Spring has sprung and, in the greater Los Angeles area, film festivals are in full bloom. Not only will this weekend bring both the 5th edition of the TCM Classic Film Festival and the 12th annual Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) to Hollywood, but Dan Savage’s HUMP! Film Festival spotlighting amateur pornographic short films will make a stop on its inaugural national tour this Saturday, April 12th, at the historic Art Theater in Long Beach.
I’m not in the habit of reviewing porn but HUMP! caught my attention for several reasons. First, founder and sponsor Savage is a reputable, openly gay author and sex advice columnist whose writings are well regarded. Second, the Art Theater is two blocks from my apartment. If that wasn’t convenient enough (and the third reason the fest caught my attention), the HUMP! rep was kind enough to reach out to me personally and send me the film lineup for online viewing in advance. In keeping with the festival’s requirements, all of the films are no more than five minutes in length and all were made by amateur filmmakers living in the Pacific Northwest. I am forbidden, however, from putting any of the filmmakers’ or cast members’ names in print.
Although the technical quality of the shorts understandably varies, they are almost uniformly smarter, funnier and more genuinely revealing of human sexuality than commercial pornography. Their subjects and participants run the gamut from hetero to gay and lesbian, trans, a disabled woman and even a randy animated centaur! Few kinks are left unexplored, including bondage, dildos and toys, Dungeons & Dragons, food fetishes and fire play (ouch). A few of my personal favorites:
- The Legend of Gabe Harding, a very funny mockumentary about the late, master “fluffer” behind (or, more accurately, in front of) the success of virtually every male porn performer, gay and straight.
- Edged, an intense, sexy depiction of one man’s control over another that somehow ends up dedicated to the memory of Golden Girl Estelle Getty.
- Mythical Proportions: Centaur Love in Contemporary America, in which three women hilariously discuss their sexual attraction to the title creature.
- Krutch, which is little more than a very well-shot exposé of a physically-disabled woman as she makes her way around town and masturbates at home but serves as an important reminder that disabled people, so often overlooked, have sexual feelings and desires too.
- Music for 2 Humans, wherein a beautiful straight couple has vigorous sex accompanied by a lovely piano score.
- Go F--- Yourself, a gay-ish, Terminator-esque time travel spoof.
- E.T. 2: Dark Territory, an animated trailer to a faux sequel about the X-rated reunion of everyone’s favorite alien with his all-grown-up friend, Elliot. Spielberg would not approve but would probably still laugh heartily.
The HUMP! program will be traveling to other US cities throughout this summer. Visit their website for other tour dates and details.
Many film festivals and LGBT filmmakers lost a good friend on March 31st with the sudden, unexpected death of longtime publicist Lewis Tice at the age of 44. Most recently affiliated with TLA Releasing, Lewis championed a vast number of indie directors and their work as well as those of us journalists who covered them. I never had the pleasure of meeting Lewis in person but we enjoyed a friendly online correspondence over the last eight years and he was very supportive of my writing, for which I will always be appreciative.
I figured the best way Movie Dearest and I could pay tribute to Lewis would be by reviewing the new Blu-rayof out director Gregg Araki’s acclaimed Mysterious Skin, which Lewis helped rep during its Sundance premiere ten years ago, as well as several of TLA’s more recent home video releases.
Based on the novel by Scott Heim, Mysterious Skin details the disturbing travails of two young men struggling to come to terms with the sexual abuse inflicted on them as boys by their little league coach. Brian (played by Brady Corbet) believes he was abducted by aliens whereas Neil (a pre-stardom Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has become a prostitute. Araki masterfully shows the initial denial and eventual connecting of dots that many real-life abuse victims experience, alternating between mesmerizing, appropriately dream-like moments and scenes of brutally harsh reality. The 10th anniversary Blu-ray transfer's high definition heightens these qualities. The film pulls no punches but builds to a beautiful, Christmas Eve scene of reconciliation and healing. Gordon-Levitt and Corbet are both excellent.
Tell No One, now on DVDfrom TLA, is an amusing if occasionally overwrought comedy from Italy about a young gay man's inability to come out to his family even as a visit from his Spanish boyfriend looms. The boys are cute, the in-the-know supporting characters are funny, and the family members are ultimately (as usual) more understanding than expected. Tell No One doesn't offer much that is new but provides a pleasant 97 minutes.
Meanwhile, gay filmmaker Todd Verow returns with the new DVDTumbledown. Taking a cue from the Japanese classic Rashomon, Verow explores an ill-fated gay love triangle from the differing perspectives of its three participants (one of whom is played by Verow). The attractive cast members aren't the best actors, unfortunately, which undermines the film's attempts to build tension. Also, the climax is thoroughly underwhelming.
The best new DVDfrom TLA is the Australian drama Monster Pies. Written and directed by Lee Galea and seemingly set in the early 1990's (movies are still on VHS and there isn't a cell phone in sight), it focuses on two high school boys who are paired up by their English teacher and charged with creating a modern-day interpretation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Mike (Tristan Barr) and Will (Lucas Linehan) hit on the idea of telling the classic story as a black & white horror film, with the Wolfman and Frankenstein's monster as the star-crossed lovers. Life gradually imitates art and finds the boys falling in love with each other. Despite some weepy teen angst trappings and a bittersweet ending, Monster Pies is worth checking out.
Mysterious Skin: A-
Tell No One: B
Monster Pies: B
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.