortunate detail of having a psycho transgender villain. It seems even today there are some in Hollywood who still want to promote the idea of changing one's sex/gender via surgery is terrifying on it's own.

In I Want To Believe Joseph Crissman fills the same role plot-wise as Hannibal Lector, although the two are completely different in terms of personality. Scully does get a few interesting moments of interaction with Crissman but I Want To Believe is not on the same psychological level as the Jonathen Demme flick. To be fair though, I did not think Chris Carter was trying to perfectly replicate Silence of the Lambs.

I Want To Believe does succeed as a moody character drama with supernatural overtones. For the devoted X-phile, being able to spend time once again with Scully and Mulder is worth the price of a ticket alone. The issue of faith versus the application of science, which in some ways formed the backbone of the series, is explored in depth here.

What set The X-Files apart from other series about the paranormal was the character of Dana Scully, who functioned primarily as the voice of science and reason. In doing she subverted traditional gender roles since it was Fox who relied on intuition and instincts. However such characters are typically undermined fairly early on in films and TV shows - usually either by shows treating the character as a buffon or by making it obvious that the aliens/conspiracy/ghosts/etc. are "real". I Want To Believe retains the ambiguity and of earlier seasons of The X-Files.

Now during those early years of The X-Files, Scully was typically given a leg to stand on. Rarely did she revert to the role of the believer, it was always Mulder who put forth outrageous theories about what was going on. However, there were several occasions when the character roles would be reversed. Outside of the aforementioned Beyond the Sea these reversals would typically center around matters that invoked the Christian god and specifically, thanks to Scully's Catholicism, the Catholic version. Episodes with overtly religious themes, such as Revelations, would have Scully playing the role of the believer and Mulder the skeptic. I Want To Believe is actually odd in the way that it not only invokes the earliest episode of The X-Files that had Scully acting as a believer in addition to involving the issue of Catholicism, but it still has her playing the role of the skeptic.

However, this is one of the reasons why non-fans are going to have a hard time getting into this. The series mytharc may have been jettisoned, but the character mythos play a big part in understanding why Scully and Mulder act or react the way they do. In particular, the final scene serves as a perfect coda for Dana Scully. It could even be argued that her character arc for the entire series was building towards that one particular moment. However, as a result it's significance will probably be lost on anyone who has not seen more than a few episodes of the TV series.

Primarily for die hard X-Phile believers, but then we've already seen it.

The Rating
*** out of ****


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

December 19, 2012

Queer Review: My Own Private Idaho (1991)

My Own Private Idaho
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writers: Gus Van Sant. Based upon Henry IV Part I, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V by William Shakespeare
Cast: River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, James Russo, William Richert, Udo Kier, Tom Troupe, Flea

My Own Private Idaho is an experimental indie film from the early part of a decade when indie films once flourished. While fairly artsy, bordering on pretentious, and with obvious references to select works of Shakespeare, Gus Van Sant's film is easy enough to admire, even if I'm not sure that I liked it. In any case, it's infinitely better than the other gay hustler film that I've seen, the Best Picture Oscar winning Midnight Cowboy, which was was nothing more than a homophobic crapfest.

Narcoleptic street hustler Mike Waters (River Phoenix) embarks on a journey to find his mother, while accompanied by his friend Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves). Along the way, Mike reveals that he is in love with Scott, but Scott ultimately rejects Mike's advances.

The Queering
My Own Private Idaho is more character study than anything else and generally, completely elliptical in it's style and presentation. There are obvious references to Shakespeare's plays, Henry IV Part 1 and Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V. Scott is clearly based upon Prince Hal/King Henry the Fifth, while his friend Bob Pigeon (William Richert) resembles the fat knight Sir Falstaff.

On the plus side, it's hard to find a more nuanced and psychologically complex queer character than Phoenix's Mike Waters. Keaunu Reeves, one of the more wooden performers in Hollywood, manages to give the most charismatic performance of his career. The cinematography is always interesting and there are many memorable images, such as the shot of a house that falls out of the sky in the middle of nowhere.

My biggest issue with the film, is that at times it feels too pretentious and doing stuff merely for the sake of being arty. For example, the shot of a house that falls randomly out of the sky in the middle of nowhere. The slow nature of the plot would be forgivable if it wasn't for the fact that there's a lot of material that feels like padding or was included simply to give the production that special "indie" vibe. I do not mind slow films so long as the deliberate pacing serves a purpose. Van Sant could have tightened things up a bit and delivered a superior motion picture.

Then there is the issue of the transitions from the stylized Shakespearean-esque dialog that Scott uses when speaking with his dad or Bob and the more natural rhythms of the scenes featuring Mike, which I frequently found to be a bit jarring.

On the whole though, this is an ambitious and challenging motion picture and people should not avoid it because of the less successful material.

For those who like more artistic films with ambiguous characters and slow plots, this is one of the better films that I've seen of that nature.

The Rating
*** out of ****


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

December 18, 2012

So... about this Google+ gizmo...

I created a Google+ community today for Queering the Closet. I'm still not sure why, as I already have Google+ a fan page.

When I first found out that Google was now allowing the creation of community pages on Google+, I wasn't sure what to think. However, I was invited to a community page for M/M romance literature and thought I might start one that had a more general purpose. That is rather than just those interested in m/m romance, how about a community to talk about LGBTQ media in general?

We'll see where things go from here. I wonder if this will be another social media thing to manage or if it might actually go someplace.

Queer Review: Mondo Rocco (1970)

Mondo Rocco
Director: Pat Rocco
Writer: Pat Rocco
Cast: Rick Cassidy, Pat Rocco, Rev. Troy Perry, Ron Dilly, Jim Baily,

A rare and early queer documentary, with a few fictionalized soft core beefcake pieces inserted into, Mondo Rocc depicts a variety of random elements in early days of the gay liberation.

Mondo Rocco has several segments, most of them are documentary in nature, plus one fictionalized plot arc. There is footage of two different marches that were sponsored by the Rev. Troy Perry. "Meat Market Arrest" features a raid on a gay bar where a nude dancer was going to perform. "A Night at Joanie's" features a drag show staring Jim Baily who impersonates Mae West, Barbara Streisand, and Judy Garland. Another segment shows a live performance of the cast of Hair performing pieces from that play in a L.A. park. Interwoven into all of these are several beefcake shorts featuring copious male nudity.

The Queering
According to the cover of the VHS copy of Mondo Rocco that I was able to obtain, "Pat Rocco was the first openly gay American filmmaker to create gay-themed films for gay audiences". I do not know if that is true or not, but given what I do no of queer themed cinema from that time period, I have no reason to challenge that claim.

On one level, Mondo Rocco is an important film. On another level, it can be extremely boring to sit through. Some of the segments are entertaining (Night at Joanie's). Some present intriguing documentary material of the early gay liberation movement (Meat Market Arrest and the segments depicting two marches and a rally with the Rev. Troy Perry). However the soft core/beefcake segments, even if they had featured better looking actors, would still probably bore most people into stuporville. They certainly did for me. The segment with the cast of Hair feels particularly out of place, given the lack of gay or queer content.

The mondo genre of films was a type of documentary film that featured taboo or exploitative elements, such as showing animals being slaughtered for food or tribal initiation rites. Such films typically strayed into the pseudo-documentary realm by showing staged reenactments that hyped up the lurid elements. The only reason Mondo Rocco might be considered to a part of the mondo genre, is thanks to the beefcake segments, plus the nude dance that is shown as part of the "Meat Market Arrest" segment. Most of the material is tame, nor do most segments show any signs of having been hyped up. The only reason that certain elements, such as those that feature the marches of Rev. Troy Perry, might be considered titillating or lurid is because of the time period they were made in.

For those willing to take the time and effort (plus spend a bit of cash) the educational and historical value is unmatched.

Additional Info:
Mondo Rocco page at IMDB
Mondo Rocco at Queer Music Heritage

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

December 16, 2012

The Common Right of Toads and Men

Carl Sagen once made the following analogy with regards to the nuclear arms race in an interview with ABC News Viewpoint:
Imagine, a room, awash in gasoline. And there are two implacable enemies in that room. One of them has 9,000 matches. The other has 7,000 matches. Each of them is concerned about who’s ahead, who’s stronger. Well, that's the kind of situation we are actually in. The amount of weapons that are available to the United States and the Soviet Union are so bloated, so grossly in excess of what's needed to dissuade the other that if it weren't so tragic, it would be laughable.

The gun control debate has been rekindled in the U.S. thanks to the murder of 20 schoolchildren and 6 teachers in one go. Pro-gun rights individuals are once again on the defensive and throwing up all kinds of arguments about why the intrinsic right to own a tool that fires bits of metal at high velocities should exist.

Furthermore, the claim goes, if everyone had such a tool to that allowed them to fire bits of metal at high velocities, then mass shootings would be ended overnight. This is akin to arguing that if we give everyone a box of matches and a tin of gasoline, then there will no more fires.

When Columbine first occurred, I was still in high-school. I can remember that feeling of fear and confusion everyone else exhibited. Shortly afterwards, after having stayed home sick for a few days, I showed up to the Otego Elementary School parking lot, where I would then take the bus to my high-school. That was when I noticed that I was the only student in the entire parking lot wearing a back-pack. Everyone else was carrying their school supplies in their hands and looking at me as if I might have a bomb strapped to my chest. It turned out that the day before their had been an in school announcement that in an attempt to promote school safety, back-packs were now forbidden on school premises.

I have no idea how this was supposed to make us safer, nor were any of the other drills, and rules that the school board came up with after this. Perhaps this is what makes the whole situation so utterly terrifying, there are no easy solutions. I won't even pretend that there are. Not all tragedies can be eliminated.

However, the fact remains that countries that do have strict gun control laws have less homicides and violent crime per capita then countries that do. Guns do not commit crimes or kill people. However, committing crimes or homicide do become much easier when a criminal has a gun then then when they don't. Also, if you claim Hitler and the NAZI's supported strict gun control, you are completely and utterly wrong. Go and study some non-propaganda history books now.

What I also feel I have to point out is that people who argue that "if we arm everybody then there will be less crime" are essentially arguing that violence is the best solution to this problem. How different is this from the mentality that leads to mass shootings in the first place? Aren't those who perpetuate mass shootings using violence to solve their problems too?

As a country this is an issue. We tell kids who are bullied that they need to stand up for themselves and fight back against those who torment them. We advocate the use of violence in lieu of diplomacy at every turn. Don't like the government? Then start a revolution! A revolution that will obviously be violent because we will need our guns to fight it. We invaded Iraq, not because they attacked us or were even planning to attack us, but simply because there existed intelligence that indicated that they might have had the means to attack us.

Is there any reason to think that those who engage in mass shootings are not the ones who have best absorbed the lesson that violence is a viable solution to one's problems? Are mass shooters not fighting back and standing up to those schools or institutions that they perceive as oppressing them?

Then there is the whole issue of how, as a country, we have declared the right to own a gun sacred above all else, but access to affordable healthcare is a privilege. As it is with all this talks of rights, I cannot help but think of the verse Emily Dickinson once wrote which went:
A toad can die of light!
Death is the common right
Of toads and men,--
Of earl and midge
The privilege.
Why swagger then?
The gnat's supremacy
Is large as thine.

This is what has been argued, that death is our common right, the same one that we share with toads. We have no right to life, only to enough lighter fluid and matches so that we may burn ourselves all to ash.

December 10, 2012

Queer Review: De-Lovely (2004)

Director: Irwin Winkler
Writer: Jay Cocks
Cast: Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Jonathan Pryce, Kevin McNally, Sandra Nelson, Allan Corduner, Peter Polycarpou, Keith Allen

De-Lovely represents yet another straightened out biopic of a gay icon to come out of the Hollywood machine. The life of Cole Porter (whose marriage was entirely a formal arrangement) is presented in such a dry and depressing fashion, that even the strong performances of Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd cannot overcome the films glaring weaknesses.

Music composer Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) is visited on his deathbed by Gabe (Jonathan Pryce) who shows Porter a staged performance of Porter's life, which highlights many moments in Porter's relationship with Linda Porter (Ashley Judd).

The Queering
This screen version of Cole Porter gets a few points for not completely straightening out it's main character. Too bad it stops short of being completely true with regards to Porter's sexual orientation and his relationship with his wife. The historical Cole Porter was gay, with his marriage believed to have been only a matter of convenience. Linda and Cole were on on different continents for a significant amount of time during the period that they were wedded. De-Lovely attempts to sell the audience that they were deeply, madly in love. It is possible in real life they were, but unfortunately it means that Porter's well known preference for men is relegated mostly to the background, with a chaste kiss here or a glance there.

There is also the issue of the filmmakers choosing to highlight Porters love songs, rather than the more satirical pieces that comprise the body of his work. Not as much of an issue (although it shows how much they wanted to emphasize the "love" Porter felt for his wife) at least until the end when the whole film takes on a dreary and depressing tone. Porter was a master of innuendo and satire but one would have a hard time figuring that out from this film. The songs are at least well done, with some talented performers (Elvis Costello, Alanis Morrisette, Robbie Williams, Natalie Cole) all doing their very best.

Unfortunately, all the things the film does right is not enough to prevent the plot from turning into a completely bore by the end. As I said, there are some nice performances from Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd, plus a few of the musical numbers have some spark to them. But even a late and enthusiastic rendition of "Blow Gabriel Blow" was not enough to save the film from it's attempts to straighten out a brilliant gay icon.

As this is almost the least lovely movie that could be made about Cole Porter's life, I can only recommend it for those with a strong interest in a history of queer cinema.

The Rating
** out of ****


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

Silver Demon: On Creating a Queer Superhero

To look at the mainstream media's depictions of LGBTQ characters is an exercise in watching a never ending stream of victims, villains, with a few sidekicks here and there and the occasional nod to the fact that some of us are "normal" folks with day jobs, families, etc.

As far as I can tell, there are almost no queer superheroes in existence. Well actually technically there are a few. Recently, the X-Men recently got to have a big gay wedding and one of the Green Lantern incarnations got to come out. I also came across a YA novel Hero by Perry Moore

To be frank, it can be exhausting evaluating queer orientated media. In the past two decades there has been an uptick in depictions of LGBTQ individuals. Some of these have been quite good, while others have a slew of problematic elements associated with them. But the queer superhero is, for all intents and purposes, practically an endangered species. Which is why I wanted to create one.

Initially I waffled on whether or not to include homophobia in my story and/or having the character deal with their sexuality. One of the earliest versions of the main character had them repressing their attraction to other men and this in turn causing them to lose their super powers. The character would then have only regained their powers when they had come out and acknowledged their true identity. This idea eventually went off and died where all bad ideas should go to die.

Then I had the character existing in a world where homophobia did not exist (or at least was not referenced and had little impact on the story itself). This idea was eventually abandoned after I decided that my two main characters should meet at a bar called The Stonewall Tavern, a reference to the real life Stonewall Inn.

I forget exactly why, but this eventually led to a whole lot of other changes, namely the decision to incorporate homophobia and transphobia directly into the story itself. This in turn resulted in setting the main part of the story in 1969. Given that the main characters still get to meet at a place the Stonewall Inn, most people can probably accurately guess one of the major elements of the climax.

Since Batman got Gotham and Superman got Metropolis, I thought it only fair that my characters got their own city to run around in. Thus the City of Noche was born. At this point things might have gotten a bit out of control. By creating a fictional city, I was able to create a world that would allow me to metaphorically build the concept of the Isophyls directly into the story itself. This also meant I could have the Stonewall Inn overshadow the Compton Cafe, while sitting across the street from an institution I called the White Knight Tavern. Rioting in my story? Never! Ignore my shifty eyes least they deceive you! *cough*

This was probably the one part of the story I went overboard with. As I talked about earlier, I used historical figures as the basis for several characters. But I didn't stop there. Streets, business, various locations, pretty much everywhere I could reasonably do so became a reference to some element of LGBTQ history. Whether it be in reference to a significant protest, a tragedy, or our communities contributions to society, be it scientific advancement, governmental, economic, the military, technology, the arts, religion, or civil rights, if I could find a place in the story to acknowledge LGBTQ history, I did. My partners copy of Queers in History by Keith Stern became so dog eared and worn that he ended up bequeathing it to me.

Of course there is the question of what kind of personality or job would be most appropriate for my characters. I had something of a debate with myself about how masculine or feminine to make my characters. I did not wish to perpetuate the stereotype that all gay men are feminine sissies, but the problem is that in rejecting this stereotype, means enforcing the unfortunate notion of the "feminine = bad". I got around this issue by making the main cast of characters as diverse as possible.

Some people might ask the question of whether or not the world is ready for a LGBTQ superhero story, particularly one of such a nature as one I have created. Personally, I think this is the wrong question to even be asking. The never ending tide of queer victims and villains I mentioned at the beginning, requires a counterpoint in order to be turned. Ready or not, the world needs queer heroes.

December 5, 2012

Queer Review: The Boys in the Band (1970)

The Boys in the Band
Director: William Friedkin
Writer: Mart Crowley
Cast: Kenneth Nelson, Frederick Combs, Cliff Gorman, Laurence Luckinbill, Keith Prentice, Peter White, Reuben Greene, Robert La Tourneaux, Leonard Frey

Perhaps one of the more divisive queer films ever, The Boys in the Band was initially criticized upon release for it's cast of self loathing, unhappy gay men. Recent years have been more kind to it, with some critics calling for a re-evaluation of it's deptiction of pre-Stonewall gay life (the riots occurred while the film was in production). At the end of the day, The Boys in the Band best works if viewed as a product of it's time.

Michael (Kenneth Nelson) is hosting a birthday party for fellow queer Harold (Leonard Frey) when he receives a call from his old college roommate, Alan McCarthy (Peter White) who is upset about something and wishes to speak with Michael immediately. In spite of calling again to say he won't show up, Alan does so anyways. Alan's conservative nature causes tensions to erupt between other members of the party. There are the lovers Hank (Laurence Luckinbill) and Larry (Keith Prentice) who are dealing with Larry's wandering eye. Donald (Frederick Combs) a close friend of Michael's who is currently in therapy. Bernard (Reuben Greene), the token black guy. However, it is with effeminate Emory (Cliff Gorman) that Alan clashes with the most sharply. The evening climaxes when Michael forces everyone to play an embarrassing telephone game where the participants call the one person that they truly love.

The Queering
There are two differing sides or opinions The Boys in the Band. One side argues that it is an unfortunate relic of it's era in that portrays gay men as vicious, self loathing freaks. Michael and Harold both suffer from self esteem issues and spend most of the time they're on screen together exchanging scathing barbs, many of which cut deep. Donald talks about being in therapy.

The other side argues that The Boys in the Band in fact gives a rather nuanced glimpse of queer life in the mid-1960's when persecution of gay men was at it's height in the United States.

Context is everything. Most importantly with regards to what is onscreen and for the world in which The Boys in the Band was made and into which it entered. When The Boys in the Band went into the production, the stage play was generally regarded as being ahead of it's time for it's sympathetic portrayals of gay men, in that it dared to treat them as actual human beings. But then the Stonewall Riots took place and the resulting gay liberation movement demanded more of it's films than what The Boys in the Band offered.

Historically speaking, there is another issue worth considering. Namely that there has always been an underlying tension between more feminine/fey gay men and those that are genuinely butch. It is a tension that stretches out from before Adolf Brand and Magnus Hirschfield feuded over the merits of queer culture promoting masculine or feminine identites. The Castro Clone look was in direct response to the gay = feminine stereotype. Today, the bear and twink subcultures both exist with varying degrees of animosity.

It was this very same tension that fuels much of the films drama, just as it fueled the ensuing criticism. Note how wide the spectrum of feminine and masculinity that the characters inhabit. On one end is the conservative and butch Hank, who drinks beer and teaches Math, not English for a change. The other end is occupied by Emory, who is the most flaming member of the ensemble.

It is Emory's swishy ways that leads to him being violently attacked by Alan, just as the character of Emory has been criticized. Yet Emory is also the least self loathing character. Insofar as Emory is presented as being unhappy, it is because of unrequited love, not because he hates himself.

Certainly there are queer men just like Emory who do in fact exist. Why then should they not be portrayed on screen? Considering just how diverse the make up of the cast of characters is in The Boys in the Band, Emory's femininity is not an issue.

Which leads one to an inevitable conclusion in that there is an uncomfortable alignment behind the attitude that causes Alan to assault Emory and certain criticisms that tend to be brought up any time a gay movie character gets their swish on.

In my opinion, the fact that The Boys in the Band is problematic, doesn't change the fact that it's one of the most progressive films of it's era and the fact that it's one of the most progressive films of it's era, doesn't mean that it's problematic elements can be ignored. At the end of the day, trying to figure out if the positives outweigh the negatives (or vice versa) is a rather futile exercise.

The boys in this band do not always create the most harmonic or delightful melody but this particular performance is well worth seeking out for lovers of queer cinema.

The Rating
*** out of ****


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