For all its forward-thinking attitude and hopes for the future, this year's Frameline has its eye fixed firmly on the past. When the 33rd edition of San Francisco's lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender film festival opens Thursday, June 18, with An Englishman in New York at the Castro Theatre, audiences will be treated to the usual cornucopia of feature-length and short narratives and documentaries on the LGBT experience around the world — but with a decidedly historical edge. It has everything to do with this month's 40th anniversary of New York City's Stonewall Riots, ground zero of the gay rights movement in the United States.
Set the Wayback Machine for the West Village, 1969. Even as gay-bar patrons and civil rights activists began to agitate for equal treatment under the law, Joe Dallesandro was in the midst of his underground movie career as one of Andy Warhol's "superstars." A Florida native who grew up at loose ends in New York, long-haired teenager Dallesandro caught on at Warhol's Factory in the mid-1960s as a combination bouncer/model/masturbatory icon ("Andy was always a little scared of me"). A sculpted upper body compensated for his lack of height. As director Nicole Haeusser's documentary Little Joe points out, he was a natural for such Warhol-Paul Morrissey films as Flesh, Trash, and Heat — even if he was, and still is, characteristically ambivalent about his essential appeal. "I don't get it," he complains disingenuously in the doc. "How come in every one of the movies I'm naked and with transvestites?"
That tension between Dallesandro's working-class, rough-trade identity (he was married and the father of two when he made the Warhol films) and the gay-themed art films that launched his career helps Little Joe function on a couple of levels. On one hand, Dallesandro was the boy-toy scene-maker who traded punches with Norman Mailer and decorated a Rolling Stones album cover; on the other, he remains publicly a bit embarrassed about the Warhol years and many of the European film roles that followed. He stops short of saying he never hustled on the street, but does not deny his bisexuality. Today, after more than fifty films with such directors as Louis Malle, Francis Ford Coppola, and the admiring John Waters, dapper Dallesandro in middle age has the manner of a union representative with an especially colorful past. Who would ever know he took a walk on the wild side? Little Joe screens Saturday, June 20 (4:15 p.m.), at the Castro.
By the time Joe Dallesandro first began setting the demimonde afire, the Kuchar twins from the Bronx, George and Mike, had already written, produced, art-designed, directed, shot, edited, and shown some twenty hysterical, hard-to-describe homemade 8mm movies, pieced together with improvised sets and amateur actors — for some, the very definition of the underground. They would go on to influence and astound legions of filmmakers and fans with such titles as The Devil's Cleavage, Sins of the Fleshapoids, Hold Me While I'm Naked, Temple of Torment, Lust for Ecstasy, and The Fury of Frau Frankenstein — more than 200 finished films so far.
Documentarian Jennifer M. Kroot catches up with the Kuchar Brothers in their sixties in San Francisco, where George teaches at the San Francisco Art Institute and they continue to make movies. Her loving profile of these delightfully demented mega-auteurs, It Came from Kuchar, only whets the appetite for more of George and Mike's oeuvre. Writer Buck Henry, after describing them as "the Mozarts of 8mm cinema," contrasts the brothers with more conventional "avant-garde" filmmakers, "hip and cool and seriously devoid of affect. The Kuchars were all affect." For director Guy Maddin, too many art films are polished products in which nothing really happens, but "in their films everything happens." Wayne Wang admits a Kuchar film made him cry.
The brothers themselves are fairly sanguine about their fame. They obviously live to make their kind of movies (wonder what they'd do with a Wachowski-size budget?) and they keep cranking them out at a furious clip. George Kuchar, a San Francisco resident for some 37 years, also collaborated with the late filmmaker Curt McDowell, whose 1975 male-porno spoof Thundercrack plays Frameline33 at the Victoria on June 23. It Came from Kuchar, not to be missed under any circumstances, shows June 21 at the Castro in a double feature with the brothers' 1960 ten-minute epic, I Was a Teenage Rumpot.
At the same time the Kuchar twins were exploring their mid-century fantasies, gender illusionist Vicki Marlane was living hers on the stages of grimy saloons and nightclubs, mostly in her native Midwest. The transgendered Marlane is now a lip-synch chanteuse at Aunt Charlie's Lounge in the Tenderloin ("I'm the world's oldest performing drag queen"), but as a misplaced wannabe female born a Minnesota farm boy during the Great Depression, her very existence was illegal for most of her life. Michelle Lawler's insightful and entertaining doc Forever's Gonna Start Tonight makes that very clear — the pre-op Vicki was a carny, stripper, call girl, and crystal meth addict as well as a top-billed stage entertainer in the era when "No surgery, just makeup" was the rule of the day, and a guy could get busted for wearing women's clothes. Vicki's life is like a secret history of America. Learn all about it, Friday, June 19 (8:00 p.m.), at the Roxie.
An Englishman in New York also dwells in the fabled past. Filmmaker Richard Laxton's true-story drama is more or less a sequel to 1975's The Naked Civil Servant, with actor John Hurt reprising his role as the late Quentin Crisp, once one of "the stately homos of England," but now, as the film opens, newly relocated to Manhattan, where he spent the 1970s and 1980s. Crisp loved to shock the squares. The swishy senior citizen dined out almost every night on such Oscar Wilde-ish pronouncements as: "I don't believe anyone has rights. If humanity got what it deserved we would starve." He saw AIDS as "a boring triviality" and "a fad" — PC handwringers are warned in advance. Hurt swills the part like a man dying of thirst. The film opens Frameline33 at the Castro, Thursday, June 18 (7:00 p.m.).
Some versions of the past are more obscure than others. Cary Cronenwett's irresistibly titled Maggots and Men is fashioned as a tribute to the early-20th-century Soviet films of Eisenstein, Dovzhenko, et al, but it's also a grand excuse for director Cronenwett and the Blue Blouse players to show lots of young men lying around in sailor suits. Just as long as you realize the young men are mostly female-to-male trannies. It's a restaging of events of the 1921 Kronstadt Rebellion as a gay revolt against the Bolsheviks, with camera shots and rat-a-tat editing borrowed from The Battleship Potemkin, on distressed-looking 16mm and Super 8 film transferred to DigiBeta. So what if the technical stuff is more fascinating than the plot? Maggots and Men unspools at the Castro on June 21 (1:30 p.m.).
Meanwhile in the 21st century, Frameline33 has lots of contemporary films and videos to warm the chilly summer nights. Director Ella Lemhagen's Patrik, Age 1.5 tells the story of a pair of Swedish gay married men whose new lifestyle in the suburbs is complicated by the fact that their long-awaited adopted child is a fifteen-year-old boy rather than a fifteen-month-old toddler — typographical error. They don't want him because he's a juvenile delinquent; he doesn't want them because they're homos. But things get sorted out. Aww. It plays June 23 (7:00 p.m.) at the Castro. Frameline33's other Centerpiece film is a documentary, Prodigal Sons, about an American family whose main distinctions are that the former-football-quarterback brother is now a female (the film's director, Kimberly Reed), and that the "loser" adopted brother is really a grandson of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. How much irony can you handle? It's at the Castro, June 24 (7:30 p.m.).
Also worth catching: Czech filmmaker Bohdan Sláma's sensitive character study, The Country Teacher, in which the title gay man relates to the people in his new town; and Roberto Castón's Ander, with the eponymous Basque farmer bonding sexually and emotionally with his Peruvian hired hand. And Then Came Lola, a takeoff of Run, Lola, Run, by Ellen Seidler and Megan Siler, belongs to the breezy lipstick-lesbian school of romantic comedies — everyone's attractive, just like in real life. It's set in San Francisco instead of Berlin, and there's no techno music, just k.d. lang and similar femme-friendly lite rock.
And there are two gay male variations on Sex and the City, both from England and both fairly trying. Jacqui Morris' Mr. Right is a mix-and-match dating-go-round that proves gay men can be just as ditzy as Sandra Bullock. Adrian Shergold's Clapham Junction is set in a London awash in bum boys and gay-bashers. Many of the protagonists are violent, and none is very likable. Writer-director Tina Mabry's well-acted, convincingly written Mississippi Damned, however, is no treacly TV sitcom; it's a realistic look at family life in the poor, African-American South, with no punches pulled in the story of a family that includes a butch dyke and a disappointed ex-basketball player. To learn more about Frameline33, visit: Frameline.org.
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