Thursday, 21 August 2014

Why Gay Films Suck

I just watched the fabulous French film Yves St. Laurent starring the brilliant Pierre Niney as the tragic designer. It was so gorgeous and sad and true. Why then, does it get 46% on the Rotten Tomatoes enjoyment metre? Why are all the reviewers calling it ‘empty’ and ‘overdressed’ and ‘about nothing? I’ll tell you. Because it’s gay. Very gay. And not in a nice way either.
If you want a NICE gay movie there are a lot of them out there. People are making new ones all the time. For instance, there’s a really nice gay movie opening soon with Alfred Molina and John Lithgow, erroneously titled Love is Strange. Critics are raving about it, and I’m sure it will be a big hit. 
It sounds perfectly horrid. It’s about a portly old pair of very unsexual looking gay men who have been together for thirty-nine years and are forced to live apart. Why? Because one of the older men (Alfred Molina) is fired from his job as a Catholic school teacher (“Aww……!”) cuz he’s gay. Gee whiz, I can feel the tears welling up already. And John Lithgow, who is forced to live in a house with his young possibly gay nephew, teaches the young man some unique (unsexual of course!) lessons about life. The crux of the film is  that these two messily bearded, lovable old piles of dough can’t stand to be apart for more than five minutes after thirty-nine years. (To repeat: “Aw……!”)
The title is of course a misnomer. It should be called ‘Love is The Same for Everybody and It’s Unbelievably Banal.’ Or perhaps ‘Love is a Cloyingly Sentimental Figment of Hollywood’s Imagination.’
Jalil Lespert’s Yves St. Laurent is, on the other hand, the story of two gay men (Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Berge), who were also lovers for four decades but whose lives don’t have the antiseptic, homespun, family-centred cheeriness that will undoubtedly warm the hearts of the masses in the upcoming Love is Strange. No, Yves St. Laurent is a very real and somewhat gritty look at a deeply touching open relationship between two very sexual queer men, one of who (St. Laurent) has a drug problem. Yves St. Laurent dares to urges us to sympathize with two very real guys, who have a lot of sex with a lot of people — and who like to party and have a good time — and there are no impressionable nephews or Catholic schools in sight.
This is the sad and sorry state of gay film — and also, to some degree, of film in general. We are entering a period (how long will it last, oh Lord, how long?) of depressingly banal sentimentalism — where wit has been replaced with gentle humour, and ideas replaced with homespun thoughts. There is reason to be afraid; the last era of aesthetic sentimentalism lasted almost two hundred years — from 1700 to 1900. It was a dark age for theatre; David Garrick issued in ‘bardolatry;’ a movement devoted to making Shakespeare palatable by giving his plays happy Christian endings. It took the likes of Oscar Wilde and Alfred Jarry at the turn of the last century to drag us out of all the mediocre schmarmy muck.
The amazing thing is that the heartbreaking new French film Yves St. Laurent has the same theme as the musical Coco. Coco was a huge musical comedy hit in the early 70s, starring Katherine Hepburn. In Coco, the leading character — Coco Chanel — weighed her rejection of family values against her devotion to fashion. At the end of the musical a vast array of Chanel’s designs were displayed to Andre Previn’s soaring score, the message being: Coco Chanel’s art redeemed her imperfect life. Everybody loved it. No one called it ‘empty’ or ‘pointless.’
Yves St. Laurent’s art redeemed his imperfect life in quite the same way, and that is the point of the director Jalil Lespert’s film; but I guess nothing redeems the life of a promiscuous, drug addicted homosexual, does it?
Call me crazy, but that’s one heartwarming, homespun thought I had conveniently forgotten.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

For Margaret Wente and The Whitewashers: The Truths of Ferguson, Missouri

 I don’t mean to pick on Margaret Wente. But she seems to be the epitome of what I call the ‘whitewash’ movement. (I use the term ‘whitewash’ because it is a kind of ‘washing’ that is favoured by privileged white people). The whitewash movement is mainly concerned with making sure that we know that racism, sexism, and homophobia are over. Members of the ‘whitewash’ campaign are hard to pin down on the political spectrum. It serves them well not to identify as being right or left-wing, because they can simply claim to be well intentioned. But unfortunately their views lead us directly back to our racist, sexist and homophobic past.
 Wente has been ‘whitewashing’ a lot lately in terms of feminism — and what she sees as a made up problem: rape culture. The idea is that misogyny is over, and women have achieved most of what they wanted — ergo, we must say goodbye to feminism. The same argument can be used about homophobia (Look at all the gay designer guys on TV -- and look at ‘Modern Family.’ Homophobia is a dead issue!) and racism (There is a black president in the USA -- so racism is over!). All this -- of course -- leads us to Ferguson Missouri. 
 What’s fascinating and very important about the ant-racist riots in Ferguson, is how they have confounded politically correct media discourse. CNN Reporters are saying things like “We don’t want to get too focused on race — that would be race baiting.” You see, the right-wing has managed to make it a  impolite to discuss racism. If you accuse someone of saying or doing something racist you are attacked as playing the ‘race card’ — which means unfairly using anti-racist rhetoric in order to tip the argument. The justification goes like this: “Racism is over, and the only time people talk about racism these days is when they want to attack someone unjustly.”
 I think the situation in Ferguson may make some realize that it’s still very important to discuss racism — just as important as discussing sexism and homophobia. Here we have a town that is the apotheosis of  American inequality. Despite Oprah Winfrey, despite Barack Obama, despite the much heralded death of racism in America, in Ferguson 70 percent of the population is black and yet only 3 out of 57 police officers are persons of colour (apparently Ferguson claims to have an Asian and/or Native American police officer too!). Sure, there is a black president in the USA, but old habits die hard, and people continue -- stubbornly -- to be racist. The same thing could be said about homophobia. Yes, we now have gay marriage, but the victories of the gay marriage lobby may have done more to encourage hatred of gays and lesbians than to alleviate it. And after all, has Roe vs. Wade changed the minds of rabid anti-abortionists, or has it just rooted them even more firmly to their prejudices? You can legislate all you want, but it’s much, much harder to change the human heart. I’ve got nothing against civil rights for queers, women and people of colour, but I do have something against those who think such legislation is all we need to make the world a better place.
 In other words, racism, sexism and homophobia are alive and well. No matter how many people talk about the death of racism — the people in the USA and Canada who hold the power are still white, and the people who are so often oppressed by that power are often non-white. Similarly, no matter how much Wente talks about the end of feminism  and the ‘myth’ of rape culture — we still live in a society where most politicians and CEOs are white men. And when people rant on about homophobia being over, I always ask: “When was the last time you saw a drag queen anchorperson — or even a mildly effeminate newscaster on the CBC who wasn’t relegated to weather or celebrity gossip?” Whitewashing over the real and frightening ills of racism, sexism and homophobia is merely a very clever right-wing tactic to take us back to our racist, sexist and homophobic past.
 Will the wounds of Ferguson induce us to see things as they really are? Will Ferguson — at last — open the eyes of those who love to imagine that the world was long ago cleared of hate?

 We’ll have to wait and see.