If life is just an illusion, then why is it so difficult to accept all it has to offer, guilt-free and at face value? Part Six asks that question, as well as several others, as we present ten examples that go from the sublime to the absurd. Who said ball culture, fascism, erotic, fantasies, and the protective maternal instinct cannot reside together on the same list? “Toucha-toucha-toucha touch me…”.
(Introduction by Steve Schweighofer)
Love and affection is often born regardless of age, religion and gender. Set in modern day Tehran, Circumstance does not take any sides, a drama that although is political as much as it is romantic, is not shy in demonstrating the disruption of constructed family life, but more so a certain clandestine mutual attraction between two girls from very different family lives. Partying hard behind the scenes, Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) and her best friend Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) spend every private moment with longing looks, holding hands, as well as some truly electric sensual moments. Writer-director Maryam Keshavarz makes the female embrace so breath-taking you can just about touch it, telling a convincing story of lesbian love so magnetically intimate in their restrictive Iran culture. Boosheri and Kazemy bring shimmering, simmering passion to their seamless on-screen chemistry, keeping emotions and sexual tension on an extended hair’s end – all the while an enthusiastic, if somewhat repressed, layer of first love vibrates on the surface.
Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Pink Narcissus (1971)
Gay male desire captured as a series of fantasies. Self-reflexive, vivid, purely capturing the sense of escapism from reality into somewhere within the dreams, desires, scenarios. Reflective not only of the protagonist here, played by Bobby Kendall, but also queer individuals in general having to hide behind veils of the societal restrictions and codes. Not being able to live and be as one would want to, simply existing and expressing. Of course, applicable even now to many people in around the world. This 1971 film, slightly longer than an hour is director Bidgood’s only effort. Even that, assembled and edited from the footage he shot for seven years without his permission hence choosing not to credit himself. Even for an experimental, avant-garde film, the narrative is simply composed of fragments held together only by the idea of fantasies and not going beyond or exploring anything else. Yet the experience is simply enchanting. Shot inside the apartment mostly, it’s a wonder how it came together with limited budget and long period of filming. Screen is drenched in such vivid colors and bright lights, the effect is otherworldly. One can say it’s the most artful capturing of a man’s fetish. Here, the central figure is a prostitute, an object for other’s desires and needs. He escapes to these worlds where he is in command and control. He imagines himself as a matador, emperor, with people dancing for him, subjects to his gaze. Singularly about and venturing into an individual and his mindset, the mood, the sights representative of that. It is a fantastic, surreal film and just gorgeous.
Asif Khan @KHAN2705
Anatomy of a Love Seen (2014)
Marina Rice Bader’s directorial debut has its share of charms: an intriguing premise, gifted lead actresses, superb composition, and a novel approach to the lesbian film. This is a film about a film. Well, it’s a film that is about a film that is actually about a relationship. Well – okay – it’s complicated. Anatomy of a Love Seen is the story of two actresses: Zoe (Sharon Hinnendael) and Mal (Jill Evyn), who are brought together a year after the messy dissolution of their relationship to re-shoot a sex scene from the film that initially brought them together. The film is largely a quiet affair, with the majority of the emotion riding on the subtleties of Hinnendael and Evyn’s performances, and the frame narrative, which involves some inadequately explained subterfuge on the director’s part, can come across a bit hokey. But, overall, it is a lovely meditation on the impermanence of love despite our best intentions to make it last.
Desirae Embree @ZeeSayre
You don’t have to stand too far back when getting to grips in your own head how films depicting homosexuality still appear to garner breakthrough status. So when you go back to 1982 with the Greek film Angelos, you just crave to go back and experience the audience reactions to such an openly gay portrayal. Giorgos Katakouzinos’s compelling drama is not afraid to let the camera linger among the gay community thriving on the dance floor keeping disco alive, but bigger than that it shows the exposure of the queer culture, how it affects them, and those around them. Angelos himself is involved in a questionable lifestyle when he meets a confident lover, but the ramifications his homosexuality has on his family is in this instance a truly tragic outcome, in one of the the film’s most powerful scenes. That, and the final scene of violent self-expression. A depiction of homophobia this appears to be then, an attitude that is sadly still familiar today, making Angelos even more important and essential.
Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Head On (1998)
Ana Kokkinos’ adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ novel, Loaded, takes a sharp look at what it’s like dealing with expectations of being the second generation of traditional Greek immigrants while coming to terms with one’s untraditional sexuality. This Australian gem is set in Melbourne and explores the psychological terrain of low self-esteem and excessively compulsive behavior, similar to Steve McQueen’s heterosexual Shame 13 years later. It also stands as a benchmark on how gay life is portrayed in mainstream film – no saint/sinner judgments, just Ari making it through a very kinetic day. A brilliant and brave performance by Alex Dimitriades as Ari anchors a rollercoaster ride through Ari’s life of family pressures, spontaneous (and numerous) sexual encounters, all sprinkled with occasional drug-taking. Director Kokkinos manages her pacing according to each adventure, never flinching from taking each scene to its realistic conclusion, usually to an ass-kicking soundtrack. As a result, she and her first feature film garnered a slew of prizes in LA, Milan, San Francisco and, of course, Australia.
Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag
The Conformist (1970)
The Conformist, one of the masterpieces in the history of cinema is an enigma. Describing the film itself, what it’s about, how it’s about it or the experience of it is a difficult job. It is not one thing but many. Reducing it to a single set of ideas or subjects or purely focusing on its stylistic choices as being just that, stylistic exercises, would be a mistake. In the same way, the part about our protagonist’s sexuality in all its repressed, traumatizing, complicated nature cannot be talked in a way that would reduce the film to just that. The mysterious nature of this film is undeniably the reason why it has been so influential, important and held to such high degree in cinematic history. Vittorio Storaro’s heavenly work here is an obvious standout. Such expressionistic designs, unbelievable framing, staging and his capturing of various flashbacks over time, with specific emotions and importance attached to them is a true wonder. Fascism, it’s affects, are at the center. The film itself an almost unreal mixture of ideologies, psychologies and cinematic conventions. Despite all that, which may alienate any potential viewers reading this right now, the film is jaw dropping. Political mindsets, practices, ideologies steeps like venom in the past and present. Inescapable, all around, decaying and destroying. Personal being, freedom, sexuality and expression all infringed. Its a grand depiction, the grandest most operatic one I can recall right now of such sorts. The visuals and subject or subjects within the visuals for that matter are always left to our interpretation in the movies and that is all the more necessary and applicable here.
Asif Khan @KHAN2705
Written and directed by Mike Mills, Beginners is an affecting, sharp-edged movie, balancing with consummate ease breezy tones of romance, comedy, and drama. Delving into a romance with Anna (Mélanie Laurent), Oliver (Ewan McGregor) is essentially inspired by his father Hal (Christopher Plummer, Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actor), who comes out as gay man very late in life. Hal reinvents his relationship with is son, but also rebuilds his own identity in a flourishing new lifestyle in the gay community, living his final years with an open bliss and hunger – including landing himself a much younger lover (Goran Višnjić). Beginners is honest and engaging in its portrayal of two lives, of father and son, who take on a new transition in their respective lives in light of Hal’s new-found sexuality.
Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
The Deep End (2001)
The fruits of denial are never sweet. When protective mother Margaret (Tilda Swinton) discovers, then tries to interfere with, the sexual affair between her 17-year-old son Beau (Jonathan Tucker) and an older nightclub owner (Josh Lucas), things get out of hand, leading to complications that get deadly for more than one player. Adapted and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, the film is charged with the electricity that is the maternal instinct as Margaret strives to protect her son, Beau, from increasingly elaborate dangers as she tries at the same time to understand her recent revelations about him. Just how far should she go protecting a son who may or may not have killed someone? The plot gets sticky, but the performances and rural lakeside setting – at once idyllic and forbidding – create a state of paranoia and urgency that turns to panic as the story unfolds. And, hey – it’s Tilda at her finest!
Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag
Paris is Burning (1990)
This hugely influential and a cultural milestone of a documentary is directed by Jennie Livingston. Spotlighting the ballroom subculture of the late 80’s in New York, popular among the LGBT community mostly comprising of African-Americans and Latinos. Winning awards at Sundance, Berlin and various critics and documentary groups, it brought not only the extravagance of these youths but also their struggles to forefront. Both dazzling and celebratory but also carrying a somber undercurrent. Elaborately shown sequences of the shows where beautifully dressed drag queens and gay or transgender men and women would compete for their perfect embodiment of a particular style highlighting their aspirations and personal expression. The way they lived together, celebrated together, suffered together as a family of adopted, battling familial and general societal rejection as well as various financial and health issues, its a depiction steeped very well within its subject without objectifying them. It ends up being an insightful examination of race, class and gender in America. Featuring interviews, very personal, ranging from vocabulary lessons of ballroom and LGBT traditions and a look inside lives of some who had to survive through prostitution and shoplifting. Despite it all, high spirit and humor is maintained by them in their daily lives. What else can one do? Survival is the key and there are many ways to do it. A film focused, fierce and just extraordinary.
Asif Khan @KHAN2705
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Many films earn the title of ‘cult classic’, but The Rocky Horror Picture Show was, and still is, a truly astonishing phenomenon. It’s influence in pastiche cinema, punk fashion and atypical songwriting remains as recognisable today as it was in the 1970’s, and the illustrious sensuality of Dr Frank N. Furter lives on in commemorative audience participation screenings and countless tributes over the years, from That 70s Show to Glee. Rocky Horror set its own standard of frivolity, and although it is largely a parody of early 20th century horror films, its flexible representations of gender and sexuality empowered a continually marginalised audience. We have Tim Curry et al. to thank for articulating what we now appreciate as an important cultural factor in a gay-straight kinship, both on-screen and in regular life.
Rhiannon Topham @rhiannontopham