Friday, January 28, 2011

Ask me anything what the hell...

Why Rebuke You Him That Loves You SO?

After the post on Kurt and Glee, I thought it a good idea to post something that I thought was a positive depiction of gay teens in media, in this case cinema.

A reposting of my review of Were the World Mine.

The premise of Were the World Mine is romantic comedy trope: character A yearns for the love and affection of unattainable character B, then though a series of hi-jinks, true love wins in the end. That is about where the comparison ends as everything else is turned on its ear in Tom Gustafson's big screen adaptation of his own short film Fairies.

The film's tagline, ‘If you could make someone love you, would you?’ Is honestly, unexpectedly answered, "Obviously."

The first twist to the romantic comedy trope is that the lead couple is two young men. In the film our put-upon hero Timothy (Tanner Cohen), is cast as Puck in his senior production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. During rehearsal, he happens on the recipe to recreate the flower, here called a pansy in a nice play on words, which Puck uses on Shakespeare’s lovers. Timothy/Puck uses the pansy first on his unrequited crush Jonathon (Nathaniel David Becker), then on his classmates, and then the town, allowing everyone to see the world through his eyes. By the end of the film, as in Shakespeare's play, all is peace.

Of course, Timothy is hardly the usual trodden-down gay lead. This is not some Cinderella story with the homely, or even 'Hollywood Ugly' lead forlornly in love with someone quite beyond him; Timothy is a pretty boy himself. His only claim to the ill will of his classmates is that he is out of the closet. A situation that led to the dissolution of his parents’ marriage, and caused him trouble at previous schools. In another breath of fresh air, this is a young gay man not afraid of a fight.

Timothy's coming out story happens before the movie takes place, and we are allowed to move on with other interesting stuff, i.e. getting the boy you like, to like you. There is one brief, almost archaic 'why are you gay' scene between Timothy and his mother Donna (Judy McLane). One briefly wonders why the scene is even in the film, but then you remember the current headlines and realize the struggle is still very real and ongoing, and these conversations still happen all the time.

Timothy's love Jonathon is not the typical, unattainable ideal man. We are shown in subtle ways that he is just as interested in Timothy, as Timothy is in him. Oh, were things only a bit different, eh? Enter the pansy. Likewise Jonathon is shown as being worthy of his Timothy's love. It is a nice departure. In other films, the only thing this type of character has going for it, is their looks, but Jonathon is quite game. From the start of the film, he shows an interest in Timothy, seemingly falling for him while watching his singing audition. He is also up for the challenges of the school play. The boys attend an all-male prep school, so they will be playing all the female roles in the show as well, just as in Shakespeare's time. The pansy merely prompts Jonathon to overcome his normal, social inhibitions in pursuing Timothy. It does not make him love Timothy, he was already well on his way.

This is not an adaptation of Midsummer Night's Dream, but it does have plot points tacked on from that play. Helen Fielding did the same thing tacking on Jane Austen's plot from Pride and Prejudice to the novel Bridget Jones's Diary. Timothy at various points is Puck, Oberon, Bottom and Helena. Perhaps the most perfect descriptive combination for a young gay man; part fairy, part imp, part fool, and unrequited lover. Jonathon, likewise can be both Titania and Lysander, depending on where you are in the film. Mrs. Tibbet (Wendy Robie), described elsewhere as sort of sorceress, is nothing less than Puck, hirself. There are two subtle moments where Tibbet is watering the plants in her classroom, clearly nurturing the seeds she has planted to bloom. The Puck/Tibbet connection is drawn sharply in some of the fantasy sequences, as well.

The fantasy sequences are not really fantasy though. They are a part of the plot; they are literally magic spells that movie the movie along. In one of my favorite numbers, 'All Things Shall Be Peace', Timothy is pulled from Jonathon's arms asking, "You rent our ancient love asunder?" Gay love set to Shakespeare and well done at that.

The music and lyrics are inspired. Shakespeare interpolated and set to music, may hardly be revolutionary, but it is still quite fun and infectious. I find myself listening to the soundtrack repeatedly. Tanner Cohen is wonderful and has a slight sibilant 'S' that is quite endearing.

Tom Gustafson is definitely a director and writer to watch, he spins a fun engaging yarn with genuine moments of poignancy. Some of the imagery in the film is iconic and arresting. It is hardy without flaws, but the the music and the performances buoy you along over those flaws. Cohen and Becker are especially good. It is flawed, and the are leaden moments, but overall I would not change a frame.

Were the World Mine available at Amazon, and on iTunes.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Problem of Kurt

This will probably be a bit disjointed and rambling.

I'll start out by saying that I do not hate Glee, I love nearly every crack-filled minute, warts and all. I do not hate Chris Cofler, far from it, I think he's done a marvelous job with what he's been given. The issue is what he's been given, is largely shit. Neither do I hate his character, Kurt, so much as I resent that this is being treated like a television breakthrough.

It's not. It just is not.

The Kurt character is not just badly and inconsistently drawn, but is a step back for gay people. The character is a Hollywood stand-by, the Camp Gay.

“The traditional stereotypical image of a gay man. He's flamboyantly effeminate in his dress, speech, mannerisms, and interests. He wears tight (often leather) pants and a loose, blousy shirt, often with a silk kerchief or scarf knotted around his neck, all of which will be in bright or pastel colors. He will often speak with a lisp, and is given to flouncing, prancing, and standing with one hand on his hip as the other is held out in a limp-wristed gesture.

Extreme cases will include a near-opaque slang, referring to himself and his gay friends with female pronouns, and minor to complete transvestism. Insofar as he has a personality, it will often be vain, catty, and cowardly.”

Ryan Murphy just had an interesting war of words with a member of the Kings of Leon. The band did not want to license their work for Glee to cover. An act of defiance to which Murphy took great offense.

One of the Kings tweeted a nasty remark in his direction, and really there is no excusing it. Murphy replied that, ‘it's telling that Nathan can reduce a group of people to a mean-spirited cliché,’ which kinda makes one wonder if he has ever actually seen his own show. Glee is populated with mean spirited cliché, after mean spirited cliché.

There’s the bitchy cheerleader, the vapid cheerleader, the dumb jock, the scheming diva, the fat black gospel singer (best friend of the bitchy fab gay guy, of course), and our own effeminate, show tunes singing, campy gay.

There is nothing wrong with being effeminate, singing show tunes, or being a catty queer, but when this is virtually the only consistent representation of gay people on television or movies, it is troubling. When a character like this is then lauded as ground breaking, it is offensive.

With few exceptions, the homosexual characters in movies are campy caricatures or creepy violent misfits. Glee has both in, Kurt and his tormentor Karofsky. Sometimes Kurt is both.

There was the nasty story point where it is implied Kurt sexually harassed another student. Kurt, it is claimed, does not know that, 'No' means 'No.' This even though 'No',  is never said by that student, Finn. Finn, never tells Kurt 'No', in fact Kurt never even tried anything. He just wasn’t behaving the way Finn wanted him to behave. Kurt was merely acting the way a young person interested in another young person acts. The big strong football player was unable to tell the tiny effete nancyboy, ‘No, I am not interested.’

Is the message here that Kurt is, that young gay men are by nature predators? Because that is certainly what is implied.

Then of course we have Dave Karofsky, the Glee closeted teen who bullies Kurt. There is a long tradition of gay, or coded gay people as villains. Unfortunately on Glee, this also make him the single most interesting character on the show.

The new Entertainment Weekly cover.

‘Bold,’ ‘new,’ really, EW? Screw you.

There is nothing bold or new about these characters. They aren’t even  characters, they are caricature, and people are hailing it like it's this revelatory experience having this character on a hit TV show, when it is the same recycled tropes? I can't even... I just shake my head.

Check out a net little documentary called The Celluloid Closet. It is both informative and entertaining and traces the history of Gays in cinema.

So, what is wrong with a stereotype? They are stereotypes because they are true, the voices cry, we all know people like Kurt.

True enough, there are also minorities in prison, that doesn’t make it any less problematic or racist, if that is the main portrayal of minorities in the media. Why should gay people accept less? Why should we be happy with crumbs from the table?

Honestly, if you want bitchy fab queens go watch Priscilla Queen of the Dessert, they did it up far better.

What about all the gay kids identify with Kurt? I’m sure there are plenty, just as I am sure there are many who do not, many who don't self-identify with a crying, effete show tunes singing spiteful queen. Yes, Ryan Murphy the character is often mean spirited as is the stereotype. Well, those young people are just out of luck, and portrayals like this just make it harder on them. They too need a role model.

What we need is something akin to what Uhura on Star Trek was to African-Americans in the sixties.

Nichelle Nichols famously relates the conversation she had with Martin Luther King when she told him she wanted to leave Star Trek.

“I told him I would be leaving the show, because; and that was as far as he let me go, and he said, “STOP! You cannot! You cannot leave this show! Do you not understand what you are doing?! You are the first non-stereotypical role in television! Of intelligence, and of a woman and a woman of color?! That you are playing a role that is not about your color! That this role could be played by anyone? This is not a black role. This is not a female role! A blue eyed blond or a pointed ear green person could take this role!” And I am looking at him and looking at him and buzzing, and he said, “Nichelle, for the first time, not only our little children and people can look on and see themselves, but people who don’t look like us, people who don’t look like us, from all over the world, for the first time, the first time on television, they can see us, as we should be!”

[go to for the full story]

As broad and diverse a group as the LGBT community is and the best we can get from our own people on network TV is the same age-old Hollywood tropes? It is sad.

Honestly, I watch the show and I laugh right along with everyone else, but they’re cheap laughs, and we’re usually not laughing with the character. They are the butt of the joke.

Clichés like this are shorthand, it is sloppy writing and as long as we have television, we’ll have bad television, and these tired tropes, but let us not kid ourselves about it. Stereotypes are demeaning, and people use them to justify violence against us.

Unfortunately there are precious few other options right now in prime time television, there is the gay couple on Brothers and Sisters, and the gay cop on SouthLAnd, but nothing for teens. Even these shows don’t get near the attention Glee does, nor for some odd reason are they lauded as Glee inexplicably has been. You want ‘bold’, ‘new’ depictions of gays on television look there, they are absent on Glee.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review for Breeze Off the River

An issue packed fluid play

A review of my 2006 FringeNYC play: Breeze Off The River on Curtain