I'll soon be putting up the continued backlog of movie, book music, etc. experiences/observations. Until then, a couple more Just Out reviews... the usual qualification applies (i.e., don't be surprised if the print version has alterations or deletions). As usual, I'm not entirely certain of the date they'll be published (the film review is, I believe, due for a "sooner" publication).

Ibiza Dream

The Spanish island/tourist spot Ibiza is famous for its nightlife and polyrhythmic house music, which launched a giant (and, if you ask me, unfortunate) international music trend over a decade ago. It‘s Europe’s version of Palm Beach, a playland where hard-bodied, empty-headed young adults can “go wild,” as those videos they sell on TV put it. With this in mind, the title of Igor Fioravanti’s film, just released to DVD, is misleading, but that’s probably for the best, since it means that it is not, for the most part, a movie about frolicking, Ecstasy-soaked disco/beach bunnies.

Instead, the yearning and ennui-ridden twentysomethings of Ibiza Dream- spiritually seeking straight (in all senses of the word) guy Nacho, hedonistic, bisexual Carlos, and restless, charitable, also bisexual Chica- experience Ibiza as the same sort of existentialist backdrop the French found in Northern Africa: a vast, beautiful landscape where anything goes and where one can get a clear view of what place, exactly, human beings have in the universe (hint: foregrounded against deserts, mountains, and oceans, we homo sapiens can appear awfully tiny and lost).

It all looks more compelling than it actually is. There are few things more cinematic than doomed, beautiful young people indifferent to imposed sexual, societal, and interpersonal boundaries (that’s one of the reasons that Rebel Without a Cause is still moving), but Fioravanti’s style is too glib, his characters too flat and mechanically drawn. Nacho, Carlos, and Chica spend a lot of time posing for sore-thumb slo-mo and fast-mo whims, which feel like nothing more than cynical concessions to the MTV-generation demographic; it makes them seem barely present enough to carry the weight of their little conflicts- which sometimes resemble that of a conventional love triangle- let alone grapple with the big ones, particularly The Meaning of Life. Fioravanti’s loud camera and editing tricks appear tacky once you realize that he’s trying to philosophize with them; some scenes play painfully like an Antonioni film filtered through the Baywatch style.

That’s not to say that Ibiza Dream is a total failure unworthy of even a casual DVD rental. It’s just that Fioravanti lacks the restraint and discipline his big, noble ideas call for, or maybe he’s simply bitten off more conceptual loftiness than his sensibility can chew. Fioravanti does have a good sense of composition, and that, along with cinematographer Miguel Leal’s crisp use of light and color, certainly gives the viewer something interesting to look at. Ibiza Dream is, however, exactly the sort of halfway-there film that can make one wonder, even while admiring the visual proficiency, if that’s really enough.

Man About Town by Mark Merlis

If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if the writers of The West Wing were to concoct a story line involving a gay character, Man About Town, a new novel by Mark Merlis, may partially address that curiosity.

Merlis’s story concerns Joel, a middle-aged Congressional adviser. Sam, Joel’s partner of fifteen years, has left him, he’s being recruited to work on a bill that subtly yet viciously discriminates against AIDS patients, and he’s haunted by memories of his first erotic experience: A pubescent glimpse of a male swimming-trunks model in the back of an Esquire-like magazine. Joel neurotically attempts to reenter the dating scene, which he found forbidding enough the first time around; Joel feels the heat at work; Joel’s curiosity about the ad leads him to instigate a crazy search for the nameless swimwear model of yore. Joel is, for most of the book, floundering- not very bravely, but often very comically- through an unforeseen mid-life crisis.

The most interesting dimension of the book is that West Wing part: Clearly, Merlis’s own background as a policy analyst informs the book’s realistic glimpse into the inner workings of our capital city’s corridors of power and Joel’s conflict over doing a job requiring political impartiality, even when it means participating in something morally troubling.

The other elements are less scrutable. Joel and his friends are, as described by Merlis, a pernicious element: Self-satisfied, superficial, affluent, aging white gay men possessed of endless self-absorption, tiresome cattiness, and even a not-insignificant touch of racism. Joel seems to suffer from terminal boomer-itis; sexual orientation aside, all the broadest, most unfair generalizations one could make regarding that generation- smugness, self-aggrandizement coupled with self-pity, an obsessive and graceless pursuit of youth, a fixation on status and income, impotent liberal guilt- are bountifully present.

Countermanding our protagonist’s personality is Merlis’s seeming awareness of its repugnant aspects, and Man About Town achieves its most natural feel when Joel is treated as a loutish (if affectionate) figure of satire. This could be an overly flattering interpretation of Merlis’s not entirely clear intentions, but, like Sinclair Lewis and John Updike before him, Merlis is capable of showing us the rather pathetic yet somehow moving humanity underlying the (perhaps culturally imposed) layers of foible and folly. If it’s slightly bothersome that Merlis is indulgent of Joel’s worst qualities, he does strike a tone ambivalent enough to set Man About Town apart from the ghetto of simplistic gay fiction. It is, if not a monumental step forward for queer literature, at least a solid veer in the right direction.

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