A Girl At My Door / Dohee-Ya

This Korean movie, directed by July Jung, is challenging but not dark, and never gets bogged down by the hard questions it asks: about justice, about evil, following the law vs doing what’s right, the rights of individuals vs the needs of the group.

Police officer Young-Nam (played by the amazing Doona Bae) has been assigned to be chief of a small fishing town in the country. She used to live in Seoul, but an affair with a woman (or an underage girl? that part is never made clear) led to her superiors getting her out of the way for a bit until things blew over. Young-Nam settles in well enough, though she remains quite distant from the locals, even the local cops, and we learn she drinks like a fish. Seriously, one scene has her buying dozens of bottles of booze which she repeatedly gulps down like it was water.

Soon she gets caught up in the life of Dohee, a local schoolgirl who not only is bullied by her schoolmates, but also beaten by her father and grandmother. Almost every night she runs through the town’s back alleys near Young-Nam’s place, which is how she saw her. The bullying is easy to take care of: a little chat with the culprits while in full uniform is enough to put the fear of God in them, but the abuse is a different story.

After a few days Young-Nam manages to catch the father in the act; she knocks him away from Dohee, and then—while pinning him down and fending off the grandmother’s clumsy attacks—calls in backup. It was a fucking awesome scene. I cheered. The whole audience cheered. But it wasn’t the end. Dohee’s dad still has custody, still drinks, and still threatens to beat her up. On his first night back, Dohee shows up at Young-Nam’s doorstep. Not really having any options, Young-Nam lets her stay the night. This turns into a regular thing; Young-Nam is not happy with her space being invaded like this, and very uncomfortable with her new role of caregiver, but she really wants to help and protect the girl. And so eventually, Dohee wants to stay permanently. The father doesn’t really argue, but Young-Nam at least puts her foot down a little: Dohee will stay for about a month, until the end of summer vacation.

Two problems: first, Dohee has been living with abuse most of her life and while most of the time she’s fine, she tends to act out in very disturbing ways that Young-Nam is absolutely not prepared to deal with. Second, Young-Nam’s ex rolls into town, and they have dinner together. And argue, like they must have argued many times before: about Young-Nam’s drinking, her standoffishness, etc… that still doesn’t keep them from being seen by some locals including Dohee’s father, who puts 2 and 2 together.

Before you know it, Young-Nam is taken in for questioning about having improper relations with Dohee, and it doesn’t look good. Did she ever undress her? Yes (because she was soaking wet from hours in the rain). Did she ever touch her at all? Yes (to comfort her, and feel the nasty bruises on her back). Young-Nam protests that she did nothing wrong, but the other officers retort that her being gay puts a different spin on things. Dohee is also questioned, and it looks even worse: she’s clearly infatuated with Young-Nam, admits to being touched, and even points out where on a doll.

But upon learning that this all means Young-Nam will be taken away, Dohee hatches a plan: she gets her father drunk, and sets things up so the police catches him in the middle of molesting her. Later, after he’s taken away, she “confesses” that he’d made her say all those incriminating things about Young-Nam. Eventually realising that Dohee has nowhere to go except foster care, Young-Nam decides to take her in, and they ride out town together.

Now let’s talk about monsters.

Near the end, a junior police officer told Young-Nam that there was something wrong with Dohee, that she was “a monster” (and then quickly apologised for speaking out of turn). He may be right, but if so, she was made into one, by the constant abuse and bullying she suffered. In turn, was her father a monster? He did physically and emotionally abuse his daughter, and kept the town’s economy going by hiring illegal immigrants that he cheated out of their wages, but I’m willing to bet he suffered similar abuse at the hands of his bigoted mother. And so it goes.

Are the townspeople monsters? They mostly didn’t care about the foreigners’ welfare, only that they kept on catching fish; resident police officers definitely knew the truth and tried to keep Young-Nam from interfering. They felt bad about it, for what that’s worth.

Come to that, is Young-Nam a monster? She is a dedicated officer, who believes in justice and fairness… but some will see her as intrinsically bad just because she’s a lesbian. And what drives her to drink like she does? What pain does she hide? What demons is she trying to suppress?

What I’m getting from this is that no one is born a “monster”, but the potential to hurt others is in everybody, and that can be either nurtured or discouraged. Which is a lifelong process that can go either way. We don’t see Young-Nam drinking any less by the end of the movie, but her relationship with Dohee will hopefully help both of them in the long run. And even if it doesn’t… well, sometimes you just have to do what’s right and hope for the best. Take in the terrified girl at your door, because right this second you’re all she has.

I could talk about justice as well: Young-Nam is a police officer, but most of the plot happens outside her official role. She seems to be the only officer around who really cares about doing good in the community, not just enforcing law, not just about keeping the peace—deceptive peace, when beatings occur in people’s back yards that nobody does anything about. She believes the law is there to help the community as a whole, but not at the expense of individuals’ rights or happiness. Keeping the town’s economy afloat is not worth it if it means enslaving undocumented immigrants, or letting one girl be abused.

And did Dohee find justice in the end? No: getting her father jailed wasn’t justice. Possibly-maybe getting her grandmother killed wasn’t justice either. But it was the closest thing she’ll get get, since the law wouldn’t help her or the only woman who cared about her.

I’m trying to decide if this an idealist movie. Is the moral that we should try to change the world? Is it worth fighting the monsters? Apathetic cops let Dohee’s father’s abuses go for years, and they’re clearly portrayed as wrong. The world is a slightly better place now that her two people are dead or gone. But fighting monsters is hard, and they don’t go down in just one round. Try to change the world, and it’s liable to fuck you right back.

Is it worth the struggle? For Young-Nam, I think it was. I guess we all have to decide for ourselves.

Dark Matter

This was my first PuSh Festival show of the season, and boy was it a doozie!

I honestly had no idea what to expect, and the writeup didn’t help. And that was just fine by me, I was all ready to take whatever experimental mayhem the theatre would throw at me.

At first I was just… bemused. Performer and writer Kate McIntosh, along with her two sidekicks, just did a lot of strange quasi-slapstick antics, moving props around, getting in each other’s way… it looked frantic and meta, like a metaphor for the creative process, or behind-the-scenes work at any production. I couldn’t see a story or a pattern, but I patiently waited, trusting that it would all come together.

Then things got verbal. McIntosh and the others brought up abstract and/or deliberatly silly philosophical questions, and lectured us about Big Scientific Ideas, focusing on the Many Worlds Hypothesis—you know the one, it’s that interpretation of Quantum Mechanics that says every observation, every choice, actually branches off whole new universes that are just as real as the one we’re in now.

Schrodinger’s cat is both alive and dead when you open the box, in different realities. Instead of sitting in SFU’s Goldcorps Centre for the Arts, I could have tripped and fallen on the way to the show—fallen left, and I would have been killed by an oncoming truck; fallen right, and I would have found the love of my life.

(I didn’t make up that last example, by the way. McIntosh pointed in my general direction and speculated about the alternate lives of “the man over here.” I like that she was talking about a man meeting another man. Hey, it’s like she knew me!)

And so the audience got our brains massaged and stretched by the wonder of science, the weirdness of philosophy, and some general clowning around. Good stuff? Sure. Nothing too memorable though, I felt.

But then!

But then McIntosh lifted the backdrop a little.

Picture it: a solid black sheet pierced with little holes, lit from behind for a lovely starfield effect. And picture me: primed by all that high-flown cosmic cogitation, of time and space and higher realities. When the backdrop was lifted my brain clicked on the Aristotelian geocentric model, where stars are just holes in the outermost sphere (sound familiar?) letting in light from the Primum Mobile. This glimpse of the backstage lights, so bright to my dark-adapted eyes, was for a moment like looking into someplace outside reality. I was Dave Bowman entering the monolith, I was Dante reaching the heights of Paradise. It felt transcendent, almost a spiritual experience, and I don’t use that word lightly.

The play wound down soon after this. Its last few minutes were more quiet and low-key, letting me come down gently from my epiphanic climax—which didn’t stop me from gushing about it afterwards, repeatedly.

My brain was buzzing all the way back home, both at the experience, and the cleverness of juxtaposing such an old cosmology with modern theories. If indeed that was the intent. That’s the beauty of non-narrative performances like this, it’s easy to write your own interpretations. All I can say is, this is what I got out of it.

Fortunately I didn’t trip and fall once on the way home. On the downside, neither did I meet my future husband.

The Way He Looks

The Way He Looks / Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho is sexy, sweet and, if you’ll pardon the pun, kind of an eye-opener. It’s basically an expansion of the award-winning 2010 short I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone / Eu Não Quero Voltar Sozinho—shown at the 2012 VQFF and available in full on YouTube—with the same actors, same core characters and a similar but more complex story.

The original plot was fairly straightforward: blind high school student Leo and his BFF Gia are both infatuated with handsome newcomer Gabriel, who becomes friends with both but ends up spending more time with Leo (to Gia’s chagrin). The two boys eventually discover their feelings for each other and the film ends with their kiss. The Way He Looks adds several characters—Leo’s overprotective parents, some school bullies, another girl with the hots for Gabriel—and a few extra layers to the story including, most importantly I think, a huge focus on Leo and his world as a blind teenager. This film is more than an adorable love story, it’s an excellent coming-of-age story as well.

I also appreciate how the film avoided some tired old coming-out clichés: for instance, Leo’s bullying classmates only went as far as asshole homophobic taunts and ableist pranks, never actual bashing. Not only has that been done to death, I don’t think it would have been appropriate in this kind of movie. The bullies did add a little bit of coming-out drama as Gabriel and Leo gradually became more than friends, but they—along with the overprotective parents—mostly helped to justify Leo’s need to spread his wings and test his independence: whether that’s in little ways like unlocking his front door himself or going for a long walk without telling anyone where he is, or in big ways like signing up for a foreign exchange program.

Leo and Gabriel have great chemistry and I loved them in everyone of their scenes together, but especially when one is teaching the other something. In particular Gabriel’s astronomy lesson, when he goes over what a lunar eclipse is all about but then has to explain terms like “illuminated” and “invisible”. He succeeds nicely, using rocks to show the relative positions of the Sun, Earth and Moon; as a bonus, it makes for a hilarious callback when Leo later mangles the eclipse metaphor with Gia.

I also want to compliment Ghilherme Lobo, the actor playing Leo. He doesn’t seem to be actually blind (or at least my Googling never mentioned it), but as far as I can tell he absolutely nailed it: never focusing on things with his eyes, even other people’s faces, which must have been a hard reflex to fight; using his hands or other senses to connect with the world; a very closed-off and defensive body language in unfamiliar or tense situations. Kudos for a fantastic performance.

One last point: the short’s title was I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone but Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho translates as “today I want to go back alone”. Interesting. I’m not sure, but it may be a reference to Leo’s growing independence.

The Way He Looks is a super-sweet love story that also made me think about the experience of people with disabilities. A win all around.

What I learned from playing Journey

Journey is a wonderful little PS3 game from thatgamecompany (the same people responsible for flOw and Flower). It’s got breathtaking visuals, immersive gameplay, and a unique story. Basically a platformer puzzle game, what really makes it come alive is the interaction with the world’s… inhabitants, and one’s interpretation of what the journey actually means. What’s at the end? Enlightenment? Apotheosis? Heaven? Hell? Personally, I think the end doesn’t matter. It’s the journey that matters, and it’s taught me some very important life lessons.

1) Go with the flow. This is common to all exploration games, that there’s always something to see, and if you think you’re stuck there’s always a way out. But here it was taken up to eleven. Heading for the nearest landmark (or the Mountain itself) was always the right answer—or, in a couple of scenes, following the cloth creatures. Bottom line: always head towards whatever looks interesting.

2) Be thankful. I have no idea how sapient the cloth creatures are supposed to be, but I like to think they helped me along purely out of affection and generosity. When I sang and the little ones swarmed in, giving me a boost, I always made sure to thank them. Because you never journey alone.

3) Have fun. A life-changing spiritual journey is no excuse to not cut loose and relax. Stop and smell the flowers. Or slide down massive sandy slopes with your newfound kite creature friends, jumping and floating and running through stony arches.

4) Don’t give up. Again, adventure / puzzle game. But not all such games have the character struggling up a gigantic mountain, freezing to death in a blizzard. I was so immersed in the game that it never occurred to me to go back down, and when he finally collapsed, I just sat there in shock until the Ancients came. Bottom line: push yourself to your limit, even if there are no benevolent astral beings waiting for you there.

VQFF Review: The Coast is Queer

I always look forward to The Coast is Queer, the VQFF’s showcase of local filmmakers. I was particularly impressed this year, though. I expected quality, but some of the offerings floored me.

I always look forward to The Coast is Queer, the VQFF’s showcase of local filmmakers. I was particularly impressed this year, though. I expected quality, but some of the offerings floored me.

Chainsaw Ballet

A funny and random little piece, with two girls in woodcutter plaid singing a pseudo-folk song while three husky bears dance with chainsaws.

Playing It Safe

This odd little short features a woman with a cardboard box around her head, meeting and falling for a woman who persuades her to take the box off. What’s interesting is that she was doodling on the SkyTrain, expressing herself artistically while still remaining anonymous. A metaphor for the internet, maybe? Cute and sweet, anyway.

Bill is a Photographer

I’ll be honest, this is not what I expected from Clark Nikolai. It’s much more serious and reflective, taking a step back to look at the craft of photography and filmmaking. It features a Vancouver photographer (Bill) who specialises in plant close-ups and studio photography. He talks about studying the lighting techniques used 70’s gay porn mags, and about creating his own porn featuring older bear guys. This film was tied to win The Coast is Queer Award.

The Bonus

In this fast-pace and hilarious piece by David C Jones, an employee in some nameless corporation accidentally locks himself out of the utility room where he was planning a date with his boyfriend. The other problem? He’s wearing assless chaps, and so has to dodge around his weekend-working boss, nabbing her set of keys and putting them back without being seen.

A Little Elbow Room

This is one thing I love about The Coast is Queer: how filmmakers turn their lens on the local community. Here we’re looking at The Elbow Room, run by the flamboyantly bitchy Patrick Savoie for decades. In between shots of Patrick abusing his customers (with love), he and his partner reminisce about the Elbow Room’s history, and their history together.


A creepy short film about a ghost haunting his widowed partner’s piano. I don’t know who’s in more pain here: the partner, still grieving; or the ghost trying vainly to play music.

Kimchi Fried Dumplings

A beautifully made and gripping slice-of-life family drama. There’s conflict, love, family responsibilities, hitting on hot firemen. Loads of characters but they’re all three-dimensional and given screen time to develop. Kudos to Jason Karman! This was my favourite short of the night.

Says Who?

An intriguing story of a young blind gay guy and and older straight guy awkwardly bonding. It turned out to be all in the mind of an artist who had seen them together on the bus and dreamed up the whole scenario.

Driving to You

A very short but shocking film of a homophobic mother and daughter getting in a car accident and the daughter being seriously injured, forcing her to reconcile with her daughter’s partner. Sort of.

Bill, Please!

How do you decide who pays the bill after a meal? Well, you could discuss it like grownups… or you could have an awesome martial arts fight with ninja and zombie minions! This film won Jessica Han the The Coast is Queer Award (tied with Clark Nikolai), the OUTtv Hot Pink Shorts Award, and the Gerry Brunet Memorial Award. Well done!

Tap Tap Tap

It’s still as fun the second time around!

VQFF Review: G.B.F.

G.B.F. is smart and hilarious fluff, gleefully playing with every gay and high school cliché out there, and then some. Three flavours of Alpha Bitch (four if you count Soledad)? All yours. Pop culture shoutouts left and right? You got it. Sexually repressed and/or closeted Mormons? That’s a check. It does get a little bit too earnest at times, when pleading for the end of labels and how we’re all human and blah blah blah; but aside from that the laughs never stop.

G.B.F. is smart and hilarious fluff, gleefully playing with every gay and high school cliché out there, and then some. Three flavours of Alpha Bitch (four if you count Soledad)? All yours. Pop culture shoutouts left and right? You got it. Sexually repressed and/or closeted Mormons? That’s a check. It does get a little bit too earnest at times, when pleading for the end of labels and how we’re all human and blah blah blah; but aside from that the laughs never stop.

Shy nerd Tanner is always first in line to get all the latest gadgets, but has no intention of being the first kid to come out at his high school. But then his rather more flamboyant friend Brent learns about the latest hot accessory: the Gay Best Friend, which no cool girl should be without! One thing leads to another, as they do in comedies like this, and Brent’s plan to leap out of the closet and be the most in-demand G.B.F. ever backfires spectacularly with Tanner getting outed to the whole school.

It’s rough at first being the only out gay kid in school: not only do jocks want to beat him up, but the Gay-Straight Alliance’s obnoxious president wants him to join her group and give her life meaning. But when the school’s three head girls start hanging out with him and protecting him from the jocks, Tanner realises it’s not so bad.

You know how the rest goes, right? Popularity—not to mention the promise of a hot British date for prom—starts getting to Tanner’s head and he forgets his old friends, Brent is bitter and lonely and forced to watch Brokeback Mountain with his aggressively gay-friendly mom (and may I say that Megan Mullally is as awesome as ever), the head bitches and their allies square off for a massive war centered on the prom, Brent plots to ruin Tanner’s evening by dumping glitter on him, Carrie-style, but of course he decides against it at the last second and the two reconcile.

I absolutely loved this film. It’s hilarious, excellently paced, nicely acted (again, props to Megan Mullally), and did I mention hilarious? Absolutely everything is played for laughs, even things that really shouldn’t be (high school closets, the need for GSAs) and you know what? That’s exactly what I needed. As much as I love the dramas and documentaries, this movie was a breath of fresh, sassy air.

VQFF Review: Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish

This film, inspired by Nobel Prize-winner Rabindranath Tagore’s 1892 play Chitrangada, is a quiet and moving meditation on gender, identity and transformation. The late Rituparno Ghosh directs and acts with an understated but confident intensity, creating an incredibly compelling tale.

This film, inspired by Nobel Prize-winner Rabindranath Tagore’s 1892 play Chitrangada, is a quiet and moving meditation on gender, identity and transformation. The late Rituparno Ghosh directs and acts with an understated but confident intensity, creating an incredibly compelling tale.

Director Rudra Chatterjee (played by Ghosh) is putting together a production of Chitrangada. In the play (itelf inspired from a tale in the Mahabharata), princess Chitrangada is the heir to the kingdom of Manipura, raised as a man and a warrior due to a prophecy that her father would only raise sons. She meets the great hero Arjuna and falls in love with him. But, feeling he could not love her as she is, she asks the God of Love to transform her into a beautiful feminine woman. He does so, and Arjuna falls in love with her. However, Chitrangada is unhappy since in this new form she is failing as her kingdom’s protector, and moreover she wishes Arjuna to know her real self. So she reveals the truth to Arjuna; he loves her even more as an equal, they marry and have a son who eventually reigns over Manipura.

Early in the production, Rudra falls for his troupe’s new drummer Partho, an unpredictable heroin addict who takes pleasure in taking Rudra’s ego down a peg. I cringed a lot during their early interactions, because Partho was kind of a jerkass and I couldn’t see why the sophisticated, dignified Rudra would have anything to do with him. True, he was trying (eventually, successfully) to get clean, but still.

Eventually, they talk about having children. Partho wants them, and Rudra wants to be with Partho, so he proposes becoming a woman. Same-sex couples can’t adopt in India, so this seems like the logical choice. Partho doesn’t think so, but Rudra is determined. He moves out of his parents’ place, to spare them the shame, and is fast-tracked through the gender reassignment process.

But things don’t go well. Rudra and Partho break up, and Rudra’s mood worsens. He starts suffering from insomnia, and due to the surgery has trouble practicing his old dance moves. It doesn’t escape his notice that his life is paralleling Chitrangada’s story, with the surgeon standing in for the God of Love, and Partho for Arjuna. And himself as the aristocratic warrior who chose to become someone else, out of love.

At the very last minute, with the help of his counselor, Rudra decides not to go through with the final surgery (genital reconstruction?) and asks the doctor to reverse the whole process. He would rather be a passionate, creative director and dancer, reconciled with his parents, than a beautiful woman with unknown gifts and without a family.

The story was told in a somewhat non-linear format, with generous use of flashbacks to switch between the present time (Rudra alone in the hospital) and the past (Rudra with Partho) not to mention short snippets of the Chitrangada play-within-a-movie. I admit, it made some parts of the story a little hard to follow—especially the scenes with the mysterious photographer posing as a hospital counselor. He was the one who made Rudra reconsider his choices, but I don’t remember when and how they first met. I’m sure a lot of the symbolism—the house on the beach, for one—went over my head, and that’s not even counting any additional references to Chitrangada which I only know from its Wikipedia entry. This is a movie with layers, and I’ll want to watch it again for a fuller understanding.

If I were to pick a message for this movie, what would it be? What I’m getting is that changing yourself (in whatever capacity, up to and including surgery) can be a great thing, but it has to be for the right reasons, and you must remain true to your dreams and your passions. In the end, maybe the best thing you can wish for is to be yourself, to be the best self you can be, and that is the only way to happiness. Trite and clichéd? Maybe, but it works for me. And it’s something I need to be reminded of every once in a while, though my dreams of transformation involve superhero tights rather than princess dresses.

VQFF Review: Lot in Sodom & Vintage Queer Porn

Now this was a rare treat! The Queer Film Festival somehow got their hands on a few vintage silent porn shorts from the 20’s and 30’s, providing a fascinating look at what people found arousing and / or funny back in the day! Add to that some excellent live musical accompaniment by contemporary ensemble Diving for Rocks, and I enjoyed a fantastic evening that tickled my funny bone, perked up my inner history nerd, and… honestly, didn’t really get me hot. But that’s okay. Well done, and I hope there’s more where that came from!

Now this was a rare treat! The Queer Film Festival somehow got their hands on a few vintage silent porn shorts from the 20’s and 30’s, providing a fascinating look at what people found arousing and / or funny back in the day! Add to that some excellent live musical accompaniment by contemporary ensemble Diving for Rocks, and I enjoyed a fantastic evening that tickled my funny bone, perked up my inner history nerd, and… honestly, didn’t really get me hot, but that’s okay. Well done, and I hope there’s more where that came from!

What’s the World Coming To?

We start off with a 1926 farce about changing gender roles. Not pornographic at all, but it does provide some delightfully old-fashioned laughs.

In the next 100 years, the opening reel tells us—so, pretty much now—men will become a lot more like women, women a lot more like men, and marriage will be a quaint old custom observed by very few. Naturally, we start of with a 21st century wedding! The blushing groom looks mincing but radiant in his frilly suit and ridiculous giant hat, ready to be given away by his weeping father. The bride is dressed very plainly, with short hair and minimal makeup, and a rather severe suit and skirt. There’s a bit of slapstick when the bride loses the wedding ring in the groom’s giant poofy sleeves, and while looking for it rips off almost half his suit.

More slapstick follows when, after the honeymoon, the poor househusband suspects his domineering (of course) wife of cheating on him. Chasing a mouse that ran up his trousers, fun with guns (a very long gun wielded by the wife, and don’t think I didn’t pick up on that visual!) and to cap it all off, the groom getting a blueberry pie dropped from a passing blimp right in the face. Because whatever century this is you’ll always have pies in the face, and everyone knows blimps are the only way to travel in the future.

I have to admit, I’m a sucker for retro future history, whether from Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Fritz Lang, or whoever made this little gem. Sure, the issues are played for cheap laughs, but it’s the context that makes it interesting: the movie dates from the height of the Roaring Twenties, a time when society was rapidly changing and a lot of traditions (including about gender roles and marriage) really were being threatened. Whether or not the public really believed men’s and women’s roles would be inverted in generations to come, it was part of the zeitgeist, enough that you could make a whole short reel laughing about it.

Exclusive Sailor

A captain’s secretary and a sailor have a little fun in the captain’s cabin in this 1924 film. They’re discovered by the captain, who joins in. The secretary gets fucked by both men, and the sailor sucks the captain and gets fucked by him. This was all very explicit, with nothing left to the imagination. I’d seen a few gay shorts from around that era (or a little more recent) and there was never any explicit sex or even full frontal nudity. But here? Everybody was letting it all hang out.

PS: Except, not quite. I don’t know what I should read into this, but the men all kept their shirts on. Why? Were male chests more risque than female ones? Did they want the viewers to focus on the women (which raises the question of who was this film’s audience)? Or maybe they wanted to keep the visual cues for the men’s roles (in this case, their uniforms)? Intriguing questions.

PPS: Because speaking of roles, the sex was not equal. Sure, as the title cards explain, the sailor got fucked as revenge and to restore honour, because he was messing around in his captain’s bed. But due to the participants’ relative statuses, the fucking couldn’t have gone any other way. As the ranking officer, the captain was the alpha male and it was his prerogative to fuck all the holes available. The sailor got to fuck the secretary but he couldn’t have turned around and fucked his captain.

Buried Treasure

In this 1925 animated film, we follow the misadventures of Eveready Harton, a guy with a humorously gigantic dick. As you’d expect, the animation quality’s not that great, but it’s a lot of silly fun. Not really queer, though, except for the part where Eveready accidentally butt-fucks a guy while aiming for the lady this guy was fucking.

A Late Visitor

This is the kind of physique short which I’ve seen before, with no sex and no full frontal nudity; the actors wear those little flesh-coloured banana hammock contraptions to just hide the genitals.

A young man living by himself in an apartment makes a late-night date with a friend. No, don’t worry, they’re just friends, and it’s totally not that kind of date! They’re just stripping down for a bit of wrestling, weight lifting and taking a bath together. See? Totally innocent! And it stayed totally innocent when the landlord came in (to see what all the noise was about, I guess), found the visitor hiding under the bed and spanked both men with a hairbrush.

The film quality was very good, which suggests it’s more recent, and raises the question: why is it less explicit than other films a decade older? But they may have been meant for different audiences. Late Visitor and movies like it might have been intended for more public venues, and therefore more vulnerable to censorship.

Context is everything, isn’t it? Who was watching these shows, and where, and when? That’s what I’d love to know more about.

PS: about the landlord. I have the feeling his appearance (dark hair, goatee) is supposed to represent a particular ethnicity (Jewish or Eastern European, maybe?). I wonder how many other jokes and shoutouts are going over my head.

Le ménage moderne du Madame Butterfly

Check it out, we’ve got bisexual porn fanfic! Yes, before Harry/Ron, before Kirk/Spock, it looks like porn writers used opera as their source material. But hey, why not? Inspiration’s where you find it, after all. And now I’m imagining whole fields of research studying porn spinoffs of popular culture. Or is that already a thing? It totally should be.

So, Madame Butterfly. If you’re familiar with the opera (or if you’re like me and had to look the plot up on Wikipedia), you know that it starts with Pinkerton, a US naval officer, marrying a young Japanese girl (Butterfly), then going away for three years. What happened in those three years? Well, if you believe this 1920 French film, Butterfly missed her husband terribly, but was comforted by her maid. And by “comfort” I mean “cunnilingus”. Fun fact: at first I thought Butterfly was played by a guy in drag, which would make the scene not just queer, but genderqueer. Then she opened her robe and I was like NOPE, that’s a lady!

Pinkerton, while at sea, gets seduced by his manservant, who’d wanted him for a long time. There’s a bit of sucking and fucking, all one-way (Pinkerton, as the higher-status male, only gets sucked and does all the fucking).

They go back to Japan, and Pinkerton has a threesome with the two Japanese girls, with his manservant watching and jerking off. This may be one of the oldest money shots in the history of cinema.

PS: The men still don’t take their shirts off.

PPS: This film has a page on Wikipedia, which describes a longer story with one more character. So the version we watched was incomplete?

Lot in Sodom

Oh boy, this is a weird one! I’d probably need to watch it a couple more times to really unpack it, but here goes:

Briefly, this 1933 film is a retelling of the story of Lot in Sodom: meeting the angel—just one in this film—confronting the mob, escaping, and Sodom’s destruction. The people of Sodom are all beautiful smooth shirtless young men, who spend much of their time wrestling with each other and lounging around, while Lot looks like a stereotypical Jew, with a large nose, dark hair and a beard (extremely fake hair and beard, by the way, it looked more like cheap wool). The angel is equally beautiful, but tends to cover up with a black cloak. This didn’t stop him from being lusted after by the scary, predatory-looking Sodomites.

The mob scene was interesting; since I guess they couldn’t afford that many actors, so they used double and triple exposures to simulate a crowd. It looked very surreal. Man, people back in the day really had to work to suspend their disbelief, didn’t they? But that’s probably not fair, I bet this technique was pretty experimental back then. A similar effect was used to show Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt: in addition to the expected fade-in, we saw a several small transparent salt pillars swirling around her, foreshadowing the transformation.

Also, it’s possible I missed some of the intertitles, but I don’t remember Lot offering his daughter (again, just one in this film) to the mob.

Speaking of effects, though, Sodom’s destruction was pretty neat. It was clearly only a model, but a decent-looking one; something passed by at the very top of the screen (it kind of looked like a sword, and if that was the intent, kudos), dripping sparks and burning oil, reducing the model to cinders in moments.

There’s more to this film, though. Interspersed through the action near the end were several odd Bible verses, plus some imagery that had nothing to do with the story of Sodom. For instance, quoting from Solomon’s Song of Songs (“Place me like a seal over your heart”, Song of Songs 8:6, and a few other verses from the same book), plus one Latin line: “Mulier templum est” (“Woman is a temple”, thank you high school Latin classes), paired with an image of a small marble shrine, disturbingly superimposed on an image of a snake. So, a snake entering the temple that is a woman? Do I want to touch this metaphor with a ten-foot pole?

So here’s the question: what was this movie’s purpose? The only one I can think of is as a Bible-based lecture on the evils of homosexuality, paired with a lesson on how the love of a woman is so much more awesome than gay sex. But honestly, I have no idea. For all I know it might have been a huge satire of Biblical fundamentalism. Or, this imagery might have just been a normal part of everyday background homophobia. I need to judge the movie as a product of its time.

PS: this film is in the public domain, and available as a torrent That version has a musical score and a bit of voice synching!

Northern Voice 2013, epilogue: You Are Very Star

Friday June 14th was the premiere of the experimental play You Are Very Star. It took place at the HR MacMillan Space Centre, and they offered Northern Voice Attendees half off on their tickets. Deal!

It’s an odd mindfuck of a play, with themes of change and progress, religion, faith and the desire for transcendance. It wasn’t perfect (the interactive elements needed some work) but made for an enjoyable and mind-expanding evening.

Friday June 14th was the premiere of the experimental play You Are Very Star, created by Kevin Kerr and Craig Erickson, and directed by David Hudgins. It took place at the HR MacMillan Space Centre, and they offered Northern Voice Attendees half off on their tickets. Deal!

It’s an odd mindfuck of a play, with themes of change, progress, faith and transcendance. It wasn’t perfect (the interactive elements needed some work) but made for an enjoyable and mind-expanding evening. This review is going to be a little incomplete because it’s been two weeks and I can’t find the program anymore, so I can’t actually name the characters. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some other details.

The play is divided in 3 loosely connected acts, taking place in 1968, 2013 and 2048.

The first act, “Orbiting the Cusp of Greatness,” begins/ends in the Space Centre (yes, where we physically are) on December 21st, 1968, the night Apollo 8 went up. It was a time of turmoil and change, a time when people questioned everything. It follows backwards (interesting choice there!) a UBC Literature professor as he loses his mind, reinvents himself as a cult leader and attempts to achieve apotheosis with his small group of ex-student followers. And fails, because an ex-colleague pulls the plug on the TV so they miss the Apollo launch.

The second act does not take place on stage with actors; the audience are the actors. To prime us for the future and transcendence, we have to go through ten stations scattered around the Space Centre and participate in specific activities. One of the stations is a laptop running a Skype conversation with a sweet older lady. You sit down in front of it, tell her your age, and she gives you a brief story about what her life was like at that age. It invited us to look back and look forward: what kind of changes will we see when we’re her age?

Unfortunately, with a couple of exceptions this second act didn’t work so well. There were just too many people and even though everybody got a map with a different order for the stations, in practice there were usually long lines at every one. Too bad: it was a bold experiment in immersive theatre.

In the third act, “Transcendance,” a small group of Augmented humans—mentally connected through an advanced network, able to multitask like you wouldn’t believe and interface directly with technology—are anxiously waiting for “Neil”, their creator (played by Michael Rinaldi, who played the cult leader professor in the first act) to wake up and take them all to the next level, a perfect transcendental machine state that will usher in a brand new age for them. Too bad for the rest of the Earth, which is suffering from terrible climate change and widespread extinction. The story is partly narrated through one Augment, a young woman who’s decided to dictate a journal the old-fashioned way, with words one after the other.

Things heat up when Neil’s ex-lover (a baseline human) decides to visit him after many, many years. Wacky intercultural hijinks ensue with the young woman narrator—though they both speak in English words, they live in totally different worlds and can’t really relate to each other. She meets Neil, speaks to him briefly, and leaves. He wakes up, and in doing so disconnects himself from the worldwide Augment network, crashing it and bringing all his creatures down to normal.

The action eventually moves to the Space Centre again where… things happen. Sorry, I can’t be any more specific than that. My memories are a too hazy, and I don’t think I could do the scenes justice. Suffice to say, I think the Augments achieve transcendance, though not quite in the way they expect. And the audience gets to leave with their minds nicely scrambled.

So… my first thought was, this is the first time I’ve ever seen the Singularity and transhumanism explored on the stage! These are big sci-fi topics about the future of humankind and what it means to be human, and boy was it a trip!

The neatest twist about these Augments is that they’re not really that evolved. They’re mostly portrayed as scattered time-wasters, using their vast fractured minds to play games and live in mental simulations. For all their powers, they’re still immature and weird and creepy and idolise their creator, desiring transcendance though they don’t even understand what it means. They’re still human, and I don’t know if that’s depressing or hilarious. I guess it all depends on how you look at it. The Augments’ lives are determined by their choices, as ours are, after all.

The choice to have the 1968 segment unroll backwards is an intriguing one. Here’s how I read it: the past and future are symmetrical, both centered on the present, which just moves forward moment by moment. It’s in the present that we remember the past and create the future. And it’s up to us to be present, to learn the right lessons and create the right things.

Lastly, it’s a given that transcendental events are by definition impossible to explain or even show. I’ve complained about that before but this time it didn’t feel like a copout. I feel like I’ve been touched by something weird and wonderful. Kudos to The Electric Company for putting together a unique and brilliant experience!

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

There I was in Chapters the other day, not looking for any particular book, and ended up walking out with: volume 2 of The Unwritten, Alison Bechdel’s latest graphic novel Are You My Mother, and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I’d never read any of his books before, though I’ve been a huge fan of Vlogbrothers and Crash Course for months.

There I was in Chapters the other day, not looking for any particular book, and ended up walking out with volume 2 of The Unwritten, Alison Bechdel’s latest graphic novel Are You My Mother?, and John Green‘s The Fault in Our Stars. I’d never read any of his books before, though I’ve been a huge fan of Vlogbrothers and Crash Course for months.

And I told myself I couldn’t start on any of these until I finished Contes du lundi (currently reading) and Faitheist (next on my list). But of course I couldn’t resist. I went through my new acquisitions right away, saving TFiOS for last.

At first it wasn’t the magnificent opus I was expecting. Engaging, moving, brutally honest? Definitely. Hilarious and nerdy? No doubt. Smart and thought-provoking while still totally unpretentious? Oh yeah. Through all of it, I could hear John Green’s voice in the narration. Hard not to, really, I’ve been listening to that voice on my computer for the better part of a year—silly and bouncy when he talks about the Dead Baby Orphanage or whatever, low and quiet and thoughtful during his Thoughts From Places. Every side of him is in Stars, and they manage to mesh together perfectly.

But still, except for a few passages, the first ten chapters didn’t really touch me. That all changed when Gus and Hazel arrived in Amsterdam. I don’t know if John (is it okay if I call him John?) wrote the Amsterdam parts in Amsterdam and the Indianapolis parts in Indianapolis, and if that explains why the Amsterdam parts felt more alive and magical; and now I’m thinking that was deliberate, that that whole trip was magical because it was a granted wish in a world that is not a wish-granting factory. And now I’m thinking maybe I’m overanalysing this. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Regardless, I started to perk up here:

“Are these houses very old?” asked my mom.
“Many of the canal houses date from the Golden Age, the seventeenth century,” he said. “Our city has a rich history, even though many tourists are only wanting to see the Red Light District.” He paused. “Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”

I don’t know why that last sentence intrigued me so much. It kind of sounded like something John might say, except he’s never talked about sin in his videos…

But I kind of lost it a few pages later:

There were elm trees everywhere along the canals, and these seeds were blowing out of them. But they didn’t look like seeds. They looked for all the world like miniaturized rose petals drained of their color. These pale petals were gathering in the wind like flocking birds—thousands of them, like a spring snowstorm.
The old man who’d given up his seat saw us noticing and said, in English, “Amsterdam’s spring snow. The iepen throw confetti to greet the spring.”

I don’t know what elm tree seeds look like, so in my mind all I saw were Vancouver’s cherry blossoms, all shades of pink, brightening up the city just a couple weeks ago. A symbol of renewal and hope but also of the impermanence of all things and if that’s not the perfect accompaniment for two dying teenagers on the trip of a lifetime, I don’t know what is. In my head I was with Hazel and Gus, looking up at the elm tree snow, and I felt so sad for them but also happy because they were having an amazing time and now I wish so badly to visit Amsterdam myself, and I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry so I settled for both.

Talk of champagne as bottled stars (‘Come quickly, I am tasting the stars.’; “We have bottled all the stars this evening, my young friends.”) made me think of Esther Earl, and I know Hazel is not Esther, but how can you not make the connection?

I’m not a fan of champagne and it never tasted like stars to me, but it’s such a beautiful image that next time I drink champagne I’ll think of stars—and, for what it’s worth, I’ll make a wish.