Tag Archives: Milk

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.”

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

‘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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Yeah, I’d Tickle That: Day Five (or, Frisky for Franco)

Actor James Franco receiving Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding recognition last year

Wikipedia notes that James Franco was elected by his high school senior class as possessing the “best smile.”

Oh, hell yeah. That’s a killer smile.

I haven’t seen Franco in much, unfortunately. The “Spider-Man” movies. “Milk,” of course, as Harvey Milk’s boyfriend Scott Smith, in which Franco is absolutely adorable. And I do believe that that’s it. But he makes my Top 10 list hands down.

Even when he’s made up to look rather scuzzy, as he was in “Pineapple Express” (which I haven’t seen), that smile is a slayer:

His entire face lights up when he smiles.

Who could resist?

Of course, Franco is reportedly straight… >Sigh.<

I need at least one hot gay celebrity for my Top 10…

P.S. I see now that Salon.com named Franco the “sexiest man living” for 2009 in November. He’s an excellent choice for that distinction. He certainly makes at least my top three.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Yeah, I’d Tickle That: Day Three (or, I’m Burnin’ Gay for Gael Garcia Bernal)

Gael Garcia Bernal

Gorgeous green-eyed Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal burst onto the American scene with 2001’s “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” with its rather pleasantly surprising ending. (Indeed, it tickled me pink…)

Gael has played leftist revolutionary hero Che Guevara — not once, but twice (in “Fidel” and in “The Motorcycle Diaries”) — and has starred in several other Spanish-language and English-language films, including “Amores Perros,” “El Crimen del Padre Amaro” and the low-key but touching “The Science of Sleep.”

The last film of his that I saw, “Rudo y Cursi,” teamed him up again with his pal Diego Luna, with whom he starred in “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (and who starred as Harvey Milk’s unstable boyfriend Jack Lira in “Milk”).

Oh, and how can I forget Gael’s role in Pedro Almodovar’s “Bad Education”? Gael is equally beautiful as a woman as he is a man:

He kinda looks like Julia Roberts to me when he is in drag in that film. (In a very strange way, if he keeps doing the drag thing, he just might turn me straight…)

Even though he plays gay quite well, Gael apparently is straight, used to date Natalie Portman (whom I’ve always liked), and became a father last year.

>Sigh.<

Oh, well; I forgive him, and I look forward to his next big project.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A singular film

Film review

Colin Firth plays the character of the tortured gay English professor George Falconer in the film adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s somewhat autobiographical novel A Single Man.

I love gay men’s history.

Call me a geek, but I’ve long believed that it’s difficult to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been, especially as a member of a historically oppressed minority group, and so I eat up gay history.

As a college student in a red state in the mid- to late 1980s, I had to remain closeted or risk harassment, perhaps even to the point that remaining at my university might have been made impossible — and further, the newish AIDS crisis was on and there still was some hysteria as to how easily AIDS was transmitted from person to person, so not only was same-sex sex was ruined for me, but there was the further social stigma that Gay meant Dying of the New (Gay) Plague. As if being hated for not being attracted to the opposite sex weren’t bad enough, gay men were the New Lepers.

While the pre-AIDS generations of gay men got to have their sexual romps (the unfortunate price of which many if not most of them paid later), the closet was even rougher for them than it was for me; for them, consensual homosexual relations meant possible arrest and even incarceration for “sex crimes” and a life ruined.

Among my gay-rights heroes are Harry Hay (I recently watched a DVD biography on Hay titled “Hope Along the Wind,” which, among other things, chronicles the high degree of secrecy in which the early gay-rights groups had to meet in the paranoid 1950s, and the nexus between homosexuality and Communism created by the wingnutty McCarthyites); Harvey Milk, of course (whom I lovingly regard as “St. Harvey”); and Christopher Isherwood, who, like Hay, was born in England but eventually found himself in California to, in his own way, mostly through his writing, advance gay rights.

Now has come the film version of what many critics consider to be Isherwood’s best novel, A Single Man, in which the main character, George Falconer, bears striking resemblances to Isherwood.

In “A Single Man,” directed and co-written by Tom Ford, George (played wonderfully by Colin Firth, who also played an interesting gay character in the quirky queer-themed 1989 thriller “Apartment Zero”) is an English professor living in Los Angeles of the early 1960s, a place where it was easier to be gay in the United States than in most other places in the nation at the time, but a time when it still wasn’t OK to the vast majority of Americans for anyone to be gay anywhere.

George has just lost his younger mate, Jim, to a car accident after their 16-year relationship, and George struggles to continue with his life.

I imagine that in that day and age it was difficult to find a same-sex mate at all, so to lose one with whom you’d really bonded would have been devastating.

And indeed, George is devastated, which “A Single Man” chronicles.

George’s main emotional support comes from his female friend and neighbor, Charley, a fellow Londoner who came to Los Angeles to pursue a dream that eluded her also. Charley is an alcoholic and so she can be only so supportive of George, and further complicating their friendship, Charley still wishes that she and Charley had become a married couple before their lives went in different directions.

Poignant scenes in “A Single Man” abound: The flashbacks between George and his deceased partner Jim (played quite charmingly by Matthew Goode); the scene in which George is informed by Jim’s relative that Jim’s funeral is for “family” only; the uncomfortable scene in which Charley, apparently not really thinking, denigrates the years-long relationship that George and Jim had had as something rather frivolous and not very serious; the scene in which George is propositioned by an apparent hustler who exudes sex appeal (and who actually seems like good relationship material, not just a hustler); the scene in which George indirectly brings up homosexuality in his English class and his closeted-by-necessity gay male students squirm in their seats. Perhaps no scene is better than the one in which George’s suicide attempt is bungled by his own anal retentiveness.

Providing a story to go along with the scenes of George’s dreary life of an aging, closeted widow(er) is the hot pursuit of George by one of students, the earnest, young and gay Kenny, played by a doe-eyed, angora-sweater-wearing Nicholas Hoult, probably best known for having played the fatherless little boy chasing after the single ladies’ man Hugh Grant in 2002’s “About a Boy.” I find it funny that Hoult has played two roles now in which his character chases around an Englishman, albeit with very different intentions.

The roundabout language that the gay male characters in “A Single Man” have to use in discussing their homosexuality — they have to dance around the subject — is interesting, and maybe one could argue that it was more romantic and thrilling to be gay during the time when you couldn’t talk about “the love that dare not speak its name” directly. The closet is a soul-stifling place to be, however, so I can’t say that I’d trade today’s more open atmosphere for the thrill or the romance of the closet, if there ever was or is such a thing.

The charged interaction between Kenny and George raises the issue of how much of an age difference is OK in sexual relationships, but to me the even larger issue is whether a college professor of any sexual persuasion should be sleeping with any of his or her students. (The answer to that is no, and I won’t tell you how it plays out between Kenny and George.)

The dynamic between George and Kenny seems to mirror the real-life dynamic between Christopher Isherwood and his much younger partner, Don Bachardy, who still was in his teens when he and the 48-year-old Isherwood met and became a couple in the 1950s in Southern California, where in the 1950s and 1960s Isherwood taught English at Los Angeles State College (now Californa State University at Los Angeles; and no, Barchardy was not a student of Isherwood’s when they met).

The worthwhile 2008 documentary “Chris & Don: A Love Story,” chronicles Isherwood and Bachardy’s relationship up to Isherwood’s death from prostate cancer at age 81 in 1986. (Unlike “A Single Man’s” character of Jim, Bachardy outlived Isherwood, and he is alive today; interestingly, Tom Ford reportedly said in this interview: “As I understand it from Don Bachardy … Christopher wrote this story when Don left him for about eight months and moved to New York with someone else. Christopher imagined that Don had died and that he was alone, and he wrote this story.”)

While “Chris & Don” demonstrates that the significant age difference between Isherwood and Bachardy apparently sometimes reared its ugly head in their relationship — such as how Isherwood apparently often was a father figure to Barchardy as well as his lover, and how Isherwood allowed the much younger Barchardy to have dalliances with men of his own generation — I hesitate to judge two others’ relationship, as only the two people in a relationship can really know what that relationship is all about.

“Chris & Don” and “A Single Man” are good companion pieces, and I recommend that those who have seen and enjoyed one of the two films see the other.

And I add “A Single Man” to the canon of worthwhile films about what it was like to be gay back in the day, such as “Brokeback Mountain” (which, like “A Single Man,” also takes place in the early 1960s), “Far from Heaven” (also starring Julianne Moore, and which, like “A Single Man” does, captures the look and feel of the time period shockingly well), “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Milk” (of course).

My only gripe with “A Single Man” is that I don’t like its ending. Why do so many gay protagonists have to meet with a tragic ending? Why do the straights so often get to live happily ever after but we gay men so often don’t?

I don’t blame Tom Ford, though; I have an old paperbook copy of Isherwood’s A Single Man, which I haven’t read, but I did glimpse at the novel’s ending, and apparently Ford was being faithful to the ending of the novel. (He probably would have gotten some shit from the purists if he hadn’t.)

I’d like to think that if Isherwood wrote the novel today, it would have a happier ending, an ending that he just couldn’t have imagined when he had it published in 1964.

My grade: A-

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

‘Slumdog Millionaire’ deserved it

A still from the film “Slumdog Millionaire,” which tonight deservedly won Best Picture and Best Director for Danny Boyle.

I’m a gay man and so I guess that I was supposed to be rooting for “Milk” for Best Picture and/or Best Director (Gus Van Sant), but the fact of the matter is that I enjoyed “Slumdog Millionaire” more than I did “Milk,” so I don’t think that “Milk” was slighted tonight by the awarding of Best Picture and Best Director to “Slumdog Millionaire” and its director, Danny Boyle.

Of course, comparing “Slumdog Millionaire” to “Milk” is comparing apples to oranges, but, it seems to me, it took a lot more creative talent and energy to invent and capture on film the enthralling and clever fictional story of “Slumdog” than it did to depict the life of the real-life Harvey Milk, which biographers and historians (and at least one documentary filmmaker) already had documented and which only needed to be re-enacted. (Indeed, at least two or three scenes in “Milk” are re-enacted television news clips.)

Sean Penn’s performance as Harvey Milk certainly deserved the Best Actor award, which (along with its award for Best Original Screenplay [“Slumdog” won for Best Adapted Screenplay]) is ample reward for “Milk.” (And don’t get me wrong; anyone who cares about equal civil and human rights for all Americans needs to see “Milk.”)

Heath Ledger’s posthumous Best Supporting Actor award for his peformance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” also was deserved. Some will assert that Ledger was given the award only because he died, but Ledger’s intense performance is the only thing that makes “The Dark Knight” worth watching; he did a hell of a job in that film.

Penelope Cruz, who won Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” made that film, too, and so I’m happy with her win.

I haven’t seen “The Reader,” for which Kate Winslet won Best Actress, but I guess that I will see it now. I’ve always liked Kate Winslet, whom I did see in “Revolutionary Road.”

I didn’t watch the Oscars this year — I rarely watch TV — but this year’s awards seem mostly deserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Film review: “Milk”

Sean Penn (center) and Diego Luna (far right) in Gus Van Sant’s film about slain 1970s gay-rights icon Harvey Milk, which evil, liberal Hollywood is going to award some Oscars.

I remember when I used to see containers of homogenized milk labeled as “homo milk” and jokingly thinking: Gee! They make milk just for people like me!

OK, I got that out of the way, so now I can proceed to write about Gus Van Sant’s “Milk”:

Wow. What a film.

Usually when they hype a film I’m disappointed when I see it, but “Milk” — which I saw today with my closest female friend (and lately I’ve been dragging her to so many gay-related things that I’m thinking that she and I need to go to a monster truck rally very soon in order to balance it out) — exceeded my expectations.

There’s a little bit of sappiness in “Milk,” especially at the end, but in “Milk” gay-rights-movement icon Harvey Milk is portrayed as a hard-nosed politician who even manipulated — hell, who even more or less manufactured — events for political gain more than he is portrayed as a martyred saint.

I haven’t read the late gay journalist Randy Shilts’ biography of Milk, The Mayor of Castro Street, a copy of which I’ve had for years and years, but in “Milk,” Harvey is portrayed as having apparently betrayed his eventual assassin, fellow San Francisco Supervisor Dan White, after they had agreed to help each other win what the other wanted on the city’s board of supervisors (which is the equivalent of a typical city council).

In “Milk” Harvey Milk is portrayed as having gotten at least a bit drunk on power (after he finally won an election), such as in the scene in which he threatens the late San Francisco Mayor George Moscone that if Moscone doesn’t do what Milk wants him to do, Moscone will lose the support of the gay community, spelling the end of Moscone’s political career. Harvey played hardball, if “Milk” is historically accurate.

Oh, hell, I’ll just come out (so to speak…) and say it: “Milk” isn’t too shy to portray the possibility that Milk contributed to his own murder by having antagonized, unnecessarily, his nemesis White.

Not that White had to resort to murder, but he was pushed, if “Milk” is historically accurate. Milk had gotten what he wanted — a gay-rights city ordinance passed — by an overwhelming vote of the board of supervisors, so there was no reason, that I can tell, that it would have harmed Milk, politically, to have stayed out of the issue of whether White should have been allowed to return to the board of supervisors after he had resigned, citing his too-low salary as the reason. 

I congratulate Van Sant’s “Milk” for portraying Harvey Milk as a flawed hero. Power corrupts even the best of us.

I found “Milk” inspiring — I probably finally will read Shilts’ biography of Milk, and I probably will volunteer at my local gay and lesbian community center on “Day Without a Gay” on Wednesday — and it moved me to tears more than once or twice during its two-hour run, and it’s not many movies that can induce me to shed a tear.

It’s too bad that “Milk,” with its rather extensive portrayal of the defeat of the odious anti-gay Proposition 6, was released after the narrow passage of the odious anti-gay Proposition 8 last month, but, I suppose, better late than never. “Milk” can only help the campaign to overturn Prop 8, and since the wingnuts, who are utterly lacking in talent and brains, can’t make a film that anyone would want to see, they have no answer. 

“Milk” is going to be to the gay community what “Brokeback Mountain” was, but while “Brokeback” only indirectly tackles the issue of gay rights, “Milk” tackles the subject head on, and does it with the star power of Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, Josh Brolin as Dan White, and James Franco as Milk’s long-time love Scott Smith.

Poor Sean Penn probably will get a best-actor Oscar, and that all he had to do was kiss the gorgeous James Franco to get it. I hate Sean Penn! No, but seriously, Penn did a kick-ass job as Milk, and Franco did a great job, too; the actors’ intimate interactions are quite convincing as two men who love and who are in love with each other.

Josh Brolin turned in another of his usually reliable performances (I didn’t like “No Country for Old Men” overall, but I liked Brolin’s performance in it), playing a Dan White who seems, with his obsession over homosexuality, possibly to be a closet case and who is more of a sympathetic character in “Milk” than you would have expected him to be.

Diego Luna did a great job as Jack Lira, Milk’s spitfire Latino lover who came after Milk and Scott Smith split up. Just as the real-life Lira apparently got second billing to Smith, so, it seems, Luna’s great performance as Milk’s passionate and unstable lover Lira is getting second billing to Franco’s performance. (Just don’t do anything crazy, Diego!)

Emile Hirsch as young activist Cleve Jones is getting rave reviews, but I think that Luna worked harder. Hirsch is best in the scene in which he and Milk first meet, but Luna’s role, it seems to me, was more demanding.

Like “Brokeback Mountain” was nominated for several Oscars, expect “Milk” to be nominated for several Oscars, too — and expect the wingnut motherfuckers to bitch and moan once again about how liberal Hollywood loves to give Oscars to movies about fags.

I expect an Oscar win for Penn and for director Van Sant, whose departure from his often-eccentric cinematic style (“My Own Private Idaho,” “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” and “Elephant” come to mind) seems to have been done with a best-director Oscar in mind. “Milk” just might win best picture, too, which would nice after the passage of Proposition Hate — er, 8.

My grade: A

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized