July 22-28, 2004
Still Here, Still Queer
Reviews for PIGLFF Week Two.
Following are reviews of movies from the closing week of the Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, July 22-27. Up to the day of show, advance tickets may be purchased in person at all TLA Video locations (11 a.m.-10 p.m.), by phone at 267-765-9700, ext. 4 (10 a.m.-9 p.m.) and online at www.phillyfests.com (up to 36 hours in advance). Same-day tickets are available only at the appropriate venue, beginning 30 minutes before the day's first show. Tickets are $9, $8 for Philadelphia Film Society members. An asterisk (*) denotes a scheduled appearance by director or other filmmaker.
Venue Codes:AB Arts Bank, Broad and South Sts.
PMT Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St.
R5 Ritz Five, 214 Walnut St.
Gian Claudio Guiducci and Franco Sacchi's fascinating documentary begins in Philadelphia, the epicenter of voluntary castration or at least the home of Dr. Felix Spector, a notorious osteopath who has offered the unorthodox surgical procedure, no questions asked, for more than 50 years. American Eunuchs explores a small but thriving subculture of cutters and men who want to be cut. While Spector's patients are often transsexuals, many choose to become eunuchs for religious or psychological reasons. Among the people interviewed are a married dog groomer looking to divest himself of sexual and aggressive tendencies, and a self-appointed guru for gay eunuchs who performed his own castration and has been told by mental health professionals that he's perfectly sane and well-adjusted except for this one "quirk." At the heart of these compelling stories is an inexplicable, often disturbing phenomenon, but American Eunuchs is provocative without being sensational. --Elisa Ludwig (7/25, 9:30 PMT)
BROTHER TO BROTHER
Taking its title from a seminal anthology of writings by black gay men, Rodney Evans' feature debut fuses past and present with the story of a young painter (Anthony Mackie) who stumbles on Bruce Nugent (Roger Robinson), a lost light of the Harlem Renaissance. Now homeless and wandering the streets, Bruce recalls the days when he founded a journal with Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Wallace Thurman which, despite their individual reputations, came under fire (from the NAACP, among others) for the three men's unapologetic homosexuality and Hurston's devotion to dialect. In the present, Mackie finds the going only marginally easier: His parents have disowned him, his white boyfriend exoticizes him, and the students in his Africana class would rather talk about James Baldwin's anger than his love. Evans' trans-historical equation risks trivializing the differences between then and now, but Mackie and Robinson's deeply felt performances make the decades fall away. --Sam Adams (7/23, 10:00 PMT*; 7/24, 5:30 PMT*)
Bad films are like wine; they need to age before they can be truly appreciated. Perhaps in 20 or 30 years Callas Forever can be celebrated as a camp travesty. But for now it's merely a tedious slog through Franco Zeffirelli's baroque wish-fulfillment fantasy. Ponytailed Jeremy Irons, in Paris with the punk band he manages, attempts to persuade Maria Callas (Fanny Ardant, doing her best Norma Desmond) to emerge from seclusion to lip-synch her original performance in a film adaptation of Carmen. As a factual biopic, this would be turgid hagiography; as flight of fancy, however, the film stands as an expose of Zeffirelli's insufferably banal imagination. --Shaun Brady (7/23, 7:45 R5; 7/25, 12:15 R5)
Gwen (Emily Stiles) has a habit of falling for gay men. So when handsome but straight Caleb (Scott Lunsford) wants to win her over, he takes the advice of his roommate Kyle (Jim Verraros) and dates Gwen's best friend Marc (Ryan Carnes), Kyle's dream boy. Writer-director Q. Allen Brocka never lets character get in the way of a smug one-liner, not that his characters make much sense in the first place; if Gwen is clueless enough to be fooled by the mincing, lisping man-child she's introduced with, then she deserves to die alone. The acting is so uniformly inept that the pace actually has to decelerate when the cast assembles for the madcap finale. Remember, kids, screwball comedy should be left to professionals. --S.B. (7/24, 10:00 PMT*; 7/25, 2:30 PMT*)
Subtitled In Search of Gay Life in Rural America, Tom Murray's documentary mines the Midwest for gay subculture. (No kinky sex clubs or crazy outfits here.) The farm-raised Murray focuses on gay farmers, many of whom are part of the straight rural communities around them, but he only skims the surface of a fascinating subject. One of the more remarkable couples appears first one leads Boy Scouts, the other is a former GOP consultant which makes the rest seem a tad lackluster. Murray should have returned to his country roots and chopped his doc down to the useful bits like wood for the fire. --Anita Schillhorn van Veen (7/23, 5:30 PMT*)
HARRY AND MAX
Christopher Münch, whose 1991 The Hours and Times imagined Brian Epstein's attempt to seduce John Lennon, returns to the subject of bad-idea relationships with this story of pop-star brothers (Bryce Johnson and Cole Williams) whose efforts to hold their fractured family together take a distinctly Faulknerian turn. Far from the sometimes-stifling elegance of Münch's earlier films, Harry and Max is shot in an offhand, purposefully casual style that takes the edge off some of its more overheated revelations. Too much happens too quickly, particularly since half the film is confined to a two-day camping trip, and the brothers' dueling monologues sometimes leave the uncomfortable impression that you've stumbled into a family therapy session. On the other hand, there's every indication that discomfort is exactly what the film wants to create. --S.A. (7/24, 7:45 R5*; 7/25, 5:00 R5*)
If repetitive music, boring conversations and heaving bosoms are the ingredients for softcore erotica, then Inescapable has it all. But this story of two women having a secret affair under the noses of their partners falls flat where it means to tantalize. Writer-director Helen Lesnick (A Family Affair) attempts to inject some intelligence into the tepid tale by staging the action during a science conference, with one of the characters a Columbia physics professor. Though making illicit love over soapy dishes or in the closet at a party can be sensuous fare, Inescapable successfully makes it bland. --A.S.v.V.(7/22, 5:15 PMT; 7/25, 7:15 AB)
IN THE COMPANY OF WOMEN
Any movie that praises The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love is OK by me, but after the parade of femme filmmakers has gone by, Lesli Klainberg and Gini Reticker's documentary doesn't leave you much to chew on. Is there anyone who doubts that there aren't enough women making movies? (And if so, is there any chance they'll watch this thing?) Already shown on the Independent Film Channel, Company genuflects ceaselessly before the altar of "independent film," but it never acknowledges how meaningless the notion has become, just as it avoids the question of whether the soulless genre movies of Nora Ephron and Mimi Leder really represent a step forward. (Perhaps, but only if you ignore the entire history of women's filmmaking pre-1970, as Company is happy enough to do.) Klainberg and Reticker would have better focused on, say, any five of Company's subjects, rather than spreading their attentions so wide that only generalizations can emerge. --S.A. (7/23, 5:45 AB)
THE LOST GENERATION
Recalling the anti-bicentennial protests in North Philadelphia and late nights at Dewey's on 13th St., Jack Walsh's video essay is ambivalently nostalgic, a last look at his youth as he's "teetering on the brink of early Alzheimer's." Based on the evidence, Walsh's memory is still keen, as his perspective on aging in the gay community. Describing the way young men look past his 50-year-old self as if he didn't exist, he recalls going to parties three decades past, "where men like me now had sex with men like me then." Thankfully, that's the most onanistic moment in Walsh's self-reflexive doc, which also celebrates his 25-year relationship and recalls Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope as "the most closeted work environment" he's ever seen. At last, an explanation for One From the Heart. --S.A. (7/25, 7:15, PMT*)
When young Moritz's mother falls ill, the boy stays with his neighbors, a couple with great jobs, cooking skills and an airplane. The only problem, according to Moritz's grandmother, the town gossip, the boys in Moritz's class and the distracted town mayor, is that the couple taking care of the boy is gay. Stefan Haupt, the director of this Swiss made-for-television drama, examines each of his characters with compassion and humanity, sharing with the audience not only the glossy moments of Moritz's makeshift family, but also its members' faults. Equally, we are privy to the personal, often touching, motivations behind the "bad guys" who are working to break up Moritz's new family unit. Though Moritz occasionally suffers from made-for-TV sweetness, it never rings saccharine or false, and in spite of occasional lapses in acting skill, the tale remains believable throughout. --A.S.v.V. (7/25, 12:15 AB)
Christopher Long seems to have realized early on that porn star Colton Ford's attempt to quit sex films and pursue a musical career was doomed from the outset. He pays only fitful attention to the meetings with record execs and producers that are the purported focus of this documentary, and as a result ends up with a vague, unfocused structure. Long concentrates instead on the characters in Colton's (ne Glenn's) life: the sleazy songwriter/manager who leeches onto him, his garrulous father, whose acceptance of his son's career shades into envy, and especially his longtime partner and co-star Blake Harper. Their supportive relationship helps to overcome the soul-shredding disappointments of the porn and the "legit" industries, neither of which is depicted as particularly glamorous. --S.B. (7/23, 10:15 AB*)
ONE MAN SHOW
Most lottery winners shun the spotlight, but John Falcon seized it. The $45 million he raked from New York's coffers was the perfect opportunity to make new friends, dump some of the old ones, and secure a backer for his one-man music revue: himself. Despite the joke tabloids made of Falcon's story, he turns out to have an impressive singing voice, and while his post-jackpot purchases are extravagant, they're not entirely frivolous. (No solid-gold houses or rocket cars here.) Ira Rosensweig works hard to instill the sense that Falcon deserved his pennies from heaven, outlining a hard-knock life that includes a savage gay-bashing in 1989 (which time-warp TV footage calls a "bias crime") and a long-term lover who bankrupted the family business behind his back. While that gives One Man Show a nominal dramatic arc, it also makes it seem like the longest lottery commercial ever made. --S.A. (7/23, 8:00 AB*)
The son of an ultra-conservative U.S. senator, Harry Kray is a promiscuous college student who has intimate encounters with men in private and obediently helps his father's campaigning in public. A day before his father is due to appear on campus for a lecture, Harry meets Anthony, a 28-year-old gay activist on a weekend college-boy hunt, and Harry is inspired for the first time to come out of the closet and speak his mind. Framed by Harry's interview with a journalist, Poster Boy is a relevant look at the current political battleground over sexual freedom: In Harry's case, it's not gay sex but the wedge issue itself that is the true threat to family values. Unfortunately, director Zak Tucker crowds his political and psychological insights with arty jump cuts and melodramatic dialogue. Like its hero, Poster Boy is smart and occasionally charming, but ultimately overdoses on its own seriousness. --E.L. (7/22, 10:15 AB; 7/25, 5:00 AB)
Co-directed by Jack Lewis and John Greyson (Lilies), this shape-shifting conceptual romance revisits the true story of a South African prison-camp affair between a Hottentot and a white Dutchman. The former, suggestively named Claas Blank, finds work with an assistant to the legendary taxonomist Linnaeus, who dispassionately informs him that the Hottentots are considered a separate, subhuman race. Blank gets revenge by feeding him false versions of Hottentot lore, and substituting sexual slang for the "native" names of plants. Presided over by a Greek chorus of bouffanted stenotypists and riddled with deliberated anachronisms (to say nothing of the dislocation involved in shooting a period drama on digital video), Proteus is a mixed-media installation condensed to a single medium, a heady blend of erotic discovery and intellectual inquiry. By a nose, the best film in the festival. --S.A. (7/22, 7:30 R5; 7/24, 12:30 R5)
Amal Bedjaoui's short feature is a terse, melancholy portrait of Selim (Mohamed Hicham) a North African hustler trying to balance his relationship with his strict, unforgiving father with his own life on the Parisian streets. Just under an hour, A Son feels even shorter, since it's driven more by mood than plot. It comes alive most fully during Selim's encounters with a desperate john, Time Out's Aurélien Recoing, whose conflicting needs throw the duality of Selim's life into sharp relief. --S.A. (7/22, 5:15 PMT; 7/25, 12:15 PMT)
Adapted from the "JD stories" of Bruce LaBruce (whose Raspberry Reich screened last week), John Palmer's tale of a suburban teen (Andre Noble) and his descent into drugs and casual sex plays like Larry Clark without the visual flair. Cliff (as in "edge of the") is immediately drawn to the aptly named Butch (Roswell's Brendan Fehr), but the movie keeps its distance, rarely losing its vicarious edge. --S.A. (7/22, 9:45 R5*; 7/24, 5:30 R5*)
David Moreton (Edge of Seventeen) directed this increasingly crass and preposterous thriller about a graphic novelist (David Sutcliffe) who relocates to Rio after his dream(y) boyfriend (Antonio Sabato Jr.) mysteriously flies the coop. The comic-book theme is meant to lay the groundwork for the movie's slide into action-movie theatrics, but instead it seems like an accidental essay on the triumph of American crudity. If Sutcliffe can't say his boyfriend's name right, he doesn't deserve to get him back. --S.A. (7/22, 7:30 PMT; 7/25, 9:30 R5)
TYING THE KNOT
The summer of the political polemic continues with Jim de Sève's up-to-the-minute documentary about gay marriage, from the movement's historical underpinnings right on up to the present state of the union. The case de Sève makes for the legitimacy of legally binding same-sex weddings is primarily a financial one; the foci of the film are surviving members (and would-be heirs) of life partnerships, denied next-of-kin status by the families of the deceased. Their stories put an affecting human face on the just-ripped headlines, but the film's decided unshrillness comes at a time when you have to shout just to be heard among those preaching to the converted. The movie may be more effective in a decade or two, as a time capsule detailing the opening of the floodgates of inevitability. --Ryan Godfrey (7/25, 12:15 PMT)
YES NURSE! NO NURSE!
Beneath every bitter sitcom neighbor lies a frustrated closet queer. At least, that seems to be the point of the Dutch Yes Nurse! No Nurse!, itself an adaptation of a "beloved" '60s TV series. Involving the wacky misadventures of rest-home residents, the film is of that breed of retro nostalgia that labors under the impression that Hollywood musicals were all saccharine smiles and bright colors. There are halfhearted nods to Busby Berkeley, Gene Kelly and just about every musical you can think of; I'm not sure if the forgettable songs that pack the running time here are from the original show, but they certainly don't cry out for revival. Strictly for the most undiscerning of musical fanatics. --S.B. (7/24, 10:00 R5; 7/25, 7:15 R5