Rightwing Film Geek

Same-sex “comedies of marriage”

And by that, I don’t mean that same-sex “marriage” is a comic farce (though it is). I’m referring to this wonderful article in National Review by Justin Shubow (HT: Peter) about how a recent spate of male buddy comedies follow the conventions of the romantic comedies of the past. Shubow concludes:

In these extremely unromantic times (Is there anything less romantic than having sex while wearing a condom?), in which serial monogamy followed by divorce-prone marriage has become the norm, living happily ever after has become a less and less believable fantasy. By contrast, “best friends forever” is not just a live possibility, it’s one that is widely lived.

Part of the reason the article is so great is that it gets its head around one of the great shibboleths of our time — “the gay subtext” and the supposed “homophobia” or [ick] “denial” on the part of those who resist seeing it.¹ Instead, Shubow shows how the conventions of romantic comedy are being used in a male-male relationship and sees … well, what men had no difficulty seeing until the start of the 20th century — friendship. A form of love certainly, yet the H-word never breathes its presence.

chucklarry.jpgIt’s most interesting to consider with respect to CHUCK & LARRY, because gay “marriage” was woven into the movie’s very comic premise. But it’s still fundamentally a “comedy of marriage” about the two firemen, identical in architecture to, say, McCarey’s THE AWFUL TRUTH or Kanin’s MY FAVORITE WIFE (I’m not talking quality, obviously; simply the pattern of the plot). At the start of the movie, Chuck and Larry love each other, as best buddies whose lives are in each other’s hands as firemen. Then they fall out, while pretending to be “married.” But by the end, their love, their true love, has been fully reconciled and restored. With a lot of pro-gay “messages” spread around.

But a huge number of liberal critics (only the Census Bureau could document the number adequately) had a huff over never seeing Adam Sandler and Kevin James kissing (or more) — even though in every surface way possible, the movie is pro-gay. This indicates a rather spoiled lot and/or a group that thinks love without sex is ridiculous and/or a group that thinks homosexuality should be in-principle-universal. I’d argue that the social acceptance of homosexuality his precisely what has caused such critical blindness (though curiously, two of the few “fresh” reviews on Rotten Tomatoes were written by Nathan Lee in the Village Voice and Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe), because it’s severely wounded the notion of same-sex friendship — making us see sex where there isn’t any.

Indeed, quite a few radical and queer scholars such as those cited in this Wikipedia article have noted, in the context of romantic friendship (a notion now pretty much obsolete) or “Boston marriages” (a term that now means something rather different), that the range of physical acts and emotive language that a person could engage in without their being constructed as proof of homosexuality or sexual interest was quite wide in early modern times. The 20th century is also, more or less, the period during which homosexuality as we now know it (an “orientation,” definitive for at least some, and the moral equivalent of sex and marriage) came into being. This is not “gay panic” (whatever that means) … nobody is “panicked” about anything … but an acknowledgment that if “love” always means “sex,” at one remove or another, then people not interested in sex are less likely to love. Which is what happens in CHUCK AND LARRY.
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¹ “Denial” is, of course, circular waterproof reasoning, distilled into its purest and an ad-hominem attack to boot. Its deployment a sure sign that you’re dealing with a vulgar fool (on that topic, at least).

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October 8, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

Critical vulgarity

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I enjoyed the Slavoj Zizek documentary THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO CINEMA, and his other work has been sufficiently warmly recommended to me that I went ahead a bought one of his semi-film-related books, still sitting in my pile (“Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock)” … I mean — how can you even resist a title like that, or the mind that could come up with it/agree to it).

Still, I find Zizek brilliant and maddening in about equal proportions, and it’s good to have reminders of the latter once in a while. This essay on THE LIVES OF OTHERS in “In These Times” repeats two major intellectual crimes all-too-common in this interesting era. (HT: Peter Chattaway, who also notes the dubiousness of one of Zizek’s facts, as if his descriptors “all known … always” shouldn’t have done that already.)

zizek1.jpgFirst of all, Zizek repeats one of the commonest undemonstrated (and undemonstrable) tropes of contemporary sex studies, queer studies, feminism, etc., i.e., immediately noting a relationship between two person of the same sex that involves love, and immediately labeling it “homosexual.” Despite there not being even the slightest hint that the two persons want to get jiggy. In this particular case, Zizek imagines that there’s a homosexual relationship between the two central male characters — the Stasi agent Wiesler and the playwright Dreyman. Here’s his “reasoning.”

Finally, there is a weird twist to the story that blatantly contradicts historical fact. In all known cases of a married couple where a spouse betrayed a partner, it was always a man who became an informant—in Lives, it is the woman, Christa-Maria, who breaks down and betrays her husband.

Isn’t the reason for this weird distortion the film’s secret homosexual undercurrent? The film’s hero, Gerd Wiesler, a Stasi agent whose duty is to plant the microphones and listen to everything the couple does, becomes attracted to Dreyman. It is this affection that gradually leads him to help Dreyman. After die Wende—the “turning point” when the Wall came down—Dreyman discovers what went on by gaining access to his files. He returns Wiesler’s love interest, secretly following Wiesler who now works as a modest postman. The situation is thus effectively reversed: The observed victim is now the observer. In the film’s last scene, Wiesler goes to a bookstore (the legendary Karl-Marx-Buchhandlung on the Stalin Alee, of course), buys the writer’s new novel, The Sonata for an Honest Man, and discovers it is dedicated to him (designated by his secret Stasi code). Thus, to indulge in a somewhat cruel irony, the finale of Lives recalls the famous ending of Casablanca: With the “beginning of a beautiful friendship” between Dreyman and Wiesler, now that the intruding obstacle of a woman is conveniently out of the way—a true Christ-like gesture of sacrifice on her part. (No wonder her name is Christa-Maria!)

Now this is just vulgar. Not “vulgar” in the sense of “excessively ribald,” but “vulgar” in the sense of “coarse and reductively low.” When Camille Paglia says Lacan turns your brain into pudding, this is what she was talking about.

First of all, and most importantly, there’s not a shred of evidence in LIVES OF OTHERS that Wiesler “becomes attracted to” Dreyman in any sexual sense whatever. None. Oh, he clearly admires him, but only if admiration or empathy per se constitutes a sexual interest does this count. And it cannot. Otherwise, no distinction is left between love and friendship, between eros and philos, between the sexual and the fraternal. “Sublimation” and “Repression” and every other manner of head-shrinking psychological voodoo just reductively turn all friendship and familial ties into varyingly pale substitutes for orgasms. Further, the book dedication that comes at the end is hardly an expression of sexual interest, particularly given the events of the preceding 2 hours, which Dreyman had finally figured out. Again, only if gratitude (another form of love) is sublimated/repressed sex is there any “there” there. Some of us like to think it really is possible for a human being to feel admiration or gratitude (or other species of love) toward another human being without wanting to get nekkid in bed.

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Second of all, both Dreyman and Wiesler are shown having sex with women (admittedly, Wiesler is a quick unsatisfactory encounter with a prostitute). And does it mean anything at all that Wiesler also is shown as “attracted to” the actress Christa-Maria — trying to thwart the minister liaisons on one occasion, approaching her like a fan at a bar, and even trying to save her at the end? I’m aware that bisexuality exists, but the sex and bedroom scenes are at least real facts about the text; imputations of same-sex sex are just Zizek’s imaginative free-association and imperialistic discourse-impositions. If you define everything in reality as centered on sex, then of course everything will look that way to you, including a male-male relationship in THE LIVES OF OTHERS. But that’s Zizek’s problem, and I’ll leave it to him to try to figure why he isn’t boinking his father. (I presume.) They say that to the corrupt, everything is corrupt; and similarly to the vulgar, everything is vulgar, and to the sex-obsessed, everything is about sex — especially that which isn’t about sex, because, by pretending it isn’t, it’s clear-cut denial (no more perfect case of circle-jerk circularity could ever exist than than the lie-concept “denial”).

Third, Zizek’s comparison with CASABLANCA is just bonkers and actually cuts the other way, even apart from the merits of reading the Bogart classic as a homosexual love story. Rick and Renault walk into the mist together at the end and plan a trip to Brazzaville. On the other hand, Dreyman and Wiesler quite pointedly never even meet at the end of the movie, and the “walk into sunset together” scene is the money shot if a film is in any way about a romantic relationship (indeed, that’s always the evidence that CASABLANCA is really a love story about Rick and Renault). Yes, “the woman is out of the way,” but Dreyman never learns so much as Wiesler’s name, instead dedicating his latest book to an unknown Stasi number. Further, the content codes of Hollywood in 1942 created homosexuality as subtext, because some subject matter was simply unmentionable. Whether this justifies rummaging through the past for coded homosexuality is one thing; but surely the supposed necessity for this hermeneutic for past films actually argues against its permissibility for current films. To put it bluntly, the makers of a 2006 German film have no need, just or unjust, to hide a gay love affair. Which makes my rule — no sex, no homosexuality — by far the more rational one for current films.

lenin.jpgThe other major and majorly-annoying trope Zizek commits is here:

To put it quite brutally, while Ostalgie is widely practiced in today’s Germany without causing ethical problems, one (for the time being, at least) cannot imagine publicly practicing a Nazi nostalgia: “Good Bye Hitler” instead of “Good Bye Lenin.” Doesn’t this bear witness to the fact that we are still aware of the emancipatory potential in Communism, which, distorted and thwarted as it was, was thoroughly missing in Fascism?

To put it quite brutally, this is Pferdscheisse. The reason one cannot imagine “Good Bye Hitler” or that Ostalgie is common in contemporary Germany might have rather more to do with German law since 1945, which has criminalized Nazism, Nazi advocacy, Nazi symbols, Holocaust denial, et al, and even proscribed certain verses of the national anthem. Leave aside the wisdom of these laws — they exist for the Third Reich while not existing for the communist GDR. Thus the Nazi equivalent of “Ostalgie” is essentially illegal. (Further, I don’t really think … and here I agree with Zizek … that GOOD BYE LENIN is an immoral whitewash of communism.)

But more importantly, Zizek is simply displaying in spades the double standards of the contemporary intellectual class in saying that “Communism had an emancipatory potential that was thoroughly missing in fascism.” Where to begin?

  1. This sits uneasily alongside his complaint against THE LIVES OF OTHERS that its narrative begins with sexual interest in Christa-Maria on the part of the culture minister. Is “horror … inscribed into the very structure of the East German system,” thus making “relegat[ing it] to a mere personal whim” a bad thing? Or did communism have potential that just wasn’t realized? Can’t be both.
  2. Communism has “emancipatory potential” against what, exactly? And why would fascism not have “emancipatory potential” against the demons in its demonology? Whether capitalist exploiters or communist expropriators, aristocrats and priests or cosmopolitans and atheists, fascism and communism (and most modern ideologies for that matter) have an understanding of how the world works, what is wrong with that, and a promise of “emancipation” from those wrongs. Zizek (or anyone else) may prefer the demonology of communism and/or prefer emancipation from the demons communism promises to vanquish than emancipation from those fascism does — but that says nothing about the two ideologies, in the kind of formal, idealistic terms he wants.
  3. Is it relevant … at all … that every actually existing communist regime has been tyrannical (some more than others, sure, but all of them to a large or larger degree)? Not strictly speaking, if we’re talking about ideals … I understand that. But is there any point at which we actually learn from experience and decide that … “gee, every time this ‘good idea’ is tried, it screws things up worse,” and so try to rethink whether its unimplementable ideals either really are so good or really matter even if good? And so quit trying to “rescue” communism on these sorts of grounds Zizek is doing. Who would listen to “fascism again, we’ll make it work better this time”?

Like so many Western intellectuals, Zizek betrays that he cannot or will not treat fascism and communism according to a single moral standard (those who do are greater anti-communists than anti-fascists), but rather has a patella reflex that tells him to make excuses or relativizations or contextualizations on behalf of communism.

May 29, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Charles Nelson Reilly, 1931-2007

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“The day they knocked down the Palais, part of my childhood died”
— “Come Dancing,” The Kinks

When I was a boy, one of my favorite shows was MATCH GAME, and I didn’t even come close to realizing how brilliant it was at the time. But whenever as an adult I had access to the Game Show Network, I would watch the reruns and love every minute of it. Over the years, it creeped up on me the reason that MATCH GAME holds up so well — it was just as much a comedy show as a game show. Watching MATCH GAME, the outcome is hardly the point, you’re eavesdropping on a bunch of wits trying to spontaneously outdo one another. The interaction between Gene, Brett, Charles and Richard (I don’t even think last names are necessary), along with the occasional spice of variety from Fannie Flagg, Betty White, Mary Wickes and others, became the life of the show, and the reason it is still watchable to this day.

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All the jokes about Brett’s wigs, Richard’s roving eye, Charles’s flambuoyance, Gene’s leering lip-smacking, some ventures into real politically-incorrect humor with Scoey Mitchell, Gene’s horrible voices and imitations, Richard’s Wildean persona, the ditzes like Joyce Bulifant and Patti Deutsch, “that motel in Encino.” To the TV exec, it was unconscionable the way the panel wasted so much time on MATCH GAME with theatrical “bits” like (I am not kidding) once everybody dancing on the set and all the celebrities once walking off the set in mock protest of who-cares-what. The in-jokes piled upon the in-jokes, particularly with the bickering between Brett and Charles, nudging “Pathetic Answer of the Year” cards into the other’s frame.

My first interaction with Rod Dreher, who’s since become a face-time friend, was an intense e-male bonding experience over our shared love for the 70s game shows of our TV-obsessed boyhoods (we’re only a year apart). Rod wrote:

rod1.jpgI’ve got on my refrigerator a yellowed newspaper photo of Charles Nelson Reilly, Brett Somers and Gene Rayburn in a publicity still from the show. My wife, born in 1975, thinks I’m a weirdo. I cannot in good faith contradict her. I remember calling my mom to hurry and pick me up from my friend’s house so I could get home on New Year’s Day in time to watch the Match Game ’73 sign change over to Match Game ’74.

And my commiepinkobud Michael Sicinski put the show’s brilliance together better than I can (quoted with permission):

sicinski.jpgI think the show stands up as one of the major pop culture contributions of the 70s. I used to watch it as a kid and enjoyed it, but watching it on GSN today I realize just how awesome it was. Nothing like that could be on TV today, where even so-called reality TV is processed into generically recognizable tropes and stock characters. MATCH GAME is so loosey-goosey, so extemporaneous, that it really just seems like they’d be playing the game whether there were cameras or not. You can watch them on the podiums, smoking and even occasionally taking a drink of god-knows-what. Some episodes, you can see Charles and Brett becoming increasingly inebriated as the show goes on. And the coy ribaldry, the silly yet honest nods to “women’s lib” and the dawning consciousness of gay culture (with or without Charles), all of this makes it a time capsule, but really, so much more. It is an amazing aesthetic object, with its own rules and rituals, right down to the orange shag carpeting. On a purely sculptural level, the old PRICE IS RIGHT is a better work of art, but in terms of performance and overall package, it’s MATCH GAME hands down. And lest we forget, Gene Rayburn was the greatest game show host of them all, a rare mix of Barker’s avuncular style with the lecherousness of your creepy Uncle Ned. The slicked-back Max Headroomisms of [Bert] Convy and [Wink] Martindale are the prototype of game show hosting, sadly, because they are safely slimy and easily mocked. Rayburn understood that it was all silly dinner theatre and conducted himself with humor and self-deprecation. …

(Needless to say, I was not only pissed, but felt that it exemplified my disconnection from current pop culture’s values of slick professionalism, when Alec Baldwin mocked CNR on SNL’s “Inside the Actor’s Studio” parody. Holding Reilly up as the nadir of celebrity and talent…what could possibly miss the point more thoroughly?)

Three men as different as me, Rod and Michael all loved the same show and for pretty much the same set of reasons. And part of our boyhoods died at the weekend, announced earlier today.

Charles Nelson Reilly died.

with-brett.jpgSomething else is dead too. It wasn’t until years later that I recognized that on MATCH GAME, Charles and Brett (whom he sometimes called “Auntie Brett,” a reference whose full meaning only just now “clicked” with me as I typed those words in) were basically doing a “fag hag” routine. But 12-year-old me, watching the show for the first time, never had any clue about the cultural buttons being pushed, the references, though I did laugh at it. “Gay,” “homosexual” “fag hag” … none of it meant anything to me. And I don’t think that, as a 12-year-old, any of it should have.

Wikipedia claims that MATCH GAME “pushed the boundaries of 1970s television standards.” That may be the case, but it misses the point that the boundaries remained and were, in fact, key to what made their bickering so funny and so enduring. Charles and Brett and Richard and Gene were brilliant comedians because they knew how to deliver a dirty joke in a clean way, in the classic double entendre, which has become a lost art as content standards have waned.

But this pre-pubescent MATCH GAME fan remembers all the innuendo (which the adult fan well catches) going over his head. In fact, what is very much part of the fun (watching it now at 40) is appreciating the tension in how the MATCH GAME team were so deft as to get away with so much while keeping the surface G-rated.

Sex and sexuality are legitimate subjects for humor, and I have no per se moral problem with locker-room jokes. But the double entendre is not only funny, but respects the innocence of some in the audience through its “double meaning” (in a slightly different context, Ernst Lubitsch noted that if you tell the audience “2 and 2,” they don’t need to be told “4”). But when comedians can say whatever they want, you don’t need a Bocaccio to write in “The Decameron” of a randy groundskeeper at a convent that “he tended all their gardens.”

May 28, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Whether to see BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

In a column in today’s Dallas Morning News, Rod Dreher describes his reaction to BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, both the Annie Proulx short story and the Ang Lee film. And he cites your humble blogger as convincing him that the film was not what the Hollywoof publicity machine had been selling to the world, that it was more complex, more subtle, more *true* to what a work of art IS. I hope more people will give the film a chance — not because I think the film is perfect (I’ve seen nine films this year I think better, with more than a month to go) or because I have some particular stake in its success. But because, as I’ve said, people are judging BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN from bases other than its merits (or lack thereof).

Still, I can’t honestly blame other starboard Christians for reacting differently. People have to decide what movies to see, without having seen them. And in the past week of discussion at St. Blogs, plus a couple more conversations I’ve had in real-time, some people have made it explicit that the critical praise for BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN has turned them off. (I haven’t had the heart to tell anyone at St. Blogs that I know of critics who disdain the film for not being gay enough.)

Here is Mark Shea

My response has primarily been to the “Eat your spinach. This is a Morally Improving Piece of Agitprop About the Greatest Thing in the Universe, Gay Sex!” tone the press has take with it. I am frankly sick to death of being told by every MSM outlet that nothing less than my unqualified praise and adoration of homosex will do. So I’m not exactly pre-disposed to take critical raves seriously even when (albeit with huge qualifications, as Greydanus makes clear) a piece of art may merit them.

… or here from Dom Bettinelli.

I think my main negative reaction was against how it is presented to the rest of us. The predictable mainstream press and the Hollywood elites are calling it a manifesto for homosexuality. I predict another “Hilary Swank” lovefest at the awards shows next year, not because of any quality in the movie itself, but because of its utility in the culture wars.

Obviously, I don’t know either man’s taste well enough to guess whether he’d actually LIKE the movie if he did see it. But trust lost, as in trust in Hollywood and “the critics” (an amorphous lump in public discourse — I know very well that that’s unjust, but that’s how it is), is hard to regain. And it is lost permanently when the same patterns — “this is a great film because it’ll challenge your morals” — are repeated.

December 29, 2005 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apologia pro Ang Lee

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BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, Ang Lee, USA, 9

On Dave Kehr’s blog last week, a commentator named Joe Baltake noted that Ang Lee’s BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is a film that “will be both liked and disliked for the wrong reasons.”

The film stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall in the romantic tragedy of a couple of gay cowboys who eat beans rather than pudding. It’s already received seven Golden Globe nominations, won several critic circles’ “year’s best” nods, and nabbed the top prize at probably the world second-most-prestigious juried film festival (Venice). In the coming weeks, it will be garlanded with multiple Oscar nominations and will probably get some wins. But a mere perusal of Rotten Tomatoes (87 percent “Fresh”) and the right Google search terms tells you that at least part of the stated reason for some of this is seeing the film as a commercial for gay “marriage,” “tolerance” and all the rest of it. Quick examples from Newsweek

Brokeback feels like a landmark film. No American film before has portrayed love between two men as something this pure and sacred. As such, it has the potential to change the national conversation and to challenge people’s ideas about the value and validity of same-sex relationships.

… and from Entertainment Weekly:

In an age when the fight over gay marriage still rages, Brokeback Mountain, the tale of two men who are scarcely even allowed to imagine being together, asks, through the very purity with which it touches us: When it comes to love, what sort of world do we really want?

YEAH!! That’s the kind of praise I want to hear about a movie — “this is the blood of the lamb, which washes away the sins of the homophobes. Have mercy on them.”

And I like BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. A lot. But I don’t say that because I’m a priori impressed with gay subject matter, though I admit to not being absolutely turned-off by it either. I really don’t want to hear that sort of praise for it, since it turns the movie into a Cause. With some predictable (and equally wrong-headed) response from the other side of The Cause (the side to which I very emphatically belong).

There was a kerfuffle last week over the review by Harry Forbes, head of the Office of Film and Broadcasting at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Such conservative Catholics as apologist Jimmy Akin, journalist and expectant father (and friend, at least for now) Dom Bettinelli and the LifeSiteNews (here and here) went to town on the review, calling it in various ways an amoral whitewash that downplayed the Church teaching on homosexuality. As the editor’s note explains, the film was initially rated “L” — for “limited adult audiences, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling” and is short of the “O” rating for “morally offensive.” That L-rating was quickly changed to “O,” but the review remained the same, to the chagrin of Dom, Mr. Akin and others, who began (or reiterated) calls for Mr. Forbes’s head.

Thing is, neither man nor the writers at LifeSite (ditto most of the people in their comment fields) have seen the film and so they are taking Mr. Forbes’s descriptions at face value. I agree that the review is lacking severely and that may account for the negative reaction (I’ll get back to that and some related issues after making my own case for the film as at least not O-offensive), but I have actually seen the movie.

akin.jpgLike THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST last year, I’d like a first-rate film to be seen as something other than a Kulturkampf football and a measurement of one’s bona fides therein, much less as their Judgment Day Sheepness or Goatness. And I’ll say the following: reducing BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN to “homosexual propaganda,” as Lifesite does, and saying that “It is BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS that this one is morally offensive,” as Mr. Akin does, is meaningless and ridiculously overstated coming from people who have not seen the movie.

Now … I’m not, not, NOT saying that one cannot say anything about a movie without having seen it, including (1) reasonable expectations about what it might be like, (2) judgments of the public discourse surrounding it, and (3) one’s decision whether to see it himself (which is, always and by definition, a decision made sight-unseen). But there are limits. And labeling something “propaganda” and insisting in ALL CAPS that something is “blindingly obvious” and calling others’ points “mere spin” are … to use Mr. Akin’s phrase … not borderline cases. Those are opinions to which the writers are not entitled, though in fairness Dom doesn’t “fisk” the review sight-unseen as Mr. Akin does (not to his credit) and is a bit more careful to say only what he can.

brokeback3.jpgI had dinner at David Morrison’s house earlier this fall. His roommate “Dan” had read the Annie Proulx short story, but not seen the film. I had done the reverse. So Dan and I have this odd conversation, trying to figure out between ourselves what the adaptation was like, while trying to be spoiler-vague in front of David, who had neither seen nor read it. Dan was fairly emphatic that the story didn’t make the affair attractive, but rather was portrayed as a destructive force of nature. David was listening to us and (metaphorically) threw up his hands in frustration, saying something like “you guys are kidding yourselves. You both know perfectly well how this film will be spun. ‘How awful is it that the homophobic society and the constraints of the nuclear family got in the way of the happiness of these two nice well-meaning gay men by repressing their natural desires to marry each other.’ It’ll be taken as a commercial for gay marriage and that’s what all the Oscar night speeches will be about.”

I had to admit that the film doesn’t exclude that “read,” though I insisted (and insist) that this reduces and flattens the film and rides roughshod over some of its psychology. But I think David’s reaction is typical of the general Catholic suspicion of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. The above-noted hosannahs (or as I put it elsewhere above, “the public discourse surrounding it”) — “I’m here. I’m queer, it was fabulous” — deserves suspicion. And they are indistinguishable from the outside from what would be said if BROKEBACK were in fact homosexual propaganda. But the film deserves better than to be reacted to, positively OR negatively, as an exercise in gay-lifestyle validation. It isn’t.

anglee.jpgOn the basis of his past work, I think Ang Lee is entitled to at least some consideration that he’s not making libertine propaganda. You’ll read very often, and sometimes from the horse’s mouth, that Lee’s movies are about “repression.” This is obviously true, but *how* are they about repression? As often as not, they’re about the destructive effects on the individual and society of willful characters and their destructive effects on the social and themselves — CROUCHING TIGER, where Zhang Ziyi’s adolescent pique and social-climbing bring ruin; the contrast between the two sisters in SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (remember Kate Winslet sobbing on the bed); and THE ICE STORM, where the sex is about as unrepressed as it gets — and ugly and destructive and (frankly) joyless.

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The most important thing I have not seen noted elsewhere is what happens on the night of Jack and Ennis’s first sexual encounter. They were supposed to be keeping watch over a flock of sheep, protecting them from the wolves. When they wake up the morning after, they find out one of the sheep has been killed during the night. Their passion killed. You don’t have to be Harold Bloom to see the archetypes here — homosexuality as death force, as a passive destroyer of the soul, of innocence. In addition, the film certainly doesn’t portray the affair as viable as an alternative lifestyle, though each man thinks it might may be, for a time, after a fashion (Jack is the only one with the Massachusetts “marriage” dream). The relationship only “works” when it’s set apart from the social world — and this is the classic “homophobic” construction of homosexuality as outlawry.

Jack and Ennis’s not getting together has as much to do with the particulars of who they are as for social disapproval. Jack has a penchant for dangerous risk-taking; Ennis is a-romantic, period (if the second love had been a woman, the story would not have played out differently). As the movie went on, Jack and Ennis’s relationship became less sexual and more of an increasingly elusive “if only,” often tinged with jealousy and anger at each other. There’s even one scene where Ennis explicitly turns away Jack with the same “I gotta work” line that some woman hears from some overworked and unavailable man every second of every day of the year.

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Nor does the film, contrary to Mr. Akin’s sight-unseen assertions and dismissal of noting this as “mere spin,” skimp on the affair’s destructive effects on others, with neither cowboy being a good husband or father, at least in part because the other is always a possibility. Jack marries for money and lives unhappily castrated. Before his divorce, Ennis even turns his wife into a man in bed one night. He becomes estranged from his children and even turns down a chance for custody of his daughter. And, most obviously — the film ends tragically and unhappily.

Now … I’m not going to oversell BROKEBACK on these grounds. It’s definitely not a Christian work, and one should approach it with caution. But if this story were about an illegitimate lisison between a married man and a married woman, maybe it would be far easier to see how comfortably BROKEBACK fits into the traditions and templates of romantic tragedy, and so (and this is what I care about here) not leap to conclusions about what the film is supposedly “endorsing.” It’d be easier, in some quarters, to see that its low-key elegiac tone and its bittersweet ambivalence about an impossible love come straight out of BRIEF ENCOUNTER or THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. But the essence of tragedy is that every option be costly. Nobody seriously maintains that David Lean or Martin Scorsese have constructed screeds against marriage or the breeder lifestyle — merely acknowledging that marriage involves some dying to self. (The most underappreciated film of this topic, though it’s not a tragedy, was 2003’s THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS.) But all three of the tragic movies I’ve named are about people who choose family over eros, and from a mix of motives, not excluding shame and social disapproval. To acknowledge that such choices, even the right ones, have costs, and that some might not prefer those costs at certain moments or with a certain part of their soul, is simple truth-telling.

It’s also thoroughly Catholic apropos of homosexuality. Catechism 2358 says as follows:

(M)en and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies … are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Now what “difficulties” might the Church be talking about? And what could be united to the Cross other than suffering? And a suffering that, because it is based on something “deep-seated,” may not end or be “cured” on this side of paradise. Sure, the right path is clear (and 2359 does offer hope for homosexual persons, albeit of a kind they tend to hold in contempt), but that doesn’t mean it’s easy or painless, or, to steal a line I’ve heard, that it’s the broadest path.

Thus, potentially and in principle at least, the pain of homosexual repression (whether from without or within) can be the stuff of romantic tragedy without implying that homosexual acting-out is a preferable option. Only an Americanist pragmatism, an insistence on moral happy endings, or a willful desire to draw unsubstantiated pro-gay conclusions could say otherwise. And the USCCB guide goes astray in stating that the film includes “tacit approval of same-sex relationships.” Or rather, that’s true only if every stance other than explicit condemnation constitutes “tacit approval.” Under that understanding, yes, since BROKEBACK isn’t interested in approval or disapproval, it does indeed give tacit approval to homosexual sex. But that’s a crabbed, unidimensional and ultimately boring understanding of art, thought and discourse in the first place, one that owes more to Puritanism and other forms of religious purism than Catholicism. Surely reason and secular plurality offer some space to representation other than the 60s totalitarian-radical stance: “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

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Now this “take” may very well not be Ang Lee’s or Annie Proulx’s. But there’s plenty in the film to support it and, more importantly, nothing in the film that excludes it. One of the things that needs to be made clearer about BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is its open-endedness and disinterestedness. Part of the reason the film’s widely-praised last image (a closet, a uniform, a window, a child walking away, and Heath Ledger’s face and body language all create a spine-tingling memento mori) is so brilliant is that it isn’t an overdetermined “moral” — it keeps open both BROKEBACK’s sources of loss. The film does nothing to “force” its audience into a conclusion about homosexuality, other than simply presupposing “homos is people too,” which is hardly heresy. The fact that secular film critics are cheerleading this film on (some of) the grounds they are is not surprising, but what is surprising is Christians taking their word for it. The film-critic community is one where theological illiteracy reigns (see 90 percent of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST criticism) and where opposition to gay marriage is understood only or primarily as “hate,” like when Scott Tobias at The Onion AV Club blog refers to “the recent glut of anti-gay marriage voter initiatives” as evidence of “homophobic sentiment.” (And believe me, Scott is a friend who wouldn’t even enter my mind if I were asked to name the Top 40 Leftist Wack-Jobs in the Field of Film Criticism.)

But Scott makes a much more important point at the end of the conversation:

The 9/11 echoes in War Of The Worlds are subtext. The commentary on race in Do The Right Thing is text. The “plea for tolerance” in Brokeback Mountain comes as a side effect of telling this story, not it’s raison d’être.

Even though I think (as Scott does not) that homosexual behavior is sinful and identifying oneself as “a homosexual” is dubious — in more than one sense of “dubious” — this is still a basic fact about how a work of art “works.” Scott distinguishes films that are propaganda, both implicitly and explicitly, from works that are not, but which may have effects that lead it to be understood in a certain way. But it is purely and simply not the case that people reacting to a text (by, say, calling it a great boon for gay marriage, yadda-yadda, etc.) has anything to do with the text. Though my meter is probably not St. Blogs’ most sensitive on such matters, I see a handful of “gay propaganda” movies every year and I can say definitely that BROKEBACK ain’t one, though it is certainly consumable (and is being consumed) as validation by gay-lifestyle propagandists, just as last year’s even better VERA DRAKE was equally bluntly and oversimplifiedly pushed into service as pro-abortion propaganda.

It is true that, like all movies, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN does require of the viewer at least some provisional acceptance of its terms of reference. No thing can be about everything. Homosexuality as a public issue doesn’t appear in the movie at all, and homosexuality as a moral issue hardly does, though adultery and infidelity as moral issues very definitely do. What you simply have to accept provisionally is that some people have an erotic desire for the same sex, and (and this is the hard part) that this might not be the most important thing to say about their sexual behavior or their moral character. This shouldn’t be too hard for Catholics, since Catechism 2359 above says homosexual persons are called, like all, to sainthood.

That these two men have, at least somewhat, released the homosexual genie to destructive ends does not (a priori, at least) answer the question of whether the genie should have been let out the bottle in the first place or whether we should encourage everyone to rub as many bottles as they find, and call it good. Indeed I think, in a strange way, the liberal lovers and the conservative haters of the film are arguing from the same template — that a movie that treats homosexual persons as persons first (with the particulars of their sinful weaknesses being a secondary detail) is somehow implying something about either about the morality of homosexuality or about the public issues surrounding it. It doesn’t. The Entertainment Weekly reviewer (Owen Glieberman) immediately before the passage cited above, writes explicitly:

It’s far from being a message movie, yet if you tear up in the magnificent final scene, with its haunting slow waltz of comfort and regret, it’s worth noting what, exactly, you’re reacting to: a love that has been made to knuckle under to society’s design.

Leaving aside the direction of the terms of approval and disapproval, this is essentially the same as Dom:

Is that all that the official reviewer for the US bishops can say about a movie that attempts to normalize homosexuality as just another lifestyle? From the beginning you detect an enthusiasm for the movie that seems a bit untoward.

As I’ve said, I think the Catholic reaction to BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN has more to do with the Forbes review, which is freely available and appearing in the context of secular hosannahs, than to the film, which has not been widely released yet. And that review was, in fact, fairly pitiful and deserving of scorn.

As Mr. Akin points out, there are just a few sentences of “slight caveats thrown in as sops to those who would find the film objectionable.” Those sentences aside, the review was pretty indistinguishable from what one might read from a daily newspaper. Also, and take this from an editor, those sentences read like “afterthought” — that is, if an editor were of a mind to, they would have been cuttable instantly without making yourself as a result do any further rearranging or major editing. You wouldn’t get any sense from reading almost all of this review that the writer was writing for the US bishops office or for Catholic publications. When you look at what the USCCB did (eventually, and apparently after some kicking and screaming) and what Christianity Today’s movies page did, they look similar. That is, discuss and rate the film as a work of art, with a disclaimer about the subject matter.

But … CT’s review was much better and meatier, and had its moral concerns better integrated throughout. I don’t think Forbes did nearly enough of that, didn’t approach the film from a specifically and identifiably Catholic view from beginning to end, and the result was an oil-and-water effect.

When I wrote my reviews of IRREVERSIBLE and THE ARISTOCRATS, I knew I was writing about two movies I loved, but which had subject matter guaranteed to turn off most religious viewers.¹ I made damn sure that I communicated my knowledge of that fact from the start, leading with a volley of vulgarities in one case and some graphic descriptions in the other. I would do the same if I were to write about EYES WIDE SHUT and LAST TANGO IN PARIS — the questionable moral status of the film’s images and surface content would suffuse and be central to my claims about the films (i.e., that they’re masterpieces, and highly moral to boot). This is, in my opinion, the only legitimate way to do real film criticism — according to a sensibility from a specific POV.

But then, this blog is the product of one man and wholly about what interests him. Nobody would (I hope) take anything I say as “The Church” in an official or even semi-official capacity. One reason I did not include “Catholic” in my site name was never even to hint at such, and so leave me freer to write according to my sensibility, which you either share (at least somewhat) or don’t. But surely, the only reason the US bishops, as opposed to one layman in Washington, should be writing about film is because they speak from *their* specific perspective (for those of you in Rio Linda, that would be “being successors to the Apostles,” not “adding a sentence of reservation to the NY Times’ stance”). Despite the Vatican list of “Some (45) Significant Films” (which is as good a “canon list” as any of its length), film criticism is simply not in the episcopal charism.

Which also speaks somewhat, if via a very different route, to part of what Dom and Mr. Akin wonder aloud about the value of this USCCB office. In Dom’s words: “Methinks that there is a corruption in the film office of the USCCBureaucracy and in the USCCBureaucracy itself.” Mr. Akin says “the quality of the reviews and ratings has declined — to the point that I no longer consult them as they are of little use.” I agree with them wholeheartedly. Frankly, I have rarely consulted the bishops’ reviews (and never for critical input per se), as I’m confident enough in my own judgment on this matter. I did and do occasionally look up reviews from curiosity over the ratings. When I read in a diocesan paper that they rated PULP FICTION “O” and KIDS “A-IV” (the predecessor to “L”), I wrote a letter that I couldn’t bring myself to send. But my esteem could not be won back.²
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¹ To be fair, compared to those two movies, BROKEBACK is much tamer in style and actual content. It has one fairly graphic sex scene; but only its being between two men makes it particularly noteworthy in this day and age. And a couple of other nude or half-nude bits and pieces. Granted, my subject-matter Sensit-O-Meter is perhaps St. Blogs’ least acute, but considering the subject matter and contemporary standards, BROKEBACK is a pretty restrained film (one cause for complaint by the “insufficiently radical” crowd, BTW). And thanks, Ryan and Scott, for noting that David Ehrenstein is … well, follow the link and to the comment field.
² Can it be any more obvious that Larry Clark is a nihilist perv getting off on drooling through the camera at half-naked teens, while Quentin Tarantino is telling a tale of a providential religious conversion, albeit one heavily salted with surroundings of rough language, violence, and pomo irony?

December 19, 2005 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A compromise on cloning

A three-judge panel in Atlanta Wednesday rejected a court challenge to Florida’s ban on adoption by homosexuals from four gay men, thus spoiling Fox’s sitcom lineup for next year. Here is the nut quote from the Associated Press account of the decision. Keep in mind this is a sitting federal judge talking:

“We exercise great caution when asked to take sides in an ongoing public policy debate,” Judge Stanley Birch wrote in the unanimous decision by the three-judge panel. “Any argument that the Florida Legislature was misguided in its decision is one of legislative policy, not constitutional law.”

What? *A sitting federal judge* says it’s not his role to pass judgment on every legislative judgment. How did this guy get through law school? How did he pass the ABA vetting? How did Charles Schumer and Patrick Leahy let him on the bench? Doesn’t Judge Birch know that letting the people’s legislatures decides moral issues is racist?

I propose therefore the following compromise on the deeply divisive issues of cloning and stem-cell research. Conservatives will drop our objections if we can clone 100 Judge Stanley Birches and put them on the federal bench. And his stem cells should be sold over-the-counter and, if necessary, forcibly implanted into all pregnancies in the Hamptons, Marin County and Malibu.

January 29, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Sullivan on “thought police on gays”

Andrew Sullivan finally notes the increasing trend of gay activists trying to silence, prosecute or psychologically “re-educate” dissenters.

sullivan.jpgGood that he’s acknowledging this, I suppose. But even here he sneaks in his “our freedom is their freedom.” If I thought for one second that Sullivan’s proposed “liberal” tradeoff (also made explicitly in “Virtually Normal” — gay marriage and open military service in exchange for an end to hate crime laws, pressure on the Boy Scouts, the Church and other private institutions) would hold, it might be worth considering. But it wouldn’t hold. For one thing, Sullivan’s own life refutes it — he’s made the cause of advancing homosexuality within the Catholic Church practically his vocation, so the kulturkampf would continue in private institutions. Call me cynical, but I frankly doubt he would be less perturbed by and opposed to certain Church teachings if the state let him marry his boyfriend, but the Church didn’t.

“It’s also vital for people of good will to understand that civil rights for gay people in no way should affect the rights of others, especially in religious denominations of all kinds, to loathe, disdain, pity or malign homosexuality,” he says. The key word here is “should.” This is less than reassuring. I would be tempted to say that Sullivan simply doesn’t know what illiberal Jacobins fill up the gay activist movement. Except that he perfectly obviously does — and arguably no journalist/public intellectual has suffered worse public humiliation at their hands than Sullivan has.

I’m sure Sullivan says what he does sincerely and in good faith, but to put it bluntly, how many divisions does he have? Which attitude is more common among homosexuals — his or ones like this in which a high-status comfortable homosexual tells a mainstream gay group in the pages of the most serious gay journalistic outlet that “We as a group have become tolerant of intolerance. Whenever anyone justifies their bigotry with what I call DHRB (deeply held religious beliefs), we roll over as if that were the end of the discussion. We have confused respecting a person’s right to hold whatever religious beliefs they choose with respecting those beliefs. … Is no one willing to say forcefully that homophobic DHRB have no place or value in a civilized 21st century?” And Episcopal gay activists are already demanding in Sovietized terms for bishops to “make sure” that a dissenting priests get “appropriate pastoral, episcopal, and psychological care to help him understand” the “embarrassment to himself, his diocese, his superiors, his Church, his vows, and his Lord” that opposition to homosexuality is. Andrei Sakharov didn’t hear it any better.

Thus, however hideous they strike Sullivan as being, we have decisions like the Colorado case Sullivan cites in which a judge forbids a Christian parent from indoctrinating a child with homophobia, including going to a church where they hand out “homophobic material.” They happen from the perfectly reasonable demand in shared custody cases that one parent not poison the child’s mind against the other. Add onto that (uncontroversial) premise merely the secular religious belief that homophobia is an irrational prejudice that has no public standing and deserves no public acknowledgement, like racism. That latter premise is quite widely held by our judicial masters, and endorsed by Sullivan and used by him as a weapon in the discussions over gay marriage and the like.

Sullivan himself once defended on “Crossfire” the use of books like “Heather Has Two Mommies” in public schools on the grounds that an increasing number of the kids in schools will have gay parents. And thus, he understands perfectly well that because some homosexuals want to redefine family for themselves, obligations and burdens are imposed on others that share the public sphere and must drink from the same cultural well, contrary to their religion.

November 11, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Virginia Film Festival — part 1

These are some of the films I saw last weekend at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville, with the theme this year of Money.

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THE COOLER (Wayne Kramer, USA, 2003, 6)

Interesting for a while and often very enjoyable (Alec Baldwin gives his best performance since GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS), but the premise ultimately leaves the film with nowhere to go. William H. Macy plays a “cooler,” a jinx hired by a casino to go to tables where someone is on a winning streak and “cool” his luck. But then his losing streak and thus his livelihood is threatened by a woman, his long-lost son and fate (the best scene is the funny montage of people winning and Macy’s puppylike distress, it’s like a not-quite-so-brilliant version of his being interrogated by Francis McDormand in FARGO). So as a result, the film thinks it can get away with any ending — if luck is so pervasive, how can one complain? Well, I can. The ending was arbitrary. Period. And there’s something just *wrong* with the notion, to which the film’s themes inevitably push you, of seeing the Rat Pack as “old money.”

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FOOLISH WIVES (Erich Von Stroheim, USA, 1922, 9)

In his odd way, though Stroheim was widely considered at the time pornographic, vile and obsessed with the low, he really was a great Victorian. A conflicted one, sure, but he saw virtue and purity in the gutter like a Dickens did. He was intolerantly insistent on honor, even (especially) among thieves or the aristocrats fallen so low that they have to team up with them. But who are still aristocrats with honor. There’s also pomo jokes on textuality (in 1922?!?!), involving a book called “Foolish Wives,” written by Erich Von Stroheim, introduced into the action twice. I saw this “Europeans swindle innocent Americans abroad” story, with the musical accompaniment including a live vocalist and words, in addition to live sound effects (one of them being someone getting paged and having their named yelled out loud). I’d only seen a silent film with a word-inclusive score twice before, with the Vision of Light PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC and the Giorgio Moroder METROPOLIS. I theoretically resist the notion, but frankly a great silent film really can’t be damaged by a score done in good faith, especially when the words are used as sparingly as here.

SCARFACE (Brian De Palma, USA, 1983, 8)

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Finally saw this modern classic all the way through, and it’s a bit obvious in wearing its cinematic antecedents on its sleeves (De Palma, really?). Michelle Pfeiffer was wasted (in several senses), but Al Pacino gives one of the great operatic ham performances in recent film — “Say hello to my lee-tul friend” and all that. Though the plot as a whole, in typical De Palma fashion, is a bit obviously stitched together and episodic in a predictable way, SCARFACE overflows with great set pieces, again in typical De Palma fashion — the first meeting with the Miami crime boss, the low-key first meeting with the mother and sister, the nightclub assassination attempt on Pacino and all the buildup, the assassination bid on the Bolivian activist, sitting in the jacuzzi, immigration interrogation, and … well, practically everything in the movie.

THE ITALIAN JOB (Peter Collinson, Britain, 1969, 7)
THE ITALIAN JOB (F. Gary Gray, USA, 2003, 7)

Which film you prefer will depend entirely on what you’re looking for. If you want a suspenseful heist movie, the American film is far superior. There are two very well set-up and walked-through heist sequences at the beginning and end. Marky Mark’s inability to act for anyone but PT Anderson doesn’t destroy the film and his heist team mates are all give flavorful performances (Ed Norton and Charlize Theron in particular). But if you want a comic shaggy-dog time-capsule movie, go for the British film. I have no idea how the original could play to Americans or anyone else who didn’t live in Britain in the late 60s and early 70s (personally: born in Glasgow, 1966), but I just having a high old time listening to football supporters songs, reliving the “up your arse, ya weedy Continentals” attitude, and seeing Michael Caine and Noel Coward basically play themselves (and Benny Hill the same; though there wasn’t enough of him).

 

NAT TURNER: A TROUBLESOME PROPERTY (Charles Burnett, USA, 2003, 4)
Interesting enough as a historical intro to the topic (I’d never read Nat Turner’s Confessions), but quickly turns into leaden pomo nonsense. If you think it’s some mighty insight on textuality and the “universe” that people who disagree with each other disagree about a text that bears on the matters about they disagree, you will lap this up. Otherwise, another good reason not to watch PBS.
WHEN IT RAINS (Charles Burnett, USA, 1995, 4)
As a 20-minute short with a plot (“community leader” tries to help eviction-threatened woman raise the money for her rent by asking for it on the streets) it’s less ambitious than Burnett’s feature-length film, with which it played. It’s an enjoyable 20 minutes on Community when it isn’t being an obvious, schematic 20 minues on Money.

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SOLDIER’S GIRL (Frank Pierson, USA, 2003, 3)

Scheduled to run on Showtime as a docudrama about the murder of a homosexual soldier, this film, which should have been titled SOLDIER BOYS DON’T CRY, was shown to the festival because Pierson was presenting DOG DAY AFTERNOON (on which he was the scriptwriter). You see the similarities here to one of the threads in AFTERNOON — the secret crossdressing gay lover. Not exactly terrible — as usual in this kind of film, the actors are quite good when not delivering Significant Speeches, which is unfortunately all Andre Braugher gets to do. It’s just entirely what you’d expect — a transparent bid for An Issue Emmy. Pvt. Barry Winchell is despised upon his arrival at his unit, for no discernible reason, and the drill sergeant is mean to him until I thought I was watching St. Sebastian in cammies. His death at the hands of a fellow soldier whom he’d bested in a fight was intercut with his boyfriend’s Annie Lennox song at a transvestite beauty pageant (maybe the two events did occur simultaneously; but it *feels* like Scriptwriter Coincidence.) One funny moment in the Q-and-A: Pierson was describing the first sex scene between the two men and said he told Troy Garity (playing Winchell) that “you’ve forgotten this person is not a woman; you’ve fallen in love with the person, and then with the body.” Take it away, David.

October 30, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And now Weekend Update …

Breaking news on several fronts over the last few days (when I was away for a film festival) and on which I have posted here before:

First, Mel Gibson landed a distributor, Newmarket Films, and confirmed the planned release date for the newly titled THE PASSION OF CHRIST as Ash Wednesday. I’ve already made my predictions — a firestorm of anti-Semitism charges (the Lent opening will give another excuse … er … news peg to accuse the Church of anti-Semitism and assorted other bestialities), and a negative critical reception since some critics already have their leads written, and I refuse to believe this is an isolated attitude. Box office, we’ll have to wait and see, but subtitled films just don’t do well in the United States. I think only two, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL and CROUCHING TIGER, have ever even broken $50 million. (And if it’s not two, it’s no more than three.) Any good? I’ll get back to you.

Second, the screener issue was “solved,” with the MPAA agreeing to lift the ban, but only for Academy members. This solves some of the problems, but leaves critics groups, primarily those for critics working in smaller markets, out in the cold.

Third, Michael “Killer” Schiavo is starting his Public Redemption Tour facing the tough, incisive questioning of Larry King. “My girlfriend supports my stance on Terri because the kind of care I want to give her will remove Terri as an obstacle and we’ll be free to marry.” Or something like that. And of course, the Atheist Press is spinning this story as a “right-to-die” case, when curiously, the person who will die never herself asserted that right.

Finally, on the Canadian tolerance beat, theological liberals in the Episcopal Church prove their open-mindedness, Celebrate Diversity and fight the forces of inquisitorial reaction by threatening heresy trials for those who repudiate the One Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Be Intolerant Of Mine Approved Groups.

October 28, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Friendly faces everywhere …

I just watched a TV show in which a sympathetic character looks to the screen and says (paraphrasing from memory only a little) “Schools are handing out condoms to kids at a younger age every year. But sex is also emotional and spiritual. Parents should be the ones who teach children about sex. If you leave it up to the schools, you never know who’s gonna be teaching them.”

choksondik.jpgAs an example of the kinds of people who teach school sex ed, the camera cuts to a closeup of a woman whose breasts have sunk to her knees. And is named Miss Choksondik.

I hope you know what show I’m referring to. If you don’t, you really need to check out SOUTH PARK. Caveat: if you are appalled at the last sentence in that graf and can’t imagine ever laughing at jokes that crude (in both senses of that word), you probably don’t. But both forms of crudity are part of what make the show great. For those of you in Pago Pago, the R-rated humor in this very adult cartoon mostly follows 8-year-old kids with mouths like sailors (call it KIDS SAY THE DAMNDEST SHIT). It is *really* over the top and in such calculated ways, that to complain about it as such is to miss the point.

When 8-year-old boys decide they want to be lesbians just like their new teacher Miss Ellen and one of them starts chewing on a rug sample — the joke isn’t just the shock of hearing a locker-room term for lesbian sex, but on the literal-minded innocence of the boys in the midst of it all. It’s as if the show is about G-rated kids souls in R-rated bodies or the different forms that innocence must take in an R-rated world.

Also the show is most merciless on liberal cant. Other episodes have had Big Gay Al (yes, that’s his name … thanks for asking) explain why he *shouldn’t* be allowed to join the Boy Scouts or have the boys learn that patriotism involves love of country even when it’s wrong (and reprises World War II by turning Cartman and Osama bin Laden into versions of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd).

And Saturday’s episode made the obvious point never made in humorless, wonkish discussions of sex ed — would you have wanted to learn about sex from any teacher you ever had? It also follows the theory of sex ed with impeccable logic, to demonstrating fellatio methods to kindergartners (and it doesn’t shrink from, well … ahem). Flannery O’Connor once made the point that to the hard of hearing, you shout. She also said the time had passed for what she also called “the pious voice.” Social-conservative satire is working its way into the culture through this raunchfest, and while the show will definitely “frighten the horses,” in a world that, so to speak, worships horses, that’s not a bad thing.

August 25, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

The Religion of Tolerance Update

No, this is not about Islam (that’s The Religion of Peace, for future reference). These are some of the latest exploits of the pro-gay yobbos in their tireless efforts to battle homophobic hate.

  • Disagreement over the U.S. Episcopal Church’s ordination of a homosexual bishop inspired a couple of Anglican clerics to give a Kenyan bishop an example of the warmth and hospitality that the English are noted for exhibiting toward Italian soccer fans.
  • Canada’s reputation for Tolerance marches forward, with The Latest Word being that no teacher may, in any public space, express any disapproval of homosexuality (or “two-spirited people” even). If the teacher had been suspended merely for graduating illiterates and innumerates, the union would kick up holy hell. Here, it’s his chief persecutor.
  • At the bottom of the Canada link (and it’s a sign of the times that this is now considered worthy of a mere aside), there is this: “Meanwhile, a Commons committee is considering a bill that would make the reading of biblical injunctions against homosexuality in a church a ‘hate crime’ under the Criminal Code.” This is a spreading phenomenon in the countries that used to be Christendom. Even if everything in THE MAGDALENE SISTERS were holy writ, it should have been long-ago obvious that Ireland is no longer your grandpa’s beloved Erin or the theocracy of Sinead O’Connor’s mind. Yes … the Catholic Church is being warned about the potential criminality of a Church document. We have seen the future.
  • This desecration of a conservative parish happened the night that the Episcopal church ratified Gene Robinson’s election as New Hampshire bishop. Perhaps it was just like ripping up a city block when your sports team wins the title. I should note that there’s no actual evidence that this was gay activists, but the details of the crime have to make that the default assumption for now.
  • At least these demonstrators were peaceful and stayed outside when ordered to (though some of the quotes in story are just sad … “this is my birthright as an Irish Catholic”). But I will never forget serving as a lay communion minister at a parish in Austin, Texas, during the heyday of ACT-UP and having a significant part of the training devoted to “this is what you do if demonstrators come to desecrate the Host.”

Does five in one week constitute something more than anecdotal evidence?

August 11, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment