Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Kids are all right?

I was thinking this morning (dangerous!) about Outfest and some of the films I saw there. I really did like some, and glad they’re being made, but I am one of those voices who feel like a lot of gay films (especially) seem to break down into coming out stories and wish fulfillment.

I’m not saying this is all gay film – two friends of mine made interesting films the last couple of years – Socket, about a man who becomes addicted to electrical charge; and Pornography: A Thriller – a Lynchian suspense movie that shuffles back and forth in time. Both films did well, but were stymied by the difficulty in pinpointing genre and audience. So, perhaps this is actually a larger issue (which is in mainstream film as well) of what and how something is marketed in our product-driven time. Just writing off the top of my head here – hopefully it will end up making sense.

I walked into Outfest, though, and said to the box office after looking at the program “so the lesbians are still making films about adults and the gay men are making films about sixteen year-olds.” It may be unfair, but it got a spit-take, which I don’t think would’ve happened if it weren’t, on some level, true. I’m actually not here to denigrate gay and lesbian film – any attempt at film-making is great – it ain’t easy. And I think there are some amazing gay and lesbian film makers telling great stories – not all are gay-specific and I’m not someone who thinks they need to be.

I do think, though, at some point, it would be great to make films about gay adults. With their shirts on. Just a thought.

After while my mind shuts off when I read for the umpteenth time "young Justin just graduated from high school and is trying to deny the strong feelings for his friend Dirk, who is having girlfriend troubles of his own..."  Tortured adolescent drama and/or hilarity ensues.

It’s a thought that germinated from seeing Lisa Cholodenko’s wonderful “The Kids Are All Right”. I read a review in the mainstream press, NY Times I think, that said this was actually one of the best films about marriage, straight or gay, in a while. It’s true that it seems there are fewer and fewer movies about adults for adults. This one was a breath of fresh air. The critical reception has been great, probably not hurt by having three great roles for adult actors. I’ve often, thought, though, that underneath the resistance to gay marriage is a resistance to having us grow up. Marriage is a rite of adulthood. By denying it, we’re denied being full, adult citizens. I think it’s easier to lampoon gay marriage, or make fun of what it might be, than to explore two adults in a relationship over a long haul, which is what “The Kids Are All Right” does. And it still manages to get some sex in there.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against boys with their shirts off, but it’s like a diet of all sugar. I know, somehow, that we’re capable of more.

Maybe it’s what I thought after I walked out of a narrative at Outfest this year – “It’s hard to write a good screenplay, isn’t it?”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lists again

So the ideas are piling up, though I do not seem to be sitting down and writing about them. Sometimes it just helps to make a list

-Sorrows of Dolores and Florent: Queen of the Meat Market at Outfest. Ideas about the downtown theater scene in NY, my own experience of it, and the time that both the Ludlam and Florent are representative of.  Especially when it comes to now NY influences the rest of the country, and my own love for this kind of performance

-Shorts at Outfest - some great shorts, and I just wanted to do a capsule of it.  And the haunting Polish doc that won best short, too. And why we pick the subjext we pick

-Bearnation and Bear City at Outfest - liked the former more than the latter, which proved to me again how challenging it is to make an interesting, good film, especially with not a lot of money. And glad people are trying it.

-Motherless Brooklyn - detective with Tourette's.  Enjoyed it - not sure I have more to say, but a surreal experience reading a book that's set in my old neighborhood

- War & Peace - some of the passages are making me think about why reading is a pleasure like no other for me.  I've been thinking a lot about why a book envelops in a way that no other medium does for me.

- Watching "The Beaches of Agnes" (finally!) this weekend, and I'll probably have finished Kay Redfield Jamison's "An Unquiet Mind" by that point, so I guess I could add those, too.

And I bet something else will pop up as well. Still need to see "Lieutenant of Inishmore" at the Taper, as well as The Kids are All Right."; I'm also seeing a friend in [title of show] at the Celebration on Saturday night, which I'm excited about, and "Love Boat Chicas" at Casita Del Campo on Tuesday.  Much of a muchness!

The Walking Man

Last night a Silverlake fixture passed away - The Walking Man - a 58 year-old retired doctor, Marc Abrams, who walked 15 miles a day around the neighborhood, usually just wearing a pair of shorts. He was exceedingly tan, and read the paper while he walked. In the winter, he'd wear a thin winter jacket, and it was clear he wasn't wearing a shirt underneath. Still the shorts - I don't think I ever saw him in pants.

It's funny - I never met the man, but I feel a little sad. Wistful, maybe. Facebook is full of people who are shocked at the news - it's surprising how many people can be affected by the loss of someone they don't know.

He stands for something in the neighborhood, though. Something that's local, special, a little out there but in no way dangerous. He was even painted in a mural on Sunset. Comforting, like an odd uncle, and someone that everyone had an opinion about -
"I hear he's a doctor" - check
"He must have some kind of obsessive condition" - not really, turns out he had rheumatoid arthritis, and walked to alleviate pain.
"He must be homeless" - not, just an individual who liked to walk. Shirtless while reading. Quite a sight. Even in the darkness, with a flashlight.

I saw him at least once a week, if not more, usually Saturday mornings on Griffith Park Blvd, though sometimes I'd see him of an evening on Hyperion. It was like sighting a hummingbird. There's something of a comfort in it - here I am, in Silverlake. The guy is walking and reading, I love my neighborhood. And he always tipped off some kind of story, a little question about what made him tick, and what would make him walk that much. And not a slow walker, to boot, he really made time.

There's not to much to ponder, I suppose. He was a fixture that made me happy about where I live. That will continue, I'd imagine, but without this particular talisman. He will surely be a missed sight.

Rest in peace, resting feet.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Adults in The Room

This weekend at Outfest, I saw a screening of "The Adults in the Room", filmmaker Andy Blubaugh’s exploration of his relationship with a thirty year-old man when he was 16, a relationship that in many ways seems to continue to haunt and form him. Not surprising, then, that he made a film about it. Surprising though, that he chose to tackle this taboo subject and try as much as possible to reserve judgment about his past, his former love, or the issue of these kinds of relationships.

The film is told in simultaneous documentary/narrative style, with adult Andy reminiscing about his experiences, interviewing friends, teaching classes to young adults and trying to reach “Peter”, the man with whom he had the affair, while actors re-enact scenes from Andy’s past. It’s a challenging formal choice – I’ve always been intrigued by it, which is why I saw the film. I’m a fan of Agnès Varda, who uses herself as subject in her films, and of "I Am My Own Woman" by Rosa Von Praunheim, in which the subject of the doc comes into frame every now and again to correct the actors and coach them on how to play him.

Andy gets involved with a classmate’s uncle, who seemingly is a serial dater of younger men/boys: when Andy contacts him in the present, 13 years after their affair, he’s dating a twenty year-old. Andy himself must struggle through his need to protect Peter as well as please him, which it looks like from the film he’s been trying to do for most of his life – measuring himself against Peter’s view of Andy’s potential and coming up short. In the course of the film, Peter cuts off contact, and I said to myself “thank god”, since even though I don’t know the filmmaker, it seemed like a straining relationship and one he needed to escape from.

The nature of these older/younger relationships (and by that I mean when one partner is under the age of consent) is the sticky wicket of the film. Blubaugh interviews a few talking heads – one an administrator who is quite gentle, and shares with him how she would feel if he were her son (she was the soul of compassion); one a counselor who believes there is a definite line for when these behaviors are unacceptable; another (Dan Savage), who recounts his own experience of losing his virginity to a much older woman (a bit of a surprise as Savage is out and gay). Savage argues that it’s a gray area after a certain age and before the age of consent. Interwoven are Blubaugh’s conversations with his friends about their views, played against a backdrop of Portland’s mayor who was caught in a scandal of having an inappropriate relationship with an underage intern. Adding on to that is Blubaugh’s own job as a teacher, working with kids on creating film. Looking around at the kids in the room is probably the most effecting aspect of the film. I thought to myself how clear it was that these 15, 16 & 17 year-olds were kids, and it’s hard to have much sympathy for someone who would take advantage of that.

I have my own views, complex as anyone’s I suppose – Savage brings up an interesting point about some of these kids knowing what they’re doing and having a very pleasurable rite of passage experience. But I kind of feel like saying these kids know what they’re doing is like saying if am holding a machine gun I know how to work it. I don’t, and I could do serious damage. If a person in power, as this older man was clearly in Andy’s life, doesn’t respect the power and intensity of what’s going on the stage can be set for future troubles. And that’s not to say all adults don’t, but it’s clear in Andy’s case the adult didn’t – he’s serially involved with younger men, and there is clearly a hero worship/loss of youth/ Peter Pan thing going on with this guy (at least as written by Blubaugh). The relationship clearly has affected all Andy’s subsequent relationships.
I’m digressing here – it’s not my place to therapize, though tempting when the filmmaker puts himself forth as subject.

The movie felt a little long to me, even at 80 minutes, slowing most for me in the time Blubaugh spent in conversation with his friends – much about responsibility and growing up. The narrative sections were well done, and Calvin McCarthy, the young actor who played Andy, was fearless in his role. Some of the conversations were enlightening, but it can feel like navel-gazing a bit to explore that much of oneself on film. Even with Agnès Varda, who I mentioned above, in something like “The Gleaners and I” (which is brilliant – if you haven’t seen it, rent it, buy it, own it, love it) – it’s paradoxically her person and her curiosity which give the film its power, but when she begins exploring herself as sole subject the film loses some of it’s power. I feel the same with this film – when we are watching Andy in class, or seeing his curiosity in interviewing experts or trying to reach Peter, he’s more compelling to me than when he’s just sitting and chatting with his friends about himself. It’s the curiosity of the filmmaker that compels –the force and breadth of their investigation – collaterally we get to know them, but are still tantalized by what we don’t.

That said, that he even tackled this subject at all, knowing that even speaking of it could adversely affect his employment or his future is very brave. (It’s the paranoia I ascribe to even talking about certain things – if you say “America is a capitalism”, someone will yell “Love it or leave it” when the statement doesn’t imply any judgment whatsoever.) It’s a double standard, but that it was two men makes it even more complicated, with the history of “homosexuals preying on victims” rhetoric that stubbornly persists today. Savage’s experience being with a woman is interesting as that’s “Summer of 42” territory – I’m also thinking of the Garth Brooks song “Burning both ends of the Night” – both in which a straight man’s fantasy is to be initiated into sexuality by an older woman. Though this kind of older/younger relationship can certainly be part of the gay experience for many of us, it’s unique in the world at large in that both parties are subject to vilification – one for a relationship with a younger man, and one for being gay. There are no high-fives as there might have been in Dan’s case. Although Dan, being gay, may not have felt high-fivey. Who knows? I can not fathom having been sexual at that age, though a lot of my peers were (in relationships with someone older) and were not adversely affected in any way. Probably the best film I’ve seen on this male-male relationship (WWII as well, so Summer of ’42 again), narrative-wise, which I don’t think could have been made in this country, is the Dutch film For A Lost Soldier", in which a much older writer looks back on his relationship with an older soldier when he was a boy.

See? It’s complicated—I’ve already wishy-washed myself in trying to write about it – and even got sucked into writing about it when I didn’t really want to address it. It certainly starts a conversation, and I admire his fortitude in not taking a pro or con position, even with his own experience. That can’t be easy to do. I suppose, like everyone, he has a complicated relationship to his past. And I’m still thinking about it.

It’s an honor to have that shared with you since I don't think most would be that uncompromising without feeling exhibitionistic, and I thank him for it. I’m glad Outfest exists so we can see movies like this. And I’m interested to see what films he’s going to make next.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Pruned Tree

I've been thinking a lot about the loss of a friend I had a couple years ago, and many others, too. I suppose this is the reality of humanity.

I may have written this before, but a teacher of mine expressed this difference between pathos and tragedy being the realization that something is going to happen without being able to stop it. So if you get hit by a bus it's pathetic, but if you look up and say "I'm going to get hit by a bus" and can do nothing to stop it, it's tragic. It's a gross simplification, but it works. Ergo, all human life is a tragedy, since we know what's waiting at the end. We go on as we have to. It's been said more eloquently from Shakespeare to Beckett, and usually I, as I think we all do, march along without thinking of it. How could we? Knowledge or fear of that on a daily basis could be debilitating, maddening in a true sense of losing sanity. But sometimes it peeks itself up through the cracks.

Or maybe I'm wrong - maybe all we do is in knowledge of it - have religions and belief systems, ethics, even care for each other. In my optomistic view, knowledge of our mortality is what keeps us caring for each other. Rather than make us nihilistic, I think naturally it makes us care more for what ourselves, as we realize we are precious.

What was I talking about again? No editing today, folks.

Oh, right. So, this poem. It's one of my faves, so possible I've posted it before. When a friend's father died, I sent this to his mother. I think now that may have been wildly inappropriate, like thinking that showing "Hannah and Her Sisters" to a class of mine to teach them Chekhov would make any sense. The connection made sense to me. It had not been an easy time, or an easy death. It was a long, slow tragedy. So, I thought of this poem, and its optimism. I think she appreciated it, actually, or that's what she said. I find it comforting, with its connection to the earth, and sense of movement. And, even at a literal level, it's good to remember this poem when I drive home and see how violently cut back the tree in the front yard is once every couple of years. It grows back. Each time, it gets as full as it once was, and we have shade again.

The Pruned Tree
by Howard Moss

As a torn paper might seal up its side,
Or a streak of water stitch itself to silk
And disappear, my wound has been my healing,
And I am made more beautiful by losses.
See the flat water in the distance nodding
Approval, the light that fell in love with statues,
Seeing me alive, turns its motion toward me.
Shorn, I rejoice in what was taken from me.

What can the moonlight do with my new shape
But trace and retrace its miracle of order?
I stand, waiting for the strange reaction
Of insects who knew me in my larger self,
Unkempt, in a naturalness I did not love.
Even the dog's voice rings with a new echo,
And all the little leaves I shed are singing,
Singing to the moon of shapely newness.

Somewhere what I lost I hope is springing
To life again. The roofs, astonished by me,
Are taking new bearings in the night, the owl
Is crying for a further wisdom, the lilac
Putting forth its strongest scent to find me.
Butterflies, like sails in grooves, are winging
out of the water to wash me, wash me.

Now, I am stirring like a seed in China.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Farmer's Market

This is my local Farmer's Market. I like it - it's small and manageable. There's a big one in Hollywood on Sunday, which people love - it has drumming groups, lots of food vendors, and celebrity sightings. I almost feel like I need to dress. It's a bit of a scene, so I don't go to that one very often. If only how impossible it is to make a choice - there are so many stalls you don't know who to buy from. I's spend my whole day figuring out the best deal. Mine is wee in comparison.

It's right down the road. There's an Asian woman on the left right when you walk in who looks like she might be Mongolian, who has a baby I've seen grow from an infant she carried on her back, now gradudated to a playpen behind her stall. She eats some kind of seed while shuffling vegetables. I buy some greens from her - some that have white flowers, some with yellow flowers, and Chinese broccoli. I don't prepare them so much as just steam them and eat them. They taste bitter and green, satisfying. I don't like the bok choy.

Today I bought corn, strawberries, brussell sprouts, , asparagus, spinach, peaches and plums. A tomato. The boy who sold me the plums told me if I wanted the sweet ones to pick those that are dark and soft but not mushy. I knew that already, but I thanked him. 5 plums for 1.80, and when I added another trying to get close to 2.00 I went over by a quarter. He rounded down, and wouldn't take the quarter. I like that about the farmer's market - they round down. A few weeks ago I got insane deals on cherries.

Last night at dinner we were talking about farmer's markets, eating a wonderful salad of tomatoes and grilled vegetables that two of the guys had grown in their garden. I keep hoping someone here will have Concord grapes like they have at the Union Square farmer's market in NY. They're like candy. And frozen, they're peelable popsicles. Union Square is still my first and my favorite farmer's market. It would be worth a 5 hour plane ride for me to go when the grapes are in season and apples are in full flush into October, when the weather begins to change but it's not completely the time of hot cider, root vegetables and squash. I used to make a salad of corn, beets, tomatoes, and red onions. One day I substituted store-bought lettuce and I was surprised the salad lost much of its pep. You can even taste the difference in the lettuce.

There's a Chinese woman at the farmer's market I go to who is tall and slender, with a wonderful smile, and always has great fruit. It's usually a bit more, but she was in line with everyone else today. She usually pops in an extra piece of small fruit at the end, as if she's slightly guilty about making you pay, or possibly to make sure you have enough. Once I bought a large bag of jujubes from her and learned how to make medicinal jujube tea. She has a display. Today I bought white peaches from her assistant, maybe her daughter. They're so ripe I'm almost afraid to touch them anymore but at the same time it's tempting to feel the perfect ripeness - the slightest firmness, but giving to the touch. They're a pale, pale yellow with shocks of peach orange. I know when I eat them, they're going to be perfect: juicy, sweet beyond belief. I'd like to anticipate that a bit longer, but one is calling my name. Right now. Summer is wonderful for this.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


I just finished reading Lit by Mary Karr, a memoir about her adult life, past The Liar's Club, her first memoir and one that helped kick off the current memoir genre popularity. That memoir was about her terrifying childhood and difficult mother. This one is about her college, marriage, alcoholism, recovery and discovery of faith - as well as a relationship to her mother, which is the undercurrent of the book.

It's a tall order, now that I think about it. Finishing it I realize it spans about twenty years, if not more. The uniqueness in this, I suppose, reading her other book, is that this book - while still having certainly enough drama in it - is about the legacy of the pain. It's clear she had to deal with it while writing about it, but is honest enough to not pretend as if that makes everything okay. She still has to live with who she is. The way she does that, or figures out how to do that, is the meat of the book. She's eloquent and simple when walking through her recovery, even her conversion. The writing on sobriety is great, and you see why she's walking the road she's on, even though at times it's not at all a comfort.

It's a big book. I definitely felt her poetry in her writing, sometimes to its detriment, but not for most of it. Only a couple of times did I feel like her Writing was getting in the way of her writing - by that I mean her crafting of words was so enjoyable to her that I lost what was being said. It can be a danger - I didn't finish Rick Bragg's "All over but the shouting" because of it - but that's my own pet peeve. I'm sure some people love it. Mostly, though, her poetic language serves her well - to clarify who she is and to specify her feeling - her poetic language makes her feelings more specific, which is the whole point.

If I could give you plot points I would probably have a more eloquent review here, but I'm loath to do that. The beauty of this book is in the journey, and it's a hard-earned beautiful journey. Her gift is in telling her story so well - with enough self-knowledge to keep her searching for more, but not an over-abundance that keeps her at a remove. She's super-smart, that's clear, and funny. But she isn't living as an analyst by any means.

I was also struck how much she respects the people in her book. It's clear she's very respectful of her ex-husband and her part in their relationship; she resists the temptation to demonize him. Or anyone. That may be the key feature in her recovery that is so apparent - her compassion. She resists demonizing almost anyone, and everyone comes across as wonderfully human. That's an accomplishment, and certainly for a memoirist who controls how we see everyone. I most admire the end of the book. There's a moment when it could be easily warmly wrapped up - almost a Hollywood ending. Life's not that simple, though. I'm sure she could have ended it that way without bending any truth, but by not doing that the ending felt earned, which I think is much harder to achieve.

I won't give away anything, I would just say read it. It's a broad book about a specific life, and that's a beautiful thing.