Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

27 April 2014


A few small thoughts on Neil Burger's Divergent.

Neil Burger previously directed the terrible film The Illusionist (which, incidentally, does have a beautiful score by Philip Glass).

But Divergent is very good, and the more I think about it the more I like it.

Comparisons with The Hunger Games are inevitable – girl-power, dystopias, vaguely anti-Fascistic politics, highly structured class systems, color-coding, young-adult-novel-as-source – but Divergent is way way way better than The Hunger Games. For one, the young woman at the center of Divergent's narrative does a lot of choosing, seems to have a purchase on the decisions that she makes, and basically becomes a total badass on her own.

Divergent also lacks the intense sentimentality of HG, opting instead for a character who favors rational decision-making, an understanding of power structures combined with a savvy ability to work within them, and a political knowledge more complex than a notion of "good guys" and "bad guys".

As a film, Divergent also gives us plenty of time to take in the beauty of the world in which it is situated. The central character (her name is Tris – rhymes with Katniss – and she is similarly saddled with a less-cartoonish but still vaguely symbolic last name; hers is Prior) enjoys the world in which she lives, finds parts of it beautiful, and treats it with respect and affection. And it isn't just the film's protagonist who enjoys her world, the filmmaker, too, takes a great pleasure in the world that surrounds Tris.

Unlike the heroine of HG, Tris, who (like Katniss) is, of course, forced to respond to the military power and governmental violence that are brought to bear upon her, but Tris responds actively, dominating her surroundings, leading the other people in her life, and enjoying the victories that she wins. Divergent is not a film with a series of bad choices, wherein the heroine must opt for the lesser of a series of evils. Divergent resounds with a hopefulness for a future where the world might be better. If, finally, we are given no image of what that world might look like, we are given an image of a young woman who is prepared to work hard to make a world in which she would like to live.

Divergence, as an idea, is a happy metaphor for queerness, for the idea of a person who doesn't fit in who feels alone and then finds a community of others who diverge similarly. It may be that I liked the film for this reason most of all, and then am tacking on my other ideas as the result of this identificatory process. Or it may be that the lovely Shailene Woodley simply smiles a good deal more than the for-some-reason-always-serious Jennifer Lawrence.

In any case, sequels are scheduled, and I will definitely be seeing the second one of these.

24 April 2014

Vibrating Homosexuality and the Pacino Popper Freakouts

 A few years ago, a bunch of my straight friends – some of my best friends in the world, in fact – were casually chatting about pornography. Most of them are married couples, and none of them had any problem simply talking about what porn they watched, how often, what they liked, stars they knew, etc. Since we were discussing straight porn, I didn't know any of the pornstars under (ahem) discussion, but I was surprised at how easily my friends could talk about something I assumed most people considered intensely private. (They are awesome people, so I shouldn't have been too surprised.) Among the gay men and lesbians with whom I socialize, of course, porn casually comes up often enough, and there never is much trouble discussing it, as far as I can tell. Still, one views porn in private, even if one talks about it in public.

But as an exercise in the simultaneously public and private viewing of pornography, I invited five friends (Brian, David, Patrick, Nick, and Ryan) to watch James Franco and Travis Mathews' 2014 film Interior. Leather Bar. with me. The film is supposed to be a re-imagining of 40 minutes of footage that were cut from William Friedkin's 1980 movie Cruising. Amid many jokes about schedules being "wide open" and "versatile", we all viewed the film in our own homes and then chatted during the movie. The film is only 60 minutes, so our dialogue is rather short, but we had a great time.

Aaron: The DVD of this film includes a 4½-minute short called Feast of Stephen about a young man who fantasizes about young basketballers, is beaten up by them and dry humped, but then turns to the camera and grins. He has had a great time, apparently.
Brian: Is that under "bonus features"?
Aaron: Yes.
Brian: Something to look forward to…

Patrick: I'm here! I am wearing control top sweatpants and have Rosé a plenty.
Brian: Who's Rose-a-plenty, Patrick? She sounds fun.
Patrick: Ha. I’ll tell you when you're older.

David: I'm here as well. I'm doing this sober. I can't promise I won't remind you all that I'm sober as the film progresses.
Aaron: I'm going to be mostly sober, too. And you have a big day tomorrow, Davey.
David: I ironed my pants and everything.
Brian: We are, in this ritual, invoking the spirits of the fairy godfathers on your behalf, dear David. And I'm sure a number of the fairy godfathers will be pleased at how you look in those freshly pressed pants.
David: Thanks, Brian! For both those things!
Aaron: I haven't heard from Nick. Anyone?
David: Nothing on my end.
Patrick: She's been silent.
Brian: No sé nada.
Aaron: Ryan apparently forgot this was happening, so it looks like it will just be the four of us, then. Ryan asks us to commence.
Patrick: Ryan is the worst.
Aaron: If it makes any of us feel better, he probably would only have posted gifs instead of talking to us.
Brian: You are the Master of this here Interior-LeatherBar, Aaron. Do Nick and Ryan have to perform their own reenactments as penance?

Aaron: This is going to be amazing.
Brian: Strand Releasing! "Plagued."
David: "Filmmaker" James Franco.
Aaron: Friedkin really received death threats?
Brian: Yes.

Don't be surprised: this film is also ABOUT James Franco.
Aaron: Wait, why are we in Los Angeles?
Patrick: Michael Warner shout-out.
Aaron: He is talking about Michael Warner?
David: Wait, you guys. James Franco is saving the queer lifestyle from normalization.
Brian: Travis seems perplexed.
Patrick: I am never citing Warner again; only Franco on Warner.
Brian: That is as it should be, Patrick.
Patrick: Who is this earnest woman in a red dress who is less perplexed than Travis?
Aaron: And what is she doing? Knitting?
Brian: So much sparkling water.
Aaron: Casting couch!
Patrick: Is this going in the new book?
Aaron: James Franco is absurd.
Patrick: "Pacino-esque"?
Aaron: "I'm not going to ask you to have sex with anybody??" What?
Patrick: "Sex is not part of my agenda in this political protest against homo monogamous marriage."
Brian: His mission. James’s mission.
Aaron: La Misión Jaime Franco.
Patrick: Hahaha. "What is." Franco mission ontology.

Aaron: This is a film about making a film and about shirtless men?
Patrick: He discovered cruising a few years ago?
David: "I hope I get to make out with Franco."
Patrick: Is that Tilda Swinton?
Brian: It is L.A.
David: Wow, that one guy had perfectly formed nipples.
Aaron: Those nipples. No joke. I like the ones who aren’t actors. The actors all talk about how "dangerous" this is.

David: My favorite kind of homosexuality. Haha.
Patrick: Is there any other kind?
Brian: Can that be our band name?
Patrick: "Be home by eight for dinner reservations, which are presumably at a place other than our home." Ohhhh faggot.

Aaron: This has so much casting stuff in it Brian! Ok. They are obsessing over this one guy's heterosexuality. Methinks the lady doth protest too much.
Brian: I know. Shit. The essay premise is coming into focus as the central dude gaypanics.
David: It’s like that basketball player on Drag Race
Patrick: Hahaha.
Aaron: Bahaha. "Get comfortable." Do some poppers.
Patrick: Haha.

Brian: Do any of y'all know who Richard Grieco is?
Mr. Grieco
Aaron: Yes, of course!
Patrick: No.
Aaron: He does rather look like him.
Brian: Val is so Grieco, with a Franco chaser.

Patrick: "Hi AJ. I'm Master Avery." Gesture. Repetition. With a difference.
Aaron: HAHA. Is Franco involved in this in some sort of way?
David: Gosh, everyone hopes Franco will be naked. Especially Franco.
Patrick: "The range of human experience. As captured by HuffPo." And fisting.
Aaron: What gay man thinks Franco is straight? Like, really. Does anyone?
Brian: Latent.
Patrick: "Why Is This Straight Dude Touching This: a Memoir"

Brian: "Cozy."
David: A well-paid gay man.
Patrick: "I am so cozy with myself." More snuggies in this scene will help the het.
Brian: "Interestinnnnng."
David: "Fuck scripts." Oh, James Franco. You're so real.
Patrick: "As an actor" What am I? Fit in.
Aaron: I cannot believe this. Is this even a film? Franco is on his phone.
Patrick: Was he on a Sega Genesis?

Aaron: Are we in a 99-seat theatre in Hollywood?
Brian: More like a 33-seat. I may have been in that theatre.
Aaron: Have I been here before?
Patrick: "You can be wherever you want, but he must worship your boots."
David: Everyone really needs to know who's straight or gay.
Aaron: That's what Los Angeles is like, David. Everyone seems gay. You have to ask.
Patrick: "Is that a real cigarette?"
David: Hahaha.

Brian: "Yeah I'm straight. Does that answer the question?"
Aaron: I can't bear all of this forced heterosexuality.
David: Val, stop playing Never Have I Ever.
Aaron: "Have you played a homosexual guy before?"
Patrick: "No, but I have dabbled as a soft butch."

Aaron: How much physical contact? However much would be typical inside a gay S/M club??
Hahaha. How much physical contact would be typical inside a gay S/M club?
Brian: There is something brilliant about the method-for-dummies rationalizing about gay-for-play-acting.
Collin Chavez as "Drag Queen"
Patrick: Ease into that. This is like everything I hated about high school and everything I love about reenactment.
Brian: So the mancrushing - Franco, Pacino.
Aaron: So much mancrushing.
Patrick: He's my favorite actor. Love Angels in America. He played who? Sall Me? Salomé?
Aaron: This guy DOES kinda look like Sal Mineo.
Patrick: Oh, OK.
Aaron: Salomé???? Hahaha. This makeup artist is my favorite character.
Patrick: "I think this film is about the right to the freedom to the liberty to the choice."
David: This is already the longest movie I have ever seen, except the first Hobbit.
Brian: "Unless it was right in the moment"
Patrick: He reallly wants to get fucked
Brian: "Without being paid?" Are these folks working for free?
Aaron: They must be! That is insane. They are all working for free just for the hope of seeing Franco's dick?

Patrick: More like Interior Neoliberal Bar amiright?
Brian: POPPPERS 101
Patrick: OMG I have given this workshop. This is dramaturgy. "You're not buried in anything. In this sex club"
Aaron: This drag queen guy is a hot mess.
David: He's a terrible drag queen.
Aaron: I love this ass shot, though. Oh my god.
Patrick: He also just looks like a middle-aged Andrew Rannells.
Brian: He's a good mock of the Cruising queens, who were also terrible drag queens.
Aaron: Ah. Good point.
Brian: The perfect nipple guy looks good in a jockstrap. Oh great! Put the sissychub in the slave mask.
Aaron: Is Franco behind the camera? Surely not. Is he on his phone?
David: Franco's in the corner, quietly masturbating.
Aaron: This is starting actually to look like fun.

Patrick: OMG. Yellow hanky. Not enough poppers, too much dancing.
Aaron: This poor straight actor. He needs to get fucked by the end of this.
Patrick: Were there black people in the 1980s?
David: He looks miserable.
Aaron: He's not even going to have a beer?
Patrick: I love the flirty popper sniff.
Aaron: Yeah. That was fun.
Patrick: All I can think of right now is Torch Song Trilogy. "Where do I put the beer can?"
Aaron: Haha.

Aaron: Franco is back.
Brian: Ha. That face!
Patrick: OMG. "Thank you?!"
Aaron: Why is he so terrified? Wasn't it just spanking?
Patrick: "Let's go to chipotle"
David: Hahahaha.
Patrick: "A bottom is being beaten"
Aaron: YES!
Patrick: Franco is great for teaching paranoid reading.
Aaron: I love that he read Michael Warner to us and now he's criticizing toilet paper commercials and lionizing gay marriage.
Patrick: "Put it in the mainstream." Tools tools tools; tools in the mainstream.
Aaron: "Palatable."
Patrick: He hates fetishes.
Aaron: Is Franco hitting on this guy?
Patrick: He is totally batting his eyes
David: Yes.

Patrick: "I don't care how you shoot it." I can't.
Brian: This is how straight actors flirt with each other.
Aaron: It is? At least the straight guy totally understands that this is porn.
Patrick: Straight men are so much gayer and so much more awful than I remembered.
Brian: It's all in the name of Pacino. The straight-actor mancrushing on pushing the limits in acting.

Patrick: Is this presence? I think I understand presence now.
Aaron: You are full of shit. Haha.
Patrick: Is Franco developing a lesbian "s" as the movie goes on?
Brian: See, straightdouche - having a script doesn't necessarily help. And when does Karen Allen show up?
Aaron: His reaction to this script is amazing.

David: "Sucking. Fucking. Armpits. Balls." Yes Val.
Aaron: What's my motivation?
Brian: The overdubbed phone calls are very porn.
Patrick: Paddle on, not paddle in. Different movie.
Aaron: HAHA. This voiceover is absurd. And it is totally porn.
Patrick: Right. Along. Side. Me. "At the forefront of Franco's expression." I love the conflation of earnestness with bottoming.
Brian: Is that supposed be his agent?
Aaron: The expression "he's got my back" is a fascinating one in this context. I think it is his agent, yeah. None of these guys is a porn actor, though, right?
Brian: On the subject of Master Avery:
Aaron: How helpful, Brian. Thanks.
Patrick: The way this film is porn/disavows porn/needs porn is all very odd

Patrick: Swimmer build? Please.
Brian: I think "Scene Don't Really Know" might be my favorite so far.
Patrick: All-female crew labor.
David: Oh, you're right, Patrick.
Patrick: Teach this in Working Women next time, David.
David: Oh, definitely.
Brian: Not unlike much of gay porn filmed in the valley - women crews.

Val is literally craning his neck to see the two men have sex.

David: Is Franco just getting some footage for his private collection? What is he doing?
Aaron: We are watching Val watch these men have sex. But why is he watching?
Brian: No I think we're watching Val pout about seeing homosex.
Patrick: By the way, before I forget: keep an eye out for condoms. Very curious about how this plays out politically/historically.
Aaron: No condoms, right?
Patrick: Not yet, but also no penetration yet. Right?
Aaron: Right.
Brian: There's been no boofoo yet, right?
Patrick: Hahahahha.

Aaron: "Tasteful bondage/art/porn." Master Avery ain't workin' for free, right?
Patrick: Also, Avery is not the name of a master.
Aaron: I still can't get over that these people are working for free.
Patrick: Will this help with getting SAG cards?
Brian: If any of y'all encounter the email call, send it my way.
David: No, but Franco!
Patrick: Bottoming has no exchange value, Aaron.

Patrick: "Things are so much bigger than they actually are when you see them and do them."
Aaron: Franco isn't even there!
Patrick: Franco has his theories of counterpublics class that day. He's very busy, Aaron.
Aaron: I love that Val is looking at the script again.
Patrick: Oh my god. Leather man in the alley.
Brian: He should check with Master Avery before he makes any promises to that phonelady.
Patrick: Haha. Is there no stage manager?
Aaron: I think Val's kinda hot.
Brian: I want him to have that Pacino popper freakout.
Aaron: Not as hot as Master Avery, obviously.

Brian: There it is. I love the Pacino popper freakout.
Patrick: Haha popper puppet mouth.
Brian: I think I want that to be my bandname now: Pacino Popper Freakout
Patrick: Best riot grrl band ever, Brian.

Aaron: Oh no! Just when it was getting good.
Patrick: Mapquest? What is happening
Aaron: That's a Prius map.
Brian: Whut?
David: "Where do we go from here," the Prius asks, "now that Franco has exploded our normative constructs."

Brian: Tilda!
Patrick: We never saw cowboy man again. Right? Totally Tilda. I am kind of devastated that it is ending. Is there a sequel?
David: Interior. Val's Angry Wife's House.
Patrick: Interior: Val.
Brian: Then they could have the same cast play Karen Allen in a scene full of flokati rugs and wicker and wine.

Patrick: Also, this conversation counts as peer-reviewed, right?
Aaron: Hahaha. This has already been reviewed by the 2014 Pulitzer committee.
Patrick: I mean, we are all more talented than Annie Baker, so we should be in the clear.

Aaron: This was deeply unsatisfying as porn.
Patrick: Like that is what so odd, because the shock value is gay sex but is articulated through a faux-leather community. And, like, we saw a halfhearted blowjob and a very odd paddling "in" someone.
Brian: Also deeply unsatisfying as a riff on Cruising.
Aaron: Right. I mean, to revisit Cruising is important work. But this revisited straight people visiting faux-gay sex.
Brian: What is interesting is the restaging of what enflamed the critics – having gay men perform gayness as lurid spectacle for a straight auteur and straight methodman.
Patrick: Right, like, could the actually transgressive version of this happened? What would that be? A TIM film at a Landmark theatre?
Aaron: But the film is interested in what straight actors think about performing "gay" acts. Right?
Patrick: (Not that I think transgression is a thing.)
Aaron: But Interior. Leather Bar. isn't even about watching or looking; it's about what some actors have to "struggle" with.
Brian: No. The transgressive bit about this and about Cruising are that both are about the straight male fixation on gaysex.
Aaron: Right, right.
Patrick: Yes, yes.
Aaron: But, see, that is everywhere, Brian. In the film, I mean. And yet it has no payoff, and the maestro is a gay man.
Patrick: I guess I was thinking of, in terms of… that fixation gets staged and restaged all the time.
Brian: But not with the actual gaysex.
Patrick: (Namely: gay for pay actors on daytime talk shows.) And what – if anything – we would have wanted differently relative to those conventions?
Brian: That is the most interesting thing about the purported lost 40 minutes too – have you seen the 1980 MANDATE interview with the "Men of Cruising" – the guys who were pleased and proud to have participated as extras?
Patrick: I have not!
Aaron: Ooo! No.
Brian: It's an amazing document. We hear a lot about Vito Russo's rationale for the protests, but not so much about those who saw their participation as a kind of radical action.
Aaron: Oh wow. Yeah. That is cool.

Patrick: Also, can we talk about the coupledness of the real/"real" gays?
David: I was most interested by the gay actor who said this is the third film he's done where he's had to be naked the whole time.
Aaron: I think he is figuring out what his talents are. Patrick, you are so right about the coupledness of the men having sex.
Brian: Yes, none of the 1980s gays talked about performing their coupledom on set. Totally different scene.
Patrick: So, I mean: obvious point, interesting that the reenactment critiquing marriage offers a corrective with the couple. And by interesting, I mean obvious and terrible.
Aaron: Obvious and terrible. Yes.
Patrick: The degree to which my response to every shot of this film was both "duh" and "fascinating" is a thing.
David: And Val could tell they were a couple. He could see the love there.
Aaron: Oh god you're right. He could see the love.
Brian: He could see the love.
Patrick: Poppers: making love palpable since VCR cleaner was invented.

Aaron: Meredith Baxter once made a film about breast cancer. An actor played her doctor, but when they cut to the hand touching her breast, it was her husband's hand. (But now Meredith Baxter is a lesbian.)
Patrick: How has it taken this long to get to Meredith Baxter?
Aaron: That was all for you. Obviously.

Unknown Guy with Perfect Nips
Patrick: I am adding "female labor" and "popper freakout" as key words to my diss after tonight's viewing.
Aaron: Speaking of dissertations, be awesome tomorrow, David.
Patrick: Oh yes! You will be the best.
Aaron: I'm glad you joined us!
Patrick: France, repurposed spaces, performance. done.
David: Thanks, gents!
Brian: The fairy godfathers are with you!
David: Bless you all. I'm going to get a good night's sleep.

Aaron: I will send this to you all to make sure you like my eits. efits. edits. Jesus.
David: Well they're off to a great start.
Brian: I love your eits, Aaron.
Aaron: Hush.
Brian: Make it all about the nipples.
David: Yes. Those nipples. Please include a photo of perfect nips.
Patrick: I think I missed the nipple shot(s). Priorities.

Aaron: Good night everyone! Thanks for doing this with me! If you have ideas for other absurd films we should watch let me know.
Brian: Yes, let's try this again.
David: Cheers all.

Patrick: OMG also. Do you all see that in one of Master Avery's shots on his site that he is being ...crucified? By two pandas?
Aaron: HAHA.
Brian: That Master Avery. Such a card. Night, gents.
Patrick: Haha. Night, all.

03 April 2014

Don Jon

I have to say that I am sort of irritated by how, well, not good Joseph Gordon-Levitt's first feature is.

I don't even think I have a lot to say about this film except that it is basically Ted except for instead of an amusing (well, not that amusing) talking bear, JGL's version of the man-child who doesn't want to grow up has a laptop and some pornography to keep him company.

One thing that Ted has on Don Jon, too, is that Ted has a woman at its center who is actually correct about how to improve the man in her life. Don Jon's version of that is a shallow, idiotic rich girl who literally doesn't approve of speaking out loud about purchasing cleaning products in Target in case someone hears you. I mean this film hates its central female character.

Don Jon isn't without its merits. JGL is hard to dislike. How could anyone? He is clearly a lovely performer, and the picture is decently made – it is his first, and its a lot better than, well, other actors' first features.

And the film makes some really good points, too. Carl's Jr. ads really are pornographic, and this film calls them out on it. Romantic comedies, too, get some women off in the same way that pornographic films get some men off. It is a pleasing comparison: one that basically erases the history of oppression and misogyny to which women have been subjected through the dehumanization of pornographic imagery, but not incorrect.

Here's the deal: this is a film with the tagline There's more to life than a happy ending. A pornographic pun, to be sure. And the film promises to be irreverent, to be relatively sexy/pornographic, and then to end without a happy ending: something at the very least non-normative. But it doesn't know how to do that.

There is not more to life than a happy ending in this film. It is a film with a very earnest message that made me want to throw something. It purports to know how to have sex correctly – the true way to enjoy sex with someone (in case you weren't aware) is really to see someone else, to share something, to make love. I mean, look, I'm glad that is good for some people, and I am not saying that that's, like, a bad way to have sex or anything, but to behave as though the way that you like to have sex is somehow the correct way to do it, seems... well, I'll be generous and say: a bit short sighted.

And Don Jon is totally invested in its main character learning exactly this lesson. In fact, like other recent comedies about grown men turning into adults and leaving their childhoods behind (Knocked Up, The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, Ted), Don Jon links growing up or "becoming a man" to something very specific that the film argues is "what adults do". In the case of Don Jon, "what adults do" is watch less porn than they did when they were teens/kids/whatever. And they make love with the women with whom they have sex: they don't simply engage in "one-sided" sex.

This is all fine, I suppose. I jut don't relate to this kind of thing in any way.

Maybe I need to grow up and start having sex the "right" way. Paging Dr. Freud.