Queering Space

The beauty of U Film Society's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Film Festival (now in its eighth year) is that it always seems to appear right on schedule as a flamboyant corrective to whatever apologetic tearjerker or Method-actor minstrel show Hollywood has just dished out. In '95, Postcards From America and Ballot Measure 9 riled up crowds in the wake of Boys on the Side; last year, Hustler White and Work made clear how much vital history was missing from The Celluloid Closet; and this year, just about anything on the bill could turn In & Out upside-down. "When you've got it, flaunt it" is the festival's operating principle. Indeed, at its best, the LGBT offers a thrilling lesson in the comparative freedoms of low-budget cinema, the non-corporate art-house, and the one-night-stand approach to minimizing box-office risk in a festival setting--all while providing fun for the whole family.

Sporting a total of 19 features (a select handful of which are reviewed below), the '97 LGBT is lean but solid: graced midway with the presence of Minnesota porn star and high-heeled drag queen Chi-Chi LaRue, who'll introduce the doc Shooting Porn at the Suburban World on Thursday, October 9; and bracketed by premieres of the British Different For Girls and the local Homo Heights (which, by the way, does its hometown proud with style to spare). Clearly, the belle of the ball this year is Quentin Crisp--who, as the dandy octogenarian at the heart of both Homo Heights and his own Resident Alien, proves it's never too late for your close-up.

Different For Girls Like last year's opening-nighter Beautiful Thing, this opposites-attract comedy-drama is set in working-class London and manages sweetness even as the plot seems short on surprise. (Michael Musto described it thusly: "Boy meets boy. Boy loses penis. Boy gets girl.") The opposites are a spiky-haired motorcycle messenger (Rupert Graves) and a demure, transsexual greeting-card author (Steven Mackintosh): She literally runs into him one fine day, whereupon he, recognizing her as the former boy whom he'd chivalrously protected from queer-bashers at boarding school, says, "I know this sounds like a line from Top Gun, but..." Sure enough, as she begins to feel the need for speed, he makes like Maverick and gives her a cruise on the back of his hog. This coupling feels contrived at first (and the supporting characters are a bust), but, like the heroine, the film grows into its skin with pride. And as it builds to an uninhibited sex scene, the novel twist is that each of the opposites has to trust that the other isn't gay. (A reception at Town House Country follows the screening.) Friday at 7:15 p.m.

Latin Boys Go to Hell Not unlike Star Maps, this indelibly vivid, Brooklyn-set sex melodrama posits Latino culture against an Anglo-American "show business" milieu that would appropriate and stereotype it: in this case, a white woman photographer (Annie Lobst) who's putting together a portfolio of nude Latinos with lurid props like corn ears and skull heads held in front of their dicks. The young models include Justin (Irwin Ossa), who has a crush on his het cousin Angel (John Bryant Davila); and Braulio (Alexis Artiles), whose hardbody lover Carlos (Mike Ruiz) sets the plot convulsing when he takes Justin from behind. Running the length of a daytime drama (or rather, um, 69 minutes), LBGTH incorporates scenes from a Mexican telenovela before turning into a soap itself. Meanwhile, making the most of her low budget, first-time director Ela Troyano grooves on a kind of gay vérité, juicing up the frame with nightclub brawls and cutaways to Catholic icons a la Mean Streets. In a film of remarkable style, the visual high point comes halfway through with a bombastic, piñata-popping sex scene that's laugh-out-loud funny and worth the ticket price by itself. Saturday at 7:15 and 10:50 p.m.

Resident Alien Or: The Englishman Who Came to New York, but Went Down Not at All. This chaste portrait of ex-pat Brit dandy Quentin Crisp explains that he arrived in mid-'70s Manhattan a calculatedly celibate loner with a desire for self-invented celebrity modeled on Andy Warhol. Filmed almost 10 years ago by director Jonathan Nossiter (Sunday), Resident Alien finds the wry Crisp enduring both the new PC and some very old phobia--stemming not from his sexual behavior (he doesn't have any) but from his cultivated persona as the self-described "sad person's idea of a gay person." So he gets it from both sides: an activist/academic who calls him "the gay Stepin Fetchit," and the hateful fools on Sally Jessie Raphael. But he's also deeply beloved: John Hurt played him on TV, Sting wrote a song about him, and the man-on-the-street in this movie's re-enacted prologue spies him and exclaims, "I know you...you're famous." Besides showing Crisp in fine form without fawning, Nossiter expands his focus to include a study of how "stardom" is authored in the Big Apple. The moral of the story, per Sting: "Be yourself no matter what they say." Monday at 9:30 p.m.

The Delta With its slow, hypnotic rhythms and its deep respect for the drama of people simply going about their lives, this near-documentary portrait of gay-teen cruising in Memphis hardly seems like it was made in America--and, of course, that's a compliment. Moreover, by concentrating on the loaded relationship between Lincoln (Shayne Gray), a closeted and well-off white boy, and Minh (Thang Chan), the poor immigrant son of a Vietnamese woman and a black GI, The Delta studies how the tributaries of race, class, and sexuality flow into one body. As it drifts along, the focus changes course from Lincoln's affluent life (smoking pot and driving around with his high-school friends) to Minh's hustling one (scrounging for strangers at bottom-feeder bars); eventually, Minh seizes full control of the narrative. First-time director Ira Sachs approximates the region's muggy atmosphere--or at least until a conclusion that takes his suffocating sense of place one twist too far. Tuesday at 7:15 p.m.

Homo Heights An event in its own right, this long-awaited sneak preview-cum-benefit (for the queerly devoted Philanthrofund) has been perfectly timed to piggyback on the fest's tail end. And it really is something to see: a triumph of candy-colored costuming, ornate production design (Dangerous Liaisons meets Willy Wonka and John Waters?), and writer-director Sara Moore's dream-logic style of narrative clowning. Boldly lacking in plot per se, but stuffed with queer-signifying bric-a-brac and shout-outs to gay icons, Homo Heights is, above all, full of characters: At the center of the hubbub is a heavy-set drag queen named Maria Callous (Stephen Sorrentino), head of the gay mafia; comic Lea DeLaria camps it up as the overripe Clementine (a.k.a. "everybody's ex"), who steers a lavender cab in search of true love; and Quentin Crisp deadpans fabulously as the self-described "Greta Garbo of queerdom," an eightysomething gay guru who collects such movie-actress artifacts as Gloria Swanson's nicotine- and beef wellington-stained false teeth and the actual toilet on which Judy Garland died. And did I mention the trio of pink-clad, pillbox hat-wearing Jackie Os? On the one hand, the movie is so out there it literally ends in space; on the other, it's a distinct product of hometown pride. More on Moore in next week's issue. State Theatre, Saturday, October 11 at 8 p.m.

U Film's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Film Festival starts Friday and continues through Saturday, October 11. All screenings (with the exception of Shooting Porn and Homo Heights) are at Bell Auditorium; for more info, call 627-4430.

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