Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“MCQUEEN”— The Iconic Alexander


The Iconic Alexander

Amos Lassen

Alexander McQueen was a fashion icon and we finally get a documentary that has been fashioned in his revolutionary style like the clothes that he created. Filmmakers Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui bring us a detailed profile of a uniquely talented genius who suffered because of his dark side that ultimately took him from us.

McQueen was born into a blue-collar family in London’s East End and from an early age he was passionate about making clothes and the more unusual the better. He was an apprenticeship to a tailor in Saville Row and then went on to Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design to work as a pattern cutter tutor. When the Head of the new MA course in fashion design saw his portfolio she persuaded him to enroll.  That head, Bobby Nillson, saw his strong natural talent and realized that they couldn’t teach him to design and instead helped to give him help to use it.

McQueen’s Collection in his final year show was bought up in its entirety by an eccentric aristocrat who loved the avant-garde, and she (Isabella Blow) became one of McQueen’s closest friends and one of his biggest supporters. Unfortunately she took her own life just before McQueen took his.

McQueen then began his own label, and very quickly became known as the “L’Enfant terrible” and “the hooligan of English fashion”. His style was totally outrageous and he created fashion that London had never seen before. From the very beginning, it was the extravagant theatrical style of his runway shows that turned more than just heads.

Because his runway shows had almost all been recorded, the filmmakers had a lot of footage to share and allow us to be stunned by what we see.

McQueen’s genius is brilliant and a feast for the eyes. We also have equally fascinating home videos made by McQueen’s friends and that show his thought processes as well as his obsession with the darker side of life.

When he received an offer to be the Creative Director of Givenchy, one of the most conservative and rather haughty luxury French Fashion Houses, we see  McQueen and his friends being overwhelmed by the grand and ornate headquarters that they were expected to work. His first collection for Givenchy was not a success but later ones were and although his designs for them were more refined they still had all of his personal touches.  On camera he says that the huge amounts of money that Givenchy paid him finance his own label.

McQueen was openly gay from a very early age and we have interviews with most of the men he had significant relationships with. He remained on good terms with them and he was very close to his family especially his older sister Janet and his mother. Om fact, his mother’s death was a major factor in his depression and he took his own life the day after she died.

In the documentary, the clothes are the stars and it is interesting to see now how many people take credit for McQueen’s success but it was he, alone, who really is the one who made himself who he was.

He deliberately shocked and provoked the fashion industry in such a way that they are still have not really recovered. He was named British Designer of the Year for four consecutive times and he was honored by the Queen as a C.B.E. Unfortunately his dark side won out and at the age of 40, he took his own life in 2010.

“NO STRAIGHT LINES: 4 DECADES OF QUEER COMICS”— Inside the World of Queer Comics

 “No Straight Lines: 4 Decades of Queer Comics”

Inside the World of Queer Comics

Amos Lassen

There’s a huge gay underground of queer fans within the comic book world, “and those skin-tight suits, the subversive ways of approaching issues and colorful fantasy worlds have been intoxicating us and drawing us in for years”. This new documentary, “No Straight Lines”, is focused on telling the stories of the LGBT cartoonists, artists, and writers who were working to tell stories outside of the mainstream. In Do It Yourself culture, these creators made zines, mini-comics, and all sorts of do-it-yourself content to tell their stories. The culture has evolved over the last forty years to include and incorporate online tools to create webcomics and the relevance has not changed.

Writer Justin Hall and filmmaker Vivian Kleiman take five queer creatives from the Hall’s anthology of the same name to feature in the film. We meet artists Ed Luce, artist of “Wuvable Oaf”, Emeric Kennard, Ajuan Mance, Nicole Georges, and Ivan Velez, Jr.

Stay tuned for more information.

“GENDERBENDE”— Five Young People


Five Young People

Amos Lassen

“Genderbende” is about five young people who feel neither male nor female and position themselves somewhere in between. They all have their own struggles, but together they create a compelling story about acceptance. This highly emotional drama causes us to empathize very quickly with the characters who are all very brave and sweet.

The film follows the very personal stories of Dutch individuals who are not comfortable with standard gender “binarism”. They are not afraid to tell us their feelings or open their hearts to us as we follow them through their daily lives. They do not respond to labels like transgender or queer and say that they “just feel what they feel as society is harsh on them” since they do not comply to mainstream heteronormative standards.

 The film is directed by Sophie Dros who introduces us to five gender-fluid people, Lisa, Anne, Dennis, Lashawn and Selm, who are proud to be who they are. “Genderbende” plays with the curiosity, interest and incomprehension of anything outside the mainstream gender norm and asks the questions, “Isn’t everyone’s gender actually ‘fluid’? Wouldn’t it be liberating if we could break the narrow-mindedness about gender?” The five characters make us question our sometimes-rigid society and offer a moment of thought as to how male or female we are? Isn’t life about celebrating the individual and not the gender of that individual?

Gender benders subvert dual gender images and refuse to be classified by the traditional categories of male and female. Each of the five protagonists in the documentary has already taken the first step out of this convention and all are about to discover their own identity outside the norm (the norm being society). They are met with reactions that vary from total non-understanding to interest and open aversion and they waver between defiance, doubt and enthusiasm about every step that follows. Each of them manages to come a little closer to themselves. Even when the world around them – despite its curiosity – isn’t always ready to follow.

The film creates enough space to let the five different stories unfold on the narrative and visual level. While the football-playing twins Lisa and Anne seem impressively at ease with themselves, Dennis, Selm and Lashawn have to deal with the fact that other peoples’ perception of them differs from how they perceive themselves. They share these desires and contradictions with us. “Genderbende” celebrates them and their fight for a society in which gender no longer means only two juxtaposed ideals but an individual and unique construction that encompasses both.

“BLACK DIVAZ”— Six Fabulous Indigenous Drag Queens

“Black Divaz”

Six Fabulous Indigenous Drag Queens

Amos Lassen

Adrian Russell Wills was commissioned to make the documentary, “Black Divaz” as part of the 40-th anniversary celebration of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Over the course of an hour, we meet six fabulous indigenous Drag Queens as they prepare to participate in the very first Miss First Nations Drag Queen competition.

This group of men and one transwoman, from across Australia came to Darwin during Pride week lugging oversized luggage filled with outrageous costumes and enormous colorful wigs and exotic names (Nova Gina, Isla Fuk Yah, Crystal Love, Josie Baker, Jojo and Shaniqua). They are met by the two co-hosts Miss Ellaneous and Marzi Panne who are determined to make the whole event one big unforgettable party.

As each of the contestants bares their souls on camera sharing their life experiences, we learn that represent a community and cultures that are so neglected and overlooked by the rest of the LGBT community.  They are not bitter and understand that the struggle for acceptance exists in their own communities and  they also relate as well as that as they struggle for understanding and acceptance.  

Wills has captured a beautiful and affectionate portrait of the camaraderie among the talent who care more about the ‘sisterhood’ than just winning a crown.  On the final night of the competition each of them ends up with a winner’s sash of some kind and this is the perfect ending. When they are dressed up and performing onstage, we see their professionalism which at the same time comes over as both natural and authentic and these are the two qualities that are often forgotten elsewhere in a world too obsessed with “the over-glossiness (and dare we say fakeness?)  of Drag.”


“Beyond The Opposite Sex”

Rene and Jamie

Amos Lassen

“Sex is about who you want to sleep with; gender is about who you want to sleep as,” says Dr. Bruce Hensel, co-director and executive producer of a new documentary, “Beyond the Opposite Sex”. Rene and Jamie, are two very different people who went through very different journeys since their l gender affirmation surgeries. Rene was biologically born a female and feels very strongly about wanting to be a heterosexual male who wants to be with women. Jamie was biologically born a male, was married with a woman and had a daughter as a male, left and was with men as a woman, and eventually entered into a relationship with another woman and becoming an established songwriter in Nashville. Even with their different journeys, Hensel believes that there is one fundamental thing in both of their stories: “they’re about who these people feel they are on the inside and not about who they want to sleep with.”

Rene and Jamie’s stories began in an earlier Hensel documentary in 2004, “The Opposite Sex.” Until that film no documentary had ever followed a transgender person from the moment of making the decision through the surgery before. The producer set about finding the right protagonists of his film by contacting all the surgeons in the world who did gender affirmation surgeries. After looking at 100 five-minute homemade tapes of possible candidates, Hensel and his team eventually chose Rene and Jamie. They felt that they would be open and brave, and allow a deep approach into their stories. They also were interesting and somewhat charismatic people (and quite brave).

After completing “The Opposite Sex”, Hensel and his team kept in touch with Rene and Jamie. “Beyond the Opposite Sex” picks up their stories fourteen years later and we see that their surgeries were far from the end of their journeys. Over the past fourteen years, the world has changed. When Hensel first pitched “The Opposite Sex”, very few people were aware of gender affirmation surgeries. In pitching the newer film it seemed that everybody had a teenager in school who had a number of friends who were going through it yet the prejudice is still there. I find this amazing. Furthermore, within various groups there are different attitudes. “There are some transgenders who don’t want all the surgeries; there are some who do. Also, Jamie and Rene feel very strongly that once they completed their surgery, they were not transgender – they are now a man and a woman. There are people who challenge that, and we see that in the movie. There are also people who feel that they have to be militant about it, while others feel like they just want to live their lives.

Medical advancements have continued over the years, but surgeries still remain strenuous. In the film, we see that Rene has been through nine surgeries and we understand that the physical transition from female to male is very difficult. There is still no way to create a completely natural penis. It’s much more difficult than the transition from male to female. There is no question that there will continue to be advances, many transgenders are choosing to not yet go through with the final surgery for that reason.”

This is a film that humanizes a subject that remains unfamiliar to many people to this day. Any good movie is not about an issue, it is about people that help illuminate an issue, have a social impact and can help change the path. A desire to help and effect change is also what attracts director Hensel, who is a three-time Emmy winning journalist, a doctor, and a broadcasting personality.

Rene is back at school and studying online for a Ph.D. and has a new girlfriend who has no issues with him being a trans man.His mother and siblings who put him through hell when he first started his journey are now fully supportive. His only barrier to full acceptance is with his girlfriend’s family with whom he has not shared his history with yet. 

Jaime, on the other hand, lives with Lisa her girlfriend in a very rural part of her State where they fear that all the neighbors, would want to run them out of town if they knew they were gay.  Jaime accepts that she is not the most feminine of women, which is a point of contention she has with Lisa who would like her to make more of an effort with her appearance.  She is extremely self-assured and insists that she is not a transwoman but just a woman.

Life has not worked out for either Rene or Jaime as they expected but finally becoming their true gender has certainly given them the peace and happiness they never had before.  Aside from one meeting with students to talk about his journey, neither he nor Jaime have expressed any desire for acting as advocates for future generations of trans men and women. Some might find this surprising but I must say that I found in my own case that when I reached a certain age, I just wanted to live out my days quietly.

The one main fault of the film is that it panders too much to society’s obsession with genitalia and sexual performance, and therefore something of a disservice to Jaime, Rene and their partners by making such an issue about this.  It would have been fine just to avoid it altogether.

The concept of doing a follow up on the original films was a great decision and it’s refreshing to see two extraordinary people happy that they got through their personal agonies and hells.  Any addition like this to the continuing dialogue about the journey of the trans community is a good thing.

“THE GOSPEL OF EUREKA”— A Light on Acceptance


A Light on Acceptance

Amos Lassen

In “The Gospel of Eureka”, love, faith and civil rights meet head on in a southern town as evangelical Christians and drag queens try to invalidate stereotypes. “Gospel drag shows and passion plays set the stage for one hell of a show!”

Having lived in Arkansas for some seven years, I got to know Eureka Springs quite well since several times a year the town hosts gay getaway weekends. But Eureka Springs is the home of the Christ of the Ozarks statue, commissioned in 1966 by the far-right, anti-Semitic American clergyman Gerald L.K. Smith. Along with that the town is home to the Great Passion Play that retells the persecution, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s also the home to Eureka Live Underground, a drag and dance bar run by a pair of flamboyant and Christian gay men. Portland documentary filmmakers, Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri, examine the complex and surprising relationships that come together in the town and do so with grace and style.

The film is narrated by Mx Justin Viviane Bond, and with soundtrack contributions from Sharon Van Etten and it is a personal and often comical look at how it is possible to negotiate differences between religion and belief through performance, political action, and partnership, gospel drag shows and passion plays. This is a personal and heartwarming story that will make you laugh out loud, cry within and inspire hope.

Eureka Springs has quite a long history of tall tales and crazy characters yet not many (aside from the residents) know is how diverse this little town (in ARKANSAS!!!) really is. Palmieri and Mosher went there with the idea to show how a community operates based love and acceptance. Everyone in this film is lovable (some may seem a little more absurd than others at time but it’s easy to love everyone there—well, almost everyone [no Yip, I was not referring to you]). From the drag queens to the evangelical Christians we quickly see how much respect that they have for one another.

Migration to Eureka Springs came because of the so-called healing powers the springs in the town and of those that came, most never left. Eureka has a population that is 44% LGBTQ, yet it is considered the biker and Christian capitol of Arkansas making us wonder how such a diverse population finds a way to put aside differences and live together. The answer is acceptance which is a step quite above tolerance (a word I never cared for).

Palmieri and Mosher were asked to go to Eureka Springs to cover City Ordinance 2223 which was to be voted on. The ordinance “sought to protect and safeguard the right and opportunity of all persons to be free from unfair and discrimination based on real or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, gender identity, gender expression, familial status, marital status, socioeconomic background, religion, sexual, orientation, disability and veteran status.” It just so happened that while they were there, the two men fell in love with the people of Eureka and just knew they that they wanted and needed to tell their story.

Hence we have this documentary that is about freedom of expression and freedom to be oneself. We see footage of the passion play put on by members of the community juxtaposed by gospel drag shows put on by Eureka Live, a local hot spot. Two entirely different groups of individuals express themselves in their own way over the same common theme, Jesus.

Since I have been to Eureka many times, I can vouch for the fact that this is a true and authentic look at the town and its people Even though some of the lifestyles may be different than others there is a great sense of love, light and acceptance among the members of the community and you really feel it there.

At times, the film is very funny and we see that we are all the same although some of us have fantastic wardrobes with feathers and sequins. “We are all the same. If you cut my arm I bleed the same as you. If we could just learn to look past each other’s differences it would be a much better world to live in.” It’s all about love and acceptance.

No matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on in Eureka, everyone seems to believe in Jesus. (Except for Yip and the rabbi and his family. that has moved to town since the film was made and oh yes and there is another part-Jewish gnome there as well. There is a wide variety of interpretations of scripture and faith.

Both Christ of the Ozarks and the Passion Play have their fiftieth anniversaries this year of which celebrate their 50th anniversary this year and this gives us an idea of how long Christianity has been entrenched there. (There are stories of Anita Bryant’s residency in Eureka). The film follows the actors in the Passion Play with emphasis on the guy playing Jesus through their rehearsal and performance process. Though not as popular as it once was in the late 1960s, it still attracts a crowd, some true believers and others that are just curious.

On the other side of town, there are other activities. There are only 2073 residents (Yip might make that 2074). Eureka is in the northwestern corner of the state, on the border with Missouri, has a large enough number of gay residents, and allies of gays, so a vibrant drag show stays in business. Actually co-director Mosher mentioned that he sees a lot of parallels between the drag show and the Passion Play, calling the latter “Christian drag” ( since they do dress in robes). And so there are two pageants and many ways of proclaiming The Word since even the drag queens love to sing gospel.

“The Gospel of Eureka” is a beautiful celebration of love, which is supposed to be the main tenet of Christianity, after all. The filmmakers are respectful of their subjects and allow all to be heard regardless of point of view. Accordingly, Eureka Springs, despite some discord over a city ordinance that protects the LGBT residents is a place where it is fine to agree to disagree. to disagree.

There is one little story that I would like to share that is not in the movie. Before “Eureka Live” was sold to its present owners, it was just a club for everyone. One Eureka Pride weekend coincided with a weekend of straight truck drivers who like to wear women’s clothing and they were having a fashion show at Eureka Live. Now that is acceptance. I am in Boston now and I miss the South (I’m originally from New Orleans and was evacuated to Arkansas after Katrina). Try to imagine a gay Jew in Arkansas and you will understand why I left… but I have wonderful memories of Eureka Springs.

“EVERY ACT OF LIFE”— The Life of Terrence McNally

“Every Act of Life”

The Life of Terrence McNally

Amos Lassen

Terrence McNally has written the scripts of Broadway plays and musicals for 60 years, he has been involved in the struggle for LGBT rights, has suffered addiction and recovery, has found true love and seems to be always looking for inspiration. “Every Act of Life” is his story.

He is a recipient of the Dramatists Guild Lifetime Achievement Award and the Lucille Lortel Lifetime Achievement Award. He has won four Tony Awards for his plays Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class and his musical books for Kiss of the Spider Woman and Ragtime. He won an Emmy Award for Andre’s Mother. He wrote the libretto for the operas Great Scott and Dead Man Walking.

Playwright Terrence McNally is living NYC history yet he runs from the spotlight. He is a shy, modest man who lets his writing say what the want to say. Director Jeff Kaufman interviewed many of McNally’s friends and colleagues, including F. Murray Abraham, Lynn Ahrens, Jon Robin Baitz,  Christine Baranski, Zoe Caldwell, Dominic Cuskern, Tyne Daly, Edie Falco, Stephen Flaherty, John Glover, Anthony Heald, John Benjamin Hickey, Sheryl Kaller, John Kander, Roberta Kaplan, Tom Kirdahy, Larry Kramer, Nathan Lane, Angela Lansbury, Paul Libin, Joe Mantello, Marin Mazzie, Audra McDonald, Peter McNally, Lynne Meadow, Rita Moreno, Jack O’Brien,  Billy Porter, Chita Rivera, Doris Roberts, Don Roos, John Slattery, Micah Stock, Richard Thomas,  John Tillinger, Stanley Tucci, and Patrick Wilson, plus the voices of Dan Bucatinsky, Bryan Cranston and Meryl Streep.  

Kaufman met McNally while he was filming “The State of Marriage” about the struggle for marriage equality. That film is set in Vermont, the first state to allow civil unions. McNally and his partner, producer Tom Kirdahy, were married there in 2003, and make a brief appearance in the movie. Kaufman understood that McNally doesn’t like to talk about his personal life but once it was decided to male this movie, McNally held nothing back. McNally’s story, is also a portrait of what life is like in the theater and the history of New York City over the past 50 years.

McNally came to New York from Corpus Christi, Texas in 1956 to attend Columbia University, where his teachers included Mark Van Doren and Eric Bentley. At a party one night he met Edward Albee, who’d just written “The Zoo Story.” At about 2 a.m., Albee invited him to his apartment for a drink. He had no idea that Albee was gay.

They went on to live together  while Albee worked on “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Their relationship was filled with too much drinking and it did not last. When they broke up, Albee told him to stay away from the West Village. Eventually, they reconciled and McNally was one of the last people to visit Albee before he died. McNally’s own career took off in 1965 with “And Things That Go Bump in the Night,” which probably was the first play to put an open and positive gay character onstage.

McNally tells us that alcohol nearly destroyed him. He stopped writing and spent most of his time drinking. Once sober, McNally solidified his position as a major American playwright with “The Lisbon Traviata” in 1989, followed by “Lips,” “Love!” and “Master Class.”

At 78, Terrence is one of the world’s most renowned, risk-taking playwrights, but he wakes up every day with the spirit of an ambitious and romantic young man. His attitude toward life mixed with a quiet courage is what empowered him to be the first proudly open major American gay playwright.  His plays are about sexuality, homophobia, faith, the power of art,  and finding meaning in every moment of life. “McNally has had long relationships with Edward Albee and Wendy Wasserstein; lost a lover and many friends to AIDS; stopped drinking through the intervention of Angela Lansbury; helped launch the careers of Nathan Lane, F. Murray Abraham, Audra McDonald, Doris Roberts, Patrick Wilson, and Joe Mantello; was an early champion of marriage equality and faced violent protests for his play “Corpus Christi”; survived a brutal fight with lung cancer; and finally found lasting love with his now-husband, producer Tom Kirdahy.”

His plays, books for musicals, opera librettos, and screenplays include: And Things That Go Bump in the Night (1964), Next (1969), Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone? (1971), Bad Habits (1974), The Ritz (1975), The Rink (1984), Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune (1987), It’s Only a Play (1986 and 2014), Andre’s Mother (1988), The Lisbon Traviata (1989), Lips Together, Teeth Apart (1991), Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), A Perfect Ganesh (1993), Love! Valour! Compassion! (1995), Master Class (1996), Ragtime (1998), Corpus Christi (1998), Dead Man Walking (2000), The Full Monty (2000), Unusual Acts of Devotion (2008), The Visit (2001 / 2015), And Away We Go (2012), Mothers and Sons (2014), and Anastasia (2017). He is currently working on three new plays.

“His plays that are out and proud and cutting edge, but he also writes plays like Frankie and Johnny and Ragtime that have nothing to do with being gay, but everything to do with not being accepted. In the end, they’re all about love.” – director Sheryl Kaller

Broadway actor Audra McDonald says that “You cannot tell the history of the American theater without celebrating the work of Terrence McNally.”

“CHERRY GROVE STORIES”— Tales From a Gay Haven

“Cherry Grove Stories”

Tales From a Gay Haven

Amos Lassen

I have always regretted that I have yet to visit Cherry Groves and I feel that desire even more so after seeing Michael Fisher’s fascinating documentary that shows the unique character of Cherry Grove, a community on Fire Island, New York that became a safe haven for gays during a time when it was illegal for two men to hold hands in public. Fisher’s interviews with residents bring out hidden stories and unknown facts that need to be told.

 Cherry Grove has always played an important role in LGBT history.  It is part of Fire Island that is located just off Long Island, New York. It began in the 1950’s when gay men and women needed a safe place as an escape from the city where gay men were free to be themselves when homosexuality was still illegal. 

This documentary combines archival footage with a great many interviews with the old-timers who happily share what the Grove was like back then in the good old days.  Emphasis was on having a good time and sexual freedom that was not available to LGBT people anyway else. Cherry Grove was wild and a place where literally anything goes.

The liberation and freedom that Fire Island offered was a precursor of what the gay community would start to demand elsewhere even though this was not  view shared by everyone.

It wasn’t a totally safe paradise— there were police crackdowns and entrapments.  The effect of an arrest meant public humiliation and ‘outing’ with names and photographs in a newspaper that could lead to men losing jobs, homes and being rejected by families.

Drag always played am important part of Cherry Grove especially since it was still illegal for men to be out in public in women’s clothing.  In 1976 when a drag queen called Terry Warren was refused entry to a restaurant because of his outfit, the incident caused a major protest.  Then on July  4th that year a bunch of drag queens jumped into a water taxi and ‘invaded’ the place.  It was such a success that the ‘Invasion’ has been an annual event for celebration ever since. 

The AIDS epidemic devastated the population of Fire Island with many of its residents choosing to have their ashes scattered here. It was the place where they had been the happiest,  The after effects of AIDS also changed the whole make up of the Grove. It always had been a place where the gay community had intermingled well with the straight community that lived there, but now with so many properties suddenly being available, there was an influx of lesbians who were becoming homeowners.

Some of the more flamboyant interviewees ramble and the film was made with the assumption that the viewer already knows something about Fire Island and Cherry Grove which could be a confusing for those who do not.  Fire Island is still an LGBT paradise that will continue to be so.

“FROM BAGHDAD TO THE BAY”— Meet Ghazwan Alsharif

“From Baghdad to The Bay”

Meet Ghazwan Alsharif

Amos Lassen

Erin Palmquist took ten years to make “From “Baghdad to the Bay”. It is the story of Ghazwan Alsharif, an Iraqi refugee and former translator for the U.S. military.  After years of service helping the American invading forces, he was wrongfully accused of espionage and tortured by the military police in Iraq for some 75 days before being rescued by an American Colonel who he had served and who personally vouched for him.

When the Iraqi militia learned of the work he had done with the United States Forces, they threatened his family and then bombed his home.  His parents who had initially encouraged him to help the Americans liberate the country now ostracized him for refusing to give up his war work.

Despite the American Government’s avowed aim to help re-settle Iraqis who had risked their lives working with the Armed Forces, the reality of actually being allowed to immigrate to safe haven in America involves a long and rough procedure with no guarantee of success.  Alsharif was one of the lucky ones who managed to be awarded a place in an International Refugee scheme that enabled him to get to San Francisco.

Over the years Palmquist and her crew regularly returned to visit Alsharif and see how he was adjusting to his new life especially with what he had to go through and being forced to give up his own home and culture purely to survive.  He was not only cut off by his entire family back in Iraq, but his divorced wife now living in London rarely allowed him even phone contact with their son.

Alsharif was to finally able to come out as a gay man, but when his photograph with other gay men appeared on Facebook, his brothers called from Iraq to demand that they are taken down.  In 2012 when he lent his support to the group campaigning to stop Iraqis being killed back home just for being gay, his family contacted him again to tell him to stop doing so.  An American Arab explained that the family could be totally excluded from Iraq society if it was known they had a gay son, which may seem severe but is really nothing in comparison with the knowledge that this could easily cost Alsharif his very life.

Alsharif is a very affable man and loves his work as a his work as a chef. He has a new group of friends, American citizenship, and a gratitude for his freedom which almost makes up for the loneliness he feels that he will never escape.   


“Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood”

Escort and Pimp to the Stars

Amos Lassen

Scotty Bowers who is now in his 90s, Bowers wrote a book about how he supplied a ‘service’ to the Hollywood elite. He was a gas-pumping pimp and prostitute to the stars and according to Bowers, he had sex with everyone who was anyone…or, supplied some-body to someone who could pay $20.

He shares some pretty big names [those we know of and those we don’t] with neither reservation nor shame. His ‘stories’ are corroborated by his ex-employees and a few clients.

In Matt Tyrnauer’s film we only see what Bowers wants us to see. “Bowers is an inveterate performer/manipulator who has aged…disrespectfully, disgracefully, disloyally, irresponsibly.

During the Golden-age Hollywood, there was a great deal of homosexuality, infidelity, alcoholism, drug addiction and so much more that would upset the moving-going public yet the movie stars of the mid-20th century were presented as such paragons. Now we know better. Unmarried male stars and directors, weren’t necessarily just bachelors who hadn’t met the right girl. In 2012, Bowers published “Full Service,” a tell-all about his days running a gas station on Hollywood Boulevard in the 1940s, from where he provided male and female sex workers to satisfy the sexual needs of the film business from stars to set designers. Bowers claims to have personally serviced or provided companions for hundreds of people, many of them were the names you saw on movie marquees.

Director Matt Tyrnauer introduces us to a handsome young Bowers, fresh out of the army, who one day was picked up a at a gas station by Walter Pidgeon. It did not take long for Bowers to become Hollywood’s go-to guy for attractive young sexual playthings. (Bowers says that he was not a pimp because he never took money from anyone he procured).

We learn of three-ways with Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, and of the sexual appetites of Charles Laughton, Vivien Leigh and Cole Porter. Tyrnauer shares that Bowers was at Guadalcanal and in deadly WWII combat. Bowers discusses his sexual abuse —as a child, from a neighbor and from a string of Catholic priests after his family moved from the farm to Chicago. There will be those who will either not believe Bowers’ tales or who feel that it’s inappropriate that he’s telling tales about celebrities who are no longer around to defend themselves. (To the films credit, it leaves out some of the more nauseating revelations, like the very many inclinations of a certain legendary actor-director.) “Scotty” captures a fascinating era of Hollywood — the public-relations version and the real one, with its morality clauses and scandal sheets while at the same time examining a key behind-the-scenes figure. We get an understanding of who Bowers is and where he comes from, and why his current wife says that his desire to make others happy is compulsive.

Those who object to Bowers’ revelations may find themselves surprisingly empathetic to his life story— there is plenty of gossip to be found here, but there’s also no shortage of humanity.

Bowers opens his little black book as he tells about his scandalous life as a Hollywood escort and pimp to the stars but Matt Tyrnauer avoids making Bowers’ narrative one of tabloid fodder. There is novelty to this Hollywood insider’s portrait. Bowers is a good storyteller and a quirky character that offers scintillating stories about hooking up all sorts of A-listers with hot young men and women to please the stars behind closed doors. We can object to Bowers’ decision to reveal all at the age of 90 without being a member of the moral police. Bowers insists that his decision to out famous stars is an act of humanizing celebrities. And really, who cares if a celebrity was gay?

Tyrnauer is aware of this and includes a handful of objectors, including a hot debate of the book on the talk show The View in which Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck all dismiss Full Service as exploitative trash. Several characters in the film tell Bowers that it’s wrong to reveal personal information about people who are dead and cannot speak to the story themselves, especially since his relationship as a liaison between the stars and the hustlers was one of discretion. Of course, we see Bowers as someone cashing in on the secrets of the dead.

Far more problematic, however, is the way Bowers presents his own secrets. One uncomfortable scene features Bowers recalling the early days of his sexual prowess, which leads to an account of a sexual relationship with his adult neighbor, who pleasured him when he was only 11. Tyrnauer interjects and asks Bowers if he realizes that the act he describes is child abuse. Bowers refutes the notion that his neighbor’s actions were molestation. Tyrnauer revives the question in a later interview and asks if his profession might be the result of a latent trauma, but Bowers simply waves it off. He portrays the act as a beautiful experience. While convention cautions filmmakers and viewers to avoid judging their subjects, Bowers’ characterizations of his childhood leave one uneasy.

Tyrnauer finds strong material in the implications of Bowers’ bag of secrets as the documentary extends the conversation to the manufacturing of stars by the studios and how actors like Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy compromised their personal lives for the escapist images we love.. Scotty’s personal history might have best been kept a secret, but one appreciates Tyrnauer’s ability to open the story up to Hollywood’s own checkered past.

The most striking thing about Scotty Bowers is that he is ordinary. He seems to be a harmless old guy in a messy house, checking his messages. But Scotty Bowers knows a lot. He was Hollywood’s “gentleman hustler,” but “he was never a pimp,” one of his employees insists. “He was a friend doing another friend a service.”