I've had several posts swimming around in my head, so this will be all around and everywhere. Maybe I'll start off each with a large script letter, like chapters.
This morning I woke up reading a book in my head. This has happened before. This morning's was about some narrative memoir sexual escapade embarrassment and the ensuing hysterical hijinx. I was thinking that a friend wrote it as I read it, and my alarm went off just as I was coming to the last paragraph (I knew it was the end of the chapter, because I could see the white space underneath the paragraph). I was enjoying myself, and then I was pulled up and away by whatever country song was playing on my radio. It occurs to me now that my friend didn't write the book; I did. It's in my head somewhere. Maybe not appearing today, but nice to know there's something readable in there. Arranged in paragraphs
I just finished watching the extraordinary "Marwencol" by Jeff Malmberg about the artist Mark Hogancamp - a man who was severely beaten by five men and left for dead. After a 9 day coma, he began the slow process of rehabilitation, including the construction of a town called Marwencol filled with WWII soldiers and women who act out stories Mark creates, which he photographs. It's not news this is an amazing doc - it's won over twenty awards - but I'm so happy for Independent Lens on PBS to get to see work like this. It's incredible to see the photographs as well as the stories behind them in the town, and the people on whom the characters are based. More incredible, though, is seeing the artist, who lives this town. He's self-aware, so this isn't someone being exploited by a trend-seeking art world. This is a story of someone who has found through his art the ability to accept himself and where he is. Before the beating he was a chronic alcoholic, and there's even more of a twist that I won't ruin, but after he can't remember wanting to drink at all - in fact, his attackers beat any memory completely out of him. Marwencol is a way for him to deal with his anger, and make his world safe. In the process, he creates a fascinating story and powerful, visceral art. The film stays close to his world, and his process in creating it - through that we get to arrive at who he is. For me, it was a powerful statement about creation - yes, in the end he had this film, a show, etc, but at base he needed to get this out to save his life. I'm saying this clumsily, but it made me think about how art comes out in whatever guise it needs to - while people in New York were obsessed with making "art" and getting a show, he is an artist because he's an artist. Part of the evidence used to show how badly he was beaten were drawings he did before he had been beaten - rich, painful drawings illustrating alcohol's hold on him, the pain he was feeling, and cartoon-like women. After the accident, he could no longer draw. In Marwencol, he creates an alter-ego to express his pain, and also creation and photography to take the places of the images he could no longer render. Malmberg wisely stays away from telling us too much about the attack or the attackers, concentrating on Hogencamp's life now. Quite amazing. And, in the end, an incredible journey to self-acceptance. Loved it.
Speaking of self-acceptance, I saw "Making the Boys" on Sunday night, Crayton Robey's film about the making of "The Boys in the Band" and, by extension, its author Mart Crowley. I hated the play for a long time, thinking it was all about screaming queens and bad for the gay community, but my opinion has changed. That was, of course, addressed in the film - the protests at the premier of the film, the perception that it was bad press when there were no depictions of the gay community in film. All possibly true, but ignoring that it still stands up, beyond just being a curiosity.
Even though the film doesn't talk much about it, there were other writers writing gay plays (albeit a bit more avant garde) at the same time in small venues, but Boys in the Band was a phenomenon. Sold out from opening night in a small 99 seat house, eventually moving uptown to a 5 year run and a movie. Some of the criticism leveled at it - mostly in the film by Albee - is that it was so popular because it was so hateful and showed gays as being unhappy. What it really does, I think, is show how destructive the self-hatred was to men trying to figure out how to be themselves in a hostile world. In that, it's an important time capsule. There are some hsyterical interviews with younger gays, unaware of the play or even, seemingly, that there was a time not very long ago when there was no chance of anyone even being out, let alone being post-gay (I'm looking at you, Christian Siriano).
The doc focuses on Crowley's own floundering after being in Hollywood, nascent alcoholism and partying, and his early friendship with Natalie Wood which gave him some connections to an agent and to people to read his script. It's an interesting window into the time when he tells the story of the female agent who said she couldn't submit a script with that subject matter and have the agency's name on it. What a different time, thank god.
The talking heads are great, mostly sharing what an impact the play had on them. The two men I saw it with, in fact, had the cast album as kids and could recite all the lines. Tony Kushner, Terrence McNally, Dan Savage, Larry Kramer all talk about the effect and influence the play had on them, that gay people even existed and could be written about. The play was not without controversy - the doc explains how the movie opened after Stonewall, so the self-hatred of even a year and a half earlier felt offensive to talk about, and the movie was picketed by gay people in San Francisco. The lone crabby voice of the talking heads, belongs to Albee, who said he advised the producer/director not to mount it, because it would make gay men look bad. He doubles back to say it would have been a good investment on his part, but in the long run he still thinks it was damaging. Here's an idea Ed: you write one play about gay people, or even gay person, and then we can talk. It's tiresome to hear him talk about how damaging a play that was actually written by a gay man about gay men as real people with real feelings (at a time when no one did that) when he hasn't written a single play about gay men EVER, ostensibly because it's too what? Constricting? Bitter because people have tried to pigeonhole him as a gay playwright when he didn't want to be categorized? Yes, writers should write what comes out of them in whatever form, but for him to criticize someone who actually put it out there as a gay man when he's never done it just rubs me the wrong way. Even in his defense saying that he's out but it's just not what he writes about still smacks of wanting to please a general audience - I mean Three Tall Women is about the woman, not her gay son. Another conversation. Well, easy to criticize I suppose, but it just feels like he doesn't have a leg to stand on. That was a lot of virtual air spent on Albee. Still a brilliant playwright (see above for art coming out where it comes out) and glad he's out and part of the conversation I guess. Certainly gave me something to talk about. Tony Kushner, super-smart and enlightening as always, loved the bits of Terrence McNally, Dan Savage, and, especially, the surviving cast - Laurence Luckenbill and Peter White.
Crowley seems grateful and surprised for the success of it. Watching his career, early films at Roddy McDowell's beachhouse and the swinging sixties is great. The cast members were very interesting, Luckenbill and Cliff Gorman being the only straight men in the cast - revolutionary as well that gay men played these roles. Interestingly, Fox showed interest in making the film, but wanted to replace the actors with Hollywood actors - Crowley having known Roddy McDowell, Rock Hudson, and others, who would possibly have been cast in gay roles as closeted actors. He held out, and the film was done with the original cast. How lucky is that? William Friedkin is interesting in talking about the challenges of turning a play into a film, which he did wonderfully well with this - it doesn't feel like a filmed play. Many of the cast died, and that's upsetting to say the least. The whole thing felt under a pall of bad luck after it premiered, but that was the time as well.
Under all this is a bit of gay rights history, interviews with a bartender at Stonewall, other gay men including Carson Kressley of Queer Eye and Norm from the Real World. It's a broad canvas at times, and that slowed the movie a little for me, but the archival footage is great. And I love a good history lesson. I found out a lot I wasn't aware of, and I'm grateful this was documented.
I promise I'm going to write about Danny Boyle's Frankenstein. You can still see it with Johnny Lee Miller as the creature, which was my preference (even though they're both spectacular) at the Downtown Independent Theater on May 8th at 5 PM. Don't miss it if you have a chance...