What’s missing, what’s visionary and what’s wrong at LGBT film festival
By Armond White
Why isn’t Julian Hernandez’s new movie I Am Happiness on Earth part of NewFest? The 25th annual showcase of LGBT films (at Lincoln Center, Sept 6 to 11) should be centered on work by world-class filmmakers like Hernandez whose first three previous films consistently won the Teddy Award for gay films at the Berlin International Film Festival. (Hernandez’s Broken Sky played NewFest in 2007.) A new movie by Hernandez, Mexico’s greatest living film director, is very likely the hope of contemporary cinema, let alone LGBT cinema.
The gay film festival circuit’s refusal to make a star of Hernandez as the straight festival circuit celebrates Alfonso Cuaron, a lesser filmmaker (one of Mexico’s “Three Amigos”), suggests the need for a gay film art movement–or a artistic manifesto at the least. Without a Hernandez movie–or a film by accomplished gay artists like France’s Gael Morel whose startlingly good Our Paradise is one of the best films this year but has only been released on Breaking Glass DVD and not yet shown in U.S. theaters–NewFest risks having mediocre films or worst represent the expression of gay artists and subsequently limiting filmgoers’ hope–and happiness.
Those hopes overflow the simple plot of Drew Denny’s The Most Fun I’ve Had with My Pants On, a road movie that refutes the pandering cynicism of Thelma & Louise. Denny trusts her two characters (played engagingly by Denny and Sarah Hagan) to entertain the audience through basic identification with their humor, loyalty and fascination at nature, people and life’s potential. Their optimistic journey cues the film’s ebullience (impressively shot by Will Basanta) so that the ups and downs of friendship become the film’s subject. It’s lively, bountiful and it offers a vision.
Test tries to do the same through dance but its limited routines are insufficiently expressive to contrast how the specter of AIDS haunts a young dancer’s (Scott Marlowe) creative potential in 80s San Francisco. The story’s ambitions are somehow cramped and more obvious than necessary as though director Chris Mason didn’t trust dancing and its rigors to be cinematic enough.
Out in the Dark is another Israel/Palestinian co-production that makes good use of the region’s political quagmire to portray gay life’s timeless emotional turmoil. Director Michael Mayer matches coming out with connecting as social and spiritual acts, a worthy premiere soon released on DVD by Breaking Glass. The search for a new world attached to the old world–really a Shakespearean perspective (previously seen in Eytan Fox’s Bubble).
Interior: Leather Bar attracts audiences not smart enough to recognize that it is a sham. Co-directors James Franco and Travis Mathews trap gay audiences in prurience, teasing the rumor about 40 minutes cut from William Friedkin’s 1980 film Cruising, pretending to pursue artistic and sexual freedom. This dishonest pandering insults Friedkin and his star Al Pacino’s bold efforts.
Shame on Franco playing this hustler’s game; his lurid fantasy disrespects his colleague Pacino’s courage and artistry. “Fuck scripts, just go in there and figure it out.” but is that Franco’s approach to his own career? He abuses the struggling actors willing to exploit themselves for his celebrity while he, unprofessionally, stands off to the side watching them perform sex, simulate it or demonstrate their naivete.
Franco smirks along with look-alike collaborator Mathews as they encourage the actors to “cruise the camera” or when he does a grandstanding speech against Hollywood hypocrisy (“I’m fucking sick of that shit so if there’s a way for me to just break that up in my mind…”). An unidentified associate describes the scheme as “The Franco faggot project”–Franco surely covets the aspersion. As a famous critic once said of The Portrait of Jason, Interior. Leather Bar is both sadistic and naïve. It soils the integrity of NewFest.
Follow Armond White on Twitter at 3xchair