Queering the Deck

          To recap: This year in queer cinema has so far brought The Birdcage, Stonewall, Frisk, It's My Party, I Shot Andy Warhol (sort of), Marleen Gorris's Antonia's Line, Barbara Hammer's Tender Fictions, and the oft-postponed, locally made World and Time Enough--plus, if you count gay filmmakers as well as subject matter, Mark Rappaport's From the Journals of Jean Seberg, Pedro Almodovar's The Flower of My Secret, Terence Davies's The Neon Bible, Franco Zeffirelli's Jane Eyre, and John Schlesinger's Cold Comfort Farm. Alas, only the first and last of these--as moneymaking films--would have earned mention in the Celluloid Closet movie. Which is to say that the likes of U Film Society's 7th Annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Film Festival remain essential for creating a more inclusive queer-movie history.

          Compared to last year's, this edition of the LGBT fest is half as large (with 18 features and a handful of shorts), but it seems at least as strong and just as diverse: Brand-new studio premieres mix with radically styled, perhaps unreleasable indies; the touchy-feely melodrama of Late Bloomers finds its antithesis in the latest "lethal lesbian" opus, Butterfly Kiss; and foreign features and docs from Japan, Spain, and the Czech Republic are matched at the other extreme by a program of local film and video shorts (screening Friday, October 11 at 9:15 p.m.). Having seen eight of the films so far (reviews of which follow), I can report that all but one have something worthy to offer; and that two of those, Hustler White and Work, suggest a movement still growing in style and ambition.


          Beautiful Thing Nobody likes a downer on opening night, and so this brisk and enjoyable British comedy-drama (a recent Audience Award winner at Toronto) has been well chosen to start things off on a crowdpleasing note. A conventionally told story of two teenage neighbor boys (Glen Berry, Scott Neal) in Southeast London who fall for each other while coping with abusive parents and peer homophobia, it offers few surprises amid a surplus of one-liners and cathartic tears. But it stays true to the tentative risk-taking of coming out, as when the shy Jamie answers his friend Ste's question of whether he's gay by confessing, "I'm happy when I'm with you." Director Hettie MacDonald adapts the West End play by Jonathan Harvey with her eye on the box office, using a soundtrack of Mama Cass tunes to help achieve maximum buoyancy. (A reception at Town House Country follows the screening.) Friday at 8 p.m.


          Parallel Sons This earnest coming-of-age drama stirs sexuality, race, and class into its narrative pressure-cooker. The protagonist, Seth (Gabriel Mick), is a 20-year-old, small-town white boy who fashions himself a homey: He wears dreadlocks, sips 40s, listens to hip hop, and practices graffiti art in between shifts at the local greasy spoon. In an upstate New York town brimming with casual racism and homophobia, his "blackness" is a signifier of rebellion, his hostile reaction to the advances of his female friend a cause for suspicion. But everything changes when he meets with Knowledge (Laurence Mason), an African-American escaped con whom Seth ends up befriending, and then loving. Biting off more than any one film could chew, Parallel Sons can't help seeming contrived; at one point, the two young men reveal their class biases by debating the merits of Good Times vs. The Cosby Show. On the plus side, the strong acting restores some amount of authenticity to a movie that's probably too well-intentioned for its own good. Saturday at 5:15 p.m.


          Everything Relative A "lesbian Big Chill," this has been called--and if you liked that insidious piece of bourgeois nostalgia, the plagiarism here might well annoy. Set in a cabin near North Hampton, it portrays the weekend reunion of seven old college friends (six lesbian, one straight) who performed together in a political theater troupe in the '70s; we learn all about them as soon as each has unpacked her bags to reveal which self-help book she's reading. Although some of the friends have sold out or bought in, and the young twentysomething girlfriend (the Meg Tilly character) fails to appreciate the price her elders have paid for her freedom, the movie culminates in hugs all around. Basically, writer-director Sharon Pollack proves that a lesbian indie can be just as mainstream as any straight Hollywood one--which could seem to some like a step forward. Likewise, Everything Relative's strenuously "normal" depiction of middle-aged queer women will appear either refreshing or offensive. Saturday at 7:15 p.m., Sunday at 5:15 p.m.


          Hustler White This fully erect third feature by the Warholian Canadian Bruce LaBruce (No Skin Off My Ass) sets up an unholy ménage-á-trois between co-director Rick Castro's hardcore photography, Strand Releasing's inimitably antagonistic queer cinema, and the auteur's own hilarious brand of homemade porn-cum-camp. And it's in color, too! If LaBruce's Super 8-1/2 ravaged a certain Fellini classic, this one parades down Sunset Blvd., opening with the image of a dead man floating face down in a jacuzzi, and a narrator's promise to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothin' up yer butt." Au contraire: As the filmmaker flashes back to portray the film noir-style comeuppance of L.A. hustler Montgomery Ward (Tony Ward), his point is that no matter what you do, you'll get it in the end. Saturday at 9:15 p.m.

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