22 June 2013


Despite my grand intentions of writing about the films of Frameline 37 as the festival happened, my MacBook was stolen last night, which is going to make updating this blog something of a challenge. My apologies. I'll try to find a new solution. Otherwise, expect something in the near future.

07 June 2013

Me and You and Frameline 37

For those of you in San Francisco, the 37th edition of Frameline, SF's Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, begins on Thursday, June 20th, at the Castro Theatre with Stacie Passon's debut feature Concussion, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year and won the Teddy jury prize at the Berlinale. If you're planning on attending the festival this year, the chances are good that you'll run into me (or, at least, find yourself in the same theatre) over the course of those ten days. Naturally, I'll be in attendance for the June 23rd screening of Travis Mathews and James Franco's Interior. Leather Bar., which I am proud to say I worked on. The film screens with Mathews' excellent In Their Room: London, the third in a series of docs exploring gay male intimacy and sexuality.
Working for the festival this year, I've had a chance to see a sizable portion of the selection, so I thought I might direct your attention to a few of Frameline 37's notable screenings, in no particular order. I am in the process of writing a bit more extensively on a few of these. Winner of the Teddy for Best Feature Film at the Berlinale earlier this year, Małgorzata Szumowska's In the Name Of (W imię...), which stars Andrzej Chyra (Katyń) as a gay Catholic priest, is the fest's dramatic centerpiece, screening on 25 June.

A pair of solid documentaries about famous gay American authors, Daniel Young's Paul Bowles: The Cage Door Is Always Open and Nicholas Wrathall's Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, would have made for a great double-feature, had their screenings not fallen on different days. And then throw in Stephen Silha and Eric Slade's Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton (which I have yet to see) if docs about dead gay American artists are your thing.
Appealing to both the tranny doc lovers and performance art queers in your home, I would recommend both Charles Atlas's Turning, an exploration of the concert of the same name that Atlas staged with Antony Hegarty in Europe in 2006, and Tim Lienhard's One Zero One: The Story of Cybersissy & BayBjane (One Zero One - Die Geschichte von Cybersissy & BayBjane), a visually dazzling portrait of two drag artists which combines testimonials with performance piece interludes of the duo.

If sexy lesbians are more your speed, check out Marco Berger and Marcelo Monaco's Sexual Tension: Violetas (Tensión sexual, Volumen 2: Violetas), which substitutes the hunky Argentine men of its predecessor with lusty lipstick lezzies in six erotic shorts. Like Sexual Tension: Volatile (Tensión sexual, Volumen 1: Volátil), certain shorts are much stronger than the others; the highlight of this set is Berger's "Dormi conmigo," in which two girls cross paths at a youth hostel. I will definitely be attending Sexperimental, a retrospective of experimental video artists Texas Starr and Kadet Kuhne's films. With titles as alluring as Cunt Dykula, Girls Will Be Boys, Rave Porn, and Pussy Buffet, I'm expecting a good-ol'-time.

Not counting Interior. Leather Bar. and Concussion, there are four other US narrative features I can direct your attention toward (two of which I've seen, the other two I'm planning to see): Yen Tan's gays-in-small-town-Texas drama Pit Stop, which played in the NEXT section at Sundance this year and features a great performance from Amy Seimetz; Cory Krueckeberg's The Go Doc Project, a film I was surprised to have liked which concerns a lonely college student who schemes to make a documentary about gay clubbing in NYC as a ruse to meet the go-go boy of his Tumblr dreams; another Sundance leftover, Kyle Patrick Alvarez's C.O.G., which the director adapted from David Sedaris's work, starring Jonathan Groff and Dean Stockwell; and the screen adaptation of Michelle Tea's Valencia, an omnibus feature in eighteen segments from twenty directors with San Francisco ties, including Cheryl Dunye (The Watermelon Woman), Silas Howard (By Hook or By Crook), Jill Soloway (Afternoon Delight), Michelle Lawler (Forever's Gonna Start Tonight), and Courtney Trouble (Fucking Different XXX).

And there's additional three international features about difficult love between good-looking gentlemen behind one-half of the amorous duo's girlfriends that you might consider: David Lambert's Beyond the Walls (Hors les murs), which premiered at the Semaine de la critique at Cannes in 2012 and stars Guillaume Gouix (Belle épine) and newcomer Matila Malliarakis; Stephen Lacant's Free Fall (Freier Fall), which premiered at the Berlinale and stars Hanno Koffler (If Not Us, Who?) and Max Riemelt (Before the Fall); and Antonio Hens's La partida, which chronicles an illicit affair between two Cuban teenagers.
And finally, assuming you haven't already watched it on Netflix, Marialy Rivas's feature debut Young and Wild (Joven y alocada), following her award-winning short Blokes, will screen at the Roxie Theater on 29 June. Hope to see you there!

04 June 2013

After the Glitter Fades

Behind the Candelabra
2013, USA
Steven Soderbergh

There's a lot to be said about the hype surrounding Behind the Candelabra. Reportedly, this saga of the life of famed, closeted homosexual Liberace as seen through the eyes of his boytoy is to be Steven Soderbergh's last film. The director proclaimed that Hollywood found the project to be "too gay," which is ultimately how it fell into the lap of HBO, where it aired in the USA five days after premiering in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. The movie suffered a number of delays related to star Michael Douglas's bout with cancer, and yet Behind the Candelabra persevered. The fact that it took years for a biopic no one really asked for or seemed to want in the first place to make it to the (television) screen makes its existence even more puzzling.

Why was it necessary to bring the story of Liberace to the screen? The film never gets around to answering that question. It doesn't help that most of the key players–aside from Douglas whose performance is the only remarkable and consistent thing in the film–seem to be sleepwalking through the whole thing. The screenplay, adapted by Richard LaGravenese (who happily brought you the films Freedom Writers and P.S. I Love You) from the memoir of Liberace's young lover Scott Thorson, never rises above a half-cocked marital melodrama. Matt Damon, as Thorson, coasts through the film on autopilot, which is rather unfortunate considering he's given the most time onscreen. There's an especially rough moment at the beginning of the second act, where it looks as though the costume department has shoved a pillow under Damon's shirt to try to show the audience that he had "let himself go."

But it's really the involvement of Soderbergh, who has churned out five films over the past two years (for better or worse), that confounds me. Behind the Candelabra is about the most drab, unnecessary, and mediocre swan song that I can think of. It was by sheer coincidence that I watched Gray's Anatomy, Soderbergh's visually dynamic film adaptation of Spalding Gray's exceptional monologue, just weeks prior to Candelabra. In Gray's Anatomy, Soderbergh crafts several truly breathtaking images on the screen, both during Gray's performance as well as the gorgeous black-and-white talking head interviews with ordinary people discussing their personal ocular history. What we see in Candelabra, however, is a series of awkwardly framed shots (like one where at least two thirds of the screen is taken up by crumpled brown bed sheets in the foreground as Douglas and Damon pillow talk, naked bodies perfectly concealed, in the background) and amateurishly stylized drug sequences.

It would seem useless to bother complaining about the film's sexual prudishness, its embarrassing newspaper-headline exposition about the beginning of AIDS, or the strange comic tone that never quite works (as witnessed in all of Rob Lowe's scenes), since these are just minor oversights in a project as lifeless as this one. Contracts, as it seems, needed to be met, and the rhinestones must have already been paid for... What a curious career you etched out for yourself, Mr. Soderbergh.

With: Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, Dan Aykroyd, Rob Lowe, Debbie Reynolds, Scott Bakula, Nicky Katt, Boyd Holbrook, Paul Reiser, Cheyenne Jackson, Tom Papa, Bruce Ramsay, Mike O'Malley, Jane Morris, Garrett M. Brown

Cannes 2013: Winners

Who would have guessed that the gayest and most sexually explicit recipient of the Palme d'Or would be given by Steven Spielberg? Certainly not me, but that's exactly what transpired at the closing ceremony of the 66th annual Cannes Film Festival two Sundays ago when Spielberg and his jury–which consisted of Daniel Auteuil, actress Vidya Balan, filmmaker Naomi Kawase, Nicole Kidman, Ang Lee, Cristian Mungiu, Lynne Ramsay, and two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz–awarded Abdellatif Kechiche's La vie d'Adèle - Chapitre 1 et 2, or as it's known in English territories Blue Is the Warmest Color, the festival's top prize. In a surprising move, the jury also presented the film's two lead actresses, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, with the Palme. This left the Best Actress prize to be awarded to another French thespian, Bérénice Bejo, in Asghar Farhadi's Le passé (The Past). Two American films walked away with honors; the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis took home the Grand Prix, and Bruce Dern claimed the Best Actor prize for Alexander Payne's Nebraska. Mexican filmmaker Amat Escalante (Los bastardos, Sangre) was named Best Director for the film Heli. Jia Zhang-ke won the Best Screenplay prize for A Touch of Sin, and the jury prize went to Hirokazu Kore-eda's Like Father, Like Son.

It proved to be a rather strong year for queer films at Cannes, with Alain Guiraudie's L'inconnu du lac (Stranger by the Lake) beating the Palme d'Or winner for the Queer Palm award. FIlmmaker João Pedro Rodrigues (To Die Like a Man) was the head of that particular jury. Stranger by the Lake is the fourth film to have won the prize, following Gregg Araki's Kaboom in 2010, Oliver Hermanus' Skoonheid (Beauty) in 2011, and Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways in 2012. In addition to the Queer Palm, Alain Guiraudie was named Best Director in the Un Certain Regard section; the top prize went to Rithy Panh's L'image manquante (The Missing Image). The rest of the awards given this year are below.

Palme d'Or: La vie d'Adèle - Chapitre 1 et 2 (Blue Is the Warmest Color), d. Abdellatif Kechiche, France/Belgium/Spain
Grand prix: Inside Llewyn Davis, d. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, USA/France
Prix du jury: Like Father, Like Son, d. Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan
Prix de la mise en scène (Best Director): Amat Escalante - Heli
Prix d'interprétation féminine (Best Actress): Bérénice Bejo - Le passé (The Past)
Prix d'interprétation masculine (Best Actor): Bruce Dern - Nebraska
Prix du scénario (Best Screenplay): Jia Zhang-ke - A Touch of Sin

Caméra d'Or: Ilo Ilo, d. Anthony Chen, Singapore

Prix Un Certain Regard: L'image manquante (The Missing Picture), d. Rithy Panh, Cambodia/France
- Prix du jury: Omar, d. Hany Abu-Assad, Palestine
- Prix de la mise en scène: Alain Guiraudie - L'inconnu du lac (Stranger by the Lake)
- Prix Un Talent Certain: The acting ensemble - La jaula de oro
- Prix de l'avenir: Ryan Coogler - Fruitvale Station

- Competition: La vie d'Adèle - Chapitre 1 et 2 (Blue Is the Warmest Color), d. Abdellatif Kechiche, France/Belgium/Spain
- Un Certain Regard: Manuscripts Don't Burn, d. Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran
- Quinzaine des Réalisateurs: Blue Ruin, d. Jeremy Saulnier, USA

Semaine de la critique Grand Prix: Salvo, d. Fabio Grassadonia, Antonia Piazza, Italy/France

Queer Palm: L'inconnu du lac (Stranger by the Lake), d. Alain Guiraudie, France