Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“BROTHERS OF THE NIGHT”— Selling Sex

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“Brothers of the Night” (“Brüder der Nacht”)

Selling Sex

Amos Lassen

Director Patric Chiha’s “Brothers of the Night” tells the story of a group of young Bulgarian Roma men, who work as prostitutes in Vienna. They came to Vienna to find freedom and money and they sell their bodies because they have little else. The guys share a feeling of togetherness even if the nights are long and it is impossible to predict what they will bring. This is not the Vienna that we usually see. The guys have come there out of poverty and to make money to help their families. They hang out at a hustler bar called ‘Rüdiger’ in the working class Margareten district. They wait, smoke, drink, play pool, dance, show off, fool around like young bulls and they talk— about their families and prostitutes and among themselves they share stories about the sex work that they do— the ‘bizness’. They have to deal with culture clash and they find themselves on a tight wire between illusion and reality and their lives are transitory, deceptive, and fleeting.

brothers1The feel moves between documentary and dramatized scenes. The film makes no moral judgments as it looks at a tale of survival and the solidarity amongst the ostracized, marginalized outsiders.

The film opens with a long sequence that gives the setting of the film. We see the Wien River with ships moving against the industrial landscape and this suggests the roughness of what we are about to see. We hear the beauty of Mahler’s fifth symphony and it contrasts with the images we’re seeing. The lives of these hustlers should be painful and filled with memories of their families at home and their inability to make money any other way. Yet their camaraderie and the support they have for each other creates a space in which they can exist happily.

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The film is split in two style wise: half is a dramatization, half is documentary. The way the narrative moves backwards and forwards between styles really shows the seriousness of the subject matter. Interviews explain in shockingly apathetic terms what the characters go through, whilst the dramatization explores the emotional depth of their experiences.

The film comes across in a remarkably light-hearted manner, considering its narrative. The brotherhood shared by the young men creates a sharp juxtaposition from the grittiness and unpredictability of their lives. Most came to Austria to find work in an attempt to support their family. We hear from one who tells that even though his German is now perfect, he was fired from his first job because he did not know the language and began begging and prostituting himself shortly afterwards. No message of morality comes through this film and the conversations between the men about their work are given to us without judgment. No moral is needed here—this is simply a stark look at life and of people who have stumbled into something they’d never imagined themselves doing. They are able to get through it because of the bonds they’ve created, much like the rest of us.

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When the guys first arrive they can barely speak any German at all and find that, just like back home, there are no jobs for them.  They end up providing sexual services to the old gay men who hang out at the bar and the guys realize that they can earn a great deal more than at a legitimate job.

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The rent boys are frank and open about the realities of their new lives. All of them are heterosexual and although some are more  cautious about how far they will go with their clients—most will receive oral sex but they refuse to give and they seem more disdainful of the fact that their clients are old rather than of their homosexuality that doesn’t seem to cause many of them much worry or bother.

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They all look out for each other with genuine concern. They are very much friends even though they may be competing for the same clients and they freely discuss their latest exploits and how much they made. Their aim is to get enough money to buy a house and a car to set themselves up back home in Bulgaria where, even though they are in their early 20’s , they have wives and children. The one who doesn’t is lectured by his friends on how much he must save up to buy a bride, even though they admit that their own marriages are far from happy.  One confesses that he had earned a great deal of money and then fell in love with a Austrian hooker who spent all of it and then left him when he was broke again.   It seems that they are all discovering how to be wild and free and irresponsible which is something that they had not been allowed to do back home.

“SUITED”— Bindel & Keep

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“Suited”

Bindel & Keep

Amos Lassen

Jason Benjamin’s “Suited” is a look at Brooklyn-based tailoring outfit Bindle & Keep that tailors suits for those outside of the gender binary. For transgender people tailored clothing is not a luxury but it many cases a necessity and an affirmation of identity — a release from the unwelcoming cisgendered conventions of retail clothing. We meet six contrasting clients through the measuring and fitting process and hear personal testimonies making this quite a film. It will begin airing on HBO this summer.

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The business was founded in 2011 by Daniel Friedman, a straight cis former architect who turned to tailoring with the initial intent of making clothing for the Wall Street crowd but this changed when the met transmasculine Rae Tutera, who joined his business as an apprentice before persuading him of the commercial potential in a high-end couturier for the trans and genderqueer community.

Since then, the company has grown even larger than the doc implies: It now employs a team of tailors in the Big Apple and Washington, D.C. and has a nationwide client base. Each of the film’s case studies is introduced via the website appointment form that brings them to Bindle & Keep for the first time and it outlines their essential dilemmas in a section headed “The More We Know.”  The first client that we met is Appalachian-born transgender male nurse looking for a wedding suit for his impending marriage to fiancée Joanna: His is the narrative in which the film most extensively invests and we follow not just the wedding preparations, but a medical procedure important to his personal self-realization as a man. 

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We hear supportive testimonies from Matteson’s  straight-laced family. Everett Arthur, an African-American law student from Atlanta is next and we see that he faces both parental and professional discrimination for his decision to live as a man. He wants and needs a courtroom-ready suit. There are four other customers that gender-nonconforming cabbie Melissa Plait, who wants to see out her 40th birthday party in pinstriped suit; transgender adolescent Aidan Star Jones, who wants suitably masculine attire for his upcoming bar mitzvah; and attorney Jillian T. Weiss who needs a suit Then there is Lena Durham’s younger sibling Grace who lives with an androgynous identity and wants a “dark wool suit … to run around in.

What I  wish we were able to see is some of the tailors’ own art and craft and to learn about the suits’ unique shaping and construction.“Suited” is a compassionate study of personal transformation from the inside out and perfect and present what has already been made. Transitioning is mainly about having one’s body brought into line with a person’s true identity and one of the issues is that trans men and women see that traditional gender specific clothes do not suit them and their new lives. When Rae Tutera transitioned from Rachel, he approached Daniel Friedman about making him a custom suit.  Rae was so very impressed with it that he asked Daniel to take him on as an apprentice tailor to learn the trade, and he never left.

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Now some five years later, Daniel who is a straight man and Rae have garnered quite a reputation and a group of customers. Rae and Daniel have developed a deep understanding that they need to know exactly what their clients hope to achieve with their new clothes, and when we see their customers joyous faces, we realize that they are doing a wonderful and needed job.

“MAPPLETHORPE: LOOK AT THE PICTURES”— Relating to Mapplethorpe

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“Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures”

Relating to Mapplethorpe

Amos Lassen

“Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures” is an examination of the life and work of the revered and controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

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“You can do it as a hobby, but what are you ever going to do with art?” Mapplethorpe’s father chided him. He never understood the desire of his mischievous, provocative artistically inclined son. Little did he know that Robert would go on to become famous for his stylish black and white photography that were often challenging in their brazen explicit sexuality. The film is bookended by a public trial at which time an outraged senator yelled, “Look at the pictures” referring to this “known homosexual”. That is just the intention of this film by filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. They present the photographer’s work to the audience and allow them to decide for themselves whether they appreciate Mapplethorpe’s combative aesthetic, or whether they agree with the grumblings of conservative offence and that what Mapplethorpe produced was not art and is, in effect, “ugly, degrading, obscene”. Even those providing commentary are conflicted with two of the artist’s models suggest his compositions have no hidden philosophical musings while there were those who saw the devil and God in the work. These claim that Mapplethorpe himself said that he wanted “to see the devil in all of us.” No one can deny that his photos are incredibly striking.

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Mapplethorpe never shied away from pornography; yes the camera lingers equally on a curator snapping on a rubber glove as she handles a Polaroid exhibition invitation that is a picture of Mapplethorpe’s penis or even his membership card for the grimy Mine Shaft club where he found lovers and models. The still shots are interspersed with archival footage, audio from recorded conversations and talking heads with various people that knew him well. We hear from siblings to lovers and models and admirers who share humorous anecdotes as well as reflection on the artist’s ambition and vanity.

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The movie begins with what was a retrospective of his work at Getty and LACMA and this is ultimately a chronological retelling of Mapplethorpe’s story. Along with that we an immediate indication of his lasting appeal that is emphasized by subsequent footage from auctions and the court case which followed his death from AIDS in 1989. Artistic merit is a subjective thing, of course, but this documentary also tells the fascinating story of the artist while allowing his work to speak for itself.

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Whether you’re an avid follower of Robert Mapplethorpe career or just now hearing about him, this documentary is a comprehensive look at his controversial oeuvre. This is a meticulously researched film that chronicles Mapplethorpe’s upbringing as a devout Catholic in rural New York, his young adulthood years renting out a small room in Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel with Patti Smith and his eventual death after contracting AIDS. Interviews with Mapplethorpe’s family, models and lovers slowly give us a picture of a man who was loaded with artistic genius yet who sacrificed personal relationships in the name of his art.

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I see the purpose of this documentary is to mine through Mapplethorpe’s body of work and this is where the film is the strongest. Despite the graphic nature of Mapplethorpe’s portfolio, we see clearly that he had an uncanny knack for capturing the unorthodox beauty of his subjects—even those dressed in latex bondage gear.

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Despite the exhaustive catalogue of Mapplethorpe’s photographs that are on display throughout the film, the documentary doesn’t really succeed in humanizing its subject. It’s easy to say that Mapplethorpe’s work speaks for the artist, but we learn that Mapplethorpe was a self-centered perfectionist who threw a tantrum when his brother’s name appeared on an exhibition invitation before his own. It was not to really relate to the artist or the e dynamics surrounding Robert’s relationship with his younger brother Edward Mapplethorpe. It hurt to see how Edward’s hero worship of his older brother was met with derision and manipulation.

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I also would have liked to have seen more than just fifteen of the film’s 108 minutes dedicated to the lawsuits that conservative watchdog groups levied against the museums that featured Mapplethorpe’s final exhibition. We are challenged to reevaluate our own boundaries about what art can be and had there been a bit more exploration into the national controversy as a result of his work, it would have been easier to do so.

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The documentary is snappy, confidently explicit overview of the photographer’s work and it deals quite openly with Mapplethorpe’s ruthless ambition and personality. Born to English and Irish parents in Queens, New York, he took on the ritual and symbolism of his Catholic upbringing early on and used it to create some of the most sexually provocative artwork of its time. Bailey and Barbato trace his life from childhood to college to his relationship with Patti Smith and his time as a resident in the legendary Chelsea Hotel where he came out, and where he found fame and fortune before dying of AIDS complications. The name “Robert Mapplethorpe” didn’t become a familiar one for many until after his death, when his final exhibition “The Perfect Moment” became the center of a culture war fight over obscenity, arts funding, and sexuality. Notoriously bigoted Senator Jesse Helms led the charge by challenging his colleagues to, as I said before, “look at the pictures.” “To look at the pictures,” reminds us to consider the artistry of the man. The screen is filled with his work, from his innocuous and striking flower photos to his inventive portraiture to the often shockingly graphic depictions of sex acts, S&M, and the like. The film contextualizes the work to his biography, especially that he grew up in a rigorous Catholic family, for instance, and that influence is certainly present in his imagery and compositions.

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As an introduction to the man and his work, this is excellent— the filmmakers wanted to tell his story in his words, rather than make it a re-examination of one particular person’s perspective and it tries to humanize an artist who’d been demonized, but not by ignoring his own demons. There is still the question as to whether or not Mapplethorpe sold out and there are many, many opinions on that.

BFI FLARE ANNOUNCES ITS 2016 LINEUP

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BFI FLARE ANNOUNCES ITS 2016 LINEUP

A few days ago the BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival announced that its opening night movie would be The Pass, starring Russell Tovey. Now the rest of the programme has been announced, including the info that it will closewith Catherine Corsini’s Summertime at BFI Southbank, while the Accenture Gala will be the European Premiere of Neil Armfield’s Aussie movie, Holding the Man, with more than 50 features and 100 shorts screening, plus a range of special events, guest appearances, discussions, workshops, club nights and more.

BFI Flare 2016 will be divided into 3 sections – Hearts, Minds and Bodies – with key themes emerging including British film and new British talent, transgender representation and Queer Science and new technology:

LGBT content in British film and new British talent: BFI Flare presents three distinct and impressive new UK feature film productions with the World Premiere of Opening Night Gala, Ben A. Williams’ The Pass, Barak and Tomer Heymann’s Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? and The Departure (dir. Andrew Stegall), with the latter two BFI Film Fund supported. The Festival also screens British co-director Fenton Bailey’s Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures (co-directed with Randy Barbato) and launches the second year of BFI Flare LGBT Filmmakers’ Mentorship (in partnership with BAFTA and Creative Skillset) to support new UK film talent.

Transgender representation on screen: following a year in which transgender visibility broke through to the mainstream, BFI Flare explores representation in the media with Meet Silas an onstage event with Silas Howard, the first transgender director on Amazon’s Emmy and Golden Globe winning Transparent. Through a new series of events Transform, BFI Flare will also bring together actors, filmmakers and casting directors to probe current practice in fiction and non-fiction film and TV and hosts a trans acting workshop at BFI Southbank.

Queer Science and new technology: while BFI Flare looks back at 30 years at the forefront of LGBT cinema in the UK, it also provides a vision into the future with an exhibition at BFI Southbank Year Dot: Queer Film + Technology since 1986; an event that explores the intersections of sexual identity, science and technology with Queer’d Science: BFI Flare Sci-Tech Lab and launches a new partnership with Crossover Labs on XO LGBTQ, an intensive training programme designed to counter the lack of visibility for LGBTQ issues in the interactive media and games industries.

The festival opens on Wednesday 16 March at London’s Odeon Leicester Square with the World Premiere of The Pass, starring Russell Tovey, Arinze Kene, Lisa McGrills and Nico Mirallegro, with cast members in attendance. This powerful drama focuses on the lives of two young Premier League footballers on three momentous nights over ten years, and is produced by Duncan Kenworthy (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually). The Festival Closing Gala on Saturday 26 March is at BFI Southbank with Summertime [La Belle Saison] dir. Catherine Corsini, a passionate story starring Cecile de France, Izïa Higelin and Noemie Lvovsky which follows two very different women who fall in love against the backdrop of 1970s feminist street protests in Paris.

The Accenture Gala of the European Premiere of Australian hit Holding the Man, a moving and tender film memoir that recounts 20 years in the life of Tony Conigrave; Ryan Corr and Craig Stott excel as the lovers, supported by an exceptional cast which includes Anthony LaPaglia, Guy Pearce, Geoffrey Rush, and Kerry Fox.

As a special feature in the anniversary programme, screenings will continue on the day after our Closing Gala (Easter Sunday 27 March) with a Second Chance Sunday devoted to 2016 Festival best-sellers and a selection of LGBT archive gems from the Festivals’ history. Every ticket on Second Chance Sunday will be offered at the discounted price of £8. As a highlight of the day there will be a screening of the film that tops a brand new critics’ and programmers’ poll of the top 10 global LGBT films of the last 30 years. The result of this BFI poll and all the films screening on Second Chance Sunday will be announced soon.

A rich and full 30th Festival main programme screens at the cinemas of BFI Southbank between the 17th and 27th of March with Special Presentations including Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, an in-depth and uncompromising portrait of the life and work of the legendary photographer Robert Mapplethorpe by award-winning World of Wonder duo Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (RuPaul’s Drag Race, Inside Deep Throat); Rebel Dykes, a work-in-progress screening event of Harri Shanahan and Sian Williams’ documentary which explores the forgotten ‘herstory’ of lesbian punk London in the 1980s. Festival alumni Jacques Martineau and Olivier Ducastel (Jeanne and the Perfect Guy, Drôle de Félix) join us following their world premiere in Berlinale, with Theo & Hugo, a finely crafted and provocative drama.

With transgender issues having been major International news in 2015, the Festival will also shine a spotlight on representation in Transform, a series of events on trans acting on screen. Flare alsos welcome Silas Howard, the first trans director on Emmy and Golden Globe-winning Transparent who will talk about his work which ranges from pioneering 2001 trans feature By Hook or By Crook to music videos for Peaches, and of course, Transparent.

Other highlights include two new British features backed by the BFI Film Fund, Andrew Stegall’s The Departure, a touching debut about a mother and son struggling with their relationship starring Juliet Stephenson (Truly, Madly, Deeply) and Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game), and also Barak and Tomer Heymann’s Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? fresh from Berlin International Film Festival, which sees an HIV positive Israeli finding an adoptive second family in London as a member of London Gay Men’s Chorus.

A one-off Sing-A-Long, dress-up Calamity Jane at the BFI IMAX will celebrate everyone’s favourite cowboy/girl Doris Day with this dazzling new digital restoration presented on the biggest screen in Britain.

In addition, industry delegates will have access to a range of special talks and events, and Flare will also present the second in-take of its talent development project, the BFI Flare LGBT Filmmakers’ Mentorship Programme, delivered by BAFTA with funding from Creative Skillset, which helps talented LGBT identified filmmakers build professional skills and networks. LGBT film gets an International spotlight with the return of fiveFilm4freedom. This ground-breaking project developed in association with the British Council sees five LGBT short films from BFI Flare available online for free throughout the Festival. With last year’s films seen in more than 130 countries worldwide, this is a truly global project. Join the conversation at #fiveFilms4freedom with campaign focussed on Thursday 17th March when people will be encouraged to watch an LGBT short film in recognition that ‘Love is a Human Right’.

More info on the film’s three sections: Hearts, Bodies and Minds (taken from the programme announcement)

HEARTS includes films about love, romance and friendship. Features include the winner of the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival, From Afar dir. Lorenzo Vigas, a compelling tale of a middle-aged man in Caracas and his varied encounters with a dangerous young men; Mika Kaurismäki’s 17th century lesbian costume drama The Girl King, set at the court of Queen Christina; and Naz and Maalik dir. Jay Dockendorf, a tale of two young gay Muslims in contemporary New York. The search for identity that is the perennial tale of coming out and coming of age is reinvented for the current generation in films such as Akron dirs. Brian O’Donnell and Sasha King, where student lovers in Ohio are almost torn apart by unsuspected shared history; Michal Vinik’s Barash an Israeli girl-meets-girl, teen drama, and Natalia Leite’s Bare a US story of Nebraska girls out for fun starring Glee’s Dianna Argon and Paz de la Huerta. From Mexico, I Promise You Anarchy dir. Julio Hernández Cordón offers a portrait of skater-boys seduced by the promise of the rewards of crime.

BODIES features stories of sex, identity and transformation. This richly diverse selection of films includes Rigoberto Perezcano’s Carmin Tropical a murder mystery set in the world of Mexican trans nightclubs, a disturbing German narrative of a hotel-worker who becomes a fetish sex-worker in The Chambermaid Lynne dir Ingo Haeb, while Laura Bispuri’s Sworn Virgin, starring Alba Rohrwacher, gradually reveals the story of an Albanian whose transition to living as a man involves complex cultural traditions.

The World Premiere of Real Boy dir Shaleece Haas is cause for excitement; this moving and breathtakingly honest, coming-of-age documentary features Bennett Wallace, a 19 year old trans musician searching for the acceptance of his family.

Some other fascinating documentaries explore different aspects of sex: Femme Brutal is a celebration of a queer-feminist artists’ group who use burlesque as a way of focusing on women’s desire for the female body; Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story dir. Michael Stabile is an account of an important 1970s gay pornographer, the creator of the influential Falcon Studios; Raúl de la Morena and Antonio Centeno’s Yes We Fuck is an uncompromising account from Spain of how disabled people are determined to explore their sexualities.

MINDS features reflections on art, politics and community. We celebrate iconic London pop artist, Duggie Fields with a series of ultra-rare screenings of his own work and films in which he’s featured. Yvonne Rainer: Facts are Feelings dir. Jack Walsh offers documentary portrait of the radical dance legend, while Gillian Armstrong’s lavishly illustrated documentary on the legendary costume-designer Orry-Kelly, Women He’s Undressed has a starry cast to discuss the genius of his costumes including Jane Fonda, Angela Lansbury and Ann Roth. Barbara Hammer’s artistic take on poet Elizabeth Bishop, Welcome to the House examines the literary, lesbian life with her usual flair. We mark the centenary of the death of Roger Casement (executed for treason in 1916), with a screening of a rare 1960 television play The Trial of Sir Roger Casement, plus a talk by Casement’s biographer, gay activist Jeff Dudgeon.

In part of our programme of archive screenings celebrating highlights of 30 years of the Festival, we are delighted that Donna Deitch joins us in London for a rare 35mm screening of her seminal and much adored work Desert Hearts, which was the only lesbian film that screened in our original 1986 edition.

Yet we also aim to look ahead at where queer cinema and media is heading in the near and distant future. The Atrium at BFI Southbank will feature gallery exhibition, Year Dot: Queer Film + Technology since 1986, exploring the intersection of queer lives and technology from Sadie Benning’s Fisher Price camera experiments to Tangerine shot on an iPhone while the Queer’d Science – BFI Flare Sci-Tech Lab will probe the interactions between queer bodies and culture, and science and technology over the last 30 years.

While films and film cultural are at the heart of what we do, the atmosphere at BFI Southbank brings people from far and wide. This year we return with the hugely popular BFI Flare Club Nights (Fri 18, Sat 19, Thu 24, Fri 25 and Sat 26) at Benugo Lounge and Riverfront with our favourite DJs and newfound friends including Pitch Slap!, Sadie Lee and Jonathan Kemp, Pink Glove, Club Kali, and for Closing Night Bad Bitches and Unskinny Bop.

Tickets go on sale via www.bfi.org.uk/flare on 24th February for BFI members and 29th February for non-members.

Many of the films will be making the American LGBT circuit later.

“UNCLE HOWARD”— The Life and Work of Howard Brookner

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“Uncle Howard”

The Life and Work of Howard Brookner

Amos Lassen

Aaron Brookner’s “Uncle Howard” is a fond tribute to his hero-worshipped relative, Howard Brookner, who was involved in a great deal of professional activity of independent filmmaking before dying of AIDS in 1989 at age 34. He was fascinated by (and part of) his era’s Manhattan art scenes and this documentary has a lot footage of late and still-living luminaries from William Burroughs to Madonna. The film does not spend a lot of time in Howard’s early years but instead goes right into Aaron’s efforts to retrieve so much material that remained untouched in Burroughs’ onetime Manhattan studio “The Bunker” for over thirty years. Once he stops being stonewalled by their current caretaker, poet John Giorno, Brookner gained access to a treasure trove of outtakes and errata from Howard’s first feature, “Burroughs: The Movie” (1983) — some of which he watches now with Jim Jarmusch and Tom DiCillo, who worked on that project before their own directorial careers took off.

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Howard was a handsome, erudite gay man who wrote his university thesis on Burroughs and won the poet’s trust. He even managed to share Burroughs’ heroin habit for a time but this does seem to have been ongoing.

Howard had such charm that we gained access to a very reluctant Robert Wilson, the theatrical avant-gardist whom he profiled in a second documentary feature (1987’s “Robert Wilson and the Civil Wars’” Howard already knew he was HIV positive by the time he began making his first narrative feature film, “Bloodhounds of Broadway”, a Damon Runyun-based Roaring ’20s ensemble piece featuring Matt Dillon, Madonna, Jennifer Grey, Rutger Hauer, Randy Quaid and numerous others. Because the work was so exhausting, it hastened his death from AIDS-related causes just a couple weeks before its Cannes premiere.

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Brookner’s time with Burroughs and other like-minded artists gives us archival glimpses here of Patti Smith, Allen Ginsburg, Andy Warhol, Laurie Anderson, John Cage and many more. His personal life is less well explored, despite interviews with surviving relatives, colleagues and his long-term boyfriend, author Brad Gooch. We see parts of a video-diary made toward the end of his life, and he is calm and composed rather than revealing. A different side is seen in family photos and home movies, where it’s clear why Aaron loved him so much (aside from his being a creative role model), he was clearly a wonderfully fun and affectionate uncle. His nephew appears to have inherited some of his uncle’s temperament as well as physical resemblance; Aaron’s narration is often touching, but it does have a slightly formal, histrionics-resistant air.

The film offers both an introduction (or re-introduction?) to the director’s uncle and is a somber meditation on talent lost. The documentary takes in Howard’s experiences in the New York gay scene, but focuses mainly on the “Burroughs” shoot as a signifier of his uncle’s emerging talent. Howard began the production as a film student fresh out of university and his ability to gain the trust of the then-near-deified poet shows a very particular skill that would have proved an invaluable directorial quality. With the early ‘90s boom in American independent film just on the horizon, not to mention the Queer New Wave, there are reasons to believe Howard would have quickly done very well in Hollywood. Jarmusch’s presence, both as a goofy kid on the Burroughs shoot and his appearance in the documentary as an established auteur, only works to hammer that point home.

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What Aaron has is an archive of audio and celluloid that his uncle left behind, seemingly largely untouched over the years, in Burroughs’ legendary “Bunker.” This treasure trove, which largely consists of master copies of footage from the Burroughs production gives a look behind the scenes (or scene, more accurately) during the last wild days of pre-Giuliani New York, before the AIDS epidemic decimated the city’s gay community. Aaron found footage of Andy Warhol dropping by for dinner, Burroughs goofing with Allen Ginsberg on a rooftop, and the writer conducting a mad piece of surgery-themed performance art.

Aaron puts himself front and center at the beginning and tail end of the film adding an emotional weight to the film even if he comes off as a little conceited at times. He dug through the outtakes of a 33-year-old non-fiction feature to flesh out the ghost of his childhood hero, his uncle. The result, however, is more than a warm portrait of one man and his small body of work but also a moving journey through a largely vanished New York, a place where outsider artists and creative risk-takers came to connect and grow.uncle howard4

Looking back from today, Aaron points to the loss of two beacons from the era as symbols of what Manhattan has become: the Chelsea Hotel and St. Vincent’s Hospital. The Chelsea still stands but is undergoing a major upgrade, leaving behind its history of “bohemian folly,” while St. Vincent’s, where Brookner’s uncle and thousands of others were treated for AIDS-related illnesses during the crisis years, has been torn down and replaced by condos.

Just as the older Brookner had to get around the reclusive Burroughs’ notorious guardedness to make his film, so does his nephew have to win over John Giorno, the caretaker of the partially converted YMCA space. The dusty archive contained therein is a wealth of material and lots of footage of the Howard talking with Burroughs and other interview subjects between takes. One associate observes that that Brookner knew how to talk to Burroughs and that was what gained him access to the man. Howard Brookner rarely appears to have been without a camera in his hand, and throughout the movie, Aaron threads warm, funny moments from their family life as captured by his uncle, featuring the latter’s parents and grandparents.

“In more recent interviews, Elaine Brookner admits with wry self-awareness to the classic Jewish mother’s disappointment when her son chose to pursue filmmaking instead of law. With a candor that excludes sentimentality, she describes coming to accept Howard’s homosexuality, and reveals that being charmed by his boyfriend, the writer Brad Gooch, nudged the process along”.

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Video diaries from Brookner’s final years, after he became HIV-positive, add intimacy and insight, especially in the way his natural levity and warmth appear undiminished. The picture that we get is of a man who lived his life exactly as he wanted, with no time for regrets. He seemed to accept his illness with calm forbearance, expressing sorrow only for the people who would mourn him.

The challenges of making an ambitious movie while dealing with a debilitating illness didn’t prevent him from bringing his 7-year-old nephew onto the set. Aaron maintains considerable privacy about his own feelings while seeming to take great comfort in reawakening the memories of people who loved Howard, including longtime partner Gooch.

The doc’s l final sequence is a heartbreaker. “After shooting a New York sunset, Howard twirls around wearing a hoodie and a goofy smile, dancing to The Pretenders’ “Hymn to Her” while the fading ghost of Manhattan watches him through grubby loft windows. The words sung by Chrissie Hyde neatly sum up the rewards of this soulful tribute: “Something is lost, but something is found.”

In his farewell note to his parents, who although they had difficulty accepting  his sexuality, they still loved Brad ,  Howard wrote :- It really isn’t a problem having a short life as long as you have lived it doing exactly doing things that really mattered to you …. and that is exactly what I have done.

“PACKED IN A TRUNK: THE LOST ART OF EDITH LAKE WILKINSON”— What We Missed

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“Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson”

What We Missed

Amos Lassen

 “Packed in a Trunk” is the story of artist Edith Lake Wilkinson who committed to an asylum in 1924 and never heard from again. Everything she owned were packed into trunks and shipped to a relative in West Virginia where they sat in an attic for 40 years. Edith’s great-niece, Jane Anderson (Emmy Award winning writer and director) grew up surrounded by Edith’s paintings. Jane’s mother poked through that dusty attic and rescued Edith’s work. The film follows Jane in her decades-long journey to find the answers to the mystery of Edith’s buried life, return the work to Provincetown and have Edith’s contributions recognized by the larger art world.

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Because of Edith’s commitment, her artwork never received the recognition it deserved.  This documentary means to change that by following Anderson as she researches Edith’s life and tries to get the art world to acknowledge Edith’s talent.  

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Williamson was part of the Provincetown art scene and produced an astounding body of work. Her commitment to an asylum came about as a result of pressure from a family lawyer but who later managed to get hold of her funds, In 1924 she was committed to an asylum, encouraged by the family lawyer who subsequently siphoned off her funds.

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Anderson learned to paint and draw under the influence of her great-aunt’s brilliant, light-drenched canvasses. When she started pursuing her own life as an artist, Jane began a decades-long journey to get Edith’s work back out into the world.

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We follow Jane’s and her spouse Tess in their efforts to find answers to the mystery of Edith’s buried life, return the work to Provincetown, and have Edith’s contributions recognized by the art world. The film is about rescuing the work of lost and gifted souls out of attics and closets and forgotten rooms. This is a personal and moving journey of a woman’s life lost to time that plays out like a murder mystery being revealed for the first time. Director Michelle Boyaner and co-writer Jane Anderson happen upon some treasure with this film.

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Edith Lake Wilkinson was an artist who spent a lot of time in the very arty community of Provincetown, Massachusetts. She had a female companion named Fannie who lived with her in New York. Edith came from a well-off family and after going back and forth with a family lawyer, she was committed to a mental institution in 1924 when she was 57 and never heard from again. This is where the film begins. Jane Anderson, who has been trying to get Edith’s story out there since the ’70s, takes over as our guide to everything Edith. As each scene transpires, we get to know Edith more and more as she is given life through Anderson’s eyes. Director Boyaner takes great care to take the viewers on a journey through time and as Jane discovers new facts about her great aunt and she shares them with us. This is a very personal documentary that would not have been made had it not been for Anderson. It is intriguing, touching, sad, and hopeful all at once.

“HANDS UNTIED: LOOKING FOR GAY ISRAEL CINEMA”— What’s New In Israeli Gay Movies

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“HANDS UNTIED: LOOKING FOR GAY ISRAEL CINEMA”

What’s New In Israeli Gay Movies

Amos Lassen

“Israel is often described as a country of paradox. Opposing war and peace with a great welcoming and open culture as well as traditions that could sometimes be heavy and difficult to accept for a booming and modern population”.

“Despite the abundance of its directors and cinematographers, it was not much anticipated that one day Israel could become an incredible land of creation for LGBT cinema. The last decades have seen a generation of authors as Amos Guttman, Eytan Fox, Dan Wolman, Tomer Heymann who have been real pioneers trying to change mentalities and religious conservatism”.  

“This “new “ cinema provokes, questions, revives and surely participate in the true opening of the country. This documentary offers an excellent panorama of this very interesting topic with many interviews of famous directors and excerpts of films archives”. 

Avital Barak as Herself;

Eytan Fox as Himself;

Dana Goldberg as Herself;

Tomer Heymann as Himself;

Yair Hochner as Himself;

Eran Koblik Kedar as Himself;

Ayelet Menahemi as Herself;

Yariv Mozer as Himself;

Nir Ne’eman as Himself;

Ricardo Rojstaczer as Himself;

Yannick Delhaye as Himself

“THE THIRD WAY”— Let’s Look at the Catholic Church and Gays

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“The Third Way”

Let’s Look at the Catholic Church and Gays

Amos Lassen

I am very angry right now and as I write this review I will probably become more and more angry. “The Third Way” is being advertised as a film that “will dispel common misconceptions about homosexuality and unveil the [Roman Catholic] Church’s truly compassionate and forward-thinking position on the issue.” The film is produced by Reverend John Hollowell and directed by John-Andrew O’Rourke and it is less than 40 minutes long but does a great deal of damage in that short time, it runs just over 38 minutes. The video is composed of different people speaking with their faces to the camera about experiences with same-sex attraction and the Roman Catholic Church. The voices include those with direct, personal experience of same-sex attraction and straight Catholics known for their public presentation of official teaching on sexual ethics. Before watching I thought that the film would have some strong points relative to the lives of celibate LGBT Christians, but the people that we see interviewed in this film do not represent the diversity of LGBT Christians committed to celibacy.

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The opening scenes show violence against the LGBT community and the question, “Is there another way?” We then meet seven Catholics who are identified simply by first name and who describe how they came to know their experiences of same-sex attraction (whatever that means). Almost immediately after this, the film turns toward emphasizing various negative experiences as causal mechanisms for homosexual orientation and they name a troubled home life, sexual trauma, an emotionally dependent friendship that became too close, a disconnect with a positive cisgender identity etc. etc. They DO NOT mention being seduced and/or abused by a Catholic priest or member of a Catholic order. Of all the people who describe their home lives and upbringings, only one person has anything positive to say about how he grew up. The other stories featured have many elements used by the ex-gay movement to justify “reparative therapy” in order to reorient a person’s sexual orientation from gay or lesbian to straight. While the film does not advocate such therapies directly, but anyone in the LGBT community who has survived abuses within the ex-gay world will likely find these stories troubling.

The only indication that gay people may not view their sexuality as being mainly for sexual desire cones with this statement, “You have to understand that for women especially it’s very often not so much a matter of strong physical attractions to one gender or the other gender. It’s a matter of how you emotionally interact with people.” This quote is the film’s only indication that gay people may not view their sexualities as being principally orientated towards a desire for sex, but rather how they relate to others.

“The Third Way” does indeed look at bullying based upon someone’s sexual orientation and both celibate and non-celibate LGBT Christians will find commonality with the interviewees’ s and their stories of how they have been mistreated. Nearly all of them talk about the cruelty they experienced in school, among church members, or within their families. Returning to ex-gay rhetoric once again, the film then moves into discussing the emptiness of “the gay lifestyle.” This segment might have resonance with some celibate LGBT Christians, but will likely strike others as overly generalizing and relying on harmful stereotypes.

As the participants share their stories of living “the gay lifestyle,” the actors stand beneath a doorway reading “Out” contrasted against another doorway reading “In.” How disgusting. At about halfway through, the video shifts to the interviewees’ stories of why they became Catholic or became more fully committed to the Catholic Church. For a film based on Catholic experiences of spirituality, some of these stories have curious echoes of the American evangelical Protestant “and then I got saved” narrative. Celibate LGBT Christians may find the separation between one’s “gay life” and one’s “Christian life” as portrayed in the film distressing, particularly as ex-gay rhetoric continues to permeate this segment. However, Joseph has a contrasting story about his being able to talk through questions about sexual orientation with a spiritual director could be encouraging.

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Celibate LGBT Christians might be aware of key places where popular sources misrepresent Catholic teaching. “The Third Way” that homosexual acts as intrinsically disordered, homosexual persons as called to chastity, and Catholics as called to combat unjust discrimination that targets homosexual persons. Five well-respected Catholic educators, who are identified by their full names and occupational titles explain the discrepancies between how people perceive Catholic teaching and what the Catholic Church officially teaches. These voices present what “disordered” means in the Catholic Church and argue that this tradition’s teachings are not actually bigoted against LGBT people because everyone has disordered desires of some kind. At first I found it somewhat encouraging the way the film handles the Catholic belief that “homosexual persons are called to chastity” because it focuses upon celibacy as a meaningful way of life. Celibate, LGBT Christians who have worked hard to integrate (rather than repress) their sexualities should be happy to hear that “he chaste person is not the asexual person. The chaste person is somebody who knows what to do with their sexuality.” (Does this mean that one should join a religious order or enter the priesthood so that he can have sex with the others there or seduce students ho do not understand what is happening?) For a religious organization to be against the practice of homosexuality and then protects those within it who do is the highest hypocrisy). A nun mentions here that intimacy is important but does not have to be sexual. (Can I definition of the word returns to the topic of bullying and harassment, this time as discussed from the perspective of the film’s straight interviewees.

It is not until the end of the film we learn what the title means. “The third way” means holding to a firm belief that same-sex sexual activity is inappropriate, but loving people who experience same-sex attractions. “The Catholic Church puts forth a third way: to treat every person, but in this case particularly persons with same-sex attraction, to be able to say, ‘We do not in anyway hate or condemn or fear or want to isolate you. At the same time, we can’t embrace everything that you choose.’ So we’re going to choose this third way, and that third way is love. We’re going to love you.”

After this explanation of “the third way” we hear why the Catholic Church is the place for same-sex attracted people to receive love, but it’s unclear how they would respond to LGBT people making choices that cannot be embraced within the Catholic tradition.

I really wanted to keep an open mind as I watched the film but I kept thinking about a year I spent teaching at a school run by the Christian Brothers and hearing stories about sexual escapades that made me ill. I was to understand that the people we see in the film have found peace in the church. But then I realized what was happening. I understand that Fr. Hollowell originally planned to call his video ‘Unnatural Law.’ He obviously realized that this was not going to be the most subtle or effective hook for his target audience and swiftly changed his mind. However, it may have been a more honest title. ‘The Third Way’ is nothing more than propaganda and like all effective propaganda it draws you in. The film is well made, the people interviewed are engaging and seem genuine but once we gets past all the emotion and apparent compassion there is a simple and distasteful message and that is, “We accept that you are attracted to people of the same sex. As a church, we also know that acting on this attraction is intrinsically disordered. You must come to accept that too. You are suffering from a pathological condition. If you opt for a lifelong commitment to celibacy you can be happy like these people despite this flaw. If you continue to have any kind of same-sex physical relationship, your life will end in misery. We love you but there are conditions to that love. It’s your choice”.

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When the decision to live a celibate life is reached from a position of deep-seated self- loathing, loathing from others in respect of an aspect of your sexuality, or indeed, emotional and spiritual blackmail, it becomes totally unhealthy.

I have done my research and learned that Fr. Hollowell makes no apology for stating his belief that homosexuality equates to pedophilia.

Fr. Hollowell is not only a priest but was until recently was a high school chaplain. Due to his position of power he is in a position to directly influence the attitudes of young people. This is not this first time he had tried to link homosexuality to pedophilia. Could that be because of what he sees going on in the church when priests take advantage of young boys and then cover it up? He admits that

“the ‘Church’ has sinned, so it can’t say anything is wrong, etc. etc.”… but using that poor logic, given the fact that the majority of children abused were boys and young men, wouldn’t that make the abusing priests also members of the LGBQT community? Therefore, by his logic, the LGBQT community has no moral authority to say that the Church is wrong either.”

To suggest that pedophiles, whether they be clerics or lay people, are gay and that the LGBT community is by virtue of that ‘fact’ responsible for the incidents of sex abuse in the Catholic church is purely disgusting and in no way true. Fr. Hollowell tends to equate LGBT citizens with sexual predation.

In recent years, Fr. Hollowell has become known within anti-discrimination groups in the United States. In 2011, he was accused of trying to use his chaplaincy position at an Indianapolis high school to indoctrinate students with anti-gay attitudes and inflammatory false information about homosexuality. His activity came to light after he posted several of his teaching sessions on YouTube. There are hours of this material on the Internet.

Fr. Hollowell uses his interpretation of scripture as a launch pad to repeatedly refer to homosexual acts as an ‘abomination.’ He identifies a comparison between homosexuality and addictions such as alcoholism and implies that a person who identifies as gay might be aided to curb their sexual attraction by attending counseling or self-help groups akin to Alcoholics Anonymous. He claims that he is not involved in so called ‘ex-gay’ or reparative therapy where individuals are counseled to undertake a transition from homosexuality to heterosexuality and he assures the students that the Catholic Church is ‘not about that.’

.Fr. Hollowell sees himself as a man on a mission. He uses as many forums as possible to get his version of the truth out, including the production for Catholics of recordings with titles such as, ‘Secrets to Evangelizing Your “Homosexual-Agenda-Friendly” Family, Friends and Acquaintances.’ His rather warped perception of homosexuality frequently emerges in a tirade of vitriolic text on his blog. “Of course nothing can defend homosexual sex. When homosexual sex is described to people using proper anatomical terms, and when a discussion is had as to the fluids exchanged and so forth, most people are repulsed.” When someone spends so much time on homosexuality, there has to be a story. I want to share something about one of the Christian brothers that I taught with and add a surprise after that. Once again we see the Catholic church as a bastion of hypocrisy and why anyone stays in it is lost on me.

http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news3/1998_03_17_Chapple_VeteranTeacher_Richard_Langenstein_2.htm

http://app.bishop-accountability.org/member/psearch.jsp?diocese=NEW+ORLEANSLA&lastName=&msearch1=View&op=doSearch&section=a-z&sortBy=&state=

“WHO’S GONNA LOVE ME NOW?”— Where Life Takes Us

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“Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?”

Where Life Takes Us

Amos Lassen

I have often reviewed films about the Israeli directors Tomer and Barak Heymann and they never disappoint. Their newest is about a subject that is quite close to me and I understand it is knocking them everywhere it has been shown.

Saar Maoz is a gay man from a religious family in Israel who after being kicked out of his conservative kibbutz because of his sexual orientation, goes to London where he enjoys a gay lifestyle that was denied to him in Israel. He lives the dream, but wakes up to discover a nightmare —he has contracted HIV. When he breaks the news to his family, they struggle with fears and prejudices. Saar is lucky to have the support and warmth of his surrogate brothers, the London Gay Men’s Chorus, he begins a reconciliation process with his biological family in Israel.

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Saar finds himself between the two worlds and he knows he must make a decision—should he go home to Israel and back to his family or stay in London and live away from them forever? It is quite a difficult choice especially when we learn that Saar has never fulfilled his parents’ expectations. Ever since he defied the rules of his kibbutz and was barred from the settlement community seventeen years ago, he does not exist in his family’s eyes. After he left Israel to live freely as a gay man in London, he was in a three-year relationship but when that ended, he threw himself into an excess of sex and drugs. When he was HIV positive, he was forced to rethink his life. He finally found a home singing in the London Gay Men’s Chorus where music is giving him the courage for a reunion with his family.

This is a sensitive, humorous and charming record of how the now forty-year-old protagonist and his estranged parents and siblings set off to confront their disagreements and fears. My story is similar to a degree. I did not leave my family because I had to, I left to start a life in Israel and thinking that I had said goodbye to America forever. My father and I never got along but I knew that I would never see either of my parents again and until one goes through that, it is impossible to describe what kind of feeling it is. And I never saw them again. When I returned to the States, they were both gone.

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Saar, on the other hand, felt rejection and that is really hard to forgive. To return to Israel would be a challenge. What Saar experienced has a good deal to say about the communal way of life that is very much into culture and religion, although I lived communally as an open gay male and really had no trouble. I found Saar to be inspiring in that he left what he knew to go to a place he did not know in order to life openly. In that, his search for his identity was much like mine with the exception that I went to Israel when the state was not yet 15 years old with the idea that I was going to help build a nation.

At age 40, it is difficult to be separated from family regardless of reasons. Yes, youth might be wasted on the young but if we would stop to think that when we were young that was the case, we probably would have acted differently. Now Saar’s parents want him to come back but he has eschewed Orthodox Judaism and his friends in the chorus are helping him deal with his HIV status. This is such a personal movie and that is exactly the reason it must be seen.

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Saar’s mother weeps for her son’s future, while his father asks rather stoically, “can’t you just take a pill for this?” or “why don’t you just call it the ‘men’s chorus’?” Here we have the story of a troubled man facing middle age whose strict father trains paratroopers, whose tearful Jewish mother loves her son and whose uncomprehending siblings have their own families. We become very aware of both the guilt and the introspection that Saar has to deal with and, in effect, that is the theme of the film.

Then in the movie there are cutaways to motivational songs performed by a hundred cheerful gay voices lifting us occasionally from the depression we feel about Saar’s family. The songs and music also lend passionate expression to the film’s message.
who1The film was shot over several years and dwells on the power of forgiveness and the power that home has, no matter how far away we go. Saar comes across as a nice guy who says he has HIV because he binged with sex and drugs after his breakup with his partner. He works at an Apple store yet always there in front him and us is his religious family. We learn that he was forced out of the kibbutz where he grew up and this is still a source of embarrassment for his family. He has been in London for nearly 20 years. His mother cries for her son’s future and his father is strict about his son. Saar finds love singing in the chorus as I sit and watch the movie and weep with his mother.

This is not just the story of a gay man at odds with his family and the expectations of society especially in Israel which grants the same freedoms to gays as it does to the rest of the country (although it was not that way for a good part of the time that I lived there). But then, Saar’s brother is quite upset that Saar is sick and that disease affects the standing of the family.

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This is an intimate film at times but it has to be because it is about feelings and it gets us to share our feelings as well. Take my word for it, this is a film that you must find a way to see.

“WE ARE TWISTED F***ING SISTER!”— Glitter Rock

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“WE ARE TWISTED F***ING SISTER!”

Glitter Rock

Amos Lassen

For about ten years, glam rock heroes ”Twisted Sister” packed bars in New York before their eventual rise to the top. This the first film that focuses on Twisted Sister’s pre-fame and the band’s subsequent struggles. The band is truly unique in that their overnight success actually took ten years and director Andrew Horn lets us experience everything Twisted Sister went through to do it. The band is made up of ferocious and funny musicians.

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As a bar band staple, Twisted Sister would play four to five nights a week and ran through multiple sets each night as they played to packed crowds. While record labels refused to touch them despite their live reputation, the band kept on pushing and refused to give up. Dee Snider was the band’s front man and he eventually took over the writing process and helped the band find success as an established and original act. He has remained steadfast that Twisted Sister exists only as himself, Jay Jay French, Mark ‘The Animal’ Mendoza now comprise the band and there have been multiple lineup changes in the past. The end of the band comes with drum legend and fellow New York native Mike Portnoy who takes over for A.J. Pero who was the original drummer but he died quite suddenly this year.

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Filmmaker Horn recounts the band’s earliest days, before they would become one of the biggest heavy metal bands of the 1980s. When Twisted Sister got their big break in 1983, its aggressive sound helped sell millions of records. The band’s over-the-top live shows drew sellout crowds and its music videos defined early MTV.

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Known as “the band that killed disco”, there were no overnight successes. The documentary is the never-before-told story of the 10 grueling years leading up to the band’s breakout success and this is recounted directly by its members, managers and biggest fans.

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Twisted Sister recently announced it will embark on a 40th anniversary farewell tour in 2016, fittingly titled “Forty and F— It.” The unexpected death of longtime drummer A.J. Pero changes things a bit. This quintessential rock is a film that obviously speaks to Twisted’s legion of fans, but will allow a whole new audience to experience the ’70s NYC suburban rock club scene in all its sweaty, grimy, glittery glory, and what it took to become its undisputed masters.”

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In the mid-1970s, Twisted Sister claimed glitter rock for their own, cross-dressing their way to headlining every club within 100 miles of New York City, from New Jersey bowling alleys to Long Island beach bars. With gigs six nights a week, they were the most successful live bar band of suburban New York, selling out 5,000-seat shows fueled by their no-holds-barred stage presence and aggressive metal set lists. But by the early ‘80s, they found themselves hugely popular with local audiences but without a national following or a record deal. When Twisted Sister finally got their big break in 1983, they’d go on to become one of the biggest glam rock bands of the decade, their over-the-top live shows drawing sell-out crowds and their music videos defining an early MTV network. This! is the mesmerizing, never-before-told story of the ten grueling years leading up to the band’s legendary career.