Sunday, June 22, 2008

My take on Queer Takes

I wrote a piece for the Star Tribune ("Inside Out") outlining the Queer Takes series at the Walker this week. Given the number of films and the size of the article I wasn't able to be very critical or praiseworthy toward the films. Overall, it is a pretty great group of films that offers up something for everyone.

Before I Forget is the star of the series, in my humble opinion. Jacques Nolot stars, writes and directs this smart and eloquent film. The camera stares unflinchingly not only at beauty but also at humility and indeed, the complex human condition. In this case, the human condition is applied to an aging hustler (no doubt a version of Nolot himself) living with HIV for 24 years. It's a film about observation, and more specifically the observation of self-observation. Before I Forget is only Nolot's third feature, and the last in his so-called autobiographical trilogy. After reading an interesting article by James Quandt in the Summer 2008 issue of Artform ("Just a Gigolo") and seeing Before I Forget, I am more than anxious to see his first two, L' Arrière pays (Hinterland, 1998) seemingly unavailable and La Chatte à deux têtes (Porn Theater, 2002) that I vaguely remember screening here at some point.

One film that I did not touch on was Vivere, simply due to space and that fact that I felt it was the weakest film in the series (alas the only new lesbian feature.) Vivere follows three women on Christmas Eve: a teenager on the brink of adulthood, her twenty-something older sister who is bitter and lonely, and a matronly older woman (played by the legendary Hannelore Elsner) recently dumped by her lover. The film uses the structure of one story told three times, giving us new insights at each turn. It is meant to break down any generational presumption we might have have about these three women, but instead by the third pass the melodrama gets somewhat laborious. It is a sweet but downbeat film, but I selfishly just wanted the adorable Francesca (the older sister) to find a nice girl instead of making out with the dude in the bar.

If you are looking for a good lesbian film in the series, the obvious pick is Born in Flames. Ladies doing it for themselves may be some sort of pipe dream, but Born in Flames is an awesome 90 minute indulgence of this notion. I will forever carry around the image the gang of women on their bikes police the urban streets: I dream of being part of that gang and being saved by that gang. I recently re-watched Born in Flames and had totally forgotten about the final (now shocking) scene.

The documentaries in the series should not be missed. Whether you are familiar with Arthur Russell or not, music fans should all attend the screening of Wild Combination. I'm simply thankful that Russell was gay so this doc was included in the series. (Here's an article in the New Yorker from a couple years back about Russell.) Similarly fans of Don Bachardy's paintings or Chris Isherwood's writing will love the portrayal of these two fascinating men in Chris & Don. Most of the film is told by Barchardy's funny and touching narration.

Full Queer Takes schedule here.


sandybeach said...

Nice job on the Tribune review, Kath. I had heard good things about "Chris & Don", and being a music lover I will also add "Wild Combination" to my queue. Now about "Born in Flames", you have my curiousity piqued...I can actually see you riding your bike through the streets busting ass! I may have to track that one down too...

Kathie Smith said...

Thanks! Don't get your expectations too high for Born in Flames. It may be a cult classic and I do love it, but it is very low budget and pretty dated at this point. Nonetheless, you should check it out if you get a chance. Readily available on DVD.

sandybeach said...

Born in Flames is actually avaiable for online viewing on Netflix (no sign of Wild Combination on there). Sometimes low budget and campy is alot of fun. I've been trying to watch it but I'm having internet connection issues. Once I rise above my technical frustrations, I will watch and let you know my opinion!

sandybeach said...

Well, I have to say I've never seen such a movie as "Born in Flames". You could have ten people watch it and have ten totally different opinions of what they just saw...I imagine they all would either love it or hate it. I had a tough time getting through it myself, and was getting somewhat confused, but then just decided to settle back to enjoy the ride. Nevertheless, Ms. Borden obviously has some things on her, race, class, feminism governmental control, oppression, the list goes on. If you can get past the very bad acting (except for the Adelaide Norris character - she wasn't half bad) and the bad film quality, there are messages and you have to give Borden credit for that. But towards the end, it stopped being a campy romp and got chilling and prophetic and stopped me cold. What the hell? Glad I saw it anyway!