Thursday, 23 June 2016

Going Nowhere Slowly

“Everybody Wants Some!!”

The magnificent Oscar Wilde remarked that “the condition of perfection is idleness: the aim of perfection is youth.” I suspect it may be a little dangerous to kick off with Wilde after ending my last post the same way, but, as that great tutor and hero of mine also teaches, nothing that is not dangerous is worthy of our time. If the director Richard Linklater is adept in the trade of anything at all, it is idleness, and if the direction of his limpid though wistful gaze were to be measured, its targets can be none other than youth and verve. Don’t mistake me for judging Linklater’s films to be perfection – his fellow Texans Terrence Malick and Wes Anderson show that there is room yet for expansion in Linklater’s accomplishments – but I put it that Linklater has shown himself to be a great and valuable artist of our time. My assertion is unequivocal, and any possible equivocation would be brought on only by the presence of Linklater’s work itself: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight make up an exasperating triptych of tedious moralising and rationalising, and Boyhood lingers in my mind in a haze of fusty sentimentality; but the vigourous pleasures of School of Rock, the shocking force of affection for both his subjects and his art that breezes through the director’s masterpiece Bernie, and now the quintessence of youth examined in the midst of a most dynamic idleness – Linklater’s new film, Everybody Wants Some!! – are enough to persuade me of his inordinate value as a modern film-maker and visionary artist.

The disparities in artistic value between these two groups of Linklater’s work – with his more overtly naturalist and apparently personal films on one side of the divide and his more synthetic and imaginary films (the real life roots of Bernie notwithstanding) on the other – is due, I feel, to an inconsistent approach to the artifice of cinema when confronting different types of content. When portraying a story of a seemingly more personal origin, Linklater aims for a naturalistic mode of representation, hoping to convey it with the perception that his portrayal matches up to how the events and conversations may well look and feel in reality. But his naturalism virtually reeks of the long calculation and meticulous rehearsal that went into it, leaving me with the sense of simulated and false emotions and experiences, rather than verifiable and credibly authentic ones.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Teen Queens


Is it not a precious commodity to have a gay best friend? Those who have one may well inform you that it is; it’s not altogether commonplace nor inconsequential for one’s close associate to pass entirely truthful and helpful criticism on one’s appearance, social operations, endeavours of humour, navigations of sexual operations, linguistic agility, assertions of style, photographic aptitude, and overall personal flair, all in a swirling fusion of affectionate compliments and cutting slurs, sitting at a bitchiness quotient (BQ) of well over 120 – using standard metric measurements, of course. This is given its distinguishing twist in the fact that one either flourishes on this associate’s advice eternally safe from their resentment if one is female, or eternally safe from their competition in the sexual marketplace if one is male (as ever in the movies, “gay” refers exclusively to homosexual males). To such privileged individuals, it must seem that those without this kind of connection must either be woefully ignorant of its benefits, or just not trying damn well hard enough to acquire it. The high school comedy G.B.F., by the openly gay director Darren Stein, agrees on the value of this commodity, and hopes to show viewers that neither its price nor its potential worth are to be underestimated. As with any friendship, it must be worked for to really mean anything, and once earned the returns yielded are considerable and rewarding.

Tanner Daniels (Michael J. Willett) and Brent Van Camp (Paul Iacono) are two gay guys in their last year of high school, closeted from everyone except each other and two close friends (whose names evade me). Brent, being the more brazen of the two, plans to come out in a dazzling display of gay alacrity at the school prom, catapulting him from his current status as low-profile comic book geek to sought after bestie and prominent entourage member – a g.b.f. is touted as the new must-have in all the film’s teenage girls’ magazines, and lively competition is sure to break out among the most popular female students in order to win the allegiance of the only gay in sight.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

A Rocky Picture Show

“A Bigger Splash”

During June – the month of Pride, LGBT-and-otherwise – this blog is meant to be devoted to the discussion of queer cinema, though nearly halfway through the month I’ve not published a single post on a film featuring a queer character. This post, alas, continues this evading pattern, containing my reaction to the new genre hybrid work now playing at Cinema Nouveau, A Bigger Splash, which features four promiscuous (thought heterosexually so) and wilful Anglophone figures, on an uneasy holiday on some small Italian island halfway between the mainland and Africa. And yet I feel as though the film could count in some way as being the first queer film of the month, because its tone – emotionally restive, and simultaneously sensual – its sensibility – dissolute and Eurocentric – and its substance – sexual mischief, shifting romantic allegiances, artists and their personal lives, and a tangle of friendships and partnerships and rivalries – all call to mind what one might call the orthodoxy of contemporary queer cinema, and are fleshed out copiously with the supple, shimmering flesh of its four stars, three of them staples of the independent cinema, and the fourth freshly powdered and re-strapped after appearing on our screens in the largest BDSM romantic fantasy adaptation of all  time. Hardly the mode of straight cinema that may be endorsed by, say, Focus on the Family.

Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is a rock star, accompanied on her island holiday by her boyfriend of six years, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), a photographer. They’re dropped in on unexpectedly by an old friend, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), who brings along a hitherto unknown-of daughter, named Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Harry is a nightmare of zealous back-slapping bonhomie, virtually vomiting words from his arrival until his departure; at one point he mentions the literal translation of the Italian term for someone with verbal diarrhoea: “one who shits sentences,” but fails to connect it to himself. This is neatly, soothingly counterbalanced by Marianne’s muteness, in the wake of a serious ailment and subsequent surgery on her voice. She points out what she wants, and waves her arms in protest for things she doesn’t want, and Paul tenderly takes care of her every need. The two of them have developed a far more nuanced system of communication, and their quick, telling glances at one another and minute, spontaneous touches and other signals reach a vulnerable intensity, rivalling and often surpassing in exuberance Harry’s incessant monologues. The director, Luca Gaudagnino, permits us to see and understand as much as Paul does of what Marianne has to say, lending Swinton’s performance a most elegant and vital grace.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

The Already-Tame Shrew

“Mrs Right Guy”

One will have noticed a new candour and delight regarding life’s amatory pursuits at the cinema this week. It is, however, unfortunate for South Africans that this carnal interest should be taken up on their screens when daytime thermometer readings in Gauteng drop to 20°C – well below what is considered acceptable in Pretoria, and certainly not the kinds of temperature at which young men and women are itching to cast off their clothing. The two films that opened on Friday, the 3rd of June, that are so keen on the tactile particulars of love seem to have only that in common, though; their differences are vast and the diversity of cinema seems just as healthy nowadays as its sexual drive.

The first of the two is a new South African romcom (the other is Luca Guadagninos A Bigger Splash, but more about it later), starring Dineo Moeketsi (from’s Scandal) as the shrew Gugu who was abandoned on her honeymoon by a ratbag husband and left to settle, by way of menial labour, his massive hotel bill. The script of Mrs Right Guy, by Pusetso Thibedi and Cati Weinek, runs us through the usual complaints of men only wanting one thing from a woman, and women wanting everything else from a man. Gugu feels that dating is being forced to choose between compromising herself and alienating all romantic prospects. It’s a sorry state, in short, and Gugu only exacerbates matters as she tears into the men who hit on her in the street, and swings at the hopefuls making eyes at her best friend, Anna (Thando Thabethe). Enter the decent and strapping Joe (Lehasa Moloi), a chicken farmer and neighbour who helps Gugu by repairing her car, and the polished and cocksure Dumile (Thapelo Mokoena), the new boss at the advertising firm where Gugu and Anna work. The discerning reader knows where this script is headed, and could also plot fairly accurately the route it’ll take to get there without any further description from me.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Quid Pro Queer

Onward and Outward

My Own Private Idaho (1991), starring Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix as two gay hustlers

Hollywood, as a centre of exuberant performance, lurid spectacle, graceful artifice, veiled subversion, and shameless show business (shameless both in its showing and in its business), has always attracted the outcast and marginalised constituents of society. Those who felt rejected, abandoned, reviled, or ignored in their local communities could head for the city of angels and join the production line in the lustrous and openhearted dream factory. I’ve yet to examine and come to any kind of conclusion as to why it is that the queer elements of society, most prominently homosexual males, find themselves so drawn to the arts professionally as well as a way of living, but it’s clear that, if there was any place for them to trek to and thrust a flag into the soil, Hollywood was it.

June is LGBT Pride Month, and in honour of sexual and gender deviants, and of their history of struggle in personal, cultural, and legislative arenas, The Back Row is presenting a series of posts on queer cinema. The British Film Institute has just revealed its own poll by critics and academics of the greatest queer movies of all time, and this is partly in response to that, as well as to the positive engagement I encountered with my last special series, on William Shakespeare. It is hoped that awareness of the subculture and its proponents and effects will grow among this blog’s readers, and that a new appreciation can be formed of the cinematic representation of a particular class of experience. An offhand survey among friends and their associates reveal that not many of our generation of South Africans are very much conscious of the currents of queer cinema nor of its spreading influence over the rest of contemporary culture, pop or otherwise. And I suspect the case isn’t largely different for the generations above ours.

(Read The Back Row’s review of Carol.)