(*homocinematically inclined)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Reverend’s Report: Last Weekend at Outfest 2014

Outfest, the 10-day Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival, began to draw to a close last weekend with, appropriately enough, the LA premiere of Tom Dolby and Tom Williams’ lovely dramedy Last Weekend. Featuring an award-worthy performance by the never-disappointing Patricia Clarkson (The Station Agent, Far from Heaven) that fully utilizes her sensitivity, comedic timing and other distinctive acting gifts, the movie is well worth keeping an eye out for once it hits theaters or home video.

Clarkson heads an excellent cast as Celia, matriarch of the all-male Green family consisting of husband Malcolm (Chris Mulkey), son Roger (Joseph Cross, all grown up since his early turns in such late-90’s films as Wide Awake and Jack Frost) and other, gay son Theo (Zachary Booth, who also played the closeted lawyer in 2012’s acclaimed Keep the Lights On). The boys have come home to the family’s Lake Tahoe cabin for Labor Day weekend at Celia’s behest, with successful TV writer Theo bringing an entourage of friends, his latest flame Luke (pretty Devon Graye) and the star of his current hit show (Glee’s Jayma Mays).

Unbeknownst to their sons initially, Celia and Malcolm are considering selling their longtime manse in an effort to downsize. Unbeknownst to Celia and Malcolm initially, corporate accountant Roger has just lost his job after making a $30 million error. These are the primary conflicts in Dolby’s screenplay, with the developing relationship between Theo and Luke a bit more incidental. Celia’s realization that “it’s hard to let go of things” — whether talking about possessions, people or the past — is belabored at times but is also affecting, thanks in no small part to Clarkson’s emotional palette. The film is also well-supported visually by Paula Huidobro’s beautiful cinematography and aurally by Stephen Barton’s Thomas Newman-esque score. There are also terrific acting turns by Judith Light as the Greens’ grasping neighbor and Mary Kay Place as a lesbian townie.

Dolby, who is gay, introduced the film’s Outfest screening by giving a sweet, heartfelt tribute to Williams. He revealed that the co-directors have been best friends for over 20 years and that Williams has been his “straight ally” since they first met in college. The visibly moved Williams could barely utter a word after Dolby spoke. It served as a nice testimony not only to the growing diversity of LGBT-inclusive movies but of those filmmakers who create them.

Numerous LGBT-interest documentaries debut during Outfest each year, and this year was no exception. Two stood out for me as particularly revelatory in addition to being exceptionally well-made. Swiss filmmaker Stefan Haupt’s The Circle uses an engrossing combination of vintage footage, modern-day interviews and dramatic re-creations in its exploration of a Europe-based international gay network that thrived prior to the rise of the Nazis. Haupt centers on the romantic saga of two men who met at the time through the Circle and are not only still alive but still together 70 years later. The film was rightly awarded this year’s Outfest Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature as well as the Teddy for Best LGBT Film at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival.

Jim Tushinski’s I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole served as a similar eye-opener. While known to me and many as the pioneering gay porn filmmaker of the late 1960’s-early 1970’s, I had no idea that Poole was first a professional dancer with the renowned Ballets Russes as well as a successful Broadway dancer-choreographer. After an ugly legal clash with composer Richard Rodgers during the original production of Do I Hear a Waltz? essentially ended Poole’s Broadway career (although he made a brief comeback in the late 70’s), he began producing short films for art exhibitions and eventually exploited his eye for glossily explicit men’s stories. Poole’s Boys in the Sand became a surprising crossover smash hit, a gay porn epic that drew gay men, straight men and women alike. Tushinski’s film accomplishes what the best docs do, informing and entertaining in spades.

As such, I Always Said Yes stood in stark contrast with Back on Board: Greg Louganis. This latest exposé of the gay, HIV+ Olympic diver offers little that is new to anyone who has read his autobiography, Breaking the Surface, or seen the Mario Lopez-starring TV movie adapted from, it apart from Louganis’ more recent financial woes. Back on Board isn’t particularly interesting or well made yet it inexplicably won Outfest’s Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature, presumably because the voting audience was stacked with the subject’s numerous local friends.

Rounding out the docs I saw were Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy, a very funny yet disarmingly moving film of the “Gaysian” comedian’s stand up routine detailing his and his husband’s tireless efforts to adopt a child, and Andrea Meyerson’s Letter to Anita, an interesting bio of trailblazing lesbian educator-activist Dr. Ronni Sanlo that is unfortunately marred by the oddly journalistic employment of out actress Meredith Baxter. The numerous shots of Baxter sitting on a stool, bottle of water at her side, reading from Sanlo’s decades-old missive to anti-gay crusader Anita Bryant become laughable. Still, Sanlo’s inspiring life shines through the directorial excess.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Last Weekend: B+
The Circle: A-
I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole: A
Back on Board: Greg Louganis: C
Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy: B
Letter to Anita: B

Report by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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