Friday, June 29, 2007

Night of the Bad Film

Or, as my classmate exclaimed, "That's two hours of my life I'll never get back!"

Last Tuesday we screened the cinematic wonder, "Daughters of Darkness." This movie was so bad, the only redeeming factors were the laughs we got from the really cheap effects and sound track. Ray picked this film as one of the best of the genre, however, which is the "Lesbian Vampire" flicks.
The Lesbian Vampire Genre developed first in Europe. in the 1930's . Many of the vampress characters are based on one Hungarian Countess, Elisabeth Bathory (17th century), became very infamous for taking the lives of her young virgin maidservants and drinking their blood in order to preserve her own youth. True story.
Film classes often examine such titles as Vampyros Lesbos- Die Erben des Dracula (1971) and La Novia Ensangrenada (1971) Black Sunday (1960) Le Viol Vampire (1967) La Vampire Nue (1969) all portray violent sado-masochistic lesbian images. But although these films were made specifically for the straight audience, they represent an alternative from the shame-full victim or the cruel butch bitch as lesbians were usually portrayed. Within this genre, the vampress is a "merging two kinds of sexual outlaws... more than simply a negative stereotype... at one an image of death and as object of desire..." (Vampires and Violets, A. Weiss)

We also screened the love scene from The Hunger (1983) between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. I'm sure you all remember that one. It was actually very hot. Although reportedly, Miss Deneuve refused to shoot the scene and they used a body double. What a prude!

On Thursday we screened extended clips demonstrating the device of camp, and really delved into the thin muddy line between camp and stereotype.
The Gay Deceivers was , I suppose, a comedic attempt to reverse the situation of gays having to always pass in a straight world. I found the movie offensive and homophobic. Others thought that, as it portrayed a couple of straight guys posing as gay lovers to get out of the draft, it shed light on the kind of discrimination gays face every day, and even flawed as it is, it does show the gay men as the ones who have the "normal" life and the two straight bunglers have all the problems. OK, I'll give it that. But I'm not convinced that in 1969 the director was so enlightened. If anyone knows Bruce Kessler, could you ask him for me? Thanks.

Reform School Girls (1986) however, is full on camp, and highly enjoyable as such. What a perfect laugh to watch Wendy O Williams as a jail-house bitch who whacks around the innocent newbies while dressed scantily in g-string and big 80's hair. "It's time you put on your Fuck You boots & start kicking! " This really bad film gets 2 thumbs up!

And finally, we have Car Wash (1975). Why? you might ask...
This film is actually pretty amazing when you think about it. It manages to take stereotypes and apply camp, all the while treating it's "wacky cast of characters" with dignity and grace. Antonio Fargas plays Lindy, a very femme gay guy, who is not really teated as anyone special or outside of the other characters. He gets teased and he teases back. He's not besotted with guilt or mental illness or social disorders, he doesn't get killed or commit suicide. He's a real person, at least as real as any of the characters are. Besides, it's the first time you ever heard this line:
"Honey, I'm more man than you'll ever be and more woman than you'll ever get."
Oh, and did I mention the soundtrack? What's not to love?

Previous post Boys in the Band

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Boys in the Band

OK, apparently I'm the only person on earth who hasn't seen this one. William Friedkin's 1970 film about a birthday party gone bad.
While it seems most people were off-put by the films vicious dialogue, I was drawn to the process of the characters being ruthlessly stripped down to the barest truths of their being. The snipey barbs didn't bother me so much- I lived with a lot of New Yorkers in the late 70's and the bon mots seem familiar. Not to say it's not brutal. But anyone who's been in therapy can see the link between finding the truth and accepting it.

I dreamed about the movie all night long. It's haunting. The character of Michael is the cruelest of all. He's also the only one who drinks booze and refuses the joint that gets passed around. He should have partaken because he really needed to mellow out! Maybe I could write my paper on how this is a pro-marijuana subplot. Just kidding. But Michael serves a the instigator who rips down everyone's carefully built walls of protection, even his own. and in the end he did what we all have done, go back to the familiar. So I can't really hold it against him. It's more true that way.
Yesterday I did some easy research. Out of the 9 characters in the film, 7 originated their roles in the play when it was first produced in 1968. And sadly, 6 of these men have died. Only Peter White (Alan), Lawrence Luckinbill (Hank) and Reuben Greene (Bernard) are still with us.
One interesting note: Keith Prentice (Larry) went on to play Morgan Collins in the cult classic "Dark Shadows" TV horror/soap series.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Love = Death in the 60's

Last night’s film was The Children’s Hour, a 1961 film by William Wyler. The story of how this movie came to be is very interesting. Wyler had just come off the great success of Ben Hur, and was probably the most powerful director in Hollywood at the time. He could have his pick of projects; he could pick anything he wanted. He chose to remake an earlier film, Those Three, based on a play by Lillian Hellman.
By 1967 the Hayes Code had been in full swing for 33 years. The Hayes code forbid any portrayal of homosexuality on film under the following clause:
3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.
Homosexuality was considered to be against “ natural law.” Portrayal of homosexuality, or even it’s frank discussion were prohibited. The Code is actually very interesting reading—the elite were very afraid of this new medium, film-- they could not control the unprecedented access of the “masses” and felt they had to dictate the ideas that would be put into the heads of the common folk.
Anyway, Wyler was able to challenge the code and get it changed to allow homosexuality… as long as “care, discretion and restraint” were used. In actuality this meant that the gay character had to die. Which also meant that the gay character had to be troubled, unhappy, tortured and ashamed. The Children’s Hour is regarded as a milestone film in the history of Queer Film, but how much of an "advance" is debatable.
I’m not sure how to respond to this film. I try to watch it through the eyes of an adult of that era, seeing and hearing frank dialog on homosexuality for the very first time on American film. But it’s so over the top, so pointedly melodramatic, it just goes two steps beyond what I can grasp as any kind of realistic reaction to what happened to them... I just don’t buy it. And I absolutely loathe the extended close-ups of actors contorting their faces in order to convey the emotion of the scene… Uggg.
It’s an interesting film and worth seeing if only for the historical value. Plus Shirley MacLaine is incredibly cute!

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Queer Film Studies

For the next 6 weeks, WOC will be chronicling my current class-- "The History of Homosexuality in Film."
Our first feature:
Madchen in Uniform
Madchen in Uniform Talking films had just been invented and this is a fascinating early film (1931) that tells the story of a love affair between a teacher and student trapped in a militaristic boarding school. Blooming between the destruction of the Prussian fascist regime and the rise of Nazi Germany, the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) is known for it's liberal atmosphere, and produced a wealth of provocative, thoughtful and experimental films that were embraced throughout Europe. Homosexuality was open and accepted, especially in Berlin, the center of this artistic movement.

Although the central story of lesbian love is certainly intriguing, the film is easily interpreted in anti-fascist and anti-authoritarian terms. The forbidden love is portrayed as a revolutionary gesture and unites all the girls in their struggle against the oppressive Prussian headmistress of the school. The incredible lighting design makes the boarding school into a prison, both of mind and body, forcing conformity and obedience when the hearts of the young students want to soar freely. Innovative and masterful use of sound and camera works marks the film as truly avant-garde. In addition, a woman wrote the screenplay, a woman directed the film and the cast is made up entirely of women. The film is ground-breaking on so many levels.

The film is as moving and fresh today as I'm sure it was at the time. It enjoyed wide release throughout Europe. When it came to the USA, the Hayes office forced cuts of suggestive scenes and an alternate ending where the protagonist kills herself. Which is very interesting, given the anti-fascist theme of the movie, and how here in the US we should be supportive those types of things. Better to support a fascist dictatorship than a have bunch of lesbians running around, I guess. Madchen is a wonderful and important film. I give it 2 thumbs up!

Our second film was Victim (1961), a British film about the gay men fighting against the torment of blackmail.
During this time in the UK, male homosexuality was illegal and gay men were actively prosecuted by the police. This law made it possible for a whole industry to grow around the practice of photographing men in compromising circumstances and blackmailing them. In Victim, Dirk Bogarde plays a prominent young lawyer who, although married, is gay, or perhaps bisexual. His lover hangs himself in a jail cell rather than bow to pressure of the police to name names and Bogarde becomes embroiled in a battle to bring the blackmailers to justice, even though it means that he loses his career and marriage.

This is a film that presents Borgarde's protagonist in true heroic light and portrays the other gay characters as rounded and complex. Most men at the time would rather pay the money than suffer the humiliation of yet another trip to prison, and when they can no longer meet the blackmailer's demands, the results are tragic. The main character stands up against these criminals, and his very modern wife, who has always known exactly where his cards lay, vows to support him whatever happens. Part mystery, part crime story, all social commentary- another truly ground breaking and excellent film that loses nothing to the passage of decades.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


We went to Oregon for a week to scout out a future home. Here's some random pics, not in any kind of order, really. We drove as far north as Wenachee, Washington, then over to Wallawalla, WA, then back west to Portland and southward home down the 5. Generally I fell in love with Oregon. Of course it's warm and sunny and beautiful now. But just knowing that the summers are so glorious, I think I could make it through the winters.
And although we all think of Oregon as rainy, to the east of the mountain range it's very much like the deserts of Nevada, complete with sage and tumbleweeds. One species of tree in indigenous to eastern Oregon is the Oregon Shoe Tree....

Yes, there is was, growing so tall and proud along Highway 97, north of Bend. I shouted "Terry turn the car around!!!" He snarked, "Why? It's just a SHOE tree!" Like there would be another one down the road somewhere.... LOL! Anyway we did turn around in order to snap these shots. Loved it!

Towards the end of the trip we stopped in the little town of Cottage Grove for lunch and drove right by Territorial Seeds. It was another "Terry! Turn the car around!" moment.... Wouldn't you?

Terry's friends live in Dallas, OR where they have a beautiful yard, and in the back they have all kinds of fruit trees and veggies growing. Up there the Japanese maples grow like crazy! Here is one she has to cut back just like a hedge. I never knew it, but the leaves that don't get sun stay green. Hmmmm....

Maple samaras. Pretty aren't they?


All these plants that don't do well in San Francisco- Azaleas growing wild, Hostas everywhere.

This is the entrance to the Oregon Garden, east of Salem in Silverton. They are hiring gardeners right now... hmmmmm We got there so late, it was getting ready to close. But the grounds are really attractive, and there are lots of folks planting and pruning.

OK, this is a crappy photo, but these are fields of Iris. There are HUGE nurseries here, east of Salem.

One plant that we have in common is this broom-- I'm assuming it's the noxious Scotch variety, absolutely overtaking the areas that have been clear cut. By the time I found my camera (it had slid between the seats) we had passed areas completely inundated with it. The hills south or Dallas OR are very scarred by clear cutting, and it doesn't look like much attempt has been made to replant these hills.

Anyone like barns?

How about old gas stations?

We had a great road trip and have decided to make the move. Now we just have to find jobs....
On the way home we passed through a storm and got to see a beautiful sunset just south of the Oregon-Cali border.

Mt. Shasta to dusk on the way back home.