Despite the resignations this past year of two prominent leaders (Executive Director Kirsten Schaffer and Director of Programming Kristin Pepe) as well as the temporary loss of the Ford Theatre (which is undergoing a long-overdue renovation) Outfest is still going strong. The 33rd annual Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival runs July 9th-19th at both traditional and new venues in the Los Angeles/Hollywood area.
One of the most prominent examples of this may be the July 16th screening of 54: The Director’s Cut at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Mark Christopher’s 1998 historical drama about New York City’s famed nightclub Studio 54 underwent extensive re-editing prior to its original release that removed virtually all of its gay and bisexual content. Fortunately, the director was finally allowed last year to restore his original vision and 36 minutes to the film, which stars studly Ryan Phillippe as a bartender with dreams of fame and Mike Myers (yes, Austin Powers himself) in a rare dramatic role as club owner Steve Rubell.
While the new and presumably improved 54 wasn’t made available to critics in advance, I was able to preview several of this year’s other Outfest selections:
Eisenstein in Guanajuato: Auteur/provocateur Peter Greenaway (The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover; The Pillow Book) returns with this explicit examination of the relationship between acclaimed Russian filmmaker Sergio Eisenstein and Palomino, the man who served as his guide during Eisenstein’s trip to Mexico in the 1930's. I found Greenaway’s treatment here of both men a little too broad and cartoonish but their true love story remains appealing. The film will screen in the International Centerpiece slot at the Director’s Guild of America on July 13th.
Those People: An affecting coming-of-age tale set in the Big Apple of a young artist fixated on his non-committal best friend, who also happens to be the socially-despised son of a Bernie Madoff-ish swindler. Writer-director Joey Kuhn gets extra credit for incorporating numerous Gilbert & Sullivan tunes on the soundtrack. It screens on July 18th.
Drown: This winner of several awards at May’s FilmOut San Diego is a time-tripping exploration of an Australian lifeguard’s conflicted feelings for his new, gay teammate. It is a dark film focusing on the awful toll repression can take but the finale isn’t as depressing as one may fear initially. There is also plentiful eye candy thanks to its hot, Speedo-clad cast.
Everlasting Love: OK, this one was too dark for me and I’m hardly a Pollyanna. A teacher begins an illicit affair with a gay student, whom he encounters while cruising in the woods one day. The student doesn’t take it very well, however, when his teacher decides to end their relationship. Spanish director Marcal Fores’ bad romance is being termed Hitchcockian but pushes the envelope a bit too far. More adventurous Outfest-goers might consider it just fine.
Do I Sound Gay?: Filmmaker and primary subject David Thorpe set out to discover if there really is a “gay voice” and, if so, how did it develop. Entertaining if frequently self-indulgent, this documentary presents such disparate suspects as Hollywood golden age actor Clifton Webb (Laura, 1953’s Titanic), gay comedians Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly, and The Lion King’s villainous Scar as all at least partly responsible for making the majority of gay men sound alike, depending upon which generation we came of age.
Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story: A compelling documentary about Chuck Holmes, the unassuming Midwest farm boy who founded Falcon Studios in the late 1970’s and watched it become “the MGM of gay porn.” Director Michael Stabile captures Holmes’ difficulties during the 1980’s particularly well, when the pornographer found himself at the uncomfortable center of the convergence of AIDS, politics and economics.
Beautiful Something: This thoughtful, very sexy drama is the best offering I was able to see in advance of Outfest. Writer-director Joseph Graham (Strapped) follows several gay men of different generations living in Philadelphia during one life-altering night. Alternately funny and heartbreaking, it is also one of the few American films seen to feature an ethnically-diverse cast. I strongly recommend this one.
Actor-writer-director John Cameron Mitchell, best known for the boundary-pushing Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus, will be honored with the 2015 Outfest Achievement Award during the opening night gala on July 9th. For the full festival schedule and to purchase passes or tickets, visit the Outfest website.
Preview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.