Director: Antonia Bird
Stars: Linus Roache, Tom Wilkinson, Cathy Tyson, Robert Carlylse
Priest explores what I imagine must be the fascinatingly complicated world of gay Catholic priests in the most boring, lame way imaginable. In place of an exploration of the labyrinthine forces that simultaneously fuse and separate organised homosexuality & organised religion is a predigested group hug about intolerance and “homophobia”. Just to make sure viewers are left with no doubt that straight people are just as bad as gay people — what an intelligent, productive message — a sexually abused young girl, helpless and teary, is thrown into the centre of the action. A top cast - many of whom went on to make the excellent The Full Monty - is also wasted, and the earnest, self-important tone of the film cancels out any trace of much-needed humour, irony or surprise.
FOX AND HIS FRIENDS
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Stars: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Peter Chatel, Adrian Hoven
This is an uncelebrated and relatively ancient wonder written, directed and performed by everyone’s favorite cokehead, Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
Fassbinder plays Franz Biberkopf, a chunky dimwit who works in a corrupt travelling circus playing sideshow attraction Fox the Talking Head, an act we unfortunately never get to see. Fox’s blue-collar sexuality wins him easy sex with revolting bourgeois poofs who are after a bit of rough, but when Fox wins five hundred thousand marks in the lottery, he suddenly finds that his gang of aspirational fuck buddies want to see a whole lot more of him.
Blind to their motives, poor Fox thinks he’s found the life of his dreams, and goes along with his new friends’ every deception, lending massive sums of money left right and centre to prop up their failing businesses, or purchase truckloads of hilariously ugly seventies German clothes and furnishings. Every last Mark of Fox’s lucky win is siphoned off by his most regular lover Eugen (Peter Chatel), who’s pulled every legal string in the book and gets to keep the lot when Fox’s well runs dry. Tense and confused, Fox visits the doctor and gets given a prescription for Valium 5mg, which comes in handy later when Fox hits rock bottom.
So Fox And His Friends is ostensibly the familiar Fassbinder milieu. The middle class are miserable and chained to a life of mundane labour, but they dread losing the garish trappings that distinguish them from the lower class, who for their part, are happier and work less. When erotic compulsions send people across the class barriers, intractable problems are created on both sides.
It’s very like Ali: Fear Eats The Soul which Fassbinder made the year before, where a transgression of racial lines led to the permanent social displacement of lonely Emmi, who lost her way following her heart. (El Hedi ben Salem, who played Ali, plays a dignified Moroccan in Fox And His Friends, while Brigitte Mira, Emmi, pops up here too as a dark haired shopkeeper.)
Multitasking superbly, Fassbinder imbues Fox with a mental simplicity but a wise heart. Fox is not at all fluent in social mores, but he does know the importance of laughter, and enjoys drinking, fucking and gambling more than almost anything else. Once he discovers that he’s been tricked by his own fate, he goes mad and kills himself, like a gay (proletarian) Oedipus Rex. Despite Fassbinder’s plain looks and pasty complexion, he makes Fox almost sexy, and the character’s vulnerability is affecting and endearing.
Fassbinder fills up his Sirk-ian melodrama with gay guys, but doesn’t underline the transposition. The first time we see Fox, in the film’s opening scene, he plants a moist tongue kiss on his lover, who’s being carted off by the police. Eugen’s parents don’t skip a beat over their son’s male partner, and a pair of US Army men are similarly blase - when a drunk Fox propositions them, they snap from asking him about whores and girls to wondering if he’s a good fuck in the bat of an eye. Odd that a quarter of a century later Californian queer film makers and their fans were going beserk about their “revolutionary” New Queer Cinema, but the less said about that embarrassing affair, the better.
Long before Vito Russo lumbered onto the scene with his just-add-water gay pride, Parker Tyler had been producing erudite works about gay cinephilia, such as this one, possibly his best, Screening the Sexes.
Well informed and free of cant (and with a new introduction by Andrew Sarris), Screening the Sexes is an essential text for any gay movie lover, who doesn’t necessarily watch every movie through a rainbow-striped gauze.
Director: Jonah Markowitz
Stars: Trevor Wright, Brad Rowe, Tina Holmes
Shelter has one foot caught in the indie gay film trap, but anyone who endured a viewing of the pitiful Tan Lines, the Australian gay-themed movie from 2006, will appreciate this relatively enjoyable gay-themed surfer flick from 2007.
Trevor Wright plays Zach, a talented and ambitious painter from the wrong side of the tracks shackled with his widowed and crippled father and lazy, slutty sister Jeanne (Tina Holmes). They all live together in a dump, and Jeanne dumps her son Cody onto to Zach whenever she wants another night/weekend/week away with her dopey cunt of a boyfriend.
Enter Shaun (Brad Rowe), a wealthy and mysterious maybe-gay who hooks up with Zach one afternoon down by the beach. Curiosity turns to a night on the Heinekens at Shaun’s opulent family home. The couple embark on a tentative love affair.
Director: Dan Castle
Stars: Lachlan Buchanan, Xavier Samuel, Reshad Strik
The final installment of the (accidental) gay surfer trilogy that started with in 2006 the execrable Tan Lines and continued with 2007’s sweet Shelter, Newcastle bobs aimlessly between sets of dreamily but not really competently rendered surf montage sequences and loosely scripted, wandering coming-of-age scenes and the film is disconnected, disjointed - a disappointment.
Jesse (Lachlan Buchanan) lives in the shadow of his older half-brother Victor (Reshad Strik) who is swarthier, more dangerous and in his day - before he got a local girl knocked up and settled into a life in the steel mills of Newcastle to pay his ad-hoc family’s bills - a vibrant and idolised surfing champ. Jesse aims to grab a spot in the big surfing championship to snatch back some hierarchical agency and also, secure a direction in life. Meanwhile, emo youngest brother Fergus (Xavier Samuel) lusts after one of Jesse’s continuously-shirtless surfing mates.
If only Newcastle had stuck to this tight three-way set up and followed the stories of the three quite different men as they navigate their ways through one particularly crucial summer, the movie might have worked quite well. It would have been sensible to use the city that the movie is named after as a powerfully symbolic backdrop, too, rather than keep it more or less totally out of shot as cameras point out to sea, or scenes are framed inside generic gen-Y bedrooms. (Newcastle is a steel town blessed with some of Australia’s most beautiful beaches but cursed with being the last bastion of white, working class Australia, a cultural template the rest of the country gleefully left behind in the late 1950s and which it now looks back on with scorn and detachment. Also, since the main mega-corporation running the steel works pulled its operation out of Newcastle in the 1990s, the city has slid irrevocably into destitution and irrelevance. Only in recent years, as the Sydney metropolitan area located two hours drive south has edged towards conurbation has Newcastle looked to capture new ground as a sunkissed northern suburb and retreat for stressed out commuters.)
With all the hoopla about the overrated Dawson’s 20 Load Weekend, I thought it was time to revisist a real gay porn classic, back in the day when sex without condoms wasn’t such a self-conscious affair.
Time has not been kind to The Celluloid Closet but then, Vito Russo never had much time for Time, either. Writing in 1981, Vito complained that no gay writer had produced any meaningful criticism of homosexuality in the movies, but actually, Parker Tyler had done just that, and nine years previously, with his tellingly-titled twentieth book, Screening the Sexes: Homosexuality in the Movies.
Tyler’s first book, The Hollywood Hallucination, was published in 1944, two years before Russo was born, and Richard Dyer’s Gays and Film came out in 1977, before Russo had constructed a closet for it to come out from. Thomas Waugh’s essays in Jump Cuts, such as “A Fag-Spotters Guide to Eisenstein,” were published in the late 1970s, and Robin Wood’s 1977 lecture at London’s National Film Theatre, “Responsibilities of a Gay Film Critic”was printed as an essay in Film Quarterly in January 1978.
Still, Russo declared that it was he who would get the ball rolling. “We have cooperated for a very long time in the maintenance of our own invisibility,” he wrote, “and now the party is over.” While the first part of that sentence is contentious, it’s hard to find fault with the second part, as it introduces the 350 coma-inducing pages of examples of Russo’s single point: some movies had gay characters in them and those characters didn’t represent gay his preferred way.
If you’re bored after an hour of looking around for sex in washrooms, parks and websites then Todd Verow’s 84-minute home video of his own endlessly unsatisfying cruising encounters will be enough to make you want to stick hot needles in your eyes. Lingering interior scenes set in Verow’s paint-flaking Manhattan shoebox, his persistent nude scenes despite his lack of good looks and the grainy, digi-cam look of Anonymous provide an hour and a half of performance-art/gay-movie purgatory.