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2 Frogs in the West

 

Don’t let the wink-and-nod Queerceañera theme mislead you. Except for a scheduled Xanadu Xtravaganza at Discovery Green, Houston’s GLBTQ International Film Festival stages a serious comeback with the strongest slate of films in years
by Steven Foster

The old joke goes that Hollywood is run by two groups—Jews and gays. If still true, the theaters they rule over are about as dark as their closets when it comes to illuminating gay films. Proportionally speaking, there should be at least three gay flicks playing at every omnimegaplex. (As this issue goes to press, there is exactly one, the wonderful Beginners. Two, if you count the coded acceptance message in X-Men First Class.) So thank your homo stars for QFest, Houston’s queer cinema festival, celebrating its 15th year this month.

“Our festival is unique for several reasons,” explains curator Kristian Salinas. “We have a number of archival prints. A lot of festivals don’t necessarily have access to those prints. They can’t get that kind of material for a festival. But because we’re spread out through various art organizations [such as] the Museum of Fine Arts and the Rice Media Center, they help us present that kind of work. Including the archive films and classics, it allows us to draw that parallel to filmmakers and films today and to those films that inspired them.”

As such, a Kenneth Anger retrospective slides up nicely beside a screening of Todd Haynes’s groundbreaking trilogy Poison. But QFest is just as unique for who’s behind the festival as who’s up on the screens.

“It was founded by four straight women and a lesbian,” Salinas smiles.

Those five women, who will all be honored at the closing night’s screening, would be proud of the roster Salinas has lined up this year. For the last two, “QFest hasn’t acted like a complete festival,” admits Salinas. But this year, for the 15th anniversary, the fest has come roaring back, incorporating edgy independent dramas like the gritty Gun Hill Road, impressive documentaries (Crayton Robey’s Making the Boys, a fascinating profile on the seminal play and film The Boys in the Band), crowd pleasers like the Mindy Cohn fag-hag comedy Violet Tendencies, and a two-film tribute to the recently passed screen siren and AIDS activist Elizabeth Taylor. Then there is, of course, the much buzzed-about Xanadu open-air screening at Houston’s emerald oasis, Discovery Green.

“I should mention that roller skates are strongly encouraged,” Salinas adds.

OutSmart highlights a few of the festival’s higher-profile pics (See schedule below. For a full schedule, log on to q-fest.org.):

Gun Hill Road

QFest opens strong with this forceful tale of a recently paroled father struggling to deal with life outside prison walls and, with more difficulty, his transitioning son. The script’s intelligent, nuanced economy allows the actors to give the film layered, subtle, and powerful performances. Eighties heartthrob Esai Morales nails the machismo and heartbreak of a man who finds, after three years in the slammer, that his family is now filled with strangers—his wife has been carrying on an affair with a kindly mechanic and his son is well on his way to becoming his daughter. Playing the neglected wife, Judy Reyes is all coiled fury and ferocious mama lion to her pained cub. And as the transsexual son, newcomer Harmony Santana eerily channels and bears striking resemblance to The Crying Game’s Jaye Davidson, in a performance that’s almost as impressive. Gun Hill Road hits the fest fresh from sold-out Sundance debut where it received a standing ovation, as well as a handsome seven-figure distribution deal.

2 Frogs in the West
(2 Frogs dans l’Ouest)
2 Frogs is a charming and beautifully filmed “finding yourself” movie with winning performances by a fresh-faced group of twentysomethings. Marie, stifled by her parents, drifts to the popular ski resort of Whistler and falls in with a group of ski bums who crash together and into each other, on the slopes and off. Among this nubile group of searchers is an ex-championship skier, his gay roommate who once helped him tip the Kinsey scale, and a bisexual, bi-polar vixen who similarly aids Marie in exploring less snow-covered peaks. Most of the cast looks like they walked right out of a winter Quicksilver catalog spread, but thankfully the team has actual acting chops, as opposed to being mere motion-picture mannequins. Their sincerity, and a subtle script, assured direction, and glistening Canadian locations make this a surprisingly affecting, lovely little film about self-exploration.

August

 

August
Brooding and beautiful Troy moves back to Los Angeles during a sweltering heat wave. But even if the city were in the middle of a cold snap, he’d cause the mercury to surge to scorching temps. Once in L.A., he seeks to reconnect with his ex, Jonathan, who’s now (happily?) attached to hunky Raoul. Soon Troy and Jonathan are sweating in the sheets together, practically telegraphing their lust to the possibly aroused Raoul. While the film is sometimes slow to the point of tedium, August’s rock-solid cast delivers the goods, much more so than just your standard-issue meat puppets who usually populate awful gay independents featuring buff beefcake. (Yes, abysmal Eating Out series, we’re talking to you.) Breath-snatchingly handsome lead Murray Bartlett has played gay before as Carrie Bradshaw’s rival to Stanford’s affection in Sex and the City, and more recently opposite Hugh Jackman in The Boy from Oz. But here, his devastating good looks take on a dangerous, moody edge.

Making the Boys
There are always a plethora of gay documentaries that fill the bill in any LGBT film fest. What sets Making the Boys apart is how director Crayton Robey uses the seminal—and oft-derided, definitely dated—gay play The Boys in the Band as a time marker for gay invisibility, activism, liberation, and decimation from AIDS. The film nimbly makes a very savvy statement about how the younger generation continues to gorge themselves at the banquet of contemporary freedoms while virtually stiffing the gays who served it up to them on a silver platter. The doc also provides a riveting look at how the Hollywood machine (and America, for that matter) awkwardly dealt with any gay subject matter. While squarely centered around Boys playwright Mart Crowley, we get a virtual who’s who of entertainment power players sharing their take on that era and how Boys impacted them, either as participant or viewer. While the ghost of Crowley confidante Natalie Wood elegantly haunts the film, we see real flesh-and-blood pundits such as Billy Friedkin, Dominick Dunne, Tony Kushner, Dan Savage, Paul Rudnick, Robert Wagner, and Cheyenne Jackson—and, of course, Edward Albee coming across like a real asshole, as usual.

We Were Here

Yet another AIDS doc. Sad we still need ’em.

Kink Crusaders
Everything you wanted to know about the leather community but were afraid to ask. Did you know that when the first black International Mr. Leather was crowned, many predicted the end of IML? Were you aware that a cadre of leather queens was also none too happy about a contestant who was wheelchair-bound? Or that one of the IML winners was a straight man? All true. With enough fun facts and leather-wrapped eye candy for fetishists and curiosity seekers alike, Kink Crusaders is a racy and often interesting S&M addition to this year’s diverse lineup of flicks.

National Velvet

Taylor Made
QFest’s tribute (a term we’re going to use loosely here) to Elizabeth Taylor may be one of the true genius strokes of the whole damn lineup, simply by virtue of the films selected to represent old Violet Eyes. To see just how the mighty can fall, start with the classic equestrian love story National Velvet. Then take a break and have several cocktails. May we suggest the absolutely disgusting-sounding Blue Velvet Martini, the signature cocktail that the L.A. gay bar (and frequent Taylor hangout) The Abbey concocted to honor her? (It’s made with Blue Angel vodka and blueberry schnapps. Heinous.) Now that you’re sufficiently smashed and nauseous, go catch Liz, much older, heavier, and hammier, in Boom! (We did not add the exclamation point! Seriously! That’s what this movie’s called! Presumably because Bomb! was taken!) Boom! is a self-indulgent fever-dream mess based on Tennessee Williams’s play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. Set in the splendid confines of a Greek cliff-hugging manse, Liz is some woman who is dying from some disease, but she’s loaded—both the bank kind and the blasted kind. Richard Burton is either some stud or an angel-stud who’s there to screw her, save her, or soak her—who knows? The film has some classic groaners. Our favorite? Taylor, in southern drawl, with giant white sunglasses and a matching white cigarette holder clenched in her teeth, proclaims to one of her minions: “I need myshelf a luhvurr.” And definitely less trips to the craft services trailer.

Xanadu

 

Xanadu
Okay, let’s get the plot of the movie out of the way right now: Xanadu is about a graphic artist and an old geezer who, thanks to the inspiration of a muse who’s the real-life daughter of Zeus, fulfill their dream of—wait for it—opening a roller disco! (Still not sure what a muse is? Don’t worry, look it up in the dictionary like the characters in the movie have to do.) You see the level of intelligence here, don’t you? Like we care. Come Saturday night, we won’t know where to focus our attention—on the beloved neon-trimmed train wreck on the screen, or on the wheelie-go crowd filling Discovery Green with kitschy ’80s energy. The event is free, but Xanadu’s ending number that manages to cram zoot-suited Hispanics, Flock of Seagull hitchhikers, sultan pants, shoulder pads, parasol-wielding tight-rope walkers, handclapping roller skaters complete with whooshing sound effects, and an impossibly hot Olivia Newton-John, all kicking and dancing in what may be the worst choreography ever committed to film…well, that is priceless.

Steven Foster is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.
__________________________

Queerceañera
Houston’s 15th Anniversary GLBTQ International Film Festival

• For a full schedule, log on to q-fest.org

Thursday, July 28
Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH)
Opening Night
• 7 p.m. Gun Hill Road (2011)
Preceded by a tribute to John Kellett and The John Steven Kellett Foundation.

Friday, July 29
MFAH
• 7 p.m. 2 Frogs in the West (2 Frogs dans l’Ouest)(2010)
See description in above article.
• 9 p.m. Outfest at QFest: Girl Shorts
A compilation of the best Girl Shorts featured at Outfest Los Angeles.
Rice Media Center
• 7 p.m. We Were Here (2011)
Centered on the AIDS crisis as it erupted in San Francisco, this doc includes interviews with men and women involved in helping to stymie the epidemic and bring a sense of dignity back to those living with the disease.
• 9 p.m. August (2011)
See description in above article.
• 11 p.m. Kink Crusaders (2010)
See description in above article.

Saturday, July 30
MFAH
• 3 p.m. Making the Boys (2009)
See description in above article.
• 5 p.m. Outfest at QFest: Boy Shorts
A compilation of the best Boy Shorts featured at Outfest Los Angeles. Discovery Green
• 8:20 p.m. Xanadu (1980)
See description in above article.

Sunday, July 31
MFAH
Taylor Made: Tribute to Elizabeth Taylor
• 1 p.m. National Velvet (1944)
Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Angela Lansbury
Elizabeth Taylor’s star-making debut as a young lass whose determination to win over a wild stallion gives her a winning shot at winning England’s prestigious Grand National Sweepstakes.
From the Archive
• 3:30 p.m. Four by Anger
Directed by Kenneth Anger
Including:
Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965)
Rabbit’s Moon (1950)
Fireworks (1947)
Scorpio Rising (1964)

20th Anniversary Presentation
• 5 p.m. Poison (1991)
Director: Todd Haynes
Starring: Edith Meeks, Larry Maxwell, James Lyons
Oscar-winner Haynes’s feature debut is a triptych combining drive-in sci-fi horror, a disturbing family documentary, and a seedy prison melodrama to create a provocative take on gay identity, gay politics, and gay sexuality.
Taylor Made: Tribute to Elizabeth Taylor
• 7 p.m. Boom! (1968)
See description in above article.

Monday, August 1
Rice Media Center
Closing Night
• 7 p.m. Violet Tendencies (2010)
Director: Casper Andreas
Starring: Mindy Cohen, Marcus Patrick, Jesse Archer
An aging fag hag and her gay posse take a rambunctious romp looking for love in all the wrong places!
Preceded by a tribute to the founding ladies of QFest, honoring Sarah Gish (formerly of Landmark Theatres), Marian Luntz (MFAH), Loris Bradley (formerly of DiverseWorks), Mary Lampe (SWAMP), and Rachel Boyle (Rice Media Center).

For a full schedule, log on to q-fest.org.

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Ste7en Foster

Steven Foster is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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