Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“DYING TO KNOW: RAM DASS & TIMOTHY LEARY”— An Epic Friendship

“Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary”

An Epic Friendship

Amos Lassen

In the early 1960s, Harvard Psychology Professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert began their probe of the edges of consciousness through their experiments with psychedelics. Leary, as we remember, became the LSD guru and he challenged convention, questioned authority, and was responsible a global counter culture movement. He went to prison after Nixon called him, “the most dangerous man in America.” Alpert went to India and became Ram Dass, a spiritual teacher for an entire generation and still today teaches about service through compassion. The film challenges us to think about life, drugs, consciousness and death.

Timothy Leary was a controversial figure in the counterculture. He experimented with drugs in order to expand his consciousness and his slogan “turn on, tune in, drop out” animated millions of alienated youth in the 1960s to find their own way of living and disaffiliate from the once that he felt was too controlling at the time.

Director Gay Dillingham, tales us through Leary’s life which ends with his death in 1996 due to prostate cancer. Both he and Ram Dass (who is still alive) lived fascinating lives.

Ram Dass traveled to the East and brought back to the West a fresh brand of spirituality which he writes about in his book titled “Be Here Now” which became an international bestseller that to date has had 43 printings. Dass suffered a near-fatal stroke in 1997 and spent many years in rehabilitation yet he is still teaching today. Leary was convinced that death remains for many “the taboo of all time” and that we try to flee from it and/or deny its power. Both men reveal that they are familiar with suffering and are willing to befriend death. Death, said Dass holds “the deepest meaning of the universe.”

The two met in the 1960s at Harvard where they taught psychology and conducted a series of scientific research projects using hallucinogenic drugs and then LSD. They became soul mates and were pioneers of the exploration of inner space and the possible meeting points between science and spirituality. As the drug culture spread in the 1960s, Leary testified before Congress on the need for responsible research on psychedelics. He described hallucinogens as simply “the nervous system having experiences we don’t have words for.” He seemed to love being considered a “bad boy” as he walked the edge between conformity and chaos. He was arrested and sent to prison multiple times.

Ram Dass was Dr. Richard Alpert and came from a wealthy background and kept his homosexuality hidden. As an intellectual with ambition, he had a successful academic career before discovering another path for his life. As a spiritual teacher, he became a pioneer of the conscious aging movement.

Robert Redford narrates this documentary that includes commentary from integrative medicine doctor Andrew Weil, Zen Buddhist Roshi Joan Halifax, and family members and friends of Leary and Dass. Director Dillingham organized the documentary into chapters on Birth, Life, Death and Soul each of which is totally illuminating. The chapter on the topic of death feels the most provocative and compelling because, as Leary said, it’s a very taboo topic that’s rarely discussed. Dillingham combines archival footage, including the final discussion she filmed between Ram Dass and Timothy Leary in 1996. Through the footage of Dass and Leary engaging in intelligent conversations, we see their bond of friendship and their platonic love of one another. In the film there’s animation, comic relief and the voice-over narration by Robert Redford invigorates the film making it quite an experience. Dillingham found t the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually and emotionally. The film is totally captivating.

 

We are taken into the philosophy and psychology of death, as we have a history lesson that reminds us of just how important the work really was (or still is regarding Ram Dass.

The film reflects the overt intellectual ideas that are part of Leary and Dass we sense the substance of each man and the freedom and openness in their capacity to embrace life and death simultaneously. The thread running through the film is truly about having an openhearted love for each other and for life. We see them as flawed, remarkable, transformative individuals.

“MANSFIELD 66/67”— Remember Jayne Mansfield?

“MANSFIELD 66/67”

Remember Jayne Mansfield?

Amos Lassen

If you are one of the people who believes that camp id dead, you have to see “Mansfield 66/67” by filmmakers Todd Hughes and P. David Ebersole. It is loosely based on the life of once Hollywood pin-up and blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield. Right from the beginning we are told that the documentary is based on press cuttings and rumors and vague reminiscences of the film star’s coaster life, most of which are quite scandalous. The film mixes archival footage with talking heads of people who knew/worked with her such as Mamie Van Doren and Kenneth Anger. The directors also spoke with a very odd assortment of ‘B’ & ‘C’ list celebrities such as the punk singer Marilyn and drag queen Peaches Christ who are too young to have known her, but seemed to be obsessed with her legend. Strangely enough the only real voice of reason about the Mansfield phenomenon was filmmaker John Waters who has dismissed some of the more outrageous rumors about Jayne Mansfield for being blatantly untrue.

Jayne Mansfield had a short movie career in the mid 1950’s was very successful and included several major box office hits, one of which won her a Golden Globe Award. 20th Century Fox was grooming her to be another Marilyn Monroe but because she kept having babies, she was unavailable and so they stopped offering her any more major roles.  In 1963 when her move career was almost over, she was in the sexploitation film ”Promises! Promises!” and she became the first major American actress to have a nude starring role in a Hollywood motion picture.

This documentary, however, mainly focuses on Mansfield’s life after the studios had dropped her, and when she become even more of a real publicity hound. there is even a clip of her saying that the public have a right to know all about her private life. She was encouraged by her husbands and boyfriends to do some very questionable stunts like having ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ that would expose her enormous breasts when there were paparazzi cameras around to record it.

One of her major fixations was with the First Church of Satan and its founder, Anton LeVay First Church of Satan who sold himself as the leader of powerful demonic cult. Waters dismisses this ‘relationship’ as a joke and something that only two publicity whores would concoct.  However, we do know that LeVay had a major falling out with Mansfield’s lawyer/boyfriend Sam Brody and very publicly put a curse on him saying that he would meet his end in an automobile accident. It has never been proven that the curse was anymore than hearsay but the fact that he and Mansfield were killed in a particular nasty car crash in 1967 has been the subject of many tabloid stories, most of which claim that she had been decapitated which is definitely not true.

I understand that The documentary never set out to tell the full story of Mansfield’s life and it does look at a few of the more outrageous facts attributed to her life as an old-fashioned sex symbol, and we get hints that there was a great deal of untapped substance to Mansfield who was so much more than just another  dumb blonde.

The film focuses on the last two years of the starlet’s life, in the rumors that swirled and the legends that the papers saw fit to print. It is at its best when it look at the peculiarities of Mansfield’s singular persona and has fun with whatever explanations are dreamt up. When it indulges in notions of Satanism, curses, and other such nonsense, however, it becomes hard to take seriously. But that might just be the point of the film. It is irreverent and shows various events of the actress’s life through interpretive dance. We are dared to take it seriously and when we do, the movie changes direction.

Its fun to listen to John Waters talk about the ridiculousness of Mansfield’s persona. There is a series of her iconic and squeals and they capture the magic that made her so attractive and popular.When it focuses on the cultural milieu that gave us Jayne Mansfield then helped destroy her, it is fascinating.

In 1957 Mansfield was one of the top box office draws in the nation. In 1963, she became the first big name movie star to do a nude scene in and we understand why she was chosen to do so. By 1966, in part because of some poor business decisions made by Sam Brody her career was at its end. Brody’s influence over Mansfield was toxic.

Just how close Mansfield was deeply involved in the Church of Satan is still debated. She and LeVay did pose for PR photos together.Ebersole & Hughes try to exploit the Mansfield camp factor with frequent song-and-dance numbers to represent various episodes under discussion but, unfortunately they work only as camp.

The animated segments are irreverent. around-the-house movie Roar. Not surprisingly, none of the Hargitay family chose to participate. Jayne was married to Mickey Hargitay and mother of the fine actress, Mariska. We do however have cult film icons Mary Woronov and John Waters Mamie Van Doren having their say.

Jayne Mansfield was one of Hollywood’s legends. She died at the age of 34 in a tragic car accident in which she may or may not have been decapitated (even though I said earlier that this did not happen). Her accident might be the greatest drama she left behind. This documentary pays more attention to her death than anything she achieved in life. The film is fun as it veers as conjecture in regarding Mansfield’s messy personal life. We see the mutation of her celebrity status as she veered into the occult. We wonder if a star of her caliber turned to Satan either in desperation to save her career or for publicity. The Satanic aspect is mostly intriguing because of the belief that LeVay put a hex on Mansfield’s troubled boyfriend Sam Brody saying he’d die in a car accident.

“Mansfield 66/67” begins with a title card that tells us that much of its information draws upon rumors and press clippings. The film shows this speculation by injecting musical interludes into the show. Featuring drag numbers and eccentric songs about Mansfield, the film plays up her myth and it is fun as it captures Mansfield’s appeal even though Mansfield, herself, remains elusive. I remember her films and her persona and she was an enchantress even though she was no actress. Being from New Orleans, I remember her death. It was big news because she was on her way from Biloxi, Mississippi in order to do a television interview in The Big Easy.

“COBY”— Transitioning

“Coby”

Transitioning

Amos Lassen

 

At age twenty-one, Susanna let the world know that she was beginning to transition from female to male and we realize that this was not a new thought; she had been thinking about it for years and she finally got to a place where she is at peace with gender reassignment. She knew that it would take her family time to understand and deal with the consequences.  Sarah, her live in girl friend for a few years now, fully supports and now that Coby (the transitional name chosen) gets testosterone shots, she is ready to give him the injections. 

Coby’s family live in the very small village of Chagrun Falls, Ohio said nothing when Susanna came out as a lesbian but this is different and they struggle with it as any family would. At first they tried to persuade her to change her mind but they are not accepting of her decision. (My sister went through this when her daughter transitioned so I know how difficult this is). The family is a close one and they support Coby yet they are concerned about how this will affect them.

Coby’s half brother Christian Sonderegger directed this documentary and because of that guards were down and the characters speak openly. This is actually a happy story without so many of the destructive issues that transitioning usually brings out of people. Coby’s parent’s discomfort is very real but their undeniable love for their child  goes beyond their own regret. Today Coby has fully transitioned and is now a man by the name of Jacob. H He still has one final major decision to make. He thinks that one day in the future he would like to be a parent and so would Sara but Sara does not want to carry the child. Jacob must decide now before he has his uterus removed.

“KEVYN AUCOIN BEAUTY & THE BEAST IN ME”— A Personal Look at Kevyn Aucoin

“KEVYN AUCOIN BEAUTY & THE BEAST IN ME”

A Personal Look at Kevyn Aucoin

Amos Lassen

I remember being at some kind of LGBT meeting in Lafayette, Louisiana years ago and meeting Kevyn Aucoin’s parents. They were very proud of their son who was the talented gay man who was responsible for putting make-up the conic faces of the fashion industry. In this wonderful new documentary directed by Lori Kaye, we get a personal look at the life of legendary makeup artist Aucoin and learned that he survived childhood abandonment and bullying in the Deep South to become one of international fashion’s most sought-after style people. Decades before the iPhone and the selfie, Aucoin was constantly documented himself (and his clients) with a video camera giving us a picture of brilliant yet tormented artist.

The documentary features interviews with many of the women he worked with as well as with the woman who gave Kevyn up for adoption. We come to see Aucoin as a man who spent a lifetime looking for love and who never realized that it surrounded him.

He struggled to get out of rural Louisiana and when he did he became the most sought after makeup artist of his time. We have here never-before-seen archive footage of some of the most iconic moments in fashion history and they were captured by Aucoin himself throughout his life and career. Putting these together with intimate and uncensored moments with personalities from the world of fashion and pop, we get a look at culture in the 1980s and 1990s.

In the 1980s, Aucoin rose from nothing to become the most sought after fashion and celebrity makeup artist ever. He was a key creative player in the pop culture storm that became the supermodel era of the 1990s. Soon afterwards, celebrities began to seek him out and he was confidante and friend of A-listers in music and film. In fact, he was something of a celebrity himself, having written three best-selling books, appearances on Oprah and his own line of makeup. He used his celebrity status to fight for gay rights and acceptance. Aucoin died in 2002 at the young age of 40.

The new footage takes us behind the scenes of his life and is filled with h the celebrated photographers, models and actresses of the era. There are also many beautiful and poignant personal moments that help tell the story of Kevyn’s extraordinary life. This is Kevyn via Kevyn. However, we see, that his great gift almost did not come to be because of the persecution of gay people in hissouthern hometown. Aucoin fought the facts about his adoption as well as undiagnosedrare disease that took his life at such a young age. . The film shows us someone who was able to achieve all of his dreams and help create so much beauty struggled to see the beauty within himself. More than anything he wanted to be loved never realizing the love that surrounded him.

There are amazing interviews with Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Amber Valetta, Andie MacDowell, Paulina Porizkova, Lorraine Pascale and candid conversations with colleagues, family, friends and lovers. We are taken back to a time when supermodels ruled and Aucoin was an integral part of that world.

“QUEERCORE: HOW TO PUNK A REVOLUTION”— Creating a Revolution

“QUEERCORE: HOW TO PUNK A REVOLUTION”

Creating a Revolution

Amos Lassen

Yony Leyser’s documentary ”Queercore” looks at queer anarchy of the early days of homocore to the queercore’s Pansy Division opening for Green Day and Nirvana. It shares first-person histories including those of Bruce LaBruce, Fifth Column’s G.B. Jones, John Waters, Tribe 8’s Lynn Breedlove, Peaches, and Genesis’ Breyer P-Orridge along with DIY animation, experimental films, and zine cutups.

We meet a queer generation of artists who revolted against the hetero and homo mainstreams. Queercore came into being as a result of when the community that one need’s is not the community that exists. Through fan zines that and queer punk revolutionaries, through circulating and making subversive movies, the fabricated community becomes real and spreads everywhere. In the 1980s, Queercore was a pseudo-movement meant to punk the punk scene as artists used radical queer identity to push back against gay assimilation and homophobic punk culture.

Those interviewed here share their thoughts on homophobia, gender, feminism, AIDS, assimilation, sex, and, of course, art revealing the perspectives and experiences of bands, moviemakers, writers, and other outsiders as a community that is so badly needed is created.

 

“OUT OF ORDER”— LGBT Christians

“OUT OF ORDER”

LGBT Christians

Amos Lassen

Even with recent legal victories and the granting of many freedoms, there still are LGBT Christians who are feel unwelcome in their own churches. Amanda Bluglass’s documentary follows lesbian, gay, and trans Christians as they deal with overcoming institutional and personal bias within faith to become leaders in their churches. These new spiritual leaders work to let queer people know that they are loved, not only by God but also by their fellow worshippers.

We follow two queer members of the US Presbyterian church who change the meaning of church through alternative Christian communities, worship practices, and theological interpretation.

Reality on the ground is often very different. Kate LeFranc has been looking for a job with a Presbyterian congregation for two years. So far, everytime she was almost hired, she disclosed her sexuality and she is passed over.

John Russell Stanger shares the challenges facing a group of future LGBT ministers who we see at a retreat in the South when the film begins. We see clearly that many LGBT people feel that Christianity has abandoned them. Many LGBT people have quickly learned that rule changes don’t guarantee true welcome in their churches. Today, a new kind of spiritual leader and movement for welcoming Christians is beginning to do the delicate work of winning acceptance.

The leaders of this movement are young LGBT people of faith who are claiming a place in their church pulpits as well as recognition in the everyday moments of church life. We see both the joyful experiences and complex struggles of queer young people and understand the need for greater awareness and understanding of bisexuality, and the growing visibility of transgender individuals. We see and begin to understand what it is to navigate the reality of gender transition and lived sexual identity as a person of faith.

 Some Christian denominations have rejected the movement toward equality for LGBTQ people in sacred spaces. Others have accepted structural changes that have created, to varying degrees, space for LGBTQ families in church life and embraced marriage equality. Now conservative activists are rallying support for state and local bills designed to restrict the rights of LGBTQ people.

 

 

“THE DEATH & LIFE OF MARSHA P. JOHNSTON— A Forgotten Character in LGBT History

“The Death & Life of Marsha P. Johnston”

A Forgotten Character of LGBT History

Amos Lassen

Writer/director David France takes a look back at an often forgotten part of LGBT history. It is the story of Marsha P. Johnson, a veteran drag queen and gay liberation activist who was mysteriously found dead not long after she took part in theStonewall Riots, and whose death was written off by the police force as suicide.

Now some 25 years later, Victoria Cruz (a transgender activist who is about to retire from the New York LGBT Anti-Violence Project has decided to investigate the case herself hoping to finally be able to get some closure on the incident for the family and community. Cruz has had her own history of being assaulted and this helps to move her to do research even though she cannot get any cooperation from the now retired police officers who resent her digging up the past.

She has had some luck with the few friends who are still alive but now their memories are blurred, although each and every one of them is convinced that Johnson did not take her own life.

Using archival footage, France gives us a vivid picture of Johnson who was a much loved figure on the  streets of Greenwich Village. She had no fear and she spoke openly about the Stonewall Riots. What is interesting here is that even though drag queens played such integral part in the gay liberation movement, they still, today, felt very marginalized by most of the gay community.

When Johnson met the younger Sylvia Rivera a fellow activist, they started S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries), a housing program for  other young women of color like themselves. Rivera was the most active in protesting against the authorities after Johnson’s death was pushed aside. Until she died, Rivera  never eased up on trying to get better rights for drag queens and trans women and inclusion in the LGBT community, even though she faced a great deal of resentment and resistance from gay men in particular.

Cruz is slowly piecing together witnesses’ statements in order to get a fuller picture of the case. At the same time, she is also following the current trial in the homicide of Islan Nettles, a young trans women who was murdered.  Her killer James Dixon claimed that he committed the act in a “blind fury” after he discovered Nettles was trans, and was only sentenced to 12 years in jail. We hear a fascinating conversation between Cruz and one of her colleagues at the Anti- Violence Project about the lack of their resources resulting in their not being able to take on all the new cases, let alone look back into the past. Nonetheless, Cruz continues to work diligently to collate another evidence to warrant an official re-investigation.

The documentary ensures that the legacy of Johnson, and Rivera too, are not forgotten. They played an important and crucial part in establishing the very early rights for everyone on the whole transgender spectrum. By using Nettle’s case, Cruz reminds us that on many levels the safety of trans women has hardly improved and needs us to give it attention. our attention. We are reminded that our community is made up of factions and that it will ne a long time before transgender people are included under our umbrella.

As the film comes to an end, we see Cruz handing in a big folder with all her research to the FBI.

 

“WHOSE STREETS?”— Queers and the Ferguson Uprising

“WHOSE STREETS?”

Queers and the Ferguson Uprising

Amos Lassen

“Whose Streets?” follows activists and young queer leaders demanding justice for Michael Brown after the unarmed teenager was killed killing by police who left his body left lying in the street in St. Louis. We see grief, long-standing racial tensions, and anger bring together the residents around vigils and protests of this tragedy. As National Guardsmen come to Ferguson with military-grade weapons, these LGBTQ community members become the torchbearers of a new resistance.

If you remember, Michael Brown was shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014 in a St. Louis suburb. This caused the long-simmering African-American rage to boil over. Director Sabaah Folayan brings us the documentary that is an on-the-ground snapshot of the anger and activism that took place in Ferguson. “Whose Streets?” is not an explanatory recap or an analysis of the original case. Rather it is a look at the response of the community and its reaction perceived institutionalized abuse by law enforcement.

The filmmakers don’t give us the details of what happened that August day assuming that we’re familiar with them, just as they assume we do not need information on how Brown’s death further increased the heightened scrutiny and publicizing of similar incidents that began earlier. This documentary is a record of a place for the primarily black population of Ferguson to speak. After the murder, they took to the streets in protest and were met greeted by even police forces using “military war tactics” against their own citizens and employers.

but also see the locals’ disbelieving reaction to having peaceful protests greeted by officers in full riot gear with furiously barking “K9 units” straining at the leash. The National Guard had not called at this point yet we see tear gas, rubber bullets, tanks, and other combat-level tactics.

Broadcast news showed the damage to property, but not the kind of moments that were captured on camera phones. Groups of officers enforced an hour and a half before it was even scheduled to begin for another 90 minutes and families were ordered to go inside from their own backyards as troops came by. These measures underlined a general sense that poor black communities still do not get equal treatment, let alone justice, from U.S. systems of power. A siege atmosphere existed and it was so volatile that retaliatory violence was just waiting to take place.

 

 

The documentary is arranged chronologically but this is less narrative than impressionistic. Among the many residents identified onscreen by first name alone, a few leading local activist characters emerge, notably young lesbian couple Brittany and Alexis and area Copwatch chapter videographer David. There is no real storyline so instead it uses contributors’ first-person footage, tweets, instagrams, etc. to convey the fury of a community pushed past its breaking point.

The only white voices heard here are those of governmental authority figures and the media and they tell why black Ferguson (and America) is angry and afraid.

We are eventually told that federal investigative bodies duly found evidence of racial bias in Ferguson’s police department and courts but there’s no sense of triumph. We do not get new insights into the cultural, sociological and racial dynamics that played out the tragedy and the subsequent public outcry but we do see the distrust African-American communities feel towards law enforcement.

By training her cameras on the developments in Ferguson, director Folayan sacrifices a broader perspective that could have lent greater nuance and historical background to the racial and economic factors that led to Brown’s killing and triggered the violent community response. The film instead shows the blunt immediacy of being trapped in (as some of on-camera subjects describe it) a war zone. We see stand-offs between protestors and heavily-armed cops allowing us to understand the atmosphere of anguish that Ferguson’s marginalized African-American population consistently experiences. It is clear that systematic government failures at the local and state level have created a toxic climate.

Surprisingly, there are some brief shows of joy and beauty and these serve to highlight the underlying hopefulness that powers the protestors’ calls to action.

Righteous fury dominates the movie, but Folayan wants audiences to remember that, amidst the anger and sadness, a crucial optimism for a better future is there and thriving. The film acknowledgments that hope gives the disenfranchised a reason to keep going even though seemingly immovable racist institutions stand in their way.

“SUSANNE BARTSCH: ON TOP”— “Queen of the Night”

“Susanne Bartsch : On Top”

“Queen of the Night”

Amos Lassen

Susanne Bartsch throws parties and is a indefatigable promoter. She loves her hedonistic career and ever since she began, New York nightlife has never been quite the same. This documentary follows Bartsch around as she prepares for nights out on the town and shows how attempts to juggle her professional and personal lives. She’s a longtime resident of the legendary Chelsea Hotel, and it suits her perfectly.

Several NYC nightlife regulars, including RuPaul, Amanda Lepore, Kenny Kenny and journalist Michael Musto speak about Bartsch’s enduring influence on the gay community as well as her general fabulousness It has been said that she “picked up where Andy Warhol left off”. In the 1980s,she made it her duty to bring about awareness of the AIDS epidemic when both the federal and NYC governments were largely ignoring the crisis. Her 1989 celebrity-filled fundraiser “Love Ball” has been identified as a landmark event in raising that awareness.

Bartsch was born and raised in Switzerland and soon became aware of the need for extreme flashiness and stylistic excesses. This documentary focuses on her preparations for a Fashion Institute of Technology retrospective and we see Bartsch struggling to remain au courant in the face of aging and changing lifestyles. She became popular before Lady Gaga, Cher and knew how to make heads turn with the right “look.” Every appearance Bartsch makes is an utter transformation behind heavy make-up, false eyelashes, eccentric wigs, and bright, vibrant garments. Her appearance is a kind of performance art that has helped her gain attention in the scene and establish herself as one of its most vivacious fixtures.

Bartsch’s interest in high fashion (inspired her to import all the hottest trends from the London scene to New York. She opened a boutique that established a successful business and a legacy of taking pride in being and looking openly fabulous.

While Bartsch is heterosexual, she is also a flamboyantly gay character with infectious joie de vivre. Directors Anthony & Alex capture her while she organizes and attends parties where she commands a room with gaiety and authority. We learn of her past as she goes through her wardrobe and tells the stories behind her many looks and hairdos. Things become serious as she relates how the conservatism of the Reagan years pushed the queer community further past the margins and created stigma rather than support and how by taking the pulse of this community let her see how much the system was failing her friends and clients.

The story of Bartsch’s success is also the story of coming out in America. Members of the New York nightlife scene discuss their comfort in coming out with the subculture of drag and performance that Bartsch’s parties invite. Each of these characters discuss the comforts of finding the right layer of skin into which one may find one’s best self. The film includes other heterosexuals like Bartsch and we meet a married couple, who love to dress in drag or make themselves look extravagantly fabulous. The film dissolves the binaries of gender in an inclusive portrait that encourages audiences to be loud and proud. What might seem like frivolity, foolishness and excess for some becomes a life preserver for others.

By the end of the documentary, we fall in love with Bartsch and want to know even more about her.

At the Opening Night Party for the Fashion Institute, we see a slightly different Bartsch. She is now older, and living alone, she seems more vulnerable as moves from guest to guest insisting that they give her their response to the show, and for once is in real need of the endorsement of others.

“NO DRESS CODE REQUIRED”— The Right to Marry

“NO DRESS CODE REQUIRED” (“ETIQUETA NO RIGUROSA”)

The Right to Marry

Amos Lassen

Stylists Victor and Fernando help many Mexicali brides look beautiful on their wedding day, but when they decide to marry, they embark on a complicated journey requiring them to navigate Baja California’s legal system and serpentine bureaucracies. They are determined to marry and neither bomb threats nor accusations of mental illness stop these determined men from marrying in their hometown. Cristina Herrera Borquez’ compelling and poignant documentary reminds us that the fight for global marriage equality is not over.

I got the impression that what most bothered the local Mexican authorities who schemed to deny Victor and Fernando the right to marry was not just a gender or sexual issue but that the two men were handsome and resilient but that they were both best friends and lovers. The authorities simply did not want them to be happy.

This is the story of the men’s long hard struggle to overwhelm a whole series of ridiculous obstacles that their local City Hall in Baja California kept putting in their way to deny them a marriage ceremony.  When Victor and Fernando, who run their own Beauty Shop together in Mexicali, first decided to get married, they thought about traveling to Mexico City where a few other gay couples had married after a Supreme Court Judge had ruled that same-sex marriages were legal.  However  they decided instead to become the first gay couple to marry in their home town, thus breaking down barriers for other LGBTQ couples in their State.

At first it all seemed something of an adventurous lark as they filled in all the paperwork and even attend the compulsory Pre-Marital Course where the instructor tells the whole Class that they must invite God into their bedrooms before having sex.  However just before they turn up at City Hall for their wedding ceremony, their Lawyer is told that there are unexplained errors in their paperwork and so that they cannot proceed.  This was the first of many similar occasions in the next couple of years when despite a favorable ruling from a District Judge, local officials find bizarre and ridiculous excuses as to why they cannot proceed with marrying the two men.  One time they actually faked a Bomb Hoax so that the City Hall  has to be evacuated.

Through it all, the men maintain a remarkable sense of good humor. When they are finally convinced that their paperwork is acceptable to the Registrar and the wedding will proceed, they plan a big evening reception. Then the ceremony is canceled again and our hearts break as we watch them dancing together at a joyless wedding party with tears rolling down their faces.   

We see that homophobic authorities choose the parts of the Law that suits them, and in this particular case they have dragged up petty restrictions that have been obsolete for decades to support their prejudiced point of view.  It forces Victor and Fernando, and the community that support them and the two men behave with a sense of dignity, never letting what is happening change their determination to marry legally. They never stop demanding the rights that have been wrongfully withheld from them by those blatantly misusing their powers to support their homophobia and hatred.

This is a story that is beautifully rendered and it reminds us how our community will always be in debt to brave and courageous people like Victor and Fernando. We see the importance of sticking together so that we can help reshape our future and the future for LGBTQ generations to come.