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Film News - Gay Movies At The New Fest Film Festival

by Gert Hekma in Films & Books , 23 september 2005

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

New York yearly hosts the Film Festival “New Fest”. This year the seventeenth edition of this LGBT film festival took place from the 2nd till the 12thh of June. In eleven days the festival showed about eighty feature movies plus more than one hundred short films from many different countries. Way too many to see them all, so here’s a selection from this avalanche of films. The first movie I saw was so-so. “Good Boys” by Yair Hochner. A Dennis Cooper/Gus van Sant like movie about three boy prostitutes, an intoxicated woman who’s also a prostitute and a daughter in Tel Aviv. There’s a lot of action without a real story line. The boys aren’t really nice either; one’s an ok actor, another is sort of cute. It’s all very violent without much credibility. They do show a couple of funny sex scenes with clients and one trick in a toilet. We get to see the well-hung main character, who likes being taken from behind, completely naked, we catch another one from the back only, but his thing dangles nicely from under his crack. All in all: not great.

Before it they showed a funny little Brazilian film “Os Amantes” about a beautiful boy who gets robbed by another beautiful boy, whom he first picked up on the street, in the disco for the second time, and the third time the thief leaves him money and cigarettes.

Ethan Mao

“Ethan Mao” by director Quentin Lee is a very nice movie. Ethan has a Chinese background and his family has a restaurant where both he and his mother work. His mother dies when he is about nine years old and his father marries a woman who has an older son. There’s also a younger brother from the father’s first marriage. One of the first scenes shows an armed robbery at the restaurant. Ethan hands over the money and his father shoots and kills the guy as he’s leaving. A trauma’s born!

A next scene shows the stepmother finding gay porn under Ethan’s bed. She hands it to his father who tells his son that if he’s gay, he’s no longer his son and he should leave the house. Which is what happens. Ethan makes a living by prostituting himself, starts off sleeping outside but quickly moves in with Remigio, a colleague hustler who deals in drugs and is in love with Ethan. This time both boys are nice and beautiful. The plot unfolds quickly: Ethan wants to get a necklace from home, the only gift his father ever gave to his mother. When the family plans to visit acquaintances over Thanksgiving the younger brother tips off Ethan that they’re going to be gone for a day and Ethan and Remigio immediately head for house. Unfortunately the family returns to pick up something they forgot.

A drama unfolds in many episodes because both the father and Remigio have a gun. First a fight with the father, then with the eldest brother, then the father stabs Remigio with a knife and Ethan shoots his father in the leg. The hustlers win and tie the family up. Psychodrama is next: A promise is made that the next day the mother will fetch the necklace from the bank’s safe. While the men celebrate reconciliation at home, the mother calls the police who surround the house.

The last image is that of a deep kiss of Ethan and Remigio in front of the father and the eldest brother. What happened just before and after that you'd better go and see for yourself. The director leaves it up to the spectator to decide whether it was all Ethan’s nightmare or true happenings. The tension between the wide-eyed and inexperienced Ethan and the smart Remigio who’s hopelessly in love, is very cute.

Côte d’Azur

Directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau presented the follow-up of their funny movie “Drôle de Félix” called “Côte d’Azur”. They did everything they could to make it into a happy, sexy movie, a sort of “Félix II” just as there is a “Cage aux Folles II”. Father, mother, son and daughter go to a fantastic holiday villa at the Riviera which dad has inherited. The daughter takes off immediately with her biker boyfriend and is replaced by the gay friend Martin of sonny boy Charley.

Everyone thinks or suspects Charley’s gay but no matter how effeminate he looks, he’s straight. His friend desperately seeks happiness in the nearby cruising park. Mum and dad meanwhile, also seem to enjoy... men. There are a few sex scenes (mostly solitary) under the shower and sometimes with the shower. Daddy spots his son’s friend masturbating in the shower and get s very excited (had too many oysters). The friend masturbates when the son is in the shower - hand in pants, I thought this short scene was quite horny because I had seen the shower scenes before already.

There are a lot more complications, most important of which is the encounter of dad and his teenage love. In spite of that everyone has started a new love, at the end of the story they are all still together and happy. Interesting detail is that the mother is presented to be half Dutch, which is supposed to “explain” why she speaks so freely about sex and why she thinks that sexual education is very important. This also leads to some predictable jokes, which the New York audience had no problem picking up on and even appreciated (ah, Holland: I met a bookseller here who noticed my accent and asked where I was from; his spontaneous positive response to that was: the country where the age of consent is 12; I had to disappoint him, this changed years ago already).

Three Dancing Slaves

The French film by director Gaël Morel “Three Dancing Slaves” has the French title “Le Clan”. The story is about three brothers who have trouble finding their way in life. Mother died, too strict a father who doesn’t understand, a circle of friends that spells trouble. The eldest son has served a prison sentence and works at a meat factory. The second son is dealing in drugs and is out to kill the murderers of his fighting dog, but fails three times in a row - at the last attempt he smashes his car into a tree and gets seriously injured.

The third son is still in school and he might have the best future prospects of them all. He’s in love with an Arabian young man who teaches him capueira dancing (the slave dance of the title).

The brothers are very intimate with each other, have communal sex with a transgender at one point and we also see the youngest brother have sexual interaction with his Arabian friend.

The essence of this movie however is that we are given ample opportunity to admire their beautiful bodies from all angles, even naked.

I thought the Arabian boy was the hottest, although I thought he was more of a Latino - maybe because of the slave dance? Unfortunately we also have to sit through some psychological blah blah to enjoy those beautiful bodies.

We could admire a real sex slave in“Un Ano sin Amor” (“A Year Without Love”) by the Argentinean Anahi Berneri. A teacher of French has AIDS and decides to devote what could possibly be his last year to S&M. He advertises himself as a slave or a master and indeed enters an S&M group in which he is badly humiliated and punished severely. In the meantime we also get a look into his domestic life. He is supported by his father and is living together with his aunt. It does not have a happy ending; AIDS seems not to be his worst problem because of the tri-therapy.

A movie with too many storylines lacking coherence - possibly too closely following a real life story. The S&M scenes are ok, although the first one is too vague, the last one too short. That seems to be fashion in the movie world: quick, short scenes too keep the speed up. Mediocre films than become a heap of senseless snippets from which one cannot make a story at all.

Heroes and Gay Nazis

“Männerhelden und schwule Nazis” (“Heroes and Gay Nazis”) by Rosa von Praunheim is fortunately one of his movies with a very steady camera. It’s about the modern day gay Nazis, amongst which a reasonably intelligible hot skinhead André and a weird lunatic. Another guy, who now advertises kinky parties, used to be a neo-Nazi leader for a long period, and speaks about it freely.

They estimate the number of gays in right wing groups at 10-15%, a very high percentage, and the reason they say is that gays are into the masculinity and the appropriate ideals of these right wing dudes.

We see a house party with a band Oi where the dancing turns into sort of fighting. Just the boys! In between we are shown other male heroes, the men of the gay group “Green Barets” who have a uniform and army fetish.

It looked a bit childish after all the butch right wing stuff. The message that you could be a tough guy without turning into a Nazi I thought was misplaced in this documentary. After that the documentary went on about the history of Hitler, Röhm, Heines, SA and SS.

A lot of historians, Machlan of the gay Hitler biography, Rüdiger Lautmann and Hergemöller, gay historian Albert Kroll and some others. It picked up speed here: Röhm was openly gay and had to be eliminated in 1934 because the SA had turned from a weapon for the Nazis into a barrier for a deal with conservative and military Germany. Homosexuality formed a handy issue to compromise Röhm.

Machlan claims Hitler was gay but according to most gay historians this is a fable from the long history of “blaming the victim”; Rosa’s last question in this item is for Machlan: “Are you gay as well?” We knew the answer already because we had seen the ring on his finger, no, he’s straight (with the intro of gay marriages those rings are going to mean less as well!). We also got some stories about the persecution of gays and images of Sachsenhausen. The well-known numbers flash the screen: 10-15000 persecuted in concentration camps on the basis of homosexuality, two others said that eventually probably hundreds of thousands of gays were persecuted anyway if you counted the gay Jews, gypsies, etc.

I think that’s a ridiculous way of calculating, why they didn’t then also include the Russian gays they failed to explain, although that was probably the largest group. It was a very informative movie, nuanced by varied viewpoints. It became clear that the neo-Nazis mostly hated, and still hate, the girlishness that they mainly project on gays. They are turned on by men, masculinity and by power. And they really shouldn’t get that power. A good and educating movie offering the historic information which the Germans, according to the Berlin Mayor Wowereit (a very normal queen), really need. It was nice to see and hear that man.

That Man: Peter Berlin

After this I saw a documentary: “That Man: Peter Berlin” by Jim Tushinski. Born in 1942 and from an aristocratic Baltic family, this future porn star and his family arrived in Berlin in 1945 and lived a life in poverty - the father had died in the war. In the sixties the young Hoyningen-Huene (I can’t find his original first name anywhere) discovered sex and the queer world.

Unfortunately the documentary is very brief about his childhood in Berlin, we only get a quote from a florist from San Francisco who had seen him in the Berlin gay bars in the sixties. Berlin started his specialty in Berlin: taking photos of himself in clothes that he had selected very carefully, usually super tight jeans or too small shiny Adidas boxers with his genitals clearly outlined, sometimes even (half)naked. In the early seventies he traveled to Mexico, stopped over in New York for a couple of days, decided to stay and moved to San Francisco shortly after.

In California he continued his career as a porn star and made two erotic movies “Nights in Black Leather” and “That Boy”. It remains unclear whether he actually made money with these films; you get the impression that they didn’t really generate any money and that his partner basically coughed up for everything. You basically don’t hear anything about this partner; the documentary is really only serenading the horny and self absorbed porn star who apparently has resigned to his old age and rejoices when someone called him sexy - in his universe sexy and old are contradictions.

It’s a lively documentary but it’s a bit annoying that there’s almost nothing coming from outside San Francisco, that the actor himself has so little to say and that many interesting questions are left unanswered. Why for example did a man who loved fashion decide to move to San Francisco where fashion simply doesn’t exist? I thought maybe he went there so he could walk the streets in light and see-through clothes because of the climate, but then he should have gone to warm Los Angeles and not to San Francisco where it can be freezing, even in summer. Still, all the images and also the commentary of film maker John Waters make it an interesting document. I heard the movie premieres in Holland soon; it’s worth your while because of the dreamy images and the peculiar character that goes with it.

Gay Sex in the ’70s

The last movie I went to see was “Gay Sex in the ’70s” by Joseph Lovett. Exactly what the title promises, only they could’ve added “in New York”. Beautiful images of the piers, the butcher’s district (MeatPack), the Anvil, saunas, discos (Studio 54 and The Saint) and the street.

A black photographer, Baltrop (never heard of him before), made some 2000 photos of gay sex on the Hudson piers; in the buildings which used to stand there and in the trucks and buildings of the meat corner of Manhattan, on the other side of West Street; and they also had some moving images. Eight men added stories of their sex life in those days, which was busy and easy. You winked at a man in the morning, gave your address and during lunch break you had sex with him. At the piers it understandably went even more direct and faster. One funny man, an artist, didn’t even go to any bars, dark rooms or saunas because you got it quicker and cheaper on the street and on the piers.

Next are the stories about new sexually transmitted diseases and strands of old ones that are immune to treatment and finally there’s the arrival of AIDS. The times of uncomplicated sex are really over. One drama queen tells us about an orgy he was invited to on Fire Island, all the gorgeous boys he wanted to do were going to go but his lover forbade him to attend. Those boys are all dead now but he and his lover are still alive. That, by the way, was not the story’s morale. The message is that sex is good and worthy to strive for.

The last statement is from the black photographer who says: “It was about friendship.” Because of the emphasis on AIDS and AIDS activism at the end, and hardly any attention for the successes of safe sex, the message got a little double sided and you couldn’t help but feel that sex eventually will kill you. The historian George Chauncey, with whom I went to the cinema, had the objection that this film confirmed all existing false clichés about the fifties and sixties: that queens were being unhappy and lonely, didn’t have any sex and had no friends and were only pining about psychiatrists and suicide. Or that New York was the center of the world like nothing of any importance ever happened in San Francisco or anywhere else.

What I really like about these festivals are the unexpected incidents. Some of the movies were shown in the basement of the Virgin Mega Store on Times Square. That same week the singer Shakira had planned a signing session in the shop, so the festival visitors were the only ones allowed in by a line of sturdy security personnel. When we got out of the movie the mega star was signing albums at a little table right in front of us.

At the back exit I saw a Latino boy looking dazed with a camera in his hand. Was he hoping to take a picture of her? He didn’t stand a chance while I could’ve easily done it for him. Another night we were having dinner at a Thai restaurant around the corner from the cinema and who just walked in the door? Jai Rodriguez, a trendy queen from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” (my table company, who are busy editing a book on the EuroSongFestival, explained to me). He leaned over the bar just next to our table so we had plenty of time to admire his beautiful pants and his hot little ass.

My friend described the program as “a reality show where the five gay guys help some hapless straight guy organize his life”; Jai takes care of the styling. I should check this program out because I haven’t got a clue as to how the queens here organize their lives, and their style in particular.



In the New Issue of Gay News, 323, July 2018

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