By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The Ernie Kovacs Award to Joel Hodgson. January 9, 7 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.
Edie Adams Presents Ernie Kovacs. January 10, 7 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.
Bubbeh Lee and Me. Gay and lesbian cinema has often focused on life after coming out, when you're an adult and away from the family who raised you. This should come as no surprise, considering many gays and lesbians consider this a moment of epiphany, the point at which all their disparate parts fused into one identity. The role the homosexual adult plays in his birth family is a fascinating issue documentary makers have only recently begun exploring. The documentary Bubbeh Lee and Me is a brave, touching foray into the jungle of what might be called "gene politics," or, to put it bluntly, a breeding majority vs. a non-breeding minority. Directed and photographed by Andy Abrahams Wilson and originally broadcast on HBO, Bubbeh Lee and Me is a series of conversations between the filmmaker and his 87-year-old grandmother Bubbeh, an opinionated widow living in a Jewish retirement community in upstate New York. Wilson is gay and out to his family, including Bubbeh, although only about half of the film covers this topic. The rest is about Bubbeh's life as mother, grandmother, wife, and Jew.
Bedecked in hoop earrings, loud blouses, and a frosted wig (she allows us to see her sparse white hair once, and the effect is both sweet and shocking), she is amazingly candid about her past failures, including an inability to show love to her husband while he was alive and to her children while she was raising them. Bubbeh informs us that it's her grandchildren who've been the joy of her life, because only in her senior years had she gained the wisdom to love joyfully and unconditionally. Andy Abrahams Wilson interviews his grandmother at the kitchen table, in the car, and at the local grocery store, where she operates a shopping cart like an all-terrain war vehicle. She is clearly uncomfortable whenever he broaches the subject of his homosexuality, but she's not bashful about voicing her thoughts here, either--she is most afraid Andy will contract the HIV virus, and admits that, while she wished when he first told her that it wasn't true, age has bestowed upon her the lesson that love supersedes even those things she can't understand.
A recurring motif in Bubbeh Lee and Me concerns the elderly fellow residents of Bubbeh's retirement community who repeatedly attempt to pair off the handsome Wilson with their granddaughters (they don't know he's gay). Bubbeh watches with wry stoicism. The tolerance and generosity of this articulate, colorful character will likely make the most lasting impression on viewers, but considering the bitterness that so many gays and lesbians hold toward their uncomprehending families, the forgiveness and acceptance that Andy Abrahams Wilson displays toward his beloved Bubbeh and her limits is equally touching. (Jimmy Fowler)
Bubbeh Lee and Me is half of Mishpocheh: Jewish Families. January 12, 1 p.m., Video Box.
Church of St. Coltrane. The subjects in Gayle Gilman and Jeff Swimmer's Church of St. Coltrane are members of the San Francisco congregation of St. John's African Orthodox Church, who are united in the belief that jazz saxophonist John Coltrane has brought them closer to God through his music. For a little while they come across as those suspicious types who used to appear on Real People--individuals whose fervent devotion to a rather arcane philosophy wilts under the glare of a video camera. But as Church of St. Coltrane rolls on, intertwining both the painful details of the members' personal histories with a sketchy biography of the late master instrumentalist, the link between God, bebop, and spiritual conversion is established with credibility. In the mid-'50s, less than a decade before he died, Coltrane found Jesus and began to spread the gospel (albeit in a less strident manner than many of his born-again celebrity compatriots) during his live performances. He even included an essay in the liner notes of his seminal double album A Love Supreme that detailed how his songs were, above everything else, an expression of joyful love for the Lord. Coltrane found religion after a young adulthood scarred by alcohol and heroin.
The primary character in Gilman and Swimmer's documentary is the Bishop of St. John's (even his children call him "the bishop"), a saxophonist who idolized Coltrane throughout his own rocky relationship with smack. God and Coltrane helped him kick that deadly habit, and although the Bishop repeatedly insists that this church is all about serving the Lord and not a legendary musician, it's difficult to separate one savior from another in terms of their impact on him. This is the glorious mystery that fuels The Church of St. Coltrane and, once the Bishop's story gets going, you no longer think of him as a publicity-seeking quack (although it's hard to completely abandon the more polite adjective "eccentric"). Many of the members of St. John's African Orthodox Church have similar stories to tell, and after a while, jazz fans will find themselves remembering those moments when their favorite musical form escorted them off this earthly plane. One woman relates that the first time she heard Coltrane was not the first time she listened to him. As I recalled the first time I understood Miles Davis' "In a Silent Way" (which was not the first time it had been played for me), listening to my clock radio in the dead of night during my college days, it occurred to me that I knew exactly what she meant. (JF)