JWR Articles: Film/DVD - One Summer in New Paltz: A Cautionary Tale (Director: Nancy Nicol) - October 14, 2009

One Summer in New Paltz: A Cautionary Tale

4.5 4.5
54 min.

Celebrating the unthinkable with unconditional love

This latest installment of Nancy Nicol’s documentation of systemic, queer discrimination (cross-reference below) is a thoughtfully crafted fairy tale that reminds the tolerant among us just how liberating the end of “King” Bush’s awful Reign of Error has been.

Much of the film chronicles the small town of New Paltz, NY (population ~6,500), which—in 2004—found itself to be the unlikely epicentre of the debate over same-sex marriage. Young (26) mayor Jason West decided to marry two of his fellow citizens (and house-painting clients: Jeffrey and Billiam) using the “power vested in me by the State of New York” but without the requisite licence (his own Town Clerk and all others had been instructed to deny same-sex requests despite the fact the state’s constitution is mute on defining marriage as an opposite sex union or specifically denying queers their turn at the altar—38 other states have one or both of those pre-conditions on their books, fuelling all manner of legal challenges, plebiscites and referendums in the land of the free where equality is semi-sacrosanct). A few days after the first batch of 25 ceremonies had been completed and celebrated, Mayor West is arrested, facing 24 criminal counts of illegally bringing a modicum of non-legally-binding support (simple affidavits replaced the official licences) and dignity to the loving couples.

Purposely adopting a once-upon-a-time tone to her narration, Nicol carefully weaves together interviews with the grateful lovers and other “pastors” who continue the “unthinkable” practice once a restraining order ends West’s dais time, television footage of male political leaders (a.k.a. Foxy Loxy) constantly striving for re-election by redirecting the public’s attention away from far less important issues including a faux war and ginormous accounting scandals (which threatened their political shelf lives), and a wee bit of animation: Chicken Little’s infamous “The sky is falling” comes home to roost but never crushes the “perverts” as they try to bring some normalcy to their already challenging existence.

Especially telling is the “Invasion of the Bigots” sequence where the religious right drops into the sleepy borough one fine Sunday and waves their hateful placards into the cameras: “God Hates Fags” is par for the ignorant course of those threatened by what they can’t understand; “God Blew Up the Shuttle” inadvertently brands the lot as misguided fools who walk blindly through life unhampered by the notion of rational scientific evidence or just plain old facts. The other hilarious signage, flashed on the screen as thousands of New York City queers (and their admirers) march across the Brooklyn Bridge, irreverently depicts America’s oddest same-sick couple: Bush and Dick is a typically bright comeback from the politically oppressed, don’t-get-mad-get-sarcastic segment of the population.

Keeping the ear as engaged as the eye and intellect is Alyssa Ryvers synthetic score. The Coplandesque tunes and chordal colours define New Paltz and its environs brilliantly (the notion of oboe-as-hope works especially well); the somewhat arrhythmic “Wild West” strings turn up like most welcome guests as the ground-breaking ceremonies are courageously carried out and recorded; the ideally naïve “King” Bush-in–search-of-security piano waltzer simultaneously reinforces Nicol’s “cautionary tale” tone even as it wordlessly comments on the IQ level of the leader of the free-if-I-say-so world.

The closing “results” panels only demonstrate that the adage “We won the battle but not the war” is truer than ever (er, hello there Proposition 8 II).

West was also trounced in his 2007 re-election bid, but millions of men and women continue to look for the oh-so-illusive “happy ever after” conclusion to their struggle for equality. Many of them fighting and dying in foreign lands that their own country punishes due to—perceived or real—human rights shortcomings. Will “King” Obama find time to redress that too? JWR

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Director - Nancy Nicol
Cinematography - Michelle Handelman
Editor - Nancy Nicol
Original Music - Alyssa Ryvers
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