Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bruisers, Cruisers & Losers

The recent murders of Dr. George Tiller and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum security guard Stephen T. Johns were, without doubt, hate crimes. While these killings may have shocked millions, in some perverse measure they were merely symptoms of the repressed levels of anger, hatred, and violence simmering beneath the surface of our society, just waiting to explode. Some people are dreading a long, hot summer as increased political and financial instability finds more desperate people in desperate situations during desperate times that lead to desperate measures.

For certain minorities, the fear of death through no fault of one's own is a constant. Many African Americans understand the risks they take when driving while black. Jews who, over several generations, have assimilated into the mainstream still flinch at anti-semitic hate speech. For the LGBT community (which is pushing for equal rights, an end to DADT and a repeal of DOMA), the spectre of renewed violence against gay men and women is almost a given. Not that anyone wants more violence -- just that it's perpetually "out there," lying in wait, looking for an easy target.

No LGBT film festival would be complete without scenes of horrific homophobic violence filling the silver screen and Frameline 33 (the 2009 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival) does not deviate from the norm. If death can come for the archbishop, why not for a troubled teen, a dissatisfied porn star, or an innocent cater-waiter? "While there seems to be a greater acceptance of gays in society -– consent, equality, civil partnerships, higher media visibility –- homophobic violence has not disappeared," notes British filmmaker Kevin Elyot. "Bigotry is still bubbling just below the surface and sometimes in the most surprising quarters."

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Elyot's Clapham Junction (which will be screened at the Castro Theatre on Friday night, June 19) can also be viewed in serial segments on YouTube. Inspired by the real life murder of Jody Dobrowski on October 14, 2005 in London's Clapham Common, Elyot's film was produced by British public television's Channel 4 as a part of a series of programs celebrating the 40th anniversary of Great Britain's decriminalization of homosexuality. With its occasional stark angles and fisheye lens shots, the film focuses on the lives of a handful of gay men during a 36-hour period during which a brutal heat wave coincides with a full moon over London.

Richard Lintern and David Leon

Although gays in Britain were not particularly happy with Elyot's film, I found it to be quite well made, sensitively directed, magnificently acted and gorgeously filmed. Because it takes a while for the numerous plot threads to establish themselves, I should stress that the movie's strength lies in the cast's performances and the filmmaker's artistic vision. Whether or not you like any of the characters is completely beside the point. They include:
  • Robin Cape (Rupert Graves), an aging gay scriptwriter who tries to instill a sense of conscience in a closeted man (with whom he almost had sex in a public toilet while en route to an upper-class dinner party at his friend Roger's house).
  • Julian Rowan (James Wilby), a closeted married man with an occasional need to go cottaging (where he and Robin met just a little while ago). After Robin left the public toilet, Julian may have witnessed some homophobic violence that lies at the core of the story.
  • Julian's wife Marion (Samantha Bond), an arrogant upper class snob who wishes all those gay people wouldn't shove their lifestyles in people's faces, much less sniffing around for sex in London's parks and other public places.
  • Roger (Tom Beard), the host of the dinner party and a former schoolmate of Robin's who, although he is happily married, is aching to get fucked by another man.
  • Belinda (Rachel Beard), Roger's understanding wife who exhibits a great deal more compassion for gays than the other women at her dinner party.
  • Will (Richard Lintern), one of two gay men getting married. Following the ceremony, Will corners one of the waiters, shares some coke, has quick, casual sex with him, and then slips his wedding ring into the waiter's pocket along with his cell phone number as a way of forcing the young man to call him back and arrange a second meeting.
  • Gavin (Stuart Bunce), Will's newly-legal husband who works as an Emergency Room physician. Although they have lived together for many years and seem to have every comfort imaginable, as a physician Gavin has a clinical eye for detail.
  • Alfie Cartwright (David Leon), the attractive young cater-waiter Will pursues who, later that night, is the victim of a particularly gruesome fagbashing.
  • A young black violin student of great promise who keeps up a brave front despite his fears of being mugged on the way to/from his music lessons.
  • Tim (Joseph Mawle) a justifiably paranoid academic living alone in a tiny apartment, who was once convicted of pedophilia.
  • Theo (Luke Tredaway), the 14 year old boy who lives across the street from Tim, has been cruising him at the library, and watching him from his bedroom window while masturbating and smoking cigarettes.
  • Frank Winterton (Neil Pearson), Theo's father, a rich barrister (attorney) who is the voice of reason in his family.
  • Natasha (Phoebe Nicholls), Theo's overly-protective and narcissistic mother -- a rather stupid actress who is surprised to be told by the gay guests at Roger & Belinda's dinner party that the made-for-television adaptation of E.M. Forster's Howards End in which she has just been cast was previously produced for television back in the 1970s.
  • Terry (Paul Nicholls), a bitter, angry fagbasher who lives with his grandmother and hates his alcoholic mother's guts. After nervously cruising him in a gay bar, when Terry finds the bloodied Alfie lying on the grass in Clapham Common, he steals Will's ring, leaving Alfie to die. The following day, when another fagbasher beats the shit out of Terry and he is brought to the hospital, the examining physician (Gavin) instantly recognizes his partner's wedding ring on Terry's finger.
David Leon as the ill-fated Alfie Cartwright

As writer and director of Clapham Junction, Elyot chose to create a drama which would show the realities of gay life as opposed to what people would like to think exists in a supposedly more enlightened and more tolerant Britain. Thus, we encounter a producer who thinks gay plot lines have been done to death (and prefers to do remakes of old films), an African maid who works long hours to support her son's musical talent, an openly-gay priest, and a newly-married gay couple who claim to be honest with each other but have their secrets.

There are rich but cowardly closet cases, underage teens going after older men, vicious fagbashers, and innocent victims. The following clip includes the tender and beautifully acted scene in which the horny Theo brazenly seduces Tim, freely giving the older man the tenderness that has been denied to him for far too long after he was publicly vilified as a pedophile.

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A different ring gets passed from one gay man's finger to another's in Pornography: A Thriller, but it is most certainly not a wedding band. Instead, this ring features a cryptic symbol which refers to a far more ominous secret. Written and directed by David Kittredge, this movie might best be described as a curious mashup of Law and Order, The X Files, a bad nightmare involving some gay porn stars, and some lost footage from what may have been a high-class snuff film.

Matthew Montgomery stars as Michael, an aspiring gay writer doing research about the golden era of gay porn. Most of the porn stars he hopes to interview have either died of AIDS or no longer want to acknowledge that part of their past. When he tries to find out happened to Mark Anton (who mysteriously disappeared after a successful career in porn) he keeps coming up short. Supposedly, Anton's first appearance opposite the legendary Jason Steele was remarkably convincing because it seemed like Anton was really in love with Steele while they were having sex.

When Michael checks with his local porn maven, he hears disturbing rumors of something possibly going wrong with Mark Anton in a snuff film. Meanwhile, he and his boyfriend Mark (Jared Grey) conveniently move into a magnificent loft which might just be haunted by the ghost of a previous tenant.

Faster than you can say "Boo!" strange things start to happen. Michael starts having nightmares which tell him where to look for clues that include a mysterious tape showing Mark Anton strapped down to a gurney with a ball gag in his mouth, furiously resisting a huge man forcefully injecting some fluid into his neck with a hypodermic needle. If the dialog occasionally seems a bit forced, or the scenes too convenient, there's a reason why. They've all been part of the strange dreams Matt Stevens (Peter Scherer) has been experiencing 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles.

In his waking hours, Stevens is a modern day porn star who has successfully transformed himself into a popular gay "brand" through clever marketing, a hot body, and an ability to perform on cue. Having always performed as a top, he's willing to bottom on camera to get his dream project (The Mark Anton Story) produced. Just as production is about to start, someone leaves him a DVD of vintage porn starring the real Jason Steele and Mark Anton. The mysterious ring that appeared in his dreams ends up on his finger as well.

If you like bad acid trips, games of three-diminesional mindgames, and a juicy script that leaves no clone unturned, you'll have a grand time trying to follow the plot line(s) of Pornography: A Thriller. Kittredge's film will show on Sunday, June 21 at the Victoria Theatre. While, to my utter chagrin, there were no vampires to round out the cast, I particularly enjoyed Christopher Keech's comment in Frameline's program notes:
"Warning: There are no (unsimulated) pornographic scenes in this movie. But it does have a twisty, clever script; ample male nudity; genuine suspense; a hot cast and plenty of mindfucking. Plus a mysterious ring, a menacing stranger and a rent boy who accepts personal checks."

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Scheduled to screen on Saturday, June 27 at the Victoria Theatre is a new film by David Oliveras. Watercolors begins with a flashback as Danny Wheeler (Ian Rhodes), now a mature and successful artist, struggles to enjoy the opening of his new show at a local gallery. His lover Allan (Edward Finley) has never been able to compete with the ghost of Danny's first love from high school and is getting tired of trying to pull Danny out of his depressions.

As we travel back in time we see young Danny (Tye Olson) taking criticism from his art teacher (Karen Black) who admires his talent, but feels that he really needs to work harder. Danny's mother Miriam (Casey Kramer), who attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as part of her effort to stay sober, has offered to let one of the group's members have his sullen, dysfunctional son spend the weekend at her house while his father is away on a job interview.

Miriam's friend from A.A. is a divorced salesman, prone to lapses, whose negative view of the world has had a severe impact on his moody son, Carter (Kyle Clare). In fact, Carter's only source of confidence is his strength as a swimmer. Despite his long hair and lithe, muscular body, he's a pill-popping mess prone to pulling self-destructive pranks every time he enters a new school. Coach Brown (Greg Louganis) has warned Carter not to try pulling any stunts while in training and the school principal (David Schroeder) is even less impressed with Carter's antics.

This time around Carter has removed the lugnuts from the tires on some of the teachers' cars and is close to being kicked out of school again. The closely guarded secret that only Carter and his father share is that Carter is on an anti-seizure medication.

When Carter meets the young Danny it's obvious that they have little in common. Danny is prone to sketching and his best friend is a snarky fag hag who limps around on a crutch. He's not an athlete, looks like a wimp, and easily fits the stereotype of an "art fag."

When Miriam sends Danny to the school's pool to tell Carter that dinner is ready, Carter challenges the nonswimmer to a few laps as a curious game of cat-and-mouse begins to develop. Later, when Danny tells Carter that he is falling in love with him and would really like to kiss him, Carter responds with surprising generosity by rewarding Danny with his first kiss and agreeing to model for him.

There's just one hitch. Carter doesn't want Danny to talk to him or try to be friendly with him at school. However, once his cronies see the two boys walking together, they waste no time defacing Danny's locker, stalking him, and beating the crap out of him.

Miriam, who wants to file chargest against Danny's attackers, takes great care to reassure her son that she loves him and has never had any cause to be ashamed of him. After he is dropped from the swim team, Carter suffers a seizure in the school cafeteria. Things quickly go downhill from there.

While Watercolors may be beautifully filmed -- and Kyle Clare's buff body offers plenty of eye candy -- the acting is a bit stiff (the best work comes from Clare and Edward Finley). Audiences that have grown weary of young gays struggling to come out (only to get hit by a falling tree or beaten to death) may find some comfort in knowing that the art fag goes on to a fabulous career while the repressed jock never leaves the hospital alive. Although Danny's fantasy sequence about having tender sex with Carter in a soft rain is beautifully filmed and directed, wondering whether Carter commited suicide or died of another seizure offers little solace. Here's the teaser:

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