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

31 May 2018

Cinema Q

I decided to make this list after reading yet another critique of how Call Me by Your Name. The author of this particular think-piece was bemoaning the lack of queer cinema. What he meant was that although we have more films with representations of gay people in them, and even (I think he said this) more films about gay topics, we don't have filmmakers who are using the kinds of queer filmmaking techniques pioneered by Derek Jarman.

In the first place, I don't really see how this is remotely true – Saint Laurent and Cemetery of Splendour and Moonlight and Carol simply were not that long ago, and each of them is plainly using queer techniques. As, for that matter, is Call Me by Your Name.

The main critique I read of Call Me by Your Name was, of course, that it didn't have enough sex in it. I can't say I really disagree. Although I thought the film was very sexy, the novel is explicit in ways that the film seemed occasionally to avoid. Not that Call Me by Your Name isn't sexy; it obviously is. And there are plenty of quite explicit sequences in it. But it seems to shy away slightly from gay sex. I don't need to make excuses for that, and I don't particularly care to. I rather agree. This bothered me a lot about Moonlight, too, even though I also loved that film.

God's Own Country
I think what irks me when I read takedowns of Call Me by Your Name by queer critics is that they always seem to want the movie to do everything. Call Me by Your Name is too romantic, and it doesn't deal with homophobia, and there's not enough sex, and it's set in the 1980s, and it doesn't deal with HIV/AIDS, and it's too bisexual, and it's about two males, and it doesn't take place in the U.S., and it's not about me. Theses writers seem to be really furious that every gay film doesn't include all the things. Which leads them to hate, say, Love, Simon, for not being the queer teenage breakthrough film they've been looking for forever, or to complain: where is the Moonlight for ladies?

Signature Move
Do we need more films about queer people? Yeah. Do we need more films about queer women in particular? Yeah. Do we need more movies about trans and gender-nonconforming folks? You know we do. Do I want to watch more stories about queer people that don't end in tragedy? For sure.
But every film about queer people doesn't need to do all things, and my first reaction whenever I read complaints like the ones about Call Me by Your Name is Oh! You don't see enough movies about queer people. Because it turns out they are there. Did you want a movie about a young woman developing an attraction to other women and developing superpowers at the same time? You should see Thelma. Were you interested in watching more explicit gay sex as part of the film's narrative? You should see Beach Rats. Were you interested in homophobia and its effects on both sex and love? You should see God's Own Country. Did you want to see a movie about a girl falling in love with a gender-nonconforming person in Chicago? You should see Princess Cyd. Were you interested in HIV and its effects on the queer community? You should see 120 Beats per Minute. Did you want a pure fantasy about a teenager meeting another queer teenager and developing a relationship? You should see Handsome Devil. Were you wanting a movie about a transwoman dealing with homophobia and grief? I hope you saw A Fantastic Woman. And these were just the films released in 2017.

120 Beats per Minute
My point is that these films exist. We're just not watching them. And then we're complaining that the ones that we do watch don't do all the things we want them to do. All the critiques I read of Call Me by Your Name were tinged with this complaint. But it's not this enough. And I wished it did more of this. That's cool. It's totally valid. Call Me by Your Name was doing its own, particular, Luca Guadagnino–James Ivory thing. Ivory has been making movies since the early 1960s and he sees the world a certain way, and Guadagnino has particular interests as a filmmaker related to sensuality and nature and food. I loved this film, and I loved it for what it was... and I also understand not loving it for those same reasons. But to move from there to complain about the state of queer filmmaking is, to my mind, ignorant. Watch more queer movies and you'll see that there are lots more queer stories out there. I can't think of a better time for queer cinema than right now – and maybe that's because I recently saw 120 Beats per Minute, which was easily one of the best movies of 2017 and is unquestionably the best film about AIDS I've ever seen. It actually just might be objectively the best film about AIDS ever made.

So, I want to inaugurate a Cinema Q list. A long list of movies about LGBTQI topics and queer people for every year. The list will be annual and will link to whatever comments I've written about it. I am imagining this as a resource, but also as a kind of memory bank. I will update this list continually when I know about a queer film or when someone messages me a recommendation.

The female Moonlight, incidentally, was called Pariah. Did you see it?

20 May 2018

Saraband for Dead Lovers

This movie is so much better than I thought it would be, and Flora Robson is pretty extraordinary; she gives a brave, fierce performance that elevates the film far above the usual period fare that the studios were cranking out in the late 1940s.

Basil Dearden's filmmaking is also super interesting, which is surprising because the film itself is the kind of sudsy big-budget period romance to which we have all become accustomed in the post-war period. But Saraband for Dead Lovers has lots to recommend it. The editing is intriguing, the tale is told with startling economy, and the politics – a set of moves in Hanover that landed the German George I on the English throne – are not without interest.

As usual with the stuff I'm watching lately, Saraband for Dead Lovers is very hard to get ahold of. If you want to watch it you will have to find yourself a (legally questionable) DVD of it.

18 May 2018

Ådalen 31 (1969)

Ådalen 31 is good. It's no Raven's End, but it's good. I think that Widerberg isn't as clear about the connections he's making in Ådalen 31 as he is in that previous film. And Ådalen 31 doesn't have the same focus on a central character, and so it is hard to connect to this movie in the same way.

What is clear to me, however, is that Widerberg was a major 1960s voice in Sweden, and it is nuts that these films are so hard to get in the United States. Also, as I watch more and more films from this period, it becomes clear that the topic of unionization – and labor more generally – was the conversation in global cinema in the 1960s. This is true for big films like I Compagni but even seemingly somewhat smaller films like La Venganza or the movies of Bo Widerberg or Vasilis Georgiadis.

16 May 2018

Like, Simon

Love, Simon was sort of basic. It has a hip soundtrack, but it settles for most of the usual tropes and it is never really interesting as a film.

Worse yet, it doesn't really have any intriguing characters. Everyone here is attractive and charming, but other recent high school movies like The Edge of Seventeen, Closet Monster, and even Handsome Devil have much more interesting characterization than Love, Simon does. These guys are all just so bland.

To be fair, this film does have a couple really great scenes. There is one where Simon comes out to his friend in a car – this is a really moving sequence. And, of course, the scenes with Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel are all great. Especially their two (solo) post-coming out scenes with Simon. In another very good scene, Simon yells at the young man who has outed him, telling him that when to come out should have been his choice (this is something out gay people seem to forget about people who are not out – I find myself really tired of gay folks telling famous gay actors and musicians that they need to come out).

Still, I wish this film had been more of a film.
And I wish it had been gayer.
And I wish there had been more Joey Pollari.

14 May 2018

When Tomorrow Comes

When Tomorrow Comes is a charming melodrama. It would be remade by Douglas Sirk, eventually. This is a lovely little romantic–tragic follow-up to Love Story starring that earlier movie's leads, Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. Also, I think I had forgotten just how much I love those two performers. They're wonderful together onscreen. I just love them. When Tomorrow Comes is, surprisingly, hard to find (no DVD release or normal streaming possibilities). It does not deserve this fate. It's no Love Story, of course, but it's quite good, and it has a pretty terrific hurricane sequence.

13 May 2018

Mad about Music

I hated this movie, and I loathed the central character, who spends the entirety of the film lying. But then I hate most Deanna Durbin movies. Honestly, I am not sure why I subjected myself to this. Mad about Music would be a total and complete loss if it were not for Herbert Marshall, who is completely charming in this from start to finish.

12 May 2018

The Red Lanterns (1963)

The Red Lanterns (Τα Κόκκινα Φανάρια), Vasilis Georgiadis's 1963 film is my kind of melodrama. In many ways this is even more of a successful film than Georgiadis's later, more political melodrama, Blood on the Land (Το Χώμα Βάφτηκε Κόκκινο), from 1965. 

The Red Lanterns is the literal title in Greek, but it refers to the red-light district, and the film surely should have been renamed for its U.S. release in 1965. Georgiadis's film is a portrait of one brothel in this red-light district, and we follow four or five different women who work for the same brothel. The stories are beautiful in their way, and, of course melodramatic. I really loved this movie.

Isle of Dogs

This is cute and very funny. I was also really invested in its plot. Isle of Dogs totally works, too, but... I think I am more and more impatient with Wes Anderson and his brand. I really liked the last one, The Grand Budapest Hotel, but I haven't really loved a Wes Anderson film since that one where Gwyneth Paltrow attempted suicide and wore dark eyeliner. I think I just want things to be a little more serious.

07 May 2018

Princess Cyd

Love love love love.  Princess Cyd is filled with light and wisdom, and it's very moving and gentle. It's a gorgeous, generous film with a central performance from Chicago actor Rebecca Spence that is breathtaking. This is such good stuff.

06 May 2018

I Even Met Happy Gypsies

I wish I had more to say about Aleksandar Petrović's I Even Met Happy Gypsies. The filmmaking is cool, but the story is just not that interesting.

Two for the Road (1967)

Two for the Road is a very cleverly told tale about a relationship and three (or four?) different trips through the south of France taken by a couple at different times. The editing is smart, and the script keeps all of these balls in the air in smart ways.

The central question of the film, however, is this romantic relationship: will they divorce? Will they stay together? Will they murder each other? To be honest, by the film's second act, I had already started, rather, to dislike the two of them, and didn't care if they stayed together or not.

05 May 2018

La Vie devant Soi

La Vie devant Soi might be my favorite movie of 1978. That's kind of a difficult claim to make 40 years later, so I'm having trouble committing, but this film is gorgeous. I absolutely loved it. The movie stars (the incomparable) Simone Signoret as Madame Rosa, an aged prostitute and survivor of the Shoah who now takes care of prostitutes' children during the week so that they can work.

The movie, like all Moshé Mizrahi movies, is actually, however, about a young boy coming of age. One of the kids that Madame Rosa has taken in is a boy whose parents were Muslim, and his parents never come back for him, so he and Madame Rosa stick it out together as she grows old and infirm and he becomes a young teenager.

This is easily Mizrahi's best film, and this one manages to cover so many intriguing topics and describe so many fascinating characters. I found it beautiful and very moving even if I have become impatient with Mizrahi's greater interest in young men coming of age than the women in those boys' lives. (The women in his films always seem more interesting to me, but Mizrahi's movies are less interested in them.)

As for Simone Signoret (1921-1985), La Vie devant Soi is a crowning achievement in a long and superb career.

03 May 2018

Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky was really funny, and for the record I thought it was much funnier and not nearly as classist as I, Tonya. I love that Channing Tatum. He's just so great.