A Glorious Gabfest
If you need proof that The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name has turned into The Love That Won't Shut Up, look no further than Outtakes Dallas 2000. The gay, lesbian, bisexual, and try-sexual (those enterprising folks who'll try anything once) filmmakers whose features, documentaries, and shorts are scheduled here prove cocky enough to believe they can yammer on about anything--the Holocaust, social movements in 20th century America, pop music, the state of the Protestant church, ideological battles in public schools, life in a working-class town--that were not long ago thought to be none of our business. We've been leaders, thinkers, critics, creators, spoilers, supporters, and betrayers in all those arenas, but as homosexuals begin the slow process of teaching the mainstream that all sexuality--even heterosexuality--is relative, incomplete when we separate it from the universe of shagging possibilities, we also make people aware of the ways our perspectives have shaped different events and stories. Personal experiences compose history, but more than that, they can be turned back around to reflect that history in a process that helps us catch stuff we missed. All of us are standing inside and outside time simultaneously--it's just, some of the vistas have only begun to be painted. So if it seems like gays and lesbians are jabbering from the back of the room at every meeting, it's because our opinions--again, our perspectives--have to play catch-up within the public dialogue.
If a theme runs through much of the fare of Outtakes 2000--and given the assortment offered here, identifying that is a tricky bit of business--it can be summed up in a word that's anathema to a generation of gay radicals: integration. For some people, this translates into "let's show the heteros how normal we are." And yes, this is a silly, even dishonest endeavor. I have always been of the opinion that we should set about showing the heteros they're just as fucked up as we are--just as frightened, foolish, vain, lovesick, desperate for security but craving variety. But to do that, we have to crash the institutional parties--the Holocaust Museum, the church, the recording studio, the school board, the history class--and compare stories. That means no more hiding in hermetically sealed gay ghettos. Hopefully, even the staunch separatists, on principle, will help further this cause in the name of a wider range of choices for us all, so that gay babies can grow up to be sequin-flashing drag queens or pulpit-pounding ministers. Hell, let's fuse them and forge a new career path.
What follow are reviews of seven highlights at Outtakes 2000. Grab a schedule and avail yourself of the festival's numerous other selections.
Righteous Babes The topics of commercialized feminism and pop music are seriously underserved by director Pratihba Parmar's 50-minute documentary about the rise of female musicians in the '90s. Pratihba throws the word "feminism" around without ever acknowledging the near-endless variety of permutations it can take. There's much distance between, say, Gloria Steinem and Camille Paglia, Courtney Love and Madonna, all of whom are interviewed or profiled in this piece without a clear sense of where they stand on the spectrum. Indeed, certain commentators are assigned to discuss particular women-artists without acknowledgment that they've dissed others in the same documentary--Steinem has criticized Madonna in the past but is not asked to assess this documentary's near-unanimous assessment that she is a genius (nor is Andrea Dworkin, a veteran anti-porn crusader who drops in to comment on women's bodies' being peddled like roast beef but is not consulted on what she thinks of the Madonna video prominently featured in this production, "Open Your Heart," where the singer cavorts in a peepshow). If The Material Girl does possess divine inspiration, it's applied to the job of commodifying herself in an ever-changing market--yet the Spice Girls are only half-facetiously referred to as "the apocalypse," and for what? Commodifying feminism. Apparently, their sin is that they aren't even half as good at a sales pitch as Madonna is. Interviews with Ani DiFranco, Chrissie Hynde, Tori Amos, Sinead O'Connor, and Garbage's Shirley Manson are seemingly edited to root out thoughtfulness--the producers cut away before these women get a chance to say anything meaningful. The peculiar exception is Tori Amos, an artist known for full-moon-crazy, rambling interviews. Snippets of her haunting, harrowing song about being raped, "Me and a Gun," are delivered a cappella. With uncharacteristic directness, Amos seems to be dismissing the filmmakers when she says she's suspicious of women who "bitch about hanging on to feminism." That, she claims, is "stale pussy, man." Don't spend all your time talking about it, she says: "Be it." Sing it, sister. (Nov. 11, 3:30 p.m.)
The Broken Hearts Club "If you boys weren't gay, I don't know what you'd have to talk about," says John Mahoney, who plays a West Hollywood restaurateur whose gay men's amateur softball club--the young waiters and chefs and busboys who work for him--provides the title of writer-director Greg Berlanti's debut feature. Filled with snappy dialogue ("dumb, gorgeous people should not be allowed to use literary references in their pickup lines; it's deceiving, like bald people wearing hats") and some subtly observant performances, The Broken Hearts Club, which makes its Texas premiere at Outtakes, will likely become a different kind of film when viewed by a full house than what Berlanti may have intended. When you peer through the comedy, his film is a sometimes discomfiting critique of the gay urban ghetto and how guys who proudly trumpet their "out" status huddle under it for protection, sometimes using it as an excuse not to evolve romantically, professionally, and emotionally. We are privy to the plights and frustrations of a cast of very familiar types--The Beautiful, Straight-Acting Guy Everybody Wants To Be (Dean Cain, in the film's weakest delivery); The Guy Who Always Worries That He's Not Cute Enough (Ben Weber); and The "Newby," or Guy Who's On the Verge of Coming Out (Andrew Keegan), among others. The film's most startling performance comes from Timothy Olyphant, who admitted while doing press for this film that he punched the last guy who came on to him. As idiotically paranoid as he may be offscreen, he expertly pulls off a less-discussed gay stock character--The Guy Who's Always Calling People On Their Shit. An abrasive Olyphant spends much of the film lecturing, confronting, and cutting people off, and he has perfected that tone of fey self-righteousness and defensive confidence to a level that goes so deep into the skin it's almost genetic. Despite some creaky plot contrivances so The Club can come together to share crisis moments and a building sense of impatience at the 90 minutes devoted to such narrowly defined lives, The Broken Hearts Club is worth it for Olyphant's eerie authenticity and one-liners that may be repeated at parties for years to come. (Nov. 3, 8:30 p.m.)
Queer As Folk 2 Why do some of us revere the short-lived British Channel Four series Queer as Folk so much, considering that the friendship central to the action--between hostile, hedonistic Stuart (Aiden Gillen) and his boyhood chum, closeted, unconfident Vince (Craig Kelly)--is a hopelessly unrequited romance composed of one guy who shits all over the other without a pang of conscience? Because writer-creator Russell T. Davies understands that these two polarities are contained, to different degrees, in many gay men--the anger and fear, self-hatred and cocky rage we see onscreen are parts of ourselves battling and reconciling and battling again. In our best moments, we want to be desirable Stuart, whose violent outbursts are explained by his philosophy, "Sometimes, 'fuck off' isn't enough"; when we fear rejection, Vince trips and stumbles to the surface. Outtakes presents the feature-length epilogue that brings the characters--including Nathan (Charlie Hunnam), the 16-year-old eager for sexual kicks in the "gay village" of Manchester's Canal Street--to some kind of decision about their future. There's one priceless moment after another, including Stuart's angrily outing himself to his family after a nephew attempts to blackmail him, and Vince's fag-hag mom, Hazel (Denise Black), advising another mother how to accept her son's homosexuality: "It helps not to think about the arse thing." By all accounts, Irish up-and-comer Aidan Gillen is 150 percent hetero, but the guy snogs men with a sweaty enthusiasm unprecedented on the small and big screen. Folks, the kind of homoeroticism into which Gillen swan dives as Stuart is truly brave, as opposed to Matt Damon's anemically pining for Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley. The shagging in Queer as Folk 2 is hotter than almost anything in porn, even when it's just another one of those Canal Street conquests, because tender wittiness is often the third (or fourth) bedmate--when a guy warns Stuart in midgrapple that prescription medication has changed the color of his semen, Gillen chuckles "Teletubby spunk!" as the stuff comes out orange. There's a lame-ass nod to Thelma and Louise that closes the show, but devotees can forgive just about anything for the chance to share in Stuart, Vince, and Nathan's overcomplicated, addictive lives a little longer. (Nov. 11, 8 p.m.)
Aimee and Jaguar Possibly the best feature screening at Outtakes is the festival's closer, director Max Faberbock's lush, urgent, dizzyingly erotic saga about a cabal of lesbian Resistance agents in Berlin near the close of World War II. The romantically conflicted trio at the heart of the film--Jewish "Jaguar" (Maria Schrader) and her revolving lovers, the sheltered German wife "Aimee" (Juliane Kohler) and her maid, Ilse (Johanna Wokalex), also working the underground to spirit Jews out of the city--seem always to be toiling under a palpable and intensifying threat, thanks to Faberbock's seasoned sense of pacing. Jaguar works at a German newspaper, typing anti-Semitic editorials by day as she helps generate and distribute fake passports for Jewish escape. (In one of the film's hilarious interludes, she and her friends pose for basement cheesecake photos to be sold on the black market to German soldiers in exchange for a photographer's help with the fake i.d.'s.) Something of a ladies' lady, she romances women in her circle on a whim and goes after Aimee, a confused, frightened, and impetuous woman whose abusive husband is out on the front lines against the Allies. The film takes us right up to the end of the War, which means we are kept breathless waiting to see if Jaguar's anti-Nazi activities (and her passionate romance with Aimee) can continue as the authorities tighten a citywide crackdown. In these rabidly anti-tobacco times, it's easy to forget why smoking was ever considered cool in the first place. Aimee and Jaguar reminds you how, properly wielded during tense or playful moments, smoking can look sexy as hell on a movie screen. Faberbock has fashioned a mini-ode to the great women inhalers of 1940s films. Graft this onto a series of rapid mood and plot changes triggered by wartime turmoil, and you have an exercise in style with a fat, bloody heart's beating away in its well-appointed vest. P.S. It's a good thing there are two weekends between this stunner and The Broken Hearts Club, because when you watch them back to back, Aimee and Jaguar makes you want to slap those West Hollywood boys and tell 'em to get a life. (Nov 12, 7:30 p.m.)
Living With Pride: Ruth Ellis at 100 There aren't many people around who can say they lived through the dawn of American women's right to vote, the Civil Rights movement, and the gay rights movement. Let's get more specific, and try to find an individual whose life was directly affected by all of them. Filmmaker Yvonne Welbon pulled off this daunting task and recorded the results as Living With Pride: Ruth Ellis at 100. Extensive footage of Ruth Charlotte Ellis at a rest-home dance reveals time has slowed her quite a bit, but she has a clear command of the details of her extensive experience, which include moving from Illinois to Detroit and creating, alongside her love of more than thirty years, a salon for black gays and lesbians. "The Gay Spot," as Ruth and Babe Franklin's home was known from 1941 to 1971, provided a safe place for college students to drink, dance, play cards, and hold hands with their same-sex partners. At the centennial marker in her life, Ruth is hilariously frank about her sexual habits--she last got laid at 95, and informs us that church is the best place to pick up chicks--and this helps make Living With Pride something more than the typical paean to a survivor. (Nov. 12, 1 p.m.)
101 Rent Boys The title says it all--documentarians Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, professional and domestic partners who scored big early this year with the much-discussed The Eyes of Tammy Faye, got funding from Cinemax to interview 101 different hustlers who work Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Each is taken to a motel room and paid $50 to talk about their professions, their pasts, their relationships with lovers and families, and what they want for the future, in open-ended segments with titles like "Sex" and "Love" and "Money." Truthfully, Bailey and Barbato and their subjects offer us very little that's surprising, but hey, there are few ways to kill 90 minutes as effortlessly as a discussion about sex and money. 101 Rent Boys works because Bailey and Barbato don't pity these male prostitutes, nor do they attempt to take any position at all on "the issue" of prostitution or "the issue" of drugs (many of them, unsurprisingly, are addicts). Indeed, the film is likely to raise some eyebrows by its eagerness early on to titillate. The more attention-craving, exhibitionist guys flash us their baskets and backsides with sweet, sly smiles. When some of their life details emerge, though, it's hard to stay turned on--No. 24, who has neurofibromatosis and must work extra hard to convince johns the cysts on his back aren't from a venereal disease; No. 33, a speed freak who can't stop crying during the interview because his dealer-boyfriend broke up with him and his regular clients stay away because of his weepiness; and No. 4, who learned weeks later about his mother's death but reasons she has, at least, finally accepted his bisexuality because "she's an angel now." Then there's No. 7, a guy from an "upper-class family" who's "picky" and talks endlessly about his hair, which is "like silk and satin, but nobody knows it, because I won't let them touch it." If nothing else, 101 Rent Boys is a public service announcement for guys who might mistakenly blow 50 bucks on this clown. (Nov. 3, 11 p.m.)
Call to Witness Director Pam Walton takes the ecumenical debate over same-sex relationships and the ordination of gays and lesbians--possibly the two hottest topics for those Protestant denominations honest enough to address them--and looks at them through the prism of The Evangelical Lutheran Church. Congregations in San Francisco and St. Paul are forced to stand by or fall with their pastors when local leaders--knowing full well it will result in church trials--opt to ordain a lesbian and a gay, respectively. They are, to use The Evangelical Lutheran Church Association's giggle-triggering phrase, "actively homosexual" (both are in long-term relationships). In other cities, there are absurd "compromises": one woman pastor, Anita Hall, has to wear her sash irregularly and be called "a pastoral minister" so she can preach from the pulpit. When two churches are expelled after five years because they support their rebel ministers, sympathetic straight and gay dissidents form the Lutheran Gay and Lesbian Ministries to provide financial support for their continued rabble-rousing. As with several of the films at Outtakes, gays and lesbians might feel that they're the choir who is being preached to, that heterosexuals ought to be the ones listening to stories about our lives. Nowhere at the festival is this truer than with Call to Witness. This is not to fault Walton's concise, temperate expose of religious bureaucratic boneheadedness. You just wish a few of the boneheads would be brave enough to confront how this lunacy looks from the outside. (Director Pam Walton will speak. Nov. 5, 1:30 p.m.)
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