Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“DRIES : an intimate portrait of fashion designer Dries Van Noten”— Fashion as Art

“DRIES : an intimate portrait of fashion designer Dries Van Noten”

Fashion as Art

Amos Lassen

The only thing about fashion that I know is that I wear what I like. I know nothing about catwalks, prices, couture and fashion houses. But I must admit that there is something artistic about it. I just recently discovered this film about Dries van Noten and I see that he is innovative, creative and influential than Dries van Noten. Reiner Holzemer’s documentary, “Dries”, takes us into his life and mind. Dries is Dutch and for the last twenty-five years he has been at the top of a very top of a highly competitive and multi-billion-dollar industry. He is an extremely private person and this is the first time he’s allowed a filmmaker to look at his private life and be with him through his creative process. The documentary was filmed over a year, and covers four collection. Along with that, Dries gives an insight into what makes him who he is and what are the driving forces in his life.

Dries van Noten is unassuming and down to earth. He is very, very driven and he makes sure that his home life is settled. He struggles to keep his independence and to stay at the top and we might think that this is at odds with domesticity. His clarity of vision which is quite extraordinary but I find the most fascinating thing about him is his quiet and intimate personage.

 Today, fashion designers are every much celebrities as are those they clothe but Van Noten is an exception to that. He is perfectly happy to be at The film starts tracing his steps when he trained at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and by the time he left in 1980 was recognized as part of the Antwerp 6. This was an informal group of young fashion designers who were determined to make their own mark in an industry which to date had not considered their city/country as a source of creative fashion.

Dries exhibited his first menswear collection in London with the group in 1986 when he got his first order from Barney’s and he has been moving forward ever since. Director Holzemer filmed Dries in front of a screen showing several of this past runway shows which not only gave us an opportunity to see how his style kept evolving, but also as Dries narrated it he could be completely candid about each of his collections. He is totally honest pointing out the seasons where success alluded him, particularly in the early 1990’s when minimalism was the trend. 

 

His truthfulness extends to his own personal behavior when he confesses to being more a control freak that likes to allocate every minute of his time usefully, even when he takes a rare day off visiting famous gardens in England. This appears to be totally fine with his husband and business partner of the last 30+ years, Patrick Vangheluwe, who supports Dries in all of his demands.

The main pleasure of the film is seeing Dries and his creative team at work in their wonderful converted warehouse in the center of Antwerp as they prepare each collection in every detail and then how they painstakingly break it down to what will end up on one of his beautifully choreographed runway shows and then in the stores.

The continued success of Dries is not only his not just his remarkable flair for fashion but also that he has avoided Haute couture and insists that everything he designs be sold in stores. He also has refused to sell the business and has kept Dries Van Noten as his very own.  

“JUST GENDER”— Who Are Transgender People?

“Just Gender”

Who Are Transgender People?

Amos Lassen

“Just Gender” looks at the world of transgender people through archival footage and stills and is by-and-large focused on interviews of transgender persons, their family members and friends, health care experts, community leaders and others who work with the transgender community. It looks at many of the common myths and misunderstandings about the transgender community and explores the confusion between sexual orientation and gender identity, as seen in the rigid binary view generally held by society. We look at discrimination, hardships and brutality that comes as a result of misconceptions and prejudices including the many deaths that are caused by hate each year. Directed by George Zuber, the film explains the whole transgender spectrum in a way that is easy to understand and is therefore quite enlightening and educative.  Zuber made this in 2013 and since then the whole dialogue about the trans community has had a considerably higher public profile, much of information is still very current, important and relevant.

The film opens with a very heartbreaking story of a young transgender girl whose sad story is representative of trans women of color. She was rejected first by her school and then by her evangelical mother who told her to take her own life and if she refused to do so, her mother would commit suicide. She then joined the Navy and was sexually abused, then homeless and ultimately took a job as a prostitute. The rate of trans youth that commit suicide is as high as 41% and we see that there is a large proportion of unsolved murders of trans people that are unsolved.

We see how different people deal with varying degrees of some form or another of gender dysphoria.  Bebe Neuwirth’s narration helps explore the diversity of persons under the large umbrella of transgender people, including cross dressers, gender questioning, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, and female-to-male and male-to-female transsexuals.

Alongside the explanations are the interviews of people who have been on the journey of acknowledging their true identity. No two situations are ever the same. How a individual chooses to present themselves and be authentic to their own identity is a personal issue, and in this is the main area that we as members of the larger society must learn to both understand much more and accept.

Even with the emphasis on intolerance, confusion and outright hatred,  the film’s main message is one of the joy, happiness  and complete fulfillment that is finally achieved by those who  have embraced their own identity. Their stories give hope that others that follow may one day have a much easier time.

“DADDY AND THE MUSCLE ACADEMY”— The Mystique of Tom of Finland

“Daddy and the Muscle Academy”

The Mystique of Tom of Finland

Amos Lassen

For most gay men, Tom of Finland is a household name when thinking about biker gear and leather regalia. “Daddy and the Muscle Academy,” a documentary by the Finnish filmmaker Ilppo Pohjola, shows us the dedication of Tom’s fans. He influenced both fashion and fantasy and this documentary tries to show why he became so important and recognizable.

The film spends most of its time studying Tom’s drawings and analyzing the elements of Tom’s mystique. Because of the explicit nature of his art, he used a pseudonym. In his early years, he tended to go for images that were wholesome men but this eventually led him to his idealized erotic images for which he is best known. These included friendly, muscular men who “share many forms of sex and companionship, always in a spirit of affectionate ease.” The film shows us hundreds of these drawings and it seems that each is each “more acrobatically and anatomically miraculous than the last.”

Beyond providing a showcase for Tom’s trademark-worthy version of the male pinup, director Pohjola gives some minor analysis. He points out that Tom’s men favor boots, sideburns, mustaches and motorcycle caps and that they often smile engagingly even in the midst of group sex. Tom’s fascination with military and particularly fascist iconography (swastikas appear in some of his work) his work is actually becomes an effort to sexualize images of power. Unfortunately the film’s analytical and biographical aspects are shallow and hover over everything else

While the name Touko Laaksonen is not a familiar one, the pseudonym of Tom of Finland, is known worldwide. Long before hyper masculine male sexuality was seen in public, Tom of Finland was among the first to present gay male sexuality as “uncompromising, unapologetic and undeniably masculine.” The film does provide some intriguing insights into the man and his work. Tom said, ” I took all of the properties that I myself did not have and put them into this comic figure,” and here we see the difference between the man, his fantasies and the type of men he idolized. His robust, handsome and refreshingly forthright male figures gave positive role models for confused adolescents as well as adults.

Tom’s men don’t appear to be even remotely conflicted by their “deviant” sexuality and they come across as adjusted individuals who thoroughly and shamelessly indulge in and enjoy their same-sex activities. According to Tom himself, his “work stems from the school of photo-realism, characterized by extremely meticulous depiction of detail.” He exaggerated the male genitalia and this became one of his trademarks. Tom of Finland’s major innovation was to subvert the macho image and this has had profound effect on pop culture. I did find it to be disturbing to learn that Tom of Finland discovered his sexuality with German soldiers during WWII, and he admits to the influence Nazi propaganda had on his artwork–a provocative but understandably controversial factor that was unexplored by this film.

Tom himself is interviewed, shortly before his death in 1991 at the age of 71.

“THE PRINCE AND THE DYBBUK”— Hollywood Filmmaker and Human Chameleon

“THE PRINCE AND THE DYBBUK”

Hollywood Filmmaker and Human Chameleon

Amos Lassen

Moshe Walks is a mystery; was he a golden boy of cinema, a fraud or a man who constantly confused illusion with reality? He was the son of a poor Jewish blacksmith from Ukraine yet he died in Italy as Prince Michael Waszynski, Hollywood producer and exiled Polish aristocrat. He made more than 50 films including cinema hits with Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinale but only one film was his true obsession and that was “The Dybbuk”. “The Dybbuk” was based on an old Jewish legend and the film about it became the most important and mystical Yiddish film ever made. It was directed by Waszynski shortly before the outbreak of the WWII.

Waszynski had once claimed to be fascinated with the downfall of great nations and he related imagery of pogroms and migration to this. He seemed to have achieved almost everything he could possibly have wished, but something seemed to be stalking him, making him in permanently restless. He kept searching for the lost print of his film “Dybbuk” which held his early memories of the Jewish shtetl and his first love. Obviously he had hidden secrets in this masterpiece of Yiddish cinema.

At some point in our lives all of us want to be something that we are not but we are seldom successful in doing so. Mike Waszyński, however, seemed to manage to do so. He was a Jew, a Pole in Warsaw and finally a Prince in the elite circles of Europe. How was he able top pay the price for that and how did he divest himself of his roots? During the time he lived, he could not have been himself so when reality became unbearable, he began to live inside his own imagination. With the help of cinema he was perfectly successful in doing so. He became a unique filmmaker, who not only created monumental films, but also made his own life a masterpiece of masquerade.

As I stated earlier, he was obsessed with his film. “The Dybbuk” or “‘Between Two Worlds”, that he directed in 1937. The film is based on an old Jewish legend in which a young woman is haunted by the spirit (“dybbuk” in Yiddish) of her first love.” It is one of the most important and mystical Yiddish films ever made, ‘The Dybbuk’ also mirrors Waszyński’s personal life as a restless man with many secrets (including his homosexuality) and untold stories.

“JESUS MEETS THE GAY MAN— A Documentary

“Jesus Meets The Gay Man”

A Documentary

Amos Lassen

“Jesus Meets the Gay Man” is a film that was made to look at what Jesus would have said or done if he had met a gay person and attempts to bring the Christian and LGBT communities together through the use of humor and critical thinking as we look at whether forgiveness on both sides can happen. In the style of Monty Python, we see sketches that aim at reconciliation, forgiveness and renewal in which we see a different Jesus “while at the same time convincing you to work on your abs!”

This is a documentary unlike any you have seen and it gives us a new understanding about religion and homosexuality. Most of us, regardless of sexuality are searching for some kind of peace in life of us and we know that this peace is not only for the Christian straight person. Here is a film that will break down closets and air them out. There is no doubt that this is a controversial topic yet it would be more controversial not to deal with it at all. The film challenges us to search our hearts to find the truth.

Since I have yet to see the film, I can only tell you about what I have heard but rest assured that as soon as I see it will further add to this. The film is about a hockey-loving young man who lives in Timmins Ontario in the 80’s.  He tells his story his story to his friend, a fellow Writer and director, Timothy F H Doucette, a straight guy who loves Jesus as they reflect on some of their lives. Both men take off on a journey with a camera crew on the hunt of what Jesus would say to a gay man. They explore the issues from both the gay positive side and the Christian side as they pursue reconciliation, forgiveness and renewal. 

Bonus features include deleted scenes, over two hours of additional interview footage, and more.

“ALIVE”— Five HIV Positive Men

 

“ALIVE!” (“Vivant!”)

Five HIV Positive Men

Amos Lassen

“Alive” is about a week of training that five HIV+ go through before they experience their first solo parachute jump. We watch as unlikely friendships develop under strange conditions. and documents the development of unlikely friendships that develop between such a disparate group.

The focus is on the interpersonal relationships of the five men and the very intense training for the parachute jump. The training is both physically and mentally demanding and the men visibly struggle to assimilate all the need to Know in order to make a successful jump.

As jump day gets closer, the group witness a near-catastrophic problem in the air and they and the viewers understand the that they’re in a little more danger than they previously realized and this makes for compelling viewing. Slowly the documentary shifts to focus more on the friendships that are formed as the jump comes closer. As the relationships between the men evolve, some of the conversations are much more intimate and personal among this group of strangers.

The five men have very different viewpoints on the relationships they shares with significant others and sexual partners. We hear of their first loves, first kisses and some less-enjoyable situations they have found themselves in. Some of these stories can be quite emotional and difficult to listen to but they also make for a much deeper understanding of the situation these men deal with on a daily basis. We are doubly entertained here with the beauty of nature and the sky and with moments of introspection and intimacy. The stories tell of loneliness and fear of intimacy giving us insight into the men’s lives.

“MYKKI BLANCO GOES OUT OF THE WORLD”— Rapper and Artist

“Mykki Blanco Goes Out Of This World”

Rapper and Activist

Amos Lassen

American rapper and activist Mykki Blanco explores queer culture in Johannesburg.  Blanco seeks to breakdown barriers and share all her new experiences in this documentary. Blanco is a 31 years old, African American who visits for the first time.” 

She meets boundary pushing artists Umilio and FAKA, designer Rich Mnisi and Bradley and Nkulsey, a model and dancer and learns that they all use their platforms to give a voice to issues surrounding the politics of their sexuality, gender, identity and humanity in South Africa.  This fils is a special treat with this film.

“BEHIND THE CURTAIN: TODRICK HALL”— An Intimate Look

“Behind The Curtain : Todrick Hall”

An Intimate Look

Amos Lassen

YouTube sensation Todrick Hall is a man who is driven by his passion to express himself creatively, and unafraid to tackle serious issues. He writes, records, and shoots music videos for his own socially conscious, and deeply personal, visual album “Straight Outta Oz.” He plans every detail including sets, costumes, choreography and more for the tour he will take after the album is released. In this documentary, we meet the man behind the music. It focuses on how he came to terms with his identity as a gay black man, and how he has used it to create an inclusive atmosphere for his fans. He shares coming out to his mother, discussing the impact of events like the Orlando nightclub shooting and lamenting about choosing his career over his one true love.

Hall is the type of entertainer and human being that we need to see more of in show business. Now at 32 years old, we see him as a man of ambition. He is a  rapper/singer/songwriter/actor/dancer/producer.  Director Katherine Fairfax Wright didn’t know who Todrick Hall was when she was offered a job to direct this film and we see that she not only found out who he is but she even fell in love with him as they worked together. That love makes this film very special.

“Straight Outta Oz” is Hall’s personal history set to music and dance and he tells us that as he was writing this album, he and Awesomeness Films decided that the documentary should follow him as he did so.

The documentary begins as Hall is about to start his new musical based loosely on “The Wizard of Oz” in which he incorporates his own life story, including his tough childhood growing up gay in a conservative religious African/American family. The show is a cathartic experience for him and also one that brings him closer to the audience.  One of Hall’s greatest talents is that he is really able to connect with his fans.

it is somewhat exhausting to watch Hall actually unwind with his very supportive boyfriend and we see that he has a totally different life when he is not being filmed or performing.

“BETWEEN TWO-SPIRIT”— Becoming a Woman at Sixty

“Between Two-Spirit”

Becoming A Woman At Sixty

Amos Lassen

Two-Spirit is a native American term used to describe Indians who fulfill both roles of a man and a woman : almost like a third gender.

As Chris Muth was nearing his 60th birthday, he had just dealt with a life threatening illness. He was a Professor of Management at a High School of Engineering in Geneva and decided that the time had come for a change. That change involved his becoming woman or as he said, he wanted to make his outside body conform to the way he felt within. 

When he was in his 20’s and studying at the University, Chris lived in a Commune in Zurich and joined a club for Transvestite Women and started to cross-dress for the first time in his life. When he met his future wife, his life took him on a straighter and more serious conventional path, and he settled down and became a father and a successful businessman before moving on to become a professor.

We are not told about the years in between but everyone was shocked when they discovered what the wanted to do so it is safe to assume that in that time, he had lived completely as a man. Even when he leaves Geneva for Thailand to have gender re-alignment surgery this is the first time any of his friends had ever seen him seen him wear women’s clothes.

 Filmmaker Laurence Périgaud actually met Chris by chance at a Conference on Transexuality just a few weeks prior to the start of filming this documentary. The movie begins with the surgery and covers the first year of transitioning. Chris’s Swiss Doctor explains that in cases of people wanting to undergo hormonal or surgical transition to the other sex there is the Harry Benjamin Code of Practice recognized by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health which determines the protocols that should be followed.  In Chris’s case the doctor allowed Chris to fast-track the whole process. He has barely been on hormones for eight months, and even more important is that he had never had to live openly as a woman for some time as all other patients do.  We assume that this is because of his age.

In Thailand the Doctor gave Chris a new softer more feminine face and altered his genitalia as well. When he recovered, Chris returned to Geneva to face the world, but only little by little.  At home she is Christa a new woman, but at work and in society he is still Chris the man.  This is not hard to do because so much clothing now is unisex. He had planned to come out to his employers and his colleagues at the end of the semester, but the rumor mill beat him to it.

 Chris/Christa’s world is conservative and his fellow professors and friends struggle to come to terms with the complete shock of his new identity and some have managed to do so but with a bit of reluctance. The School President offers her support but the Industrial Association, the professional organization that he is president of has asked for her resignation.   His ex-wife has filed for divorce and their daughter will have nothing to do with her father.

The film focuses only on the positive side of the transitioning making it a bit unrealistic and we, of course, question the decision to by-pass many of the crucial safeguards that are normally in place.   Nonetheless, Christa Muth is likable and personable and has a fine sense of self deprecating humor. She is brave and even courageous in recognizing that it’s never too late in life to become true to who you really are regardless of the consequences.   Where I live there are three people in their 80s who are transitioning and I admire their desire to do so. The movie was special for me in that my niece, an academic like Christa, transitioned at age 41 and was allowed to keep his tenure.

“THE WITNESS”— The Case for Kitty Genovese

“The Witness”

The Case of Kitty Genovese

Amos Lassen

James Solomon’s moving documentary chronicles Bill Genovese’s quest for the truth behind his sister Kitty’s notorious murder.

Kitty Genovese’s case became synonymous with apathy after news that she was stabbed to death on a New York City street while 38 witnesses did nothing. Now some forty years later, her brother decides to find the truth. He uncovers a lie that changed his life, condemned a city and defined an era. The case of Kitty Genovese brought about a national outcry. When 28-year-old bar worker, Kitty Genovese was murdered, news reports—especially a front-page story in the New York Times claimed that dozens of her neighbors watched the crime unfold over a half-hour but did nothing to help her and the incident became a symbol of modern urban resident’s fear of “getting involved.”

However, in the last ten years another investigative narrative has challenged and replaced the original. This one charges that Times editor Abe Rosenthal oversaw that the manufacture of a modern horror story in which much of the reporting was skewed to fit the message or was completely wrong. Since the revisionist take has gotten lots of attention saying much about the media’s power to create myths and distort the public’s perception of events.

More than a decade ago, the filmmaker was involved in trying to put together an HBO dramatic film about the Genovese case with playwright Alfred Uhry and documentarian Joe Berlinger but it never got off the ground so Solomon decided to make a documentary on the subject in partnership with Bill Genovese, one of Kitty’s three surviving brothers. This film has been in the making for eleven years.

Bill Genovese is a retiree who lost both legs in the Vietnam War and he feels that this the film is an attempt to discover the truth behind the media reports of his sister’s murder and achieve a personal emotional resolution to the event that traumatized his family members so much that they did not dare speak about it. Solomon’s skills and Genovese’s sincerity and intelligence make this quite a thoughtful and satisfying cinematic experience.

Despite his disability, Bill gets around well and Solomon’s cameras follow him as he revisits the scene of the crime and talks with those who were there at the time. As the original news stories correctly reported, Kitty was coming home late when a man stabbed her from behind. She screamed loudly and made her way into her building’s hallway where the murderer returned a half-hour later and killed her. However, the claim of “38 witnesses” who ignored her plight seems to have something made up; many heard her screams but, contrary to the Times, most could not see the crime. Unquestionably, some who could’ve acted to help her did not. One woman says that she called the police and told others they had done so. had done so (a claim that can’t be substantiated). Contrary to the reports that his sister died alone, Bill speaks with a neighbor and friend of Kitty’s who tells of holding her when she took her last breath.

This film shows the tragedy’s nuances and human complexities and  examines the murder’s unusual peripheral circumstances, in which 38 witnesses did nothing to try and help Genovese as she cried out to be helped. As Bill revisited what happened then, he discovered previously unknown details about his sister’s life. He learned that she was a lesbian and was involved with local, small-time gambling rings. Solomon follows Bill’s pursuits regarding personal reconciliation, the breakdown of community, and journalistic malpractice and we learn that Times editor Abe Rosenthal changed certain details in order to sell a story of a neighborhood of people are totally removed from one another.

The film presents Genovese’s identity as an afterthought, turning her living days and nights into incidental details that the filmmakers quickly hustle through in order to return to the circumstances surrounding her murder.

Bill is genuinely haunted by his sister’s murder and, in fact, he enlisted in the military shortly after her murder. The fact that he lost both of his legs has become a visible, material reminder of loss. Solomon captures these feelings outside of direct confrontations, like at a family dinner that results in members asking Bill when he’ll be satisfied and quit researching her murder. By film’s end, Bill’s quest is still somewhat cloudy and we do not understand what his compulsion for more information actually means. This is a cathartic film for Bill Genovese and he is the heart and soul of what we see.

The documentary provides substantial evidence that several of the 38 witnesses, whose names were uncovered in an earlier investigation by the TV program 20/20, did indeed call the police and/or shout at the assailant to stop. Among the media figures that covered the case were Gabe Pressman and the late Mike Wallace and both are seen in interviews here. Wallace admits that the story was “a media creation” to a certain degree, and both cite the power of the press in its becoming accepted as truth.