Film #290: Head On (1998)

director: Ana Kokkinos
language: English and Greek
length: 104 minutes
watched on: 3 May 2017

I think I just found reference to this movie on Tumblr or something, and decided to try and watch it, as usual not really knowing much before going into it.

It’s about a gay guy (Ari) in the Greek immigrant community in Australia. They faced, and as far as I know, still face a lot of racism, and the movie tackles that for a lot of its runtime. The rest is Ari’s search for happiness, which (spoilers) he never quite finds.

A lot of it – and it might just be the period – reminds me of Trainspotting, at least things like Walkmans and the 90s music, but also the copious amounts of drugs that are being consumed in almost every scene. A lot of marijuana, but also cocaine and heroin at some points. But I wouldn’t want to give the impression that it’s as well-made as Trainspotting.

I liked the movie’s realism. It has realistic-sounding bilingual dialogue, with a lot of the characters randomly switching from one language to the other. It doesn’t shy away from showing disturbing things, such as the guy and his transgender friend being abused in jail by a pair of cops. One of them is also Greek, who has to up the ante a bit to kind of show off to his buddy that he’s willing to dole out the abuse too.

The gay encounters in the movie are all ultimately unfulfilling to the main character – they’re either violent or he gets robbed. Ari also tries it on with a girl, but she rejects him as he obviously isn’t “into it” (although I think I had to be told this by the dialogue, as the acting wasn’t quite up to scratch). Similarly and more annoyingly, the film builds to the final encounter with this cute guy that Ari and the camera have been eyeing up for the entire movie, but he gets super angry and throws Ari out into the stairwell after sucking him off. Like he was angry at Ari for ejaculating in his mouth or something. Honestly, this was the least comprehensible part of the whole thing, and the bit that got me the most angry at the movie. I don’t see why the main character wasn’t deserved a happy ending by the end of the film. And the whole outburst came out of nowhere.

Basically, I wouldn’t recommend this movie. It has some high points, but it didn’t pull together coherently. The acting was poor, the film was dimly-lit, and tries to shock more than anything else. I can’t recall the plot in any significant detail, it felt more like a progression of not-really-related scenes. Plenty of better gay movies out there.

Film #287: Lloyd Neck (2008)

director: Benedict Campbell
language: English
length: 16 minutes
watched on: 28 April 2017

I decided to return to the world of gay-themed shorts that can be found on Youtube – the first since All Over Brazil back in February. As usual, I didn’t know what it was going to be about, so a relative shot in the dark.

This one was apparently shown in Sundance, and its name refers to a place in New York state. It’s about a boy and his younger sister, and another boy. The film is short and scant on details – we are seeing a snapshot of a point in their lives – but it seems clear that the two boys had been involved at some point. One is a photographer, and one is a sportsman, and the film starts with a montage of them doing their separate activities. Away from the sister, they talk about the future, going to college, and guys that they might both get involved with.

Meanwhile the sister might also have a crush on the other boy, but she’s also perceptive enough to assume that he and her brother might be boyfriends. She seems excited by the idea.

It’s a nicely-shot film, and it has bright, bold colours. It leaves a lot to the imagination. And for once, although the boys are secretive and presumably closeted, the film is not about coming out, or the aftermath of coming out, or homophobia. So I liked that aspect of it. It’s more about atmosphere, and the uncertain transitional periods of the characters’ lives.

It can be watched at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3L3iHMZKMO0 Check it out and let me know what you think!

Film #285: Gerontophilia (2013)

director: Bruce LaBruce
language: English and a bit of French
length: 82 minutes
watched on: 20 April 2017

I’ve known about Bruce LaBruce for a long time as a provocateur. He likes to make out-there films. I haven’t actually seen any of the others all the way through – I have seen a bit of The Raspberry Reich, I think it was, which was released in a porno and non-porno version in the UK – all I remember is a guy sucking off a gun. I can’t remember why I didn’t finish it. Probably just didn’t have the time.

Anyway, I clocked this movie a while ago, but it wasn’t a high priority to buy or download. I borrowed it along with The Devils, Grey Gardens, and some others, from my friends.

It’s definitely not as provocative as The Raspberry Reich or LaBruce’s other pornos. It’s about a boy who has a fetish for old people, and starts a relationship with an old man he meets when volunteering in a nursing home. Adventures and drama ensue – people are initially unaccepting, and the main character has to fight these prejudices.

I wonder if the choice of old people is because regular same-sex relationships have become more accepted in the mainstream these days. LaBruce seems to be trying hard to be counter-cultural at every opportunity.

An interesting movie, but the ending was ultimately predictable, and the acting from the main character wasn’t the best. There are a few interesting points – I found it very Canadian, set in Montreal with a mixture of French and English at some points. Basically it was fine, but not something special or outstanding.

Film #275: A Single Man (2009)

director: Tom Ford
language: English and a bit of Spanish
length: 100 minutes
watched on: 17 March 2017

I think I knew this film would be sad when I watched it, but it was a major LGBT-themed release from a few years ago that I completely missed… and it would certainly be amiss for me not to watch it.

The film’s central character is played by Colin Firth, a gay man who lost his partner, but was not allowed to attend the funeral. After about a year of mourning, he decides to take his own life, and the film follows his final day, preparing to commit suicide, interspersed with flashbacks to his long relationship.

The film’s use of colour is very advanced – I especially like how things and people that spark something in Firth’s character come into sharp focus and high contrast primary colour. The movie starts out with a lot of sepia colouring and wood panelling in the background, and it shifts to more supple tones, and it seems to be Firth moving from boredom and depression to a different mindset. But at the same time, it becomes laboured as soon as Firth’s characters explains to Nicholas Hoult’s character, the young student who basically seduces him over the course of the movie, in detail what each primary colour represents. I thought it would be better to keep this more subtle.

The period of the movie, in the 1960s or 70s, is demonstrated very stereotypically, just like I mentioned with other recent things I’ve watched like High-Rise – it’s cold war broadcasts about Cuba and students smoking in class. It’s like a weird shorthand filmmakers have got.

Basically the whole premise is sad and depressing – I can’t even imagine what it must be to go through such a loss. But – and there are major spoilers coming up – I felt really cheated by the ending. After the movie puts a lot of effort to show Firth’s redemption and how he regains vigour and a sense of purpose in life by the end of the movie, just as he puts away the gun and decides not to commit suicide, he dies of a heart attack. I was livid – I did not just put in two hours of my time to watch the story of a man rediscover the beauty of life just to have him killed off by some lazy, barely-foreshadowed plot device. I do not need to hear another story about a depressed professor who discovers the inevitability of death.

So there’s a lot of good about this movie – it shows the struggle of gay men growing older and how we deal with the loss of life. It is composed very beautifully. It is a good character study. But that ending ruined it for me.

Film #272: Pink Narcissus (1971)

director: James Bidgood
language: silent (with some radio clips)
length: 65 minutes
watched on: 8 March 2017

It’s not the first time I’ve watched this, but I saw images of it online recently, and the desire to see it again was brimming for a while. The last time I saw it was back in 2008, quite a long time. As of writing this, it’s available on Youtube, so I recommend people search it out (but be careful, it does get very explicit).

I honestly think there are few more iconic films than this one, especially gay ones. Its visual style is very distinct, and there are plenty of imitators – the artists Pierre & Gilles, for example, or Bavo Defurne’s films that I watched last year.

Nominally, there’s a plot (it’s supposed to be the fantasies of a young male prostitute, but this is rather awkwardly tacked on to the film), but it’s more of a series of erotic images played to viewers with music – with no dialogue, presumably too expensive to record at the time. Apparently it took several years to make in the director’s New York apartment, which was extravagantly dressed up for all the different scenes. And the film was originally credited to “anonymous” – and no wonder, given the time period, and how explicit it gets.

But it’s a long tease – penises don’t show up on screen until the third act or so, and the moment is built up a lot. There’s a lot of thrusting and sex acts already, including a belly dancer waving his dick around under a thin cloth covering. A thinly-veiled penis indeed. I was almost surprised when they eventually lifted the veil, as it were.

And not all the images are sexual, although that’s obviously the main focus. One of my favourites is where the film, or the screen, seems to crack, but it zooms out to show it’s actually a spider’s web.

Now obviously I like watching guys naked or in very tightly-fitting clothing that outlines their butts – and Bobby Kendall, the main actor, is super cute – but it’s the music, perfectly matching the images, and the vivid colours that make this film work. There’s just something special about it.

Film #270-271: Boys (2014) + bonus short film

aka: Jongens
director: Mischa Kamp
language: Dutch and a bit of English
length: 76 minutes
watched on: 3 Mar 2017

I’ve been seeing pictures and gifs of this movie online for a while, and it looked good. It’s yet another gay coming-of-age movie. You’d think I’d have had enough of them by now, but I don’t get a whole lot of choice in the genre. Anyway, I bought it on DVD when I was back home.

This movie is basically harmless, and it can be fairly described as “nice” for most of its runtime. It tells the story of two teenage boys on the running team in a rural Dutch school who fall in love. Meanwhile, the main character, in deep denial, also gets a kind-of girlfriend to fit in with his best friend and his brother. Unlike his romance with the other boy, which develops slowly and naturally, this seems forced and rushed. Towards the end it comes down to a choice between the two.

The film has a good visual style. It’s clean and uses contrast and symmetry well. I noticed this watching it, and then the director said that’s what she was trying to achieve in the DVD extras – they wanted something that would be iconic enough that individual frames could be screenshotted easily.

The other important thing about the movie is that I think it’s the first “PG” rated gay film I’ve ever seen – and this was also very deliberate on the part of the director, as her target audience was young people just figuring out their sexual orientation. In terms of sexual content, it goes as far as kissing and making out, but not further. I guess some of the homoerotic exercise shots reminded me of Bavo Defurne’s work, which I watched last year, but they were also pretty tame.

Overall, I liked the visual style of the movie, but as I say, I need to take a break from movies about coming out. I think on the same day I watched this, I read That Article that’s been circulating about how gay men are all lonely and emotionally stunted from the experience of being in the closet (I partially agree with it, but it’s a very pessimistic article and has some faulty arguments/conclusions without advice on how to break such a cycle), and watching this film, about being in the closet and figuring oneself out, didn’t help my anxious feeling that day. Still, I’d recommend the movie, it’s basically harmless and optimistic, and feels really genuine and warm-hearted.

The DVD also came with a bonus short film:
Film #271: Even Cowboys Get to Cry (2013)
aka: Cowboys janken ook
director: Mees Peijnenberg
language: Dutch and a bit of French
length: 25 minutes

So I just waxed lyrical a bit about the importance of having a PG-rated gay movie… and the distributors kind of ruined that by packaging it with this 18-rated short, meaning that young teenagers trying to figure out their sexuality can’t even buy this movie legally in the UK. Like, this doesn’t concern me a lot personally, but it’s annoying. I can see why they added it, though – the main feature is a bit shorter than usual at 76 minutes.

The movie is connected to the other by dint of sharing two main actors – in Boys, they are the boyfriend and brother of the main character, here they are best friends and troublemakers. They have a “bromance” going on at the start of the movie and there are some scenes showing how close they are. But then, one of them starts a fight after drinking, and the other gets in a coma as a result of the ensuing violence. The rest of the movie is his rehabilitation and the first boy’s guilt – they sort of drift apart and reconcile at the end.

It’s not gay like the other movie, actually, although it’s very easy to read subtext into it. And the sexual content that gets it an 18 rating is pretty superfluous – firstly, there is a scene where one boy walks in on the other while he’s having sex with a girl, meant to show how they are inappropriately close, and the other is in the hospital, when we accidentally see his erect penis. I think these scenes are meant to titillate, and I think they could easily be extracted from the film.

A bit disappointing, but an interesting look at disability and rehabilitation.

Has anyone else seen this/these?

Film #267: Closet Monster (2015)

closet-monsterdirector: Stephen Dunn
language: English
length: 90 minutes
watched on: 9 Feb 2017

This was another big release of last year that I hadn’t seen – it’s been out in some film festivals and on DVD, and like Departure or Being 17, I’d seen a lot of gifs from the movie, or trailers, or whatever. It looked good even before watching it, just based on the visual style.

I didn’t really know what it was about – from the trailer, you can fairly assume it’ll be a gay coming-of-age story, which is true. So I swear blind I’m not seeking out movies where the protagonists have horribly dysfunctional relationships with their parents, or parents going through a divorce, or whatever (this follows pretty soon after Sing Street and Departure). It just keeps happening that way.

This particular protagonist is called Oscar (and his crush in the movie is called Wilder, of all the obvious allusions you could make), and in his childhood (the initial scenes of the movie) he witnesses a brutal homophobic attack, which leaves him pretty traumatized. A large part of the movie is him trying to overcome that trauma later in the movie, when he starts having sexual experiences – and the other part is him trying to distance himself from his parents. He is desperate to get a place in a college as a movie make-up artist, so that he can move out of his deadend middle-of-nowhere hometown (again, very similar to Sing Street). It’s filmed in Newfoundland – I can indeed imagine it must feel very far from anywhere else if you live there.

The director, Stephen Dunn, has been rightly compared to Xavier Dolan (I’ve only seen J’ai tué ma mère, a while ago, but that also has a dysfunctional parent-child relationship) – perhaps mainly because the films explore family relationships, but I imagine it’s also the visual style of the movie, which is frenetic and colourful. I really liked the use of colour in the movie – too many movies that I see these days are drab in comparison. It also has a nice electronic soundtrack, and I just had to find the music online after hearing it in the movie.

The exploration of the boy’s trauma is central to the movie, and I liked how it did this, sliding in and out of Oscar’s imagination. There are a lot of layers to how this is told, too – shifting the focus of blame and attribution a lot between him and the parents. The way it’s done also fits with the dreamy music, and the colourful mise-en-scène.

The relationship with the other boy is also developed naturally, but we’re left wondering how much of that too is in the main character’s imagination. That too doesn’t follow the usual plot trajectory of the standard gay coming-of-age film.

Ultimately, though, it’s the relationship with the parents that is most important in this film – neither of them ultimately come off well out of it. Fortunately, it didn’t feel quite as relevant to my own life as Departure, as there was a lot more emotional abuse going on from all sides. Obviously the father is the major conflict, but the mother often appears dismissive to her son’s interests and needs, and I was annoyed that she didn’t tell her son she loves him.

But despite all the doom and gloom, I think there is an optimistic heart to the film, including various comedic moments throughout. In the ambiguous ending, there is a sense that things are going to get better, despite the bleak setting and all the terrible stuff that happens up until then.

So generally I liked this. The only things I can think to say negatively are that the movie could be a bit over-the-top, too melodramatic at times, or that people interact in scripted and unnatural ways. That said, there are enough moments that struck me as very real, or directly comparable to my own experiences. But thankfully, not the emotional abuse or the visions of violence.

I would recommend this whole-heartedly. I’m glad I’m getting to watch a lot of good movies recently. Has anyone else seen this? I’d be interested to know what you think.

Film #249: Absent (2013)

absentdirector: Leandro Tadashi
language: English
length: 6 minutes
watched on: 20 Dec 2016
on vimeo: https://vimeo.com/61652698

I follow various blogs that post links to gay films to put on my watch list, which is where I found this one. It’s a simple drama that unfolds over the 5 minutes between a man and his late husband’s mother. We find out that he was denied access to the funeral, and understandably, he’s a bit reticent about letting her into his house – she wants to reminisce about her son, and claims it was her husband that was being homophobic, not her. He tells her that’s not the case, and that she should get out.

In the end she steals a photo of the two guys together, but swaps it for a handprint the husband made as a baby.

It should be a heartbreaking little story, particularly as the two guys are so young, but unfortunately the acting was too wooden to show this in great detail. I just didn’t quite believe in the characters. Oh well. I suspect it was made for a course, and in that it’s absolutely fine. I’ve linked it above if anyone wants to make their own impressions and conclusions.

Film #246: Alkali, Iowa (1995)

alkaliiowadirector: Mark Christopher
language: English
length: 17 minutes
watched on: 2 December 2016

I was linked to this on Tumblr or something, I guess, and it found its way onto my hard-drive. Not sure if I ripped it from Vimeo or from a torrent file. Anyway, you can watch it on Vimeo if you google the title. I got round to watching it when my boyfriend asked to watch something, but I had to go to work the next day, so something short was best.

It’s about a guy growing up on corn farms in Iowa and realizing he’s gay. Then through a roundabout series of events he discovers that his late dad was also secretly gay, and the blonde guy that sometimes comes to a nice picnic spot near the farm was his father’s lover once upon a time. Unfortunately, granddad is homophobic and draws a gun on the blonde guy.

It was a nice little movie. The corn fields are shot very nicely, although bleakly. The various family relationships portrayed were realistic.

It’s not the most interesting, however. Not much happens in the movie except that the granddad gets angry at the son for prying. But it’s short and it’s a curious watch, so if you’re at all interested I’d go for it! Let me know what you think!

Film #242: Spooners (2013)

spoonersdirector: Bryan Horch
language: English
length: 13 minutes
watched on: 28 October 2016
Boys on Film 11 (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)

This movie was the last short film on “Boys on Film 11”. It’s almost aggressively a comedy movie. It starts with tinkly Spanish-sounding music to let us know we’re in for a funny ride and has a bunch of one-liners. But ultimately I wasn’t so impressed with it. However, it was a nice ending to the series – as with the last series, it was nice to end on a high note.

The premise is that two guys are in the market for a new mattress, their ancient futon having gotten uncomfortable to lie on, and stained. One of the guys wants to keep it, as he’s grown attached to a stain that resembles both Che Guevara and Jesus. Ew. Anyway, the other guy is desperate to get a new mattress and not so desperate to out himself in public, so he tries to go along to the bed shop in secret, but when he gets there, the sales rep makes him use a special talking bed-choosing machine/app/robot thing, which promptly outs him to the entire store when it forces him to select the gender of both participants. This leads to the scene above where everyone crowds around offering their own opinions on everything, and to increasingly cringy situations when the app asks him to choose what sexual position he takes, and so on.

OK, it was funny. But I also thought it was trying too hard, and I thought the app thing was a silly conceit. I think there’s a point there about companies asking invasive questions to their customers, perhaps, but it also came across as Luddite in its treatment of modern apps. I also watched the trailer and the Kickstarter video, and they had all the same jokes in them.

I did like all the other customers with their ridiculous opinions, though, and I thought the two guys acted well as a couple together, so it’s not all bad.

As for the rest of this series of films, it’s been good in general, and I think the quality and variety on this DVD is absolutely commendable – perhaps there is more variety than the older DVD. I think every film is a different genre, and then some. But none of them are very outstanding, if I’m honest. There are a couple of more notable films from the other DVDs. It’s not going to stop me watching, though. There’s a certain level of comfort in it.