The Boy Can’t Help It . . . Or Can He?

Wesley

Wesley Taylor‘s butt is a magical thing to behold.  Making that observation, I instantly feel the portly, graying, eccentric sextegenarian that I am not (yet!)  Fortunately for viewers (junkies?) of his deliciously sweet inebriant of a show (in tandem with his supersonically outrageous “playmate” Mitchell Jarvis), Taylor’s caboose is literally and delectably the marachino in an ecstatically entertaining concoction.

Starting from what they know, Taylor and Jarvis, who previously had put together what amounted to videoed skits on their off (and occasionally on) hours doing duty on a third-rung musical homage, debuted their first season as a no-holds barred send up of life in the biz in the big city, and in the process warped the notion of “power bottom”-ing into quite another stratosphere.

Their new season, a logical and welcome extension to the Best Coast wreaks equally (and inequally) yummy and justified havoc.  Given the simply presented and moved on from homo-affection and sexuality of Season One, Taylor and Javris zanily spend a good deal of this season pushing back at their audience.  Until as if driving along in one of our more rarified hoods, the show hit a jarring speed bump.

Which unfortunately prompts me to pull the emergency brake on this otherwise glowing tribute, as if Taylor had suddenly soiled and/or made a stink in his Aussie Bums.  For his character, after implying (much less blatantly than Jonathan Tolin’s lovingly written one-man show for the lovely and talented Michael Urie) his being strung up into a Norma Desmond-like flytrap in season one, now goes whole hog, i.e. going down to better get to the top professionally.  Once “there,” his co-star on (yet another) heteromalecentric violence fest, where yelling, punching, and post-mortem sobs constitute emotional interaction, quickly picks up on the source of Taylor’s rapid rise, and confronts him with the homophobic “F” word.

Up until now, the sufferings of Taylor’s character, despite his best efforts to manage anything about his life, have been not only utterly endearing, but incredibly disasterous, without an ounce of victimhood or pity.  But here, he and Jarvis try circumventing what feels like a dealbreaker and turn it into a sudden, bracing, and “homo” (as in man-to-man, but not gay) validation, somehow recalling the water glass duel between Shirley Maclaine and Anne Bancroft.  I didn’t buy it, but I’m guessing the choices they think they had might have been few, given where they were coming from, and where they want to move on to.

It’s acceptable that Jarvis’s character ultimately pulls Taylor back, essentially, into the show, to this (to quote almost any character, especially Taylor) “mheh” place.  As in, I’ll find whatever way I can to get a hold of season 3 soon after it’s aired (hopefully).  But given the daring, the fun, and the “realness” they’ve built so far, I know they can, should and need to do a lot better.  Get to work, boys  . . .

Conspicuously Obscured

I once heard a prominent gay clergyman say how homophobia is a room in the ‘Hotel Sexism.’  Initially startling, having tumbled from the lips of a gay man who came out in later life, the idea reasonated. While neither touchstone nor bedrock, it’s an occasional directional sign or barometer.

This jumbles my consciousness as I ponder the fate of an excellent film, which not only depicts that guest room with punch and panache, but some of the inn as well.  Directed and produced by a talented friend, it has yet to be justly distributed despite its A-list casting and performances, and being well-reviewed, amply circuited, and community-seal approved.

The film is not just a heartfelt auto-reimagining, but a truly equality-forward study of gay marriage from two generations ago.   Nevertheless, languishing, unreleased films are nothing new, and the film is in (relatively) good company.  The pervasive and persistent sexism in the film industry however might offer a clearer scapegoat which in fact is culpable.

Had this film been made by a man–gay or straight–might it have gotten to Netflix already?  Might it have had a modest but thorough art/indie house run?  Might it even have garnered mention if not spots on the 10 best lists of mostly straight white male (with few exceptions) film critics?  This is all still possible, though the film’s post-production kickstart didn’t take, reinforcing the suspicion that certain funding pool crashers are killing its efficacy for budding and blooming filmmakers.  I wonder had Sarah Jones been male, how much more furious would the tempest have brewed from her tragic end?

Having a gifted and successful relation who has transcended all those hurdles, and yet remains Oscar-non grata has increased my sensitivity to this conundrum.  An expanded list of equally steadfast and established peers comes to mind.  Meanwhile, I wonder about my friend’s film, if the prematurely tragic death of one of her fine principals, Phil Hoffman or James Gandolfini-like, will propel her film into cinematic consciousness?  Or not?

Outfest: Flickering, Colorful Journeys

tigreethiverI was happily impressed that the few films I was able to see this year at Outfest, to me anyway, broke new ground.  In two instances, fairly ordinary–inside and out–gay men wrestled with their environmental and inner circumstances, which to the extent of either their dissatisfaction and/or unhappiness, provided intriguing dramatic circumstances.

While from one of the coolest places on earth temperately, the first burned with an intensity that practically any commercial narrative feature ever dares to sustain.  Progressing rapidly like a fever dream, two protagonists who randomly collide in the opening sequence are realigned ironically through technology.  But without either cheap gimickry or the artificial connections that virtual reality is privy to, subject to.

What follows are two journeys casually followed until they converge.  The practically stone-age milieu, i.e. LGBT life under repressive circumstances, is on display in all its repressive gore.  And in one moment, not even a whole night practically, the two anti-hero seemingly antagonist “homo-swains” are together, both are drawn to one another magnetically.  The attraction of the other is almost equal to the revulsion of what each is repelling.

The second, which was set not even a couple of hours out of Los Angeles, in the one atypically red-spot of the state, flicked more slowly, and at times artfully.  The archtypical American fraternal confrontation–of differing choices with a look back of starkly varied results–is given a refreshing take through two gay middle-aged brothers whose single father has just died.  The rebel twink has flamed to black down south, and is ambivalently returning to the roost.  The steadfast (closeted) bachelor also smolders, with bitterness, resentment and an aching loneliness.

Inspired by the writer/co-star’s own experience, the story expands generously well beyond into often uncomfortable territory such as fraternal incest, competition, and responsibilities.  Most of the visuals are stunning, though the blurred shots were jarring.  And while the adult brothers look different–the bachelor comes off at times as down right nebbishy, and the twink initially appears as if he were adopted–the filmmakers use all of this to the final product’s advantage successfully.

And like most interesting, human cinematic stories today, the most they can aspire to is the Netflix ghetto, at least they’ll be in company.  Hoping they both can be streamed from a player near you.

Here We Go Again (and Again, and Again, and . . .)

As if the arrival of a series, on public television, centered around a gay male couple weren’t enough cause for celebration, leave it to various quarters, people to put a kabosh on any kudos or victories marked.

Having previously traced historical antecedants to current and recent series, on its surface (sight unseen) this series doesn’t seem especially remarkable, save the longevity of the duo’s relationship.  I’m not sure if the conundrum/puzzlement stirred up by in this article is either still relevant, or whether anyone is actually contesting it any longer.  I think it’s safe to say that the war for hetero-masculinity has clearly at this point been won by its enforcers:  the military-technologicalbro-plex” which brooks little if any deviancy from its adherents.  Cultural representations of homo-masculinity tend to hew to that “standard” with a cookie-cutter rigidity.

Let me pause in my screed to say that I genuinely mean no offense to either the quality or achievement of Looking, especially its creators, who at an anterior moment likely, would have been creating something exceptional, not just artistically but on other levels as well.  And yet, as our rights are ever more assured (and our enemies ever more cravenly desperate), and our representations more diverse, who cares?

 

History Seen and Unseen

Seeing Larry Kramer‘s imperfect, iconic play done great justice by Ryan Murphy, I’m reminded of the power of revisiting history and work from the past, all made relevant today.  And, instead of nostalgia or bitterness, they enhance today creating something new.

The fleetingly explicit and exhilaratingly frank touches that Murphy brought to the work were reminders all by themselves just how far LGBT people in media have come.  I was fortunate enough to watch it with a real M.D., who himself had cared for a partner who died of HIV/AIDS, and assured me Jonathan Groff’s sudden seizure death, as vivid and American Horror Story as it might have seemed, was spot on.

That moment, and at the end, when Mark Ruffalo and Matt Boemer marry, (seemingly) futile defiances both of death, suffering, loss, and oppression, were transformational acts of heroism.  A word, when associated directly with Larry Kramer the man, that has literally made rooms of grown men explode in violent dissent (as shown).  But instead, offering through Murphy’s work a new model, opportunity for the LGBT community generally.

Heroes are in some way losers–suffering great lack or deprivation along the way–and the term has seemed almost derisive in the past.  Heroes are on a different plane than the rest of us, after all.  So isn’t it striking how today all manner of LGBT organizations wear the word out as if pulling an unworn vintage frock from the closet, literally.

However, the heroism depicted by Murphy through the stellar cast is more about agency.  And the power rooted in that agency to transform lives and culture.  The Ned Weeks (note the rhyming irony in the man’s name even) we’re left with consoles himself while watching a new generation literally and figuratively make the love he (for now) could not have.  Guarding the, and his, liberating fire to form a new movement grounded in rage-fueled grief and informed by a fierce, restless intelligence.

Seeing is Deceiving

still from HBO's 'Looking'Visibility is strange.  The more one is seen, the less one is really noticed.  Having cut my cord recently, I’m nevertheless eager to consider how much and whether two new middish season shows really improve gay male visibility.

The new series on HBO (using an article rather than a preposition instantly makes this blog that much more justified!) which based on its creators looked promising, is seeming ever more like the Gay Guys in Apartment 3-G, at least from episode rundowns I’ve been following.

Does male sexual preoccupation still equal gay, and/or should it?  It’s really an open question.  After a certain point, like a stenciled dys-erection, sexual conquest declines culturally for straight men, though it could be gender equality changing the equation for them.

The HBO series attempts to straddle interesting territory, between prudish respectability and nihilistic self-deprecation.  The central character doesn’t seem to really want initimacy.  But it definitely sounds like it’s all being executed with subtlety to warrant the distraction.  (Although the rundown of last week’s episode makes it seem like the cinematographic fetish factor could be wearing thin–eyeballs that can’t see generally ‘look’ elsewhere.)

Conversely, this new CBS sitcom that apparently has strong legs, takes a subtler tack:  a gay man in a typically testosterone-filled workplace context.  His character is made out to be exceptionally ordinary, as unstereotyped as he is simply a good team player.

Neither show breaks new ground, and each has plenty of precedents.  Apples and oranges, or are they?  One is maybe “looking” from the wrong end of the telescope, the other from the “normal” one.  Maybe they both have their place, at least for now.

Fear of, or Averting, the Male Gays

If nothing else, awards season is a great time to reflect culturally on our cinematic mirror.  The perpetual lack of gay men as significant characters and/or actors is unremarkable, though it’s striking that a not-too distant watershed is now being reimagined as an opera.

Ever more remarkable is how our stories gain a traction where they once were steamrollered over by the “mass message.”  David France‘s outrage, over the already lauded “AIDSploytation” film stars’ obliviousness to the realities they have portrayed, has echoed.  (Though their “grueling” metamorphases were, according to a few peers, normal for any actress.)  But it also severed any thread of altruistic pretense for anyone on this project, and exposed instead their steeplechase toward vanity.

To be clear:  Matthew McConaughey plays a bigoted homophobe, and Jared Leto a transexual.  “Gay,” “male,” and “AIDS” together don’t even enter into the equation of the film (which I haven’t seen), forget the awards pandering–er, campaigning.  I’m not going to presume to judge anything, especially a film, sight unseen.  However make no mistake:  this indie film, among a pack of very glossy, more noticed ones, probably deserves our attention because it’s about outcasts.  Something we were not very long ago, and in many respects still are whether we care to admit it or not.