Monday, July 14, 2008

Outfest part 1

Saw some movies this weekend at Outfest, and here are my thoughts:

Friday night I went to see Saturn in Opposition at the recommendation of a friend, and I really enjoyed it. In light of recent events, I don’t know that I would have seen it if I had known that one of the central characters has a freak brain hemorrhage as the inciting incident, but I’m glad I did. The actors were uniformly good, it was well shot, and it had that European way of having normal looking attractive people as the leads, rather than models from the planet SpaFinish who happened to alight on this planet with perfect hair at all times. And they live in a Roman apartment that seemed manageable. There was a summer house involved, so got some jollies on the real estate front. A little Big Chill-ish, but ultimately enjoyable and bittersweet with memorable performances. Wistful in the same way that Steam, his earlier feature, was with a strong sense of loss and place.

Saturday started off with a documentary on Samuel Delaney, the prolific black gay writer called The Polymath, or the Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delaney, Gentleman. He wrote Sci Fi for much of his career, but has also written a lot about sex, public sex and personal relations. I think the only thing I’ve read of his is “Blood and Wine” about his meeting a homeless man who eventually became (and still is) his partner. Being relatively unfamiliar with the rest of his story and his work left me open to experience this without preconceptions.
The filmmaker, Fred Barney Taylor, uses old movies, photographs, DV, and his own images to create a portrait of Delaney that is as tangential as his fiction supposedly is. Here was a great opportunity to talk to the filmmaker about his goals with the film (which he bristled at being called a documentary). Delaney is certainly an interesting subject, and as a companion piece with the Keith Haring doc I saw later in the day (which was much more conventional) this film was enlightening on gay sex in the pre-AIDS era, as well as two artists whose desires seem to be only to create and have sex. In fact, speaking later to some people who saw it they said the lesbians they’ve known who’ve seen it were turned off by Delaney’s frank sex talk, and that he had so much sex while married in the early sixties (according to him about 10 partners a day). This while writing and publishing 5 books in the space of 3 years. You certainly get an idea of his energy.
The filmmaker juxtaposed clips of the family (e.g. Father’s Day 1952) amongst talks of sex, the trucks in the village, and explanations of sex spaces in the 60s and 70s. I was actually a little put off, as I found none of the juxtapositions to be enlightening to any other clip around it. Usually, I prefer those kinds of moments to force me to look at something in a new light, but mostly this came off to me as jumbled and confusing. You definitely get a sense of his intelligence, curiosity and loquaciousness, and in some ways I was reminded of reading Before Night Falls, where you have the impression that all Arenas really wants to do is write and screw. And Delaney says as much in the beginning, I think calling himself a “boring old fag” who just sees himself as a vehicle for writing. You get a good deal of history, though, and some fascinating ideas. The two most interesting to me were his idea of the violence of transition, and the nature of reality as shifting brought up in an installation by a Scandinavian artist with text from his book Dahlgren. In it, the shifting space makes for a constantly changing landscape, calling to mind for me a production of Vanya that a friend of mine was in once where the walls of the house kept shifting so the characters never knew where they were.
I think the filmmaker was trying to be illustrative of this in his conctruction of the movie, but as I said, it felt to me more confusing than illuminating. That could just be my bias—I understand the idea of chaos as an end in and of itself, with any illumination an accident, but I don’t find it that compelling to watch. I think at base it’s an interesting movie, but the filmmaker felt like he was too close to the subject, and actually may have suffered by writing, directing, and editing it himself. I think an outside eye may have been helpful. He did say, though, that he wanted to make a piece of work rather than a doc, so in that sense that’s what he did. There are probably a few films that could’ve been made about this guy.

Later that afternoon I saw the Keith Haring documentary, the Universe of Keith Haring. This was much more of a standard bio pic. It was interesting, and apparent that he really was compelled to make art. There was certainly a joy in it and that’s obvious to watch. It also made me nostalgic for that 80’s time of creativity, while making me wonder if that’s the last time that people will do things like rent a space and have performance parties. It does feel like the internet has changed that. And certainly the lack of availability of space in NY means it’s much harder to just move there with a bunch of friends and start doing art. Aside from my nostalgia and cultural theorizing, it was a good doc, though full of strange gaps. Once he is diagnosed with AIDS, the interviews with his family kind of peter off, and there are a lot of threads started that are dropped-theomst glaring being a friend saying that Keith asked him to tell his family of his diagnosis for him, but no information (though they were all interviewed) on how that happened or was received. I did love the footage of him drawing on the subway walls spontaneously, bringing art just for the sake of it. And he seemed to only want to draw and have sex/fall in love with young latino men. That was interesting. Not so followed up, but fun to see, as was the footage of the Paradise Garage. And interesting to see his connection with Warhol, as he was certainly the most likely follow up to Pop Art, which was the name of his store.
And I did learn that Yoko Ono can talk to the dead, and Keith told her what to do with his ashes. I love that. Weird to remember all that performance stuff, that I came in on the way tail end of. Weird how much has changed in a short amount of time, if only in the way people gather and communicate

On Saturday night I saw Ma Saison Super 8, which was not so super. It concerns a group of students focusing on getting the first gay/lesbian/feminist student organizations started in France around the time of the May 68 protests and the time following. The revolutionaries (big surpise) don’t have much support for them, neither do the police. The story centers on one boy, his roommate and their assorted romances. Heterosexual normalcy and gay solitude win sway in the end, as they always do. Much typing in underwear as I guess the French love to do (see “Before I Forget”) I didn’t really have any issue with the story, it was more the actual film itself. The film starts out with Super 8 clips introducing each section, which, if I remember correctly, kind of goes away as the film goes on. The super 8 morphs into video, which was the distraction. The orange lighting and quality of the tape made me feel like I was watching a tele-play from 1974. So though the story might have held some interest aside from pacing issues, the actual tape made me feel like I was watching actors, so I never lost myself in it. I remember watching “Uncommon Woman and Others” taped circa 1977 for PBS. I knew it was a play, but otherwise credible actors like Swoosie Kurtz and Jill Eikenberry looked horribly “acty” and Meryl Streep was the only one to come off looking good—this was like that. So the whole thing felt like I was watching an episode of “Alice” or “Barney Miller” projected. The actors were fine I think, and both the young girl and young boy had compelling moments, but otherwise it was a bit of a slog. I thought it was about two hours long, only to emerge from the theatre and see that the movie was 75 minutes. But if you love May 1968 films, add this to your list.

On Sunday I started the day with Before I Forget. It concerns an aging 60 year old hustler who is a writer, waiting for his inheritance from his Sugar Daddy. The action concerns mostly his smoking a lot, and writing, once in a t-shirt with no briefs, smoking some more, intent on pages of writing we never see. Then he goes to friends and complains, has younger hustlers or grocery boys over for embarrassing scenes of commercial sex, and smokes some more. He meets another hustler who just got out for prison, talks about Roland Barthes and public toilets, and smokes some more. I was thinking perhaps the movie exists to inspire a sense of ennui in the viewer, which it certainly does. I had no idea that Nolot was actually a hustler/gigolo/kept in real life, knew Roland Barthes, and wrote and directed as well as starred in this. No one finds his own neurosis more interesting than a narcissist with a camera. I don't know if this is true, but the rumor makes the choice of making the film make more sense. So we get to see him in all his imagined/real decrepitude living his life and worrying about money and sex. And it’s the kind of film where an elderly lawyer wants to blow a client in exchange for services (no pun intended) while his wife waits in the next room. It’s a page out of Genet, but told by Edward Hopper. Maybe he’s like the Vincent Gallo of France or something, and the movie had a slight emotional impact, but to me it was a long anti-smoking PSA. There were a few moments of excitement and action, but just long stretches of boredom. I get that life can be like that, but I don’t need to watch it, really. On the other hand, it is nice to see something besides young characters coming out on screen, though I'm not sure this narrative is what I would've asked for under my tree at Christmas.

And on Sunday night Hamlet 2 just rocked. It’s offensive-ish, but just funny. Steve Coogan is great, and Catherine Keener is perfect, hysterical with underpinning of real feeling and character. Amy Poehler is great, the musical numbers cracked me up, and the kids are a hoot. I’ll see it again.

Yay film festivals!