Saturday, June 28, 2008

Frameline 32 -- Friday, June 27, 2008

As Frameline 32 headed into its big Gay Pride weekend, the festival's programmers rolled out the big guns in the festival's schedule. It's rare enough to experience two really good films in one day. It's bizarrely uplifting and transformative to experience two truly great films one right after another.

Tom Gustafson's breathtakinging new movie musical, Were The World Mine, accomplishes something that happens once every 25-50 years. It takes the magic of Shakespeare's writing and uses dramatic material that is as old as the hills to inspire a new generation by showing how remarkably relevant Shakespeare can be to today's youth. Written sometime around 1595, A Midsummer Night's Dream has received all kinds of stagings and interpretations for more than four centuries. In May, the Shorenstein-Hays-Nederlander organization presented an All-India version of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Curran Theater.

On Friday afternoon the Castro's organist performed the famous wedding March from Felix Mendelssohn's Overture to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (written in 1824) on the theater's mighty Wurlitzer organ to cheers from an audience high on the newly established legality of same-sex marriage in the state of California. For this audience (as well as others who will be lucky enough to see this movie once it receives theatrical/DVD release), Were The World Mine handsomely does for A Midsummer Night's Dream what West Side Story did for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

Although this new interpretation lacks a traditional Bottom, there are plenty of talented and hunky young prep school boys who are eager to please. The appealing Tanner Cohen stars as Timothy, a local gay student who is constantly bullied by his classmates at a privileged prep school. Under the coy guidance of Ms. Tebbit (the delightful Wendy Robie), Timothy lands the role of Puck in an all-male production of Shakespeare's comedy.

Fiercely defending the drama department against the ignorance embodied in the school's football coach, Ms. Tebbit acts as a master puppeteer who guides her students through the artistic process of learning lines, rehearsing scenes, and eventually performing and understanding the effect of a great work of art. After being advised to try singing his lines as a way to commit them to memory, Timothy latches on to the power of Shakespeare's poetic meter as well as the hidden meaning of the Bard's words. In the process, he unearths the secret formula to the love potion used in Shakespeare's play. What follows proves, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the course of true love never does run smooth.

That's because Timothy has a little trick up his sleeve that not even Ms. Tebbit knows about. After decoding the recipe to Shakespeare's love potion, he has plucked himself a potent pansy whose magical moisture now has the same effect on local townspeople as it did in Shakespeare's play. Having witnessed the effect of its intoxicating nectar on a supposedly straight friend (who is now swooning over Timothy), the young queerboy sets about helping people overcome their prejudices and inhibitions to fall in love with those they would never consider to be a suitable match. Armed with the knowledge of exactly how he might change people's lives, Timothy does his best to turn the town gay.

With a cast of mostly unknown actors, Gustafson elicits strong supporting performances from Jill Larsen as Nora and Brad Bukauskas as the sexy football star, Cole. Special honors go to Kira Kelly for her cinematography, Jessica Fogle for her musical score, and co-author Cory James Kruekeberg for his delicious production design. This is a film to put on your must-see list. Don't miss it!

Equally inspirational, although in a totally different manner, was Chris and Don: A Love Story, a film by Tina Mascara and and Guido Santi which will soon be in theatres. Focused on the 34-year love affair between writer Christopher Isherwood and artist Don Bachardy, this loving documentary offers something rarely seen by gay audiences: a fully documented long-term relationship between two gay men.

Theirs was a very special affair. With an age difference of 30 years between them, Isherwood scandalized Hollywood when he latched onto the teenage Bachardy. And yet the two proved to be fiercely complementary souls. The wealth of home movies in this documentary (beginning in the mid 1950s) allows audiences to see a pathbreaking openly gay couple pass through various phases of their relationship and continue on until the end, where Bachardy keeps painting daily portraits of Isherwood as his lover slowly succumbs to cancer. Poignant insights come from Leslie Caron, Liza Minelli and other friends and acquaintances. But it is the charming animation sequences, which capture the chosen animal identities of each partner (a horse for Isherwood, a pussycat for Bachardy) that add so much sweetness to this film.

Bachardy, still alive, rebellious and thriving, narrates and appears in large parts of the documentary, giving testimony to the impact Isherwood had on his life as well as their closeted colleagues in Hollywood. One cannot help but sit back in amazement at how fortunate Bachardy was to enter the sphere of the sophisticated and wealthy Isherwood at such a young age (16) and have him as a mentor, lover, and spiritual partner for so many years.

Next: Saturday, June 28, 2008

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