Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“THANKS TO HANK”— An Unsung Hero of the AIDS Epidemic

“THANKS TO HANK”

An Unsung Hero of the AIDS Epidemic

Amos Lassen

Director, writer and producer Bob Ostertag’s “Thanks to Hank” is the inspirational story of a true unsung hero of the gay liberation movement and the AIDS epidemic that followed—Hank Wilson. Wilson is unknown to many, but beloved by those whose lives he touched. He Hank was a behind-the-scenes activist who, with uncompromising zeal and pathos, radically altered LGBTQ+ life and rights in the Bay Area especially for queer youth in the early days of AIDS.

Through archival footage, animation, and interviews with collaborators and friends (Tom Ammiano, Lea DeLaria, Donna Lisa Stewart, Gerry Kirby, and Blackberri to name a few), we see the impacts of Hank’s efforts that we still feel today in AIDS service and queer youth organizations, cultural outlets, and local politics.

The documentary spans forty years of Hank’s work that was focused on the most marginalized in the community. We learn about Hank’s legacy and come to love his nature. He was a “selfless man…who neither judged nor discriminated. He helped, he made a difference… he took on everything, whether it was housing, support, respect, respite, remembrance…or, holding a hand when the last breath leaves. He did it. He did it all…and, now, his friends, pay their respects.”

Lea DeLaria tells us that during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, “the gay community let the gay community down…people turned their backs. Hank Wilson didn’t.”

“FACING FEAR”— An Unlikely Partnership

“FACING FEAR”

An Unlikely Partnership

Amos Lassen

American filmmaker Jason Cohen’s documentary is the story of the unlikely partnership between former neo Nazi Tim Zaal and Matthew Boger, who Zaal and his friends had badly beaten when the teenaged Boger was living on the streets of Hollywood. Because Boger was gay, he had been thrown out of his family by his religious mother. Now in their 40s, they have made an accidental re-meeting and their horrific past connection into a lesson for others about the possibility of forgiveness, and a warning about how difficult it can be to escape one’s past. As these men tell their painful stories, it is chilling, powerful and profound.

“Facing Fear” is also exploitative, but it’s a knowing and aware exploitation in a sense of the word that’s neutral in terms of value: Matthew Boger and Tim Zaal know that they have a story that may change people’s lives for the better. In the early 1980s, Zaal was a neo-Nazi punk who nearly beat Boger to death, only to meet twenty-odd years later while both worked in the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles  and they exploit it. Cohen interviews the pair separately and showing the joint talks they give at museum and he also integrates other material.

It’s a great story. Boger and Zaal are both engaging people, and Cohen balances the short film .However, we never really absorb the details of his story, and Cohen’s decision to shoot the two separately (for the most part) means that there are mixed messages about what sort of friendship they have now.

While this is an inspiring story, to be sure, it’s held back by a “very special episode” sensibility. The movie always makes it absolutely clear how the viewer is supposed to feel, no matter how strong the material is on its own.

Thiscould have been an interesting exploration on the power of forgiveness but the two men’s interview segments seem overly rehearsed.

“SIDNEY AND FRIENDS”— The Impact of Prejudice and Intolerance

“SIDNEY AND FRIENDS”

The Impact of Prejudice and Intolerance

Amos Lassen

 “Sidney And Friends” is a powerful documentary that explores the human impact of prejudice and simple ignorance. Tristan Aitchison’s film gives some of the Kenya’s most disadvantaged citizens the opportunity to tell their own stories.

Central to this is Sydney, an intersex person whom Aitchison met by accident and who introduced him to others in similar situations. Raised as a girl, Sidney did not develop in the expected way, either psychologically or physically. Discovering an attraction to women led her being rejected by her parents, forcing Sidney to leave home early and try to survive alone, which is all the more difficult in a country that places a heavy emphasis on family and community as systems of social and economic support. Then there was the difficulty of having an ID card marked femalebut looking male which made it impossible for her to get a legitimate job. It wasn’t until a doctor shouted publicly what the situation was.

Alongside Sidney’s story are those of trans people facing similar difficulties. Ben was rejected by parents who saw him as a lesbian after a childhood desire to play with boys and do boys’ work. Following was the desire to wear male-coded clothing full time and change his name – now he, too, is assumed to be using false ID when necessity forces him to try to pass as female. Martina has the opposite problem, with nobody willing to take her male ID seriously. She has a natural, delicate glamour and would probably have an easy life in a Western country but struggles to get by in her homeland. Like many beautiful young women trapped by poverty, she dreams of a man solving everything, but  she keeps falling in love with the wrong guys without knowing when or how to discuss her bodily difference.

These and other stories show the profound difficulties that many trans and intersex people face. Many of the problems are a product of unyielding bureaucracy. Ben dreams of having surgery like trans men in the West do but, when living hand to mouth, it’s a difficult dream to realize. They are culturally specific issues here, such as the belief that being trans is caused by demons and can be changed through exorcism but many are universal. Sexually abusive pastors are not a rarity and desperate young people are easy prey. Childhood memories of classes split into boy and girl groups, with teachers displaying unanticipated hostility resurface.

The documentary is a portrait of a situation on the brink of change— now there is a significant effort to educate on these issues in Kenya, partly thanks to one of this film’s subjects. This isn’t the story of people in need of rescue so much as it’s the story of people working out how to help themselves  and there is a lot to be learned here.

Nearly every documentary about someone’s gender transition is difficult to watch.  This is because as they struggle with gender dysphoria they are made outcasts by their families  and have to deal with poverty since they are unable to be employed. They become sex workers which puts their whole lives at risk. Very few are able to take this journey with the loving support that they deserve.

The situation can be so much worse in a Third World Country such as Kenya. Families are completely ignorantabout the true nature of their children’s plights. They see them as cursed by demons and they would  try to physically beat them or starve out the demon or have whole church groups have special exorcism ceremonies. Then there is the fact that the young trans peoplehave little or no knowledge of what they feel and how to deal with their feelings.  Words such as transgender were totally unknown, and when they discovered them, they felt relief in learning that there were others like them. Because they were wrongly thought to be gay,  they make a point of stressing that they wanted to distance themselves from the LGBTQ community

Living in Kenya, even today, exposes them to the potential harm since there are no rights for anyone in the LGBTQ community. 

“BULLY. COWARD. VICTIM: The Story of Roy Cohn”— Notorious and Unscrupulous

“BULLY. COWARD. VICTIM: The Story of Roy Cohn”

Notorious and Unscrupulous

Amos Lassen

Over his long career, lawyer Roy Cohn victimized others especially during  the 1951 trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for selling atomic secrets to the Soviets. He was then a 23-year-old assistant U.S. district attorney who managed to come up with the testimony that led to the couple’s conviction and execution in 1953. Now, the granddaughter of the Rosenbergs, filmmaker Ivy Meeropol looks at the man responsible for this. Interweaving father Michael Meeropol and his brother Robert during their campaign to clear their parents’ names, she gives us an anecdotal portrait of an unrepentant Cohn. 

Particularly fascinating are the strange connections that linked the Meeropols with Cohn. In one moving scene, the director and her father remember that when visiting the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the first panel they saw was Cohn’s with the epitaph “Coward Bully Victim.” During an interview with journalist David L. Marcus, Cohn’s cousin, he describes the shame Cohn felt at having an uncle, Bernard Marcus, sent to Sing Sing prison for financial crimes in the 1930s and his determination never to become a victim, Marcus sees the irony of his talking to the granddaughter of the couple whose execution, at the very same prison, had been engineered by Cohn. 

“Bully. Coward. Victim” documentary covers the conviction of the Rosenbergs, the McCarthy hearings, Cohn’s law practice in New York, his relationship with Donald Trump, his life as a closeted gay man, his disbarment and death from AIDS. It is the interview that show Cohn for what he was. Journalist Peter Manso, who interviewed Cohn for “Playboy” magazine, shows the bills that the wealthy Cohn never paid: a $1,500 debt for laundry and $10,500 owed to the 21 Club. Written across many of these bills are Cohn’s instructions to his secretary not to pay. The result was that he was constantly being sued, lessons obviously well learned by Donald Trump, the man he mentored. Gossip columnist Cindy Adams, who planted stories for Cohn in the New York Post, recalls going into Cohn’s home to repossess unpaid Indonesian artwork for her dealer friend.

In Provincetown, Massachusetts, the gay resort town, director John Waters would see Cohn in Front Street bars with hustlers and he says that this always bothered him In Ptown, Cohn would host restaurant dinner parties for 25 with each place setting having a candy dish full of cocaine and a Tuinal pill in case a guest became too high. His Provincetown landlord, artist Anne Packard, remembers the lawyer as always being surrounded by people— he was never alone except when he went swimming.

Yet Cohn remains an inscrutable and complex figure. Manso says that Cohn was so much worse than just evil. Meeropol’s film captures some of Cohn’s contradictions, but it also reflects poignantly on the damage he left behind.

This is the second documentary of Cohn in the last few years.“Where’s My Roy Cohn” by director Matt Tyrnauer came out in 2019, and was comprehensive in its historical approach, giving viewers all they need to know to understand the life and career trajectory of the man. Cohn’s crimes against humanity go far beyond the Rosenbergs and include working for the mafia, teaching the young Trump how to never say you’re sorry, and promoting vile anti-gay policies while being a deeply closeted homosexual. He died in 1986, at the age of 59 and while one might be tempted to feel a bit of sympathy for the lie he was forced to live, even a basic examination of his deeds shows that he was a nasty piece of work.Though Meeropol covers many of the same narrative paths previously walked by Tyrnauer, Meeropol brings the additional angle of her own family history, interviewing her father, Michael Meeropol, at length and focusing on his 1970s crusades to rehabilitate his parents’ image and excoriate Cohn’s legacy.

Born in 1927 in the Bronx, Cohn was a gay, Jewish man at a time in American life when neither were seen as positives, and grew up both pampered by mother and terrified of exposure. His hunger for power led him down many twisted paths.

Meeropol also includes additional talking heads, including: Cohn’s former driver Peter Allen; New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams; playwright Tony Kushner, who wrote Cohn into his “Angels in America”; journalist Peter Manso, and filmmaker John Waters, The result is a meditation on how depravity is enabled by those who tolerate wrongs out of convenience. Meeropol spends significant time on the Cohn-Trump relationship and her film is filled with unspoken parallels between the two men. Perhaps Trump should pay attention to the lessons of what happened to Cohn, especially since he was one of those who abandoned him when his popularity fell. Meeropol’s personal connection leads to a greater understanding of Cohn who she sees as evil. But we also see that he was not held accountable for his evil.

Cohn’s career spanned some of the most shameful incidents of American history during the 20th century. This look at the despicable man, however,  feels incomplete because his ruthlessness and contradictions can’t fully be condensed into  just a  film.

It was the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg that put Roy Cohn on the map, and after securing their conviction and execution he was recommended by J. Edgar Hoover to work for Senator Joe McCarthy. Like his boss, Cohn was unscrupulous in his collection of evidence and accusations and this would follow Cohn throughout the rest of his career. The first third of the documentary focuses on Cohn’s work for McCarthy as well as the trial of the Rosenbergs and the aftermath that it left on their children. Collateral damage did not concern Cohn’s relentless hunt for suspected communists.

Like his boss, Cohn would soon overplay his hand and it backfired. Cohn worked alongside G. David Schine, and it was widely believed that he and Cohn were having an affair. Of course, part of the Red Scare was the Lavender Scare where communism was taken together with homosexuality, However, those on a quest for power often find themselves safe from hypocrisy. Schine was drafted into the Army, and there started the beginning of the end for Cohn’s time working for McCarthy. Cohn demanded preferential treatment for Schine and when that was denied he promised to take on the Army next. Cohn and McCarthy staged investigation hearings into the Army but the hearings turned into a joke, and Cohn’s relationship with Schine was placed under scrutiny with allusions made to Cohn’s sexuality in the hearings. The whispers that would follow Cohn until well after his death thus began.

After leaving McCarthy, Cohn established a private practice in New York City, and his ambition again put him in the circle of power. He was a media darling, and would defend and extol the virtues of his various clients. The film briefly explores Cohn’s various famous clients as well as the lawyer’s shady finance situation that consisted of loans and favors from his wealthy clients. IRS troubles, however, forced Cohn to not be the legal owner of anything, and he had many unpaid bills that were discovered after his death. It was not just Cohn’s illicit business dealings and amorality that make him such a fascinating figure. This comes from the personal contradictions that manifested themselves into public cruelty.

1-18-1983 President Reagan meeting with Rupert Murdoch and Roy Cohn in the Oval Office

Cohn’s sexuality was an open secret. The film recalls stories of Cohn arranging parties in Greenwich, Connecticut, which had a bustling gay community, where Cohn would be liberal with cocaine and various young men while publicly being anti-gay and anti-drug. Perhaps the most amusing anecdotes of Cohn’s time in Greenwich come from John Waters, who openly shows his disdain for Cohn. These deep contradictions within Cohn are further highlighted by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner. The open secret of Cohn’s sexuality would haunt him in his lifetime when stories about him appeared in a small gay magazine. Richard Dupont, the publisher and once a street hustler hired by Cohn, was relentless in trying to shame his nemesis could not because Cohn’s connections resulted in Dupont being charged with aggravated harassment and an 18-month prison sentence.

We also see Cohn’s growing political influence in the ‘80s with the rise of Ronald Reagan, and the documentary traces his connections to political operatives and felons Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. Cohn also represented media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and became a mentor to Trump. Even though Cohn’s political allies were loudly anti-gay, Cohn was able to secure a pass because he protected them, at least, until he became ill. Publicly the lawyer stated he had liver cancer but most knew he had contracted AIDS. Suddenly his allies distanced themselves. They could tolerate an outsider as long as his indiscretions were out of sight but once that was impossible, Roy Cohn was exiled.

Meeropol uses her documentary as a chance to give us a biography of her family’s chief villain while also confronting and processing the various revelations in the Rosenberg case, namely the revelations that Julius was likely guilty but still prosecuted with evidence and testimony manipulated by Cohn. Decades in the public sphere for Roy Cohn left behind a trail of pain and misery that is still felt today. Ivy Meeropol personally knows the pain of Roy Cohn’s legacy and that through that legacy of pain, Cohn taught others to use it.

Yet Meeropol resists the idea that Cohn was a simple villain, laying out a portrait of someone who was apparently as charismatic and well connected as he was amoral. In Trump, Cohn seemed to find something close to a kindred spirit. In 1973, Trump was sued by the government for violating the Fair Housing Act and illegally discriminating against black tenants. Cohn’s advice was to countersue the government for $100 million. (Trump did, although he later settled without admitting guilt.) Trump loved Cohn’s pugnacious approach, and his refusal to admit wrongdoing or defeat on any level. When Trump Tower was being built, Cohn also introduced Trump to his Mafia connections, who helped facilitate construction during a cement workers’ strike. And from Cohn, who both the documentary and legend attest never paid for anything, Trump might have learned that settling accounts or compensating people who work for you is for small uninformed people. (Trump learned from his mentor well; he gave Cohn a pair of diamond Bulgari cuff links that were discovered after Cohn’s death, to be imitations.)

Trump also distanced himself from Cohn at the end of the latter’s life, but still insisting to anyone who would listen that he had liver cancer. Meeropol, seems struck by the irony of her Cohn’s fall “—how a man who’d forever projected his own singularity and strength became another statistic, a name on a quilt panel alongside tens of thousands of others.” Before Cohn died, he was also professionally humiliated, disbarred for trying to give himself control over a dying client’s estate. After his death, the IRS confiscated everything  he’d left to his last lover Peter Fraser proving that not even Roy Cohn could outwit the inevitability of death and taxes.

“BROKEN HEART LAND”— The Results of Intolerance

“BROKEN HEART LAND”

The Results of Intolerance

Amos Lassen

David Spaulding grew up in Oklahoma where conservatism rules. One is expected to go to church, live a wholesome life, be a good American, become a high school football hero and have a career as a farmer. However, Spaulding, a member of a City Council in Norman claims that there is “an attack on that lifestyle from those who want to push their agenda, and I’m not going tolerate it.” 

This is a documentary that describes this attack, and “agenda,” in response to the City Council’s decision to support a proposal for an LGBTQ History Month. Spaulding says that he means to help and does not condemn anyone. When we see him in a scene on his farm, pushing a swing for a pair of little girls dressed in pink, his voiceover explains, “Homosexuality is an abomination. You need to reach out to those people, or we need to reach out to them, and share with them the Gospel and show them that what they’re doing is not conducive to making heaven.” 

Spaulding’s reasoning here is so circular sort that that it is difficult to see beyond it. It’s the kind of reasoning that shapes and divides communities like  that of  Norman, Oklahoma.  Norman is college town that’s probably more “progressive” than many other towns in Oklahoma. It has become a haven for both tolerance and intolerance. This contradiction bothers Nancy and Van Harrington, parents of a gay 19-year-old who killed himself in 2010. 

The Harringtons’ struggles are at the center of “Broken Heart Land”. Soon after Zack’s death, the story begins to circulate that, just days before, he attended the City Council meeting where community members voiced their opposition to the proposed LGBTQ History Month. If his reasoning can never be known, his parents (who met while both were in the Air Force), as well as his older sister Nikki and younger brother Austin, begin to reconsider their own perspectives and behaviors. 

The film includes footage of the City Council meeting  that is very disturbing. (“The gays say they want equality, but demand special attention. That’s not equal, it’s special”; “You can’t reproduce homosexuality, you actually have to recruit for homosexuality”; “Unfortunately, the love that dare not say its name has become the love that never shuts up”). We also see footage of, Chad Williams, a local pastor, who declares at the Council meeting that 78 percent of homosexuals die from sexually transmitted diseases. 

The film’s interviews with both Williams and Spaulding don’t so much explain that this number is incorrect and we also see their confidence in their beliefs. This confidence is the heart of the film. In the Harringtons’ self-examinations, they ask each other and themselves how they missed the difficulty of Zack’s experience. As much as Spaulding and Williams cannot begin to contemplate the damage caused by their intolerance and their fear, the Harringtons make their questions visible. The film uses a doubled structure, its interviews with Williams and Spaulding as well as with the Harringtons, show the many meanings of its title, the several ways hearts and the heart land might be “broken.” 

That Williams and Spaulding express themselves so plainly in the film that it is both alarming and telling: they live in a world where their views are confirmed repeatedly. When the proposal passes in 2010, Williams is so certain of his rightness that he decides to run for the Council himself. (He defends his staggeringly inaccurate his number — 78 percent — by claiming he cited an “old” number from the CDC, a number that appears never to have existed.) 

His decision in turn inspires the Harringtons to speak publicly, even as they continue to struggle with their loss and also, their discovery, after Zack’s death, that he was HIV positive. Even though they say, at first ,that they’ve been unable to tell other family members, all of the Harringtons use the film  as a way to speak publicly. This collaboration between film and family expands the effects that both might have. With the film crew present, Nancy reveals her son’s HIV status to some of their neighbors and discovers a community she didn’t know existed, and quite the opposite of the conservative, fearful citizens who spoke up at the City Council meeting.

Nancy and her family wonder how their previously unconsidered silences might have made it hard for Zack to tell his “secret.” The film represents their rethinking respectfully. Carefully composed images show pensive faces looking beyond silences. Nikki says that everyone in the family now has to come out. 

This film is directed by Jeremy Stulberg and Randy Stulberg and it reflectsother towns all over this the country who are painfully now coping with their own prejudices and bigotry.

“BEYOND”: ‘There’s Always A Black Issue Dear’” Black LGBTQ in Britain

“BEYOND”: ‘There’s Always A Black Issue Dear’”

Black LGBTQ in Britain

Amos Lassen

We do not have much cinema about the Black LGBTQ community especially with regard to Britain. ”Beyond” is an important historical and cultural documentary about, what it was like to come out as gay, bi and trans in 1970s London and  what it was like to be both queer and black then.

Director Claire Lawrieexplores and celebrates black LGBT identities that grew up the UK in the 1970s/80s.  The country was somewhat reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that homosexuality was finally legalized in 1969 yet it was black members of the LGBT community that met with the most hostility and sheer hatred.

The cast here, however, is not hostile or angry. Rather they are optimistic and enthusiastic as they look to  their youth as helping shape who they are today.

“Beyond” looks at influence that Black LGBT culture has had upon fashion, fine art, dance, music and language and these have been appropriated by the cultural mainstream. We hear how the people we meet here created their own LGBTQ identities at the time is exciting.   .

The documentary captures an important and vital period— the 70s, 80s and early 90s. 

 

 

“A BIGGER SPLASH”— An Enigmatic Look at David Hockney

“A BIGGER SPLASH”

An Enigmatic Look at David Hockney

Amos Lassen

Made in the early 1970s. “A Bigger Splash” features artist David Hockney and his circle. It seems, at first, to be a documentary looking at Hockney, but as you watch we understand that what we’re watching isn’t a documentary at all. Instead it is recreation of reality with all the real players in Hockney’s life who are take part in a devised reflection of the truth. It was made at a time when reality soaps were the work of mad directors.

The film begins with Hockney talking about a new love, but then goes three years back in time three to when he’s recently split up with his young boyfriend, Peter Schlesinger. The film then covers the time following the split, looking at how ‘more than two people suffer’ when love goes wrong. If you’re hoping for it draw any conclusions, they do not happen.

“A Bigger Splash” takes its lead from Hockney’s famed paintings, with their fascination for looking at subjects through other things (glass, water), as well as how they frame their subjects and feature characters who seem slightly detached both from each other and the viewer. The film is therefore very deliberately a reflection of (and on) Hockney but without clear viewpoint and we face questions.  Is this Hockney’s view of himself? Is it his friends’? Is it the director’s? Is the truth, as the film seems to hint, coming from a mix of these views?

The result is enigmatic and interesting, even though it’s somewhat frustrating. Any attempt to gain a further understanding of Hockney himself does not happen, as the film doesn’t allow the audience to fully understand what it’s doing. It’s a fascinating film, but not one you can trust. It’s almost like the unreliable narrator in literature, but here that unreliable narrator is the movie itself. With a famous subject like Hockney, you expect a documentary that shows you his life and art, but instead director Jack Hazan has created something where you have to question everything you see. although “A Bigger Splash” is difficult to trust, Hockney himself found the whole thing far too close to the truth and offered to pay to have the negative destroyed. He may have eschewed the pop art label others thrust on him, but like many creative people, he was aware that the public Hockney was a creation, and that this film could affect that. He later changed his mind and apparently now sees it as a worthwhile portrait. Indeed that idea in itself is incredibly intriguing, suggesting this is the cinematic equivalent of when one artist paints another.

It seems that the film gets close to the truth, but it’s impossible to tell exactly what is true and what isn’t. Hockney come across as a little self-obsessed, playing on his working class roots but whose problems and attitude are rather decadent It’s perhaps not surprising that he comes across like that as he’s constantly being affirmed as the center of his own universe by agents, gallery owners and collectors and by friends whose existence seem to largely revolve around him.

Made in 1974. “A Bigger Splash” is incredibly frank in its depiction of gay sexuality.  We normally think of cinema back then censoring homosexuality out of existence, but this is amongst those rare documents that refused to do so. Even today it contains at least one scene that would give it an X rating. Few movies of the time manage to be so frank, blasé and natural about gay people as this is. The film was seen as quite scandalous at the time it was released, but its view of gay life is actually wonderfully quiet and matter of fact.

The film is ostensibly a portrait of the artist as an uninspired man. Hazan dispenses with many of the familiar conventions of documentary filmmaking that would become the way to do so in years to come. Hazan presents Hockney and the people in the artist’s orbit as essentially living in one of his paintings and it is a captivating pseudo-drama of alienated people living flashy lifestyles and who have much difficulty communicating with each other. The film feels like an extension of Hockney’s sexually frank art, which has consistently depicted gay life and helped to normalize gay relationships in the 1960s. One notably protracted sequence shows two men stripping naked and intensely making out making it i easy to see why the film is now recognized as an important flashpoint in the history of LGBT cinema.

Hockney shows an acute understanding of human behavior. Hazan beginsthe filmwith a flash-forward of Hockney describing the sub-textual richness of a male friend’s actions with the artist practically becoming giddy over incorporating what he’s observed into one of his paintings. Hazan subsequently includes extended scenes of Hockney at work, attempting to capture a sense of people’s inner feelings through an acute depiction of body language and facial expressions. At its simplest, then, the documentary is a celebration of how Hockney turns life into art.

Hockney is seen in the film working on “Portrait of an Artist” (“Pool with Two Figures”), incorporating into his now-iconic painting the visage of a friend. It’s here that the film homes in on Hockney’s uncanny ability to transform a seemingly innocuous moment into a profound expression of desire. It’s as if Hazan is trying to put us in Hockney’s shoes, force us to pay as close attention as possible to the details of so many lavish parties and mundane excursions to art galleries and imagine just what might become one of the Hockney’s masterworks.

Toward the end of “A Bigger Splash”, surreal dream scenes are seen between shots of a sleeping Hockney and staged like one of his pool paintings, showing the accumulation of people and details that the artist witnessed and absorbed throughout the film.

“PORNSTAR PANDEMIC: THE GUYS”— Life During the Quarantine

“PORNSTAR PANDEMIC: THE GUYS”

Life During the Quarantine

Amos Lassen

It has been a rough time for all of us. While, at first, staying home and not seeing others was fun, it grew old quickly and we have yearned for human interaction. Director EJ (Edward James) in his documentary, “Pornstar Pandemic: The Guys” gives us an in-depth look at adult film actors as they experience this Covid-19 quarantine with the world around them being closed down. We have no idea for how long the adult film industry will be shut down especially since it requires direct contact between the actors.

The film looks at the daily lives and experiences of some of gay porn’s big names and covers the gamut of gay, bi-sexual and gay-for-pay stars. If you think about it, most of what we know about gay porn stars during their free time is just hearsay and here we see what they do when they are not acting and it is quite surprising. I have actually known several gay porn actors and was very surprised to see that when they are not on screen, they are just ordinary guys living regular lives.

The film looks at six adult actors— Dante Cole, Pierce Paris, DeAngelo Jackson, Alter Sin, Elijah Wilde and Jack Loft. We not only learn of how they are spending their time being Locked-in but also how they feel about the porn industry and how their lives have changed as a result of Corona Virus. They also speculate on what will be when the quarantine is over and they return to work. You might be surprised to learn that they see their profession as just a regular job.

 

 

“GLOBAL GAY”—nDecriminalizing Homosexuality

“GLOBAL GAY”

Decriminalizing Homosexuality

Amos Lassen

“Global Gay” is a  French TV documentary about the move to  universal decriminalizing homosexuality. It was originally made some six years ago and we see here that not much  progress has been made. In the United Nations with its membership of 196 nations, there are still seven where homosexuality is a death sentence and in 84 other countries being gay can mean prison and/or physical punishment even though several world leaders have declared themselves in favor of the universal decriminalization of homosexuality.  However, others have look to Trump and Putin who want to go back to universal punishment for what they see as sexual aberrations. We clearly see here that global acceptance and equality is a long way off.

The documentary follows the fight for decriminalization by looking at the lives and work of some of the pioneers in the field and we see here that there is  a growing global social movement.

 

 

“RAW! UNCUT! VIDEO!”— Safe Sex During the Aids Epidemic

 

“RAW! UNCUT! VIDEO!”

Safe Sex During the Aids Epidemic

Amos Lassen

“Raw! Uncut! Video!” is a new documentary about inventing safe sex during the AIDS epidemic and the gay fetish porn studio Palm Drive Video which was created by leathermen Jack Fritscher and Mark Hemry during the 1980s home video revolution. It was a homegrown mail-order company that expanded the boundaries of sexual experimentation and promoted kink as an integral form of safe sex during the height of the AIDS epidemic.

 

“As AIDS devastated queer communities, a pervasive fear of sexual activity overtook American culture – and drove many LGBTQ folks back into the ‘closet’. Because fetish does not require an exchange of bodily fluids, Palm Drive Video was founded as a safe-sex service that offered viewers new sexual possibilities in an age of plague. Using rugged men hand-picked from small-town bars, rodeos, county fairgrounds, body-building contests, construction sites and back alleys, the studio focused on a diversity of all-male fetish scenarios – from extreme BDSM to mud worship, medical torture, and leather cowboys. With unlimited access to the Fritscher-Hemry archive, intimate observational footage of Jack and Mark today, and interviews with other legendary experts on gay fetish, RAW! UNCUT! VIDEO! reconstructs an erotic underground of hot men and wild sex that paved the way for sex-positive activism and a proliferation of LGBTQ community-building around niche sexualities.” www.rawuncutvideo.com/ @rawuncutvideo_

However the movie cannot be finished without some help if you can.

“Why We Need Your Help:

Our project looks beyond the lurid sensationalism often associated with ‘adult films’ to examine the powerful and positive impacts that fetish pornography has historically had for LGBTQ communities. Nevertheless, fetish and pornography are still taboo for many people and there are persistent stigmas around both alternative sexualities and ‘adult’ entertainment. Most traditional funders of independent documentary hear the description “a film about gay fetish porn” and run away as fast as they can! Thus, raising the budget necessary to complete RAW! UNCUT! VIDEO! has presented our producing team with many challenges. After three years, we are finished with production and are now editing the film. To date the majority of funding for the project has come from our own pockets and from the generosity of individuals who are interested in seeing this documentary get made. Editing and post-production is one of the priciest and most time-consuming phases of any documentary and, while we continue to apply for grants, we are still in need of community support to finish the film.

 

How Your Contribution Will Be Used:

We currently have a rough feature-length assembly of the documentary. Funds raised via our crowd-funding will enable us to hire a professional Editor to finesse and complete the film. Additional funds will be allocated to other critical post-production costs such as hiring a composer, sound mixing, and color grading. We are so close to completing the project and we need your help! Please consider contributing – any amount, large or small, gets us closer to the finish line.”

“Director’s Statement:

AIDS continues to pose a massive health threat around the globe, and understanding the diversity of tactics that communities in the Global North used to battle the epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s remains critical in sustaining efforts to control the disease. Media outlets have reported extensively on the role of governments and activists in promoting safe-sex practices to help combat the transmission of AIDS. But, on top of completely devastating communities, AIDS also brought with it a pervasive fear of sexual activity that drove many LGBTQ people back into the ‘closet’. There has been scant mainstream coverage of efforts to mitigate infection by underground fetish and porn communities through the promotion of sex-positivity and alternative safe-sex practices. We are inspired to create RAW! UNCUT! VIDEO! to explore the historic significance of gay fetish porn during the height of the AIDS crisis in the U.S., to trace the dedicated efforts of two leathermen (Fritscher and Hemry) to produce erotica that allowed queer men to safely explore their sexual boundaries in an age of plague, and to resurrect an assortment of wild characters who shared their own sexual kinks onscreen to help diminish the many impacts of AIDS.

Our approach to RAW! UNCUT! VIDEO! is to use archival-focused storytelling to provide a fresh and contemporary exploration of a little-known form of AIDS activism. Current footage and interviews introduce our primary characters and highlight Palm Drive’s efforts to produce safe-sex videos that would appeal to a diversity of kinky queers. Although, our story truly comes alive through Palm Drive films and behind-the-scenes material that is edited to create ‘observational’ sequences that immerse the viewer in the vintage world of Palm Drive Video productions. Throughout the film, our characters’ serious drive for activism and sexual exploration is countered by their constant sense of humor, the uniqueness of the experimental fetish scenarios that are explored, and the infectious enthusiasm of the Palm Drive stars to push their outrageous sexual limits for a greater good.

Ultimately, we hope that the film reveals the complexities of historic efforts to combat AIDS in the U.S., and in so doing, expand the discussion on best practices to continue fighting the epidemic around the world. At the same time, we hope to cast light on the importance of embracing non-normative sexualities and overcoming moralistic frameworks that only accept human sexuality in extremely limited terms.”

 

The characters include:

Jack Fritscher is director and co-founder of Palm Drive Video. Former Editor-in-Chief of the influential Drummer Magazine and one-time lover of Robert Mapplethorpe, he is a prolific writer and a living legend in the gay leather scene.

Mark Hemry is editor and co-founder of Palm Drive Video. Partnered with Jack Fritscher for 40 years, he was the technical backbone of the porn studio while also maintaining a career as a scientist for a federal government agency.

“Thrasher” (Steve Thrasher) is a Palm Drive superstar – and a heterosexual man. As a young handyman on the Fritscher-Hemry ranch, he perfectly fit the blue-collar aesthetic that Jack and Mark were looking for and was cast in some of their most iconic films.

Donnie Russo is a gay porn legend. Early in his career he starred in five Palm Drive films and posed in numerous still photos by Jack Fritscher. His work with Palm Drive has reached cult status.

Mickey Squires is a Colt model and a renowned performer in adult films. He collaborated with Palm Drive Video in the 1990s when he was in his mid-40s and was re-establishing his porn persona as a Daddy and a Bear.

The Men of Palm Drive include Mr. America Chris Duffy, Colt Studios star Tom Howard, Raging Stallion co-founder JD Slater, plus countless “real men” hand-selected by Fritscher and Hemry. They are all intimately immortalized in hundreds of hours of videos and behind-the-scenes footage from the massive Palm Drive archive.

Other Participants (to date):

Susie Bright – Writer

Darryl Carlton (Divinity Fudge) – Artist/Performer

Rick Castro – Photographer

Durk Dehner – Tom of Finland Foundation

Roger Earl – Filmmaker, “Born to Raise Hell”

Jeffrey Escoffier – Porn scholar

Peter Fiske – Chairman Emeritus of the 15 Association

Lucas Hilderbrand – Media Historian

David Hurles – Old Reliable

Owen Keehnen – Grassroots Historian

Mr. Pam – Porn director

Steve Parker – Porn star

Susan Shaw – Thrasher’s mother

Ron Suresha – Writer

Gary Wasdin – Executive Director of The Leather Archives & Museum

 

Crew:

Ryan A. White – Director/Producer

Born in Big Sur, California, Ryan White is a documentary filmmaker whose award-winning films have screened around the world. He spent four years in Hanoi, Vietnam working as Film Advisor for the World Wildlife Fund’s Greater Mekong Program, then relocated to Bangkok, Thailand, where he produced and directed two documentary features, Camp Unity (2010) and Mondo Banana (2013). His short film Cruising Elsewhere (2016) was recently awarded Best Short Film at the Tampa Bay Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and Best Documentary Short at CineKink NYC. Other documentary credits include co-directing Dirt McComber: Last of the Mohicans (2018), producing The Organic Life (2013) and associate producing Out Run (2016). Ryan also lectures in documentary and film/video production at California State University, East Bay.

 

Alex Clausen – Director/Producer

Alex Clausen is an artist that lives and works in Guerneville, California. Clausen earned a bachelors’ degree in Art and Physics from University of California, Davis, and a graduate degree from the California College of the Arts. He was awarded a Graduate Fellowship at the Headlands Center for the Arts for the 2006-2007 year. Clausen has exhibited work at Rena Bransten Gallery, the San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art, the Contemporary Art Museum in Houston, Kala Art Institute, the Exploratorium and is part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco collection. He is currently an active collaborator and board member of Earthbound Moon, an arts non-profit based in Eugene, Oregon.

 

Todd Verow – Producer

Todd Verow attended the Rhode Island School of Design and the AFI Conservatory. He made short experimental films and worked as a cinematographer before making his feature film debut with Frisk in 1996 (Sundance, Berlin & Toronto). Starting his own production company Bangor Films, Todd has directed over twenty-five features and numerous shorts, establishing himself as the most prolific auteur emeritus of the New Queer Cinema.

 

Charles Lum – Producer

Charles Lum, aka clublum, received his MFA in Photography from the School of The

Art Institute of Chicago in 2004, after 25 years scouting and managing locations for TV commercials and classic feature films like Wall Street, Fatal Attraction and Sid & Nancy. His short videos have screened internationally in museum, art and film venues.

 

Paul Lee – Producer

Based in Toronto, Paul Lee has produced, co-produced, and associate-produced over 50 films – more than half of which have been award-winning LGBTQ films. LGBTQ productions include San Francisco filmmaker Jenni Olson’s Berlin-premiered Blue Diary and Sundance-premiered The Joy of Life, and the Berlin-premiered Below the Belt by Toronto filmmakers Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert. Since 1991, Paul has organized, programmed, and curated film festivals in 25 countries around the world. His own films, Thick Lips Thin Lips (1994), These Shoes Weren’t Made for Walking (1995), and The Offering (1999) have screened at hundreds of film festivals and won numerous international awards.