Barb's Reviews

Barbara Salzman, film maven and fearless leader of Alternative Videos, writes film reviews for local publications.
Copies of these reviews are presented here in chronological order.


Inside Out in the Hudson Valley, January 2006

There is a scene in Antonioni’s 1960 film, L'avventura, in which the character played by the beautiful Monica Vitti is waiting for her lover in a plaza. As she waits, men start milling about staring at her, wherever she looks males are staring at her. It is a powerful few moments, the threat amplified by the black and white photography. It reminds me of our current times, when as women we are being surrounded and intimidated. Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court is a good example. Several years ago, Alito was overruled in his opinion that women seeking abortions must have the male’s (father/husband) consent, but his elevation to the Supreme Court will give him the opportunity to shape the law with this kind of thinking.

The French actress Isabel Huppert, from Entre Nous (1983) and more recently as the uber-Nihilist in I Heart Huckabees (2004), stars in The Story of Women (Une affaire de femmes, 1988) which tells a historically based story that we see repeated in Mike Leigh’s latest film, Vera Drake (2004). Both are about women who are arrested and executed for providing abortions. The current situation in the US threatens to return us to those dark times. Making abortions illegal would not only effect women who suffer from unwanted pregnancies, but it is also a way of enforcing the patriarchy on all women by legally proclaiming that we cannot have determination of our own bodies.

The brilliant film, Silent Waters (2004), comes to us from director Sabiha Sumar. It is the first film shot entirely in Pakistan since the radical Islamization that took place during the 70s and 80s. Ms Sumar weaves the film around one family with a mounting intensity that pulls you into their lives. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the story to unfold. The main character, Ayesha, is sandwiched in history between her father and her son. One of the most compelling films of the year, it is also a crystal clear mirror to our lives, as all around us the dominant culture is trying to inject religion into our laws.

Sorceress (Le Moine et la sorcière, 1987), the beautiful film by Suzanne Schiffman, tells the story of a woman healer who is charged with heresy in 13th century France. The Midwife’s Tale (1995) also tells the story of a woman healer and the noblewoman who falls in love with her. Unfortunately, both these fine films are out of print (they are available for rental at the video shop). This highlights yet one more of the hurdles women have in this culture, economics. Ridiculous films like Girl in Gold Boots (1969) are in print and readily available, but important films like Sorceress can only be found used and at exorbitant prices

Juliette Lewis is one of my favorite actresses. She chooses her roles well and usually chooses to make statements through her characters. In Chasing Freedom (2004), a made for TV movie, we see her as a high power lawyer who takes on the pro bono immigration case of a woman fleeing Afghanistan and the Taliban regime. Our American lives lead us into disbelief about the conditions of our contemporaries throughout the world. A dose of reality can be healthy for you and this film provides it.

The non-profit media arts organization, Women Make Movies (www.wmm.com) distributes films that you and I rarely get a chance to see. Please visit their website, www.wmm.com to see all the great films that are being supported. The economics of distribution limit where we can see them. Although they do make films available to schools and organizations, we rarely see these films available in the video/dvd market. Alternative Videos has been lucky to be gifted with such films as Jury of Her Peers (1990) by Sally Heckel. Beautifully composed in its subtlety, this short film is a feminist jewel.

The time and place of our lives are unique in the freedoms afforded women. 100 years ago, Nellie Bly’s journey around the world (see Around the World in 72 Days, 2000) was both scandalous and triumphant, but her real achievement was breaking the boundaries that keep women isolated and without money. When we forget our past and ignore our current environment, we lose vision of how to shape the future. Art can be the compass that points the way.

Inside Out in the Hudson Valley, November 2005

A video store is the setting for many great film scenes. The new film, Saving Face (2004) by Alice Wu, contributes a jewel to that crown. Joan Chen as Ma has a hilarious scene in the video store in this gratifying romantic comedy that is certain to delight you. By the way, while she is in the video store, The Last Emperor (1987), starring Joan Chen, is playing in the background. I hope you were able to see Saving Face when it played at the Rosendale Theatre. Buying a ticket for a gay film in local theaters is like casting a vote and something that we all can do to strengthen our community.

Another of my favorite video store scenes takes place in It’s in the Water (1997). I swear the clerk was modeled after me. Here’s the short list of good movies with scenes in a video store: Watermelon Woman (1996), Cheryl Dunye’s first feature film and one of the best Indies ever; Serial Mom (1994), John Water’s hilarious look at suburbia; Fire (1996), the first of Deepa Mehta’s element series and a lesbian classic; and What’s Cooking ( 2000), lots of good Thanksgiving food along with a lesbian sub-plot. There are many more, but many of them perpetuate the image of the video store clerk as an underachiever at best and as a psychopath at worst. The straight woman who falls in love with a gay guy in I Will Survive (Sobreviviré 1999) owns a video store, the deeply disturbed young man in Chuck & Buck (2000) works in a video store, and in Benny and Joon (1993), clerking is Benny’s (Johnny Depp) highest aspiration. As a lesbian, I am certainly under-reflected on film, but as a video store clerk, it’s a swamp.

Israeli director Eytan Fox’s film Walk on Water (2004) was released this year in September and immediately went onto our MUST SEE list. You might remember his previous film Yossi and Jagger (2002) which was also excellent. Walk on Water is accessible to all you folks out there who don’t do sub-titles, there are only a few scenes that require them. The characters are of different nationalities and the common language is English. Now that they’ve made it easy for you, sit back and enjoy the gay hero of this engaging story about finding compassion. The multi-national make-up of Walk on Water calls to mind two other first rate films that are multi-national, Tom Tykver’s powerful film, Heaven (2002) and L’Auberge Espanole (2002) with one of the best lesbian characters ever on film. Don’t miss her tutoring her straight male friend on the perfect way to seduce a woman.

Last issue I wrote about LIAR (Love In Action, we’ve added the R for reprogramming), a Christian identified organization that attempts to cure gays of their gay ways. Their operation in Tennessee was closed down in September by the state health offices for illegally dispensing drugs. A new documentary by Tom Murray, Fish Can’t Fly (2005) offers interviews with men and women who have explored this type of conversion programming in an attempt to put their sexuality and spirituality in harmony. The revelations of this well-made film are intimate and compelling.

And finally, I have to mention the Italian film, Family Flaw (Un Difetto di Famiglia, 2002). It is a sweet and funny little movie about aging brothers, one of whom is gay. While I was watching the Ferron concert in Hudson, it hit me that I was not accustomed to seeing older gay women. We have moved into a new era. Twenty years ago, even ten years ago, gays over 50 just weren’t visible. Now the Stonewall generation is beginning to collect social security and a new visibility has dawned. Family Flaw reminds us of how much things have changed and how much better our world is for it.

Inside Out in the Hudson Valley, September 2005

The New Paltz Pride celebration early this summer was awesome. It wasn’t without controversy though. From my vantage point behind the counter at the video shop, I heard a variety of opinions about the omission of the word “GAY” from the Pride event’s title. A young straight couple was thrilled because they liked being included in the celebration of diversity. Several people my age got downright cranky about the word GAY being left out, but in the end they participated in the celebration and came away feeling good. My liberal partner, Teri, of course had to see all sides of it, and asked me what I would do if I drove into a town that had banners flying to celebrate Straight Pride. I saw her point. Still some of us older folks feel a little cheated by the omission. We remember the first Gay Pride events; how hard we had to fight for them; maybe we aren’t yet ready to give up what was so recently won. The whole omission thing has an air of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

In past columns I have wondered out loud if there is such a thing as “queer cinema”, but maybe the larger question is, “is there such a thing as queer culture?” Are we being assimilated to such an extent that a gay identity is outdated? Several recent movies have revolved around gay characters who have momentary lapses of heterosexuality (Harry and Max (2004), Anatomy of Hell (2004), Camp (2003). These films ring false to our queer experience. Is our cultural cohesion only a matter of shared oppression? Or is there a gay culture with a unique history and style of living?

We can look to our history through brilliant documentaries that I’ve mentioned here before: Before Stonewall (1984); After Stonewall (1999); Stolen Moments (1997); and The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), just to name a few. There are also some wonderful documentaries about the present day, such as Tying the Knot (2004), which is a prerequisite for anyone who wants to have an informed argument for gay marriage. Rick Santorum can spew vile accusations until his face turns blue (oh that it would be so), but the history of marriage is not as he and the conservative right present it. On the contrary, it is a relatively modern institution spawned for economic reasons.

Two excellent documentaries were released on video this year about gay people in other countries. Dangerous Living (2003) is about gays living in nations like Egypt, Kenya and Thailand. I Exist (2003) is about gay people in the Middle East. The contrast between life in the US and life in these countries is dramatic. However, do not forget that Matthew Shepard (Laramie Project, Dear Jessie and others) was the victim of a hate crime, as was Barry Winchell (Soldier’s Girl) and Brandon Teena (Boys Don’t Cry and The Brandon Teena Story). This summer a gay bar in Fayetteville Arkansas was set on fire for a second time. This time it was ruined.

Also this summer a young blogger named Zach caught the media’s attention. His parents have committed him to Love In Action to thwart his homosexuality. Alex from Philadelphia writes “It should be called Love In Action Reprogramming with the acronym LIAR.” David Schmader’s excellent performance piece, Straight, A Conversion Comedy (2002) will take you on a smart and hilarious trip through conversion therapy; and the campy But I’m a Cheerleader (1999) with RuPaul as a convert, turns the absurdity into wickedly funny stuff.

Sometimes the loudmouthed insistence on conversion or deletion gets to be too much. Times like these call for the comfort of the great library of films that reflect our lives as gay people. Only twenty five years ago, gay films were few and far between. In 2005, Arisan!, the first Indonesian gay film ever released became available. Gays now have full and equal rights in four countries: Spain, Canada, The Netherlands and Belgium. The films from these countries, especially Canada and Spain, reflect the acceptance that is part of their culture. Perhaps one day our country will also frame its constitution to give us equal rights, in the meantime I want my pride to be defined as GAY.

Inside Out in the Hudson Valley, July 2005

Wouldn’t Rock Hudson be surprised and perhaps gratified by the new trend of straight actors competing to portray gay characters? It seems that today gay characters make for choice roles and the stigma that once kept Rock closeted has been shattered. This brave new world begs the question: “What is queer cinema?” It is certainly more than the presence of a gay character, witness Silence of the Lambs (1991). As we know from works like The Celluloid Closet (1995), there was a time when an innuendo or sidelong glance would mark a film as gay. I propose that in this age of metrosexuals, a gay film must center on the political and personal lives of gays. Great actors can achieve the portrayal of a character without stereotype and it is heartening that there are so many heterosexuals that can reach inside to find the connection. That said we’d also like to see out gay actors play as many diverse roles as their straight counterparts. Queer cinema is not about who made the film nor is it about who plays the characters, it is about the content. Queer cinema must convey a queer-eyed view of our lives. For instance, Personal Best (1982) with Mariel Hemingway is definitely a gay movie, portraying as it does the turmoil of facing one’s sexual identity. The degree of gay awareness is questionable however, in Hemingway’s 1999 film, Sex Monster, about a straight girl gone wild for lesbian sex.

Headline writers have trumpeted the “new wave of queer cinema” once too often, but this summer we have two brilliant movies to watch that truly fit that description. Brother to Brother (2004) draws from the Harlem Renaissance to create a film about the roots of modern life. A dialogue with the past is achieved when the young artist Perry meets an elderly Bruce Nugent, who collaborated with Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman and Zora Neale Hurston. Brilliant performances by Anthony Mackie as Perry and Roger Robinson as Bruce Nugent linger in memory long after the last frames are shown. This is a film full of ideas and considerations including the relationship of African-American Gays to the struggle for racial equality and the complicated dynamics of interracial bonds. Brother to Brother is an ambitious film that weaves past and present in a spirited conversation about being Gay, Black and aware.

Also worthy of the “new wave of queer cinema” epitaph is the innovative film Tarnation (2003). This independent documentary by Jonathan Caouette is an inspired montage about his life as a gay youth. Video footage is combined with snapshots, answering machine messages, re-enactments and bits of pop culture in a psychedelic portrait of a dysfunctional family (or are those two words redundant?).

Speaking of Rock Hudson, the new film Straight Jacket (2004) takes a comedic look at the life of a gay actor who must keep a straight public face. It is a simple little film with just one premise, but the stellar cast and subtle acting make for a very enjoyable movie. Bear Cub (2004) from Spain also offers sweet and tender cinematic moments. This film could have easily been reduced to stereotype, but instead we are presented with complex and soulful characters. The collection, True Love (2004) offers several excellent short films. By the way, our friend Scott Cranin is the feature reviewer in the advertising for this DVD. Another Spanish film, My Mother Likes Women is from the point of view of the youngest of three daughters whose mother takes a lesbian lover. It has its moments, but it is not the strongest title on this list.

Kinsey (2004) was overlooked by the Academy Awards, but stellar performances and a strong script make this a compelling film. Though the film has more talk than action, the film persona’s of Liam Neeson and Peter Sarsgaard do share sexual intimacy. Lynn Redgrave’s appearance in the film is priceless. Bill Condon, who both wrote and directed Kinsey, is also the creator of the contemporary classic, Gods and Monsters (1998). In the classic department, Zero Patience (1993) arrives on DVD this summer. John Greyson’s musical about “patient zero” who first brought AIDS into Canada is still challenged as “unglued”, but we think it is a must on any classics shelf right next to Greyson’s Lilies (1996).

The best thing about modern television is that you can watch the good shows on video when you want. Six Feet Under Season 3 and Oz Season 5 are now available on DVD, as well as a special Queer Eye compilation. Now don’t roll your eyes, because Bad Girls, the British TV drama about women in prison that arrives in June, has been lavished with critical praise.


There are so many movies coming out this summer that we are looking forward to seeing. Just A Question of Love (2000) from France and the twisted US indy Harry and Max (2004) are high on our list. Also out this summer is the lesbian action romp, D.E.B.S. I’m looking forward to the new Zeffirelli film Callas Forever (2002), as well as the French film about awakening sexual identity Clara’s Summer (2003). And we are sure to revel in John Water’s newest film with Tracy Ullman, A Dirty Shame (2004). The Catholic Church condemned it, what better review could you ask?

Inside Out in the Hudson Valley, May 2005

The journey captured by Samantha Farinella in Left Lane, the new Alix Olson tour DVD, reveals something essential to the political tasks that we have before us. The individual can effect transformation through personal actions. By taking it to the streets, Alix gives face to the alternatives. The film follows Alix’s performances, as well as her visits to school classrooms and radio stations. We see her as a teacher, a granddaughter, and a friend, as well as a performer. She is a road poet who comes in person to offer her vision so different than the conformist messages that bombard us from the mass media. The film also features the exceptional musicians Pamela Means, Peter Mulvey, Melissa Ferrick, Ember Swift and Lyndell Montgomery. While Left Lane is no substitute for being with her at a live performance, Alix’s song poems resonate with righteousness. I am going to repeatedly play this DVD until I know all the words to “America For Sale” by heart.

Pedro Almodovar’s latest film, Bad Education (2004) has arrived on DVD. Critics are saying, “its good, but not his best” and I am assuming the tepid response has to do with his audacity in depicting a priest as a pedophile. The film deserves much grander praise. Bad Education is an Almodovarian exploration of the human experience. Characters are not presented with the dichotomies of good and evil, rather they are presented with complex insight. Gael Garcia Bernal gives a brilliant performance and my guy friends say he looks great too. As with all of Almodovar’s films you must leave your expectations at the door, because he is going to surprise you. This amazing film was overlooked at both Cannes and the Academy Awards, but it is sure to become a classic.

Remember this name, Diego Lerman. He is the Argentinean director of Suddenly (2002), a black and white masterpiece of cinema. Mao and Lenin, two young lesbians, kidnap a shop girl and a quiet adventure begins. The women’s characters are drawn with a subtlety that mimics the revelatory process of making a friend. The story is reminiscent of Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001), but it edges are sharper and its tenderness is more alive. This film is yet another good reason to get over your subtitle phobias and watch World cinema.

Goldfish Memory (2004), a cosmopolitan little film from Dublin, tells a funny and sweet story; and it has a great soundtrack. The story follows a group of twenty-somethings who live and learn about love with all its complications. Audience responses to this simple romantic comedy have been mixed, from “real women aren’t like that” to “Gay guys don’t do that” to “this is the most refreshing film I’ve seen in a long time”. Personally, I had a very good time watching it.

I really wanted to like the recent release, Eulogy (2004). It has lots of lesbian content and seeing Debra Winger kiss another woman is high up on the fantasy list, but instead I felt offended. I don't want to be a hard-line spoiler, but the comic lechery of twin 11 year old boys being titillated by lesbians is just wrong. Years ago, when there weren't "lesbian" films, I could pare it down to one kiss and love the movie for that, now I’m a bit more demanding. However, the Debra Winger/Glenn Headly make-out scene and the Joan Armatrading song that plays a pivotal role are sure to make the movie memorable, regardless of the pitiful surroundings.

Touch of Pink (2004) from Britain could be just another formulaic story of boy and boy dealing with a mother’s visit, ala The Wedding Banquet (1993) or La Cage aux Folles (1978), but it rises above redundancy to offer a fresh and compassionate look at complicated relationships. The boyfriend, Giles is vividly present on film. It’s as if you know him. The protagonist, Alim, can be almost tiresome in his enslavement by strict societal values, but the plot revelations build so that one can understand him. Kyle McLaughlin as Alim’s imaginary mentor, Cary Grant, is outrageously good.

Warning, if you like the new Spike Lee film, She Hate Me (2004), you are probably a sexist pig. My fondness for Spike’s subversiveness allowed me to forgive him for his previous misogynistic blunders, but this time is too much. The film opens with a subversive message, but it degenerates into a straight man’s fantasy of impregnating lesbians that becomes pornographic. The end of the movie had me so enraged I wanted to slap him. Stay away!

Special, Inside Out in the Hudson Vally, March 2005

Oscar may be Gay. After all, the Academy Awards ceremonies are designed with all the pageantry one would expect from the subculture that invented good taste in clothing, art and film. But if Oscar is Gay, he sure isn’t Out. In fact, he is a bit like our Senator Clinton, who is now publicly asking for tolerance of religious people who are against homosexual marriage. Oscar shifts with the political tides too. Maybe that is why Gael Garcia Bernal is noticeably missing from the Best Actor nominations for his role in Pedro Almodovar’s Bad Education. No, it is not personal to Gael, he is heterosexual, but the role he so magnificently created in Bad Education is gay, gay, GAY. Garcia Bernal’s performance is, simply stated, one of the best ever put to film. The absence of Bad Education from the Best Foreign Film nomination category is more understandable. Each country nominates the film to be considered, and Spain opted to submit The Sea Inside by openly Gay director Alejandro Amenabar as its official entry. However, one can’t help but wonder, if the direct and head-on Gay content in Bad Education was the real reason it was excluded from Awards consideration in other categories. The Academy Awards ceremonies may offer great opportunities to Gay designers, dancers and PR consultants, but when it comes to film, the Oscars are scared straight. If Hollywood had the cajones to actually cast a Gay lead, instead of the tired Kevin Kline, as Cole Porter in De-Lovely, we might have seen a delightful movie.

The five films nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year are all good films, each with admirable characteristics. However, there are no landmarks here; no flights of imagination that soar above all the rest; they are just good films, that’s all. Since the Academy Awards are chosen by people who work in the film industry, one can assume that there is a degree of expertise here that is above the hype of consumerism. A different mechanism, cronyism, stimulates the vote. Martin Scorsese has never won an Oscar. I predict that this will be his year to win for directing The Aviator. Mike Leigh (Vera Drake) has never won either, and what a shame that is, but Scorsese’s muscle with previous films like Raging Bull and Last Temptation of Christ will probably prevail. Remember a few years ago when Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe were given the Best Actor Oscar for the wrong movies? Denzel won in 2001 for Training Day although his better performance was in 1999 in Hurricane. Russell won in 2000 for Gladiator although his better performance was in 1999 in The Insider. The Academy tends to make amends.

There are some noteworthy nominations. Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake and Catlina Sandino Moreno in Maria Full of Grace both gave brilliant performances. However, in years that included more featured roles for American actresses, these nominations would never have made the list, not because of the talent quotient but because of the aforementioned cronyism The nominations for Best Supporting Actress are a lesbian’s dreamlist: Cate Blanchett, Laura Linney, Virginia Madsen, Sophie Okonedo and Natalie Portman. I want them all to win. Mr. Helen Mirren, I mean Taylor Hackford, is nominated for Best Director for Ray, which is a must see. His previous films as director include An Officer and a Gentleman, Dolores Claiborne and The Devil’s Advocate, all of which are exceptionally good films.

Perhaps the films that are missing from the Academy Awards nominations can tell us much about the state of our world. Before Sunset, a profound conversation about intimacy, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy, won the People’s Choice Award but received only one nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Motorcycle Diaries, the film about Che Guevera also received its only nod in that category. Missing completely is Dogville, the absolutely stunning film by Lars Van Trier which is an indictment of a self-serving, exploitive society. Also missing is the most original film of the year, I Heart Huckabees by David O. Russell with Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Isabelle Huppert, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg and Naomi Watts to name just a few. It is a film about existential detectives, the rest is up to you to interpret.

The Oscars aren’t always on the mark. As Robert Heinlein says, “Democracy is rule by the mediocre.” But the Oscars are fun. It will be great to see buff Hilary Swank and gorgeous Leonardo DiCaprio on the same night. And I, for one, will enjoy seeing all those chorus boys making good money for a change. If Oscar isn’t Gay, he should be.

Inside Out in the Hudson Valley, March 2005

Why are there so few lesbian movies? Are they being imagined but not written? Are they being written but not filmed? Are they being filmed but not distributed? Is all the talent over at Showtime’s The L Word? We are womyn. We have a lot to say, then why not in the medium of film?

Recently the SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild) Magazine did a statistical breakdown of who was working in the industry. The percentages of females in every age group and of every ethnicity were low. Roles for Hispanic males were also disproportionately low. The article concluded with the idea that SAG would work to correct the disparity of roles available to Hispanic males. There was no mention whatsoever of the disparity in the percentages of roles for females. Well then, there is only one thing to do, take it into our own hands.

There are resources out there to help us achieve a film presence in the world. One great resource is PowerUp, their mission statement reads “to promote the visibility and integration of gay women in entertainment, the arts, and all forms of media.” Women Make Movies also provides support and distribution for filmmakers, as does CineWomen. Locally, UCCC offers courses from the basics of digital photography to a one-day film school. And the Woodstock Film Festival has workshops year round. I am willing to coordinate a talent bank, if anyone out there is also interested. Please contact me at barbara@alternativevideo.com.

There is a new film by out director Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Laurel Canyon). She has set Dorothy Allison’s book Cavedweller to film. Kyra Sedgewick stars as Delia, who with her youngest daughter, returns to her two older daughters in Georgia and her past life. Dorothy Allison’s writing is raw and emotional, but also contains a soulful humor which screenwriter Anne Meredith has preserved in this script. Unfortunately, there aren’t any films on the horizon with gay women characters.

So in the meantime, here is a short list of films about sisters doing it for themselves:
Paris Was A Woman, Greta Schiller’s portrait of the creative women of the Left Bank; Without Lying Down, Francis Marion and the Power of Women in Hollywood; Lavender Limelight, Lesbians in Film; Women Who Made the Movies, a rare and important documentary made in association with Nebraska Educational Television by Gwendolyn Foster-Dixon. And I will remind you, yet again, of Radical Harmonies that presents the herstory of the coalitions that birthed and mothered womyn’s music.

Have you ever noticed that even the lesbian documentaries have sex scenes? The otherwise wonderful documentary Stolen Moments takes a few minutes to present the sensual/sexual in a lovely but incongruous scene. Is that all that being lesbian is about, the actual act? We need to present ourselves to our society in all our many colors and styles. The good independent film Chutney Popcorn by Nisha Ganatra successfully combines a look at our sexuality while also looking at the culture around us, our place in family and in community.

Now, more than ever, we need to present images into our culture that represent the diversity of the lesbian experience. There is a segment of our nation that paints us as depraved, disgusting beings that are polluting society and another segment that reduces us to titillation for straight men. We must choose how to define and present our rich and beautiful selves.

Resources:
PowerUp: www.power-up.net
WomenMakeMovies: www.wmm.com
CineWomen: www.cinewomen.org
UCCC: www.sunyulster.edu
WoodstockFilmFestival: www.woodstockfilmfestival.com
Alternative Video: www.alternativevideo.com

Inside Out in the Hudson Valley, January 2005

Have you noticed the number of films marketed to gay men that have more hetero sex scenes in them than homo? What’s up with that? So we’ve decided to create a list of our own, The Alternative Angels Awards of 2004. It is a promo-free list of the unambiguously LGBT DVDs released in 2004. Topping the list for the guys is the gorgeous Israeli drama Yossi and Jagger. Blue Citrus Hearts gets our nod for best Indy. Soldier’s Girl features a stellar script by local screenwriter Ron Nyswaner, a story that questions boundaries of sexuality and gender. Latter Days proves that gay men love their big budget studio films just like the rest of the culture. If you somehow missed the Merchant/Ivory wave, Maurice was released this year on DVD and is a must-see for anyone craving "love conquers all" plot lines and unapologetically gay male content. Angels in America fills the screen with mythic proportions and reminds us of the slogan we used with NOW so much in the 80s, “the personal is political.” For lovers of softcore, it doesn’t get any better than Dieux du Stade: real French Rugby players pose naked for a charity calendar and we are treated to amazingly beautiful athletes in the prime of their lives. And finally, as we go to press we’re anxiously awaiting Proteus, the new 18th Century period drama from John Greyson (Lilies, Zero Patience) and collaborator Jack Lewis.

The 2004 Alternative Angels Award for best lesbian film goes to Radical Harmonies, which will take its place beside other classics such as Paris Was A Woman and Stolen Moments. Not only does it well document the legacy of women’s music, it conjures up the spirit of creating community which is reviving in these dangerous times. The wonderful DVD, Laughing Matters offers a similar look at our legacy; and will keep you laughing. The BBC production of Tipping the Velvet was a delight. A naughty and nice lesbian romp through English music halls and populist politics, it is a true romance; and as about as close as we lesbians have come to Merchant/Ivory. A sexy little film from Japan about a porn photographer, Sugar Sweet, ultimately delivered a generous dialogue on sex and love. While I really can’t recommend this, if you want to watch a Friday the 13th type slasher film with lesbians, check out Make A Wish. This year also brought us Between Two Women, a slow but rich drama set in a bleak English mill town in the ‘50s. Intense in its simplicity and pace, it leaves a lasting impression. Yet another documentary type film that we loved this year is Venus Boyz, which is a provocative look at Drag Kings in specific and gender at large. Two foreign films, La Repetition (French) and Blue Gate Crossing (Chinese) are about the heartbreak of being a young lesbian in love with her best friend. They don’t have happy endings, but they accurately portray the pain and confusion of first love.

Need to catch up on your commercial-free TV watching this winter? Series with LGBT characters and positive content include Queer As Folk, The L Word, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Six Feet Under, Oz, Ellen (no LGBT content in the first season, but it is important to the evolution of gay/lesbian characters on television), Boy Meets Boy, Gay Weddings, Sex and the City and the perennial favorite Tales of the City series.

Inside Out in the Hudson Valley, September 2004

Our resident spiritual advisor, the Divine Ms. J. as we call her behind her back, recently said to me "The political is spiritual." At my loud guffaw, she went on to say that politics is about how we act in community, and that community/communion is our spiritual quest. A few days later, a customer said to me that he didn't like Tony Kushner because he was "too political." Well, as you can imagine, those two statements combined to revelation: that is exactly what Tony Kushner does; he reflects our politics in spiritual terms.

Tony Kushner is the most eloquent playwright in decades. His vision combines myth and history and religion and spirit in proportions that fill and enliven a stage. Director Mike Nichols took on the daunting task of translating Angels in America to film. Critics will find flaws, I am sure, but the film as a whole is a piece of art. The wonderful cast includes two of my favorite actors, Jeffrey Wright {Basquiat, Boycott) and Mary Louise Parker (Fried Green Tomatoes, Five Senses). Their work together in Angels in America is magical. The cast also includes Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson, Justin Kirk, Ben Shenkman, Patrick Wilson, and James Cromwell. Angels in America is one of those timeless works that can be seen again and again. It is available on dvd on September 14th, so now is your chance.

For those of you unfortunate enough to have missed the screening of Radical Harmonies presented by Great Dames, it will be available on video/dvd on September 21st. Radical Harmonies was the winner of the audience award for BEST DOCUMENTARY at the 2002 San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. Through festival and performance footage, interviews and archival material, the film documents the rich heritage of musical genres that arose from the lesbian-feminist culture of the 1970s and 80s. With its commitment to diversity, integrity, and empowerment, the Women's Music Cultural Movement fostered the development of women musicians, producers, distributors, and engineers. This important film, produced and directed by Dee Mosbacher, is an enjoyable look at our heritage and our future.

New to vhs and dvd (unfortunately, many films are being released on dvd only) are several other films worth viewing. Nancy Savoca’s (Household Saints, Dogfight) RENO Rebel Without a Pause features the irrepressible RENO talking about 9/11. It is a vantage point that is both healing and provocative. Also due out in September is Latter Days, which is a gay romantic comedy from C. Jay Cox, the writer of Sweet Home Alabama. There are two films that compete for the Best Title of a Film Ever category and both films deserve attention: A Thousand Clouds of Peace from Mexico, a story about Gerardo, a gay teenager; and Blue Citrus Hearts, an independent film from Memphis about two teenage boys on the verge of falling in love, which has been reviewed as “poetic and powerful.”

Add these new releases to your must see list also: Margaret Cho’s Revolution, our dear little sister is as gross and right-on as ever; Twist, a Canadian adaption of Oliver Twist that is dark and queer; 24th Day about a gay man who picks up a bisexual at a bar and finds himself captive; Eden’s Curve by director Anne Misawa about about gorgeous boys, sexual intrigue, jealousy and violence. And finally, girls, from the director of A Family Affair, Helen Lesnick, comes Inescapable, a softcore lesbian film about couples vacationing together who explore their passions.

The Scene, December 2003

2003 has been a great year for women in film. In this last quarter of the year, several significant films have been released on video/dvd: Whale Rider, the mythic New Zealand film by director Niki Caro and Bend It Like Beckham from Britain top the list. In Whale Rider, the recovery of the relationship of females to myth is movingly told in a simple story. Bend It Like Beckham reveals a more modern vision, the emancipation of the female from cultural and societal custom. Both films provide solid, positive images for all of us, and most especially our youth. If you need some re-affirmation, these are films that uplift. To read about other great films that have been released this year, please see my past reviews on The Scene website.

Now in a different vein, newly released is Preaching to the Perverted starring Guinevere Turner, who played the lead roles in Go Fish, Strays, and who co-wrote American Psycho. Turner stars as Tanya Cheex in this intelligent, but campy film exploration of the s&m culture. While the relationship between Tanya and a young male innocent is the centerpiece of the story, the real message here is the power of women and the power of relationships between women. If you like kinky, you will love this. One of the intricacies of this multi-layered film is a consistency in every scene. Want to know what it is? Request the info by email: barbara@alternativevideo.com

Another interesting film, Sugar Sweet, made by a young Japanese filmmaker, explores lesbian sexuality. The story revolves around a lesbian filmmaker who does porn to make money (of course, she has higher aspirations), but this allows frank discussion about porn; and what is and is not acceptable. The relationship between sex and love is explored in a counterpoint plotline. Most of us have never been lucky enough to hang out in the bars that you will see in this flick (like the lesbian bar scene in Living Out Loud with Queen Latifah and Holly Hunter), but I for one, wish that we could.

Thank you to all who have encouraged me. It has been a pleasure writing for The Scene these past two years. I look forward to contributing articles to the new publication Inside Out in the Hudson Valley. And thanks to Linda Boyd Kavars and Rita Pearson for the countless hours they have worked to bring our community together.

The Scene, September 2003

Labels such as "womenís director" or "lesbian director" are oftentimes used to minimize a personís achievements by implying that the accomplishment is only in a limited field. We need to reclaim those terms to mean directors who bring a full bodied perspective from a well defined point of view.

Lesbian Director Rose Troche has given us a grand achievement in her latest film, The Safety of Objects. Trocheís first major film "Go Fish" was a delightful insiderís view of twenty-something lesbians. Her next major film, "Bedrooms and Hallways" was a well made comedy about a group of gay guys in California. The Safety of Objects proves Troche to be exceptionally fine filmmaker. Based on stories by A.M. Homes, Rose Troche wrote the screenplay and directed this film about the interconnected lives of neighbors. You can see her touch in every frame.

The cast of this fine film was superb, down to its youngest, differently-abled character. While actors are to be given credit for their perfomances, the nuance of character and scene were created by Rose. Watch the younger actors and you will see the incredible direction that built their performances, extend that to the adult stars, especially Glenn Close in a career high performance.

The feminist perspective is not subtle or intellectual; it is everpresent and brilliantly real. A young girl objects to her mother waiting on her father and brother. A guilty father turns reality upside down to claim righteousness. The gender bending twist in the movie comes about so smoothly that the audience understands how it must feel to be that person, neither trauma nor triumph, just a moment of everyday life.

Visually rich with montages that weave the connections, and with a good soundtrack, The Safety of Objects is a full bodied and definitive film. After a second viewing, I have decided that Rose Troche ranks up there with some of my other favorite women directors, Marleen Gorris (Question of Silence, Antoniaís Line) and Deepa Mehta (Fire, Earth).

Another wonderful woman involved in this project is the producer Christine Vachon. An out lesbian, who has spent her career developing and producing, Vachonís credits include some of the most important films of our times: I Shot Andy Warhol, Happiness, Velvet Goldmine, Boys Donít Cry, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Chelsea Walls, Far From Heaven and Trocheís first film Go Fish.

Arriving on video and dvd on October 14th, The Safety of Objects is a must see!

The Scene, June 2003

After a long cold, winter, the coming of summer will shower us with riches. On June 10th, Frida is released on video and dvd; then on June 24th, we are given The Hours; and that is just for starters.

Frida, the Selma Hayek and Julie Taymor tribute to the artist Frida Kahlo, provides only a glimpse of the importance of relationships with women in Frida's life, but I have heard people say that the scene with Ashley Judd made them swoon. While this film is a good introduction to the life of Frida Kahlo, it is not definitive. The 1984 Spanish film by Paul LeDuc, also titled Frida, conveys more of the tone of her life, the operatic quality of her passions. I have my own particular passion for Frida and have watched this version several times.

To quote our friend Scott Cranin, who originated Alternative Videos, "The Hours possesses a feminist thematic timelessness." (To read the excellent review co-written by Mekado Murphy, please visit www.alternativevideo.com and follow the link.) The Hours is truly a rare and wonderful film with stellar performances by every cast member: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Claire Danes, Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Jeff Daniels, John C. Reilly, Miranda Richardson, Stephen Dillane, and Jack Rovello; screenplay by David Hare from the Michael Cunningham novel with music by Philip Glass. This is film at its best, complicated, rich and inspiring.

Also coming in June is La Repetition with Pascale Bussières and Emmanuelle Béart. Be still my heart. You might remember Pascule from Patricia Rozema's film When Night is Falling or Lea Poole's Set Me Free or Jeremy Podeswa's Five Senses, all outstanding films. Emmanuelle Béart is one of France's leading ladies; her most recent appearance was in the star studded musical, 8 Women. La Repetition is the story of a twenty year love affair.

Also arriving is Journey to Kafiristan, a German film about the erotic and romantic journey of two women based on actual diaries. The film is reviewed as a stunningly photographed period drama and the cover art is luscious (see photo).

Just in case you missed them, Kathy Bates is Kevin Costner's lesbian neighbor in Dragonfly; Judy Dench is Kevin Spacey's lesbian aunt in Shipping News; and Lily Tomlin is the lesbian anthropologist in Tea with Mussolini.

The Scene, December 2002

Several excellent films have been released on video in the past few months. I am happy to recommend Gaudi Afternoon, directed by Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan) and written by Barbara Wilson, whose book Murder in the Collective, published in the 80's, is still making top ten lists. Judy Davis, as the heroine Cassandra Reilly, is an understated dreamboat, at least to us middle aged lesbians in the audience. Marcia Gay Harden provided me with the biggest laugh I have had at a movie this year. All in all, it is a fun, well done film with a super surprise. (Don't let anyone tell you the plot!) Just Enjoy.

We are also lucky to have the European import Pourquoi pas moi? (`Why Not Me?') by the young director Stephane Giusti. A group of 20 something friends arrange a weekend to come-out to their parents. This sweet film reminds me of Ma Vie En Rose with its suspension of reality and introduction of fantasy in key scenes. Pourquoi pas moi is deliciously French.

Melissa Etheridge Alive and Alone (dvd) is the next best thing to being at the concert. Her fabulous performance is supported by clips of her in conversation and combined this achieves an intimate few hours with this talented and passionate star.

While Big Eden does not focus on women or women's issues, I am recommending it here for its humanity. This simple but charming story could even be a family film, just a sweet romance between men. Another sweet gay themed film is Bobbie's Girl with Rachel Ward (Thornbirds) and Bernadette Peters. Dealing with issues of illness and family, this film tends to be corny; but it is great to see our lives reflected on screen.

A new collection of shorts by lesbians has been released: Dangerous When Wet. I always approach these with trepidation, but this time was re-assured by strong, original short films.

Kissing Jessica Stein, Treading Water, Stray Dogs and other lesbian centered films have also recently arrived in the shop, on dvd as well as video. We are adding dvds to our stock everyday and as always our focus is on the gay and lesbian community.

The Scene, June 2002

We found a cartoon on gaywit.com that is posted in the store. Two women are in conversation. One says, "What do you think is the point of Mulholland Drive?" The other replies,"Lesbians should make their own films." David Lynchís Mulholland Drive is painfully contrived. Long, staged scenes of cars were meant to create a mood of film noir, but instead they are just boring. Ultimately what this film proves is that David Lynch doesnít know much about women and nothing about lesbians. The recent French release The Girl by Sande Zweig succeeds in the film noir genre where Mulholland Drive did not. Based on a story by Monique Wittig, this is a moody, stylized moving picture. The filmís thread of a plot revolves around an artist and a nightclub singer in a timeless, cool and jazzy Paris.This is the film that "lesbians made" and a triumphant answer to Mulholland Drive.

Another lesbian made film, The Sticky Fingers of Time by filmmaker Hilary Brougher, is my favorite 2002 release. Produced on a small budget, this little gem shines with talent. The elaborate plot twists and turns through a passionate story of seduction, love, betrayal and time travel, constantly shifting in style, content and mood, from science fiction to film noir (complete with femme fatale),The Sticky Fingers of Time is "deliciously deviant and seductively offbeat."

The Circle, by Iranian director Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon) is mandatory viewing for anyone interested in womenís history and place in the world. His camera follows women as they weave in and out of each otherís lives until the circle is completed.The outrage of oppression claims every female from birth onward and their suffering becomes part of their everyday life.This artful exploration of womenís reality has a powerful impact that begs the question "Why isnít there a womenís liberation front?"

From Australia comes Monkeyís Mask with Kelly McGillis and Susie Porter. This twisted tale will result in a lot of lesbians crossing Kelly McGillis off their wishlist. On the other hand, Susie Porter overcame the horrible script to emerge as the quintessetial dyke detective like we have read about in lesbian mysteries.We will be looking for her again.

Two new films about women musicians, Sophie B Hawkins and ani di franco, are well done and intimate portraits of these artists. Sophie B. Hawkins,The Cream Will Rise is surprisingly revealing and personal.The filmmaker, Gigi Gaston, obviously has Sophieís utmost trust and in turn treats Sophie with compassion. Render, Spanning Time with ani di franco, takes you inside the family of Righteous Babes; and ani talks about her passions: music, human rights, connections; and top that off with great concert footage.

Also keep in mind, Metrosexuality, a British romp with Ricki Beadle Blair and a wonderful cast of offbeat and lovable characters. Made for Channel Four Productions, who also brought us Queer As Folk, this hip comedy series is delightful.

Coming this summer: Director Cheryl Dunneís (Watermelon Woman) first Hollywood film Stranger Inside.The TLA reviewer says,"Rarely has there been a film that so explosively but tenderly delves into the feelings of rage, loneliness, anger and love of African-American women."

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