Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Men That Got Away

Innovative ideas don't just drop, fully-formed, from the sky. In her recent article entitled "Creative Minds Mimic Schizophrenia," BBC News health reporter Michelle Roberts explained how a lower level of D2 receptors in the thalamus might result in a lower level of signal filtering that can lead to a freer flow of information through the brain. Since part of thalamic function is to pass along sensation (as well as special sense and motor signals) to the cerebral cortex, she may be on to something.

Pointing to the ability to suspend disbelief as a key factor in creativity, Roberts cites the work of Professor Fredrik Ullen of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who believes that the reason creative types may be better at solving certain types of problems is that heavier loads of uncensored data may be contributing to the creative process. She also notes the work of Mark Millard, a psychologist who works with a business in London named Organisational Stress Audit. According to Millard:
"Creativity is uncomfortable. It is their dissatisfaction with the present that drives [creative people] on to make changes. Creative people, like those with psychotic illnesses, tend to see the world differently to most. It's like looking at a shattered mirror. They see the world in a fractured way. There is no sense of conventional limitations and you can see this in their work. Take Salvador Dali, for example. He certainly saw the world differently and behaved in a way that some people perceived as very odd."
Several short films that will soon be screened at the Frameline 34 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival are notable for their inspiration and attention to detail. All of them mirror a common ache made famous by Judy Garland's performance of The Man That Got Away. Written for the 1954 version of A Star Is Born (with music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Ira Gershwin), the song has been a popular standard for more than 50 years.

While most people can recite its lyrics by heart, few pay close attention to this song's magnificent orchestrations by Skip Martin. As you watch the following clip, try to look and listen beyond Garland's singing to Martin's big band arrangement. More than an inspired piece of work, it brings an incredible sense of magic to the song.

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The man that got away is obviously on Gavin's mind. As Nick Corporon's poignant short film, Last Call, opens, Gavin (Travis Dixon) is desperately trying to get his ex-lover Mark (David Devora) on the phone to arrange a meeting. A recovering alcoholic, Gavin has been sober for one year and five months. It hasn't always been easy.

Travis Dixon as Gavin

Although Mark agrees to meet, Gavin is killed in an automobile accident en route to their rendezvous. When he finds himself at a jukebox in a mysterious bar (staffed by an even more mysterious female bartender (Jody Jaress), Gavin enters a plot twist familiar to viewers of Rod Serling's enigmatic Twilight Zone. Although he initially refuses the three drinks offered to him by the bartender, when she explains that each drink is a memory that might help him move to the next step of his journey, he downs his first shot.

Gavin is magically transported back to the moment when he and Mark were busily preparing for an interview with an adoption agency. Although Mark is younger than Gavin and has no visible means of support, he very much wants to be a father. Gavin's usual way of dealing with an annoying situation has been to go out and get drunk.

Upon being returned to the bar, Gavin's second drink allows him to sees Mark preparing to meet Gavin just before the accident. As Gavin watches the love of his life hug and kiss his daughter before handing her off to his new partner, Gavin realizes that he never got around to making things right with Mark. Understanding that the reason he failed to show up to their meeting is because he died in the automobile accident, Gavin is filled with remorse.

To his surprise, the bartender gives the dead man a chance to go back and start all over. The film ends with Gavin and Mark meeting on a boardwalk as Mark sits on a bench, strumming his guitar.

Last Call will have a special appeal to those in recovery who have taken an inventory of their losses, the people they have hurt with their substance abuse, and the nagging question of what they would have done if they had been given a chance to start all over again. The film is beautifully directed and should have strong appeal to anyone who is still wondering about what happened to the man (or men) in their life "that got away."

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As in Last Call, drinking, drunk thinking, and a willful suspension of disbelief are at the center of Curious Thing. Written by Jason Mills and directed by Alain Hain, this short focuses on the strange period in the lives of many gay men when they are still closeted but increasingly find themselves developing crushes on unattainable straight men. Their inability to accept or understand their own sexuality (combined with the close proximity but sexual and emotional unavailability of the man with whom they think they have a bromance) can often lead to bitterness, dejection, and occasional outbursts of internalized homophobia.

In this eight-minute short, after quiet, closeted Jared (Danny Bernardy) meets Sam (Matthew Wilkas), the two men discover that they're excellent drinking partners. In the course of their drinking, they throw their arms over each other's shoulders and demonstrate the kind of intimacy that means a lot more to Jared than it does to Sam.

Sam (Matthew Wilkas) and Jared (Danny Bernardy)

Jared's girlfriend, Becky (Rebecca Pappa), doesn't seem too happy about the change in Jared's focus of attention. Several years later, when an out-of-the-closet Jared sees Sam with his wife and child, a tacit nod is the only gesture that acknowledges each other's existence.

Curious Thing is supposed to be the first installment in a trilogy examining the lives of gay men living in New York. To give their short a semi-documentary feel, the filmmakers sat down with six gay men to conduct interviews about their experiences (both sexual and nonsexual) with straight men.

Matthew Wilkas as Sam

The voice-overs from these interviews drive much of the film forward, leaving the audience wondering whether it is actually hearing the voices of Jared and Sam or simply the generic voices of gay men who have gone through the same emotional process. You can watch a brief trailer here, which allows listeners to hear how clips from the interviews have been spliced together to form a singsong type of narrative that is accompanied by the sound of a pounding heartbeat.

Although there are still plenty of gay men who have a fetish for pursuing straight guys as objects of their lust and emotional yearning, I suspect that the longer a viewer has been out of the closet, the more cynically he will react to Curious Thing. While the film captures a critical moment in the coming out process, it also locks onto a desperate level of denial that most gay men would like to think they have left in their past.

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When a singular talent shows its face, the effect can be so intoxicating that one forgets the person is at the beginning stages of his career. On the basis of his 12-minute short, After, writer/director Mark Pariselli is clearly someone whose future shows great promise.

Poster art for After

In Pariselli's film, three gawky gay intellectuals sit on the front steps of a house as they focus their fantasies on a hunky young jock (Andrew Holland) in a red shirt who has been playing touch football with some friends across the street.
  • The slightly effeminate Jacob (Cole Alvis) fantasizes about jerking off in a somber room surrounded by lit candles and Christian icons. After Tim sneaks up on him from behind, the hunky athlete lifts one of Jacob's devotional candles and, with a loving smile on his face, proceeds to drip hot wax onto Jacob's hairless chest.
  • The bespectacled Lukas (Jamieson Child), who obviously hopes to pursue a career in medicine, fantasizes about having Tim on his examining room table as he administers to some abrasions on the athlete's knee. As Lukas slowly slides his hand up Tim's leg, the smiling jock looks down with understanding. In a flash, Lukas has moved behind Tim as his hand is seen disappearing into his underwear.
Tim (Andrew Holland) and Lukas (Jamieson Child)
  • Arthur (Matthew Armet) has been sitting on the front steps of the house, holding a fishbowl in his lap. As he fantasizes about stepping into a tub to take a bath with some of his pet minnows, he envisions Tim entering the room. As Arthur cups his hands to offer the football player a minnow, Tim reaches, out, gently pushes Arthur's hand away, and sinks to his knees at the edge of the tub. As Arthur extends his leg, Tim takes Arthur's proffered foot in both hands and tenderly kisses it. He then stands up, disrobes, slowly enters the bathtub, and reaches out to embrace Arthur.
Pariselli was inspired to create After by Dennis Cooper's poem "After School, Street Football, Eighth Grade." After seeing the film, I found the poem on the Internet. It reads as follows:
"Their jeans sparkled, cut off
way above the knee, and my
friends and I would watch them
from my porch, books of poems
lost in our laps, eyes wide as
tropical fish behind our glasses.

Their football flashed from hand
to hand, tennis shoes gripped
the asphalt, sweat's spotlight on
their strong backs. We would
dream of hugging them, and crouch
later in weird rooms, and come.

Once their ball fell our way
so two of them came over, hands
on their hips, asking us to
throw it to them, which Arthur did,
badly, and they chased it back.
One turned to yell, "Thanks."

and we dreamed of his long
teeth in our necks. We
wanted them to wander over,
place deep wet underarms to
our lips, and then their white
asses, then those loud mouths.

One day one guy was very tired,
didn't move fast enough,
so a car hit him and he sprawled
fifty feet away, sexy, but he was
dead, blood like lipstick, then
those great boys stood together.

on the sidewalk and we joined them,
mixing in like one big friendship
to the cops, who asked if we were,
and those boys were too sad to counter.
We'd known his name, Tim, and how
he'd turned to thanks us nicely

but now he was under a sheet,
anonymous as God, the big boys crying,
spitting words, and we stunned
like intellectuals get, our high
voices soft as the tinkling of a
chandelier on a ceiling too high to see."
Unlike books and historical events (which usually lay the groundwork for a linear narrative), a poem offers a different kind of artistic license. While After benefits from the often breathtaking cinematography by Kirk Holmes and a powerful original score composed by Adrien Maurer and Taku Yamada, Pariselli's ability to capture the essence of yearning and present three wildly diverse -- and yet remarkably elegant -- visions of sexual fantasy demonstrates a major talent at work. It's worth attending the program of shorts titled Curious Thing just to experience this stunning film.

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For many gay men, the yearning for an unattainable friend/hero/lover starts at an early age. In The Queen, the audience sees Bobby (Sean Tarjoto), a very quiet, bespectacled, and nerdy Korean-American student who is working in his family's dry cleaning store. While his mother (Kay Choe) nags him about applying to various colleges, Bobby keeps sketching a superhero in his notebook. After his mother leaves to run an errand, Bobby's attempt to close the store is interrupted by the sudden appearance of the local prom queen (Erika Helen Smith) and her hunky boyfriend (Tamir Kapelian).

As written and directed by Christina Choe, The Queen takes a delightful detour into Bobby's fantasy world with a surprise ending:

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