Last week when Hillary Clinton made her surprise announcement that our isolationist policies against Myanmar weren't working and it was time to try something new, were you reminded that you really ought to read the first ever Burmese novel to be translated into English? Published here last fall, Nu Nu Yi's Smile as They Bow is also the first Burmese fiction to be nominated for an international literary award (a finalist for the Booker's first Man Asian Prize). And it's entirely gay.
At 146 airy pages, the simple story unfolds over a few days during the annual Taungbyon Festival north of Mandalay: Daisy Bond is an aging transvestite spirit medium, or nat, whose handsome twenty-three year-old lover and assistant Min Min is beginning to stray, possibly with other men, and definitely toward an innocent village girl who doesn't understand his situation.
Much of the novel is narrated by Daisy with a ferocious zing equally fueled by her world-weary wit and her fears of abandonment.
Really, he sighs, I'm so tired! People wonder what's so tiring about wearing dresses and flowers and makeup just to sit around and talk.
Amele! Talking's a curse. It's been talk, talk, talk since morning. So many different nats possessed me, I was frothing at the mouth from talking so much. People all want money. And the more froth I spew, the more money I get. But Daisy Bond has her pride. If I don't want to do something, I don't. I refuse. I just go somewhere and lie down. Even when I was young, if I was tired and somebody nagged me, Tell me about my son, tell me about my husband, I'd shout, Enough! I'm all talked out. Here's your damn money back! I came to Taungbyon for fun and sex!
I've always been brutally honest. Call Daisy Bond a foul-mouthed shit, call me what you will. I never used to spout this Go-and-eat-now sweet talk or act possessed when I didn't feel like it. I may be getting old, but I know a thing or two about Vispassana meditation. I don't need to flatter people for money. I'm happy as I am. If I'm true to myself, people will come to me. Talking too much just means lying.
This spirit-wife life runs us around the pot of hell.
Later, Daisy Bond reflects:
Maybe it's just too painful to think about how all my young boys have ended up ditching me. I'm so giving, and they want the shirt off my back. Most boys I've had, when the time comes, they find a real woman and leave. All I know is, they want fresh catch, not smelly old squid. Oh, at first they prattle so charmingly, always staying so close, melting my heart so I'll give them whatever they want. I let them take me for everything--my blood, my body, the nat money I keep in the turban, everything. But then a month or two on, they start acting funny. More and more they're off somewhere fishing, which leaves me on the hook again.
How's Min Min any different? So far so good, but now after seven years, he's stepping out with his rod.
Although Daisy and Min Min are vivid characters, perhaps this novel's greatest pleasures are the exotic locale and the mosaic of contemporary life glimpsed around the edges of the main action. In his youth Daisy tried to get arrested and jailed in order to visit his friends in prison, then outed more closeted gay people, and reunited made such a racket, the police released them. A rival nat borrows a special skirt from Daisy for one event, then doesn't return it because he's been earning money by renting it out nightly. Rich and poor women alike flock to hear Daisy's serious predictions and saucy pronouncements on sex and men. Almost everyone is nonchalant about gay life. Although the characters have zero exposure to news from the West, Daisy Bond does christen another character her Moneypenny and joke about her Bond girls.
At fifty-two, Nu Nu Yi has written fifteen novels and more than one hundred short stories, making her one of Myanmar's leading authors. She told Reuters Smile as They Bow took three years to research and write, and twelve years to get published. One of the reasons the censors gave for rejecting the book was "unsuitable for these times." When it finally appeared, all references to homosexuality were removed. As a result of such conditions, she explained, "Many authors write about the supernatural to escape from censorship because so many things are prohibited, both explicitly and by unwritten rules. One cannot write about poverty, beggars, sex, rape, and, of course, politics or anything positive about other countries."
In 2004 my partner and I traveled throughout Myanmar, from Yangon to Bagan to Mandalay, up the Irrawaddy river to remote villages of hill people. From my perspective, the novel authentically captures the street life, crowds, sounds, and smells of a town, yet oddly omits its architecture. For the curious, this little window will offer an unprecedented view.
Hat tip, Charlene.
Is one of the curses of being devastatingly handsome that when you talk piffle, people believe it rather than correct you? In her profile of Rupert Everett on the eve of his Broadway debut in Blithe Spirit, Alex Witchell writes:
That's a ridiculous claim for many reasons, especially because like most Madonna movies, The Next Best Thing was a flop that almost no one saw. It grossed $14.9 million, roughly the same as Tom Green's Freddy Got Fingered. Everett voiced a straight prince in the second and third Shrek movies, which grossed $770 million in the U.S. alone. Later, Everett says
“I wanted to be a movie star,” he said. “You can’t say about work that I didn’t try very hard. That really wasn’t true. I’ve always been a great opportunist, but the opportunity was not always there. I had a difficult set of circumstances to deal with, particularly for a movie career.”
“Being gay, really. It just doesn’t work.”
I mentioned that a British newspaper accused him of sabotaging his career by coming out just as he was about to click as a romantic lead. Does he think that’s true?
I love Rupert Everett, but someone needs to tell him that even if he had stayed closeted and married a woman, he was never, ever going to be Tom Cruise. Or Will Smith. Or Brad Pitt. Or even Hugh Grant. To be a male movie star in the 90s and today, you have to be accessible. Friendly, easy going, a little bit dumb not too brainy. A name comprised of two, simple monosylabs helps. (NB: Rupert Graves didn't become a movie star either.) As the psychic in the article says, and as Everett confirms, he's frosty. To be blunt, he's not a movie star because that upperclass faint sneer hasn't left his lips for the past thirty years.
Yes, of course homophobia exists in Hollywood, and no, there aren't any out actors who get leading roles in big studio romantic fare. But Alex Witchell does a disservice by falling for Everett's self-absorption. The question of gay movie stars does not start and end with him, yet her article references no one else. Ian McKellen was a leading star in six movies of two of the biggest franchises in history, X-Men and The Lord of the Rings. That's particularly noteworthy because those movies became ultrahits thanks largely to teenage boys, supposedly the least accepting audience.
I thought Everett's most important quote was about the impossibility of anyone's being happy in Hollywood:
“I think success in show business is a very heady wine when you’re a kid, particularly if it happens small, because you’re always trying to make it grow. There’s no happy moment in it, because you’re just grasping and elbowing, elbowing, elbowing your way to the next stop. And you make lots of wrong decisions because of it.”
He may be talking about younger actors, but of course the elbowing only gets worse with age, as roles diminish.
Out New Yorker staff writer Ariel Levy has an eight page fact piece in the current issue about lesbian separatists of the 1970s. The women didn't want to use the surnames of their fathers or husbands, and they lived on the road, driving around in a van, so they became the Van Dykes. The article's protagonist is Lamar Van Dyke, whom Levy considers the ringleader even though Lamar wouldn't, because hierarchy is patriarchy. Levy is also feels they more or less based themselves on the Merry Pranksters, as they too are drop-out radicals with a sense of humor. And a sense of loss. They can't believe Ariel's generation has chosen as our two big issues, marriage and the military. Unfortunately, the article is not available online, but The New Yorker does offer an eleven-minute audio interview with Levy.
Fellow New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik selected Levy's piece on her wedding to Amy Norquist for inclusion in this year's Best American Essays. (Available in full, via that link.)
Relive Dustin Lance Black's fine speech after last night's totally expected Oscar win for best original screenplay for Milk. Another of his screenplays is Pedro, a biopic of Pedro Zamora, the Cuban-born aids educator on MTV's 1994 The Real World: San Francisco. (Zamora disclosed his hiv+ status to his onscreen housemates in February 1994 and died that November, at age twenty-two.) Black's script, directed by Nick Oceano, will be screened March 8 as closing night of Fusion 2009: The Sixth Annual Los Angeles LGBT People of Color Film Festival. Since writing Milk, Black, 34, has penned nine episodes of HBO's Mormon polygamy series Big Love, of which he is a co-producer. His next feature reteams him with Gus Van Sant, adapting Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. This spring Black will direct Jennifer Connelly in his What's Wrong with Virginia?
Dubai's attempt at cultural bridge-building with the West for the region's first ever International Festival of Literature has backfired with their reversal on a British novel set in the Middle East including two minor gay characters, a sheikh and his English boyfriend. The book, The Gulf Between Us, has now been banned in Dubai, and its author, Geraldine Bedell, removed from the event.
Responding to that censorship, Margaret Atwood has withdrawn her participation in the festival. She wrote to the director, saying:
It is with great regret that I inform you that I cannot attend this year's Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature in Dubai. I know you have put an enormous amount of work into it, I can imagine how many difficulties have had to be overcome, and I am very sad about the regrettable turn of events surrounding The Gulf Between Us.
I was greatly looking forward to the Festival, and to the chance to meet readers there; but, as an International Vice President of PEN -- an organization concerned with the censorship of writers -- I cannot be part of the Festival this year.
I wish you much success. Perhaps in the future I will be able to attend.
With best wishes,
Ms. Abulhoul responded at length, part of which was to say:
The ambition behind setting up the festival is fueled by our heartfelt belief in actively engaging and helping to bridge the gap between East and West; a belief that authors felt important when agreeing to visit our festival.
We are very disappointed and not a little surprised that it has taken so long for anyone to reconsider their position -- particularly if this reconsideration is linked to Geraldine Bedell’s position which, while communicated to her last September, has come to the public’s attention only now and around the publication of her novel.
In organising any literary festival, wherever it is in the world, one has to take decisions regarding the target audience. In the time that has elapsed since issuing provisional invitations and in confirming attendance, Dubai has not changed its social mores, culture or laws.
Over the next six days, many internationally noted authors confirmed to appear on the festival's panels will have to decide whether or not to attend. Julia Glass and Philippa Gregory have written novels with gay characters far more prominent than Bedell's in The Gulf Between Us. Rachel Billington is herself a former PEN official. Chimamanda Adichie established herself with a novel about overcoming prejudice and division. Also slated to speak at the festival: Frank McCourt, Louis de Bernieres, Terry Brooks, Kate Mosse, Karin Slaughter, and Wilbur Smith.
Homosexuality is illegal in the United Arab Emirates, and since last year, authorities have increased their campaign against "immorality." Foreigners are routinely deported. Two lesbians in their 30s, from Bulgaria and Lebanon, were caught kissing on a beach. The women were arrested, convicted, and jailed for one month, then sent back to their countries.
UPDATE: Atwood will attend the event "virtually," via video uplink, to participate in the panel discussion on censorship.
Since the appearance of Dale Peck's shattering first novel Martin and John everything he's done has been important to literary spectators in general and to gay readers in particular: additional literary novels, criticism, travel writing, two books for children, a YA novel, a lucrative forthcoming three-book collaboration with Heroes creator Tim Kring, and now, on sale this week, a thriller. Although Body Surfing sounds too violent for me, the premise is intriguing: a teenage boy dies, becomes a demon, and surfs through centuries borrowing different bodies in different times in an epic chase with other undead. Also, Peck says Body Surfing, "which, page for page, has more sex than any of my other books, and more extreme sex to boot, is probably less explicit than Martin and John."
Josh McCall has conducted an excellent interview with Peck, asking all the right questions. On gay books:
Q: Has the publishing industry’s attitudes changed with regards to GLBT characters and stories over the course of your career?
A: Yes. It got better and then it got worse again. Nowadays, adult books featuring gay lead characters rarely if ever do well. Gay people are more visible certainly, but they’ve been pushed to the side—they’re best friends, hairdressers, decorators, etc., rather like they were in the half century before the big breakout in the 80s, only this time it’s okay for them to be gay. I have to say, that sucks, and I’m not sure whom to blame: audiences, who by and large don’t want to universalize gay themes to their own life, or gay writers, who, I have to say, tend to write pretty awful, petty, cloistered “gay” stories that really aren’t particularly universal. That said, gay YA books seem to be extremely popular right now, so who knows, maybe Sprout will find its audience.
On the new book:
A: Body Surfing is a book that surprised me with its imaginative possibilities. When I originally conceived of the premise, I was looking for something that would take the contemporary urge to sexualize every form of commercial entertainment and push it past the realm of bourgeois propriety. But then, as I got into the world, I found the demons to be increasingly compelling and complex, and the ways in which they could be retroactively imagined into world events was sometimes eerily resonant. Look at Leo, for example. He’s born—which is to say, he dies, and is reborn as a demon—during the reign of Nero, when the Roman Empire was at its zenith. But what a strange place it was: on the one hand, so many of the intellectual, political, and artistic constructions that our own society is based on were being developed, but at the same time it was a society constructed around the idea of mass murder as a spectacle, of grotesque indulgences of the fleshly appetites (at least if you had the money for it) and of massively inflated egos—which, when you get down it, is all a Mogran really is.
A: The initial idea, I have to say, was just one of those inspirational flashes: “What if there was a world in which…?” But in developing it, I did think a lot about early Stephen King novels, of which I was (and am) a huge fan. I’m not the first person to notice that one of King’s greatest strengths as a writer is his insistence on locating horror within the domestic context, and in Body Surfing I wanted to make sure that readers experience Jasper as a real teenager before he became a demon—that the loss of our everyday existence is every bit as big of a loss as the destruction of the world or the universe or life as we know it, which seems to be the stake in so many thrillers these days. I also was inspired to some degree by the relationship between Lestat and Louis in Interview With a Vampire—by the need for companionship, erotic or otherwise, that even immortal beings feel. As wicked as Leo is, I wanted readers to understand why he would be pissed when Jasper rejected the life he offered him. After, what, 1700 years of solitude, all he wanted was a peer, and instead Jasper has to be a goodie-goodie and say no. I’d be pissed too.
If you can handle scary novels, I hope you'll buy it and let me know what you think.
The conservative-populist Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was openly gay in a way that seems unimaginable here: On national television he explained that he enjoyed the taste of semen, comparing it to a strong liqueur, and he used his tricks as "proof" that he wasn't racist. Dutch voters, for and against him, were more interested in his ideas. He wanted to reduce government's role in health services and education, he spoke against the "Islamisation of our culture," sounded a warning cry about the dangers of shari'a law superseding the Dutch legal code, and pledged to curtail immigration drastically. Yet he was also for euthanasia, for legalized soft drugs, for same-sex marriage, and for reducing the military by combining the army and air force to save money. Although Fortuyn was riding a crest of widespread popularity with fully fifty percent of voters aged 18-30 supporting him (huge in a multi-party system), the Netherlands did not get to have their first ever openly gay Prime Minister, because they had their first assassination in 330 years, since 1672. A thirty-two year old white Dutch man shot him to stop him from exploiting "the weaker parts of society to gain political power." The motive was unrelated to Fortuyn's being gay. He was fifty-four. Contrarian even in death, Fortuyn was buried twice, first in the Netherlands, then dug up and re-interred in Pordenone, Italy, where he owned a second home.
Paul Elie has a fascinating, somewhat apologist article in the Atlantic about the Archbishop of Canterbury's devolving views on gay Anglicans. My take: Imagine an Abraham Lincoln who wanted to end slavery, but just not yet, for the sake of holding the Union together.
In 1989, occupying the top theological post at Oxford, Rowan Williams wrote an essay called The Body's Grace in which, Elie says,
Williams took a different approach, focusing on the concept of grace. From a sex scene in Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, he drew a definition of grace as beautiful and convincing as any I know.
There may be little love, even little generosity, in Clark’s bedding of Sarah, but Sarah has discovered that her body can be the cause of happiness to her and to another. It is this discovery which most clearly shows why we might want to talk about grace here. Grace, for the Christian believer, is a transformation that depends in large part on knowing yourself to be seen in a certain way: as significant, as wanted.
From there, the essay has the inevitability of a proof in philosophy. Gay people, too, deserve to be wanted sexually—deserve the body’s grace. The full expression of this grace through sexual relations takes time and the commitment of the partners to come to know each other—through the commitment of marriage or something like it. Sexual fidelity is akin to religious fidelity—“not an avoidance of risk, but the creation of a context in which grace can abound.” For the church to stand in the way of such relationships, straight or gay, is to stand in the way of God’s grace.
After becoming Bishop of Monmouth in 1991 and Archbishop of Wales in 1999, Williams became Archbishop of Canterbury early in 2003. In May, openly gay but celibate Jeffrey John, a longtime friend of Williams', was appointed Bishop of Reading. Williams was surprised by the vehemence of the opposition. Elie writes,
Then the campaign against the gay bishop began, with traditionalists on four continents forming a patchwork alliance. Fraser says those in America and England cared nothing about the views of the bishops of Africa until they saw the chance for an alliance against the progressives. They took up the ordination of gay bishops as a wedge issue, and made a show of unity; they claimed that a pro-gay agenda was a new form of imperialism against the global South. “They drafted the Church of Nigeria, with its numerical strength, as a way of raising a ruckus over it. They got the white man’s guilt going. The Internet sped it along.” And it worked. “Rowan backpedaled,” Fraser said. “He asked Jeffrey John to resign.”
“It was an utter shock—a complete reversal,” the bishop of Washington, D.C., John Bryson Chane, told me. “It emboldened those opposed, because they now knew that this issue was Rowan’s weakness: ‘Now we’ve got him by the neck.’”
Desmond Tutu was dismayed, too. “Most of us would have said that Williams would be ‘kosher’ on the issue,” he told me, “and we thought that he would employ his formidable intellectual and linguistic skills to affirm it. But those who were pulling in the other direction were much stronger than we had thought, and as a deeply prayerful and pastoral person, he wanted to accommodate them as fully as possible.” Tutu recalled a moment in the 1980s when the bishops of South Africa were divided on gay rights, with some favoring a frank affirmation of gay people and others wanting to “go slow” lest a dispute over gay issues shatter the church’s united front against apartheid. But Tutu thought that by 2004, the acceptable time for gay bishops had arrived and that in his good and wise friend Williams they had their champion.
“We did expect a very great deal of him,” Tutu said of Williams, choosing his words carefully. “Maybe our expectations were unrealistic.”
Last summer Williams was still sacrificing what is right in order to appease the angry splinter groups threatening to break away from the church. Since the mid-19th century, the bishops of the Anglican Communion have gathered once a decade at the Lambeth Conference to sort out church issues. Over three weeks ending on August 4, 2008, the "upheld existing moratoria against the ordination of openly gay and partnered people as bishops and against the public church blessing of same-sex unions." U.S. bishop Gene Robinson was unable to make his usual eloquent case for openness because Williams had asked him not to attend.
Coming late in the article is this pithy summary:
“He has traded truth for unity,” one confidant of Williams’s told me, “and you just can’t do that.”
The self-taught photographer turns 77 today and is about to celebrate 49 years with his partner. I love his super longterm relationship and his cover art for the Police's album Synchronicity. Although some of his other work strains contemporary credibility, it must have been important in its time: his use of text, bare men, dramatic juxtapositions, artificial stagings, and nods to gay history -- the image below is from his 1970 Salute to Walt Whitman and was sold five years ago at a Christie's auction of Elton John's art. Among his more recent books is his second work to be based on the Greek poet, The Adventures of Constantine Cavafy.
Originally scheduled for an April release, the paperback of Benjamin Taylor's The Book of Getting Even suddenly appeared in bookstores last week. At first I was worried that the change would foul the publisher's publicity plans (which ought to be massive), but now I realize they must have made the switch in order to capitalize on the book's being one of three fiction finalists in B&N's Discover Awards. If there's any literary justice, the chain will make an aggressive buy and really push Ben's brilliant novel. In difficult times for gay books, it earned widespread and erudite praise when it appeared last May, and in December the Los Angeles Times had the good sense to name it one of the year's best.
Among the title's many champions are Peter Cameron, Ann Patchett, Philip Roth, Phillip Lopate, Beth Gutcheon, Romulus Linney, and Amy Hempel. You should join them.
What book finally dislodged The Horse Whisperer from the #1 spot on Australia's bestseller lists? Basically its opposite: Robert Dessaix's Night Letters was a surprise sensation, an intellectual novel compromised of twenty letters written in a hotel in Venice in the mid-1990s by an Australian man newly diagnosed with HIV. Echoing literary travelers from Marco Polo and Dante to Casanova and Sterne, contemplating life, death, love, and the passage of time, the narrator R. discourses on cathedrals and museums, seduction and sex, hell and heaven, Venice and Venetians. Despite the character's dire future, critics hailed his "wry, chatty, surprisingly cheerful voice" (NYTBR) finding him "seductive, charming, and always thought-provoking" (Kirkus). The San Francisco Chronicle called it a "luminous gem" and the Cleveland Plain Dealer "a story exquisitely told." Dessaix's second novel, Corfu, also describes gay ex-pats in Europe and again rings with literary echoes: Homer, Sappho, Chekhov, Cavafy. His nonfiction includes a memoir called A Mother's Disgrace about his own adoption and subsequent wanderlust; Twilight of Love, a book about retracing Turgenev's steps as he followed a married opera star and her husband for years; and an anthology, Australian Gay and Lesbian Writing.
Before this series of tubes called the internets, single people found one another by killing trees placing ads in newspapers. After a failed marriage to a woman, Dessaix wrote a personal ad in 1982 and met Peter Timms, who is still his partner. As for longevity and dedication, Dessaix created a complex language when he was eleven and continues to speak it to himself even now, as he turns 65 today.
Never mind my excuses, I saw He's Just Not That Into You. There are two good things about the movie:
The gay guys aren't fully characters -- they don't get to exist on their own -- but they are the smartest romance advisers. Drew Barrymore works at the Baltimore Blade and a trio of gay coworkers [above], especially out actor Wilson Cruz and Leonardo Nam, have fun with tiny roles.(Listening to her Spanish paramour's voicemail on speakerphone, Wilson Cruz says, "I just got hard.") At a real estate open house in a gay neighborhood, two men demonstrate gay signs of interest vs. gay disinterest; and in an obvious but refreshing reversal, they're the ones telling the passive goody straight dweeb that his sort of gf is waiting for him to be more of a man about it.
None of which is reason enough to subject yourself to watching the movie. Each storyline is flat and the screenwriters have nothing to say about relationships other than a woman's fulfillment and happiness depends entirely on a man offering her a wedding ring. The shallow plot developments are predictable and groaningly ludicrous.
Apparently in 2009 comedies about straight relationships must be marketed with a joke about the man's being mistaken for gay. Because what could be funnier than that? All the rom-com trailers before HJNTIY complied: The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past; I Love You, Man; and All About Steve.
They did it better in 1937. Saturday night my partner and I went to see Easy Living, a frothy screwball gem from that year starring Jean Arthur (then 37) and Ray Milland (30). Hollywood screenwriters still knew how to make comedies mixing the truly funny and the genuinely romantic. And, yes, there's a gay character played by Franklin Pangborn, and, yes, he has more screen time than the lads of HJNTIY.
This week's New Yorker has a fact piece about a man in Piney Flats, Tennessee who spent twelve years creating a high powered shotgun (like a twelve-gauge but with zero recoil) for robots to use. He's now working with two military contracting firms.
Seems like the right time to review the advancements in biorobotics. As you watch the clips above and below, remember that the reactions (to touch, or a sharp kick, or slipping on ice) aren't from a human operating a remote control: they're the machines' own quick-thinking responses. The mule-bot below can carry 340 lbs and would follow humans by reading sensors on their clothes.
Forty years ago this May, John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy hit movie theaters and went on to win Oscars for best picture, director, and screenplay. The gay story of Bronx's own Ratso Rizzo and Texan Joe Buck earned an X rating and bizarre reviews from the likes of Vincent Canby in the NYT. Schlesinger had previously made one of the first "swinging London" movies, Darling, (winning Julie Christie her best actress Oscar), and later made Sunday, Bloody Sunday, the first widely distributed film to show two men making love. His daring dwindled with each subsequent project: The Day of the Locust, Marathon Man, Yanks, The Falcon and the Snowman, Madame Sousatzka, Pacific Heights, and the indie favorite Cold Comfort Farm. His last movie was the regrettable Madonna - Rupert Everett vehicle, The Next Best Thing in 2000. The London-born Schlesinger lived in Palm Springs with his partner of more than thirty years, Michael Childers, until his death in 2003.
Queer cinema isn't dead. Last night's big winners at the Berlinale's 23rd Teddy Awards for achievement in lgbt cinema were a three hour eleven minute Mexican epic in which the young gay lovers die and are reborn through myth (watch the "trailer"); a documentary about Canadian and South African aids rebels interspersed with imagined scenes of Gertrude Stein forcing them to sing opera; and a short about ovarian cancer, horses, and swimming. In order, those three directors are Julián Hernández, who won the 2003 Teddy for his feature A Thousand Clouds of Peace; John Greyson, whose 1996 knockout Lilies won four Genie Awards, including Best Film, out of fourteen nominations and is also well-known for his aids musical Zero Patience; and pioneer lesbian filmmaker Barbara Hammer who was been directing for more than thirty-five years.
For the first time in its long history, the Teddy Awards also presented an award for acting in a current film (in addition to their annual career achievement award, this year to Joe Dallesandro). The winner was John Hurt for his portrayal of Quentin Crisp in the new feature An Englishman in New York. It's the second time Hurt has played Crisp, after 1975's television adaptation The Naked Civil Servant, for which he won a BAFTA.
This year's nominees and winners (in bold caps) for films are:
RAGING SUN, RAGING SKY (Rabioso sol, rabioso cielo) by Julián Hernández
The Fish Child (El niño pez) by Lucía Puenzo
Soundless Wind Chime (Wu Sheng Feng Ling) by Kit Hung
Jury statement: We award the Teddy for best feature to the Mexican film Raging Sun, Raging Sky for its masterful cinematography and its visionary use of color and sound - for its explorations of love, desire and sexuality within the framework of ancient mythology, juxtaposed with modern urbanity.
Berlinale synopsis: In his latest film, Julián Hernández portrays love as an epic act of
martyrdom in which redemption and fulfilment can only be found in the
afterlife. This new work tells the story of two men, Kieri and Ryo, and
their unquestioning love for each other. The absoluteness of this love
gives meaning to their lives. But their mutual devotion is not to last
– Ryo is abducted and, as a result, Kieri must now embark upon a
mysterious journey. Unbeknown to him, it is “Corazón del cielo”, or
heaven’s heart herself that leads and protects the lovers on their
quest and spurs on Kieri’s longing.
Escape, searching and waiting are the stages of Ryo’s lonely journey which ends in his death, while Kieri, desperate to find his beloved, agrees to sacrifice his body to bring about Ryo’s resurrection. When they die, “Corazón del cielo” guides the earth to cover them, so that new life can spring from their demise. United in death, Ryo and Kieri return to life through myth – for heaven does not forget those capable of unconditional love.
FIG TREES by John Greyson
City Of Borders by Yun Suh
Queer Sarajevo Festival 2008 by Masa Hilcisin, Cazim Dervisevic
Jury statement: With his familiar cheeky style, Greyson’s operatic tour de force smashes conventional barriers of form and genre to reinvent the documentary. Integrating personal histories with an indictment of governments and pharmaceutical companies, Fig Trees colorfully expands the conversation about AIDS and AIDS activism from local struggles to global collaboration.
Berlinale synopsis: An operatic documentary about the struggle of two Aids activists – Canadian Tim McCaskell and South African Zackie Achmat. Both have fought tooth and nail for the provision of anti-retroviral drugs to treat Aids. In John Greyson’s film they are ably supported by Gertrude Stein, a singing albino squirrel, and St. Teresa of Ávila. FIG TREES is nonetheless based on true stories. Tim McCaskell has spent more than twenty years fighting Aids and addressing the concerns of gay men. In Johannesburg in 1999 Zackie Achmat, who is himself virus-positive, began refusing to take his medication: he said he would only continue his treatment if it were made freely available to all South Africans suffering from Aids. His symbolic act caused a stir in the international arena. His private Treatment Action Campaign soon became a nationwide movement – meanwhile his own state of health continued to deteriorate … John Greyson has re-edited documentary interviews, speeches made by both men, archive footage of press conferences and demonstrations, and, with the addition of music, has turned his film into an operatic scenario. The work combines the authentic struggle of two Aids activists against the authorities and the pharmaceutical industry with a surrealistic narrative, at the centre of which is Gertrude Stein who wants to write a tragic opera about Achmat and McCaskell and their saint-like heroics. To this end she abducts the two men to Niagara Falls where she forces them to belt out complicated avant-garde arias. These arias are also authentic – having originated from Gertrude Stein’s ambitious opera, “Four Saints in Three Acts.”
A HORSE IS NOT A METAPHOR by Barbara Hammer
The Casuarina Cove (Tanjong Rhu) by Junfeng Boo
contre – jour by Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller
Jury statement: The Teddy Award fort he best short film goes to Barbara Hammer`s A Horse Is Not A Metaphor. An intimate visual essay about her journey to survive ovarian cancer - the film continues her ongoing investigation of the body and sexuality as well as the transformational possibilities of hope and healing within us all.
Berlinale synopsis: Filmmaker Barbara Hammer fights ovarian cancer with visions of horseback riding and river swimming in her new experimental film A Horse Is Not A Metaphor. Hammer says she is a "cancer thriver as well as survivor" in this hopeful and densely layered personal work with music by composer Meredith Monk.
The eight members of this year's Teddy jury represent film festivals from Germany, London, New York, Sarajevo, St. Petersburg, Seattle, Turin, and Uruguay.
In honor of Valentine's Day, here are the Raging Sun, Raging Sky lads raging in bed. NSFW.
The world's most famous makeup artist "married" his much younger boyfriend in an unofficial ceremony in Hawaii in July 2000 and after that Kevyn Aucion referred to Jeremy Antunes as his husband. In less than two years, the man who easily earned $10,000 a session doing makeup for superstar celebrities' magazine cover shoots or Oscar appearances, the author of three #1 New York Times bestsellers about beauty, the only makeup professional ever honored by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and the founder of a new line of beauty products bearing his name, was dead at forty, without a will. His husband was locked out of their two shared homes without any legal recourse. Aucoin's estate went to his adoptive parents back in Louisiana who embody more than their share of contradictions: They are unsophisticated but full of heart; initially repelled by homosexuality, they started the first PFLAG chapter in Lafayette yet refuse to give their son-in-law even the bed he shared with Kevyn.
It's possible that Kevyn and Jeremy were on the verge of breaking up, or experiencing a typical rough patch in what might have been a long marriage. Jeremy had left a sick and hurting Kevyn to go to Paris for a week alone, which sounds selfish and indulgent but could be seen as a tough ultimatum to someone ruinously addicted to many kinds of pain killers and sleeping pills, who had in the preceding six months dropped out of two programs to overcome substance abuse, and who had screwed up his friend Cher's "Song for the Lonely" video shoot (needing to be hospitalized twice) so notoriously that not one star had asked him to do her makeup for the Oscars that spring. In any case, Jeremy's trip was cut short by Kevin's final hospitalization. Those pills were to relieve Kevyn's intense suffering from acromegaly, a pituitary gland disorder that causes excessive growth and had given him an ever enlarging brain tumor, undiagnosed since he was nine years old, at which time he had already discovered makeup.
From childhood, his ambition for glamor and success was matched by his generosity of spirit. Two ex-boyfriends continued to work closely with him and even after he had achieved his own fame, he took enormous pleasure and considerable time to do makeup for shopgirls, neighbors, and even the homeless teenage drag queens of the Hetrick-Martin Institute, of which he was a vociferous supporter. Topping the wildly devoted praise by Cher, Janet, Tina, Tori, Gwyneth, Liza, Courtney, and Celine, Mary Tyler Moore said, "There were three men in my life I met who had the ability to make you feel like you were the only person in the world just by looking at you, just with their eyes: One was Sinatra, the other was the current pope, and the third was Kevyn." Despite his instructions that his ashes be scattered in Hawaii where he was married, Kevyn's parents are keeping his cremated remains in Louisiana because they like to visit him.
Last night, NewsHour commentators discussed the continual updating of the Lincoln biography, including his gay life. Glad they brought it up. First the excerpt, then my comments.
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: Well, it's fascinating. You wouldn't think that there is new information out there still to be discovered, but there is.
In recent years, something called the Lincoln Legal Papers Project, for example, based in Illinois, collected thousands of pages to document Lincoln's legal career, which is something we didn't know a whole lot about.
On the other hand, it's also true -- Lincoln's one of those figures -- maybe Jefferson, I can't think of many others -- who gets rediscovered with every generation. And inevitably, that means each generation projects on to Lincoln many of its own cultural preoccupations, for example.
So we have what I call "Brokeback Lincoln" or "Prozac Lincoln," which in some ways are successors to "Dictator Lincoln" or "Racist Lincoln," which we saw in the 1960s at the height of the civil rights revolution. It isn't so much that we learn new things about Lincoln as we learn things about ourselves through Lincoln.
JEFFREY BROWN: What do you make of that, James McPherson? I mean, some -- those things that he mentioned are still debated, aren't they?
JAMES MCPHERSON: They're very much debated, especially the question about the "Brokeback Lincoln." That was one of the most controversial aspects of the recent scholarship.
JEFFREY BROWN: Do you want to explain that? Maybe you should explain that, for those who didn't follow.
JAMES MCPHERSON: Well, the argument that Lincoln was gay, or at least had gay inclinations, has been much debated. It's been an article of faith, I think, among many in the gay community. And the book by Dr. C.A. Tripp that came out a few years ago argued that Lincoln was homosexual and had several homosexual relations.
The evidence for that is extremely thin, but, because that is such a hot-button issue in our culture today, as Richard said, we tend to approach Lincoln from the standpoint or several different standpoints of what we're most concerned about in our contemporary culture. And that's certainly one example of it.
The repeated notion here is that 21st century scholars are projecting present day preoccupations on to the past. That's doubly disturbing because this is not a new idea and it implies gay life is a recent development. Any responsible discussion of Lincoln's gay affairs would have to mention Joshua Speed, with whom he shared a single bed for four years, to whom he wrote intimate letters, and whose sudden fleeing into the arms of a female fiancee sent Lincoln into a nervous breakdown and lasting depression. In 1895, Lt. Col. Thomas Chamberlain wrote that, while President, Lincoln had "intimacy" with his most trusted guard, David Derickson, with whom he shared nightshirts and a bed when Mary Todd was away. Who was Chamberlain? He was Derickson's commander. (Since when is an eyewitness account "extremely thin" evidence?) In 1924, Carl Sandburg referenced Lincoln's "streaks of lavender." As for other aspects of gay life that are not new, here's a poem from 1829 about gay marriage:
The repeated notion here is that 21st century scholars are projecting present day preoccupations on to the past. That's doubly disturbing because this is not a new idea and it implies gay life is a recent development. Any responsible discussion of Lincoln's gay affairs would have to mention Joshua Speed, with whom he shared a single bed for four years, to whom he wrote intimate letters, and whose sudden fleeing into the arms of a female fiancee sent Lincoln into a nervous breakdown and lasting depression.
In 1895, Lt. Col. Thomas Chamberlain wrote that, while President, Lincoln had "intimacy" with his most trusted guard, David Derickson, with whom he shared nightshirts and a bed when Mary Todd was away. Who was Chamberlain? He was Derickson's commander. (Since when is an eyewitness account "extremely thin" evidence?)
In 1924, Carl Sandburg referenced Lincoln's "streaks of lavender."
As for other aspects of gay life that are not new, here's a poem from 1829 about gay marriage:
I will tell you a Joke about Jewel and MaryIt is neither a Joke nor a Story
For Rubin and Charles has married two girlsBut Billy has married a boy
The girlies he had tried on every SideBut none could he get to agree
All was in vain he went home againAnd since that is married to Natty
So Billy and Natty agreed very wellAnd mama's well pleased at the match
The egg it is laid but Natty's afraidThe Shell is So Soft that it never will hatch
But Betsy she said you Cursed bald headMy Suitor you never Can be
Beside your low crotch proclaims you a botchAnd that never Can serve for me
The poem was written by Abraham Lincoln, 180 years ago.
The poem was written by Abraham Lincoln, 180 years ago.
In preparation, I read about half of it yesterday afternoon and was completely charmed, as I was by them in person. Their book is old-fashioned in the very best sense: unhurried and expert. They've been in their current garden in Vermont for more than thirty years and their abiding love for it is evident in every sentence. Fifty short chapters, each with a lovely line drawing by Bobbi Angell, focus on different plants, describing their history, needs, and, if you will, personalities. ("Artichokes are no fools.") Indeed, the plants are the main characters here; people are relegated to the sidelines, like hedges to highlight the blossoms. Perhaps Eck and Winterrowd can be a tad soulful about the miracle of the seasons, etc., but overall they are refreshingly unsentimental. They dismiss the notion that gardening is "getting in touch with Nature" since all gardens are "contrived;" they are forthright about their failures and clear-eyed about the fate of their life project: It dies when they die. If you don't have three decades and seven acres of your own to spare, reading the book makes a splendid balm to contemporary life.
Wondering about the change from Boston (which they had to leave after raising chickens in their apartment) to rural New England in the early 70s, I asked them if they had ever faced any difficulty as a gay couple. "Never," Joe Eck told me. He said they had always been very open about being gay and everyone had been wonderful. He added, "But it is Vermont."
Today is the final day for voting in the Film Comment Readers’ Poll. Submit your list of your top twenty movies of 2008 to fcpoll [at] filmlinc.com. Include with your ranked list, any comments, your name, address, and phone number. Prizes of Criterion DVD gift certificates will be awarded by random drawing, not based on what they think of your choices.
To jog your memory, here's every film released last year.
My feelings about 2008’s movies might have been clear to you by the fact that I never posted my year's best list. I would have stopped at the top four. (However, three gay movies in the top ten is better than usual.) Coincidentally, Gomorrah opens today in New York and Los Angeles. Be careful, it's tough.
1. Gomorrah [Italy]
3. Les Témoins (The Witnesses)
5. Mongol [Russia]
6. Encounters at the End of the World
8. Role Models
9. Pray the Devil Back to Hell
10. Clandestinos [Spain]
11. The Reader
12. Ne le dit a personne (Tell No One)
13. Alexandra [Russia]
16. Waltz with Bashir [Israel]
17. The Tale of Despereaux
18. Married Life
19. Becoming Jane
20. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Among the year’s more angering disappointments: Australia, Boarding Gate, Body of Lies, Burn After Reading, Changeling, Che, A Christmas Tale, Cloverfield, Flight of the Red Balloon, Harold & Kumar Escape Gitmo, Hellboy II, I’ve Loved You So Long, Pineapple Express, and Quantum of Solace.