Tag Archives: Dustin Lance Black

Clint Eastwood’s ‘J. Edgar’ is not your father’s gangster movie

Film review

Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer J. Edgar

Clyde Tolson (played by the Adonis Armie Hammer) and J. Edgar Hoover (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) have a lovers’ quarrel in Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar.”

Woe to the heterosexists who don’t bother to research the movies that they see who stumble into Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” thinking that they’re going to see an action-packed gangsta movie (he-man Clint Eastwood is directing, after all) but who instead get “Brokeback Mountain” meets “Bonnie and Clyde” — in which “Bonnie” is the late long-time FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

As others have noted, “J. Edgar” isn’t going to wholly please either side. The heterosexists don’t want the slightest flowery whiff of male homosexuality contaminating their gangster movies, as evidenced by the male homophobe behind me in the audience who twice uttered “faggot!” (and who once uttered “AIDS!”) during the movie and the female homophobe behind me who vocalized her disapproval during the scene in which a distraught J. Edgar Hoover dons his recently deceased mother’s dress.

And gay men like me are going to feel, as I do, that screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (who won an Oscar for his screenplay of “Milk”) and/or director Eastwood wussed out by having portrayed the very apparent real-life same-sex relationship between Hoover and his long-time “assistant” Clyde Tolson as essentially sexless.

No, I didn’t need a steamy sex scene, although I can’t say that I would have minded one; Armie Hammer, who plays Clyde Tolson in “J. Edgar” (and who played the “Winklevi” twins in “The Social Network”) is achingly beautiful, and much more handsome than was the real-life Tolson, just as the real-life J. Edgar never looked anything like Leonardo DiCaprio, even with all of that makeup piled atop his baby face.

But are we really to believe that although the real-life Hoover and Tolson were inseparable and never heterosexually married — and that although Tolson inherited Hoover’s estate after Hoover’s death and later was buried near Hoover — that the two of them never did more than hold hands and share just one (bloody, very conflicted) kiss?

“J. Edgar” apparently would have us believe so, and while many movies about gay characters have a closeted feel to them, this closeted feel can be artful if it is intentional and thus helps us to understand the characters and their sufferings better, but if this closeted feel is a result of the filmmakers’ own cowardice and/or discomfort with the material, then it diminishes the film, and this appears to be the case with “J. Edgar.”

“J. Edgar,” as others have noted, also tries to do too much. Hoover’s time as head of the FBI, which spanned from 1935 to 1972, can’t be captured in one film. Not that it has to be; “J. Edgar” is a fictionalized film, after all, not a documentary, but because “J. Edgar” portrays so many of the historical events during Hoover’s decades-long tenure at the FBI, it has lent itself to be criticized for what it leaves out — such as the “Lavender Scare” of the 1950s, which surely was relevant to the real-life Hoover and Tolson.

And because “J. Edgar” tries to capture so many historical events, the examination of Hoover’s psyche gets short shrift.

Judi Dench is good as Hoover’s mother, even if she is portrayed as a textbook case of the overbearing mother who lives through her son so that of course he turns out gay.

Perhaps the most memorable scene in the film is the one in which Hoover’s homophobic mother tells him the story of another young man who turned out to be gay and who killed himself, which was a good thing, in her eyes. Many of us gay men (my husband included) have been told by a homophobic parent that he or she could never accept a gay son, as Hoover is told by his mother in “J. Edgar,” so I expect that scene to resonate with millions of gay men.

Still, “J. Edgar” doesn’t go far enough with the examination of J. Edgar Hoover’s homosexuality. My guess is that that is a result of the combination of Dustin Lance Black’s upbringing as a Mormon, which, I surmise, keeps him on the “safe,” conservative side, and of the generation of Clint Eastwood (he’s 81 years old), who, while he reportedly is pro-gay, on other issues leans to the right (he reportedly can recall having voted for a Democrat only once, and that was former California Gov. Gray Davis in 1998), and who might be one of those individuals who is much more intellectually accepting of homosexuality (that is, in theory) than he is viscerally accepting of it (that is, in practice) — you know, the kind of person who says that he’s OK with gays as long as he doesn’t ever actually have to see two men kissing. (Thus, we could see Tolson and Hoover kiss in “J. Edgar” only if violence was involved. [The scene, by the way, is fairly reminiscent of a similar scene in “Brokeback Mountain” in which our two conflicted lovebirds who live in a homophobic place and time pummel each other.])

“J. Edgar” probably should have picked one path and stuck with it: the documentarian path or the psychoanalytical path. Hoover’s professional life alone was interesting enough to carry a film. It was because of Hoover’s gross abuse of power, including his notoriously illegal monitoring of prominent individuals, that directors of the FBI need the Senate’s approval to serve more than 10 years, indicates Wikipedia.

But also interesting are the psychological dynamics in which those who have something to hide — such as homosexuality in a society in which homosexuality is stigmatized — react to their inner conflict and their self-loathing by becoming anal retentive and relentless moralists who viciously attack others in order to ease their own self-hatred. We saw this not only in J. Edgar Hoover, but in Roy Cohn, the gay assistant to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who isn’t portrayed in “J. Edgar.” (I’ve wondered about the sexual orientation of McCarthy, too, since he was an alcoholic who viciously attacked others and since he picked Cohn to be his assistant, but that’s purely conjecture on my part.)

If I had made “J. Edgar” and were focusing on Hoover’s personal life, I’d have left out all of the Lindbergh baby stuff and focused more on the relationship between Hoover and Tolson, and I especially would have focused on the “Lavender Scare,” which bizarrely gets no real mention in “J. Edgar.”

And I would have left out the scene in which Hoover tries on his dead mother’s dress. The account that the real-life Hoover was seen in a dress is dubious, and in any event, it wasn’t as it is portrayed in “J. Edgar,” and we gay men have enough problems as it is for Black and Eastwood to give homophobes the idea that all gay men like to wear women’s clothing (not that there is anything wrong with that; it’s just that it’s a tiresome stereotype, and Black’s screenplay shows keen gay sensibility except for this fairly unfortunate scene).

Still, despite its flaws — which include the fact that it tries to do too much and that Armie Hammer’s old-man makeup is bad (maybe there’s just no way to make such an Adonis look unattractive) — and despite the fact that it doesn’t belong in the pantheon that includes “Brokeback Mountain” and “Milk,” “J. Edgar” is worth seeing.

My grade: B

Update:I don’t think that I’ve been unfair here to Dustin Lance Black. In a recent interview with the Advocate, he remarked, “I grew up in a military family, which was also Mormon and conservative, so he [J. Edgar Hoover] was seen as a bit of a hero.” Again, Black’s conservative upbringing seems to have greatly colored his portrayal of Hoover in his screenplay. And of the historical Hoover and Clyde Tolson’s relationship, Black stated:

I don’t know how much sex they were having. I couldn’t anchor that in anything provable. I also didn’t need it for what I was trying to say. They may or may not have [had a sexual relationship], but frankly, I wouldn’t want to see it. What’s important to me is they were not straight. They were two gay guys, in my opinion.

What is it with this phenomenon of de-sexing gay men, of stripping them of human sexuality? We don’t do that to heterosexual people! I can’t say that I would have wanted to watch the historical J. Edgar Hoover (who, again, was not an attractive man) getting it on with anyone, either, but was the only alternative to making “J. Edgar: The Gay Porn” making a film that portrays him as a celibate, frustrated closet case?

True, we cannot “anchor” the assertion that Tolson and Hoover had a sexual relationship “in anything provable” — we have only the very strong circumstantial evidence that they had a decades-long sexual relationship — yet the scene in which Hoover puts on his deceased mother’s dress very apparently was fabricated from whole cloth. Why was that liberty OK, but we couldn’t take the liberty of having the two of them ever do anything more than occasionally hold hands and share only one frustrated kiss? 

Critic Roger Ebert also apparently has jumped on the no-sex-for-gay-men bandwagon, proclaiming in his review of the film:

Eastwood’s film is firm in its refusal to cheapen and tarnish by inventing salacious scenes. I don’t get the impression from “J. Edgar” that Eastwood particularly respected Hoover, but I do believe he respected his unyielding public facade.

So to have made the two men sexually active human beings, I suppose, would have been “cheapening,” “tarnishing” and “salacious.” Since they were gay, much better to make them celibate! And apparently “[respecting Hoover’s] unyielding public facade” means going along with Hoover’s having been in the closet, because to do otherwise would have been “disrespectful.” (Fuck the truth!)

Ebert also notes in his review:

In my reading of the film, they were both repressed homosexuals, Hoover more than Tolson, but after love at first sight and a short but heady early courtship, they veered away from sex and began their lives as Longtime Companions. The rewards for arguably not being gay were too tempting for both men, who were wined and dined by Hollywood, Broadway, Washington and Wall Street. It was Hoover’s militant anti-gay position that served as their beard.

That reading of the film is correct, because indeed “J. Edgar” intended to keep the two lovers celibate, since gay sex is so dirty, you know, and while we can posit that Hoover was gay, we just can’t go so far as to assert that he ever actually had gay sex (ick!).

Again, the real film in the story of Hoover and Tolson’s relationship is the one indicated by Ebert’s assertion that “It was Hoover’s militant anti-gay position that served as their beard,” and I still find it rather stunning that the film glosses over the Lavender Scare of the 1950s. Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn should be in any film about the very-most-likely-gay relationship between Hoover and Tolson, it seems to me.

And speaking of McCarthy, I’m not the only one who has wondered about his sexual orientation. David K. Johnson, author of The Lavender Scare (The University of Chicago Press, 2004), notes (on page 3) that although McCarthy in early 1950 first raised the specter of Communists and gay men having “infiltrated” the U.S. government, McCarthy went on to pursue only the Communist angle, having “mysteriously recused himself” from the witch hunt against gay men. Johnson goes on:

A knowledgeable observer at the time suggested that [McCarthy] did not pursue the “homosexual angle” more aggressively because he was afraid of a boomerang. As an unmarried, middle-aged man, he was subject to gossip and rumor about his own sexuality.

I find the parallels between Hoover and Tolson and McCarthy and Cohn to be striking. Maybe Dustin Lance Black can redeem himself somewhat for his wussy “J. Edgar” screenplay and pen a movie with balls about Joseph McCarthy and his relationship with Roy Cohn, the latter of whom we know for sure was gay. I’ll even give Dustin a highly creative working title: “McCarthy.”

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‘8: The Mormon Proposition’

DVD review

Tyler Barrick and Spencer Jones, both raised in Mormon families, were married in San Francisco’s city hall during the window period in 2008 in which same-sex marriage was legal in California. Their marriage remains legally valid, but Proposition 8 put an end to further same-sex marriages. Barrick and Jones are featured in the documentary “8: The Mormon Proposition.”

I’m glad that they made a documentary — a pretty good one, too — about the Mormon cult’s behind-the-scenes push for Proposition 8, the ballot initiative in California that in November 2008 wrote discrimination into the state’s constitution, invalidating the state’s Supreme Court’s May 2008 ruling that to prohibit same-sex marriage violates the rights guaranteed to Californians by their state’s constitutution.

Let me state right off that I fucking hate the fucking Mormon cult.

I could, but I won’t, go into detail about the Mormons’ fucktarded, backasswards beliefs, such as that non-whites aren’t white because they were punished by God (yes, the Mormons are huge old fucking white supremacists); that their “prophet” (a stupid old evil white guy named Thomas Monson, who even has his own website) literally receives communiques from God (Monson “is the only person alive who can receive revelation for the entire [Mormon cult],” his website proclaims); that their polygamous founder, Joseph Smith Sr., in the late 1820s transcribed golden plates given to him by an angel fucktardedly but appropriately named Moroni (these golden plates, which contained the Book of Mormon, reportedly were taken back by the angel, conveniently); and that when good Mormons die they get to be gods of their own planets (which is even better, I’m guessing, than the bevy of virgins that good Muslim men are promised in the afterlife).

Frankly, the Mormon cult is lucky to be able to get away with what it gets away with, most notably and probably most destructively, its routine brainwashing of its youth, who have no fucking choice. Those born into Mormon families, if they reject the toxic, bullshit belief system that is crammed down their throats from birth, risk being ejected from their own families.

When belief is tied to life’s necessities, such as food and shelter, that’s not spirituality; that’s the pyschological enslavement of other human beings (a.k.a., too often, as “religion”). And that is evil, and that is nothing that Jesus Christ taught, and there is nothing to fucking debate about it.

And this evil perpetrated by the Mormon cult on a daily business is perfectly legal. In fact, even non-Mormons support the Mormons’ right to brainwash and thoroughly pyschospiritually destroy their offspring for life. This is called “religious freedom.”

Speaking of which, I remember when a co-worker of mine and I happened to be walking around the state Capitol here in Sacramento on our lunch break in late October 2008 and we quite unexpectedly happened upon a large group of wingnuts demonstrating in support of Prop H8 in front of the Capitol.

On their blue-and-yellow “Yes on 8″ signs were the Orwellian slogans “Restore Marriage,” “Protect Marriage,” “Prop 8 = Free Speech,” ”Prop 8 = Religious Freedom” and “Prop 8 = Less Government.”

As I noted of these slogans/“arguments” just after Prop H8 narrowly passed in November 2008:

“Restore[/protect] marriage”: How do same-sex couples harm heterosexual couples’ marriages? If heterosexual marriages are in trouble, don’t the heterosexual couples need to do something about it? The divorce rate was sky high long before gay men and lesbians ever got the legal right to marry in any state.

“Less government”: Wait a fucking minute. “Less government”? The government telling two consenting adults that they may not get married is less government? How?

“Free speech”: Yes, you have free speech. You may hold the most hateful beliefs that you want and you are pretty free to say whatever hateful things you want. But what right do you have to infringe on someone else’s rights?

[“Religious freedom”:] These motherfucking haters, if it is their religious belief that same-sex marriage is wrong, are perfectly free not to marry someone of the same sex. Their religious freedom is in no way infringed upon by two other consenting adults marrying each other.

If we actually are to buy this argument that to offend someone’s religious beliefs is to infringe upon his or her religious freedom, then we must make interracial marriage illegal too if it should — gasp! — offend someone’s religious beliefs. (What about the eating of certain foods? Should pork be banned by constitutional amendment because its consumption offends some people’s religious beliefs? Where would it end?)

The bottom line is that the homo-haters have no actual legal, moral or ethical arguments against same-sex marriage. They have only blind hatred, and they fabricate “arguments” to try to legitimize and sanitize their hatred.

The overarching “argument” by the homo-haters that their civil rights — religious freedom, freedom of speech, parental rights, etc. – are actually being violated by gay men and lesbians being granted equal civil rights is beyond insane.

“8: The Mormon Proposition” — narrated by Dustin Lance Black, the gay (ex-?)Mormon who, ironically, won an Oscar for his screenplay for the film “Milk” — makes it clear that the stupid evil white men who run the Mormon cult are not satisfied with having control only over the hearts, minds and genitalia of their Mormon mindslaves. They want control over the entire nation, if not also the entire planet.

And it is at that point, when the Mormon cult no longer is content to mind its own fucking business, but wants to convert all of us to Mormonism, that the Mormon cult deserves to be brought down. (And no, I don’t rule out violence if necessary. An unprovoked, direct strike at our equal human and civil rights deserves a strong response, and if violence ever is called for, then so be it.)

“8: The Mormon Proposition” masterfully exposes how the Mormon cult has tried to hide behind its anti-non-heterosexual crusade by creating front organizations (most notably, the National Organization for Marriage* [which, ironically, actually is for fewer marriages]) made to look as though it’s a grassroots effort rather than what it actually is: a crusade of the Mormon cult. “The Mormon Proposition” also details the history of the Mormon cult’s involvement in denying equal human and civil rights to non-heterosexuals, starting with the battle over same-sex marriage in Hawaii in the 1990s.

“The Mormon Proposition” showcases two young gay (ex-?)Mormon men who wed when same-sex marriage was legal in California and follows their story, which includes ostracization from their family members (although the mother of one of the two young men is very supportive of him and the cause of equal human and civil rights for all Americans; she rocks).

I’m not decided whether the two young men are given too much attention in the documentary or whether it’s a strength of the documentary that their case is a thread that runs throughout it. In either case, though, they are an adorable couple, and if you are sane you can’t help but feel happy for them and you can’t imagine that anyone could be so miserable and hateful as to try to take their happiness away from them.

Also featured in “The Mormon Proposition” is Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate (now known as a national group called Rights Equal Rights), whose advocacy for equal human and civil rights and whose counter-crusade against and exposition of the “Christo”fascist Mormon cult I admire greatly (but I’m not big on his bid to run for president in 2012 on the Repunignican ticket; there’s no way in hell I’d vote for a Repugnican, but especially not for a gay Repugnican).

Karger’s Californians Against Hate website sums up the Mormon cult’s support of Prop H8 rather succinctly in a post on July 8:

During the summer of 2008, we discovered the active involvement of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) in Prop 8. The Mormon Church had taken over virtually every aspect of the Yes on 8 campaign.

Mormon families contributed approximately $30 million of the $40 million raised, the Church produced 27 slick commercials, put up an expensive website, bused in thousands of volunteers from Utah [and] had massive phone banks, yet only reported a mere $2,078 in non-monetary contributions three days before the election.

Two weeks later I filed a sworn complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) against the Mormon Church for not reporting its vast financial involvement in the campaign.

The commission prosecuted the case, and conducted an unprecedented 19-month investigation of the Salt Lake City-based church’s finances. Three weeks ago the FPPC found the Mormon Church guilty of 13 counts of late reporting and they were fined $5,539. That was the first time a religion was found guilty of election irregularities in the 36-year history of the FPPC.

How the Mormon cult retains its tax-exempt status regardless of its well-documented illegal involvement in politics eludes me. The Mormon cult should have been fined millions of dollars and lost its tax-exempt status. That it did not shows how scared the powers that be are of the “Christo”fascists of the Mormon cult.

One thing in “The Mormon Proposition” that I’m not thrilled about is to watch people cry over the passage of Prop H8 when the Mormon cult had to lie and cheat in order to “win.” When you have to lie and cheat to “win,” your “cause” is fucking weak. It’s actually good news that the Mormon “Christo”fascists had to resort to their anti-Christian deception and lies to “win.” It proves that unless they wear sheep’s clothing, the majority of the voters will recognize them as the wolves that they are. The Mormon “Christo”facists don’t have the power of the truth behind them.

And despite the tens of millions of dollars and the manpower that the Mormon cult pumped into Prop H8, it didn’t win by a huge margin. It won by only 4 fucking percent. That’s not what I’d call a fucking landslide.

The latest Field Poll on the issue, taken in late June and early July, indicates that if same-sex marriage were put on the Californian ballot today, Prop 8 would be reversed, with 51 percent supporting same-sex marriage, 42 percent opposed and 7 percent undecided. (It seems to me that most of the undecideds would end up in the pro-same-sex marriage camp, since the hardcore homo-haters already know who they are.)

My fellow non-heterosexuals need to stop crying and start fighting, which includes educating themselves and others on how and why Prop H8 passed in the first place. While I’m happy to see that the 52 percent support for Prop H8 in November 2008 appears to have dropped 10 points to 42 percent today, 51 percent of Californians in favor of same-sex marriage is still too close for comfort.

“8: The Mormon Proposition” is a great teaching tool, and I recommend it for everyone who gives a shit about equal human and civil rights for all Americans.

While I can’t support him for president, I wholeheartedly agree with Fred Karger’s proclamation that:

Younger people who begin to realize that they might be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer will soon be afforded all the same rights as their brothers, sisters, friends and neighbors.

That is what our founding fathers had in mind when they wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We will settle for nothing less.

Amen.

*Speaking of NOM, headed by the grotesque wingnut Maggie Gallagher, who really needs a dildo, a wingnut recently showed up at a NOM event holding this sign:

gay-hate-sign.jpg

Yes, many if not most of the “Christo”fascists believe that non-heterosexuals should be executed — just like it is the case in theofascist nation of Iran. (Thus, I think of the “Christo”fascists as the “American Taliban.”) 

This is why I never rule out violence against the “Christo”fascists.

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