Category Archives: GLBT Film

“BATHROOM STALLS & PARKING LOTS”— A Look at Underground Gay Culture

 

“BATHROOM STALLS & PARKING LOTS”

A Look at Underground Gay Culture

Amos Lassen

I have noticed that Brazilian gay films tend to be a bit more audacious and daring than those from other countries and director Thales Correas even says that he wanted to make a film that was indeed daring and audacious and that is what he has done with “Bathroom Stalls and Parking Lots”. It also happens to be a picture of our community as it is in terms of looking for and finding acceptance. We will not find such an authentic film as this any time soon.

Leo (Correa) is a Brazilian who has come to live in America (like the director) and he decides to go to San Francisco to see what he has heard so much about. He is surprised to find Totah (Felix Olmedoz), his American sex buddy also visiting there but that doesn’t change his plans for fun. He gets together with his friend, Donnie (Izzy Palazzini) as they go through the clubs in The Castro District and force a casual encounter to show Totah that there can be compatibility aside from sex. Donnie’s straight friend, Hunter (Oscar Mansky)  a hopeless romantic, joins them as they try to teach Leo how to turn a relationship based on casual sex into something more meaningful. As they bar hop and go to seedy places, they find themselves dealing with unexpected  obstacles that challenge how they approach relationships and they might even end up risking their own friendship.

As they “run” the streets of San Francisco to follow an American fling that they had begun on Grindr, they do whatever they have to, even if it means going to the seedy club scene where hookups take place in bathroom stalls and parking lots. As they spent time in this milieu, they discover truths about themselves and what modern dating is all about. The film has already won several prizes and is on its way to win even more.

This is an outrageous new comedy with a title that dares to say what so many of us come face to face with. Our players are also immigrants who speak their own language as well as broken English. While the movie is quite funny, it is also a look at the  sexy underground gay world and the culture of romantic relationships among gay/bisexual young men in the Castro (Although every town has its version of that district). More important is that we see “how dating apps have turned relationships into disposable and meaningless experiences.”

As Leo learns from this experience, we see some fun scenes including an underwear party Leo’s relationship with Donnie moves toward a quietly powerful climax. As honest and funny as it is, “Bathroom Stalls and Parking Lots” is also sweet and a look at being young, gay and a bit promiscuous.

“CRUISING”— Cruising For a Killer, Now on Blu Ray

“Cruising”

Cruising for a Killer

Amos Lassen

In 1980, Academy Award-winner William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”, “The French Connection”) directed Al Pacino as an undercover cop sent into New York’s seedy underbelly in “Cruising” which has now been released on Blu ray for the first time. New York is caught in the grip of a sadistic serial killer who is preying on the patrons of the city’s underground bars. Captain Edelson (Paul Sorvino) has young rookie Steve Burns (Pacino) infiltrate the S&M subculture to try and lure the killer out of the shadows but Steve immerses himself deeper and deeper into the underworld and risks losing his own identity in the process. “Cruising” was the subject of great controversy at the time of its release and remains a challenging and remarkable movie to this day, with a haunting performance by Al Pacino.

When “Cruising” came out it created quite a furor because of the way it depicted gay men as “they are”. People saw masculine men dancing and kissing and participating in S&M activities and this was something that many had never seen before. The movie violated the picture people had of gay men as being effeminate and weak. The movie broke ground by showing that gay men, in particular the leather subculture, are real people and have some influence. The movie also showed the interiors of gay bars and the activity there as it was.

This is a brutal film and definitely affects the viewer as it combines murder, mystery, sex and subculture. Viewed today it still shocks and many still consider it to be homophobic by depicting gay men as being sexually obsessed whereas those many of the men who are members of the leather scene claim that it is accurate. It is important to remember that the movie was made before AIDS when sexual excess was extremely popular. I do not think that people were fair to the movie—it is not a look at gay culture as a whole—it uses the leather scene to show how one man’s life is affected by his work.

William Friedkin is known for making mysterious, dark films and he has done so again with this film. The controversy around it brought about a dialogue which led to a better understanding of the gay community and if had done nothing else, that would have been enough. But “Cruising” is also a good movie even with all of the controversy. It is not an easy film to watch. The characters are not the kind of people that we like and for some reason the film seems incomplete. Originally 40 minutes of film were cut due to censorship problems but some has been restored to the film with the new cut. This should clarify any ambiguity of the film. What the film really seems to be about is the thin line between good and evil.

“Cruising” is more than a movie—it is an experience and a provocative one at that. It has no soul and it is dark and physical. It is a riveting ad dark look at something many know nothing about. The grittiness of the film reflects the scenes it pictures. This is not a gay film—it is a horror film, a very tense thriller with remarkable performances. It is also important as it pushed the door wide open for others to come in and take up filming the gay community. The plot may ramble but then so does life—like the movie, life is all over the place.

When the movie was released it was a box office failure. I wonder if that had anything to do with the fact that for the first time, we saw poppers, pierced nipples, uninhibited  sex, slings and the inside of New York leather bars. What we get on DVD is a restored, digitalized edition of what was once considered “politically insensitive trash”. It is remembered because teenaged boys discovered, by watching the movie, that there are other uses for Crisco than deep frying.

When the movie came out, a mainstream slasher film set in the gay milieu and in one of the kinkiest aspects of the gay subculture was agonizing for the gay community and for the gay liberation movement. The gay movement of the time used the motto “We’re just like you” and the movie showed that they were indeed very different. The movie, from such a talented director like Freidkin, should have been spectacular and it was at first. Unfortunately, the weakness of the plot then took over and the kinky sexuality of the beginning of the film became replaced by little more than pedestrian gore.

About half of the film is so good is because it is honest and authentic. Friedkin shows us a New York City of sexual delights, mythical and magically sensuous. Central Park is a veritable smorgasbord of sexuality and the meatpacking district is loaded with adults finding and getting exactly the kind of sex they were looking for.

The movie totally infuriated the gay community at the time but now we see it as a fascinating glimpse of what gay life was, even if it was a Hollywood version of it. It is now a part of our history and a look at the way Hollywood treated us as a disenfranchised minority. Not many gay movies have the gumption or the audacity to show poppers in a leather bar and the film is executed with style and class and it is not nearly as offensive as some of the more recent films I have seen. It was not meant to represent the entire gay community but just one aspect of it. The movie was made way before its time.

Now with so people dead from AIDS in New York to date, it only stands to reason that many of the people that are in the club scenes are no longer alive. But in this movie, in the discos, in their flannel shirts and leather chaps, behind their mustached faces and mutton sideburns, they are smiling. They managed to find a place in the world where everything finally makes sense and this is what the movie is about if we ignore the serial killer aspect of it—it’s a movie about having fun. The days of “Cruising” and cruising are lost forever and at least we have the movie to remember them by.

Bonus Materials

  • Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, supervised and approved by writer-director William Friedkin
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Newly remastered 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio supervised by William Friedkin
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing 
  • Archival audio commentary by William Friedkin
  • The History of Cruising – archival featurette looking at the film’s origins and production
  • Exorcizing Cruising – archival featurette looking at the controversy surrounding the film and its enduring legacy
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

“FLAWLESS”— A Coming-of-Age Story

“FLAWLESS”

A Coming-of-Age Story

Amos Lassen

“Flawless” is a serious is coming-of-age story that sets the tone quickly as it introduces us to Eden (Stav Strashko) and best friends Tigist (Netsanet Zenaneh Mekonnen) and Keshet (Noam Lugasy).  What her best friends don’t know about Eden is that she’s transgender bit this isn’t important until later on in the film.  Both Tigist and Keshet have plans to sell their kidneys through Keren (Assi Levy) in exchange for breast implants.  Eden sees this as the possible answer to all her dreams.  While Eden’s hair and skin grew softer as a result of hormones, her breasts haven’t grown.  Her father is only supportive to an extent.  Hormones and pronouns are okay but not surgery.

The trio soon travel to Kiev for their surgeries.  Eden still appears to have some mixed feelings while her dad isn’t entirely on board.  It’s only upon arrival in Ukraine in which all chaos breaks loose when confronting the questions of how far does one need to go to have the perfect body and whether one must have a flawless body in order to be validated.  This appears to be the case for both Tigist and Keshet.  With Eden, it seems that having the larger breasts would help to not feel so flat.  Eden’s reluctance doesn’t stop Keren from going full-on transphobe.

When it comes to transgender identities, there’s a right way and a wrong way to use them in a film.  “Flawless” treats Eden’s transgender identity in the right way and not  as a gimmick.  There are no uncomfortable camera shots.  One shower scene does begin to reach a level of discomfort but this is because of the transphobia on Keren’s part.  This said, co-directors Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit don’t make it a point to focus in on Eden’s genitals.  Tigist and Keshet get in on the transphobia shortly thereafter but ultimately, friendship sparks some of the strongest bonds. 

Strashko made history when she became the first transgender actress to be nominated for the Israeli Ophir (comparable to the American Oscar) Award.  The actress gives a remarkable performance.  It’s nice to see transgender talent being allowed to thrive in a leading role for a change.  Strashko does more than just thrive in this instance.  She shines.

There’s still something to be said about how “Flawless” combines both wanting the perfect body with selling organs on the black market.  The pressure of an always-on social presence is a global phenomenon, too and we certainly see that here. Later in the film, we learn that Keren discovered the girls through one of their vlogs, a haunting example of how opportunistic scammers can prey on the vulnerabilities we share online. 

The ability to go under the knife takes on a special urgency for Eden who turned up at the school just before the end of the year. Though Eden conceals it from even her inner circle, she’s  trans and her father will pay for hormone treatments (because they’re reversible) and protect her by making sacrifices to move the family — but stops short of supporting any serious operation. Eden’s journey towards acceptance of herself and by others, as portrayed by trans actress Strav Strashko, provides a necessary helping of heart to what would otherwise come across as a dark parable about the dangers of the web.

“DIAMANTINO”— A Comic Odyssey

“DIAMANTINO”

A Comic Odyssey

Amos Lassen

When dumb Portuguese soccer hunk Diamantino (Carloto Cotta) messes up in the World Cup finals, he loses his superstar status and becomes a laughing stock. As  if this was not enough, he learns about the European refugee crisis and resolves to do his part by adopting an African refugee  but later discovers that his new “son” is an undercover lesbian tax auditor who is investigating him for corruption. From there, Diamantino becomes involved in a comic odyssey that involves cigarette-smoking evil twins, Secret Service skullduggery, genetic modification, and an anti-European Union conspiracy. Directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt bring us a “genre-blending and gender-bending satire” that is nothing short of high-camp and that looks at gender fluidity and the nature of celebrity, desire and love.

Diamantino begins by describing his close bond with his father who taught him how to play the game and sharing his father’s fondness for beautiful church ceilings and how they made him look up at them. At the same time,

a drone hovers above a football stadium where Portugal is playing a game and Diamantino prepares to take a shot while being surrounded by giant puppies, the player’s magic charm. When he stops seeing them in the field that his troubles begin.

Diamantino, we learn, has the cognitive abilities of a child but with a heart that is full of love and good intentions. We follow his career and personal tragedies and see how he is affected by the plight of refugees who are forced to flee their own country. He decides to adopt one and shower all his love his adopted child. Aisha (Cleo Tavares), a lesbian government agent who wants to investigate Diamantino’s finances by absurdly posing as a refugee boy and as his newly-adopted son. Part of this involves the story of two evil twin sisters, an agent dressed as a nun with a bunny headpiece, Diamantino’s face on bedspreads and a subplot involving cloning and scientific experiments to find the source of the athlete’s genius.

Even though the film has political relevance and directness, it is non-serious tone yet aware of its own silliness which is also charming. We especially see this in the ideas of  notion of innocence and purity that make up its central character and cause him to lovable and sympathetic. We also see this in the eventual relationship that grows between Diamantino and Aisha. Diamantino is child-like and helpless, and in a welcome reversal of roles, he needs Aisha to rescue him from the troubles that he unwittingly gets into.

The film mixes sci-fi, comedy, fantasy and much more as Diamantino attempts to get his mojo back. His search for redemption causes him to face the refugee crisis, genetic modification, neo-fascism, giant puppies and the hunt for the source of the genius.

We see stunning and very weird imagery and the characters take on a fairytale quality in their performances. It is best not to know too much about the film before seeing it and you will understand what I mean when you see it. It is a wild ride from start to finish, with gorgeous and inventive compositing and a lovably naïve character at its center. 

“Diamantino” won two awards at Cannes Film Festival’s Critic Week   including the Grand Jury Prize even though there were (and still are) critics who fail to see the film’s joy.

“SELL BY”— Keeping a Relationship Together

“SELL BY”

Keeping a Relationship Together

Amos Lassen

Money can ruin so many relationships especially when things become hum drum. Minor differences suddenly become major and can explode into problems that might never become fixed.

 

New York couple Adam (Scott Evans) and Markin (Augustus Prew) are growing apart after five years together. Macklin changed his profession from retail sales to fashion influencer while Adam has continue to paint fora  wealthy, pretentious artist Ravella (Patricia Clarkson) who passes them off as her own.

They are also other 30-year-olds having their own relationship issues.  Cammy (Michelle Buteau) discovers that her latest boyfriend is homeless and is so ashamed yet continues dating him on the sly. Adam’s best friend Elizabeth (Kate Walsh) has been married for over ten years and wants Adam to get married, too. What she is about to learn is that her own happiness is is about to end since her husband wants to marry someone else who will give him the babies that she doesn’t want.

Meanwhile Markin becomes frustrated by couples therapy  that he and Adam have been having and thinks he can buy his happiness with a new penthouse  apartment. This shows the guys’ income disparity as well as how their views on life have gone in different directions.

This is the  feature film writing/directing  debut from  out gay actor Mike Doyle who gives us a fascinating (but honest) view of the problems in securing a romantic urban relationship where financial success is of importance.  The fact that the two main protagonists are gay is really not that an issue here since Adam has to come out and accept himself.  He needs to realize that with his talent he should not need Ravella take the credit for his work, or let Markin’s wealth affect him in any negative way at all.  They have enough still to keep themselves together as the strong loving couple.

The cast gives excellent performances all around and this is a fun romantic comedy.

“DUST”— The First Kiss

“DUST”

The First Kiss

Amos Lassen

“Dust” is coming of age story that naïve, bare and unedited and it compellingly captures the exact moments between adult hood and childhood when the familiar people, places and bodies of earlier years no longer fit together. It is painful to watch but impossible to look away as it zooms in on every clumsy emotion. 

Alko (Henk Jan Doombosch) work on a Dutch vegetable farm with his frustrated peers and he feels stranded between kid’s hangouts and inaccessible adult venues. He knows what he wants to try (kissing, sex and girls) but is not sure how to get them. In a narrow, claustrophobic world where only the limitations are visible, he finally gets the chance for a first kiss from one of the girls he works with. It seems to go well and she promises that sex will be the gift at her imminent 16th birthday. This fills Alko with happiness rather than confidence he is trippingly eager for the next step. 

Bjorn (Liam Feikens), Alko’s childhood friend, is also eager to push forward on this kissing “business”. He has been practicing on his hand, and showing Alko how whenever he can. His kiss with a girl wins her praise but from his needy glances and fumbles with Alko it is evident that Alko is who he would really prefer.  We see a lot of emotions and pain in almost every encounter. Bjorn goes in for an unreciprocated drunken kiss with Alko. When Alko’s girlfriend hears about it, she dumps him. Alko’s other friends work themselves into a homophobic frenzy which he guiltily redirects towards Bjorn. 

Doombosch is well cast as an unknowing teen with great need. He manages to communicate a soft heterosexuality that mourns the split from a gay friend. A sad lingering look shows how unfair it is that one of his prized first kisses, with a close friend he likes, will be considered ugly because it was same sex.

“Dust” is an intimate and honest film. The loose and episodic editing makes it real. The performances are realistically unpolished. Everything adults try to forget from being a teen is remembered with heart and without filter.  It tells the beautiful, bittersweet coming-of-age story of Alko and Björn, best friends who live in a small rural community. Between agricultural weekend work and partying, the teenage kids of the village are all yearning for their ‘first time’. Director Joren Molter proves himself as an exciting new talent to watch  in his film in which boys are expected to be boys, yet are oftentimes something more.

“THE ALIENIST”— Suffering from Mental Illness

“THE ALIENIST”

Suffering from Mental Illness

Amos Lassen

“In the 19th century, persons suffering from mental illness were thought to be alienated from their own true natures. Experts who studied them were therefore known as alienists.” This quotation is seen at the beginning of each episode of “The Alienist” and it there to remind us just how early this story takes place in the history of psychology. In the last years of the nineteenth century, science and civil rights alike were both on the verge of exploding; and these both had a serious impact on society in general, especially in the context of law and order and they were was ready for their own revolution.

According to what we see here, the New York Police Department was more concerned with maintaining a status quo which best suited their associates in the church and big industry. This meant a combination of traditionalism, corruption and turning a blind eye to minor crimes. Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty) was police commissioner in New York at this time, and when young boys started turning up murdered and mutilated (prostitutes and immigrants; definitely low priority cases), he saw that the only way to get the crime resolved effectively was to authorize an unofficial investigation. This was already underway, led by the renowned/controversial “alienist” Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) and his friend from the New York Times John Moore (Luke Evans).

Roosevelt authorized the use of police time in the form of three more forward-thinking individuals, with the challenge that Kreizler solve the crimes before the official (and slack) police investigation could, so as to prove the value in radical approaches. These three were Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), the first woman to join the police department – albeit as a “typewriter”, though with the mind of a detective – and brothers Marcus (Douglas Smith) and Lucius (Matthew Shear) Isaacson, who relished new scientific investigatory tools such as fingerprints. Thus the “fruitful partnership” is born.

“The Alienist” is a mystery/thriller and a history, and social commentary squeezed into one ten-episode story. The series was based on the 1994 novel of the same name by Caleb Carr. I usually do not have a problem watching adaptations of novels that are not identical to their sources but here it seems there was such determination to adapt the setting and main plot with care that a few minor plot points and characters were squeezed so small that a received insufficient explanations.

The camera is the main character here— episode was beautifully shot. The series is full of gritty and challenging scenes and images and there are issues of child and domestic abuse and anti-Semitism.

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=funeral%20%20of%20naomi%20shemer&pbjreload=10

“MEN OF HARD SKIN” (“Hombres de piel dura”)— Sexuality and Desire

“MEN OF HARD SKIN” (“Hombres de piel dura”)

Sexuality and Desire

Amos Lassen

Argentine filmmaker José Celestino Campusano is known for a type of brutal realism that often shows “the origins of hidden desires and the energies that influence the nature and machinations of the environments of his stories.” He sees sexuality as the strongest of these energies and while the characters are neither likable or completely unpleasant, they are often divided between those who take charge of it and those who prefer not to take charge. . Those who take charge of it blossom; those who do not remain in a deeper underground.

“Men of Hard Skin” is the story of Ariel (Will Javier), a young and attractive gay man who lives and works on his father’s farm in a rural part of Buenos Aires,  Argentina. The film  focuses on his troubled and troublesome relationship with two older men: his father (Claudio Medina), who refuses to accept his homosexuality, and Omar (Germán Tarantino), a Catholic priest with whom he has a secret love affair.

Omar seduced Ariel as a teenager and continues to take advantage of his innocence and lack of experience with his emotions. Even though this began with a seduction, it is consensual. It is only because Ariel sees no future in the relationship that he decides to end it. The decision is painstakingly hard for him but it also allows him to take charge of his own sexuality and embark on an exploration of his desires, coming out of the shadows that both his father and Omar want to drag him into and where both manifest their own different sexuality.

Campusano is also strong about revealing realities that go beyond sets of rules and conventions. Here he exposes the  alternate realities of rural life and the Catholic Church and in the process exposes the structures in place that ensure their legitimatization. 

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=funeral%20%20of%20naomi%20shemer&pbjreload=10

“45 DAYS AWAY FROM YOU”— After the Breakup

“45 DAYS AWAY FROM YOU”

After the Breakup

Amos Lassen

Direcror Rafael Gomes takes us to a time after the breakup when 20-somehing Rafael (Rafael de. Bona)), a young gay Brazilian bachelor finds his romantic life going out of control.

He sets out on a journey that will take him to England, Portugal, and Argentina. Along the way, he learns that time is  all it takes to mend a broken heart is time… and the support of a few good friends. This is a fiction film with documentary characters.

Rafael, a waited 45 days for a love that never returned. Broken hearted, he goes into self-exile, seeking refuge with three friends who, for different reasons, decided to live away from their own home: Julia (Julia Correa) in England, Fabio (Fabio Lucindo) in Portugal and Mayara (Mayara Constantino) in Argentina.  This is quite the romantic drama.

“SOCRATES”— Bereavement, Isolation and Family Breakdown

“SOCRATES”

Bereavement, Isolation and Family Breakdown

Amos Lassen

Alexandre Moratto’s “Socrates” is a stunning and deeply emotional portrayal of a young man’s (Christian Malheiros) journey through bereavement, isolation and family breakdown. “Socrates” empowers at risk young people and their input gives the film a realism and natural delivery that reflects the very thin line between poverty and security in inner city Brazilian society.

 

Filmed on a very low budget, “Socrates” is the story of 15 year old young man who is dealing with the deeply emotional loss of his mother. We follow Socrates through his struggles in supporting himself while dealing with the loss that has taken his security and opportunity from him.

As a gay young man, this security is further threatened by a distant and disconnected relationship with his absent father; who will not accept his son’s sexuality/

Socrates finds an emotional connection with another local young man, who hides his sexual orientation through anger, frustration and lies and they develop a complex relationship of hidden truths and barriers of expectation in masculinity.

The impact of the film comes from its realism and social reflection. It dares to challenge the audience and the social constructs of the society it represents as we become very aware of the choices forced upon young people in a society where opportunities are limited by income and support. The recent political changes in Brazil of increasingly isolating LGBT young people from their society makes this all the more relevant.

“Socrates” demonstrates the emotional and social power of Brazilian film making by examining  the challenges faced by young people at risk. It is a multi-layered film explores grief, identity and societal failures and will remain with you long after the credits roll.

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“Socrates” was created in a workshop of young people between the ages of 16 and 20, and is  Brazilian-American filmmaker Alexandre Moratto first feature film.  It has been winning awards at festivals around the world. As we watch, we discover how powerless he really is: he isn’t even allowed to collect his mother’s ashes. He can’t turn to his estranged father (Jayme Rodrigues) for help, because he’s harshly religious and has rejected Socrates for being gay. So Socrates tries to get on with life, finding a job in a local junkyard. There he meets Maicon (Tales Ordjaki), and they begin a tender romance. But their hot tempers, as well as some other outside circumstances, make this relationship increasingly difficult. Socrates needs to grow up quickly if he hopes to have a future.

Socrates could get help from a persistent social worker if he would accept it but instead tries to do things on his own, even though everyone he turns to abandons him, leaving him to consider unthinkable options like prostitution or suicide. The film remains earthy and honest about even these things and focuses on Socrates’ internal thoughts and feelings rather than the bigger political themes. There’s no overt plot structure here— the narrative traces this young man’s emotional journey into manhood.

Malheiros is superb in the role, delivering an expressive performance that reveals the characters’ inner feelings to the movie audience but not to the people around him on-screen. He conceals himself from everyone and this is moving but also a little scary, because he is a teen dealing with very grown-up issues essentially all by himself. Each knock-back is awful to watch. Scenes with his father are especially painful, because it’s clear that his father’s love is so conditional. Malheiros and Ordjaki have quite a range of powerful textures as they play out the relationship between Socrates and Maicon that starts with a brawl and remains rough-edged even through moments of tenderness.

This is an intimate film in which director Moratto never moralizes about any of the decisions that Socrates makes or actions he takes. We are right with Socrates all the way through his journey of self-discovery and it is not an easy path. Watching Socrates battle against obstacles is darkly moving but this also shows us some big social issues that are rarely depicted in such powerfully honest ways on-screen. We are reminded that most people are struggling and afraid to ask for the help they need.