100 LGBT Film Experiences – Part Nine

What is the most effective way to tell a story? The next ten submissions on our list run the gamut from free-style invention to lush homage. Perhaps the best way to convey the vision is a straight A-to-B narrative with clever writing; maybe just a short film will suffice. Designing suitable and appealing architecture from which to display one’s ideas is a challenging feat.

(Introduction by Steve Schweighofer)

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Laurence Anyways (2012)

Someone recently told me, as we were preparing this very series, that any LGBT film coverage might not quite be the same without an entry from the Canadian boy-wonder Xavier Dolan. With Laurence Anyways, an open, honest, at times astonishing, romantic drama, Dolan wrote written, directed, and edited, among other technical chores. He is a film-maker with a clear talent for the visual medium, in style, execution, and story-telling, churning out a well-built narrative at his own pace and prowess. The movie tells the story, a love story you might say, between Frédérique (Fred) and Laurence, a man who soon confides his true longing to be a woman. The relationship is a brittle one, but pulled together with an undeniable, and recognizable force, as Fred and Laurence frolic and fight their way through an intense, enduring adult journey. Laurence of course has his own transition to contend with, but the hot-headed Fred is brutally honesty in her own coping with not just the change of gender, but Laurence’s general attitude and behavior. The film is as much about the mechanics of a deep-rooted companionship in all it’s loyalty and conflict as it is a transgender tale. As it soars beyond the two and a half hour mark, Dolan somehow keeps things fresh and relevant, closing the picture with two marvelous scenes. As Laurence and Fred meet again years later, he tells her he got the hair flick from her, reminding us and them how much she supported him as he became a woman – mannerisms, fixing her, what to wear. They soon bicker again, but it all contributes to the natural little observations of their relationship. The final scene goes right back to the beginning, how they met, so sweet and authentic in its depiction that even after the turbulence you have just witnessed, you are almost swept off your feet again. A hit at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, the film nabbed the Queer Palm Award, as well as the Un Certain Regard Best Actress Award for the stupendously great Suzanne Clément – and well deserved, if just for the coffee shop outburst alone – she blows me away every time I see it.

Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Un Chant d’Amour (1950) 

A transgressive, revolutionary, bold step by Genet, his only film. This 1950 short was banned for years because of the explicit nature of not just the visuals but what they represented. A landmark in gay cinema that has influenced and inspired many, from Warhol to Haynes to Tsai Ming Liang. Intense in the passion that it showcases without words, no dialogues, nothing expressed vocally. Yet the sensuality, the eroticism and the sheer degree of breaking through the confines of the society and its repression is as fabulously shocking to experience now as it must have been then. And the setting is remarkable, a prison, two men in adjacent cells separated by a wall, scrutinised by a jealous and violent guard yet set free by their love and passion for each other. Mutual masturbation, flesh against the wall, blowing cigarette smoke through a straw, this short is filled with charged and expressive moments. Poetic as it is confronting about desire, love, its defiance and strength as well as its perversion and defamation by the society no matter the time, place or sexual identity.

Asif Khan @KHAN2705

Strella (2009) 

One of the admirable, consistent elements of the Greek drama Strella (Στρέλλα in Greek, but also known as A Woman’s Way) is the way it kind of portrays a human understanding, one deeper than we perhaps would expect to see in our own lives, sadly. And that is to it’s credit, that Yiorgos (Yiannis Kokiasmenos) on his release from a 14-year prison sentence finds solace in a transgender woman Strella (Mina Orfanou, a transgender actress) twenty years his junior. And when later their blossoming relationship is endangered by a spectacularly emotive, dumbfounding revelation, we witness true human reaction – we are who we are with all our life choices and mistakes. Written and directed by Panos H. Koutras, Strella digs deep with its characters to find a great big heart in amidst the transitional struggles.

Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

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Poison (1991) 

To describe Todd Haynes’ feature first film as “complex” is something of an understatement. By fracturing the writings of queer literary icon, Jean Genet, into a braided trilogy that includes a mock documentary (Hero) about a kid who flies away after killing his father, a zombie horror film (Horror) in which bad things happen when a scientist experiments with human sexual elixir, and a lusty prison romance (Homo), the cinematic world should have noted that one of our most inventive and sensitive filmmakers had just set sail on a career trajectory that went straight up. Critics were baffled yet mesmerized by the disparate styles and look of the three stories, confounded to the point that they did not know into which genre box to drop it. Comedy? Horror? Social drama? Soft-core porn? A big “yes” to all. Haynes is probably the best thing to come out of the New Queer Cinema movement, and, tongue firmly planted in cheek, Poison is a challenging and entertaining debut that takes on AIDS-era attitudes and turns them inside out.

Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag

Far from Heaven (2002)

Far from Heaven truly captures the melodramatic 1950s in so many ways. The colors, lighting, dialogue, all contribute to pay homage to alienated love and longing, as well as movies from the 40s and 50s. Edward Lachman’s extraordinary cinematography, Elmer Bernstein’s fine score, as well as the production design, costumes, and sound, take you right back to the era. Written and directed by Todd Haynes, Far from Heaven could be the filmmaker’s opus, mixing multiple worlds so heart-breakingly and beautifully – themes of race and sexuality take their place in a time these were taboo. Julianne Moore, as the perfect wife, has to witness and live with her husband kissing another man, and what that means. All the while she herself becomes the black sheep because of who she is drawn to. Haynes almost takes your breath away, swaying between the emotive obstacles and forbidden desires, demonstrating a natural, flourishing talent for period cinema and the kind of love we should accept without so much as a question.

Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Trick (1999)

Trick is something of a (no pun intended) Manhattan fairy tale. It features a traditional 90’s romantic comedy vibe, but it’s consistently funnier, more adorable, and wittier than anything that Katherine Heigl or Kate Hudson would headline. Christian Campbell stars as Gabriel, a shy musical theater composer working on a new project with his best friend, Katherine, played by the amazingly annoying Tori Spelling. After a bad audition, he goes to a bar and locks eyes with muscled go-go boy named Mark (John Paul Pitoc), and they spend the rest of the night looking for a place to hook up. As the clock ticks by, they encounter different members of the community and get to know each other better. Can something that started off as a lustful one night stand turn into something more overnight? Trick is breezy, fun, and light. Campbell is adorable and Pitoc is lovably doofy (he had cute ears before Russell Tovey), and the movie features one of the best monologues in the cameo from drag superstar, Miss Coco Peru.

Joey Moser @JoeyMoser83

Room in Rome (2010) 

One of the unfortunate byproducts of belonging to a marginalized community is that films by and about us usually come with some kind of political subtext. If Room in Rome seems rather frenetic and incoherent, perhaps it can be forgiven, as it provides queer audiences with the kind of visual excess and artsy eroticism that has long been available for straight audiences. What initially seems to be a run-of-the-mill one night stand between Spanish tourist Alba (Elena Anaya) and Natasha (Natasha Yarovenko), the Russian beauty she picked up at a local bar, becomes a sleepless night full of lies, secrets, confessions, laughter and anger, sex and intimacy, Baroque art, literary allusions, and so much more. Room in Rome is a beautiful tableaux of erotic intimacy between women… Hallucinatory, but beautiful.

Desirae Embree @ZeeSayre

In & Out (1997) 

Based on the inspiration that came from Tom Hanks’ emotive Oscar speech in 1994, the Frank Oz directed comedy In & Out follows a similar plot point to Philadelphia in the institute firing someone because of the their sexuality. The first two thirds of the Kevin Kline starrer deals with teacher Howard Brackett’s seemingly simple, quiet life, with Emily Montgomery, also a teacher. That is until old pupil-turned-actor Cameron Drake wins his Oscar for playing a gay soldier, declaring (and thanking) Howard as gay in his acceptance speech. Howard himself is in denial at first, but soon outs himself to the shock of everyone that knows him. The love and respect he has from all around him is manifested in a terrific play of solidarity as one after the other cries of “I am gay” (a la Spartacus) come from his friends, family, and peers. The film has pretty much everything you want from a romantic comedy, including a long kiss between Kline and Tom Selleck, and particularly showy turns from Joan Cusack (Oscar nominee here) and Matt Dillon. The cast dancing through the end credits to “Macho Man” is a welcome bonus.

Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

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Tropical Malady (2004) 

The acclaimed Thai filmmaker’s third feature won the Grand Prix at Cannes Film Festival. A fever dream, beautifully effervescent love story. Playing with narrative form, capturing the mood and rhythm of life in countryside. In two distinct portions, “Joe” highlights the animalistic nature of love and desire. A soldier vying for love and affection from a simple and shy country boy. Their story is told in moments and then flipping the narrative and entering an otherworldly realm of folk tale, spirituality and surrealism. It will confound and it will fascinate. Both halves which are connected and maybe they both tell separate stories. Or maybe the same? The mood, the quiet, the sounds of forests, the awe of a lover. Its transcending, many things at the same time and the experience is unlike anything. Such simplicity, slight bit of trickery and the concept of love, desire, its impossible pursuits and all consuming power. Queer filmmaking rarely sees such experimentation these days with form, concept and setting but we have Joe to thank for being at once radical and ushering his audience into a trance-like state. Both comfort and discomfort.

Asif Khan @KHAN2705

Querelle (1982)

More a meditation on themes than a direct film version of Jean Genet’s book, Querelle of Brest, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s last film before he died of a drug overdose is more of a curiosity than masterwork. He died while editing, so we’ll never know what his vision of the final product should be, but we get the gist through the deep colours and set pieces in which a handsome sailor, Querelle, (Brad Davis) encounters sexual dominance and violence in a meandering search for his own satisfaction and ultimate redemption in the streets and bars of a coastal port. Genet purists raged at the interpretation (too pretty) and critics were dismayed (too confusing), yet Querelle is an ambitious and brave work that, with some flashes of success, explores the deliberate disorientation sought by the title character. The film does not provide the proper finale for the experimental filmmaker, but is does prove that Fassbinder would never take the easy road or allow us to keep our footing when watching his films.

Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag

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