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.

Stories Told and Untold

Though decades in the making, the rocky yet fortuitous symbiosis between African-Americans and LGBT folks has brought about some curious stakes in this year’s awards season.

While it’s a foregone conculsion that one or both films championing the centuries’ long struggle of the former will triumph, what’s particularly interesting is how these films have played and been perceived by parts of the African-American community.

Some think there should be “better” roles and characters to portray, shirking at remembering or looking back at antecedants and precedessors who were less advantaged.

What should we be seeing then?

So many gay male stories are set “inside” our “world,” and/or depict the few interlopers there; or about our visibility and/or hiding in plain sight.  How much deeper can we actually go?  To have orientation- and gender-blind casting, and gay men popping up in all kinds of roles and situations is the logical parallel with a decades-long struggle of all racial minorities for greater visibility.

In an age when the palaces of the supposed Almighty are crumbling, shouldn’t we just band together and do this ourselves?

They Have Sex Lives, Don’t They?

still from "La Cage aux Folles"

I was mortified after reading this wonderful interview, that I actually left out Will and Grace from my first posting.  How could I?

Easy.  The show which emerged on the cusp of the self-named, new “golden age” of TV, was an odd phenomenon for me.  Having in a sense “survived” the war on gay men, i.e. the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the sudden appearance of what for all intents seemed a gay male Amos n’ Andy seemed hugely underwhelming.

The fact that these crudely drawn characters were now a huge success felt embarrassing.  But something strange happened on the way to superiority.  Real change that remarkably the show likely fostered:  a sense of normality–and inevitability–for gay men’s existence, equality, and humanity.

Out of the gate, the dynamic of semi-closeted and Will and side- (heavy on the) kick Jack, not “effeminate” but brilliantly fey, seemed off-kilter, taking time to regulate.  I’m sure some LGBT semiotics grad students have and will have had field days with the odd fluctuations in their relationship reflecting, or not, network notes and ratings as it progressed.  The chops of Mullalley and Hayes could have overshadowed McCormack and Messing to the point of a spinoff, making the show a fillingless pie, because ultimately Will and Grace were gateway characters to the real stuff:  Jack, often pathetic but never hopeless, and Karen–a unique creation no way resembling anything of Manhattan’s Upper East Side–as a kind of a “T” placeholder, with laughter and tears going hand-in-hand with everything about her.

Early on, Will has another man, only partially visible, in his apartment.  And Will the character is mostly an asshole, except the “show” somehow sees his denial of his sexuality via Grace perversely as heroic.  I might be reading my own internalized homophobia into the show, having been involved with more than one man who tangoed versus bear-hugged their sexuality, and struggled lifelong with self-esteem and inferiority with my hetero counterparts in the realm of male privilege.

However, the crazy “beard” that gay guys and single straight women adorn each other with genuinely feels like an old TV sitcom, at least here in the U.S.  I will examine how far we’ve come since in a future post–and when I’ve caught myself up on that front as well.