The Revolution Is My Boyfriend!
The advantage of having an archconservative American president, according to a certain line of thinking, is that he plants the seeds of revolt. Moderates mollify, reactionaries galvanize. Under Reagan, you have Act Up and Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES); under Clinton, you have Will and Grace and the Consortium of People Who Reckon Things Must Be Cool in El Salvador (acronym unpronounceable). It's hard to say how the Bad Man Theory is playing out right now. Not according to the script, it would seem, but then again, summer's (nearly) here and the time is right for fighting in the streets. Or spring is here and the time is right for Intermedia Arts' Flaming Film Festival, the fourth edition of which is a radical, righteous, and smutty collection of outsider movies that seem to live in the house that George (unwittingly) built.
For entirely commercial reasons, let's start with the smut. Raspberry Reich (Friday at 11:00 p.m.) is the latest from homocore pioneer Bruce LaBruce (Super 8-1/2, Hustler White), whose work occupies an often funny and fascinating place between absurdist art cinema and hardcore pornography. Filmed in Berlin, Raspberry Reich is centered on Gudrun (Susanne Sachsse), the domineering leader of an inept band of revolutionaries who model themselves after West Germany's most fashionable '60s and '70s terrorists, the Baader-Meinhof gang. The communist revolution, says Gudrun, must follow the "homosexual intifada." "Heterosexuality is the opiate of the masses," she tells her all-male followers, one of whom responds dimly, "I thought opiates were the opiate of the masses." Trying to start the revolution internally, Gudrun demands that her avowedly straight underlings have sex with each other. This being half a porno, they don't protest the new policy of mandatory bisexuality with nearly as much vigor as they enact it. "But I'm your boyfriend," Gudrun's lover feebly complains before going down on one of his comrades. "The revolution is my boyfriend!" she scolds.
Much of the satire here will probably play better on the Continent than in the States, where "terrorist chic" is about as widespread these days as "tacky-truck-stop-hat chic" (wait--bad example). Still, there's funny stuff here--some from LaBruce's script, some from the comically stilted acting. Most of the performers are from the porn industry, which means they don't come--sorry--arrive with traditionally valued thespian tricks such as knowing how to make stuff seem like it's happening in real life. Hearing them flatly deliver quasi-Marxist slogans as a sort of pillow talk is a constant hoot. Like much sex-positive underground queer film, Raspberry Reich fucks with expectations; its sex-to-ideas ratio is probably too Platonic to fulfill porn's utilitarian agenda, yet too cheap and sleazy to qualify as serious art. Which is really kind of interesting.
If you're looking for a more thoroughly pornographic experience, and if you're turned on by female-to-male gay boys, you might want to try Morty Diamond's Trannyfags (Saturday at 10:30 p.m.), one of the first porn movies made by and for born-with-vaginas men who desire other FTMs or born-with-penises men. In all likelihood, you have never seen anything quite like this, especially not in a public place. For a less hot-to-trot expression of tranny sex and gender trouble, there's Tara Mateik's outstanding "Operation Invert," a trenchant and funny 12-minute look at socially accepted and unaccepted forms of body alteration. In its short, densely packed running time, the video alternates between expository subtitles, artfully juxtaposed archival photography and film, semi-nude shots of Mateik before and after a double mastectomy, and a phone conversation between the director and a receptionist at a plastic surgeon's office. During the phone consultation, Mateik asks about gender-reassignment surgery. A therapist's consent is required, says the receptionist. Then Mateik asks about Botox, and gets a short rundown of what the procedure involves. "If you're going to be injecting botulism into my skin," asks Mateik, "does anyone need to assess my mental state?" "No," says the woman, now slightly suspicious that she's being put on.
There are, of course, very few cities in the world where films such as these can be shown, and they're only shown here once in a blue queer film fest. On much of the planet, as John Scagliotti's Dangerous Living: Coming Out in the Developing World (Thursday at 9:00 p.m.) shows, expressing one's gay sexuality remains a perilous, heroic act. Narrated by Janeane Garofalo, Dangerous Living features interviews with queers from Egypt, Thailand, Honduras, India, Kenya, Jamaica, and elsewhere. In many of these countries, gay bashing is administered or tacitly approved by the state. A Honduran woman brave enough to walk unmasked in a pride march has her son tortured by military police. In Namibia, citizens are encouraged to rip earrings from the lobes of passersby. The film puts most of its focus on Cairo, where in 2001 the government began a brutal crackdown of its gay population, which had been quietly tolerated for much of the '90s. In May of that year, 52 men were arrested, tortured, and imprisoned--officially for "debauchery," but really just for partying at a gay-friendly disco on the Nile. Of those 52, 21 were sentenced to three years in prison.
Besides reporting a rarely told piece of modern history, the film's interviewees raise questions about the diversity and universality of queer culture. A Pakistani man says, "[Here] you don't identify yourself as gay...you can practice homosexuality." According to Foucault and others, that was the essence of homosexuality up until about a century ago, when the concept of a discrete gay identity and culture developed in the West. But that's a disputed idea, and one woman interviewed in Dangerous Living suggests that if modern gay liberation is a Western idea, so is modern homophobia. The movie culminates at the Sydney Gay Games of 2002, where thousands of international LGBT people gathered for sport and to support human rights. It's a grandly moving scene. The whole movie, in fact, is vastly inspiring, so much so that statements that might seem trite in an ordinary movie are tear-wrenchingly powerful here. "They tried to break me," says one of the Cairo 52, now exiled in Vancouver, "but I don't break easily. My sexuality is my own sexuality. It doesn't belong to anybody. Not to my government, not to my brother, my sister, my family. No one."
Get the Film & TV Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.