Posts Tagged ‘BFI Flare’

Boulevard! A Hollywood Story (2021) Bfi Flare

Dir.: Jeffrey Schwarz; Documentary with Gloria Swanson, Dick Hughes, Richard Stapley, Brooke Anderson, Elizabeth Wyler, Barbara Fixx, Steven Wilson, Alan Eichler, Carl Beauchamp; USA 2021, 85 min.

Veteran documentarian Jeffrey Schwarz unearths a musical version of Sunset Boulevard (1950) and a 1950s love triangle that pictures three victims of the Hollywood system where ageism and homophobia played a dominant role.

The three were Gloria Swanson, star of Billy Wilder’s original 1950 feature,  Dick Hughes, and his lover Richard Stapley (aka Richard Wyler).  Hugh was the composer of the musical “Swanson on Sunset”, with Stapley responsible for the lyrics. It ran for six weeks at the “Cinegrill” in Los Angeles, from November 1994, with revivals until 1997.

The original version dates from 1955 when two young artists and lovers, Dick Hughes and Richard Stapley met Gloria Swanson (still smarting from being pipped to the post by Judy Holliday for the Best Actress Oscar in 1951). During the early fifties , the trio worked on “Swanson and Sunset”, but a lack of finance, as well as Paramount’s refusal to grant Swanson the rights to the Wilder classic, eventually nuxed the project.

Swanson then fell for Stapley and his relationship with Hughes came to an abrupt end. Stapley re-invented himself, becoming a popular actor: The Girl from Rio, and the TV series The Troubleshooters and a bit part in Frenzy being highlights of his career. The film’s focus then swings to its gay theme with Richard’s second wife Elizabeth being well aware of his sexuality, just another ploy to hide his gayness for the Hollywood system. She was prepared to share the limelight and the two remained “just good friends”.

But Dick Hughes could not let go of the musical that never was, and remained obsessed with the feature until his death. He continued to play the piano in exclusive clubs and later became a conductor. Gloria Swanson also remained fixed on the project. According to her granddaughter Brooke Anderson, she never forgot the music written by Hughes, “it never died for her”. Yet, curiously, Swanson never mentioned the Sunset project or even Hughes or Stapley in her autobiography “Swanson on Swanson”. In 1990 Hughes revived “Swanson and Sunset”, playing the role of his younger self despite being well into his sixties. And when he heard about the success of Lloyd Webber’s 1994 musical “Sunset Boulevard”, he reconciled with Richard, who had morphed back from Wyler into his Stapley identity.

Despite their up and downs the two completed the musical for its 1994 premiere at the “Cinegrill”. With the help of Steven Wilson, from the University of Texas in Austin, Schwarz cobbles together enormous amounts of material but the story of the (probably unconsummated) love triangle is never quite divorced from film history, Schwarz clearly felt empathy for his subject and avoids voyeurism at all costs sticking to a mostly conventional approach with multiple talking heads enlivened by animated cartoons of the trio in action. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE 2022

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Dir.: John Huston; Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Lee Patrick, Gladys George, Jerome Cowan, Elisha Cook Jr; USA 1941, 101 min.

The second film adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel ‘The Maltese Falcon’, which was serialised in the ‘Black Mask’ before being published by Knopf in 1930, became a corner-stone of a new sub-genre: the Film Noir. Directed by debutant John Huston, who makes good use of Hammett’s dialogue in his analytical script, the star of the show is Humphrey Bogart who plays Private Eye, Sam Spade. With Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet – the latter another newcomer at the rip of age of 61 – it made film history. John Huston would direct his most famous film The Asphalt Jungle nearly a decade later.

Partners Sam Spade (Bogart) and Miles Archer (Cowan) run a sleazy detective agency. One of their clients, the enigmatic Bridget O’Shaughness (Astor), using a false name, wants to track down a relative. The same night Archer is shot dead. The finger points at Spade due to his affair with Archer’s wife Iva (George). Spade and the widow are seen in a passionate embrace by ‘Girl Friday’ Effie Parine (Patrick). But it soon turns out that Bridget is one of four of crooks on the hunt for the titular Maltese Falcon, a bird emblazoned with priceless jewels. Bridget had shot Archer to get rid of a fifth bounty hunter, Thursby, who is the number one suspect in the Archer murder case. Kaspar Gutman (Greenstreet) leads the hunt for the bird, aided and abetted by his minions Joel Cairo (Lorre) and Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook Jr) who are subjected to Spade’s robustness on more than one occasion. In the end, the Falcon turns out to be a fake, and the three men land in prison. But the worst fate awaits Bridget, Spade following head before heart in giving her up to the police: “You might get away with twenty years, I’ll wait for you. If they hang you, I will never forget you”.

Warner Brothers had first asked George Raft to play Spade, but the big star was not keen to put his reputation on the line with a newcomer like Huston. Greenstreet and Lorre would act together in nine more features, Bogart occasionally joining them. The highlight for DoP Arthur Edeson, who shot Casablanca, is a seven-minute take in a hotel room the highlight, shot over two days. But the feature belongs to Bogart: a violent detective, cynical womaniser, and crass opportunist in a nest of vipers. AS

ON RELEASE from Friday 17th September | IN UK CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

Firebird (2021) Bfi Flare 2021

Dir: Peeter Rebane | Cast: Tom Prior, Nicholas Woodeson, Diana Pozharskaya, Oleg Zagorordnii | US Drama 107′

Firebird runs along similar lines to the recent South African services drama Moffie, this version inspired by late Russian actor Sergey Fetisov’s memoir and set in the Soviet Air Force during the Cold War.

Screening as part of the Hearts strand of this year’s Bfi Flare Festival, the lavishly mounted feature debut draws on the director’s own experience of growing up in Soviet occupied Estonia, yet fails to mine the incendiary potential of a dramatic episode in European history.

Tom Prior co-wrote the script and stars as the unsettled soldier Sergey who is drafted into the services but really has dreams of being an actor. He soon gets involved in an illicit love triangle with a dashing fighter pilot Roman (Oleg Zagorodnii) who invites him to see Stravinsky’s Firebird at the opera. But Roman is also kindling a desire for his female comrade Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya) amid the high octane backdrop of a Soviet Air Force Base.

A friendship across the ranks soon sparks into an amorous escapade involving all three comrades in arms, once again highlighting the risks of love affairs in the time of war, this one spiced up by its forbidden nature, punishable by five years in a hard labour camp. The men’s interest in photography is brought to life by the vibrant aesthetic of Mait Maekivi’s colour-drenched camerawork.

Firebird certainly looks impressive with its authentic settings and lush production values but the film never quite generates enough heat to make us care for its underwritten characters who remain cartoonish and rather glib throughout, Luisa hardly getting a look in as a staid and sketchy also-ran in this so-called menage a trois.

Clearly Prior – so affective in Kingsman – has been brought in to lend star power but here joins the rest of cast of rather robotic stormtroopers bringing to mind Kraftwerk’s heroes rather than real people who we can empathise with in their tortured love lives. MT

FIREBIRD is premiering at BFi Flare

 

 

Tove (2020)

Dir: Zaida Bergroth | Finland, Drama | 100′

This drama about Moomins creator Tove Jansson (1914-2001) is as enchanting as her hippo-like cartoon characters that are celebrated by kids and adults all over the world.

Finnish filmmaker Zaida Bergroth brings the Finnish bisexual artist to life in this delicately sensuous and affecting biopic that showcases her unconventional loves as much as her talent as an author, artist and creator, played here by a captivating Alma Pöysti and scored by evocative soundtrack of tunes from the era from jazz to swing, Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing being the musical motif throughout with Stefan Grapelli and Edith Piaf enlivening the Parisian sequences of the early 1950s.

Eeva Putro’s gracefully paced script focuses on the immediate aftermath to WWII in a discretely decadent Helsinki where Soviet bomb raids fail to spoil Tove’s fun at lively cocktail parties where champagne continues to flow during illustrious soirees. Home is a stylish bohemian milieu where Swedish is spoken. Tove is often put down by her renown but competitive sculptor father (Enckel), although her graphic artist mother (Kajsa Ernst) adores and encourages her creative potential.

Later at art school Tove is nudged by her father towards the more highbrow artistic expression of painting, but prefers illustrating and doodling cartoons for a subversive magazine, and this is where she will eventually make her name and earn a meagre living. All this creativity naturally spills over into amorous encounters. Soon Tove is involved with a married politician (Shanti Roney as Artos Wirtanen) and a wealthy female client Viveca Bandler (Kosonen) in dizzying sexual encounters, both leaving her troubled and unsatisfied as she seeks solace in her art. Bergroth keeps the tempo romantically-charged and touching rather than tortured or soul-searching. Artos eventually proposes but Paris beckons promising other opportunities on the horizon as well as a reunion with the past.

This is such a wonderful film about female creative and sensory expression made more so by its gentle, often handheld, camerawork in Helsinki and Paris – DoP Linda Wassberg often uses that atmospheric technique of fading out the scenes in slow-mo to an echoing soundtrack lending emotional depth and a dreamlike quality to the narrative leaving us contemplating what has gone before and appreciating the intensity of Tove’s artistic and emotional truth. MT

On release from 9 July 2021

The Ornithologist (2016) **** BFiplayer

Dir: Joao Pedro Rodrigues Cast: Paul Hamy, Xelo Cagiao, Joao Pedro Rodrigues, Han Wen, Chan Suan, Juliane Elting | Fantasy Drama | Portugal | 118min |

Portuguese auteur Joao Pedro Rodrigues won the main prize at Locarno for his avantgarde fifth feature. Good and evil collide during a Hearts of Darkness style odyssey through the verdant landscapes and lush forests of Northern Portugal.

The journeyman is gay birdwatcher Fernando (Paul Hamy) who is undertaking research, although his attitude to wildlife appears somewhat ambivalent. Paddling his kayak through the limpid waters of the River Douro, he is surprised by sudden rapids and disappears under water until he is later found and rescued by two Chinese girls (Han Wen, Chan Suan) purporting to be devout Christians on a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago (in Spain). But there is a price to pay for  saving his life. Clearly they pari have lost their way literally and metaphorically. But they are not the only untrustworthy people Fernando is to come across during his trip. A deaf mute shepherd called Jesus; a group of exuberant Careto revellers and a trio of Latin-speaking Amazonian girls on horseback, all appear to be have dubious intentions. Although Rodrigues’ film is a modern gay-themed version of the parable of Saint Anthony of Lisbon (and of Padua) patron saint of lost things and devotion to the poor and sick, this stylish arthouse offering could also serve as a metaphor for our journey through the 21st century’s pitfalls.

A visionary freethinker and consummate storyteller, Rodrigues brings a resonant stillness and contemplativeness to his film along with bursts of joie de vivre – as in the scene where Jesus drinks milk straight from a goat’s teet. Animals play a significant part here from exotic birds to dogs and local fauna. Cinematographer, Rui Pocas, cleverly evokes the interaction between man and beast. Fernando becomes irritated when a white dove he has tried to cure – possibly representing the Holy Spirit – then seems to be following him. Rodrigues leads us into all sorts of blind alleys with an immersive narrative full of textural richness that also echoes the journey seen in the recent Embrace of the Serpent. Those flumuxed by Miguel Gomes Arabian Nights will be encouraged to hear that The Ornithologist is also a great deal more accessible than the Inebriated Chorus of Chaffinches segment in the trilogy.

There does seem to be some poetic licence over geography in the piece: the Chinese girls are heading for Santiago de Compostela but somehow have wandered into Portugal and the film ends up in Padua, Italy presumably in reference to St Anthony dying there, although this is initially bewildering unless you know the religious background. The gay elements of the film feel entirely in the natural in the milieu and Fernando’s transformation into Saint Anthony dovetailing elegantly into the final scenes show we are never far from salvation. MT

FREE ON BFiPLAYER |

https://player.bfi.org.uk/rentals/film/watch-the-ornithologist-2016-online

 

A Dog Barking at the Moon (2019) **** BFI Flare 2020

Wri/Dir.: Lisa Zi Xiang; Cast: Goowa Siqin, Renhua Na, Huang Xiaoya, Thomas Fiquet, Wu Renyuan; China/Spain 2019, 107 min.

A Dog Barking at the Moon traces a family’s life over a period of over thirty years centred around Huang Xuioyou, a writer who is emotionally abused, albeit in very different ways, by her sexually ambivalent parents. Partly based on the director’s own life experience, this is a stylish debut for Lisa Zi Xiang, and takes place in a magical setting, shot by her husband DoP Jose Val Bal. Taking its title from a Joan Miro painting, and chronicling the different stages of Xiaoyou’s (Siqin) up-bringing, its non-linear narrative often leaves us bewildered but this also makes for some welcome surprises and twists.

Xiaoyou was a model student at secondary school, she also excelled as a violinist, but was suddenly removed from her class for purportedly having written love letters to her teacher Zhen, who had allowed her to read western literature in class, unlike the other students who were banned from exploring this avenue of pleasure.

Xiaoyou’s mother Jiumei (Na) is not a likeable character – often angry with her daughter she  accuses her of being ‘oversexed’ like her father. The parents decide to divorce when it emerges that her lecturer father is homosexual, and has been indulging in affairs with his students. In an embarrassing scene Xiaoyou  is forced to witness his sexual shenanigans, although plans for the divorce are later shelved. In another cringeworthy moment Jiumei invites one of her husband’s lovers and his wife and daughter for dinner.

Xiaoyou later marries an American, Benjamin (Fiquet), but cannot escape the emotional lure of her parent’s abusive treatment, and soon returns to China to give birth to her first baby-girl. The relationship with her mother deteriorates even further when the second child arrives, Juimei telling her daughter “if I had known everything, I would have strangled you at birth”. It seems, like many abused characters, Xiaoyou is unable to break free and scenes illustrating the casual humiliation at the hands of her parents are littered throughout the feature: Xiaoyou endures more embarrassment when she sits at a restaurant table with one of her father’s young lovers who tells her he is happy to share her father with her mother, asking her to accept her father loves her – which Xiaoyu simply refuses to condone. Finally, her mother becomes a member of a Buddhist cult.

What emerges here is a stultifying society where stiff upper lips are the order of the day and any attempt at emotional honesty is punished. Siqin is superb as the “orphaned child”, while Na’s Jiumei is very much the product of sexual repression. Zi Xiang delivers a small masterpiece, boding well for her future in filmmaking AS

Flare at Home, the BFI’s digital version of Europe’s largest LGBTIQ+ film festival, will be hosting YouTube Live events with filmmakers from across the BFI Flare festival programme:

Enjoy highlights from BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival 2020 on BFI Player 20-29 March.

Rescue the Fire | Rettet Das Feuer (2020) ***

Dir.: Jasco Viefhues; Cast: Jürgen Baldiga, Aron Neubert, Ulf Reimer, Meitta Poppe, Paula Sau, Michael Brynntrup, Mignon, Renate; Germany 2019, 83 min.

Berlin’s Gay Scene at the end of the 20th Century provides the backdrop to this revealing biopic about painter, photographer and gay activist Jürgen Baldiga (1959-1993). Rescue the Fire is a thoughtful first film from writer director Jasco Vifhues. It recalls the time when the Aids/HIV epidemic was taking a grim toll, German government cuts making things worse. .

Visiting the ‘Schwules Museum Berlin’, Baldiga’s surviving friends present archive material of his work. These also link up with the directors and festival organisers of the Berlinale of that era. Baldiga was working as a photographer at that time and took photos of Derek Jarman, Wim Wenders and Dolveig Dommartin among others. He was also a friend of the first Panorama director Manfred Salzgeber, and his Wieland Speck who took over when her died of AIDS.

Growing up in the Westphalian town of Essen, Baldiga arrived in Berlin in 1987. He developed from a mere ‘snap-shot’ amateur to become a professional photographer. During the ‘Tunten’ scene in Berlin, he apposed Government cuts which were having a punitive affect on the gay community at a time when Aids/HIV was rife. A laudable exception to the negative face of authority was Anne Momper, wife of the West Berlin mayor, who joined the HIV infected in the public bath in Krumme Strasse, racing them in a competition.

Baldiga celebrated his 31st birthday at a demonstration to abolish the infamous law number 175, which criminalised all homosexuals. But by then he was already infected; his answer was “to live faster, more intensively”. The filmmaker Michael Brynntrup remembers his collaboration with Baldiga, who not only took stills but shot some scenes on 35mm. The rest of the short film was in 16mm. In Pioneer Seriös two men wrestle in the bath, one covered in yellow paint, the other in blue. Brynntrup remembers he had difficulties asking the actors to proceed, but Baldiga had no such problems: “The camera was his proverbial rabbit – just the opposite of me”. Baldiga focused on his bodily changes. Being ‘positive’ meant much time was spent finding the right doctors, avoiding getting colds and other infections. And: “Educate, don’t hide”.

For many years, he also wrote a diary, which he bequeathed to his friend Aron Neubert: “I know, your hands will keep them well. Take the photos and put some of commentaries from the diaries next to them.” In 1991 Baldiga was hospitalised with pneumonia. But he still posed in drag as Louise Brooks. His wig went up in smoke, after he leaned too close to the spotlight. He also went to extremes, showing the horror of the Karposi Sarcomas on his legs. He had his first Sarkoma cut out and put in a box with ornaments like a relic. The more his body disintegrated the more he yearned for something physical. From the attractive poster boy of the gay scene, “I have deteriorated to something decrepit, ugly, a shrivelling and dying person”. 

But he was not alone, his good friend Melitta went to the hospital and died inside thirty minutes. That was Baldiga’s dream death, he took all the medicine and morphine (his friends had in vain tried to hide the from him) and fell into a coma, from which he never recovered. He instructed one of them to take a last photo of him “ICH BIN TOT (I am dead), Jürgen Baldiga 4.12.1993. I loved 4000 men, in the end the fabulous Ulf.” Then there is one of his last photos, where he eats ice cream with a morphine drip in his arm, subtitled “Isn’t life great?” But for most of his last year, he ‘was often lonely in his thoughts’.

Rescue the Fire is a not an easy documentary because Baldiga’s friends followed his advice, and told all. In the end this a long ‘Trauerarbeit’, with evocative images by DoP Hendrik Reichel. Those who who witnessed the era will never be the same again. Too much was lost well before time. AS

SCREENING DIGITALLY DURING BFI Flare 2020

The Lawyer | Advokatas (2020) *** BFI Flare 2020

Dir.: Romas Zabarauskas; Cast: Eimutis Kvosciaus, Darya Ekamasovia, Dogac Yildiz; Lithuania 2020, 97 min. 

Lithuanian writer/director Romas Zabarauskas paints an affectionate rather wistful portrait of a gay corporate lawyer who has not come out of the closet. Meeting his paramours secretly at night, while fronting up in Neo-capitalist Lithuania by day, he is very much aware of being ostracised in his homophobic homeland if he breaks cover. Zabarauskas (who is openly gay and an activist) hits all the right political notes, his narrative is simply too slight to justify a 90+ minute running time. 

Holding court in his luxury apartment surrounded by younger friends, mid-thirties Marius (Kvosciauskas) is resigned to being “an old poofter in this homophobic country of ours”. At work he is glib and condescending towards his receptionist, but when nouveau-riche gallery owner Darya (Ekamasovia) turns up and wants him to take on a defamation case, he is only too willing to indulge her because of her status and bank account. The death of his father brings him up short, the two had a uneasy relationship and the funeral takes him into the countryside for a spot of navel-gazing. On his return Darya hires him for what looks like a tricky divorce, but this thread is totally abandoned when Marius is enraptured by a male model called Ali (Yildiz) he meets on a  Pay-TV channel. But it soon transpires that Ali is a Syrian Asylum seeker living in a refugee camp in Belgrade. The two fall in love, and hatch a daring plan to overcome Ali’s illegal status.

The Lawyer is basically two films in one: the first part deals with Marius and his professional persona, so to speak, dealing with clients and his family; the second is a passionate gay love story. Although this is entirely possible, indeed common, the narrative fails to knit the stories together convincingly. Kvosciauskas is terrific as the corporate whizz-kid, but less authentic as the committed lover, unable to embody the character the director had in mind, and script’s flawed structure doesn’t help.  DoP Narvydas Naujalis captures the transient nature of Belgrade and Vilnius, cities caught between a Soviet stricture and a materialistic present where human realities are best swept under the carpet. AS

BFI FLARE has been postponed and will be re-scheduled shortly | 2020                                           

Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy (2018) ***

Dir/Wri: Justin Kelly | Cast: Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Diane Kruger, Jim Sturgess | US Biopic Dram | 108′

The story behind the literary persona JT LeRoy, created by American author Laura Albert, has certainly had some cinematic mileage. Albert took part in the documentary Author: The JT Leroy Story (2016) that screened a few years ago at the BFI Flare’s Film Festival, Here she is played by Laura Dern in Justin Kelly’s slick and lively re-imagining of one of the most brazen literary hoaxes known to mankind. Albert published three books in the early years of the 21st century, under her nom de plume JT LeRoy. They explored the life of a sexually confused teenage boy, abused in childhood. A gamine Kristen Stewart plays her sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, who comes to stay and ends up being persuaded by Albert to pose as JT for a promotional photo session. And it doesn’t end there. Dern and Stewart give luminous performances in this seamlessly pleasurable and darkly amusing drama that explores themes of gender fluidity, moral ambiguity and fraud. MT
NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | premiered at BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL | 21 -31 MARCH 2019

Hard Paint | Tinta Bruta (2018) ***

Dir/Writers| Filipe Matzembacher, Marcio Reolon | Cast: Shico Menegat, Bruno Fernandes, Guega Peixoto, Sandra Dani, Frederico Vasques, Denis Gosh, Camila Falcao, Aurea Baptista, Larissa Sanguine, Ze Adao Barbosa

Contrary to its flamboyant sounding title, Hard Paint sees a soulful young loner seeking seclusion in the virtual world of gay chatrooms until his colourful cover is blown with mixed consequences.

This visually alluring and sensually suggestive character study unravels in Brazil’s Porto Alegre were the troubled protagonist has reinvented himself as an online performer when his actual life disappoints him sexually and socially. But despite his vulnerable appearance Pedro (Shico Menegat) has developed a an emotional toughness that serves him well in his harsh contemporary surroundings where his androgynous appearance and pretty boy tousled locks are often viewed with contempt, desire and even open hostility.

Told in three chapters, the film is shot in intimate close up but also gets out and about in the locale capturing the skyline of this southernmost Brazilian city. The first chapter is dedicated to Pedro’s sister Luiza (Guega Peixoto), who has supported him through thick and thin and is now leaving to work in another part of Brazil, and his parents are no longer on the scene. The subdued daytime scenes provide a rhythmic counterpoint to his graphic love-making with rival Leo (Bruno Fernandes), and the dreamlike chatroom sequences where his body glows with florescent paint as he gyrates to electronic vibes.

But Leo is also competing with him online as Boy25, and he forms the subject of Chapter 2. Leo wants to move from the downmarket Porto Alegre to the bright lights of BA where he hopes to take up a dance scholarship, and soon the two are performing as a double act online, and making money. Pedro must now clear up some legal business relating to a serious road accident. Leo seems supportive as the couple’s online and offline lives start to be mutually beneficial and they share a palpable onscreen chemistry in graffic sex scenes which incredibly authentic.

Neon Boy is the appropriately titled enigmatic Third Chapter where Pedro faces the music, and the music starts to become a more noticeable part of the film. The gloves are now off and the real Pedro is revealed in some scenes of heightened drama. The weak may look vulnerable but they are often the strongest people around. MT

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 2 AUGUST 2019

 

Tell It To The Bees (2018) ***

Dir.: Annabel Jankel; Cast: Anna Paquin, Holiday Grainger, Gregor Selkirk, Emun Elliot, Steven Robertson, Kate Dickie, Lauren Lyle; UK 2018, 105 min.

Annabel Jankel’s literary adaptation of a popular fifties novel is strong on historical detail but much weaker on cinematographic potency, coming across as a rather tame affair, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Jankel (Live From Abbey Road) and her scriptwriters Jessica and Annabel Ashworth (Killing Eve) have already worked together in TV: Tell It To the Bees makes ideal family viewing and marks Flare Festival’s mature progression into programming decent drama for a sexually inclusive audience, not just a LGBTQ one.

When Dr. Jean Markham (Ana Paquin) comes home to small-town Scotland to take over her late father’s surgery, she is greeted with mixed feelings. As a teenager she had caused a bit of a scandal with her ‘inappropriate’ behaviour. But she settlers down striking up a friendship with Lydia (Grainger) a young mother of who husband Robert (Elliot), has gone off with another woman. Lydia’s wages in the local mill are not enough to even pay the rent, and when her son Charlie (Selkirk) becomes the victim of bullying at school, Dr Markham offers them board and very soon, a great deal more. Elsewhere, the town’s gossip monger Pam Krammer (Dickie), subjects her daughter Annie Lyle) to a botched abortion rather than bear the child of her black boyfriend, George. Meanwhile, Robert has become violent towards Lydia, and so Charlie is forced to come to her rescue. A muddled finale on the station platform accompanied by grown-up Charlie’s voice-over commentary is symbolic of this rather cack-handed adaption of its much superior novel. It feels like Jankel is aiming for the stoic fatalism of the adult voice-over in Joseph Loosey’s Palme d’Or winner The Go Between. But it doesn’t quite come off: Jankel is no Loosey, her story-telling is dictated by a TV norm. feeding the viewer impressive snippets, while losing a conceptual frame work.

DoP Bartosz Nalazek emerges with some credit: his images, shot from Charlie’s POV, show A boy being overwhelmed by adults. And the magic realism in the form of the bees, come across as artificial and unconvincing. There is no passion in this postwar village, just a rather limp romantic longing. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

    

  

Vita & Virginia (2018)

Dir-Scr Chanya Button | Evangelo Kioussis. With Gemma Arterton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isabella Rossellini. UK-Ireland 2018. 110min.

How can a film about two of the 20th century’s most colourful female characters be so underwhelming? Drawing from Eileen Atkins’ 1993 play, Chanya Button’s biopic explores the lesbian relationship between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf without ever mining its incendiary dramatic potential. It is a drama without  drama, lacklustre and trivial despite its lush, unconventional pretensions.

Elizabeth Debicki is suburb as the rather awkward blue-stocking Wolfe. And she towers above Arterton’s impishly pedestrian portrait of glamorous socialite and gardening expert Sackville-West (doyenne of Sissinghurst Castle, whose Grade I listed gardens is one of the most famous in England). Sadly, the only reference to horticulture is a rather odd attempt at magic realism that sees CGI ivy sprouting out of the floors.

Vita & Virginia looks absolutely sumptuous in its rich 1920s Arts & Crafts settings (including medieval Knole House) but the film plays out like an insipid soap opera, its lacklustre characters simply going through the motions. There’s a great deal of pouting and misty close-ups of lips; but in the end nothing vaguely illuminating happens, and we left in the dark about these avant-garde women. Director Chanya Button has had a promising career so far with several awards for her filmmaking. Yet this most fascinating of themes: LGBTQ, horticulture and literature fails to ignite on any level.

Part of the problem is the script – written by Button and Atkins – which simply traces the steps that lead to Woolf’s sexual awakening in rather tepid bed scenes, rather than probing the depths of their intellectual attraction. In fact, Vita emerges a rather bored, housewife with a faux posh accent, rather than a highly creative aristocrat and free-thinking intellectual. The two exchange excerpts from twee love letters bringing nothing constructive to the party. And to cast Isabella Rossellini as Arterton’s on-screen mother, Baroness Sackville, is a grave mistake – the two couldn’t be more different. Rossellini exudes charisma in her role, threatening to cut off her daughter’s allowance if she doesn’t behave.

Vita is married to a suave bisexual diplomat Sir Harold Nicholson (Rupert Penry-Jones in fine fettle) and Woolf is supported by her loving husband Leonard (Peter Ferdinando) who recognised her need for stability. Vita worships her from afar and the women finally meet at a bohemian Bloomsbury party. From then on a friendship develops – although the two share no chemistry to speak of. Vita is 30, Virginia 10 years her senior. Debecki adds subtle layers of depth to her character, including an impressive accent, redolent of the era. Her sister is the painter Vanessa Bell (Emerald Fennell) who lives with a gay artist Duncan Grant (Adam Gillen).

Although this is essentially Vita’s story, the emotionally delicate Virginia steals the show as a highly enigmatic character who is in the process of penning the radical 1928 novel Orlando, an experience that appears initially to thrill her far more than her lesbian dalliance with the “Sapphic” Sackville-West, and encapsulates the male/female duality of her character. Virginia gradually becomes more involved in the relationship which eventually destabilises her (she in fact went on to commit suicide) and this is shown through convincing CGI rooks sweeping down in the gardens of the Knole.

Button certainly exposes the lesbian relationship between her characters but that’s really all the film does. Vita & Virginia is a missed opportunity to offer something more invigorating about the women themselves, and what attracted them to each other in the first place. MT

ON BFI SUBSCRIPTION FROM 24 May 2022

https://youtu.be/mPHxrdIneP4

We The Animals (2018) ****

Dir.: Jeremiah Zagar; Cast: Evan Rosado, Isaiah Kristian, Josiah Gabriel, Sheila Vand, Paul Cashillo; USA 2018, 93 min.

Jeremiah Zagar’s debut feature is a dreamlike portrait of the artist as a (very) young man, and a total repudiation of macho behaviour. Shot brilliantly on 16mm by DoP Zak Mulligan, We The Animals is a unique undertaking.

Based on a novel by Justin Torres, this is a wild ride of sexual awakening told from the perspective of nine-year old Jonah (Rosado) the youngest of three brothers who live with their parents in a dilapidated house in rural New York. Their Mum (Vand) a white woman from Brooklyn, who works at a bottling plant and her husband (Cashillo), a Puerto Rican security guard, are either fighting or fucking passionately, so the three boys are left to themselves; the two older ones, Manny (Kristian) and Joel (Gabriel) looking out for their little brother. A lakeside incident sets the tone: Dad, all macho bravado, throws Jonah into the water – and he is lucky to survive. His furious mother is soon the victim of more violence from her husband. After that, the father disappears only to re-appear suddenly, wanting to be part of the family, like nothing has happened. Mum asks Jonah “to stay my little boy” – no wonder, because her older sons copy their dad’s obstreperous  behaviour. As a form of escapism, Jonah starts sketching, under the bed at night. After his drawings are discovered, he has to make a choice.

The human side of the outside world takes a back seat to the adventures in the forest, but the neighbour’s emotionally immature son makes a dramatic impact on the three siblings with his amateur porn videos, one of which features a homosexual act – and something in Jonah stirs.

Whilst the adult’s relationship is too often clichéd, the children’s games are full of magic and poetry. Jonah’s self-discovery comes in leaps and bounds, and the languid images are a perfect foil for it. The crude drawings and illustrations by Mark Samsonovich are somehow fitting as a “Contra-Point” to the overall dreamlike mood. Cruelty and imagination live cheek by jowl, and Jonah’s inner life is as volatile as his parent’s relationship. We the Animals is freewheeling and genre-less, an innovation in itself, like Jonah’s coming of age in a world of permanent contradictions, using art for self-determination. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE 2019 | ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE COURTESY OF EUREKA from 14 JUNE 2019    

   

Lizzie (2018) **** | Bfi Flare 2019

“Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.”

Dir: Craig William Mcneill | Bryce Kass | Cast: Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart | Drama | US

The story of Lizzie Borden has always fascinated with its macabre murder story that over time has spawned numerous TV series the best starred Elizabeth Montgomery as the New England axe murderer who was tried and acquitted in 1893 of slaughtering her father and stepmother. This claustrophobic domestic drama directed by Craig William Macneill from a script by Bryce Kass, persuades us that it was actually due to her gender that she was let off: the jury couldn’t believe a well-heeled gentlewoman could do such a thing. But there are many downsides to being Ms Borden in the late 19th century. LIZZIE not only imagines an intriguing and plausible lesbian twist to proceedings, it also reveals how her draconian and misogynist  father was partly responsible for his own demise by dominating her, serially raping her housekeeper (Kristen Stewart is mesmerisingly glum) and then leaving her repugnantly obnoxious uncle (Denis O’Hare) in charge of her inheritance. No wonder Mr Borden got wacked.

Kass adopts a fractured narrative that opens in the aftermath to the twin murder, then traces back to reveal a story that informs the final scenes. And although this is a traditionally-crafted and rather bland-looking affair, its slowly draws you in to its compelling storyline mainly due to the brilliance of its international cast. We have Chloë Sevigny in the leading role: an unmarried, wilful but sympathetic pigeon-fancier. She gives a commandingly confident performance and we really feel for her because of the calm and intelligent way she handles herself, never giving in to histrionics or melodrama, despite suffering from epilepsy – quite the opposite – in the final denouement she appears unaffected by what she has done. She warms immediately to Kristen Stewart’s Irish housemaid Bridget who is respectful and diffident, tolerating Mr Borden’s nighttime visits with sombre forbearance. Their lesbian chemistry is convincing but quite why the filmmakers contrived it is questionable. There’s scant evidence that the real Lizzie was a lesbian, but due to being closeted away it’s quite possible that it was the only sexual outlet available, and the two are clearly very protective of one another. Ruth Shaw has a small role as Lizzie’s dour stepmother, but she makes a decent go of it.

There’s a dark wittiness to Sevigny’s brushes with the menacingly pompous Mr Borden (Jamie Sheridan), and their intellectual sparring makes us root for her, as he emerges a brutish coward rather than a family man of integrity with one of the “biggest fortunes in New England”. And although Stewart seethes with a quiet rage, Sevigny excels in a more difficult role, exerting a calm allure as the troubled Lizzie.

Although the ending is hardly a mystery, the film maintains an powerful air of suspense as it moves to the inescapable finale, adding another dimension to this true crime story, by attempting to examine the whys and wherefores. LIZZIE is certainly harrowing to watch, and although we don’t see the murders, we hear them as the violence provides a much-needed cathartic release after all the injustice that’s been witnessed. A sad and rather mournful drama that certainly bring greater understanding to this almost mythical episode of American social history. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 14 DECEMBER 2018

Battle of the Sexes (2017) | **** | Bfi Flare Film Festival

Dir: Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton | Writer: Simon Beaufoy | Cast: Steve Carell, Emma Stone | Sport Biopic
Emma Stone and Steve Carell star as sparkling adversaries in this colourful period recreation of the legendary 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King that made public her fight for equality in women’s tennis.

Battle of the Sexes engagingly captures the zeitgeist of the era focusing on the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs which was a turning point in the politics of their game, flagging up a protest over the pay gap between men and women on the professional circuit. Scripted by Academy Award winner Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine), Battle of the Sexes is a fitting tribute to that iconic moment.

Stone is impressive in the role of King who had decided to fund her own tour with Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) as her manager. Carell plays the suitably back-footed Riggs whose finances were depleted since his previous championship. His troubled emotional life also haunts his game and he misguidedly proffers a publicity stunt in the shape of a challenge involving a $100,000 winner-take-all match.

Beaufoy’s script cleverly contrasts the game’s blatant sexuality during a ‘pioneering era of sexual revolution’ with King’s extraordinary talent as a player – along with likes of other female champions of the time such as Yvonne Goolagong and Virginia Wade. MT

BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL 21 MARCH – 1 APRIL 2018 

 

The Happy Prince (2018) *** Berlinale 2018

Dir: Rupert Everett | Cast: Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Emily Watson

Rupert Everett has made no secret of his appreciation for the British playwright Oscar Wilde having played him in various film and stage adaptations with The Happy Prince being the latest. His debut as director and writer draws comparisons with the theatre outing The Judas Kiss where the focus is Wilde’s controversial relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas – better known as Bosie – a crime that led to several years in a hard larbour camp for which the writer received a posthumous pardon last year.

Taking its title from Wilde’s fairy tale parable about the friendship between a statue and a swallow finding the Kingdom of Heaven after sacrificing their worldly treasures – Wilde is pictured in the opening scene reading this bedtime story to his children in flashback, and at the end, to his protégées, a pair of French urchins (Benjamin Voisin and Matteo Salamone).

In between Everett avoids a straightforward narrative opting for an impressionistic hagiographic hotpotch of visually alluring vignettes that follow Everett’s Wilde as the self-indulgent raconteur of his own decadent final years as a raddled Victorian roué in exile roaming the flesh pots of France and Italy on a flight of fancy, courtesy of a generous allowance from his estranged and undeservedly berated wife Constance (Emily Watson). During this interlude, Wilde emerges as a bloated narcissistic lush mourning his unfinished love affair with the rather fey Bosie (Colin Morgan), while dallying with the more reasonable Robbie Ross, his literary agent. He eventually reunites with Bosie in scenes that suggest their affair is fired as much by lust as by mutual understanding. Everett makes the decision to flip from French to English accentuating the rather pretentious tone of the piece and detracting from the moments of coruscating wit that pepper Wilde’s caustic repartee.

Although the result is an ethereal feast for the eyes this is a film far too floaty and dramatically unsubstantial to sustain the attention for its 103 minutes, despite some sterling underpinnings from Everett himself, Colin Firth as Wilde’s old habitué Reggie Turner and a thoughtful but underwritten Emily Watson. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 18 June 2018 | Berlinale 2018 review

Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things (2016) | Bfi Flare Festival 2017

Dirs: Mark Kenneth Woods | Michael Yerxa | Canada | Doc | 71min

Taking its name from the Inuktitut language translation of lesbian and gay, literally: “two soft things rubbing together” and “two hard things rubbing together” this documentary explores the experiences of LGBT Inuits and examines their survival since the 1950s where colonisation, religion, forced migration, and cultural assimilation impacted on their communities in northwest Canada. This is largely viewed from the perspective of the small but growing community of LGBT Inuit people living in Nunavut, where they prepare for one of the world’s more remote and snowbound Pride festivals, taking place in the territorial capital of Iqaluit.

It emerges that LGBT identity and long-term same-sex relationships have always existed in Inuit culture, and same-sex sexual activity was common and accepted, particularly as a remedy for social and sexual isolation during times when men and women were segregated from each other as the men left for the traditional hunting season. These cultures norms continued until Catholicism emerged as a dominant religion during the 1950s, although Inuit spirituality still forms an important of their culture, despite many having been taught that homosexuality is incompatible with their traditions, causing a number to move south to large Canadian cities such as Ottowa and Quebec.

Without a straightforward narrative but benefitting from superb cinematography of the wild and snowy landscapes of the region, the film takes on an episodic style with the directors combining archive footage and photos with a series of talking head interviews with those who have commited to uncovering and reclaiming the hidden history of the Inuks, amongst these are filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, politicians Jack Anawak and Paul Okalik, and activists Allison Brewer, Nuka Fennell and Jesse Mike. MT

BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | 16-26 MARCH 2017

 

 

The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin (2017) | Bfi Flare 2017

Dir: Jennifer M Kroot | Doc | US/UK | 91min

Armistead Maupin churned out copy like a demon according to his editor at the San Francisco Chronicle where he worked as a regualr columnist. His prodigious talent and remarkable work ethic was possibly due to his strict upbringing by a father whom he admits to hating, according to Jennifer Kroots informative biopic of the writer and longtime advocacy for queer civil rights, and creator of the popular Tales of the City franchise.

Enriched with a commentary from talking heads Sir Ian McKellen, Laura Linney and Amy Tan, Kroot’s documentary is the first to chart the life of a writer who has known success and personal tragedy and now seems to have largely vanished from the scene, so the film will certainly be greeted with warmth and appreciation by his fans and those who have enjoyed his work, whatever the critical appraisal.

Kroot covers Maupin’s career as a journalist right through to his status as a US household name with an impressive array of photographs and archive footage showing how the he struggled to come out, as the son of a white supremacist father, and ended up with a series of gay lovers, one of whom had partnered Rock Hudson, eventually emerging as an avant-garde figure of his generation, or so the luminaries would have us believe. Rather a shame then that the film has a rather lightweight quality with cartoonish 1970s visuals in the style of Monty Python or TV’s Magpie, and unimaginative and lacklustre format. MT

BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL 16-26 MARCH 2017

 

The Girl King (2015)

Director: Mike Kaurismaki, Writer: Michel Marc Bouchard

Cast: Malin Buska, Sarah Gadon, Michael Nyqvist, Laura Birn, Hippolyte Girardot, Lucas Bryant

106min  | Drama | Finland Sweden

Finnish director Mika Kaurismaki (Road North) and writer Michel Marc Bouchard (Tom at the Farm) join forces for this impressively-mounted historical biopic that focuses on an interesting era in Swedish history. Queen Kristina, who ruled Sweden in the middle of the 17th century, was an enterprising feminist in many ways similar to our own Queen Elizabeth I,  Previously played most notably by the legendary Greta Garbo in Rouben Mamoulian’s 1933 classic Queen Christina; what makes this version special is Kaurismaki’s full throttle slant on Kristina’s lesbian tendencies, where previous adaptations have just pussy footed round the subject.

That Kristina was a fully-fledged lesbian is a bold premise but sadly the film fails to live up to this intended ideal and ends up being just another period drama, albeit a watchable and beautifully-crafted one. This English language production has newcomer Malin Buska as Kristina, and Martina Gedeck as the mother of the only surviving legitimate child of King Gustav II Adolf (Samuli Edelmann).  Tomboyish Kristina becomes Queen as a tiny girl and starts to reign when she is just 18. In masterful form, Michael Nyqvist plays her chief political consultant, Chancellor Axel Von Oxenstierna, advising her on the peace talks during Europe’s religious Thirty Years’ War. We discover how Kristina was an ardent and respected patron of the arts and engaged with Europe’s finest artists and philosophers of the era, such as Rene Descartes (Patrick Bauchau) who is invited to stay at the Royal Palace. But her lesbian love affair with a beautiful young countess Ebba Sparre (Sarah Gadon) and her Catholic leanings (in Protestant Sweden) were the factors that made her unpopular when the going got tough.

Queen Kristina’s is a riveting story of bodice-ripping raunchiness and rich historical intrigue yet Kaurismaki and Bouchard’s offering is tepid in comparison with the real life deal; it is a drama that lacks dramatic heft and we care little for the protagonists or their tragic plights. Much of the problem lies with Bouchard’s script which was clunkily translated into English from its French original and then given to a cast of non-native speakers who do their best despite some real corkers on the dialogue front. Some of the performances are uneven and leave a great deal to be desired including the seduction scene between Kristina and Ebba.

That said THE GIRL KING is a sumptuously crafted historical romp set in some gloriously evocative snowy landscapes, featuring amongst others Turku Castle in Finland and Eschenlohe in Bavaria, but the tone too often veers towards the melodramatic rather than the politically and emotionally resonant. MT

SCREENING IN ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 17 JUNE 2016

Lilting (2014) | BFI Flare 2014

Director: Hong Khaou
Cast: Ben Whishaw, Cheng Pei Pei, Naomi Christie, Andrew Leung, Peter Bowles
91mins  Drama UK 

LILTING, is the feature debut of writer/director Hong Khaou. Made on a shoe-string, this simply-told and sweet-natured drama, sensitively explores loss, denial and grief that ensues when gay writer Richard (Ben Whishaw) loses his partner Kai (Andrew Leung) in a tragic accident. Kai’s Chinese-Cambodian mother Junn (Cheng Pei Pei), also struggles to accept this sudden loss, and the nature of the relationship between Richard and her son. Having recently been moved to a retirement home, she speaks little English and is resentful at this isolation from her only son, who never told her of his homosexuality. Richard, at pains to support her emotionally despite the language barrier, feels hurt by her mild hostility, as he suffers with his own grief.  But when Alan (Peter Bowles), a kindly gentleman in the care home, makes romantic overtures to Junn, it’s clear that the language of love transcends the spoken word.

Hong Khaou shows how language is so much more than just mere words: while words can build a dialogue between people, sometimes body language and gestures can build a more significant rapport. When (Naomi Christie) arrives to interpret between them, her well-meaning efforts clarify matters for Richard, yet threaten the relationship between the amorous couple. A whole cultural mindset divides these people, who despite waves of goodwill, are still oceans apart. Ben Whishaw is moving as a man diminished by grief, yet determined to act with integrity and despite occasional lulls in pacing, and the implausible rapport between the love-birds, his mesmerising performance holds it all together.  MT

SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE 20 – MARCH 2015 | ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 8 AUGUST 2014

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Stranger By The Lake (2013) L’Inconnu Du Lac | DVD release

Director: Alain Guiraudie

Cast: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d’Assumcao, Jerome Chapatte

100min  French with subtitles   Thriller

1374946_10151927858522387_889948991_nAlain Guiraudie’s STRANGER BY THE LAKE is one of the year that has really made a lasting impression. Disturbing and utterly absorbing right up until its enigmatic showdown, it may at first appear to have little to offer mainstream audiences. But what develops is a gripping psychodrama with naturalistic performances that just feels ‘real’.  Stranger is set in a naturist cruising spot for gay men by a lakeside in southern France. Stripping off on arrival, they swim and bond with each other; occasionally indulging in explicit sex in the lush vegetation nearby. Guiraudie has captured the sensuality of these torrid encounters enhanced by the natural ambient sounds of nature and sparky, realistic dialogue and simple narrative structure.  The lakeside setting provides an ideal ‘stage’ for the sinister events that gradually emerge.

Handsomely-built but hard-edged Michel (Christophe Paou)  is a regular to the hedonistic idyll; parking in the clearing, he swims each day and cruises for casual pick-ups. Is he a homosexual predator or a homophobe exacting revenge on his fellow men for their putative sins of the flesh.? Guiraudie ramps up the tension by making us rely on body language and only patchy dialogue, leaving us intrigued to know what’s going on. Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) is attracted to Michel like a moth to a flame. An easy-going and pleasant-looking gay, Franck is open and honest; emotionally quite vulnerable.  As Michel has a regular hook-up, Franck strikes up a chatty friendship with Henri (Patrick D’Assumcao), a portly straight guy who is newly single and depressed at spending the August holidays alone.  Henri appears dismissive but also fascinated by the cruising activity on the beach. While Franck enjoys the beauty of the sunset one evening, he witnesses Michel drowning a boyfriend, after horseplay in the lake. Rather than quelling Franck’s desire for Michel, the murder seems to enhance his sexual attraction. Guiraudie captures this essence of danger that spikes when strong attraction overrides the rational brain.  In the quite calm of the lakeside, a simmering and palpable tension builds  from Franck ‘s attraction to Michel’s sexual allure.  Michel is clearly tricky; dangerous, but he fancies him to the point where seduction blocks out reason: offering the ultimate in escapism and the thrill of the unknown.

Guiraudie’s wanted to create a drama that evoked the strong emotion of falling in love passionately, not just having casual sex. His drama is thrilling; leavened by quirky almost humorous moments that prey upon the subconscious. The characters just happen to be gay rather than heterosexual and the sex feels natural and totally without sensationalism, just as any encounter may feel, irrespective of the sexual persuasion it entails.  The police inspector remarks are the casual disregard that the gay community by the lakeside seem to feel for one another. The overall tone is one of intensity and the undercurrent as unsettling as the individuals involved, but the everyday conversations they indulge add intelligent and thought-provoking texture to the story.  The cast all give performances that feel spontaneous and believable. By turns provocative and sinister,  STRANGER meditates on the nature of sexuality, solitude and the power of seduction

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The Lakeside setting feels like a jungle where animals prowl around quietly, engaging  in atavistic power-play: some hoping to conquer, some hoping to be conquered, some simply enjoying the ritual. Enigmatic, amusing and mesmerising to watch, STRANGER BY THE LAKE will remain with you long after the sun has set. MT

SCREENED DURING BFI FLARE 20-30 MARCH 2014 | NOW OUT ON DVD FROM 12 MAY 2014

 

Continental (2013) BFI Flare 2014

Dir.: Malcolm Ingram

Cast: Steve Ostrow; Documentary

USA/Canada/Australia 2013, 94 min.

Malcolm Ingram (Small Town Gay Bar) tells the story of the legendary “Continental”, a New York bathhouse for the gay community. Founded by the maverick Steve Ostrow in 1968, it was situated on the site of the Ansonia Hotel on 74th Street. The 400 rooms were used by 20 000 patrons a week; when Ostrow closed the “Continental” in 1974 six million visitors has seen its transfiguration from a hedonistic pleasure pool to an artistic centre. Ostrow borrowed the money for his enterprise from his father-in-law and had to live with corrupt cops as well as Mafiosi, who all took their share from the profits (the entrance fee was 15 Dollar).

Ostrow, a professional opera singer, comes over larger than life. He now lives in Australia, where he cares for the older members of the gay communities. And it is in Sidney, where he realised his greatest dream: singing the title role in Verdi’s “Othello”. His musical education helped him to transform the “Continental” from a pure pleasure heaven into an artistic centre. Patti Labelle, Peter Allen started their career here, as did Bette Midler, accompanied at the piano by Barry Manilow. But it was this new cultural identity, which was the main reason for the closure of the bathhouse in 1974. Sure, rival companies had sprung up, but Ostrow said, that the gay community felt, that they were looked at like animals in a zoo, by the ever growing number of straight people who came to visit. It was true, the “Continental” had changed from being a refuge for gay people, to being a meeting point of the cultural elite. Even Alfred Hitchcock was spotted there, dressed only in a towel.

It was difficult to avoid doing this as a ‘Talking Heads”  documentary, and the stills from the old place are mixed with contemporary shots of the same neighbourhood today. The rare footage of the entertainers in the heydays of the Continental are refreshing and raise many questions, in particular it begs to know why Bette Midler did not want to participate. Ingram avoids nostalgic reminiscing about a “golden age for the gay community before AIDS”, but delivers instead a well structured documentary lesson about gay history. AS

THE CONTINENTAL SCREENED AS PART OF THE BFI FLARE 2014 FESTIVAL

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kill Your Darlings (2013) | BFI FLARE 20-30 March 2015

Dir: John Krokidas; Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane de Haan, Ben Foster, Jennifer Jason Leigh

USA 2013, 104 min. Drama

The first feature film of scriptwriter John Krokidas (Being John Malkovich) takes Daniel Radcliffe in the role of young Allen Ginsberg to Columbia University in the autumn of 1943. There he meets future stars of the literary anti-establishment like Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), Lucien Carr (Dane de Haan) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster). Ginsberg, the shy Jewish boy, suffering from the breakup of his parent’s marriage, falls madly in love with Carr, who is still seeing his ex-lover David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), who a year ago saved his life in Chicago when Carr tried to commit suicide.

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The fading College running back Kerouac (who could now imagine him playing American football!) is also part of the group, though he seems the only heterosexual in the posse of rebels. The lads get up to pranks, some more serious than others, but a certain bookish tranquility holds sway until Carr kills Kammerer sadisticly, without an apparent motive. Thanks to Ginsberg, who finds an escape route for him in  an old law book (if attacked by an homosexual, the straight man can claim self-defence), Carr gets off with 18 month in prison, but rejects Ginsberg, who is heart broken.

Krokadis film is uneven, too often episodically, and its straight linear narrative and mostly conventional aesthetics make the end product much less than it could have been. Radclliffe excels in the frank sex scenes and it is the ensemble acting, which saves the film in the end. Dane de Haan’s Carr is particularly menacing, the boy-man with the face of an angel, who can’t stand any rejection, and plays off all his lovers against each other. Like a little vampire, he sucks all the good out of people; his golden looks masking his exploitative nature. Surprisingly, the real Carr stayed with one publishing house until his death in 2005: twice married with two children.

In spite of its shortcomings, KILL YOUR DARLINGS delivers some fascinating background about the cradle of the Un-American dream. AS

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KILL YOUR DARLINGS IS screening during BFI FLARE 20-30 March 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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