Category Archives: GLBT Film

“TORREY PINES”— Gender Dysphoria and Mental Health

“Torrey Pines”

Gender Dysphoria and Mental Health

Amos Lassen

Torrey Pines is a stop-motion animated feature film by director Clyde Petersen. It is based on his true story and is a queer punk coming-of-age tale that is set in Southern California in the early 1990’s. Peterson was raised by a schizophrenic single mother and his life story is seen in a series of baffling and hallucinated events. Peterson’s mother was fueled by hallucinations of political conspiracy and family dysfunction and when he is twelve-years-old, Petersen is kidnapped and taken on a cross-country adventure that will forever alter what he thought was his family.

This is a 60-minute stop-motion film that deals with such issues as gender dysphoria and mental health. As a young child Peterson was called Whitney; as a girl on the edge of puberty, she felt that that she did not want breasts and to get periods. He mother takes her off on a trip across the US, which seems like a great adventure. They visited everywhere from the Grand Canyon to the White House. However, there was a problem in that Whitney’s mother also believes there are aliens and reptile people. “Torrey Pines” is a movie with no dialogue–– visuals and narrative tell the story. This means that the film sometimes relies on the audience to fill in the gaps even when we are not sure of what is happening. It works extremely well for the movie since we have, two people who are both experiencing the fact that the external world doesn’t match what they believe in their minds. One of two is dealing with the fact their gender isn’t what is written on the birth certificate; the other person just might be having a complete schizophrenic breakdown. These are embedded into the story and we see Whitney’s

gender dysphoria as part of her growing realization of her world (something she’s particularly aware of when she sees things such as her mother with no clothes on). Likewise, her mother’s mental health issues are seen through the eyes of a child who doesn’t fully comprehend what’s going on.

The style of the movie is captivating and the  stop-motion, at first, looks rather child-like, like a kid’s pictures cut out and animated in a very simple style. However, it’s much more complex with a multi-plane camera used so that we see it in a way designed to look as flat as a child’s painting, it manages to be sculptural and three-dimensional at the same time.

There are scenes that are beautiful and ugly, simple and complex at the same time and those of us who are willing to be pulled in to a child’s view of the world are totally drawn into the humor and how ideas are expressed. Others may not like it all. You must really let yourself give into the film to understand and enjoy it.

I found it to be a fascinating experience, especially because it deals with some important issues and vibrantly does so giving us a child’s view of gender dysphoria and mental health issues in the family.

“AFTER LOUIE”— AIDS and Generational Changes

“After Louie”
AIDS and Generational Changes
Amos Lassen

Director Vincent Gagliostro’s “After Louie” is about Sam (Alan Cumming), an artist who is working on a documentary about his friend, William who died during the AIDS crisis. However, it was heartbreaking for him to learn that there are not many people interested in this project. Then he meets young Braeden (Zachary Booth) and thinks that he is probably a hustler and Sam pays him for a sexual escapade. What he did not know was that Braeden has a boyfriend yet he and Sam continue to get together on a fairly regular basis. This causes them to challenge what each thought about the other and Sam becomes quite angry that the younger generation doesn’t seem to care about the AIDS crisis and the battle against straight society that culture he and his friends are so wrapped up in. Braeden shows him that his generation has a very different experience in the world and regarding HIV and that while Sam’s generation’s battles helped change things for gay people, they cannot understand what it was like to watch so many people die in a society that didn’t care and in many cases attacked them.


All of the characters have flaws but the film (that could easily have become a “preactfest”) is really interested in more complex ideas than just the impact of AIDS on the generation that survived how it is difficult it is to compromise the tremendous number of gay men that died with the way young people think about AIDS today. “After Louie” tries to be fair to the lives of younger gay people, for whom AIDS/HIV never completely went away, but who have a very different relationship to it.

Because LGBT history is not fully taught in schools, gay people who grew up in the 90s and beyond see the AIDS epidemic as a slightly tangential issue. They do not feel it is about them or that it affects their lives. They do not understand that the freedoms that they have today, in many cases, have come into being because of the number of people that died and that the disease was a unifying factor for both LGBT people but for the greater society as well. This is a film that is very aware of the generational changes and that we are now living in and it now a very different world for gay people.


Sam is not just angry about his— he is also very angry about how he felt he was fighting for queer culture and against the heterosexual norms, but that culture is now something very different. With same sex marriage and the many LGBT freedoms, queer life is much more heteronormative. In a sense, the LGBT community had conformed to the very society that it once fought against. Was that fight for LGBT rights about finding a new LGBT lifestyle or was it that our community simply gave straight society “the bird”? Perhaps, it was both.
Braeden, to a certain degree is living the life Sam was fighting for. He has a boyfriend and he is able to have sex with whoever he wants, whenever he wants, and without society trying to stop him. However, Sam has difficulty understanding this because he still feels the anger and confrontation that his generation had. Ultimately he’s now alone and cannot accept that a younger man would be interested in him (or any older male) if money were not involved (even though there is a hint that this is just a defense mechanism). Perhaps Sam understands that his generation did an important job that is now finished and/or at least drastically changed and he cannot move on from that. Maybe the gay world has just become satisfied and complacent as it ignores the lessons from the past as it is pulled a heteronormative lifestyle. We reach no conclusions in the film but we are given a great deal to think about. It well could be that both sides are probably at least partly true.


Alan Cumming is excellent as Sam who is world-weary and going back to that time when his life was horrific but also vivid and vital; starkly different from the way he lives today. Zachary Booth is wonderful as the young man who challenges Sam’s assumptions. In him we see that what may seem shallow on the surface can often be more complex than it seems.
I know that I often get angry about the way the younger generation thinks about AIDS and for that I am thankful that someone finally made an entertaining and thoughtful movie about it. Through Louie we get a very thoughtful look at this.

“HEAVY WEIGHT” — Lust in the Ring

“Heavy Weight”

Lust in the Ring

Amos Lassen

When a talented new arrival begins using the local boxing club, Paris, a skilled fighter, is forced into an unexpected struggle with himself. Jonny Ruff’s short film deals with vulnerability in a hyper-masculine world that doesn’t allow for it.

The film stars Chuku Modu, Dean Christie, Karl Reay, and Eddy Elsey.

 

“B&B”— A Weekend of Mischief

“B&B”

A Weekend of Mischief

Amos Lassen

Gay married Londoners Mike (Tom Bateman) and Fred (Sean Teale) plan on having a weekend of mischief by returning to bait the prosecuted owner of a remote Christian B&B. The previous year, they had sued the owner for not allowing them to share a bed and won the case. They have no reason for going to the B&B aside from taunting the homophobic owner Josh (Paul McGann).

Things do not go as planned and what the guys thought would be a lot of fun turned out to be something else altogether. Events take a deadly turn when another guest arrives, who they think might have something sinister in mind and their weekend of fun turns into a bloody battle for survival in this smart, brutally comedy and dark thriller.

It all started with dinner at the B&B when the only other guest was a mysterious Russian (James Tratas), a very hunky man who could not speak a word of English. Yet that did not stop him from hitting on Josh’s 16-year-old closeted gay son Paul (Callum Woodhouse). Fred and Marc learned of their plans were to go to a local park that is a notorious gay cruising area, they became jealous. Fred and Marc nosed around and found out that the Russian had a jammer that blocked all the cell-phone signals and therefore had cut them off from the outside world. They began to worry for the Paul’s safety.

Fred set out after the Russian and Paul and located them at tracked them at the park but it did not take long before he regretted his actions when he became part of a drama that was soon out of control. He managed to get a scared Paul back to the B&B and now he has to deal with his father knowing that he is gay and that he was to blame for a serious crime for which he was now trying hard to push the blame for onto Fred.  It was soon a situation as to who could outwit who and whether Josh could finally get his own revenge on the gay couple for almost ruining his income by getting them to take the rap for this and clear Paul at the same time.

We do not get many LGBT thrillers and when we get a good one, we must appreciate it. Director and screenplay writer, Joe Ahearne, based this on a partially true story. There had been gay people who sued guesthouse owners. The horror part, however, is invented and keeps us on the edge of our seats as we watch. The cast is excellent all around, especially Paul McGann who plays Josh, a man we love to hate.

“FUNERAL”— A Father’s Death

“FUNERAL”

A Father’s Death

Amos Lassen

A new short film is making the rounds of LGBT film festivals and it is a stunning look at a trans woman who must confront her demons as she prepares to attend her estranged father’s funeral. Art Arutyuvan directed and wrote this very powerful film that deals with self-acceptance and acceptance by others of a man/woman who is trying to live her life as the person she really is. I cannot say much about the plot because I would spoil the film for those who have not seen it but I can say that this is a brave film that deals with the topic of death, something none of his are too anxious to see in films today. Instead of saying any more, I am posting a couple of stills from “Funeral” and just by looking at these, you can see where the short goes. Brendan Takash, Rod James, Lee Te, Irina Aylyarova give excellent performances.

“DEEP WATER”— The Dark Side of Bondi

“Deep Water”

The Dark Side of Bondi

Amos Lassen

Bondi is a town on the sea in Australia that on one hand is an inviting beach culture but that on the other hand has quite a dark history that comes to the fore in the miniseries made for Australian television. In the 1980s, it was home to packs of gay-bashing teenagers who robbed, beat and frequently killed their victims and then threw their bodies from cliffs into the ocean. The police force was indifferent and generally looked the other way, writing off suspicious deaths as accidents or suicides and listing murder victims as “missing” if no body was found. At least thirty homicides have remained unsolved even though relatives and survivors have pressed for renewed investigation.

“Deep Water” is set in present day Australia as a serial killer targets gay men and this brings about conflict within the local police and those who want to know what really happened as others hope that it will all stay buried with the victims. The series uses a police procedural to draw viewers into a sinister world where lives are tossed away for sport and families of the dead are left to grieve without any explanation or recourse. It gives a detailed account of Bondi’s secret history as a haven for homophobic violence.

The central figure is Detective Constable Tori Lustigman (Yael Stone) who is a Bondi native and has returned home after a divorce. With her is her teenage son, Will (Otis Pavlovic). As Will settles into his new home, Tori attempts to find her footing in the local police station commanded by Chief Inspector Peel (William McInnes). Her new partner is a Bondi veteran, Detective Nick Manning (Noah Taylor). One of the challenges for Tori is that everyone on the force knows her by name, due to her association with a famous case of the past.

It did not take long before Tori and her partner are called to a gruesome crime scene. They found the bloody body of a young gay man in his apartment. For Tori, the case instantly becomes more than an investigation. Aspects of the murder remind her of the death of a gay man in the Eighties to which she had a deeply personal connection. She has always that case was wrongly classified as an accident. Tori insists on looking at the parallels between this latest crime and the unsolved incidents of gay-bashing from twenty-five years ago and this immediately caused friction and conflict within the department, especially with her commanding officer, Chief Inspector Peel, who doesn’t want to hear a word about reopening closed cases.

As there are more and more victims, Tori and Nick discover that he is luring his victims through a hookup app called THRUSTR. Yet, Tori remains convinced that the THRUSTR killer’ is linked to unsolved Eighties killings, and she begins tracking down and interviewing survivors, family members and other potential witnesses. The deeper Tori digs, the more she find herself questioning whether her chief’s resistance is more than just bureaucratic. In the Eighties, when Peel was himself a detective, he detained a pair of suspected gay bashers, whom he then released without charge. One of those suspects, Chris Toohey (Ben Oxenbould), went on to become a football hero and local legend; the other, Kyle “Hammers” Hampton (Craig McLachlan), owns a local biker bar that is suspected of being a haven for drug trafficking. The connection between these two former associates, whose paths diverged so radically since their teenage years, is a point of high interest for Tori and a point of extreme discomfort for her boss.

As Tori, Yael Stone gives a compelling portrait of a cop who is both investigator and victim, one who shares a special connection with the survivors she interviews because, like them, she has spent so many years searching for elusive answers. She wants closure (both for herself and for others).

Noah Taylor’s Nick as her partner is cynical and quietly follows his partner’s efforts while keeping his own counsel. Nick’s stoic demeanor suggests a policing career that has been full of compromises. As his new partner’s heedless enthusiasm Nick is forced out of his comfort zone, and we see just how far he wants to follow Tori into professionally treacherous territory. The partners have to learn how to navigate each other and watch their backs at the same time especially when an arrest goes horribly wrong).

Director Shawn Seet shows the contrasts between the serene and beautiful vistas of Bondi’s and the dark underside that the THRUSTR killer has exposed. Parts of the concluding episode play out against the background of the annual Sydney Mardi Gras, one of the world’s largest LGBT pride festivals, where the colorful celebrations of song, dance and surf make the scene an ideal hunting ground for a killer with a very different agenda.

The cases under investigation may be murky, but the surroundings are crystal clear. The series that has an important message about intolerance that could have been and should have been better explored.

This short series was gripping from start to finish. Some might find detective Tori Lustigman’s close connection to one of the possible victims a bit of a distraction but I found that it added to the drama. The way the killer used a gay dating App to find his latest victims seemed very current and the links to historic cases is believable.

The series is closely based on what is still a partly unsolved case, (with there being 88 “gay-hate” victims whose deaths remain unsolved). The series looks at the attitude cops have towards gays and cuts deep into the homophobia under the “clean” veneer of the police, and by the dialogue having a confrontation edge that perfectly fit the cops who want to be seen as tough guys. wanting to be seen as Noir “tough guys”.

Because political profiling, police shootings, hate crimes, racism, and bigotry are in the news every day making this a very timely story.

“TAMARA”— From Teo to Tamara

“Tamara”

From Teo to Tamara

Amos Lassen

“Tamara” is the story of Teo Almanza who, upon hearing about the death of his brother, returns to his hometown in Venezuela. What was originally planned to be a short visit becomes a long trip to gender reassignment. It explores Teo’s desire to become a woman and shares his search for his true self, his struggle with societal taboos as well as his inner conflicts about who he wants to become as contrasted with what society wants him to be. Venezuela is a federal republic that is predominantly Catholic and we become aware of the hardships especially transgender men and women face on a daily basis regarding Catholicism. The film avoids the violence perpetually inflicted on the transgender community and instead focuses on the complexity of identity.

 

As a lawyer, spouse and father, Teo fits those patriarchal roles quite seamlessly, however he felt in a body that he denies as his own and this continually caused him emotional distress. Throughout the film, we are very aware of what he has to contend with as it affects the definition of who he is. This is clearly seen in therapy sessions that are juxtaposed with flashbacks and voice-over narration.

We soon find ourselves in his mind thus allowing us to be better able to relate to his circumstances. Tamara also heightens this quest for the self by displacing the protagonist from his point of origin, i.e. his comfort zone. He had found this in Paris and its bohemian lifestyle where he studied law. This displacement provides a socio-political context and therefore is a modern, transgressive and twisted look at transsexuality in Venezuela, a particular location that is heavily influenced by tradition.

We are with Teo as he is on his journey of becoming who he has always wanted to be, regardless of the natural fear of finding himself utterly alone or being made fun of for the rest of his life. We see that the assertion of self-realization can occur at any age, and that it is possible to be reborn and this is a philosophical approach that contrasts heavily with Catholicism.

In many other films about transgender characters, the feeling of empathy comes out of pity, while in “Tamara”, we tend to morally support the main character all the way through his transformation because we really admire his ability to thrive even with societal constraints and animosity regarding change. Luis Fernandez as Teo delivers a wonderful performance of the nature of Teo’s ethos. “Tamara” successfully blurs the borders between male and female.

Directed by Elia K. Schneider, the film is a reaction to the norms and the codes of conduct prescribed by a society that refuses any change attributed to the human condition. It provokes the mind and the slow pace often serves as a breather that allows viewers to both pause and reflect while with Teo.

“The Inexplicable Logic of My Life” by Benjamin Alire Saenz— Growing Up

Saenz, Benjamin Alire. “The Inexplicable Logic of My Life”, Clarion, 2017.

Growing Up

Amos Lassen

Now that Salvador is a senior in high school, he begins questioning things. Before that he thought he knew everything about being adopted by his gay father, his Mexican American family and about Samantha his best friend. He really wants to discover who he is. While he does not share blood with the people he lives with, they are his family and share a very tight bond. Author Benjamin Saenz writes of life, in all its simplicities and complexities and we are reminded that death is a fact of life. We also see that people die but love doesn’t. Those we have loved live on in memories and they guide and comfort us when the need arises.

This is a is a book about family and how families evolve. It looks at the bonds shared with other and how these bonds affect the ways we think and live. We get an optimistic look at young people as well as at adults to let us know that even in the darkest of times there is someone to turn to. Benjamin just wants to have a sense of identity and as he sets out to do so, we are with his every step. Themes of love, social responsibility, death, and redemption come together in the wonderfully drawn characters.

Text messages between Sal and Sam, demonstrate the beautiful relationships among family and friends. The novel is written in short chapters that describe Sal’s deepest fears and most intense moments of affection that always leads back to his family and the love that is shared. As Sal deals with memories and feelings about mothers in general and his mother in particular, we see the goodness of families and the need of love.

 

“KA BODYSCAPES”— Finding Happiness

“Ka Bodyscapes”

Finding Happiness

Amos Lassen

Three young people, Haris (Jason Chacko), a gay painter; Vishnu (Rajesah Kannen), a rural kabaddi player and their friend Sia, an activist who refuse to conform to dominant norms of femininity, struggle to find space and happiness in a conservative Indian City. Directed by Jayan Cherian, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFG) has found the film to be “offensive to ‘human sensibilities” due to “vulgarity, obscenity and depravity’ and Hindu deities depicted in poor light”. The Board found the portrayal of a gay relationship and a scene of a ‘lady masturbating’ to be unacceptable for public viewing and says that the film thus violates cinema guidelines and a certificate cannot be granted.

“Ka Bodyscapes” was inspired by a handful of real-life public movements in Kerala. Its central theme is a gay relationship between Haris, a young, talented but struggling artist, and Vishnu, a rural kabaddi player. The third protagonist is their friend, Sia, a Muslim fighting for women’s rights. Haris is preparing for his first solo exhibition and invites Vishnu to stay with him in the city. Vishnu belongs to a traditional Hindu family and despite social restrictions, manages to establish a live-in relationship with Haris. Sia is a dear friend and a regular visitor to their apartment, who fights against the misogynist impositions of her conservative relatives. At work, a used sanitary napkin is found in the bathroom and all women workers are strip-searched. She questions this humiliation and posts a photograph of a sanitary napkin soaked in blood on Facebook. (This is based on a real incident in Kerala that triggered off social media campaigns. The three characters are soon involved in a relentless battle against conservative moral codes and they struggle to find happiness in their own world. Sia leaves home and moves in with the couple, but all three are eventually evicted from the rented apartment and Haris paintings are all destroyed.

The cast is full of activist that the director says represent different facets of social life. Naseera, who plays Sia, works as a journalist and she maintains, “Censor Board members are sick with homophobia. I really don’t understand what they mean by ‘obscenity’. The film depicts a relationship between two gay men; there is no explicit expression of intercourse or anything close to that. Intimate scenes between heterosexual lovers are very common in mainstream cinema—the Censor Board doesn’t seem to have a problem with that.” Most of the incidents in the film are based on real life situations and she says that this might be the reason the authorities are upset with it”.

The LGBT community in Keralahas welcomed the film saying that it is political movie and are upset that CBFC gives certificates to films that show explicit violence and sexual harassment. It often does not find any problem with dialogues and action in mainstream cinema that are derogatory to women and sexual minorities.

Director Cherian says there is no substance to the allegation that Hindu gods have been insulted in the film. Artists and writers create art by interpreting the work done in the past. That is a usual practice followed in the world of art and literature and he feels institutions like the CBFC are stuck with archaic moral codes and standards. The irony here is that the act of censorship causes people to pay attention to the film.

News reports claim that the film say it is the story of a gay couple Vishnu and Haris and their friend Sia but that it is a lot more than the love story and provocative criticism of growing intolerance. The new religious police in India thrives by restricting bodies and their desires. The film, by celebrating bodily functions and desires, invites the audience to look critically at such policing. Haris, the painter who is working towards an exhibition, celebrates the male body by depicting it in various stages of pleasure and action in his painting series called ‘Ka Bodyscapes’. His friend Vishnu moves in with him and is the model for most of these paintings. They are close, attached and attracted to each other, and there is a strong sexual energy in their physical intimacy. The movie spends a lot of time pausing over parts of Vishnu’s well-built body and celebrates its beauty. Vishnu’s body is celebrated throughout the movie.

Sia, their friend, has a different battle but it is one that comes out of associating shame with bodily functions. At the end of the movie, Sia and Haris’ pay a huge price for looking at the world through a liberal and progressive lens. The movie is not interested in the inner lives of these characters, but in the consequences of their intellectual and personal choices and due to that “Ka Bodyscapes” is an important movie that depicts the consequences of Hindu fundamentalism. Human rights in India are eroding quickly and narratives are needed that enable people to make sense of this chaos that is taking place. By telling a story, this movie

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brings out the diverse themes of religious fundamentalism, women’s movements, homophobia and the loss freedom of expression.

Homosexuality that is still illegal in India and a social taboo, as is any hint of feminism.

“THIRSTY”— Finding Self-Acceptance

“Thirsty”

Finding Self-Acceptance

Amos Lassen

Scott Townsend was bullied in his younger days but soon became a very special and revered drag queen by the name of Thirsty Burlington who despite fighting obstacles throughout his life discovered that what he really wanted was self acceptance. only to discover what he really wants is self-acceptance.

Scott Townsend went into the world of drag as a safe respite from his being bullied when he was growing up in the projects in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He became Thirsty Burlington, Provincetown’s Cher impersonator. In the film we see the significant events in Scott/Thirsty’s life (1970s to the present) and the dangers and the joys of living life in gender fluidity.

Director Margo Pelletier, who also co-wrote the script with Laura Kelber, uses the sort of set-ups that are familiar from musicals to show episodes from the real life of Scott Townsend (who stars as himself) and his rise to fame. The narrative includes fantasy sequences, including Scott’s Powerpuff Girl-style alter ego, who pops up from time to time in blazing pink. We meet him as a youngster (Cole Canazo), living with his mum Doris (Deirdre Lovejoy), sisters and, briefly, he’s dad in the Cambridge projects in Massachusetts. From the beginning, gender has been a slippery issue for him from the start, with the local bully branding him a “girly-boy” and people mistaking him for a girl. Scott’s love of music is encouraged by his uncle Gene (Michael Gioia). Although episodic, the film is linear to begin with, tracking Scott up through high school before mapping his start and later rise as a drag queen.

The film explores gender fluidity and the importance of being at ease with yourself. Scott’s boyfriend Christopher (Natti Vogel) has a hang up about men who don’t look like men, prompting fights about Scott’s job. The idea of flowing between identities is shown as the drag acts get ready for their performance. The film questions our perception as to whether it matters what clothes someone wears and if this affects what is under that clothing. When he is dressed as a man some people find his gender definition complicated but when he is impersonating Cher it is in some ways simpler because everyone is well aware its a guy in drag.

Scott and his impersonation of Cher shows his great talent. As an actor he also shows an ability to step back in time and shows his first walk in heels and we see him as a person who has the talent to charm his audience.

The film uses a variety of storytelling techniques, devices and it is a lot of fun, Actually each thread of the story could well stand on its own and the themes of gender identity resonate.We see the bullying that Townsend faced as a child and the bigotry he dealt with as an adult. We also see a suicide attempt, alcoholic parents, his own drinking, and poverty. “Thirsty” is really about loving oneself and how this allows others to do the same.