Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“MR. LEATHER”— Brazil’s Leather Community

“Mr. Leather”

Brazil’s Leather Community

Amos Lassen

 In his new documentary, director Daniel Nolasco looks at Brazil’s growing  gay leather community. Early on we get the idea that because of some dark political maneuvers, Barbudo the very first winner of the Mr. Leather title is the organizer of the second ever competition that is the subject of the film.

It was just thirteen years ago that the first leather night  was held in Sao Paolo only one other person turned up.  Barbudo.  Now it is one of the most important leather parties in the country.  We meet and follow the four contestants vying for the title and we  see that this is an intimate affair in which everyone knows everyone else.

At the Leather Dinner before the competition, everyone is dressed in their fiercest leather outfit. Director Nolasco profiles each of the four hopefuls mixing their words and this is great fun. He also has them display their leather wardrobes complete with all the accessories which is quite a surprise to people (like us) who think that they always wear the same outfit all the time.

Mr. Leather demystifies  the leather community to us on the outside. Though several of the leatherman still regard Tom of Finland as their Patron Saint, we see that the Brazilian leather community has moved on a great deal since then and not just how they dress and look but their whole attitude to being part of a group that intermingles much more.  Some belong to BLUF (Breeches, Leather Uniform & Fetish), a popular group with the community.

Nolasco has not just shed some of the myths around the leather community, but he made it seem like something that people will really want to join.

“HALSTON”— Rediscovering Halston

 


“HALSTON”

Rediscovering Halston

Amos Lassen

2019 could be the year that we  rediscover Halston,  thje designer who drove some of the key looks of the 70s and 80s. Not only have 80s looks been resurfacing for some time but a new television dramatization of his life is in the works with Ewan McGregor as Halston. 

Halston was ahead of his time in understanding the role of public relations and media in creating a myth of glamour, hedonism and luxury. He crafted his image as a fully formed NYC style icon and erased his small town Iowa upbringing. He did not look back and publicly said that he only cared about what was now or next. His voice, his accent, his look was a series of choices designed to propel him forward. Halston used movie stars, singers and artists as his models and there is still one former movie star that only wears his clothes.

 He created and nurtured a diverse design empire which he thought of as a “tree with many branches”. His iconic work was not just high-end couture, he designed Olympic team uniforms, girl guide outfits, and corporate wear for some of the 1980s biggest enterprises. But a billion-dollar deal with J.C. Penny to “dress America” was one step too far. The deal cost him ownership of his name and the Halston brand became diluted. He lost creative control to the corporate world. His arrogance and extravagance turned him into an internal exile.

The documentary uses amazing source materials. “As Halston was so concerned with his image wherever he worked became a set with a camera crew. The beautiful people are seen in the beautiful clothes. The charismatic and quirky satellites that orbited him are captured.” When a choice is made to add an actor as narrator and archivist, things began to go downhill. Scenes of the invented archivist searching for the video tapes of Halston’s life give us A false note. Recorded on what looks like different film than the 80s video tape source material they are off in hue and texture. It is all visually awkward. 

The documentary reaches a high point early on when it focuses on the public persona of Halston in the 1970s and 80s. It deflates after that because of inadequate exploration of the man behind it. There are TV interviews but minimal intimate material and it is hard to care about the man behind the looks. Apart from a quick trip to Fire Island, and some anecdotes about the bad behavior of one of his exes Halston seems as sexless as a Ken doll. Where the documentary under delivers most is in the treatment of the two crises of Halston’s life. 

The story behind his corporate overreach come across as an accounting exercise being force fit into an episode of a soap opera.. It was a business deal gone wrong due to the flaws in his character. But interviews with corporate accountants and business managers lacks the color and bite of the interviews with the fashion crowd. 

Finally, there is Halston’s death from AIDS. The Ken Doll treatment of his sexuality and the cursory overview of the pre-AIDS sexual liberation make it intangible. The documentary does not get to grips with him beyond his work and public façade and with much of his inner life missing, his death is just another something.

Director Frederic Tcheng turns his docudrama about the rise and fall of fashion icon Halston into a full-scale noir thriller full of big names and salacious intrigue. “After the boxy styles and artificial fabrics of the Sixties, Halston’s voluptuous dresses enveloped and caressed curves and cleavages as they “danced around you” according to Liza Minelli, one of his biggest advocates and a firm friend.” All this was in part thanks to his master tailor Gino Balsamo whose clever crafting created single-seam clothes that ‘freed the female body” and swirled and seduced due to the unique simplicity of their genius bias-cut.”

Halston was born during the Depression in 1932 and was an ordinary gay man who instinctively knew how to re-invent himself as a mover and shaker. Starting out in the 60s as a milliner to Bergdorf Goodman famous clients (Jackie Onassis wore his pillbox hat), he rapidly moved on to create his own brand through celebrity endorsement in New York’s 70s and 80s. Sashaying onto the dance floor of Studio 54 with his beautiful entourage, known as the Halsonettes, he moved on with movie stars, and invented “hot pants”. Andy Warhol and Elizabeth Taylor were amongst his friends and clients. He also dressed the American athletes at the ’76 Olympics, the girl scout leaders, the NYPD and Avis car rental staff, as well as the Martha Graham dance troupe.

His all American freeform fashion parade at Paris’ Palace of Versailles in 1973 featured black American models and set the night alight with a fizzing floor show, despite French domination of the event. China was the next step and we see previously unseen footage from NBC visiting a silk factory where workers got a chance to try on creations made from their own fabrics.

But Halston was grew too big for his own boots. Soon he moved offices to the glamorous mirrored interiors of New York’s Olympic Tower. His keenness to develop the brand saw high signing a multi-million dollar deal with conglomerate Norton Simon. This took away his rights to his designs and name, while offering him continued creative control, allowing him to jump into bed with the likes of Max Factor, facilitating the launch of his first fragrance, Halston. The brand was soon on sheets, towels, even leather goods.

Halston launched a worthy endeavor to dress mainstream America through a deal with JCPenney called “From class to mass”. It focused on volume rather than artistry, and did not go down with well with Bergdorf Goodman, or his high-net-worth clientele, many of whom cancelled orders.

By this time Halston’s lavish lifestyle was also becoming financially exhausting, along with his on-off Venezuelan lover Victor Hugo, who had arrived on the scene purely for his looks and then became involved in the business, upsetting several members of his team. The final segment sees Halston re-connecting with his family and employing his niece, Lesley Frowick, who emotes on his HIV/AIDS demise.

The film works best as a chronicle of Halston’s fashion design artistry with its eye-catching footage and fascinating characters of the era. The business side of things often feels over-labored and much too detailed. It’s entertaining to watch and we see Halston as a force to be reckoned with, totally redefining the fashion world, and bringing America to the forefront with his wonderful legacy.

 

“DEEP IN VOGUE”— Needing to Vogue

“Deep In Vogue”

Needing to Vogue

Amos Lassen

Directors Amy Watson and Dennis Keighron-Foster celebrate the colorful, queer, emotional and political stories of Northern Vogue and its people in their new film, “Deep in Vogue”. Vogueing has become synonymous with the black, gay ballrooms of 1980s New York and this documentary asks why we need Vogue in Manchester, England now more than ever.

Vogueing powerfully re-surged in the UK in 2018 and has been described as “Paris Fashion Week on Crack” or “Like a second birthday for everyone,” this is politically charged art in a post-Brexit, austerity ravaged Britain. This documentary is a history lesson and a snap-shot of how things stand for the marginalized now and as a wish for the future. In this intimate portrait of the scene, the focus is pointed at the colorful, queer houses of Manchester; “House of Ghetto”, an exclusively black and female Vogue House, and “House of Decay”, a trans and queer led House. We watch as these houses prep for the House of Suarez Icons Ball and explore what the culture means to them and why they need Vogue now more than ever. 

Vogueing and the ballroom scene of Harlem have created cultural ripples through the decades and across continents. It has been appropriated, reassembled, packaged, sold and on many occasions sold out. Madonna was one of the first mainstream artists to acknowledge it in a very visible way but there are remains of its impact on many different styles in fashion, music and dance. 

This is the most recent iteration outlining the impact of voguing on the contemporary club scene in Manchester.  The documentary begins with the UK cast trying to explain what vogueing meant to the disenfranchised black gays of Harlem. Footage from the actual Harlem ballroom scene with its racial politics, unique dance moves and gender fluidity is that much more compelling than what we have here. The first voices announce a distance between their background as story tellers and the content that feels inauthentic at worst or redundant at best. 

‘Deep in Vogue’ is an easy target to talk about cultural appropriation but it is much more interesting when the lens is flipped. The real story here is how Manchester has always taken influences from around the world, remixed them and then add its own tastes.

From a Manchester perspective there is here a visible and vocal presence of people who are of mixed racial backgrounds. In the Great Britain, a large percentage of people who identify as ‘non- white’ have one parent who is white. This itself contributes to a very distinct difference from the African American roots of vogue. 

The other aesthetics owe as much to the conventions and formats of “Britain’s Got Talent” as they do to a Harlem ballroom. The influence of the 90s Manchester club scene is omnipresent. Clubs were seminal in bringing together gays and straights under a single veneer of fashion and debauchery. This is a very Manchester version of vogueing and we have white, straight cisgendered women duck walking, dipping and dropping along with transwomen, gay men and the non-binary. 

The documentary brings in politics by showing that if American politics are built on race then Manchester politics are built on class. “The participants eagerly articulate that the appeal for them of vogueing is its sense of socialism. It is about sharing resources and skills horizontally and vertically so that ‘each person is lifted up and allowed to shine’.”

There is a lot of talent here and they are ready to be in the spotlight. There is no thought of stealing that spotlight.  We see everyday people dancing along with a little bit of socialism.

“HURLEY”— Deconstructing the Perception

“Hurley”

Deconstructing the Perception

Amos Lassen

Director Derek Dodge’s new documentary about Hurley Haywood deconstructs the perception that cars and manliness often go hand in hand. “A man who packs a good engine makes the ladies go vroom vroom in popular culture and few items symbolize an idea of masculinity as much as a car does.” That perceived relationship between cars and masculinity with its revealing portrait of 1970s racing icon Hurley Haywood suddenly changes everything about how we have thought about men and cars. Haywood’s accomplishments as a motorist include five victories at 24 Hours of Daytona, three triumphs at Le Mans, and many, many wins at other circuits and races.  In “Hurley”, we see Haywood as a master behind the wheel as he navigates the circuit in his signature Porsches and decaled in sponsorship from Penthouse, sometimes with a photo of a centerfold model linked to his arm on the podium making Hurley look like the hallmark of manliness.  We know that appearances, are deceiving and we see in this film that  Haywood is finally ready to come out and reveal his true self after decades of living in the spotlight and closet alike.

 Now at 70 years old, Haywood  admits in an interview with Dodge that this film is his first public declaration of his sexuality. This is sad and empowering at the same time. We see Haywood reflecting about being a closeted gay while driving in a sport of hyper-masculinity. The audience, in turn, is asked to consider the happiness withheld from Haywood and other queer celebrities. We do not see remorse in Haywood’s candid interview, but rather resigned acceptance that the nature of the sport denied him the right to come out and properly enjoy the spotlight.

Many of the talking heads have something to say about how difficult it must have been for Haywood to conceal his personal life while winning on the racetrack. His sister speaks of a conservative upbringing, while actor/racer Patrick Dempsey talks about Haywood’s legacy. Dodge’s interviewees reiterate observations on the gendered nature of auto racing and the manufactured image of masculinity it presented to sell tickets and sponsorships.

The film speculates as to whether Haywood was involved with his racing partner and mentor Peter Gregg, which proves problematic when the latter isn’t present to speak for himself. Many claim that Gregg would have been a master of disguise if he were gay. They agree that racing and the pressures of the spotlight hurt him by keeping him in a different closet: that which prevents someone from seeking help for mental illness. “Hurley” doesn’t conflate mental illness with homosexuality even while it gives details of Gregg’s suicide in 1980; instead it brings the film to a cathartic climax as Haywood relates to the awful feeling of isolation and despair. He uses his story and the tragedy of his late mentor to encourage others to find comfort in speaking up and out.

Unfortunately, the film does not ask if and how coming out could have shaped the game and the industry, but Haywood’s tale is certainly not unique among sports stars. It does invite the new generation of racers to be proud of who they are.

“CRYSTAL CITY”— Meth Addiction in the Gay Community

 


“Crystal City”

Meth Addiction in the Gay Community

Amos Lassen

While the LGBT community is basking in its new  freedoms and in the post-AIDS years, there is another plague on in some of our communities. Today, New York and other centers of gay life have new generations of LGBT people who feel free and safe another threat is hurting the community— crystal meth, a synthetic drug that found a quick and willing home in the gay dance and sex club scene.  Crystal meth gives the user a manic rush to intensify physical and sexual activity and addiction is almost instantaneous. This documentary is both frightening and hopeful as it explores the many causes and effects of crystal meth addiction and the long path to recovery. The stories we see here are bravely told by men who are either recovering or currently using and these stories are raw, shocking, and honest and both a warning siren and a beacon of hope. Terrence Crawford’s “Crystal City” focuses on LGBT people even though this crisis touches everyone.

 

The documentary is an investigation of a resurgence of crystal meth addiction in New York’s gay community. The non-judgmental revelations show us a scene that is quite alarming.  Highly personal interviews with current and past addicts send us a message of mixed emotions that give us a feeling of both change and hope.

Crawford shows the start of the growing use of meth by gay men, most of whom are already HIV positive, comes from a real need to be able to lose any inhibitions when having sex.  Any feelings of self-loathing  about their sexuality or low self-esteem are cast away when they can have the most extreme and possibly deviant sex when on a meth driven high.  Interesting enough one addict admitted that he had never had ‘sober’ sex in his entire life and was even unsure if he could.

Crystal meth, or Tina is a very expensive habit which several of the younger users financed by becoming  sex-workers.  After taking a hit they were more sexually liberated so it was relatively easier to satisfy the needs of older gay guys to get them to  pay enough for their habits and living expenses.

Nearly all of the talking heads professed to having sober periods at one time or another, and even the ones that were the most successful in doing relapsed several times along the way.  To stop using meth is not the hardest thing but accepting and dealing with what replaces it is what causes far more problems.

Most of the men feel a need to change and stop and are totally aware of the irreparable damage long-term use can do both physically and mentally. There are a very few, like Kristian who have come to terms with the fact he will never stop his addiction completely and resigned to however that affects his life’s outcome. Meth he says, gives him a feeling of not ever having to care.

 

One of the young addicts says part of the problem is that navigating New York on your own with no immediate circle is  very difficult.  There are many uplifting and positive stories in the film. Andrew swapped out being a rent boy to getting a job walking dogs regular sessions with a mentor and by the end of the film he is celebrating being sober for one whole year.  Jacob, a long-time user is already 2 years sober and finds his hope and salvation by throwing himself into his art backed up therapy sessions with a professional counselor who is also an ex addict.  Matthew who is now sober has found his way back to a career in music which he claims gives him a bigger high than his addiction to meth, and we see him now marrying Loic his very cute boyfriend just before the final credits role.

The whole conversation comes full circle with one guy saying that finally there is evidence that the crystal city is beginning to see the noticeable start in the decline of and this cannot come fast enough. Director Crawford gives us a well-documented and even-handed look at a major problem that we hope will disappear soon.

“MACK WRESTLES — Mack Beggs Tells His Story

“MACK WRESTLES”

Mack Beggs Tells His Story

Amos Lassen

Transgender wrestler Mack Beggs broke records and changed history by winning the Texas state title two years in a row. Now with high school ending and college on the horizon, the sports champion, national activist, and high school hero must face with what comes next. He was tired of news articles telling his story. So when ESPN Films contacted him two years ago to shoot a documentary about his experience, he thought it would be a great chance to tell his story for himself.

The film, “Mack Wrestles,” premiered recently at the 2019 SXSW Conference & Festivals in Austin, Texas. It has a great deal to say especially insights that been left out of other news articles. Even though Beggs grew up as an active and happy tomboy, in grade school he began cutting himself. He told his grandmother that it made him feel better, but he couldn’t explain why. He explains that he didn’t know who to relate to or how to talk to his grandparents about it. His grandmother was afraid that he would one day kill himself. But then, when Mack started wrestling in ninth grade, he just stopped.

At the time, his grandmother told Beggs’ wrestling coach, “I don’t know what happened, but I know you saved his life, because he wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t started wrestling.” The coach told her, “Every once in a while a wrestler comes along and it defines who they are and what they are. They buy into it as a way of life.”

Beggs never had anybody that was negative towards him after finding this new outlet to channel a lot of the anxiety and hatred and depression he had once felt and he explains that  wrestling gave him a purpose to look at life in a whole different way and to take it on and not sit back and do nothing about it.

Texas is one of nine U.S. states who uses birth certificates to determine the gender of student athletes, Beggs was forced to wrestle girls rather than boys.

And because Beggs had been so public about his transition by sharing videos of his progress on social media, sports families began buzzing about it every time he had a wrestling tournament. At the 2017 regional state tournament, one of his female competitors refused to wrestle him at her parent’s suggestion. As he advanced to the state championship, a parent filed an injunction to stop him from competing.

A state law said that because Beggs’ medication was being legally issued by a physician, it wasn’t the same as taking “performance enhancing drugs” and he couldn’t be disqualified for it. Hormone replacement therapy is not the same as taking “performance enhancing drugs” anyway. Not all trans patients take literal steroids, and experts question the competitive advantage given to those who do.

Mack won the state championship and heard cheers and boos. He says he couldn’t hear the boos really… just noise. Afterwards, he was rushed off to the locker room and  the stadium floor filled with cameras and journalists. Beggs said that it didn’t even feel like a celebration.

By this point, Beggs’ story had been covered by numerous press outlets, including FOX News and international media. He says that he did not mind the attention. Mack doesn’t feel like he deserved the championship titles.

Shortly after graduating, Mack qualified for the USA Men’s National Team alongside other college-aged, Olympic-level competitors. But when his work commitments conflicted against his team practice schedule, he was dropped from the team and this disappointed him.  Nonetheless, Mack has begun wrestling at Life University in Marietta, Georgia. He’s studying health science and coaching, hoping to one day become a wrestling coach. He also wrestles for the school, this time with other men.

“BIRDS OF THE BORDERLANDS”— Four Queer Arabs

“Birds of the Borderlands”

Four Queer Arabs

Amos Lassen

Jordan Byron’s documentary “Birds of The Borderlands” follows four queer Arabs as they risk their place in their families, communities and even countries to be themselves.

Hiba is a Bedouin trans-girl fleeing her tribe before they discover her secret transition; Youssef is a gay Iraqi refugee murder-witness, waiting in hiding for UNHCR to hand him his fate; Khalaf is a gay Imam turned LGBT activist forced to seek asylum abroad after a vicious assault from his family; Rasha is a young Jordanian feminist who finds herself in a relationship with Jordan, the Australian filmmaker who is determined to help the film’s characters but doesn’t understand the price paid for freedom in a country where honor is often thicker than blood.

At first, we are not sure if director Byron has lost his mind or just foolish.  He just might be both. Jordan is an Australian genderqueer. When the camera starts rolling on Birds of the Borderlands it is initially hard to know if Australian genderqueer filmmaker is crazy or brave because of the topic. On a whim Jordan moved to Jordan where they (Jordan’s pronoun of choice) planned for a three month stay but stretched to 18 months,  and they actually spent the next 5 years wandering all over the Middle East getting immersed in the lives of several LGBTQ people whose sexuality was creating them major problems.

Most of the LGBT community they met, wouldn’t allow their faces to be shown on camera not just for concern for their own safety but also for the families they had left.  In most of this region of the world,  a child’s homosexuality if discovered is considered a major dishonor on the entire family that can result in them being shunned by society or attacked.

Youssef who had to  flee Baghdad almost momentarily after witnessing the horrific murder of his boyfriend.  Bryon took him in as their roommate and he is now waiting for refugee status which could (and does) takes years.  The apartment they share also becomes a safe haven for others including Hiba, as a young teenage trans woman Hiba who has run away from home. She is the only one who is keen on showing her face on the  screen  because as she says, “I’m tired of being invisible, I want to stand up and be seen and be heard”. However when HIba’s Bedouin family tricked her into coming back, the incident turns both dangerous and scary and Bryon is kidnapped in the process.

Feminist lesbian Rasha is braver than most and Bryon begins to date her. I had a hard time trying to differentiate between Byron’s friends and lovers but it is more important to watch them establishing  a real safe house for all LBTQ folk.

On one of their side trips to Beirut, Byron meets with Khalaf, an articulate gay Imam turned activist who had to leave Iran to escape death and is now hold up in a hotel room  unable to go out and just waiting for asylum in Canada. The whole business is very scary for those involved. There were threats from the Jordanian Secret Service who gave them orders to leave the country for good.  Although  what went on for Byron was not as violent as what Youssef had to deal with and thus forced to live on the margins. We are reminded that there are still places where LGBT people are not allowed to be themselves and there is no tolerance for them.

“GAME FACE”— Two Underdogs

“Game Face”

Two Underdogs

Amos Lassen

Michiel Thomas’s “Game Face” presents honest opinions and interviews from athletes who feel held back  by feeling discrimination about their performance based on their personal lifestyle and sexuality.  They become determined and rise against the odds and show their peers and the LGBTQ community that they’re worthy contenders  and not just in their sport, but in society.

The film follows two underdogs: transgender Mixed Martial Arts fighter Fallon Fox and Terrence Clemens, an openly gay College basketball player.  Other than being athletes facing unfair judgement, Fox and Clemens prove themselves to be role models by always taking the high road.  Clemens’ criminal past gave him a wake-up call to self-improve, and Fox’s spirit is as unbreakable as her physical build.  

The film doesn’t go beyond being a typical recollection of inspiring underdog stories.  It is not as strong as other films on the topic but it certainly should be seen.

 In the wake of the high-profile coming out announcements of professional athletes like basketball player Jason Collins and football player Michael Sam “Game Face” could not be more topical. The documentary goes behind the headlines to share the intimate and emotional stories of two queer athletes of  Fallon Fox and Terrence Clemens.

Clemens bore the brunt of homophobia when an unfounded rumor spread about him having sex with a guy. He faced fear, just like all closeted queer people f: he was outcast by his teammates and friends. Meanwhile, Fox also experienced one of the worst outcomes of coming out: her parents rejected her when she announced she was transitioning from male to female.

When Fox is later outed in the media, it becomes clear that her biggest challenge is educating people. Misunderstanding, assumptions, and confusion about transgender athletes are everywhere and largely incorrect. Many assume that Fox has advantages as a “man” competing against women. Not only does Fox have to steel herself against boos from the crowd, but she also has to raise awareness about what being transgender really is.

The film follows Fox’s journey as she trains not only to compete but to persevere against criticism and media attention that distract from the sport. “I’m a fighter,” she says. “I never take the easy way out.”

Thomas skillfully interweaves the two stories to illuminate the similarities and differences in the challenges that the two athletes face. (Racial identity here is not addressed; both athletes are black.) What appears central to both of their stories is how they appear, initially, to be alone in their struggle to break new ground.

Hope, accordingly, comes in the form of support from straight allies and other queer athletes at Pride parades, awards events, and social networking. While LGBT acceptance and rights have made gains overall, coming out in sport remains a risk, as interviewee Jervon Wright relates how he lost his college basketball scholarship when he was seen kissing his boyfriend.

Although both athletes share the goal of simply being accepted like everyone else, the truth is that as pioneers nothing will ever be simple or like everyone else. Luckily, both of our subjects seem to be up for what is required of them in the hope that in the future, others will get the chance to live out their dreams.

With professional athletes coming out being an important story right now in the LGBT community, several documentaries chronicling the lives of these people are beginning to emerge. One of the latest is Michiel Thomas’s Game Face. The film tells the story of transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox and gay basketball player Terrence Clemens, two athletes sharing parallel struggles in their quest to find respect in the sports world.

There is much progress still to be made towards acceptance and understanding towards LGBT athletes in the sports world. Any documentary seeking to tell the stories of these people is a positive step in the right direction. This film finds two compelling narratives and presents them in such a manner that they have the ability to change people’s minds. Through honesty and integrity, and a little support from a famous gay athlete already blazing a trail, we follow Fallon and Terrence on a journey to self-acceptance and helping others by talking publicly about the challenges they have faced.

Transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox is  the first female fighter to be out publicly. By the time she begins her MMA training, she has already transitioned to being a woman but she fears that she will be found out. If her trainer, other athletes, and her gym find out, what will that mean? Will anyone want to fight her? Will the reputation of the gym be damaged? As she works her way up the ranks and starts building a name for herself, a day comes after a match where her secret comes out in the media. She receives some support but ultimately she is faced with a deluge of controversy, people saying she shouldn’t be allowed to compete, accusations of unfair advantages, confusion, fear, and mistruths being thrown in her direction. She does her best to not let the negativity affect her and wherever she goes she continues educate those around her who may not understand her situation. As the controversy grows, she is forced to focus on the fighting to prove that she is worthy of being there. The flip-flopping messages of support and hateful criticism she continues to receive demonstrate the need for her to continue being an activist outside of the ring. Progress still needs to be made, as she is still continually denied her license to fight in the UFC league. They don’t yet believe she qualifies to fight in the women’s league even though she meets the International Olympic Committee’s requirements for transgender athletes.

Terrence Owen longs to play basketball professionally. Coming out of high school, he did not have any luck finding college scholarships to play and ended up having a run-in with the law and being jailed for 10 months. Upon his release he finds a trainer that is supportive and non-judgmental. The trainer worked with Terrence to develop goals and used a contact of his to find him a scholarship at a small two-year college. His goal was to play at that school and then hopefully be scouted to play for a large 4-year college and go on to play professionally. Under all of this, he was struggling to keep the fact that he is gay a secret, fearing what revealing this would do to his scholarship and career chances. Over the next two years, he continues to feel like an outsider from the rest of the guys in the locker room and this burden is chipping away at him. Along the way, NBA player Jason Collins publicly came out as gay. Terrence saw this as a beacon of hope and reached out to Collins for advice, which he freely offered. Collins told him that no matter what, he had to be truthful to himself. When the team wins a championship that year, he is offered several scholarships to play at other schools.   At that point, he decides to finally tell his teammates, coach, and friends that he’s gay. When he finally comes out, he receives nothing but support, even from those he wasn’t expecting.

At the beginning the film struggles to find its footing. The setup and introduction to these two subjects is blunt and somewhat confusing. However, once we get to know them, the film is strongest when it finds the intimacy of its two subjects. Beneath all the controversy and hate is a fight common to most in the LGBT community. The impact is felt when we see the ripple effect these coming out stories are having on people.

Continuing to tell these stories is so very important. There are many educational strides still to be made and each one of these challenges people’s perceptions and attitudes. It is hoped that an individual’s outlook is changed for the better. Here is the power that cinema can have and why it’s important to keep pushing forward as we fight for equality and respect in sports.

“WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?”— An Angry and Impressive Look at an Angry and Unimpressive Man

 

“WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?”

An Angry and Impressive Look at an Angry and Unimpressive Man

Amos Lassen

“Where’s My Roy Cohn?” takes its title from a question that Donald Trump asked those around him when they failed to stop attorney general Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Then we take a trip back in time to Trump’s formative years followed by interviews and archival footage and we are off on a chronological tour of the critical events that followed. Director Matt Tyrnauer has a knack for pacing and gives us a documentary that gets more engrossing as it goes along; the most vital bits are reserved for the bitter end, when, even in death, Roy Cohn still refuses to admit defeat.

Roy Cohn was a corrupt lawyer, political dirty trickster, mafia associate and all around scumbag. He was a self-hating Jew who powered the engine of one of the worst anti-Semitic moments in American history, the demonization and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He was a closeted man who refused to publicly identify as gay even as he was dying of AIDS. He was famous for being a mean bastard.

Cohn was born in New York in 1927 was heir to a number of fortunes on his mother’s side. She was said to be so ugly that she had trouble finding a husband. Cohn’s father agreed to an arranged marriage so long as her powerful family made him a judge. This blatant, unfeeling corruption came to be a hallmark of Cohn’s life. He graduated from Columbia Law School at the age of 20 and quickly found himself as one of the leading “red-baiters”, rooting out communists in government positions and the U.S. Army for the good of democracy. He worked with Senator Joseph McCarthy whose last name is a now a synonym for political witch-hunting.

McCarthy and Cohn’s harassment of presumed communists and sympathizers has overshadowed a subsequent “lavender scare” in which the pair harassed and exposed homosexuals. (It is rumored that McCarthy, like Cohn, was also secretly gay as was FBI head J. Edgar Hoover, who encouraged these witch hunts.) A series of hearings in 1954 suggested that much of McCarthy’s pressure on the US army was led by Cohn’s desire to secure a better position for a man named G. David Schine, who was either Cohn’s boyfriend or someone he was infatuated with.

Cohn fueled himself off accusations and fighting. His strategy was always to deny then lie even louder. As a personal attorney he would win high-profile cases through the use of “deflection, misdirection and fear-mongering.” He had powerful friends and attracted wealthy clients in New York, most notably the heads of organized crime families and the young real estate mogul Donald J. Trump.

Tyrnauer’s film is a collection of talking heads (including and news clips. We see that despite a twenty year age difference between Trump and Cohn, Trump seems to have been nurtured by Cohn’s disgusting work, the two were close for many years. They first bonded over a shared love of denying African-Americans  their civil rights. This led to corruption and kickbacks during the erection of Trump Tower. Cohn loved to see his picture in the paper, and was known for his must-attend parties, so there are ample images in this documentary to make you sick.

This film is part of a forthcoming wave from film-makers who are trying to grapple with just how in the hell we got to where we are making this an important film. For many years, Donald Trump was a joke (and never a harmless one). The damage he’s currently doing makes us ashamed that we laughed at him especially as he strives to get the last laugh. “This film connects a direct line between Roy Cohn’s belligerent, boorish and obstructionist ways and our current, less eloquent nightmare.”  We now know “where’s my Roy Cohn?”— he is in the White House.

Tyrnauer exposes Cohn as a modern Machiavelli who influences our country today at the highest level. Cohn first came into the public eye as an assistant to J. Edgar Hoover and handled the prosecution of Julius and Ethyl Rosenberg, a Jewish couple  who were arrested, tried, convicted and executed for spying for Russia and securing Manhattan Project documents for the Russian government. Cohn was then a twenty-three-year-old fast-rising attorney and he claimed to have not only persuaded the presiding judge, Irving Kaufman, to impose the death penalty but also to have had said Judge Irving assigned the case. Cohn’s reward for the Rosenberg execution was an appointment as special counsel to Joseph McCarthy.

Tyrnauer provides compelling evidence that Cohn was responsible for much of McCarthy’s demagoguery and rise to power. Soon, however, Cohn would cause his own and McCarthy’s fall from grace. During the Army-McCarthy hearings, direct questioning it was revealed that Cohn had a “special relationship” with G. David Schine and pressured the U.S. Army to give Schine preferential treatment. Cohn would resign after he was humiliated and pummeled with homophobic comments during the televised hearings. He, then, claimed that everybody wanted him to stay on. According to those who worked with Cohn, this was not the case.

Cohn came to be the personification of the dark arts of 20th-century American politics. Cohn became a mover and shaker of dubious and odious means. He fluffed his persona despite inflicting financial losses on his clients and family. Trynauer reveals how Cohn, a deeply troubled master manipulator, has shaped our current political world. He continually and persistently defended himself by attacking his adversaries and using the press to generate sensational public sympathy for his plight.

It appears that his political clout came from his wide social circle of wealthy, influential friends. Cohn was known for throwing lavish parties and hobnobbed with almost every imaginable socialite of the day including then artist, Andy Warhol. Cohn became a New York power broker, mafia consigliere, white-collar criminal, and he mentor of Donald J. Trump who began his flamboyant rise first on Cohn’s shoulders and then his back. Eventually, Trump became the master of personal attacks, hyperbole, sensationalism, and using the press to get out in front of the story.

As a closeted homosexual, Cohn was at the forefront of “The Lavender Scare,” and convinced Dwight D. Eisenhower to ban all gay men from working in the federal government; when dying from AIDS-related complications several decades later, he insisted that he was suffering from liver cancer, and used his celebrity to provoke contempt for other victims of the growing plague.

Cohn had an unparalleled talent for making the worst of every bad situation. He always attacked and he never surrendered. Cohn was a byproduct of trying to outwrestle his own insecurities and lack of self-worth.

Cohn might have been a footnote in American history until the 2016 election. It was then that he became seen as a modern Machiavelli. That this delayed emergence of him as a figure of immortal, worldwide political importance is fascinating and sickening at the same time.

The film is a Must-See, given the times we’re living in. It’s no exaggeration to say that Trump learned everything he knows from Cohn. Every time we see him lie outrageously, every time you see him respond to an attack by attacking back with twice the force, we see    Roy Cohn’s legacy at work. And when Trump finally finds himself in court, as he inevitably will, they will never get him on anything. He’ll just use Cohn’s tactics to bury everyone involved in counter-lawsuits.

“THE GAY HISTORY OF SITGES” A Small Beach Town

“THE GAY HISTORY OF SITGES”

A Small Beach Town

Amos Lassen

Sitges is a small beach town about 40 miles south of Barcelona, Spain that has long been recognized as an international mecca for gay tourists.  The main day time attraction during the summer are the 17 sun soaked beaches that line the coast of this tiny Catalan town. Later on comes the nightlife of bars and restaurants (and cruising spots). make it the firm favorite with the LGBTQI crowd.

Brandon Jones, a Brit  settled in the town in 1985 with his partner Juan and has been the co-owner of Casablanca cocktail bar and art venues or the last 20 years.  This is his first attempt at filmmaking in which he delves into the intriguing question of how on earth did this sleepy fishing town become such a major gay destination.

He goes back over 100 years to trace the history through early artistic and gay pioneers who  ‘discovered’ the town and slowly help transform it. It is important to remember that the whole of Spain was controlled by the military dictator Franco for some 35 years until 1975.  Under that regime homosexuals were imprisoned,  but as Jones says, the local gay population could push the limits to what they could achieve more successful than those in Barcelona.

Sitges has had its fair share of oppression and homophobia and concerted efforts by Town Hall to try to stop its being a haven for gay tourists have been unsuccessful. They may have managed to make things tough in general, but  Jones talked to some of the old local colorful characters who looked back fondly at how the community found its place and voice.

Nowadays in this very diverse and tolerant town, there are still far more bears than lesbians, and there is a definite political edge to some of the partying.  Most of all though there is a sense of a community that has gone through so many changes, and that is now accepting of the fact that it will continue to have to do so to survive.   

Jones highlights the history in such a way Jones  to give hope at the end of the tunnel for people in less tolerant countries, showing them how a small Mediterranean village(and Spain!) in less than 100 years was able to overcome repressive laws and a dictatorship, to become a tolerant, all-inclusive place. We get fascinating insight to this  sleepy fishing village with an original population in 1900 has now grown into an internationally well respected gay resort.

Jones reminds us that “In the dark days of Franco’s dictatorship Sitges became an almost secret haven for gays who felt safe here although they still had to behave discreetly.” Apart from a dark period in the late 1990s when homophobic demonstrations left a local barman in a coma, Sitges has triumphed as a liberated, tolerant and diverse community. It is therefore surprising that the first LGBT association began in only 2001. The theory is that until recently most gay visitors were just that – visitors for a few days or weeks. But with a notable number of gay people buying properties and paying taxes, it was inevitable that social action groups would be formed, as Brandon did in 2011 as co-founder of Gay Sitges Link.

Sitges has always managed to avoid becoming a gay ghetto, the film tells us, and the newly formed associations are committed to integration within the wider community, while supporting events like World Aids Day. The film also makes it clear that it’s always been easier to be gay in Sitges than elsewhere in Catalan.