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.

          Late Bloomers The fest's sole bomb, this would-be comedy-drama fits the fraudulent sub-genre that Rose Troche once defined as the "desperate-lesbian-pursues-unhappily-married-straight-woman" soaper. Less a film than a series of sitcom axioms, it pairs a skinny and queer high-school geometry teacher (Connie Nelson) with the school's pudgy and heretofore straight secretary (Dee Hennigan), causing one phobic co-worker to suspect that "something fishy is going on." Director Julia Dyer presents the lovers' first physical contact as a basketball game, the big sex scene as a literal shadow play, and algebra as a metaphor for the married woman's "Sapphic" desire--i.e. the investigation of the unknown. For a much smarter take on the opposites-attract formula, see Rachel Reichman's Work (reviewed below). Tuesday at 7:15 p.m.

          Butterfly Kiss A lovers-on-the-run road movie, this British thriller literally opens with a bang: The strung-out Eunice (Amanda Plummer) marches down an English seaside highway, mumbles "Look at me, here I am" over and over again, walks into a convenience store, and shoots the clerk in the head. So much for "positive" queer characterization. A self-described "human bomb covered in petrol," Eunice is also a fount of Biblical philosophy who sports chains, nipple clamps, and some 17 tattoos--rather like a lesbian dominatrix version of De Niro's Max Cady in Cape Fear. Seeking attention from God and her sacrificial lambs alike, she pairs up with Miriam (Saskia Reeves), a shy woman who believes she can save Eunice even while helping her haul an increasing number of bodies into shallow graves. The lovers' murderous yin-yang dynamic recalls Heavenly Creatures, although Kiss isn't as deep. Nevertheless, Plummer's brilliantly scabrous performance is something to see. Thursday, October 10 at 7:15 p.m.

          Jodie So--is she or isn't she? Alas, Jodie Foster doesn't get outed in this half-hour doc so much as explicated, with various female fans, academics, reviewers, and celebrities (Lea De Laria, Guin Turner) stopping by to put their two cents in. Most agree that Foster's dyke appeal stems from her '70s tomboy roles in Freaky Friday, etc., continuing through an adult persona that combines independence and androgyny in a manner unusual for actresses of her stature. Added to this are the many subtle "iconic moments" in her oeuvre, and a measure of off-screen sexual ambiguity that's unmistakable even to mainstream critics. (Quotes from a Silence of the Lambs-era article by the Strib's Jeff Strickler--commenting on Foster's "husky trademark voice"--get a brief amount of screen time here.) Ultimately, if Jodie reveals less than we're dying to know, that itself is a tribute to her defiance of the star system, and her willingness to allow the audience to project as much as the films. (Shinjuku Boys, an hour-long doc about female cross-dressing in Tokyo, follows at 7:45 p.m.) Friday, October 11 at 7:15 p.m.

          

          Work Loosely following the affair between a white, married young woman and her college-bound African-American neighbor, this stark indie drama takes The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love to more uncommercial (read: truer) ends. It's set in a depressed factory town where 22-year-old Jenny (Cynthia Kaplan) grows tired of cooking for her clueless husband (Peter Sprague); gets treated with condescension during interviews for dead-end jobs; and wiles away the summer with June (Sonja Sohn), who's heading off to school and thus feels less pressure to sell her time for an hourly wage. Commendably, writer-director Rachel Reichman refuses to draw simple connections between Jenny's marital discord and her affair, or between her unemployment anxiety and her faint resentment of June's scholarship; she's more interested in capturing the tumult of her heroine's life than explaining it. Reichman's elliptical editing and verité cinematography are riveting, her title provocative when applied to the film's vast scope: Marriage, love, looking for a job, merely living--it's all work. Saturday, October 12 at 9:15 p.m. CP

          U Film's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Film Festival starts Friday and continues through Saturday, October 12. All screenings are at Bell Auditorium; for more info, call 627-4430.

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