REVIEW – Raging Sun, Raging Sky (2009)

Videovista have my review of Julian Hernandez’s beautifully shot but frankly quite demented three hour-long Rabioso Sol, Rabioso Ciel0.

While I think that Raging Sun, Raging Sky is a problematic film, I am struck by the way in which it has been treated (no cinema release, shoved out by a gay indie distribution company) and the way that other equally problematic films in the same vein have been treated.  Indeed, when Luca Guadagnino’s equally beautifully shot and equally non-prolix I Am Love (2009) –an admittedly much better film — was released earlier this year, the acclaim it received was almost universal.  Even those critics who did not enjoy the film treated it as a serious work of cinematic art.  However, Raging Sun, Raging Sky has received hardly any critical attention and what critical attention it has had has been decidedly mixed.  This begs the question: Is it because it is about a bunch of poofs?

REVIEW – The New Barbarians (1982)

Videovista have my review of Enzo G. Castellari’s The New Barbarians, a post-apocalyptic exploitation film made around the same time as his better known and arguably more entertaining Bronx Warriors.

Watching the film I was hit by a wave of raw nostalgia as most of my childhood summers were spent sitting in darkened rooms watching precisely these kinds of films.  If it had mutants, a tricked out car and loads of violence in it then chances are that pre-teen Jona would have hunted it down and happily watched it.  For all the recent talk of films like Avatar dumbing down cinema, watching The New Barbarians really brought home to me the fact that there was a time when science fiction cinema had teeth.  It was weird, surreal, violent and thoroughly disreputable.  I can’t help but feel that the mainstreaming of science fiction might well have cost us these kinds of films.  Even attempts to recapture the magic such as Neil Marshall’s Doomsday (2008) seem somehow more respectable and tame in comparison.

Also interesting is the film’s blatant homophobia.  You simply could not make a film nowadays in which the bad guys are a load of gay men.  Indeed, it occurred to me after writing the review that the film suggests that should the extinction of the human race ever become a genuine risk then homosexuality would not simply be a lifestyle, a preference, a predisposition or even a perversion.  It would be an act of outright nihilism.  But then, is humanity really worth saving?  The film’s baddies – the Templars – are effectively an armed wing of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement except rather than seeking to justify themselves using the language of ecology, the Templars speak of vengeance and a need to exact retribution for humanity’s crimes against itself.  Which makes little sense but there you go…

REVIEW – An Englishman in New York (2009)

Videovista have my review of Richard Laxton and Brian Fillis’ adaptation of the later Quentin Crisp memoirs An Englishman in New York.

It has an interesting subject (a camp gay man who lived out of the closet at a time when Homosexuality was still illegal) and is set during an interesting time (the first twitches of the shambling beast that is AIDS) but a lack of time, a lack of ambition and a regrettable desire to pay attention to the facts of Crisp’s life rather than the themes and patterns means that it only ever hints at the fascinating piece it could have been.  Fun enough though.

REVIEW – Shank (2009)

Videovista have my review of Simon Pearce’s Shank, a gay indie film that attempts to challenge the tendency of these films to be all about smug middle class people.  The film makes some interesting moves and has some rather strange sexual politics floating about in it but none of these possibilities ever materialise into anything concrete, leaving a lot of potential and very little substance.

Tropical Malady (2004) – The Hunter Hunted

One of the joys of discovering other cultures is realising, in a somewhat Whiggish manner, where they stand on the public debates that fill the public sphere of one’s own country.  What are their attitudes towards gay marriage?  Do they still assume that everyone will get married and have kids?  Do they have a similar intolerance for racism?  More often than not, particularly in the West, this is simply a matter of chronology : Some places are ahead of ‘the times’ while others are ‘behind’ them.  However, leave the gilded circle of what was once Christendom and you find cultures with attitudes so different to ours that they actually shed some light on the buried assumptions of our own debates.

One such culture is that of Thailand.  Thailand’s attitude towards gay rights is genuinely fascinating.  Since the military coup of 2006, Thai government has been edging closer to using a third gender for administrative purposes.  A third gender designed to accommodate the Kathoey, a caste of Thai society that we tend to refer to either simplistically as transwomen or, with the teeth grinding that accompanies potential political incorrectness, ladyboys.  In truth, “Kathoey” is a much broader category than male-to-female transsexual.  Originally, it was coined to describe intersexuals but since the mid 20th Century onwards, it has come to designate everything from post-operative transsexuals to effeminate gay men.  This category of person has existed for a long time in Thailand and, thanks to Buddha’s teaching of tolerance, they are not mocked or physically attacked in the way that TG people can be in the West.  However, they are also victims of terrible discrimination and frequently find themselves working in the ‘entertainment’ industry because people refuse to hire them for other jobs.  Even if they are university graduates.  I mention the Kathoeys as, for a long time, the Kathoeys served to mask the existence of Thai homosexuality.  In Thai culture, sexuality is defined largely in terms of gender and the idea of two masculine men having sex or a relationship simply did not figure.  It was not a common mode of identity.  Indeed, in the late 70s there were only ten gay entertainment venues in the Patpong area of Bangkok.  A decade later, there were over a hundred such places spread out across the country.  In a sense, homosexuality – as we in the west understand the word – only really appeared in Thailand in the 1970s and since then it has attracted more than its fair share of ill-treatment from officials who are more than happy to crack down on a new mode of being.

It is against this rather alien and seemingly conflicting set of cultural attitudes that Apichatpong Weerasethakul makes films such as Tropical Malady (a.k.a. Sud Pralad), a lusciously atmospheric film comprising a a beautifully chaste love story and a fable in which one of the young men turns into a tiger.


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My Big Gay Heart of Darkness – Irreversible (2002) and Cruising (1980)

In 1975 the Nigerian author and critic Chinua Achebe gave a lecture that sent shock-waves through the literary community.  In this lecture, he suggested that the depiction of Africans in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) was more than sufficient to label not only the text but also its author as racist.  While Achebe would later soften his position by suggesting that his interpretation was only one of many and that his reading in no way invalidated all of the laudatory readings cooked up by admirers of the work, the damage was done.  Over thirty years later the spectre of racism still hangs over Heart of Darkness, provoking the feeling that however glorious the novella might be, it may well be a reflection of a by-gone age with values not quite the same as ours but which we are willing to put up with for the sake of what is good in the work.  In fact, introductions to contemporary editions of the work bend over backwards to stress Conrad’s anti-colonialist credentials.

However, Achebe’s “An Image of Africa : Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’” actually addresses this issue by discussing Conrad’s layered approach to narration.  Conrad gives the story not one but two narrators; Marlow who recounts his curious experiences in the Congo and a shadowy figure who is telling us about Marlow telling the story.  By insulating himself so carefully, Conrad seems to be insulating himself against the language and the opinions of the story.  It is not Conrad who speaks of ‘buck niggers’ but Marlowe and his chronicler.  However, Achebe’s critique stretches much deeper than merely cataloguing all the uses of racist language and stereotypical depictions of Black people.  In fact, his piece is at its most powerful when it is talking in the abstract about the technique that Conrad uses to project fears onto an entire population.  This is a technique that is still in use today and it is just as problematic as can be seen in films such as William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980) and Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible (2002).

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Edward II (1991) – The Irony of Queenship

Jarman the icon.  Jarman the experimentalist.  Jarman the punk.  Jarman the queer.  Derek Jarman’s adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II was made three years prior to his death from an AIDS-related illness.  It is not only his most politically outspoken film, it is also the film that brings together the various strands of his career : It is a radical interpretation of an Elizabethan play, It is shot with all of the stylised pomp and careful staging of a 1980s music video and it speaks directly to the gay community’s history of oppression at the hands of self-righteous British establishment.

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