Friday, June 27, 2008

Frameline 32 -- Thursday, June 26, 2008

Back in the glory days of black and white television (when personalities like Pinky Lee, Howdy Doody, and Kukla, Fran & Ollie reigned supreme), one of the most popular programs starred Raymond Burr as defense attorney Perry Mason. Based on the mystery novels by Erle Stanley Gardner, this popular series was a predecessor to such television stalwarts as Murder, She Wrote, Diagnosis: Murder, and Law & Order.

Like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie's Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, Gardner's Perry Mason had a remarkable gift for solving crimes. Every week, as I watched the plot unravel, I could never guess whodunit. These days I still have trouble figuring out who the villain is.

However, in the past 25 years, a new crop of talented mystery writers have been pumping out novels in which the protagonist is a gay man. Whether one savors the heroes created by Mark Richard Zubro in his "Paul Turner" and "Tom & Scott" mystery series, by R. D. Zimmerman in his "Todd Mills" mystery series, or the novels written by San Francisco author Krandall Kraus (I strongly recommend The Assassination of George W. Bush: A Love Story), gay murder mysteries open up a whole new realm of personality traits, nasty secrets and motives for revenge.

Richard Stevenson, whose "Don Strachey" mystery series was picked up by Here! TV was one of the driving forces behind Frameline's On The Other Hand, Death: A Don Strachey Mystery. Shot in Vancouver over an 11-day period in which frequent changes in weather caused noticeable questions of dramatic continuity, Ron Oliver's film is well produced, occasionally campy, and just cheesy enough to satisfy this viewer. With Margot Kidder (Superman's former Lois Lane) as an aging lesbian high school guidance counselor in upstate New York who is one of the targets of homophobic vandalism, the plot includes a gay teenager who could be suicidal, a lover's sexy ex-boyfriend, and several other disgruntled types who could all be murder suspects. Nelson Wong offers comic backup as Strachey's administrative assistant who longs to get some field work under his belt (one looks forward to seeing Mr. Wong's performance as Gala Monsoon in Trans Neptune: or The Fall of Pandora, Drag Queen Cosmonaut, whose North American distribution rights have apparently been acquired by Frameline). On The Other Hand Death also offers a solid plug for The Trevor Project, a suicide hotline for gay and questioning teens.

An interesting side note: Raymond Burr, who starred in Perry Mason and, later in his career, in Ironside, is famous for having lived as a closeted homosexual throughout his career. The likeable Chad Allen (who stars as Don Strachey) is famous for having come out and eventually resurrected his career. Allen once told ABC's 20/20 that, after a tabloid magazine published a picture of him kissing another man in 1996, his career came to a crashing halt. "I never stopped working from the time I was five years old," he claimed. "I came out, and it stopped. The year after Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman was over, I couldn't get an audition for a pilot for the same network I worked six years in a top-ten television series for."

When Allen starred in 2005's End of the Spear, fundamentalist Christians who initially supported the film, flipped out when they discovered that an out gay man was portraying a Christian missionary in a piece of fiction. Insisting that the idea of having a gay man play the role of a Christian missionary was equivalent to letting Madonna portray the Virgin Mary, the Rev. Jason Janz encouraged fundamentalist Christians to boycott the film.

I kid you not.

Some people have difficulty distinguishing between fact and fiction -- even in porn. This was made evident by the audience's mixed reaction to Julian Hernandez's erotic treat Bramadero, which was included in the Worldly Affairs program of shorts. Starring Sergio Almazan and Christhian Rodriguez as two hunky gay men who prowl the urban jungle of Mexico City, the film begins with a confusing cat-and-mouse game as the two men cruise each other atop the newly-erected skeleton of a potential skyscraper. They circle each other in movements which mimic primitive ape-like displays of territorial jungle dominance. Eventually, after squeezing and tasting the goods, they get down to sexual matters.

What follows is 15 minutes of tender, beautifully photographed sexual play set against a background of hard metal and industrial noise. Although the brutal conclusion, in which one man turns violent and strangles the other, is a definite downer, one must remember that violence is a constant force of life -- and death -- in the animal kingdom (the praying mantis starts to devour its prey while the other insect is still alive).

Minus the kind of wretched dialogue one used to find in gay porn, I found Bamadero to be quite a satisfying little adventure in erotic filmmaking. Of course, my favorite porn quote is a line from 1981's Centurions of Rome ("The Emperor wants to fuck you NOW!") which ranks a close second to Tony Curtis's legendary "Yonder lies the village of my muddah" from 1960's Spartacus.

When push comes to shove (with a condom, of course), Bramadero was beautifully shot and looked magnificent on the giant screen of the Castro Theater. Hernandez's short film easily earned the Frameline award for "Best Use Of A Construction Site." It also made me wish that Lionel Bart's lyrics to Oliver had read "Porn, Glorious Porn! Hot Sausage and Custard....."

Next: Friday, June 27, 2008

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