Making the Boys
2009, 90 min.
Momentous production profiled
When The Boys in the Band opened in 1968 on Broadway, few could have foreseen its popularity and impact on the gay liberation movement. Crayton Robey’s film goes backstage with playwright Mart Crowley (the toast of the town carried on his own party a little too hearty and is now a sobering elder statesman of all things queer) and his colleagues (most of the remaining original cast: a half dozen of whom died of HIV/AIDS), competitors (the totally honest comments from Edward Albee are worth the price of admission alone) and friends (notably Robert Wagner who, along with Natalie Wood, literally dragged the deteriorating writer out of the clutches of fame and booze, bringing him back to the U.S. and a successful return to his craft as producer/script-doctor for his rescuers’ Hart to Hart series).
Running in the aftermath of Stonewall, including a “Where-are-they-now?” segment revealing decidedly mixed results, and with gay bashing still more common that it ought to be in a civilized society, the triumph and courage of Crowley’s work seems somewhat hollow in 2011. As ground breaking as the play and then William Friedkin’s film were, it’s good to keep in mind that step-by-step progress was also being made due to the creativity and courage of people like Joe Orton prior to The Boys and Derek Jarman immediately after. Balancing the film with an acknowledgement that other artists were on the same track would have strengthened and reinforced the impact of this “one-hit” writer. Still, at least Crowley has managed to stay alive long enough to offer his take on the past five decades. JWR
2010, 94 min.
The Ascension of Cándida
According to the promo material, “Sastre raised a fuss among Catholic groups in Latin America and Spain with his début feature.” One can only imagine the naysayers were more enraged with the filmmaking than any religious improprieties. Anyone who has endured The Passion of the Christ knows what real dogmatic overkill can be like.
Alas, the artistic trust (Sastre wrote the screenplay based on Dani Umpi’s novel; the original music comes via Ignacio Pérez Marín’s generally pedestrian compositional skills; Diego Reinhold’s choreography decidedly lacks any “wow,” which, combined with the surprisingly lacklustre chorus contributions, gives the audience nothing to cheer about) can’t decide just what sort of endeavour this is.
Sure, there are lots of songs so it might be a musical, but the notion of “bursting” into the next number is largely missing in action. As a satire, there’s very little that gets under the skin of believers; atheists/agnostics will leave disappointed that no real zingers are launched much less find their targets (Dogma is still a memorable example of the special art of nailing home a few points—cross-reference below). Unbelievably, with the semi-wheelchair-bound singing nun (Leonor Courtoisie) sharing a life-after-death miracle with the very young Natalia (Sofia Silvera), the wicked witch of their church—Cándida (one of two major roles for Natalia Oreiro)—is clearly headed in the wrong direction, or “what’s a heaven for?”
Reinhold also plays Carlos, Natalia’s ever-gay dress designer and confidante but nobody really gets enough screen time for this production to find its legs as a love story of any persuasion. (Still, Boris Bakst’s delightfully skimpy Saint Expeditus outfit will attract longing glances from either sex.) A bit of drama with that? By the second dropped scarf near the globe-sporting fountain (at one point, Natalia, literally, has the world at her feet!!), the coming familial dénouement is more a confirmation than a real surprise.
Any production where the highlights are the delectable baritone saxophone interventions and the reality show host’s (Rossy de Palma) bad teeth, is best left in cinematic purgatory. Here’s hoping Sastre’s next dream-filled project will start with a clearer understanding of what it wants to be before it goes up on the screen. JWR
Gun Hill Road
Rashaad Ernesto Green
2011, 88 min.
Cardboard characterizations fail on all counts
Director/writer Rashaad Enrnesto Green’s tale of a teenage boy, Michael (Harmony Santana’s engaging demeanour and acting skills are criminally wasted) beginning the journey to becoming Vanessa (inside and out) overflows with a covey of stilted characters and totally predictable scenes (cue the hooker, being just one example) that is only redeemed by an ending that will have audiences, inadvertently, cheering for New York City’s finest.
As the just released (after an extra 90 days in the, er, hole for a queer assault behind bars) jail-absented father, Enrique, Esai Morales does everything asked of him but can’t come near a moment of real humanity (whether being bully, bore or bandit). Wife Angela (Judy Reyes) seems more a fool than stand-by-her-clan, keep-the-family-together-at-any-cost martyr. Only the brief appearances of Michael’s pals and sex-change “midwife” provide any notion of “real.” Thank goodness for the frequent use of acoustic guitar (beautifully rendered by Nate Jasensky), gently soothing the ear before the next wooden act. JWR