Thursday, November 3, 2011
Reverend's Preview: AFI Fest 2011
The trailer for Clint Eastwood's latest epic, J. Edgar, shows Leonardo DiCaprio as the equally respected and reviled founder of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, holding the hand of his #2 and confidante, Clyde Tolson (handsome Armie Hammer), in the backseat of their limousine. While historical evidence of a long-rumored romance between the two men is scant, the new film clearly entertains the rumors. The truth may be revealed in Hollywood tonight, when J. Edgar has its world premiere during the opening night gala for AFI Fest 2011, presented by Audi. It will open in theaters nationwide on November 11.
J. Edgar won't be the first movie to at least allude to questions about Hoover's sexuality. In 1991, Oliver Stone's JFK featured Tommy Lee Jones giving a mincingly-gay performance as Clay Shaw (a.k.a. Clay Bertrand), a New Orleans businessman accused of taking part in a conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy that involved Hoover's FBI and the CIA. The film also alleged that a ring of early-1960's call boys existed to discreetly serve political power players, including Hoover.
The new movie was written by openly gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who won an Academy Award for his excellent script of 2008's Milk. Black has been a busy boy lately, having also penned the stage play 8, about the continuing battle in California over marriage equality. 8 had its world premiere in September at Broadway's Eugene O'Neill Theatre. In a recent Out magazine interview, Black said of his work on J. Edgar: "To the conservative right, Hoover was a hero. Of course, in the gay community, you hear he was gay and a cross-dresser. I was curious about where the truth lies. Here is a guy who was arguably the most powerful man in the United States in the 20th century... The truth was often more heartbreaking, more horrible than what people think."
Judi Dench, as Hoover's seemingly manipulative mother, and Naomi Watts also headline the film's all-star cast. DiCaprio may seem an unusual choice to play the title character, even with prosthetic make-up. Black defended the casting, saying "Hoover was a pretty good-looking guy in 1919! He was very fit... they called him 'Speedy.' It's not a huge stretch."
What is known about Hoover's relationship with Tolson is that the unmarried Hoover named the man he described as his "alter ego" as recipient of his estate upon Hoover's death in 1972. Tolson also received the American flag that draped the casket at the end of Hoover's funeral, and is now buried near Hoover at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC. Whether Eastwood and Black's J. Edgar reveals anything more remains to be seen. Still, it may emerge as one of the biggest gay-interest movies of 2011, if only due to the pairing of photogenic DiCaprio and Hammer.
Now in its 25th year, the AFI Fest annually spotlights several GLBT-interest films and/or filmmakers. Other screenings in this vein between now and November 10 will include the world premiere of With Every Heartbeat (a.k.a. Kyss Mig or Kiss Me), a lovely, sincere domestic drama from Sweden about two women (one of them engaged to a man) who unexpectedly fall in love with each other during a family gathering; an evening with gay auteur Pedro Almodovar, this year's guest artistic director, which will include a screening of his Law of Desire as well as conversation with Almodovar and a yet-to-be-revealed "special guest" (could it be Antonio Banderas?); and Wim Wenders' 3D dance spectacle Pina.
Though I'm not a fan of its source material, I am looking forward to the fest's screening of Carnage. Based on the excessive, inexplicably acclaimed play God of Carnage, the usually-restrained Roman Polanski directs a dream cast (Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly) in the film. I'm also excited about the Los Angeles premieres of We Need to Talk About Kevin, starring GLBT fave Tilda Swinton as mother to a sociopathic son, and Lars von Trier's apocalyptic Melancholia. Watch for my reviews of these awards contenders in my festival wrap-up report here next week.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.