Sunday, June 14, 2009

Tales From The Clipped

Every novice wants to be noticed. Once someone discovers he has a particular talent and starts to achieve even the smallest amount of success with it, the sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, and excitement at doing something well is both intoxicating and contagious. While many imagine that a person's strongest selling point may be his physique, his intellect, or certain critical measurements, what really attracts people is confidence. Just listen to Bea Arthur singing the hit song from Broadway's Wildcat (a 1960 musical that starred Lucille Ball with music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Caroline Leigh).

Talent will out. But polishing and refining one's talent takes an awful lot of work. How many times have we been reminded that:
  • A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
  • If, at first, you don't succeed, try, try again.
  • It ain't what you got, it's what you do with it.
  • Life is not an audition.
  • Practice makes perfect.
The road to recognition is, of course, filled with obstacles, setbacks, and plateaus. Joshua Wolf Shenk's fascinating article What Makes Us Happy? describes a unique study of human behavior that began in 1937 at Harvard and has tracked the life progress of a core group of male participants for more than 70 years. When examined over a long period of time, one's achievements usually produce a growth curve that looks something like this:

The great Barbara Cook (who has had a career of astonishing longevity) summed it up this way during a concert in Melbourne, Australia:

Any trend gets its start from a series of random samplings that produce measurable results. As continued scientific research and/or processes of elimination show us the patterns which produce the best results, one witnesses a narrowing of the field. Whether one considers Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection or Morgan Spurlock's documentary series for television (30 Days), a successful formula is easily replicated -- sometimes with a near-viral effect.

With television audiences from Afghanistan to Australia -- and from Great Britain to the United States -- fixated on the outcomes of reality talent shows, what do you think would happen if we applied the same process of elimination to other parts of our lives? I'm not talking about programs like Big Brother, The Bachelor, The Biggest Loser, or beauty contests like the Miss America Pageant. I'm talking about hardcore people skills. Who wouldn't want to judge the contestants on a show like American Cocksucker or So You Think You Can Fuck.

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An engaging young talent currently appearing at New Conservatory Theatre Center in a one-man show entitled My Life On The Craigslist, Jeffrey Self offers audiences a comical description of how a series of sexual misadventures helped him refine his cruising skills. Beginning in Rome, Georgia (where a sleepover led to some furtive sex in the bathroom with one of the teenaged boys in the cast of a school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream), Jeffrey had a firm goal of moving to New York and becoming, among other things, a professional homosexual.

A lanky and extremely likeable performer, Self shares his misadventures with the audience in a way that demonstrates a noticeable generation gap with the median age of NCTC's subscription base. Youth is often equated with folly and, whether describing an unfortunate incident in which he accidentally wet the bed of someone he was dating -- or almost caused another trick's toilet to overflow in the middle of a hot threeway -- Self uses his most embarrassing moments to create a contemporary urban narrative.

His description of what it was like to discover the freaky joys of advertising on Craigslist reaches its peak when describing how he discovered an entire subset of people who have a fetish for sexual vampirism. While he is performing in San Francisco he may want to get his hands on Christopher Moore's hilarious trilogy of vampire tales set in San Francisco: Bloodsucking Fiends (1995), A Dirty Job (2006), and You Suck (2007). In the following clip, Jeffrey describes how today's technology has enabled the kind of sexual research and resourcefulness that could blow a horny teenager's mind. Tennessee Williams might refer to it as "A Street Whore's Main Desire."

Looking back more than a half century to 1956, when Lerner & Loewe's new musical was the hottest ticket on Broadway, the unabashed romanticism expressed in this hit song from My Fair Lady about the joys of spending some time on the street seems like it must have come from a lost civilization.

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To many minds, the 1950s was the golden age of Broadway musicals. In Rodgers & Hammerstein's musical adaptation of Margaret Langdon's novel (Anna and the King of Siam), one song from 1951's The King and I has always had a hidden message for gay men. Sung by two lovers who must meet secretly, the lyrics are as follows:
"We kiss in the shadow, we hide from the moon,
Our meetings are few and over too soon.
We speak in a whisper, afraid to be heard,
When people are near, we speak not a word.
Alone in our secret, together we cry
For one smiling day to be free.
To kiss in the sunlight, and say to the sky,
Behold and believe what you see,
Behold how my lover loves me."
The Stonewall Riots 40 years ago did not put an end to long-established patterns of gay cruising that concentrated on furtive encounters in parks, public toilets, highway rest stops, steamrooms, and bathhouses (where an element of danger and/or anonymity often heightened the excitement of the chase). Three films being shown at Frameline 33 (the 2009 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival) demonstrate how far we've come from being unable to even acknowledge what was once pristinely referred to as our "homosexual tendencies" to embracing our sexuality and, in some cases, even refining it to the point where it becomes a specialty act.

In Maxine Desmons' 11-minute film Somebody Is Watching Us (which will be screened as part of the Worldly Affairs program of shorts on Friday afternoon, June 26 at the Castro Theater), two immigrants living in Toronto attempt to have sex in a public toilet but are interrupted by a stranger. Think of it as yet another instance of "cockus interruptus."

Bruno is subsequently introduced as a new participant in Alliocha's course on English as a second language. When their eyes meet, viewers can instantly sense Bruno's fear and Alliocha's hope. Bruno is new to Canada and has probably arrived from a Muslim culture where being caught having gay sex can have fatal repercussions. Alliocha, on the other hand, has been in Toronto for a while, is assimilating into Canadian culture, and is quite practiced in the art of tearoom encounters.

The passages they are asked to read out loud (from a textbook on Greek mythology describing what happened when Daedalus fashioned a pair of wings so that his son, Icarus, might attempt to escape from Crete by flight) have hidden meanings which are easily understood by Alliocha and the audience. Whether or not Bruno will muster the courage to fly is quite another story.

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In recent years I've noticed a curious phenomenon at the Frameline festival that involves a particular programming slot. There's usually a film shown at around 4:30 p.m. on Gay Pride Day that turns out to be a total sleeper. In 2005 it was a hilarious Spanish romp called Unconscious. In 2006 it was a made for French television movie about the Holocaust entitled A Love To Hide that left audiences stunned, shocked, and profoundly moved. In 2007 it was a gorgeous French film about the friendship between a married man and his gay neighbor entitled The Man of My Life.

This year is no exception, but audiences deserve fair warning. When seen on Gay Pride Day, the first 20 minutes of Altromondo (Anotherworld) may be a bit of a turnoff as extremely homophobic men (including a very muscular skinhead) perform monologues about how much they despise gay men, what little they are good for, and threaten violence toward anyone who so much as dares to look at them the wrong way. Hang in there, because these are the opening segments of a growth curve that will alarm, amuse, enlighten and entertain you all the way to a surprisingly uplifting ending. Fabiomassino Lozzi describes his film as:
"An experimental drama entirely composed by monologues. A personal journey through male homosexuality -- from darkness to light, from total denial to complete acceptance -- as told in monologues performed by actors and adapted from interviews with ordinary Italian gay men. A multi-colored kaleidoscopic journey through a varied and multi-faceted aspect of the human experience that is rarely represented on the big screen."
This is one of those rare films that takes the audience on an emotional and psychological journey from the violence of the closet to the joy of being out. Each character has a chance to perform a monologue unique to his situation, whether he is a hustler, a guilt-ridden closet case, a gay man who doesn't feel his relationship suffers from his constant cruising in a park at night, or a grown man recalling how, in his early teens, he happily seduced his uncle and is proud that they have been together ever since.
  • There is the elderly man who has been going to a small town's adult cinema for 40 years and would love to be a guide for younger gay men, showing them what sections of the theater are used for different activities and introducing them to the old-timers so they can get to know part of his "family of men."
  • There is the total bottom who has never found anything as wonderful as his first humiliating experiences at the hands (and feet) of a classmate.
  • There is the man who describes how a schoolmate's phone call to his father (in which the caller asked to talk to the man's "faggoty son") finally forced him out of the closet and into a wonderfully supportive relationship with his father.
  • There is the elderly man making pasta who scornfully refers to the Pope as "that Ratzinger girl."
  • There is the international artist, fully out of the closet, leading a frequent-flyer lifestyle, who describes how his lover has become his muse.
While the film benefits immensely from Benjamin Minot's cinematography and a magnificent original score by Giordano Corapi (with hints of Erik Satie's famous three Gymnopedies), the breadth of gay humanity unveiled in the film is what gives the monologues so much emotional power. Each monologue almost feels like an aria about masculinity. Each ends with a stylishly cinematic transition to the next man's story. Here's the trailer.

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I once met a man who boasted of being able to time his orgasms so precisely that he knew the exact moment before climax to reach over, pick up the phone, and order a pizza for delivery. What happens when a gay man becomes so brazenly confident in his sexuality that he gets a perverse thrill from taking it public? Exhibitionists will surely enjoy Frequent Traveler, which is part of this year's Fun In Boys' Shorts program.

Not only does the protagonist in this delightful piece have a uniform fetish and a poker face, he seems to have focused his lust on one particular object of desire: the handsome blond policeman who supervises the electronic security screenings of outbound passengers at the local airport. While some gay men have specific scenarios about police officers or dungeonmasters, this film's hero gets off on being strip searched and forced to undergo a gloved body cavity inspection at the airport.

Bateira's hilariously daring eight-minute film from Portugal shows audiences a new way to make the best out of a missed flight and get more bang for their air-travel buck, proving beyond any shadow of a doubt that, with the right security personnel looking on, once is never enough!

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