DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Soldier’s Girl, A Few Good Men, Yossi & Jagger, Walk on Water, The Bubble, Jerusalem Is Proud to Present

 

Title:  Soldier’s Girl

Release Date:  2003

Nationality and Language: USA English

Running time: 110 Min

MPAA Rating:  R

Distributor and Production Company:  Showtime (Paramount)

Director; Writer: Frank Pierson, Ron Nyswaner,

Producer:

Cast: Troy Garity, Lee Pace, Andre Braugher, Shawb Hatosy  

Technical:

Relevance to doaskdotell site: Gays in the military

Review:

When I was in the Army in 1969, my roommate at Fort Eustis predicted that some day I would write publicly about “homosexuality in the United States Army.” Well, I did with my own book Do Ask, Do Tell… and this film comes as close as the established film business has come yet in covering the scope of the issue.  This film, to say the least, give me real “hope.”

A major studio theater release film about “don’t ask, don’ tell” has yet to be made. It needs to be. I hope that I will have something to do with that and I am working towards that. Again, what strikes me is that this issue—gays in the military—sits as the interface point of so many other issues, ranging from national security, freedom of speech, due process, equal protection, discrimination, and the idea that freedom comes with obligations. This is so even though the ban supposedly affects relatively few people numerically, so it is not usually on a politician’s A-list. Yet, the ban can affect people not in the military and people who are not gay. It can affect anyone. This film shows that by presenting Barry Winchell, the victim of the July 1999 brutal baseball bat murder in Fort Campbell, Ky by a crazed and homophobic fellow soldier, as apparently heterosexual. It bridges this gap when he falls in love with a transsexual, apparently relating to her as if she were a woman. There had been cases beforem such as at Fort Rucker, Ala, in 1984, where such incidents have led to discharges of servicemembers as “gay.”

At first glance, the script, as reported by critics, seemed more to relate to the story of  transgendered Calpernia Addams and to play on the issue of a soldier falling in love with a transgendered person. Apparently this is pretty close to what really happened. Barry Winchell fell in love with Calpernia in a really psychologically polarized relationship. It plays on the screen as a heterosexual relationship. It seems that Winchell perceived his own sexuality as primarily heterosexual. Yet, the screenplay gets back to the problems of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” first with scenes between Justin Fisher and Barry Winchell where Winchell insists on keeping his “private life.” There is one scene where Fisher taunts Winchell near a public pay phone and Winchell cannot protests that he cannot keep any personal affairs private. There is dialogue that demonstrates unit cohesion, that military buddies bond and die for each other in such a way that privacy as a civilian knows it is impossible. Sam Nunn and Charles Moskos often argued this point in 1993, but I and many others disagreed.  When I was in the Army, there was indeed more “privacy” stateside, but I was quartered with generally better educated men than those in this film.

 

The early scenes, where the soldiers visit the gay bar (The Vision) in Nashville (with the drag shows it somewhat resembles the Gay 90s in Minneapolis and probably draws a lot of straight couples and men) creates the impression of homosexuality as “masculine gay men” know it as attached to military “homosociality” on a continuum that is indeed often blurred. At times, Justin Fisher seems (to me) gay himself. Glover, on the other hand, comes across as not just psychotic (he should have never been enlisted) by also emotionally rather infantile and tragically unable to understand any subtlety in the social behavior of other men in his unit. Winchell will best him in a fight, and Fisher will tease him about being beaten by a “fag” and the “humor” will simply go over Glover’s head. But, of course, the military says, this is part of the problem with accepting open gays. It must deal with the least educated and opportuned young men in society in the ranks and accommodate them into the ranks.

 

There is one scene between the brass where the brass talk about Glover’s “rumor” that Winchell is “gay.” They cover the material well with little screen time. First they mention that the facts don’t warrant and investigation, but then slide into opportunism, that there might be a “homosexual” on base, when, in fact, homoeroticisim is always present in their environment.

 

The film is mostly linear in exposition, and manages to expand into covering trans-gendered issues and sexual reassignment surgery when presenting the Calpernia’s side of the story. The film layers the climatic murder scene with another of Calpernia’s performances, and then has her find out about Winchell’s demise on the radio. It covers a lot of territory in 100 minutes and educates the audience. I think, however, the film would be stronger if it were a theatrical release, and filmed in wide screen (anamorphic Panavision) to make the gay bar and club scenes even more real. A theatrical release would also draw more attention to the film and to the problems of “don’t ask don’t tell” (as well as the issues of trans-sexualism). One point that would need to be added, however, is that most gay relationships (including those with military members) involve two partners socially perceived as men, so the introduction of transsexualism, while historically correct for this story, may go off center for a public audience as to its perception of most gay relationships.

 

The Advocate has covered, in its review “Boys Do Cry” (by Michael Rowe, May 27, 2003) covered the makeup and transformation of actor Lee Pace into Calpernia, and reminds us of what actors go through (and what happens to their bodies) as they advance their careers. 

 

The closing moments of the film summarize the military justice and outcome, and sets up the story and controversy (over anti-gay problems at Fort Campbell) covered in the media. Perhaps there will be a sequel!

 

Showtime followed the 5/31/2003 presentation with a short discussion of “don’t ask don’t tell” with Pat Kutteles (Barry Winchell’s mother) and Dixon Osburn from SLDN.

 

This film was a major hit at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival.

 

A Few Good Men (Columbia, 1992, dir. Rob Reiner, written by Araon Sorkin) is a much larger film based on the event of soldier’s—in this case Marines stationed at Guantonomo, Cuba, executing one their own.  The courtroom drama confrontation in the last 40 minutes between Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) defending two young Marines accused of the “Code Red” hazing murder, and Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson—who else?) is one of the greatest in filmdom. Here is a class of values. The modern Renaissance man Kaffee, a Navy lawyer in his father’s footstep, outsmarts the grizzly warrior Jessup. Now Kaffee’s actual sexual orientation or love life is never really mentioned as far as I remember, but he comes across as a kind of metrosexual (baseball notwithstanding) that would be comfortable around the Fab Five today. At first ambivalent when assigned to defend the young EM, he becomes passionate when he comes to suspect that Jessup ordered the “Code Red” to enforce his own warrior values on young men who “can’t pay their dues,” and then plotted to cover it up. And the clever thing is that Kaffee uses Jessup’s homophobia to trap him into a confession. Early in the film, Jessup talks about the “faggoty white uniforms” of Navy officers in whites when compares to Marines (once on a bivouac hike in Army Basic I drew laughter for saying “The Marines are tougher than the Army” in front of the Field First!) Later, in  brainstorming session, Kaffee suggests that Jessup wants to confess, and refers to the gay baiting again. Now, when the film was shown on network TV (first by NBC and then in 2/2004 by TheWB), the word “faggoty” is replaced by “girly” with an obvious edit. Now I don’t know if this is a deference to “deceny” in broadcast standards, or a sincere desire not to offend gays, but I am concerned that this was done. For the political message of the film is clearer and stronger with the original text. For the network to give in on this could create complications in other censorship areas (such as if the Child Online Protection Act – COPA—is upheld), since the Supreme Court (in its May 2002 decision on COPA) suggested that on such matters a “national standard” for decency, at least with respect to “harmful to minors” may well exist.

 

This film was released in December 1992, about six weeks before President Clinton’s inauguration and his opening volley in the attempt to lift the ban on gays in the military. It was nominated for Best Picture. 

 

The film is also controversial now because, of course, Gitmo has become the holding tank for suspected Al Qaeda terrorists arrested overseas and held as unlawful combatants. Yet, just a bit more than thirty years ago we had the Cuban Missile Crisis. The enemies have just changed. That is the moral tragedy of this film, for in a sense, Jessup (in his final speech) is right. Our freedoms depend on those who are willing to give their lives and live according to a “Code.” Sometimes sacrificing one life saves others (as in the Doolittle Raid of Pearl Harbor). But we also have an obligation to help those—even in uniform—who cannot always take care of themselves. Kaffee, as played by Tom Cruise, is indeed almost the perfect hero; he becomes adversarial and competitive and appropriately assertive only when he knows he is morally right.

 

As a screenwriting example (the “three part structure”), this film is also instructive. Kaffee is not in obvious trouble at the beginning of the film, although his reputation with his peers is controversial, yet maybe he doesn’t need them. When he finds the “truth” he will risk courts-martial himself (falsely accusing an officer) if he can’t prove his own finding. Of course, the two suspects are in obvious trouble from the beginning, but one identifies with them less. The final showdown is not preachy because Kaffee manipulates Jessup’s character weakness with so much charisma. Would a redneck officer really countenance his weakest subordinate being “sacrificed.” Maybe, and that is part of our whole problem of ethics today. Still, that is not preachy.

 

Yossi & Jagger (2003, Israel, Strand Releasing, with Ohad Knoller and Yehuda Levi, written and directed by Eytan Fox, 71 min.), a hit at the Tribeca Film Festival, provides look at sexuality (and not just homosexuality) and unit cohesion in a patrol unit of the Israeli Army. Most of the film takes place in winter at 8000 feet in the Golan Heights, in cold and snow not usually associated with the Middle East. Yossi, a commanding officer, is already in love with one of his subordinate officers, Lori. In an early scene he partially undresses his love playing in the snow, a prelude to Lori’s “getting it” later in on a combat patrol, to lead to a tragic ending. The unit as a whole seems congenial and familiar, even if there is a little bit of “faggot talk” and heterosexual jealousy (when Lori is thought by another soldier to be after that soldier’s girl). I don’t know whether this accurately depicts the super-ready Israeli Army. Yet, neither gay officer seems to be hiding anything. Perhaps since Israel is already such a culturally and religiously cohesive society, its military can accept a degree of fraternization that ours cannot. And perhaps the unit is so chummy that it really was not properly prepared for it’s early AM patrol for terrorists. The story line is kept simple and relatively apolitical, as is the case with so many filmmakers. Yet, I would have provided that the story venture into the politics and struggles of the area (the resettlement problem), to make the film bigger. The film shows at only a few theaters in large cities, although it was well attended by a largely gay male audience when I saw it in Washington. I think that to draw larger audiences films like this (starting with gay-related issues) need to venture into the mainstream political scene and start connecting dots. I think that can make money.  Strand has, over the years, provided a number of important GLBT films. Web site for this film http://www.yossiandjagger.com

 

The relatively little known DC area independent film Five Lines from Brainbox explores homophobia in the Army also; see the link below.

 

Eytan Fox has followed up this work with the content-rich drama Walk on Water (2004, Samuel Goldwyn/Roadside Attractions/Lama/Israeli Film Fund, 104 min, NR but rec. “R” based on male nude scene and very mature subject matter). (Don’t confuse this with two other recent films called “Walking on Water” – check imdb).  The film starts with a impressive sequence in Istanbul where Israeli hit man Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi) syringes an escaoed Nazi on the Asian side of the Bosporus. We go back to Israel, where Eyal takes on the mission to track down Afred Himmelman, one of the most notorious SS officers at the concentration camps. Aftred’s likeable grad-student-aged grandson Axel (Knut Berger, who rather resembles Ashton Kutcher) is visiting his sister Pia (Caroline Peters) at a kibbutz. Eyal befriends him, bugs his unit, and hosts him around Israel. Now Axel, apparently working as a kindergarten school teacher and counselor for refugees (from the Balkans?), has a quiet, gentle kind of charisma that seems attached to family but rather apolitical as to deeper loyalty. As with the character Jared Price in another movie review on this site (below), anyone would like him. When questioned about the Holocaust, Axel answers that it is something that does not really matter to today’s kids. They visit the Sea of Galilee, where Axel does a meditation on one of Christ’s miracles, then visit the Dead Sea, where they cover themselves with Dead Sea Mud (rather erotic) and then float in the sea. Afterwards they have a talk about circumcision. Finally, Axel takes them out to what turns out to be a gay disco. Axel befriends and dirty-dances with an attractive Palestinian on the dance floor. Eyal is shocked and amazed. They visit Jerusalem, and have a squabble over Axel’s buying Palestinian clothes. Now the setup is complete. Axel is a total paradox. He is gay, but not really narcissistic as Eyal would have expected. He cares about family as he sees it, but he does not care about deeper blood loyalties. Without realizing it, Axel has put his family in danger, although his homosexuality has rather little to do with that directly.

 

Eyal travels to Berlin and looks up Axel, who is his same old self. At a typical motel on the Autobahn, Menachem (Gideom Shemer) contacts them, and Axel unwittingly leads them to the estate where Afred lies dying. Of course, here we have the final plot twist, which is pretty easy to anticipate, really.

 

So here we have a film so richly plotted and woven with political and social issues. Underneath everything is the problem of reconciling the values of individualism with those of loyalty to family and blood, so necessary to raise kids and protect the elderly and infirm and yet the source of great tribal conflicts that to an individualist like Axel seem superfluous. A student of Filosofia could write an examination essay on how this film addresses that problem.

 

The film is also rich with on-location shots around Israel and Berlin (some of the exact streets I remember from my 1999 trip); I wish it had been shot 2.3 to 1 for full wide screen (it is 1.8 to 1). The film appears to be in HDCAM digital video. European (especially German and Spanish) investors will go for this kind of film, but it is very difficult to get Hollywood to go this deep into this kind of material. I wish that could change.

 

The Bubble (“Ha-Buah,” 2006, Strand Releasing, dir. Eytan Fox, 117 min, R) has an “affair of strangers” between a nice Jewish reserve soldier Noam and a Palestinian Ashraf,  eventually leading to a tragic conclusion where Ashraf blows the two of them (including himself) up in a supposed honor suicide bombing, with no other people around (he wanders into a relatively empty street and beckons Noam to come outside from his deli shop).  There is a tactless line about what gay suicide bombers expect in the hereafter. But the film really does explore the levels of moral issues. The title of the film refers to how people live their own lives in isolated corners away from a conflict.  There are no body "preparations" as there were in Paradise Now, and the moral issues are much more personal and less religious. As in Eytan's other film work, gay characters are shown as fitting into the Israeli military with absolutely no problems. Blogger review is here. That review compares it to the HBO documentary "To Die in Jerusalem" (below) that involves a female suicide bomber.

 

This film has no connection to a similarly named film from HDNET (below).   

 

Jerusalem Is Proud to Present ((“Yerushalaim geaa lehatzig,” 2007, Kesnet/Israel Channel 8, dir. Nitzan Gildady, in Hebrew and English with subtitles, 86 min, NR but would be R) traces the first major gay pride celebrations in Jerusalem in 2006, against vigorous religious opposition. Many political points get made, such as the fact that gay Palestinian men have been allowed by Israeli police to cross to visit the Shushan gay bar, which is now reported to be close.  blogger discussion.

 

Related reviews: Any Mother’s Son, Serving in Silence History Channel video Coming Out Under Fire  In the Heart of America Five Lines  The Journey of Jared Price  Paradise Now  Bubble (HDNET)   To Die in Jerusalem

 

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