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Queer or "Queer": Newfest hits New York City

Glenn here discussing queer cinema. Or should I say “queer cinema”? The term has kind of lost its meaning these days where those words are used to describe anything with homosexuality at its core. Gone are the days of directors like Gregg Araki, Todd Haynes and Tom Kalin making confronting, even angry films about sexuality that were heralded under the banner of “New Queer Cinema”. As I discussed just last week, there appears to be less of a need for that type of transgressive filmmaking anymore in our culture (although I’d certainly take it over some of the films discussed below) so if society’s going to change then I guess cinema has to change with it. 

Beginning tomorrow in New York City is Newfest, the city's “premier LGBT film festival”. Just as an aside, wasn’t one of Gayby’s (mini-reviewed here) best jokes the one about the ever-expanding acronyms of gay culture? I think it was. Anyway, let’s take a look at a selection of titles screening for local audiences and which may be arriving at a queer film festival near you over the next 12 months (if not already). 

James Franco, Elizabeth Taylor (er) and Terrence Malick (umm) after the jump...

Pit Stop: I know Nathaniel is a fan, and inarguably the best of the bunch of what I have seen is Yen Tan's Pit Stop. Also a film that suggests perhaps David Lowry is better at writing scripts for others than he is for himself (he made Ain’t Them Bodies Saints to which I was decidedly so-so). It looks at two men, Gabe (the dishy Bill Heck) and Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda) as they deal with complicated emotions in a small Texan town. What I liked was the fresh angle that Lowery and Tan took with the material. Gabe is about as out and proud as you can get in a place like this, and yet is a family man with a daughter and who jokes with his ex-wife’s confused new boyfriend. Ernesto, meanwhile, isn’t the typical tormented queer despite his failed relationship to a younger man and his frequent hospital visits to take care of an old flame. That these two men eventually meet is inevitable, but I like how Pit Stop kept it based in a recognisable world where smartphone apps are the new bars and nightclubs and where the connection to another human being can still elicit that morning after smile of wonder. B+

Geography Club: As independent, gay-themed high school comedies go, you could do a lot worse than Gary Entin’s sweet-natured Geography Club. There’s little here that followers of gay cinema won’t have seen before: shy nerd falls for star athlete and must confront society’s homophobia. Of course, this film’s idea of “shy nerd” is a guy that just happens to also look like a star athlete. The jock even gets his geek lover a spot on the team so they can be closer. That’s sweet… I think. Best not to think about it too strenuously. I can certainly think of worse things than looking at Cameron Deane Stewart (Pitch Perfect) and Justin Deeley (Drop Dead Diva and 90210) for 85 minutes and there are laughs to be had (“He’s got D.Q.F.: Drag Queen Face”) amidst the gooey fantasy love story. Props also to Nikki Blonsky who’s still chipping away at that acting career despite Hollywood deciding they no longer needed her. B-

Who’s Afraid of Vagina Woolf: Speaking of “I can certainly think of worse things”. Look, I’m not going to list the many, many ways in which writer/director/star Anna Margarita Albelo’s film is genuinely one of the worst I have ever seen. For what it’s worth, my viewing companion ended up banging his head against the seat in front in hopes that blunt force trauma would end the parade of embarrassments. Needless to say, this movie about a filmmaker attempting to make an all-female version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with her exotic muse is dreadful. I considered giving it a D- simply because, as the film repeatedly states, getting a movie like this made at all is an achievement worth commending. Especially if you’re a woman. Especially if you’re a lesbian. Sadly, Albelo is a supremely untalented one who can’t write, direct or act, which is pretty bad when you’ve chosen to do all three. Let’s give it an F and move on.

Test: Watching independent cinema can be frustrating in this day and age. With some filmmakers proving able to do so much with so little, when a film like Test comes along I find myself debating back and forth. Should we forgive lapses in filmmaking logic? I mean, for a film set during the initial AIDS outbreak of 1985 in San Francisco’s art world, Test has a startling lack of mood. Barely any extras populate the film (budget?) and no fun has been had with the ‘80s setting apart from one fabulous leopard-print fringe jacket. Never mind that though since Chris Mason Johnson’s buzzy drama (and closing night selection) suffers from repetition (those dance sequences never stop!) and one of the worst examples of “use the film title as dialogue” I’ve yet seen that makes for a comically bold italicised underlined statement of its themes. It’s a shame then because Test has some great technical elements and hints at the haunting never-to-be-forgotten way that circles of friends could all but disappear in the face of AIDS. C+

Interior. Leather Bar: I previously discussed this controversial collaboration between Travis Mathews (I Want Your Love) and Newfest’s unofficial mascot, James Franco (he also produced Newfest title Kink, which is also screening), on my blog. I wrote:

“At only 60 minutes long – and many of those minutes filled with (star) Val Lauren looking off into the mass of naked bodies or simply into the distance – I’m not sure why they didn’t just go the whole way and do what the film posits them as having set out to do. There’s barely five minutes of recreated Cruising footage and it’s all rather bad to be honest … The behind the scenes sequences feature repeated shots of Franco and Lauren, both repeatedly-confessed heterosexuals, leering at the unsimulated sexuality on display including one scene of open-mouthed shock that I certainly hope was played for laughs because that’s what it elicits.” C


Last Summer: The guide describes Mark Thiedeman’s Last Summer as a “tone poem” with “echoes of Terrence Malick”. Well, I can certainly see what they saw, although the comparison to Malick is entirely superficial. To be honest, the film opens with a five-minute sequence of little more than beautiful images that blend into one another like translucent shifting sands that are set to Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto no. 5” that I found utterly captivating. Sadly it too soon falls into sleepy indulgence and I worry the director simply equates an unmoving camera with maturity. The camera captures images that hold no dramatic weight, and the actors (including one that looks a bit like The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson) drift about aimlessly. Not a single scene goes by where they don’t look pensively into the distance. It’s a bit of a snooze, to be honest, albeit a pretty one. C-

There are still plenty of Newfest titles I want to see. I'm particularly interested in opening night drama Concussion, the German Free Fall, Malgoska Szumowska's In the Name Of, Scott Gratcheff's documentary The Rugby Player about the 9/11 hero portrayed by Cheyanne Jackson in United 93, and the ridiculously titled Hot Guys with Guns because why not? Will any New York readers be checking the festival out? I hope so! Gay cinema needs its supporters. 

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Reader Comments (6)

"In the Name of" is interesting to an extent. It starts off intriguingly, but then it finds it has no place to go, but it's still worth it for its vivid portrayal of a very specific place that I'm not familiar with, and the performances are quite good, especially Adrzej Chyra and Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, the director's husband. There are also a couple of terrific WTF scenes in the film such as a drunk scene that involves dancing with a portrait of Pope Benedict to Band of Horses' "The Funeral."

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

I saw "Concussion" at Outfest and it's just wonderful. Excellent first time Director Stacie Passon and Robin Weigert is phenomenal. Like, Oscar Best Actress phenomenal.

Yes, Virginia, there are really great lesbian films being made!

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjackie

I saw Concussion, In the Name Of, and Free Fall at the SF LGBT festival (Frameline) and would strongly recommend all three.

Also, check out the understated and quietly emotional Test, which if you're looking to harken back to the low budget indie feel of the New Queer Cinema might be your best bet. It won the Grand Jury Prize at Outfest.

But my favorite gay flick of the year is from Belgium, called Beyond the Walls, and captures the same close-up relationship vibe as Weekend or Keep the Lights On.

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

I saw Getting Go: The Go Doc Project at Outfest and I highly recommend it. It's fun, and the filmmaking is remarkable. The actors manage it beautifully. Tanner Cohen is wonderful and newcomer Matthew Camp is a revelation in his first feature film role.

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohnD

San Francinema, as I said in the post I wasn't that much of a fan. Although you're right about it at least having some of the attitude of the early '90s, I just felt those annoying repetitious dance sequences and of the artistic decisions diluted its potential.

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Saw Free Fall last week and was very disappointed at how shallow it was in telling a coming-out story that would have been old hat in the early '90s.

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

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