AUSTIN BUNN IS NEAR
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Lavender Hill
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on lavender

From Jim Brosseau, former editor in chief of Canada’s Outlooks magazine (and musical writer!), on Lavender Hill:

“Gracefully edited and a big story of a time told in one manageable (and fascinating) slice.”

Lavender Hill @ Provincetown

One of the best parts of festival going is not just meeting the filmmakers, but the critics — at one point, I thought I’d grow up and become a “professional” film reviewer, and so I feel a sense of allegiance and maybe even, I gotta say, jealousy. I mean, they have free tickets to everything. (Except now I realize, so do the filmmakers! Just space available…)

Up in Provincetown, Bob and I made fast friends with Jason Roush, a cultural studies professor and poet who writes Pop Sublime from Boston. He’d been coming to Provincetown for years for the festival — even knew ghost stories about the b&bs — and wrote a thorough, thoughtful summation of what he enjoyed at the festival, including some words about Lavender Hill.

Finally, I want to comment briefly about one short film that I saw at the festival, a documentary by Austin Bunn and Robert Hazen titled Lavender Hill. I’ve taught a college course on queer history and identity for the past 13 years now, and this film provides a wonderful missing link in the evolutionary chain towards LGBTQ liberation. Lavender Hill, located in the Finger Lakes region near Ithaca, New York, was founded in the early 1970s as an 80-acre commune for gay men and lesbians, among the very first of its kind. The film features thoughtful retrospective interviews with the core group of its living members, as well as hosting a reunion dinner for the commune’s original group 40 years later. They reminisce about the magic of free love in that bygone era, which helped lead to the benefit of living the much more open lives that many LGBTQ individuals enjoy today. The film’s vintage footage and overall vibe reminded me in some ways of the Radical Faeries gatherings that I’ve attended in Vermont for several years now, though the people in the film seemed closer back then, if only because their survival required it.

Race Point

Am up in Provincetown, at the Film Festival here with “Lavender Hill” — I feel very lucky to be here. After a hard day at the beach and biking through sand dunes, Bob and I just got back from seeing THE ONE I LOVE, which was terrific. The kind of film you just love while you’re watching it, and get excited to tell other people about. A premise-driven relationship story. So well acted and shot, and radiating good will. And now out to see THE NAKED LUNCH!

on Looking

When I was in eighth grade, I played basketball. Or rather, I watched others play basketball while I sat on the bench and prayed for armpit hair. Unlike Colin, my twin bother, I have no real knack for it. But I showed for practice, got played in the final quarter when nothing mattered, passed the ball as much as possible (and never quite understood the rules on traveling). What I remember most was the coach, hunting around for something kind to say — told me I was “coachable”.

I feel the same way about HBO’s show “Looking” — there are a lot of things I like about the show: the diversity of the casting and culture it’s exploring. The fact that the three friends are not all the same age and class. The way in which it’s exploring SF gay culture now, almost journalistically. I’m rooting for this show, in a way I never do (okay maybe Sleepy Hollow for like three episodes…) Jonathan Groff I think is a terrific actor (I suggested him to John for Lucien Carr!) and Andrew Haigh (the director of the episodes and executive producer) made Weekend, which brilliant, and Reed Morano, the cinematographer, shot Kill Your Darlings. These are more than enough reasons to watch it. It feels, just based on the pilot, coachable.

Admittedly, like most gay people, I’m expecting a lot. It’s exactly the show I want to watch on cable — where the terrain that’s excised from the networks can become the focus. I want the show to be honest, edgy, personal, vanguard, and yet also somehow mine. I think back to “Queer As Folk”, the British version, and it felt that way to me. (The American one, by contrast, was a total anomaly and not very good.) It is a great example to me of a “promising television show, and like most folks involved in dramatic writing, I’m looking at television more than ever.

What’s key for me is that I don’t understand how these three guys know each other or like each other; we’re told they’re best friends, but there’s not much evidence about why or how they came to be that way except for a shared joint. One of my favorite aspects is the fact that the lead character (videogame designer, late 20s) has a best friend who is in his late 30s (waiter, 39). At the same time, one of the main aspects of gay culture, as far as I’ve seen it, is a real segregation by age and ethnicity and not in a good way. Am I wrong to think someone, somewhere, asked Michael Lannan (the creator) to expand the social group to appeal more broadly? (I think of Sex and the City here).

Then, some of the specific details were just head-scratching: Groff’s character is looking for love…on OKCupid? Wha? Were they not able to clearances for a dating site gay men actually USE?

Groff hooks up with a “gym-teacher hairy” guy (insert unspoken ick) in the park with cold hands…and then goes out on a date with an older doctor who rejects him…and then gets cruised by a charming Latino bouncer guy (with sports cap) on the MUNI and shows up at his club…and then meets his ex who is looks like none of them and is getting married…and I wonder just who the hell he’s looking for exactly. These guys are all over the map — and I feel like he’s indistinct in terms of what he’s looking for, and he seems looking for a partner almost exclusively. In SF, it’s a marketplace of desire. In my experience, you can’t live there and be innocent about what you’re looking for for long.

And maybe that’s what I missed most in this pilot: a sense of origins and stakes. The show was so determined to drop us in media res into their lives that I just didn’t feel like I grasped who they were or where they were coming from or what bonded them. Or why, frankly, their lives mattered beyond the anecdotal. It’s the part of me that wants the show to have some politics or at least point beyond the pure “search for love”. The older actor’s desire for a career, for some energy for me — we can all relate to that transition. I just wanted the intensity of that choice to be more in scene: we’re left with a phone call at the end that seems like him reaching out for an opportunity. My instincts would have been to start with him trying out the job and…and failing. That would have linked me to him more.

I’m going to keep watching. I want this show to amaze me and grab me by the lapels and adore it and then make me breakfast. I have high standards, I know. I know.