Source Family women pose for a promotional photo for the Ya Ho Wa 13 record release, Los Angeles, 1973. Photo courtesy Isis Aquarian archives.
MARIA DEMOPOULOS AND JODI WILLE’S The Source Family opens with an extended close-up of Jim Baker (aka Father Yod, aka YaHoWha), founder of the early-1970s Los Angeles–based cult the Source Family. Baker’s piercing eyes, craggily handsome face, and abundant gray beard peg him as a cross between a Maharishi-like sage and a rugged, post-Aquarian cocksman à la Kris Kristofferson. This impression is only strengthened when the movie segues into footage of Baker, or “Father”—as many of his former devotees interviewed in the film still call him—as he steps out of a white Rolls Royce, resplendent in biblical white robes and a heavy silver medallion, a cohort of comely young women in flowing gowns behind him. As one of the Source Family’s onetime members, speaking of the cult, opines in voice-over, “It was clearly the most interesting game in town.”
Indeed. Yod and his crew are the sort of extreme characters, operating in an extreme situation, that are a documentary filmmaker’s dream, and The Source Family is a useful watch if only as a means of acquainting oneself with the wild, weird story of that group’s ascent. Baker, the wealthy proprietor of a number of Hollywood eateries, opened the vegetarian restaurant the Source on Sunset Boulevard in 1969. The place quickly drew celebrities such as Goldie Hawn, Joni Mitchell, and Steve McQueen and, at one time, according to one of Baker’s followers, generated “more money per square foot than any restaurant in the country.” Along with his nineteen-year-old wife Robin (“Mother Ah-Om”), the nearly fifty-year-old Baker, now “Father Yod,” began attracting a group of young “seekers” to the restaurant. They eventually moved in with him, first to one mansion and then another, in the Hollywood Hills, where they all lived together as a family—which at the height of the cult’s popularity numbered over a hundred. It’s unclear to me whether the Source Family’s tenets were originally as vague as the film presents them, but they seem to have included a variety of methods geared toward both purification and pleasure: vegetarianism, meditation, forms of tantric sex, and, of course, ritualistic smoking of “the sacred herb.”
The documentary follows the Source Family’s arc to its end, which came not long after the group’s relocation to Hawaii and Father Yod’s 1975 death in a hang-gliding accident. Along the way, there are some odd, socioculturally fascinating moments, such as footage of the Family’s psych band (variously named Father Yod and the Spirit of ’76 and the Ya Ho Wha 13) performing in 1973 in front of some apparently flummoxed teens at Beverly Hills High School. But for the most part, the film seems less interested in drawing deeper connections between the Family and the culture from which it emerged (and on which it exerted its influence) and more in concentrating on the exceptionality of the Family’s internal structure—especially on Baker’s paternal and sexual magnetism, which the movie emphasizes as the cult’s central animating mechanism.
This is too bad, because the Source Family’s story seems significant beyond its ability to tell us something about a particular set of relationships. One of the more intriguing (if superficially examined) elements of The Source Family is the present-day interviews with some of the Family’s former members, a fair number of whom still seem generally sympathetic to the community’s basic principles. And while there’s certainly a smattering of off-the-grid apocalyptic thinkers and recluses in the bunch, most interesting are the more conventional interview subjects: the life coaches and health-food store owners and forward-thinking tech CEOs and Internet-based spirituality advisors, among them a man who, while still presenting himself as “Orbit” (his Source Family name), has traded in his white robes for a yellow Livestrong bracelet.
The Source Family could have provided us—and unfortunately doesn’t—with a clearer understanding of those cusp moments between eras. Not just the point at which late-’60s hippie culture infiltrated straight culture deeply enough that a successful businessman became a spiritual leader and, eventually, a god to a group of people, but also that moment’s shift into the place we find ourselves today—where New Age has been mainstreamed, spiritual leaders are often businessmen, and spirituality itself is a business.
The Source Family has its New York theatrical premiere at the IFC Center on May 1.
Carlos Reygadas, Post Tenebras Lux (Light After Darkness), 2012, 35 mm, color, sound, 115 minutes. Right: Natalia (Nathalia Acevedo).
AS IN SILENT LIGHT (2007), Carlos Reygadas’s latest film suffuses the bluntness of the everyday with a supernatural air. His characters’ simplest gestures bear a gravity that escapes them while nevertheless molding the patterns that haunt and prescribe their lives. Just as the serenity of the breakfast scene in the previous film is ruptured by the sudden emotional collapse of the father, the idyllic image of children frolicking on the parental bed in Post Tenebras Lux is immediately shattered by the father’s shocking abuse of a family dog.
Both films challenge the notion of the family as a haven in an unfriendly world. But while Silent Light unfolds in an exclusive social community marked by a near-extinct language, Post Tenebras Lux carries the imprint of an increasingly fracturing, indomitable capitalist culture. This is directly reflected in the film’s structure, in which the narrative tracing the fortunes of an upscale Mexican family is frequently broken and displaced by characters and events with only peripheral connections to the primary ones. Allusions to the dubious benefits of globalization abound: Star Wars, Neil Young, and I ♥ NY T-shirts coexist with Internet pornography, AA meetings, the activities of a rugby team, and sex clubs with rooms named after eminent figures like Hegel and Duchamp.
You’d never guess any of this was imminent from the film’s opening sequence, a stunning visual overture in which an angelic child (the director’s daughter), pursued by a handheld camera, cavorts about a preternaturally photographed pastoral landscape amid grazing cows, barking dogs, and running horses. As if prompted by an offscreen deity, she summons the “cast”—those who will flesh out the main story: “Guera” (one of the dogs), “Home,” “Eleazar” (her brother), “Daddy,” “Rut” (herself), and “Mummy.” As dusk approaches, brilliant light clashes with a portentous sky, rain falls, and the image flutters between utter darkness and flashes of lightning, while the film’s title emerges one word at a time.
Reygadas may be only half-kidding in the scene that follows, in which a hoofed, horned, and faceless demon quietly enters the family abode while everyone is asleep, briefly faces the camera, walks down a hallway, exchanges glances with a young boy, then enters a room and closes the door. Offered perhaps to those who need to ascribe a convenient cause to the seemingly arbitrary events that follow, this creature, translucently composed of a pool of red light, satirically invokes that Bresson film in which a character, responding to the question, “Who is responsible for the random ills of civilization?” exclaims, “The devil, probably.”
Reygadas’s taste in mentors is exemplary. If Carl Dreyer’s Ordet (1955) was the unacknowledged inspiration behind Silent Light, Bresson’s The Devil, Probably (1977) seems to have been on Reygadas’s mind here, as a later scene of trees falling in a forest also suggests. To boot, Bresson’s narrative also splits its focus between the suicidal trajectory of its main character and the indictment of a world bent on destroying its natural resources while offering pathetic cultural compensations.
But the very caricature of Reygadas’s demon—he carries a toolbox and looks a bit like the animated Pink Panther—is flouted by the film’s existential thrust. In the morning, Rut’s cries awaken her family. Her mother Natalia assumes she’s had a nightmare. Could it have been that dreamlike but menace-free opening sequence? Or was it the demon visitation that followed? Reygadas is, like Bresson, fond of ellipses. So after Juan (the father) beats the dog, the film cuts to an AA meeting where Juan is introduced to the members by Seven, an impoverished and pathetic fellow who attributes the loss of his wife and children and his violent behavior to bad upbringing and alcohol. Juan feels that his own sexual frustrations and violent tendencies pale in comparison, but later he asks his wife to help him overcome both. Further on, Seven impulsively shoots Juan in a botched house robbery. Seven’s efforts “to make it right” are foiled by Juan’s death and a second desertion by his family. In the film’s most surreal image, Seven stands forlornly amid a breathtaking landscape and literally tears his head off his body. It’s about as wrenching a picture of crippling, unfathomable despair as any filmmaker has ever captured.
In the film’s longest uninterrupted take, Juan lies ill after being shot and expresses his love of all things. The scene could have been a mawkish betrayal of everything that precedes it, but it comes off as an affecting and earnest directorial statement. Yet, in contrast to the determined suicide in The Devil, Probably, Reygadas does not end his film with Juan’s farewell, nor with Seven’s self-decapitation. Instead, he returns us to the rugby team and offers a third perspective. In the final shot, a young player assures his mates that they will beat their opponents: “They’ve got individuals, we’ve got team.” As he has with every film he’s made thus far, Reygadas gives us contradictory views that echo the mysteries of human existence.
Post Tenebras Lux plays May 1–14 at Film Forum in New York.
THE EPOCHAL EVENT referred to in Peter Gessner and Tom Hurwitz’s Last Summer Won’t Happen—its syntactically bizarre title both negating the past and preempting the future—is the Summer of Love of 1967, a year marked by be-ins and youthquaking in the epicenters of the counterculture, San Francisco and New York. Filmed primarily in the Lower East Side after the March on the Pentagon in 1967 and before the bloody Democratic National Convention in August 1968, Last Summer tracks the beginnings of the shift from utopian visions to violence, despair, and nonsense among the stalwarts of the “movement.” The opening disclaimer of Last Summer proclaims this period as “a time of confrontation and contradiction”; similarly, Gessner and Hurwitz’s fifty-eight-minute documentary, a scattershot chronicle that flits from anonymous dope dealers and young escapees from suburbia to Yippie celebrities, is itself filled with incongruities.
Featuring a score by Country Joe and the Fish and Procol Harum, Last Summer was shown in September 1968 in a sidebar program at the New York Film Festival titled “New Film-makers on New Life-Styles.” Among the practitioners of alternative modes of living highlighted by Gessner and Hurwitz are teenage runaways; the filmmakers speak with a doe-eyed fifteen-year-old girl, a habitué of Saint Marks Place, who notes that if her parents ever track her down, “they’ll probably put me in a home for wayward girls.” (Like all the other subjects in the film, this teenager is never identified on-screen. Names and bios are provided as a DVD extra; she is listed as “ ‘Bobbie,’ last name and present whereabouts unknown.”)
Bobbie’s brief first-person narrative segues to Abbie Hoffman giving a talk on “Runaways: The Politics of Alienation” at the Workmen’s Circle to a mostly gray-haired crowd in folding chairs. (During this segment, it’s hard not to think of Milos Forman’s 1971 satire, Taking Off, and the film’s “Society for the Parents of Fugitive Children.”) Astonishingly, and to no apparent reaction from the senescent audience, Hoffman forms this queasy analogy about the mostly white, privileged, adolescent émigrés flooding into the East Village: “Runaways are political refugees. It’s as though they’re escaped slaves from the South and we have an Underground Railroad, and we’re gonna hide ’em.”
Hoffman’s skewed, offensive comparison typifies the missteps of what Renata Adler once referred to, in a withering 1967 piece for the New Yorker on the National New Politics Convention in Chicago, as “[a] radical movement born out of a corruption of the vocabulary of civil rights.” Though certainly much more sympathetic to the New Left than Adler ever was, Gessner and Hurwitz are not uncritical observers of this “time of confrontation and contradiction.” Last Summer later reveals Hoffman’s megalomania (“When I talk about the movement, I’m talking about myself”) and further episodes of twisted logic (“I have not been able to define whether shooting a cop is an act of love”).
Though filmed with a sense of urgency, Last Summer lacks a clear organizing principle; among its more haphazard sections is an obviously staged encounter between the baby-faced, besuited writer and artist Britt Wilkie and an editor. Yet this too-brief documentary serves as an important progenitor: The fissures in the New Left that Last Summer begins to trace would be epically, unforgettably explored seven years later by Robert Kramer (a former collaborator of Gessner’s) in Milestones.
Icarus Films Home Video releases Last Summer Won’t Happen on DVD and VOD April 23.
“EVERYTHING I DO WAS INSPIRED by my early life,” Louise Bourgeois divulged to Artforum on the occasion of her 1982 retrospective at MoMA, the venue’s first to fete a female artist. The statement, couched in bold cursive beside a photograph of a young Bourgeois boating with her governess, cemented the orthodox line about her art, promulgated by critics who mapped her work onto her words. Read through Bourgeois’s backstory, her sculptural forms all source to childhood dramas: the various triangulations among herself, her obliging mother, her imperious father, and the mistress he kept. Rehearsed without question or pause, Bourgeois’s biography stiffens into a sort of straitjacket, intent on stuffing prismatic, paradigm-shifting work into pat Oedipal narratives.
The tense complicity between Bourgeois the persona and Bourgeois the artist animates Brigitte Cornand’s trio of documentaries, filmed during the final fourteen years of the artist’s life. The longer of the three—C’est le murmure de l’eau qui chante (The Whisper of the Whistling Water, 2002) and La Rivière gentile (The Sweet River, 2007)—converge on Bourgeois’s West Twenty-Second Street brownstone. Shots of the nonagenarian painting by her window or sketching grids in blue Sharpie thread through installation views of early works, pages from yellowed journals, and traversals of her cluttered yet kempt apartment. The most recent, Grabigouji: La Vie de la disparition (Grabigouji: Life of Disappearance, 2012), consists of recorded phone conversations between Cornand and Bourgeois played over still shots of nature and places from the artist’s past: the river Bièvre where she attempted suicide, the building on Boulevard Saint-Germain that her family called home.
For an artist famously beset by debilitating depressions, the Bourgeois who emerges is surprisingly calm. Old age, it seems, has faded her emotions to paler hues: less the anxious saturation of Matisse’s The Red Studio, 1911; more the watery red of the gouache she favors. Cornand’s style is casual and unobtrusive, her digital camera handheld or steady, depending on the demands of the shot. Rarely does she prod Bourgeois to decode or disclose. When the artist reveals, she does so of her own accord, her recollections prompted by photographs or surfacing unaided, like the melodies of the half-remembered songs she hums.
If these films have a secondary subject, beyond Bourgeois herself, it’s how an artist whose work so hinges on memory adapts as those memories grow gauzy and leach at the edges. “I’m feeling a bit broody,” she tells Cornand in gravelly French over a fixed shot of a tawny moon. “What bothers me is that I try to remember things from the past, but I can’t seem to piece it together.” One of Bourgeois’s quirks is a fondness for dictionary definitions, which she asks Cornand to read aloud from Le Petit Larousse as aide-mémoire. “Rebus,” Cornand recites as Bourgeois transcribes in her notebook, “drawings or signs that must be deciphered phonetically.” The definition—a metaphor, perhaps, for Bourgeois’s diffusely allusive forms—cues an anecdote from the artist’s past. Its protagonist, predictably: her short-tempered father.
As one might expect, Bourgeois remains fixated on her family saga. A lengthy discursion on tapestries turns to her father’s betrayal (yellow, it so happens, is the color of cuckoldry) and her perceived failure to measure up to her mother. In a recurring sequence, Cornand captures Bourgeois at her worktable as the artist strings evocative fragments in voice-over. “The floods in Sologne. The wet Paris pavements by night. The beaches in Trouville, Houlgate, Villers, Cabourg, Honfleur,” Bourgeois intones in French, her back turned to the camera. Cornand echoes her lead’s circular sense of time by filming excerpts from Bourgeois’s diaries in confused chronological order. An April 2001 entry declares “no thing to do with the values de Marcel Duchamp” beside two hastily sketched urinals; in the ensuing entry, dated June 1974, Bourgeois grieves the loss of her husband, Robert.
At times, Cornand indulges the myth that Bourgeois’s art issues from a purely personal etiology. “Once upon a time there was a father, a mother, a child, a river, bridges, a mistress, and cars. Therein lies the tragedy,” the filmmaker avers at Grabigouji’s close, her camera trained on a sunlit country road. Such statements better cloud than clarify Bourgeois’s achievement. More interesting are the moments that reveal how the artist’s fugue-like fable circles around, but never quite settles on, her work. Watteau and Odilon Redon pepper a meditation on the Bièvre; a musing on memory leads to mentions of Henri Michaux, René Magritte, and Eugène Ionesco’s “La Cantatrice chauve.” When her rehearsed drama relents, new interpretive avenues appear. In the case of Bourgeois, it’s best not to always take the artist at her word.
François Ozon, In the House, 2012, 35 mm, color, sound, 105 minutes.
MAKING HIS BREAKTHROUGH WORKS at the tail end of the New Queer Cinema, François Ozon was once devoted to charting psychosexual extremes in movies like See the Sea (1997), Criminal Lovers (1999), and Water Drops on Burning Rocks (2000). But after the prolific director’s masterful study of grief, Under the Sand (2000)—a film that revived Charlotte Rampling’s career—Ozon has too often toggled between kitsch misfires (2002’s 8 Women, 2010’s Potiche) and projects weighed down by long, inert melodramatic passages (2005’s Time to Leave, 2009’s Hideaway).
Liberally adapted from Juan Mayorga’s play The Boy in the Last Row, Ozon’s latest movie, In the House, at first suggests a return to the anarchic adolescent protagonists of his early films, whose uncontrollable desires were inextricably linked with destruction and mayhem. Sixteen-year-old Claude (Ernst Umhauer) piques the interest of his literature teacher, Germain (Fabrice Luchini), who’s perilously close to pedagogical burnout, with a well-crafted essay for a prosaic assignment about “My Last Weekend.” Claude details a Saturday spent helping a classmate, Rapha Artole (Bastien Ughetto), with his math homework at his pal’s home; the budding wordsmith is intrigued by Rapha’s close-knit family, particularly his mother, Ester (Emmanuelle Seigner), who emits “the singular scent of a middle-class woman,” the one provocative phrase in the script (which can still, a week after seeing the film, cause me to have olfactory hallucinations).
Germain, a failed writer whose sole novel was published twenty years ago, begins meeting with Claude after class, critiquing the boy’s further chapters about his infiltration of the Artoles’ snug fortress. These ongoing installments Germain eagerly shares with his wife, Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), a gallerist whose exhibition space, the Minotaur’s Maze, displays large photomontages of swastikas composed of penises. This dumb sight gag typifies the complacency that soon dominates In the House, eclipsing the occasional sharp observation about narrative and audience. (Though even those pleasures are fleeting: Jeanne’s declaration that “art teaches us nothing” rings as a biting aphorism until one realizes that it’s a truncation of Henry Miller’s “Art teaches nothing, except the significance of life.”)
“You confuse desire with story,” Germain tells his pupil at one point, long after he’s committed a professional infraction to ensure that Claude can keep returning to Rapha’s home and thus produce more pages. As for the instructor’s own desire, Jeanne nonchalantly asks her husband if he lusts after his student. Teacher isn’t hot for Claude but—like fans of radio serials, soap operas, or shows on AMC or HBO—simply burning to know what happens next. Yet as Claude becomes more deeply embedded in the Artole household, what ensues becomes less and less intriguing; when Germain himself begins to appear in the later chapters, told through flashbacks, the recapitulations tip over into the unendurably whimsical.
In the film’s closing scene, after Claude—in his lone instance of satisfying, sexy menace—remarks, “There’s a way into every house,” it’s hard not to compare him with his predecessors in Ozon’s filmography, those guilty of breaking, entering, and seducing (or repelling, or sometimes both), like Marina de Van’s homicidal backpacker in See the Sea. In the sixteen years since that featurette, Ozon has followed a clear trajectory: from épater to embrasser le bourgeoisie.
In the House opens April 19 in New York and Los Angeles.
John Torres, Lukas nino (Lukas the Strange), 2013, video, color, sound, 82 minutes.
GIVEN THAT IT FEATURES a character who may or may not be a half-man/half-horse creature known in Filipino folklore as a tikbalang, Lukas nino (Lukas the Strange) is bound to be one of the more mysterious films to surface this year. It’s all the more impressive that John Torres’s fifth feature can seem so ineffably and gloriously odd even when it’s situated amid the bounty of unpredictable live-music-and-movie matchups, doc-fiction hybrids, and other exercises in boundary blurring that fill Toronto’s Images Festival every year.
Though now prodigious and established enough to qualify as North America’s largest festival of experimental and independent moving-image culture, Images has maintained its ability to surprise, a challenge considering the swiftness with which one generation’s innovations and provocations become standard protocols for the next. Increasing its emphasis on live events that combine aspects of film, music, and performance is one thing the festival has done to shake off the rust (not to mention set itself apart from the dozens of other Toronto festivals striving to provide an alternative to the almighty TIFF). Having presented vintage films with live scores by Yo La Tengo and Fucked Up in recent editions, this year's Images presents a more strictly contemporary sort of sound-vision merger with an opening-night program that pairs the sumptuous drones of Montreal’s Tim Hecker with eerily stark views of flora and fauna by Boston filmmaker Robert Todd. On Images’s final night, the duo of Chicago drummer Hamid Drake and Toronto saxophonist David Mott promises to deliver a more thunderous accompaniment for Corredor, local filmmaker Alexandra Gelis’s inquiry into the colonial legacy and modern contradictions that surround the Panama Canal.
Though the ten-day schedule includes more performances than in years past as well as a generous array of installation works in local galleries, it’s the On Screen program of new film and video that often yields the festival’s most startling finds. Indeed, Torres’s Lukas nino rates as more marvelous than most, with its beautifully distressed imagery (shot on digital video and heavily treated 35 mm) and equally cryptic storytelling. The fragments of voice-over and text parse out details of a thirteen-year-old boy’s quest to discover the truth about his missing (and possibly half-equine) father amid the excitement caused by a film crew’s visit to his rural town. The result somehow synthesizes Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s pastoral mysticism, the dissembling narratives of Nicolás Pereda, and a brand of kino delirium that’s pure Guy Maddin.
New entries by Adele Horne (Maintenance), Jesse McLean (The Invisible World), and Kevin Jerome Everson (represented by two new works) all make equally strong impressions. Arriving at Images fresh from its Turner Prize win in December, Elizabeth Price’s eighteen-minute video The Woolworths Choir of 1979 is startling for its wit and concision. Opening as a cheeky primer on the correlations between English cathedral design and the construction of pop songs like the Shangri-Las tune heard in ecstatic snatches on the sound track, it soon shifts into a darker-hued rumination on a fiery tragedy in late-1970s Manchester. As disparate as all three subjects may seem, Price’s ingenious film uncovers a veiled vernacular of words and gestures.
Jane Gillooly’s Suitcase of Love and Shame is a historical inquiry of another kind. The latest by the recent Guggenheim Fellowship recipient is a collagist work based on an unusual trove of photos and audio tapes that the filmmaker found in a suitcase purchased on eBay. The material documents an adulterous affair that took place in the US in the mid-’60s; the lovers conveyed their feelings to each other not by secret notes but by reel-to-reel recordings. Setting these sometimes shockingly intimate passages of real audio to her own images of lonely interiors and objects evoking the era (or at least a Lynchian version of it), Gillooly emphasizes the fraught and furtive notes we hear in those voices as desire gives way to desperation and despair.
The Images Festival runs April 11 to 20 in Toronto.
Kevin Hegge, She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column, 2012, digital video, color, sound, 64 minutes.
CHANGE IS IN THE AIR, but is it happening fast enough? Certainly the season begs for more: The freezing cold and snowy winds of the past two weeks in London have established that spring has no intention of working her magic anytime soon. No big shocker for anyone coming from Berlin, and an excellent reason to seek shelter in the warmer climes of the British Film Institute, where the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival traditionally makes its home.
Jeffrey Schwarz’s long-awaited documentary on John Waters’s most famous star, I Am Divine (2013), opened the festival. With well-crafted documentaries on Vito Russo and Jack Wrangler already under his belt, Schwarz’s prowess as a historian can’t be underestimated, and I Am Divine expertly hit the right tone: emphatic hilarity. Using interviews with all the remaining Dreamland celebs, as well as archival chats with Divine in both girl and boy drag, I Am Divine is as fun as it is moving. In addition, the second day featured a screening of Female Trouble (1974), one of Divine’s finest moments and arguably one of the ten best American films ever made; all these viewings later, I’m still outraged every time Dawn Davenport fails to get those cha-cha heels for Christmas.
Another longed-for doc, She Said Boom! (2012), tells the story of Fifth Column, the ahead-of-its-time Toronto band that single-handedly invented the queercore movement, paved the way for Riot Grrrl, and gave rise to cinematic luminaries G. B. Jones and Bruce LaBruce. The film consists largely of talking-head interviews with former members—including Jones, whose enigmatic presence is as powerful as ever—detailing the band’s struggle for recognition in defiance of its queer feminist freakdom. It instilled a new longing in the audience—for a reunion.
By now, at least one thing has been made abundantly clear: Xavier Dolan, whose third feature, Laurence Anyways (2012), was featured in this year’s festival, has a lot going for him. He’s a terrific stylist. The 1990s “period” sets and costumes in this nearly three-hour-long epic following a Quebecois writer’s tumultuous male-to-female transition look amazing, and Yves Bélanger’s camera work, replete with lingering close-ups over inanimate surfaces serving as subtle commentary on the human dramas being played out, reveal the instincts of a probable genius. On the flipside, Dolan’s writing tends toward melodrama, and I have to agree with the consensus that the film could have used some cutting. Still, he’s twenty-four years old and already prolific, which suggests that we’re only at the beginning of what will be an exciting journey.
Interior.Leather Bar (2013), James Franco and Travis Mathews’s vague effort at imagining and refilming the censored forty-minutes of William Friedkin’s classic Cruising (1980)—a contender for worst film of the year—played on the same bill as one of the festival’s best films, Tom’s Gift (2012), a collaborative effort between two of New York City’s underground mavericks, Charles Lum and Todd Verow. The film is excerpted from a longer work-in-progress, comprising first-person narratives that detail the disappearance of public sex in the advent of the Internet. Given that the programmers this year included a screening of Pasolini’s Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1974), it would have been nice had they also been bold enough to include Verow’s recent Bottom (2011), a documentary feature that uses similarly excessive and disturbing content in a provocative account of what sex without intimacy has become in the twenty-first century.
In fact, there were few surprises on this year’s twenty-seventh program, much of which consisted of a “best-of” recycling of overshown commercial fare like Keep the Lights On (2012) (for those who missed it the first thirty-five times around, one can conjecture that it will also play at next year’s festival), prints of “lost” classics taken from the BFI vaults, and films nearing the end of their time on the festival circuit. Very little in terms of premieres, and, given the vast quantity of LGBT films produced each year, this is something of a missed opportunity—one that seems to have necessitated the emergence of the upcoming Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest., whose April edition will be its third.
In the past, BFI LLGFF organizers were notoriously cagey when the festival’s name was criticized as old-fashioned and exclusionary, but this year saw the launch of a new media campaign, wherein the public is invited to submit suggestions for a moniker change. Still, pretenses to exclusivity (many international delegates were asked to purchase their own tickets to screenings—unheard-of at any film festival, and an embarrassing faux pas for one currently struggling to regain its status), demographic challenges (the audience for most screenings and events appeared to consist mostly of upwardly mobile cisgendered gay white men of a certain age), and patchy programming all suggest that now would be the time for the BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival to consider changing more than just its name.
The 27th BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival ran March 14–24.