Category Archives: Boston LGBT Film Festival

“CLAMBAKE”— Women’s Weekend in Provincetown

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“Clambake”

Women’s Week in Provincetown

Amos Lassen

In 1984, a few of women innkeepers in Provincetown, Massachusetts got together to find how to entice summer guests back during the seaside town’s offseason. Back then there was no email and social media so they wrote letters to the people who had stayed with them in the past and invited them to return to Ptown during the autumn months and especially to a clambake weekend. This was “Women’s Weekend,” and over the next thirty years it has continued and even was responsible for other lesbian gatherings in Provincetown. Ultimately, “Women’s Weekend” became one of the most popular lesbian events in the world.

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Andrea Meyerson’s “Clambake” is a new documentary that is about that very weekend and how it made Provincetown into the lesbian destination that it has become. Meyerson chronicles the history of Women’s Weekend using archival footage and archives, interviews with celebrities and founders, and current events and performances and she gives is a fascinating and often funny look at what is possible when a few people with innovative ideas try something new. Actually the event is two years older now since the film was made in 2014. Women’s Weekend has become one of the oldest noncommercial women’s event in the United States. Even more important than that is the fact that Ptown offers a safe and very welcoming environment for women to come together and enjoy each other’s company. I doubt that at that first meeting anyone could have imagined what this would become.

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There is something magical about Provincetown and it has its own sense of history in that it is where the Pilgrims landed when they came to America before they went to Plymouth. In its early days, Ptown was a Portuguese fishing community. Artist began to movie there and they began the unique artist’s colony that exists there still today. Not long after that gay people began coming to Provincetown and they made the town into one of the very popular tourist destinations and as many at sixty thousand people come there during the summer months. What makes the town so special is that everyone can be themselves and all are welcomed.

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In the film, director Meyerson speaks to many of the original women innkeepers who are responsible for the first Women’s Weekend and we learn that they were worried that no one would come. In actuality there were some 200 women who came to that first weekend and they almost ran out of food. Listening to these interviews, we sense the passion they share as innkeepers. We also learn that they are not afraid of work and many hold other jobs in addition to running beds and breakfasts.

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One of the things I noticed on my first trip to Provincetown is the wonderful sense of camaraderie that exists there and the respect that each person has for the other. We do not have many places like Ptown in the United States and that is what makes it so special. Many of the very same women who organized this event are also those who worked so hard when the AIDS epidemic hit this country. In Ptown they mobilized to help in any way they could and this was so very painful especially when AIDS devastated the gay community that was there.

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The female performers that go to Provincetown never hesitate to sing the town’s praises and they love to perform in front of the large crowds that gather to see them. Above all else, Meyerson has shows us the joy that abounds in the town and the wonderful sense of community that exists there. Women’s Weekend has become so popular that now there is an almost hundred page guide to the events that take place during that time. One of the highlights of my life is my first visit to Provincetown and this movie shows us why those who come to Ptown come back again and again.

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“FURSONAS”— The Fantastic and the Unusual

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“FURSONAS”

The Fantastic and the Unusual

Amos Lassen

First time director Dominic Rodriguez brings us “Fursonas”, a film that moves back and forth between the fantastic and the unusual and challenges the audience to do the same, to look at themselves and think about how we fit into our own family’s story. “Fursonas” is about accepting yourself for who you are. “Furries” are often stereotyped as people who dress up as animals and have sex. Uncle Kage, who we’ll come to know later in the film, assures us that they are fun-loving people who simply enjoy an alternative lifestyle.

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We then movie into the back stories. The several furries featured in the film tell us about how they grew up “knowing deep down” that they were furries, and how it took them years to embrace it. We get into what makes them special, what they’re passionate about, and what it means to them to dress up as furries each and every day.

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Next we see how the public has grown to perceive furry fandom over the years, and how “unfortunate” incidents—such as furry appearances on the Tyra Banks and Dr. Phil shows have causes many people to believe that furry fandom is nothing more than a fetish. We see the public denying any passionate reason for being a furry, choosing to ignore their back stories and instead judging the entire group based on some misconceived notions.

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We see Uncle Kage “coaching” his fellow furries, asking them to never deny allegations about furries having sex with their suits on but instead deflect the question and talk about how great the furry community is and how it welcomes everyone with open arms. This section reveals the “political” side of furry fandom.

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After the politics have been revealed, we see how many members of the furry community turn on their own because they feel betrayed by certain furries, such as a man who legally tried to change his name to “Boomer The Dog” and appeared on Dr. Phil to discuss his alternative lifestyle. This sort of exposure outrages people like Uncle Kage, who preaches, “You’re not just representing yourself, but the entire furry community.” It is amazing to see members of the furry community turning on their own and judging furries in the same way the public judges the furry community.

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Rodriguez, in the film, shows how public perception and internal politics create immense pressure on members of the furry community to truly accept themselves for who they are and preach openly about it to the world. Rodriguez creates a meta-narrative that breaks down the wall and openly challenges the audience to not only accept ourselves, but also accept others who don’t live the same lifestyle as us. We are asked to looked past societal norms and realize that we are all capable of love and passion—we are all human beings.

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What begins as a series of innocuous portraits soon becomes a deeply involved examination of the issue of community representation in the media, a controversy that comes into any misunderstood or misrepresented group.  We are engaged with the film but I wish that there had been more narrative.

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“DANNY SAYS”— Everywhere

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“DANNY SAYS”

Everywhere

Amos Lassen

I doubt that many of you have heard of Danny Fields— neither had I. In watching this documentary about him, I learned that he played a major and pivotal role in rock ‘n’ roll of the late 20th century. He worked with the Doors, Lou Reed, Nico, Judy Collins and managed groundbreaking artists like the Stooges, MC5, and the Ramones. He was a regular at Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory. Danny was a Phi Beta Kappa kid who dropped out of Harvard Law and became a Warhol confidant, Director of Publicity at Elektra Records, punk pioneer and so much more. Danny’s opinions were once defiant and radical and actually turned out to have been prescient. “Danny Says” is a story of marginal person becoming mainstream and avant garde turning prophetic.

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I would not say that this is a unique documentary but I will loudly say that the subject of the film is unique in many ways. Danny Fields was a regular fixture in the sixties rock scene and during the transition between the late sixties and early seventies, he became involved in a new rock movement that would make its indelible mark on the music world–Punk. He used his flamboyant and brash personality to promote and mentor artists who became legendary.

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Brendan Toller’s film uses interviews, archive footage, and animation to tell Danny’s story. Toller obviously has much love for his subject and this labor of love is a loving tribute to Danny Fields. The film is a fascinating portrait of a truly remarkable man. This is a film that took 5 1/2 years to make. Interviews with 60 people shaped Danny in a real and round way. Danny’s life was filled with many important people and the list of his friends sounds like a who’s-who list of the music world. That such a figure who was so well known in the music industry, could live behind the scenes forever is unheard of.

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The film opens with some rapid-fire interviews from music legends such as Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper who give quick insights about who Fields was. After the titles roll, we, the viewers are introduced to Danny who tells about his early years and up through college and Harvard Law, where he eventually dropped out and moved to New York. He was in his twenties when in New York and it was then he discovered his sexuality. He began working as a writer and editor, finding an in into the rock world through his pre-established channels and listening for the next big thing in music. He worked for a long time at Elektra Records that brought him to the Doors and he signed such artists as MC5 and The Stooges (Iggy Pop). After being fired from Elektra he became the manager for the Ramones.

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This is not only a film about Danny Fields but it is also about the music industry. It is then that we hear stories about Jim Morrison, Nico, Edie Sedgwick, MC5, and the somewhat insane Iggy Pop. He stories are fun and fascination but they have very little to do with Fields other than the fact that he was there, trying his best to make records sell and prevent everyone from overdosing.

There is really no narrative that connects everything together and this hurts the film which does not have any structure. This does not mean that it is not a good film. Just listening to Danny talk about his life is enough to make us enjoy the entire viewing experience. We just remain unsure as to what this film is about.

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And these stories never quite add up to any sort of overarching narrative. Things, for the most part, seem to unravel chronologically, moving ever forward through the ups and downs, with no real structure in sight.

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“Danny Says” is by no means a bad film. Fields himself is hilarious throughout as he talks about his roles in some of the biggest moments in music history. It is filled with hilarious stories about the heyday of rock and roll and it highlights the importance of the guy who is in the back of every photo.

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“DOWNRIVER”— Secrets and Revelations

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“DOWNRIVER”

Secrets and Revelations

Amos Lassen

“Downriver” is filled with grim secrets and slowly surfacing revelations from Australian writer-director Grant Scicluna with his first feature film. James (Reef Ireland) has just been released from prison after serving time for drowning a little boy when he himself was just a child. The boy’s body was never found, and James has spent his life being guilt-ridden and haunted by questions about what really happened that day. He returns to the rural community where the crime took place and is determined to find the body. As he searches, he is confronted by bullies and sexual predators from his past. He risks punishment he risks by breaking his parole and is threatened with violence from the characters that emerge all around him.

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This is a film filled with tension and we feel that there is something sinister beneath what we see on the screen and eventually discover that this feeling comes from a network of abuse, exploitation, blackmail and desire. The suspense and the tension that we feel come from layers of flashbacks and dialogue that the portrayals of the actors amplify. We are taken to very dark places as James looks for the truth.

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We see how unreliable memory can be but we also see a portrayal of homosexual relationships as every bit as complex as their heterosexual counterparts. We meet James the eve of his release from juvenile prison. He is unable to provide answers to the grieving mother of the drowned boy he was convicted of killing whose body was never recovered. He says goodbye to his cellmate and lover, and is transferred to a halfway house with strict parole instructions. His mother Paige (Kerry Fox) is happy in a new relationship and reluctant to invite him back into her life, while his unseen father has offered financial help but no contact.

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James’ uncertainties concerning the boy’s death are made worse by his having blacked out at the time due to an epileptic seizure. He needs to understand what happened and atone for his role in it, he heads back to the sleepy rural community on the Yarra River outside Melbourne, Australia where the tragedy occurred.

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There is a restraining order on James that forbids from being in the same area as his former childhood friend Anthony (Tom Green), who was with him when the boy was killed (and who James thinks is the one who killed the boy). James moves into his family’s old cabin. Anthony is really something else; trading nude shots or sex for favors. He seduced Damien (Charles Grounds), a sensitive kid from the nearby caravan park and we see his power as a predator.

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Anthony taunts James for the weakness that made him open up to the police back when they were 10-years-old during the investigation. When James starts going through the past, he discovers something more disturbing than a dangerous game that got out of hand. He comes upon secrets that, make Anthony’s violent family suddenly nervous.

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Ireland’s powerful performance as James gives the film a compelling emotional center as it moves through questions of culpability, remorse and redemption. Even if James seems to be a somewhat opaque as a character through to the final scenes, his need to take ownership for the mistakes of his past is clear. Green’s Anthony is initially seen as a classic bad seed, manipulating those around him. However, his vulnerability becomes clear when we see him in the context of his terrible all-male family.

Fox beautifully conveys the painful conflicts of a mother trying to move on with her life but still deeply connected to her son and needing to forgive him. Her boyfriend represents the ideals of kindness and compassion that fit with the film’s examination of human fallibility.

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The film is a bit too self-consciously oblique, and at times confusingly mysterious. The final scene is so burdened by symbol that I found myself being frustrated. Nonetheless, this is a brilliant first film and I am sure that as time passes, we will be hearing a great deal about writer-director Grant Scicluna as someone to watch.

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He is able to create an enveloping mood and how to punctuate his story with the right and necessary methods to keep his audience interested (or spellbound).

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“PARIS 05:59: THÉO AND HUGO”— Facing Reality

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“PARIS 05:59: THÉO AND HUGO”

Facing Reality

Amos Lassen

Théo (Geoffrey Couët) and Hugo (François Nambot) meet through each other’s bodies in a sex club. One follows the other down into the basement of L’Impact, where men have no inhibitions and sex is everywhere. The club is a world of its own and where anonymous sex takes precedent over everything else and love has nothing to do with anything until Theo and Hugo meet and both realize that they have fallen in love at first sight. As they chat there is certainly a feeling of desire that seems to have no boundaries. They decide that they need to go outside for fresh air (or whatever) and they begin to roam Paris at night. Outside they face the reality that does not exist at the club and the sense of sexual freedom that they felt there is replaced buy feelings of existential helplessness and insecurity. As they strive for intimacy that insecurity hinders how they feel.

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A beautiful script and naturalistic dialogue, Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s film reveals the intricacies of gay love and eroticism. To the viewer, we see nothing more than a flourishing love story that hits a fork in the road, at first. It seems that fate has brought the two together and what first was lust later becomes reluctance and confusion.

Once the two men leave the club and the passion of unbridled sex, they go beyond what their bodies could say to each other, revealing a cataclysmic turn of events that sends their relationship into a what could become a downward spin. The second half of the film is made up of just conversations leading the viewer to fall in love with Hugo and Theo.

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Upon seeing a film that begins with twenty minutes of explicit sex, the viewer wonders exactly what is this story going to be about. Slowly we realize that this is about falling in love. When they first see each from across a dungeon filled with men writhing is orgiastic joy, Hugo and Theo come together with a passionate kiss and ignore what is happening around them. They then make love (have sex) with a sense of urgency and passion.

As they dress to leave the club, it is obvious that they both felt more than just the usual  sexual connection. It is then that they begin to know each other and realize that they had unprotected sex. Hugo tells Theo that he is HIV positive and this tales them to a hospital emergency room. At this point they are both confused and angry and even though they fight and have words, neither is ready to leave the other. Theo calms down and realizes that things are not really as bad as they might think and off they go to walk around Paris and learn more about each other. at the same time. 

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This remarkably fresh and completely enchanting film wonderfully encapsulates a contemporary gay love story that shows sexual attraction as a major element, but not the defining one. Couet and Nambot are perfect in their portrayals of Hugo and Theo sharing just the right amount of chemistry together to be totally convincing that they could, and would, make Theo and Hugo’s relationship really last.

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“SPA NIGHT”— Gay in Koreatown

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“SPA NIGHT”

Gay in Koreatown

Amos Lassen

David Cho (Joe Seo) is an adolescent on the cusp of manhood. He lives in a tight-knit, traditional home in the heart of Koreatown, Los Angeles with his first-generation parents. David worked at the family restaurant but business was slow, the restaurant was forced to close. His mother, Soyoung, found a job as a waitress, but his unemployed father, Jin, began a downward spiral and as this happens, tension builds in the home. spiral downward. As the patriarchal balance teeters, tension builds at home.

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To please his mother, David pretends to go to SAT classes but secretly has taken a job at a Korean spa to help his family make ends meet. At the spa, he discovers an underground world of gay sex that both scares and excites him. As David explores his sexuality, his family life crumbles, forcing him to reconcile his own desires with his parents’ hopes, dreams, and expectations.

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Joe Seo gives an incredible performance as David, a young man dealing with sexual awakening. This is writer/director Andrew Ahn’s debut as a director and his story of a closeted Korean-American youth who is not a boy yet not quite a man rings true throughout.The film focuses on a close knit family involved in a economic crisis that forces them to adapt for an unplanned scenario and Ahn begins with characters facing a tenuous future. But Ahn’s film is more than that— it’s a hopeful narrative of a young man awakening to his sexuality via the activities he sees and experiences after taking a position at a local male only Korean Night Spa. The film explores the intersections of two particular communities.

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The circumstances involving the Korean spas as known gay cruising areas in contemporary Los Angeles is not new, although Ahn may be the first to directly address this as a necessary evil by owners and a problem for heterosexual clients. Technically, sexual activities at these establishments are illegal, and considering legal bath houses for gay men do exist in several areas throughout Los Angeles this situation speaks to the tempting power of the taboo. The setting provides a unique coming-of-sexual-age scenario for David who sees this world very close to him.

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David’s situation is a familiar one but his pressures are amplified by his heritage. The film captures that period of growing up when one begins to understand that the world isn’t what it was thought to be and one defines himself from some power within.

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“DAY OF YOUTH”— Romance, Brain Damage and Life after College

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 “DAY OF YOUTH”

Romance, Brain Damage and Life after College

Amos Lassen

It is always fun to watch a movie filmed where you live because you recognize so many places. Director Jared Vincenti’s “Day of Youth” was filmed right here and as I watched, I found myself filled with Boston pride. The film premieres at the 2015 Boston LGBT Film Festival, just a short wait from now. Having seen an advance copy, I can tell you that it is well worth the wait.

Rhee (Alice Tully) wakes up in a hospital after a serious bike accident and well she is basically okay, she has no memory of the last three years of her life. Two of her exes, Aran (Joe Kidawsky) and Nat (Alex Sweeney) vie to win her back and now she has to decide whether she will choose a boyfriend or a girlfriend or neither and start something brand new. The film deals with what to do when one suddenly loses a past and have the freedom to start life all over again. In fact, Rhee is unable to find any great changes from what she is told has been her past and she is still unemployed and moving from boyfriend to girlfriend and back and forth over and over. She is still living at home with her father and while she wants to move forward, Nat and Aran take advantage the fact that she cannot remember her past and use that to try to get another chance with her. The time to make a decision about her life is coming with the New Year and all three characters have to deal with the situations they now find themselves in. While this is a comedy, we feel the angst of the characters as they begin to realize that the hopes that they have for themselves may never materialize. We really feel this with Rhee who returns to the world that is very much the same as the one she left with her accident. It’s a feeing that all too many college graduates share. I can honestly say that every so often, as I watched the film, that this is not a film at all but a look at the real world. Each and every one has experienced the same feelings we see here—we have all waited for that big break and while some get it, many do not. We spend so much of our lives waiting because we believe that when that big break comes, it will validate the years of our youth and give meaning to the lives we live in the present. Personally, I believe, that that what we are waiting really depends on how we wait and what we do during that period.

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All is not hopeless however and there is a message here. Life is not like we usually live it as young people and there is a big world out there where people work, succeed and live. None of us have to face a life of mediocrity misery and/or nothingness but it is our call and up to us to change courses we are on by a little bit rethinking, redoing and reinvention. We have seen it happen time and again and I reminded of two of the big news in the world of music—Madonna and Cher. When their careers begin to hit a slow point, they considered the options and came back even stronger than before.

Vincenti made “Day of Youth” on a tight and small budget. He listened to his friends as he was thinking about how to do this film but most important is that he knew he had a good idea and he was determined to see it through and he managed to get people to work on the film doing what they loved to do. When someone is doing something he relishes, commitments are not difficult to get.

Memory defines so much of what we do and we see this played out here. Rhee has lost her memory but Vincenti did not and even though the idea of the film came to him a few years ago, it continued to germinate in his mind until the time was right to act on it. Using the themes of nostalgia, the inability to move and change, Vincenti continued to develop his plot. Sure, he had to make changes because of finances but because he was willing to compromise and had a good team to work with, the film became a reality and we get to enjoy it. It isn’t perfect but first attempt is?

The very idea of a story about characters that are in a rut and not able to move onto the next part of their lives is a universal theme. It is fear that so often holds us back but I have always found that when speaking about something I fear alleviates the issue greatly. So many of us fear that which we do know—the disadvantaged, the disabled, the marginalized members of our society and the future—all aspects of the not knowing conundrum and we fear them. Consider how many people fear death and why and you get the answer that we fear death because we really know nothing about it. Now the film belongs to the larger populating and it is waiting to be judged on its own merits. I loved it and I am sure many others will but even more important than the film itself is that we have a new young director who is going to make waves in the existing film community and we need to help him do so. It is out duty to support young filmmakers if we want to see a future with films with no ideas and themes.

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“OUT IN THE NIGHT”— The New Jersey Four

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“Out in the Night”

The New Jersey Four

Amos Lassen

The media branded Renata Hill, Patreese Johnson, Terrain Dandridge, and Venice Brown as a “Gang of Killer Lesbians”. They are four gay black women who were sentenced to egregiously long prison sentences after being engaged in a violent altercation with a man who had verbally and physically harassed them in New York’s Greenwich Village. Thos documentary looks at that and it examines the case from a social and humanistic perspective.

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It happened one summer evening in 2006. Seven lesbian friends from Newark went to New York City, in order to get away from the sexist taunts and remarks they often had to deal with on the streets of their hometown. As they walked in front of the IFC Center movie theater, they were verbally accosted by 29-year Dwayne Buckle and they answered his sexist remarks by telling him that they were gay but this did not stop him and, in fact, he threatened to “fuck them straight”. Things got hot and tense and a brawl ensued. One of the women stabbed Buckle in the stomach and as the event got wild, two male passersby also became involved but left the scene before police arrived.

The seven women were arrested and charged with a wide variety of crimes that included gang assault and attempted murder. Three of them pled guilty and received reduced sentences. The others went to trial and claimed self-defense and they received prison sentences ranging from 3½ to 11 years.

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The media became involved in the case and labeled the women as a gang, “a lesbian sex pack” and “killer lesbians”. The case became important to the LGBT community and argued that the women had been unfairly treated because of their race and sexuality. Former black radical Angela Davis publicly wondering if the women would have been treated differently if had been white.

It is only fair to say that this is not a balanced film. The judge and the prosecutor declined to be interviewed. Buckle also refused to participate, although portions of his trial testimony are recited by an actor. One of the police officers involved tells us that the “gang” label was not from the women actually having any gang affiliation, but from the legal definition involving three or more persons participating in a violent assault. We do see some grainy security camera footage of the brief event (it lasted approximately four minutes) and it seems to bear out the women’s version. Director Bair-Dorosh-Walther places a strong emphasis on Patreece Johnson, the woman who stabbed Buckle and who received the longest sentence but there is one point on which I found the film to be a bit weak and that deals with the way the legal process took place. There is the emphasis on gender here and the film tries hard to link the crime to that but it seems to me that it tried too hard. We are all aware that the media tend toward bias and that is very clearly pointed out here.

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What is, indeed, so interesting here is that the four young black lesbians were defending themselves from assault by a homophobic black man who was considered to be the victim in the eyes of the press while the women were vilified by the media.

The film uses video from the crime scene, court transcripts and interviews with lawyers, police, journalists friends and family of the women and the women themselves. It is so clear that justice was miscarried here.

Greenwich Village has always been regarded as a safe place for the LGBT community as well as for people of color. If we revisit what happened again that night when the women were verbally assaulted by Dwayne Martin, a 29 year-old Black male who was selling DVDs on the street, we get a better understanding of the entire situation. Buckle started the entire situation by orally taunting the girls. A nearby video camera in a store shows the girls walking away and Buckle following them constantly yelling insults and obscene remarks as he grabbed at his penis. The women then turned around and confronted him at which point Buckle spit in the face of one of the girls. He also threw a lit cigarette at the girls and this caused the attack to change from verbal to physical and on the video, Buckle can be seen pulling out large patches of hair from one of the females. When Buckle managed to get on top of one of the women and began choking her, Johnson pulled a small steak knife out of her purse and aimed for his arm to stop him from killing her friend. On the video are seen two men running over the help the woman and they began beating Buckle. The video captures two men finally running over to help the women and beating Buckle who, at some point, was stabbed in the abdomen. The women were already walking away across the street by the time the police arrived.

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We learn that Buckle was hospitalized for five days after surgery for a lacerated liver and stomach. When asked at the hospital, he responded that at least twice that men had attacked him. There was no evidence that Johnson’s kitchen knife was the weapon that penetrated his abdomen, nor was there any blood visible on it. As a matter of fact, no forensics testing was ever done on her knife. On the night they were arrested, the police told the women that there would be a search by the New York Police Department for the two men yet, as of today, has not happened. After almost a year of trial, the four women were convicted. Johnson received a sentence of 11 years. Admittedly, everything sounds very strange.

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Even with Buckle’s admission and the video footage proving that he instigated this anti-gay attack, the women were relentlessly slandered and demonized in the press and trumped-up felony charges were levied against them. They were subsequently given long sentences in order to send a clear resounding message—that self-defense is a crime and no one should dare to fight back. This is the work of the police whose duty is protect us but it really seems that we need to be protected from them. If we ask ourselves how something like this could happen in 21st century America, the only answers we can find deal with overt prejudice, homophobia, distrust of women and racism. It all makes my stomach turn. I can only hope that this movie serves as a call to action.

 

 

“YOU & I”— A Post Gay Film

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“YOU & I”

A “Post Gay” Film

Amos Lassen

“You and I” is described as a “post-gay” film and the reason for this is that there is no sexual confusion, no hostile environment, no tenderness and no repression. We see characters and situation where nothing can be assumed and nothing is certain. The film opens with young photographer; Jonas (Eric Klotzsch) walking around his apartment in his underwear while his upset girlfriend leaves angry messages on his answer machine. Later we see Jonas picking up Philip (George Taylor), his best friend and ex-housemate from his time living in London, and they start out on a road trip through the countryside of northeast Germany. We see the two driving around, swimming naked, and playing hide and seek. But there is something relaxed and surprisingly intimate between the two – they have no fear about kissing on the lips or pulling each other in for an embrace and it’s only later that we find out that Philip is gay and Jonas is clearly very accepting about his friend’s sexuality. Their friendship somehow transcends the normally awkward boundaries between gay and straight, though it is very certain they are nothing more than friends.

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Although the beginning is quite slow, the film picks up when the guys pick up a Polish hitchhiker, Boris (Michal Grabowski). Initially, Boris is alarmed when Philip tells him that he’s gay and lashes out violently when a naked Philip jumps on his back as a prank. But it soon becomes clear that there is something between them and after a drunken night they have sex. Jonas becomes upset and irritated with the other two and feels left out and jealous that his friend is having a good time. With no indication or dramatic signposting, Jonas suddenly kisses Philip, who is completely shocked and blindsided. This is a bit difficult to understand probably because there is little character and plot development in the script, which, for the most part. A lot of the acting makes us wonder how this just came to be, as though the director does not want us to know.

In the closing scenes we see Philip and Jonas preparing Jonas’s photographs for an exhibition. Philip has his arms around Jonas and tenderly kisses his neck. We do not know if they are together or if their friendship has become sexual or romantic or both. Is Jonas now gay or bisexual, or is this a case of his falling for an individual rather than falling for men generally? I suppose the reason that these questions are not answered is because this is what director Nils Bökamp wants but this is frustrating to the viewer. Perhaps this is relationship that cannot be labeled or it could be just one of the gay fantasies with regard to straight men.

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Despite this and the film’s other shortcomings, there is something hypnotic about the film which is obviously because of the impressionistic style of the film due largely to the impressionistic style and the improvised chemistry between the two leads who both deliver fine and authentic performances. The questions that we are left are interesting and make us think about the future of gay life.

“ROYAL ROAD”— Gender Dysphoric

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“ROYAL ROAD”

Gender Dysphoric

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker Jenni Olson gives us a film documentary that is, in essence, an essay on gender as we meet a Midwestern tomboy who is searching for a place in society. One way some people do this is to take on an identity of a character in a movie. Our tomboy borrows masculine personas of movie characters as a way to understand how to handle being attracted to women who are just not available. I suppose e can say that this is a film about reinvention. The film not only looks at this kind of channeling but also at Mexico and its conquest and colonization, the fading urban landscape of urban California and how the passions that arise from adopting a “butch” identity form a way to remember. I would not be surprised if, at this point, you do not understand what I am talking about.

The film looks at roads that include The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, El Camino Real and the road in front of the house. What we see is an observation of the human condition as it strives for redemption. We all need to remember and as some of us age we lose the ability to remember things exactly as they once were. Olson gives us a look at the Spanish colonization of California and the Spanish-American War along with the afore mentioned themes and it is all seen against landscape of urban California. Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”) provides a cameo lyrical voice over. We hear a personal monologue in the stream of consciousness and we learn of stories that come together to weave a story that is unique to California. It is all about memory, landscape and history as they come together to become the stories that we tell.

royal-road

The title, “The Royal Road” comes from the fact that California’s once local roads have now become freeways. These earlier roads were what united the north and the south of the state. We look at El Camino Royal, the first and most important thoroughfare of early California and it went from San Diego to the missions of Sonoma for more than 150 years when the areas were annexed to the United States. Olson provides the history of people and places. She also sees desire in the topography of the land just as she does in classic films and she compares this to her own personal journey.

I am not sure that I understand where she is going with this film and were it not for the beautiful cinematography, I might have been temped to stop watching but then I realized that I would be missing quite a cinematic experience.

We learn of Olson’s three major loves—women, California and classic films. This is quite an experimental film but that does not mean it cannot be understood. We just have to think a little more than usually. It all comes together with the director’s love of women and nostalgia being reflected in the history of her adopted home state, California. We most definitely sense the romance that she feels— she says she came to California to find happiness and to reinvent who she was/is and that both she and California are built upon and are the result of this idea and ideal. We indeed see that one can feel nostalgia for an adopted home.

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