The DVD releases of Solos(now available from Red Dawn Productions) and Pick Up the Mic(out June 23 from Rhino Films) deserve notice and celebration. Both are boundary-pushing films: Pick Up the Mic in terms of its subject — queer rap/hip-hop musicians — and Solos in terms of technique — it is wordless and sensual in the extreme.
I included Solos among my ten best films of 2007, having seen it in conjunction with that year’s AFI Festival in Los Angeles. It is an extraordinary film from Singapore about an illicit sexual relationship between a teacher (identified simply as “Man”, played by Lim Yu-Beng) and his underage, male student (“Boy”, played by Loo Zihan, who also wrote the screenplay and co-directed the film with Kan Lume).
The movie is inspired by actual events in the life of the talented Zihan. In an era when the sexual abuse of minors is often front-page news, Solos provides a uniquely intimate perspective into the processes of seduction and recovery.
Appropriately, the film contains graphic male nudity and sexuality, and it was banned in its home country as a result. Its only other significant character is the Boy’s Mother (a poignant performance by Goh Guat Kian). One gets the impression Zihan is exorcising past demons, but Solos is ultimately a revelatory and hopeful accomplishment.
The 2-disc DVD contains a number of deleted scenes as well as unique conversations between Zihan and out actor Sir Ian McKellen and actor-director John Cameron Mitchell on a variety of topics, including being gay in Hollywood, coming out and censorship.
Meanwhile, Pick Up the Mic is an informative documentary about “the evolution of homohop.” Even those who don’t consider rap or hip-hop music appealing (like me) ought to see this movie for its insights into the overall progress of the GLBT community.
Director Alex Hinton was inspired to develop Pick Up the Mic in 2002, when he came across a vibrant queer underground in the rap/hip-hop community. Over the next three years, Hinton and associate producer Bret Berg traveled from San Francisco to New York, with numerous stops in between, to interview and film such homohop artists as the bigger-than-life Aggracyst, the thoroughly adult Johnny Dangerous, bisexual “raptivist” Dutchboy, Latina lesbian JenRO and the impressive, female-to-male transgendered Katastrophe.
Hinton subsequently — and impressively — whittled more than 300 hours of footage down to the 95 minutes that comprise Pick Up the Mic. Lest viewers feel shortchanged, the DVD includes numerous bonus performances from the various musicians featured.
As one rapper featured in the film, Tim’m T. West, says, “I got tired of going to gay clubs and hearing people call me faggot from the speakers, so we have to make our own music.” West is credited with coining the term “homohop” to describe the growing GLBT underground in the rap/hip-hop music industry.
Hinton remarks in the DVD’s press notes: “The egos and bullshit of the hip-hop industry are so large now and so condescending … Is (the proliferation of homohop artists) all for a quick buck and to catch that multi-million dollar deal? Hardly. It’s about demanding their place at the table.”
When put in those words, one ought to feel inspired to give such unconventional films as Pick Up the Mic and Solos a try.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.