It's Labor Day, and I'm feeling fairly useless letting Bumbershoot entirely pass me by. To alleviate the guilt I feel for my indoorsiness on a day when most people are outdoors en masse, I've decided to slap up the private-culture-chronicle post that's been building in my word processor for weeks. This only catches us up to a couple of weeks ago, but...


I hope this won’t be misconstrued as shallow expression of indie self-righteousness, but as I watch Hollywood blockbuster after Hollywood blockbuster go down in flames, I can’t help feeling an overwhelming sense of Schadenfreude. I should point out that I have little to nothing against the blockbusters themselves, nor do I feel that all films that suffer from gigantism of the budget are equalized simply by the mind-boggling price tags attached to their production. I haven’t seen any of them except the smooth but not all that extraordinary Matrix Reloaded and Seabiscuit (see below), not even out of Ang Lee Hulk curiosity. I have, however, seen the cynical, depressing and relentless ad campaigns, the terminal sequelitis, the way the studios virtually demand that 14 to 34-year-old boys flock to their dubious productions. I’m not naive enough to expect the studios to say to themselves, “Today is the last day we try to pull the blinders over tender consumer eyes; from now on, we shall concern ourselves with quality above all else!” But hopefully the poor summer performance will direct those killer business instincts into something that offers a bit more understanding and breathing room to the beleagured souls trying to make non-insulting movies.

I feel much the same way about the music industry. When I hear about the supposedly alarming sales drop-offs for the “big releases,” alarm is the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, sometime early next year when our beloved pop-music biz gravely announces what are sure to be record-low sales, I’ll be cordially inviting each and every one of you, my charming readers, to a gala celebration commemorating the blessed event. We’ll start a bonfire with Billboards and roast Celine Dion discs over the coals. Bloat is really so unattractive in our mass-media conglomerates; a good nip and tuck will do wonders for them, I’m sure.

-Seabiscuit went through my eye sockets and ear canals, but there wasn’t enough there to register in my brain. The only thing that alleviated the unbroken monotony of this “can I have my Oscar yet?” project was admiring the actors’ efforts to breathe some life into the damn thing. That and marveling at Elizabeth Banks and Parker Posey possibly being separated at birth, Spy magazine style. I had to look very, very closely and even then... Banks bears an uncanny resemblance to Posey.

-I had my strongest disagreement with the late, great Pauline Kael in a long while, over the also late, great Hal Ashby’s 1979 film Being There, starring Peter Sellers and Shirley Maclaine. Kael called this really wonderful film a “dim, prolonged one-joke satire” (in a review wherein she compares King of Comedy unfavorably- dissing one of my old favorites by using it to damn one of my new favorites with faint praise. Hmmph!!). She entirely misses the point; Ashby didn’t have an ironic or mean bone in his body, and Kael’s interpretation (that Sellers’s character has been made a dimwit by television) is laughable, since it’s very clear that Sellers is the hero of the film. He plays a charming simpleton gardener who loves to watch TV (he seems to prefer children’s programming) but, after his employer dies and he can no longer live in a house which he apparently hasn’t been outside of for decades, he fortuitously falls in with the Washington elite. Hilarious and endearing misunderstandings ensue. In many ways, it’s a better film than Harold and Maude, but it’s simultaneously very loose and very involving in the same way, with the beautiful framing and rhythms that are the most identifiable Ashby trademarks. The ending may be a bit much for some people, but I found it very sweet. It was a rental, but I plan to get a copy for my own library soon, in addition to seeking out other Ashby titles I haven’t seen (Kael also hated Coming Home, which I now would really like to see).

-The Cockettes. A documentary about a troupe of San Franciscan hippie drag queens who had a minor heyday from the late sixties through the early seventies. The film consists mostly of footage from their decadent, intermittently clever stage shows and films combined with present-day interviews. I was happy to be introduced to this group (though too many had that vague, inarticulate, wild-eyed craziness that makes the sixties and hippie-dom in particular so easy to dismiss), as will anyone with an interest in the history and mileposts of sex ‘n gender defiance. Still, it contrasted these genderfuckers with their East Coast counterparts (the Candy Darlings and Holly Woodlawns of Warhol’s set), and it was striking how much more appealing the East Coasters were; the Cockettes somewhat resentfully remembered them as having too much ambition and trying too hard, but the glimpses we get show us that there’s nothing wrong with putting a little effort into your act if you can bring it off like a Candy Darling (who is, of course, pictured on a Smiths sleeve, one of the highest compliments that can be given to an unheralded star of yesteryear).

-Curtis Hanson’s 8 Mile. I don’t like Eminem, but this was enjoyable. It was really a classic underdog-type story (which I don’t mind at all, and since there’s forever an underclass, it’ll always be relevant) updated to the present day, where the ticket out of desperate poverty lies in the rap game, or at least so it seems to many underclass youth. Eminem plays an underdog amongst underdogs. It’s interesting. Brittany Murphy is mostly wasted in an inconsequential role, Kim Basinger is surprisingly passable (as in L.A. Confidential- perhaps Hanson has a way with her). Overall, enough flaws to place it at least a notch below Hanson’s really good recent efforts (Confidential and especially Wonder Boys). It was aptly shot, with lots of handheld for immediacy; it’s really not bad, definitely worth the rental.

-David Cronenberg’s Spider, starring Ralph Fiennes as a man just released from a mental institution into a halfway house. He's haunted by his memories, which neither he nor we are sure he can trust. Another keeper. A quiet mystery of identity and memory, and that’s all that can really be said about it; it’s at once too complex and too elegantly simple for words. A fascinating supplement features Cronenberg talking about how ugly and painful it was to get this $10 million dollar film made. This, along with the happy failure of so many over-$100 million budgeted films as discussed above, furthers my case for a more lenient Hollywood capitalism, because $10 million dollars is nothing to these people, and it’s very sad to hear David Cronenberg talk about the years it took and the embarrassing financial situations he had to go through (at one point, the crew couldn’t be paid because the money was tied up, one of the many hassles of piecemeal international funding) to get this relatively small amount of money. Miranda Richardson shines in multiple roles. Highly recommended.

-Phillip Noyce’s The Quiet American. Michael Caine- always game for anything- comes off exceptionally well here, and Noyce is to Brendan Fraser what Hanson is to Kim Basinger. An embittered English journalist (Caine as a fictionalized but clearly aubiographical Graham Greene, upon whose novel the film is based) in bears witness to the burgeoning American involvement as he vies with a younger American man (Fraser) for the love of a Vietnamese woman. There’s plenty of interest going on with the intersection of the personal and the political; Greene was excellent at foregrounding the individual and the plot while never shorting the bigger picture. This combined with Neil Jordan’s lovely End of the Affair makes me want to read more Greene. One has to wonder, though: Would he have approved of the cheesy use of slo-mo that ever-so-slightly mars both films?

-Midnight Cowboy, in memory of John Schlesinger. I really should’ve rented A Kind of Loving or Darling, which I’ve never seen, because though Cowboy does have a certain charm and isn’t a terrible film, it’s dated much more badly than Billy Liar. Hearing Jon Voight’s cocky-disguising-sad Texas twang and seeing him learn how cruel the world can be as he sees his dreams of becoming a successful hustler dashed by reality just made me think of how much better at this sort of thing The Last Picture Show was; Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges in that film are both this character, and they’re a lot more well-developed and interesting. The only thing Cowboy has on Picture Show is its frankness in sexual matters, which seem pretty tame (and, when it comes to the gays, fairly pitiful) to modern eyes. There are a lot of psychedelic crazy-editing scenes, dream sequences, flashbacks, etc., which wears thin. Hoffman is pretty good and funny when he’s allowed, but overall, it’s quite overrated. It's most memorable to see a young Bob Balaban as a nervous student begging Voight to let him give him a blow job...

-Alain Berliner’s Ma Vie En Rose. I remember really liking this when it first came out (I saw it at the Portland International Film Festival in ‘97, I believe), and it mostly holds up. Really, it would be difficult for a movie about a little boy (Ludovic, our protagonist, is 7) who cross-dresses, inhabits an imaginary dream-world based around his favorite doll, and fantasizes about marrying another little boy not to be interesting, and Berliner avoids blowing it about 95% of the time (there are some stiff moments and poor music choices). The reactions are, unfortunately, quite believable (even the stock disapproving/timorous/religious neighbors are spared from caricature). The ending is a bit pat. A good movie, though. To Berliner’s eternal shame, he skipped along to Hollywood for his next film, Passion of Mind, with the execrable Demi Moore, which was to be his last distributed feature.

-I finished off the Antoine Doinel cycle with the final installment, 1980’s Love on the Run. Leaud is sexy as ever, and even though it does suffer from the same thing as flashback sitcom episodes- a lazy over-reliance on clips from previous entries, excessive focus on the past- it’s still charmingly bittersweet and light on its feet. Truffaut was apparently unhappy with it, but... maybe he was just through with the character once and for all, and nothing could have satisfied him. It’s hardly the joyless experience you’d expect from Truffaut’s attitude as expressed in the DVD supplements, however; it still has the melancholy optimism that makes the ever-romantic, ever-hapless Doinel character so endearing and, in his own modest way, iconic.

-Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, including the post-credits “bonus” (and, it would seem, original and superior) ending. It was an interesting flick, very involving; I actually liked the bonus horror of our characters having to deal with a fledgling patriarchal military bureaucracy, and so soon after the bio-warfare apocalypse! The visuals are right-on, very nicely composed and framed in that on-the-go way, and further proof (after the Lars von Trier films, julien donkey-boy, The Anniversary Party, etc.) that digital video is a visual-aesthetically viable medium. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen and enjoyed Trainspotting- not since it’s theatrical release, in fact- and I’d be curious to revisit that film and see what the present-day me makes of it. I don’t think I’d waste my time on A Life Less Ordinary or, especially, The Beach again in the foreseeable future; the pain is too fresh. Maybe Boyle’s output over the next decade or so will eventually inspire me to somehow see them through less jaded eyes. 28 Days Later stands, for the moment, as Danny Boyle’s best film.

-Tom Tykwer’s Heaven. My favorite of his films, though I do count myself as a Run Lola Run fan. Giovanni Ribisi and Cate Blanchett star as integrity-filled lovers on the run from corruption. It’s a really beautiful love story, and sexy, too; at one point, their appearances blur, so that they’re both these androgynously identical lithe spirits in buzzcuts, jeans, and t-shirts, exuding human (as opposed to male or female) sexuality from every pore. It ranks with Far from Heaven (confusing, that) and Punch-Drunk Love as one of my very favorite films of last year, but it was sexier and more of a surprise. There are obviously many films released that I really wish would receive more attention and support from that nebulous, recalcitrant thing called the public, but this is probably the most unfairly ignored (when it comes to the notice it got in proportion to its excellence) of the bunch.

-Stephen Frears’s My Beautiful Laundrette. Confirms my limited view (I haven’t seen the interesting-looking The Grifters, apparently his masterpiece) that Frears is overrated. I didn’t hate High Fidelity by any means, but I really didn’t love it, either, which is not the expected reaction if you love music and are of the generation they called X. It was one of those instances where a great many people whose opinion I respect loved something, and I couldn’t be on board (it was not as severe as the Baz Luhrmann situation, however). Laundrette was just too oddly low-key for me (I think that’s my nice way of saying slack and amateurish), uneven in tone and in the actor’s performances. The dialogue and scenarios seemed random, disconnected, and irrational- not a good impression when a film so obviously wants to be a piece of natural realism. I’m sure the disappointment wouldn’t have been so stinging had this movie not been built up as the preeminent intelligent gay movie. Honestly, every thwarted expectation I had of the film was already fulfilled by Hattie McDaniel’s Beautiful Thing, which I intend to re-watch quite soon.

-The Last Temptation of Christ. The first time I ever heard of Martin Scorsese was in 1988, when I was 12 and my mother, lord love ‘er, was staunchly opposed to this new movie that all of her right-wing conservative-Christian newsletters had informed her was “blasphemous.” If memory serves, she even circulated a petition that was to be presented to the Cineplex Odeon Corp., demanding that they not exhibit it. Fifteen years on, I see the film and am stunned by its reverent spirit of theological exploration. The different but equally intense needs of Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader to question the received wisdom of strict religion is all over it, but there wouldn’t seem to be any cause for defensiveness on the part of believers, since it’s clearly a work of what we think of as philosophy, not what’s generally thought of as religion. Schrader’s script, based (apparently quite selectively) on Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel, is blatantly an interpretation of Jesus. Schrader uses Jesus’s life as myth, as a jumping-off point to delve into issues of ideology, responsibility, and humanity. The “last temptation” is nothing more than a desire on the part of Jesus to live a quiet, anonymous, “normal” life, to escape the demands of his father. This is played out in the film as a dream and, in the dream, as a temptation of the devil. So, the ocmplaints of the On a secular and humane level (which seems to be the intended level, if not the level it was received on), it’s about our sometimes tortuously conflicting obligations to our ideals and the mundane, selfish obligations of being human and living our lives. It’s a vibrant film that has Scorsese’s trademark heat ,which does, as usual, threaten to go over the top at times, but it transcends its reputation as a mere provocation or curiosity. It may be too forthright and limited in its search for meaning, but still, it does mean something.

-The Dave Gahan concert August 16 at Seattle’s legendary Paramount Theatre. Opening act Kenna was bland, as I expected after fair warning from co-attendee and fellow blogger Jamie S. Rich. I haven’t purchased Gahan’s solo album or really even bothered to listen to it; this was pure nostalgia, including what seemed about half-and-half Gahan/Depeche Mode numbers. Dare I admit my teenage crush on Gahan (this was before his reckless veering towards grunge grossness around 1993, when his cute, mildly chubby clean-shavenness gave way to unwashed, stringy hair and emaciation, which he’s now thankfully recovered from)? I’m afraid this was my main reason for going to the show, and my memories of the teenage me weren’t disappointed by the sex-oozing Eurotrash factor- the pants were tight, the shirt came off right away and stayed off the entire night. I was surprised at how Jagger-like Gahan’s dancing often is, a sort of campy, hip-swaying strut. I don’t count Depeche Mode among my very favorite bands any more, but there was a time that they seemed so very much a part of my personal zeitgeist... so it was still a real rush to hear “A Question of Time” and (especially) “Never Let me Down Again,” which of course was rife with subversive homoeroticism to my teenage mind.

Speaking of those pop-singer crushes, my current Pop Sex Object of choice is Conor Deasy, singer/lyricist/songwriter for the immensely appealing The Thrills. Image-wise, he's an Irish version of an American southwesterner (this definitely comes across in the music, too); he makes me finally understand the whole Urban Cowboy appeal.


Still too occupied by the assignments to dive into the deep river of movies viewed, but here's another review written for Just Out (probably to be published some time in September).

Maria's Wedding and Too Much Hopeless Savages

If, like me, your approach to the world of comics and graphic novels is that of a curious dilettante, the obsessive, feverish relationship many diehard comics fans appear to have to the swords ‘n sorcerers/rigorously-paradigmed superhero “genre” comics can seem impenetrable, if not downright amusing (I’ve had friends in the business confirm to me that when the writers of The Simpsons created the smug, insular “Comic Book Guy” character, it was only a very slight exaggeration).

But then there are the other comics- the most famous examples are probably Peter Bagge’s Hate and Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus series- that offer more expansive, relatable themes to those of us outside the stereotyped comics niche. Oni Press, an internationally admired comic publishing house based in Portland, has a proud history of furthering this non-fantastical vein; many of their books center around recognizably human characters, and their best releases feature poignant, dramatic story lines that leaven a deceptively simple visual style with a certain punkish (or perhaps New Wave-ish) irreverence and a healthy dose of kitchen-sink pathos.

Two recent Oni offerings are of particular interest for placing queer story lines within their panels: Maria’s Wedding, a graphic novel written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir and illustrated by Jose Garibaldi, and Hopeless Savages, a series written by Jen van Meter and illustrated by a rotating group of artists, most recently Christine Norrie.

Savages is the ongoing episodic chronicle of the lives of an ultraprogressive yet structurally traditional punk rock family (the dad’s punk moniker is Dirk Hopeless, the mom’s named Nikki Savage; hence, the coolest hyphenated name ever). Twitch, the second-youngest Hopeless-Savage, is gay. Twitch has apparently had his share of boy trouble, though the latest Savages miniseries, Too Much Hopeless Savages, finds him more or less happily in love with a young Asian-American man named Henry Shi. Claude Shi, Henry’s brother, is dating another Hopeless-Savage, Twitch’s older sister Arsenal (only in the most modern families do monikers like these come into play), and we follow the four along on a trip to Hong Kong, where they receive troubling psychic predictions from Henry’s mystical-soothsaying great-grandmother and are caught in the web of some sort of secret-agent sabotage presumably to be explained in the rest of the series (this is the first of four installments). The zesty, textured drawings, lively story lines, and unique characterizations comprise an enticing mixture of those usually oxymoronic elements, hipness and warmth.

An additional note: Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero, a recently published compilation of the second Savages series, is highly recommended to neophytes; it offers not only the necessary context for maximal appreciation of Too Much Hopeless Savages, it also contains a tender passage wherein Twitch tries to help his sister, who’s having love troubles, by sharing with her what he knows about boys.

Maria’s Wedding opens with a flashback to the Unitarian commitment ceremony of Joseph Pirrelli- the older brother of our protagonist, twentysometing Frankie Pirelli- to his partner, Matthew. Frank and Matthew’s nontraditional union has caused a rift in the extended Italian-American Pirelli clan, many of whom disapproved or refused to attend, and is a major source of tension as they gather for the titular wedding of Maria, Frankie’s cousin, to a man of dubious personality.

All of the action takes place on the day of Maria’s wedding, which makes for a disciplined, focused, short/sweet narrative while still managing to vividly encompass each nuclear unit of the vast Pirelli clan. Each character is charmingly drawn, and there’s an evocative black-and-white elegance throughout. Maria’s Wedding has a fine, cinematic style and sense of framing; it’s like Raging Bull as a family-drama comic book.

It would be too simplistic to say that Hopeless Savages and Maria’s Wedding are “comics for adults,” which would imply that there isn’t a sizable contingent of adults, including a noticeable faction in the queer community, drawn to the labyrinthine mythologizing of the always-popular superheroes, cyberpunks, and mystical odysseys. They are, however, a fresh way of getting at the things a good novel or dramatic film has traditionally given us: The puzzlements and exhilarations of people as they actually are and the setbacks, victories, and romance of life as it’s actually lived.

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