DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Beefcake, I Think I Do, Boys Life 4, 5, 6, Straight Men and the Men Who Love Them, Boys Briefs  (1, 2, 3, 4, 5),( A Year Without Love , The Celluloid Closet  ,  Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema,  Men’s Mix 1

 

Title:  Beefcake

Release Date: 

Nationality and Language: Canada, English

Running time:

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company: Strand Releasing; Alliance Atlantis; Emotion

Director; Writer: Thom FitzGerald

Producer:

Cast:  

Technical:

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Movie Review: Beefcake (1999); Director: Thom Fitzgerald’ From Alliance Atlantis Films; 96 Minutes; NC-17 (total male nudity)

            This little period piece from the 1950's McCarthy era (I saw it at the University of Minnesota Film Festival) is more ambitious than it looks. It tells the story of photographer (you live photography, like music, or even programming, 168 hours a week!) Bob Miser and his establishment of one of the largest "muscle magazines" (Athletic Model Guild and Guide) of that era. I remember, when going to graduate school myself in the 1960's, that it was socially acceptable to look at one of these and say, "that's a real man" (shaved or not).

            Miser, in libertarian fashion, used his opulent property (while keeping his mother living there with him while not quite understanding his intentions) in LA to set up a little live-in "colony" for models that he would meet at bus stations as they came to town. The athletes were to be America's finest young men, whose "early beauty" set them up as aesthetic role models. A body, instantiating the person inside, was to be appreciated as a work of art. He pretended his operation to be "above board," a kind of prep school for America's finest. No drugs. Not exactly no sex, though.

            In fact, Miser's concept was to set up an "ideal" to which the rest of the world could be compared. What point was there in begetting and fathering your own kids if they turned out to be ordinary. He could select the cream of the crop. A mental or fantasy image of an ideal was more important to him than committed interaction (connected to sexuality) with real people. A body ¾ a photograph of a body ¾ was like a musical composition; it lived forever. Of course, the real people, presented in interviews, grew old. We see many of them as old men, such as Joe Dellesandro, star of the Andy Warhol movies ("Trash") of the late 1960's.

            Of course, this elitist, effete, Nietzchean idea rubs a lot of people the wrong way. If only the handsome are valued (and only in their short biological summers), what happens to the rest of us? That's why we need "family values" isn't it? I guess that's what the Los Angeles Police Department thinks when it busts Miser for running a prostitution ring (but Miser was no pimp). The black-and-white courtroom scene rather invokes Pleasantville.

            The production values of the film were good: a digital soundtrack recreating 50's be-bop music, and even the logo for the film's title reminds one of Cinerama.

I Think I Do (1997, Strand Releasing, dir. Brian Sloan, sug. PG-13) is a lightweight comedy about two former college roommates Bob and Brendan (Alexis Arquette and Christian Mealan) who come to a housemate’s heterosexual wedding. The comedy turns into a chain letter of desire, a bit like a gay “Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice” movie. Sometimes they fight, sometimes they love and embrace. Toward the end, the migrate toward their own marriage. This movie was made in the wake of the debates over gay marriage in Hawaii and Vermont in the 1990s and seems less convincing today.  The DVD is in 4:3 flat format. The movie was made in New York and Washington, and has an effective concluding scene in the renovated Union Station in Washington.

Boys Life 4: Four Play (2003) is the fourth in Strand Releasing’s franchise with a title based on the 50s boys magazine (popular with the Boy Scouts). This quartet of films consists of “Long Term Relationship,” a video documentary of two young gay men trying to become a couple; “O Beautiful,” an encounter between a “Christian athlete” who rescues a victim of a gay bashing that he had watched, “Bumping Heads,” an encounter between two gay men winding up the St Vincent’s emergency room, and One-in-Ten’s “The Car Up,” a video diary of a bike messenger, decorated with body art, who meets up with a lawyer in a downtown Minneapolis skyscraper. The second film splits the screen to show the encounter from the point of view of each character. The Christian finds himself talking in circles (“are you gay all the time?” “are you hungry all the time?”), mostly about collective religious and family loyalties, as the victim stands up to him (with stories about sex from Boy Scouts camp leaders, a history teacher, and a claim that at least one specific major Hollywood star today is gay).  They move to his truck, where gradually the Christian allows his torso to be explored as he is “hypnotized.” The third film has Andersen Gabrych (from “Edge of 17”) with an older man who had gotten hurt in a brawl in an orgy room. The fourth film (“This Car Up”), happening in a Minneapolis skyscraper, has the video diary split into four screens.

The commentary by director Alan Brown on “O Beautiful” provides an interesting overview that seems to me to present the Christian’s behavior (that is, Andy, played by David Rogers) as a kind of ritualistic sacrifice or atonement. Brown might contest this statement, implying some ambiguity of motive. He states that the film was motivated by the Matthew Shepard murder and was shot in the winter after 9/11 in farm field in Denville, New Jersey, in January (but when there was no snow). Andy gradually grows closer to the victim Brad (Jay Gillespie), even though the split screen technique keeps the film focused on separate experiences of the two men (the director compares it to watching a stage play, but the dynamics of stage acting are different from movies). He sacrifices his trousers (OK, he does have boxers and we don’t see much of this). Eventually he beckons Brad into the cab of his truck, which would be an intimate situation. It would seem that he may be “tempted” to explore the sensuality of the situation and may be in the closet; Brown is ambiguous about this. But in time some physical affection starts, and Andy loses the jacket and unbuttons his shirt, almost as if to invite Brad to take him. Brad strokes a smooth chest for a while, and in the commentary we learn (early in the commentary) that Rogers had shaved his chest in “pre production. The whole sequence seems like some kind of atoning sacrifice of “masculinity” or of his chest. It is almost as if he suddenly realizes that shame and humiliation, even abasement, can become erotic. (He does mention that the characters, played by actors of college or graduate school age, are supposed to be high school seniors—too young to be grown men.) He buttons up and then offers Brad his truck. The commentary notes that the actor did not know how to drive a stickshift!

Brian Sloan gives a technical discussion of “Bumping Heads,” especially about the different color schemes in the film. One fact that he mentions is that dancing is illegal in most gay bars in New York City.

Boys Life 5 (2006, Strand) is mainly a vehicle to distribute Eytan Fox’s forty-minute film about the kinder, gentler Israeli army, “Time Out,” pretty much a docudrama about some soldiers who go out on weekend pass. Yes, there is an indirect restroom encounter, and it is clever but not impressive. There is urination in formation, and a zen exercise. But the tone of the military is much warmer than what one expects, or saw in the feature “Yossi & Jagger”. The other three shorts present the idea of an older teen introducing a younger, vulnerable boy to the warmth of manhood, on the edges of experimentation.  Andy Salky directs “Dare” in which two high school seniors from a drama class discover some warmth in a home swimming pool by reciting the lines in a play. In Michael Burke’s “Fishbelly White” a country bumpkin helps initiate a redhead aspie type, a “chicken man” who sucks chicken heads and proves his manhood be decapitating a chicken with his mouth. That will not be permissible if the bird flu comes. In “Late Summer” a New England teen teaches a younger boy to swim and then to skateboard and has a tragic accident at the end, when he is knocked down by a hit-and-run driver. None of the four films have a lot of tension in the intimate encounters. 

Boys Life 6 (2007, Strand) has a couple of films with real tension, ideas and technique. An underlying theme of two of the films is ritual initiation, and another film deals with tribalism. The most interesting is Bugcrush (36 min, Pollywog Pictures, dir. Carter Smith, story by Scott Treleaven, website) where an appealing and somewhat cautious and mainstream-like but artistically inclined high school student (on the edge of coming out) Ben (Josh Barclay Caras) notices a weird swarthy student Grant (Donald Eric Cumming) who sports a secret underneath an armband at detention and has some unusual arthropod-related souvenirs. Ben is slowly drawn into his somewhat menacing world, which includes a couple of Gothic friends. They go on a night “road trip” to his house in the Maine woods (a bit of Stephen King’s effects here with dark screens – the blackouts may be unnecessary -- followed by odd camera angles), and gradually the intimacy builds up to – the initiation. Grant repeatedly comforts Ben, with lines like “you don’t have to …” and especially “you want this.” Message boards indicate that many viewers believe that the outcome is catastrophic, like a ritual sacrifice of perfection – but in terms of what is shown, there is some ambiguity, left to the imagination. (Eh, gads, Grant actually grows bugs in the tissue of his upper arm underneath the “tattoo” bandage; these are not innocent tats for a web page. Indeed, Grant taunts a paralyzed Ben, “You want this,” that Ben’s revealed body surface could be used to cultivate a garden of bugs. Indeed, ancient medicine men used to use soldier ants to sew up cuts.) The film builds up genuine suspense and keeps you guessing. It could have been blown up into a feature (with more attention to the school situation, and maybe a followup as some kind after the “event”, like having Ben become one of “them” and then finally “escaping”), and could it become a Hitchcock-like filmmaker’s exercise in balancing horror with genuine polarized tension and morality among characters. The film presents the notion of the “Nighthike” which I develop in a couple of my own scripts. I’m told by a bartender that there is a specific mixed drink called “Bugcrush.” (See also Smith’s “The Ruins”, link below).  Davy and Stu (13 min, dir. Soman Chainani, play by Anton Dudley) has two Scottish teens meeting in a bog near Glasgow, apparently again for some ritual. There is a lot of dialectical talk and some gentle intimacy. Heartland (14 min, dir. Mark Christopher, full screen) has a Columbia University student (Corey Sorenson) called back to his father’s Iowa farm to look after his dad, who seems to have a problem with the bottle more than anything else. His accidental outing doesn’t help, and sets up real moral ambiguity in a situation that is supposed to deliver a message about family responsibility. He says that he feels like he belongs to two tribes, and his farm tribe has a custom of requiring a sacrifice from every male. Fortunately, another farm hand (JP Sarni) shares his interests. Doorman (17 min, dir. Etienne Kallos) has a Latino NYC apartment doorman Deigo (Jamil Mena) unravel as a prissy college student in the building plays tease with a “relationship.” It is the least convincing film of the set.    

Blogger link

MSN/Howcast has a 5 minute short “How to Get Rid of Bedbugs” that amounts to a “Bugcrush 2”.

MSN video follows: <a href="http://lifestyle.msn.com/your-home/video/default.aspx?vid=1a68b9bb-c3e3-423a-9b45-c2ebac0a39fe&from=cp^cp_en-us_lifestyle_CustomPlayerExpanded_YourHome&fg=MSNlifestyles_HF_Hub_CustomPlayer_Expanded" target="_new" title="How to Get Rid Of Bed Bugs">Video: How to Get Rid Of Bed Bugs</a>

There were three other films by this name in the franchise. The best is the first one, with “Pool Days” presenting some genuine young adult virility in lifeguards met by customers; Also “A Friend of Dorothy” and “The Disco Years

These films should not be confused with “This Boy’s Life”, a 50s period drama starring Leonardo Di Caprio (to be reviewed later).

Straight Men and the Men Who Love Them (2005, Arizitical/Hollywood Independent/Culture Q, 81 min, R, Spain/Brazil/USA). How many gay men remember crushes on straight men, unrequited “love.” In these six shorts (“Truth or Dare” “In the Name of the Father” “Uninhibited” “Popcorn and Coke” “Coffee Date” “Space Two”—the last film from Spain is the longest) it is sometimes hard to tell who is who, which makes a statement about the cultural divides. There are moments, as when a father goes after his son in the shower, or when a gay man cruises on a train in Spain, or the gay man hides under the bed, or the final orgy which you suspect will prove an epiphany.

Boys Briefs (2000, Picture This) is a collection of seven brief films, linked by commentary from an engaging young male couple in LA. The most important film is “Fairy Tale” (directed by David Kittredge), in which another young male couple (Todd and Eric) goes up to suburban Connecticut to visit Todd’s parents. The mother makes a great shepherd’s pie, all right, but then she confronts them with her sense of hurt, and comes right to the point: they cannot give her biological grandchildren. The script very aptly summarizes what drives so much “homophobia”—the attachment that so many people have to the collective meaning of courtship, marriage, and especially biological lineage as a way to give people purpose. After the confrontation, Todd and Erik encounter each other in a cruising area after Todd gets “attacked.”  Another interesting short is “Stanley Beloved” directed by Simon Chung, in which a half-Asian boy courts another white boy in Hong Kong while his mandarin father wants to send him away. There is a gross out “Piglets” by Luc Feit, an opening “The Absolution of Anthony” (dir. Dean Slotar) where a Hispanic kid attempts phone sex with a priest, and “Smear” (dir. Sam Zalutsky) where two teen boys and a girl go gay bashing, only to find out something about themselves.

 

A sequel is Boys Briefs 2 (2002), hosted by Danny Roberts. Films include “Doors Cut Down,” about what happens to a glory hole in a Madrid shopping mall after overuse—oddly that film is in full wide screen Panavision. Also “Chicken” “Breakfast,” “Touch,” “Backroom”, “Take-Out”. Generally, the films explore the idea of how relationships can start with casual and socially disapproved encounters, good stuff for gay talk groups.  “Backroom” depicts pretty much what you expect, and “Take-Out” has a pizza delivery boy encountering older men on his route, but never getting out of the world of his imagination.  

 

Boys Briefs 3: Hook Up (2005, Picture this!, NR but would be NC-17 for a few explicit scenes) is a collection of eight short gay films. As with the first two of the set, there is a tendency for the films to squander opportunities for tension and not really supply a lot of payoff. Here is the rundown:

. Calaberno, dir. Jarrah Gurrie, has a voyeuristic camcorder filming skateboarders in NYC’s East Village, and exchanging glances. In grainy BW.

. Shakepeare’s Sonnets, dir. Samuel Park, set in the 40s, has one preppie challenging the social conventionality of his boyfriend, who admits that he would “buy” children rather than beget them.

. David, dir. Roberto Fiesco, is set in Mexico City, as a deaf-mute teenager plays hooky and meets up with a businessman at a park bench.

. Boys Grammar, dir. Dean Francis, starts with an athletic shower room in an Australian private school, when one of the boys is noticed having an “artistic” book of pictures of young men. They strip him and rape him as a hazing ritual. The boy’s father then says that all boys have to go through hazing. This film would have potential if expanded. It was of interest to me because of the “tribunals” which I skipped at my lost 1961 freshman semester at William and Mary.

. Latch Key, dir. Garth Bardsley, has two brothers at home waiting for a single mom. The straight one bangs a girl upstairs, while the younger brother and a friend stimulate one another while watching porno – until Mom comes home.

. Little Boy Blues, dir. John McCrite, is the other film in the set with some promise. An artist Michael (Malcolm Gets) has lost his lover (to AIDS) and brings home a sailor (Adam Bloch) who brags about his crystal meth use. If the artist uses it, he would be likely to have a cardiac arrest. But the sailor looks fare too together to be credible as a meth addict or even a user. The director claims that the film is about the pressures or temptations to get into unsafe or unprotected sex. It is about two likeable characters in different worlds that "hook up." The lighting is often dim, but treated differently for the characters.

. Between the Boys, dir. Jake Yuzna, is a video set in Minneapolis with a setup a little bit like LatchKey, but simpler.

. Postmortem, dir. Eldar Rapaport, 16 min, Two ex-lovers (Murray Bartlett, Daniel Dugan) bump in NYC and have a “My Dinner with Andre”) before hooking up for re-discovery. 

 

Boys Briefs 4: emphasizes hustling. Some of the hustlers don’t like kissing.

Into the Night:  In Australia, a businessman picks up a reluctant hustler who is puzzled by videos and pictures of the older man’s son.

Boy: A macabre piece about a hit-run accident.

Gigolo: An Arab consorts with the Parisian jet set. 

Build: An architecture student takes up hustling to support an alcoholic mom, and brings a fellow hustler home. There are odd encapsulated images of building going up inside a tv set.

Rock Bottom: (Mary Feuer) A fat man picks up a hustler who does drugs, and both have expectations. Both were only children. There’s a little bit of “Bugcrush” here but the progression doesn’t work so well because you don’t like the characters as much. 

Gold: An artists tries to teach his boyfriend to paint. There’s a taste of Dorian Gray in the story.

 

Boys Briefs 5:

Kali Ma (dir. Soman Chianini, India). A mother from India takes action to protect her teenage son when he is bullied.

Flatmates (dir. Magnus Mork, Norway). Two roommates, one straight with a girl friend, draw closer after renting an apartment together

Secrets (dir. Jeff Warden). Some friends, at a poker party, start unveiling that some of them are gay

Yeah, No, Definitely (dir. Dave Snyder).  Boyfriends, at a debutante party, build a relationshio when one passes out drunk and tries to drive away drunk and makes a revelation. This film has the first scene ever of someone given a lover an insulin shot in the thigh. 

You Me & Him (“Café com Leite}, dir. Daniel Ribeiro, Brazil.  In what looks like Sao Paolo, two gay men as lovers adjust to raising the younger brother of one of the men when the parents die. The theme (of a gay man raising a sibling) occurs in the feature “The Conrad Boys”.

Benny’s Gym (dir. Lisa Marie Gamlem, Norway, 25 min) Two young boys, one with a tattoo, have a friendship that attracts bullies; ends with a near drowning scene; also they break into a disco (through a window) and get in underage.

 

 

A Year Without Love (“Un Ano sin Amor”) (2005, Strand/BD Cine, dir. Anahi Beneri, Argentima, 102 min, R). Pablo Perez (Juan Minujin) is a 46-year-old unemployed writer living with his uncle and slowly developing symptoms of AIDS. Apparently he has mycobacterium tuberculosis as an opportunistic infection (or perhaps pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, which can come on gradually) and goes through a medical workup and short hospitalization, with some graphic details (the bronchoscopy) shown. He is supposed to start AZT, which he resists. He travels the S&M clubs, and finally brings home two men who bind and gag him, and then play with him with a knife in a way that reminds one of “Deliverance.” His partners are surprisingly gentle when they let him go. But then his uncle (Carlos Echevarra) returns and complains about Pablo’s transparently autobiographical novel, which apparently is getting published. “Why do you have to drag the family into this?” He asks. Pablo says, “It’s my life. And I didn’t give any names.”  Indeed all of this is true, and indeed the public will figure out who the other affected family members are. The uncle throws him out of the house, and Pablo has to find support and loyalty in his own community. The film has some anachronisms: there is email, but the computer screens look like old Radio Shack TRS80’s, and AZT was the anti-retroviral drug of choice in the 1980s; today we would use protease inhibitors. The family setup reminds one of a gay version of The Glass Menagerie.

 

The Celluloid Closet (1995, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 104 min, R) is a documentary that traces the evolution of the presentation of homosexuality in the movies, back to the days of the old production codes (often influenced heavily by the Vatican), where “sexual perversion” was the last taboo to gradually lift away. Gay viewers in the 1950s would read between the lines with films like Tennessee Williams’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” or “Suddenly Last Summer”; British film would address the subject more directly early on with Victim, although Hollywood would give us Advise and Consent soon. It was sometimes more acceptable if “gay” characters were presented as evil and condemned by the story. There is a deleted scene from the 1960 spectacle “Spartacus” where the master talks to the slave about liking more than one kind of seafood (mussels and oysters?).  One thing is clear (when you compare to the Strand film “Beefcake”)—it was the subject matter, not the presentation (that is nudity or pornography) that would upset people in those days, because it would make them uncomfortable with their own adaptation to the expectations of conventional heterosexuality. There is a curious correspondence between social norms over media subject matter in past generations and norms over public decency and nudity that exist today; both seem designed to protect the appeal of conventional sexual interaction when the appropriate opportunity comes.

 

Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema (2006, IFC/Orange, dir. Lisa Ades, Lesli Kleinberg, 85 min) is another synoptic documentary of gay cinema, featuring Gus Van Sant, John Waters, and Todd Haynes. The documentary makes a lot of the fact that the public used to feel threatened by even seeing homosexuality mentioned. Queer Cinema became integrated with other indie cinema in the early 90s. Films with clips include “Paris Is Burning,” “The Living End” (not to be confused with the band), and Gus Van Sant’s early “Mala Noche” in black and white, which he distributed himself. “Swoon,” about the Leopold murders, is also mentioned. Toward the end, there is a lot of attention to lesbian cinema.

 

TLA Releasing is providing Mix DVD’s. Men’s Mix 1: Gay Shorts Collection (2004) comprises “Burl’s”, “Touched,” “Safe Journey,” “10 Pesos,” “Masturbation,” and “Shaving the Castro.” Touched (dir. Mike Lemon) presents a middle-aged casting director Mile (Bob Bowersox) who picks up a cute “beautiful” straight man (David Duzenski) in a Philadelphia gay bar. The hunk admits that he, running from a bad marriage, was going to kill Mike, but is transformed by the tenderness of the encounter (they keep their clothes on). Safe Journey (dir. S. Leo Chiang) presents a blind Asian (David Dun) who takes in a homeless gay man (Jay Michael Ferguson) who has been beaten up. Gaydar (Larry FaFond) presents a silly queen who finds a toy gun with a “homometer” that registers when he points it at people, but he never registers the “Tom Cruise” lookalike (as he was in “Risky Business”) that he covets.  Burls are like drag queens; Masturbation presents a 1940s style black-and-white instructional video, and Shaving the Castro is not what you think it is. It presents, in black and white, an exposition about Louie’s barber shop and how it changed during the transformation of the San Francisco Castro neighborhood. No body shaving here—I do remember a 1984 story (“The Body Shave”) like that (set in a barber shop, about a gay actor who gets banished after a 1950s police bust) from a gay mag but I’ve never seen that story as a flick yet.

 

 

 

Related reviews:. Latter Days, etc. Edge of 17; other GLBT ;  Loggerheads  The Glass Menagerie   The Dying Gaul   Yossi & Jagger  (Carter Smith) The Ruins

 

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