Where we’re at with queer TV

Beware: This blog does contain spoilers.

The representation of gay, lesbian and queer stories on television has evolved quite a bit in the last few years – thank goodness. It still has a fair way to go, according to many, but I thought I’d take a look at some of the queer shows and characters we’re watching these days. And they’re not all about pretty young people; the stories are much more diverse.

Thanks to the wonders of streaming TV, we’re getting to see some pretty good – and diverse – queer content. Netflix has the following:

Grace and Frankie: Jane Fonda (Grace) and Lily Tomlin (Frankie)play sixty-ish women whose husbands Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterson) have divorced them to marry each other after 20 years of an undercover affair. It’s a sitcom, of course, with Fonda playing an uptight ex-businesswoman and Tomlin playing a flaky hippy, but it deals with the issues that coming out later in life raise, for the wives, the husbands, and their children. It’s easy to watch, and like, but tells a story not often seen on TV.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Another sitcom, one that centres around Kimmy (Ellie Kemper), a girl rescued from an underground shelter where she’d been imprisoned by a doomsday cult leader for 15 years, and her efforts to come to terms with a very different world. She ends up sharing a New York flat with the ambitious but out-of-work actor Titus (Tituss Burgess), who is gay and black. It’s camp and silly and can be a little forced, but there’s enough sly humour to make it work. And Titus, while being an exaggerated stereotype, pokes fun and holes in the stereotype.

Orange is the New Black: This series, set, if you didn’t know, in a female prison, is four seasons in, and is not only full of strong performances and storylines, but, perhaps not surprisingly, features a whole range of queer characters, from trans-women to femme lesbians, butch lesbians, sometime-lesbians and every number on the Kinsey scale in between. And they’re all flawed, real characters who you love sometimes, and other times just want to slap.

London Spy: This British five-part series stars Ben Wishaw as Danny, a London gay man, who after a night out, has a chance encounter with a handsome man Joe (Edward Holcroft) jogging alongside the Thames – as you do. A whirlwind romance ensues, but Joe isn’t exactly who he says he is, and when he goes missing, Danny discovers he’s actually a spy. Also starring Jim Broadbent as Danny’s older gay friend Scottie, and Charlotte Rampling as Joe’s frosty mother, it’s a thriller where the characters’ sexuality is certainly part of the tale, but not the focus – thankfully.

Meanwhile, over on Stan:

Transparent: With three seasons now available, this show covers a lot of ground – in a very honest, uncensored and unfiltered way. It’s the story of Mort/Maura (Jeffrey Tambor), and older man who is transitioning from male to female, and how that affects his family. It’s an incredibly intelligent and complex exploration of sexuality and gender on a very personal level, and it does so with a remarkably neutral tone. It’s not preaching and not Queer Politics 101, but it offers a number of different opinions, experiences and responses from the very human characters. But it does treat transgender issues with respect, and that’s not something we’ve seen a lot of on television before.

UnREAL: Also on Stan, but SBS2 has broadcast the first season, this is a dark, dark mockumentary satire on reality TV, especially shows like The Bachelor. It’s not queer as such, but it does feature a gay producer, and one of the contestants in the first series comes out as a lesbian – quite prescient, given this year’s Australian series of The Bachelor saw two contestants fall in love with each other.

Elsewhere, via HBO, there’s Looking, with Andrew Haigh, who wrote and directed the wonder UK film, Weekend, as executive producer. It revolves around three close friends – all gay men – and their lives in San Francisco. Understated, and like Transparent, non-judgemental, it stars Jonathan Groff, Frankie J Alvarez and Murray Bartlett as the three friends, and features Russell Tovey and Scott Bakula, amongst others, as satellite characters and/or love interests. It ran for only two seasons, and a feature film in 2016 ties up all the loose ends, but it’s a shame that such an honest representation of gay lives on screen wasn’t given more room to breathe.

Closer to home, there’s not been much in the way of queer stories on commercial TV, biopics of peter Allen and Molly Meldrum aside. Even gay supporting characters have become thin on the ground in local drama, but SBS and the ABC have been more active.

Earlier this year, SBS broadcast the series Deep Water, a murder mystery set in Bondi about a series of murders of gay men that unearth unsolved murders from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Starring Noah Taylor and Yael Stone (Orange is the New Black) as police detectives Nick Manning and Tori Lustigman, the story is mostly told through Lustigman’s eyes, whose gay brother was murdered many years ago. An important story based on actual events, but there was some criticism that it was a ‘straight’ telling of a dark chapter in Sydney’s gay history.

The ABC has come to the party better dressed with a number of shows from Matchbox Pictures, headed by Michael McMahon and his partner Tony Ayres. Along with Glitch, an intriguing story of long-dead people climbing out of their graves in a country Victorian town – one of whom *Spoiler* is a young WWI soldier who’s gay, they also gave us Barracuda, based on the novel by Christos Tsiolkas.

It’s about Danny (Elias Anton), a working class teenager who wins a scholarship at an elite Melbourne private school because of his swimming prowess. Along with the difficulties involved in fitting in to such a smug and privileged social class, he’s also dealing with his emerging sexuality. So it’s a gay story told by a gay man and gay executive producers, and it aired in a primetime slot on ABC1. Being gay isn’t even a big part of the miniseries; it’s just one element, dealt with in an understated but effective way. And that’s a great step forward for Australian television.

Barracuda is not alone on the ABC. Josh Thomas and his series Please Like Me has just finished screening its fourth season on ABC1 – after previous seasons were broadcast on ABC2. In this latest season, Josh and his friends have had to grow up and become ‘adults’, and in doing so, the series itself has too.

While this continuing development and sophistication shows Thomas has grown as a writer and performer, one of the things that makes this series unique and refreshing is that it’s unapologetic and not issue-driven about Josh’s sexuality. His gay life, including family dynamics, friendships, relationships and sex life are presented frankly, but not milked for its sexuality. If anything, it’s more about mental health, and this is also expressed in a very matter-of-fact way. Even the surprising – and very moving – penultimate episode, where *Spoiler* Josh discovers his mother has taken her own life, is beautifully and sensitively understated.

Please Like Me celebrates gay life, but it also pokes fun at it, exposes its ugly aspects and recognises its sad times too, just like many other straight ensemble series have done. Being gay is not seen as something out of the ordinary, and really shows that Australian television has indeed come a long way. It, and the other shows included in this blog, just need to keep that momentum going.

Melbourne Queer Film Festival 2016 – part two

Proudly DifferentFor the second weekend of this year’s Melbourne Queer Film Festival, I headed across to Cinema Nova in Carlton on Friday night – the first time it’s hosted MQFF screenings – and saw In The Grayscale (Chile, Claudio Marcone).

InTheGrayscale2

Bruno likes Fer’s stubble against his cheek.

Architect Bruno has recently moved into his grandfather’s workshop, away from his wife and young son, because he’s got some stuff to work out. While researching a new building project in Santiago, he meets tour guide Ferdinand, openly – and black-and-white – gay, and of course, there’s an attraction.

Not surprisingly, that attraction ends up in a very steamy and erotic sex scene, and while it’s quite the revelation for Bruno, he’s still got some things to work out – including exactly what this new project will actually be. Ferdinand, however, isn’t really up for indecision.

All of this is not exactly new, but it does make for a thoughtful story, and even though the metaphor of a bridge to joing two different worlds comes close to overstatement, not everything is tied up neatly at the end, because life rarely is that tidy.

BeautifulSomething4

It seems very clear that Jim is definitely a beautiful… something.

Beautiful Something (USA, Joseph Graham) isn’t particularly tidy either – but it’s messy in a different way. It follows the activities of four gay men across one night in Philadelphia: Brian, the damaged poet; Jim, the pretty muse and model; Drew, the driven sculptor; and Bob, the restless talent agent. Paths cross, lots of sex is had, decisions are made and inspiration found.

Oh, Brian just reeks of damaged hipster poet, doesn't he?

Oh, Brian just reeks of damaged hipster poet, doesn’t he?

At times, the characters, especially Brian, veer towards stereotype, and the search for a real connection and acknowledgement is a little prosaic, but the film and the characters are admirably unapologetic, and there are some well observed scenes about love, lust and intimacy.

The same can’t be said for the Saturday night 10.30 session, Everlasting Love (Spain, Marcal Fores). Lecturer Carlos enjoys crusing the local forest-slash-beat, to watch and engage in anonymous sex, but his encounter with one of his students, Toni, leads him into disturbing territory. Because Toni has some very dodgy friends…
If you go into the woods today...

If you go into the woods today…

While I appreciate the programme note writer’s wish not to give the ending away, this film should have come with a warning, to be honest. It’s not that I’m averse to horror, or queer horror, but a heads-up wouldn’t have gone astray. And yes, there were walkouts when it became too gruesome.

Ah yes, this main image for the film is on screen for all of five seconds.

Ah yes, this main image for the film is on screen for all of five seconds.

All that aside, it wasn’t the best edited film I’ve ever seen. Following the plot wasn’t always easy, and some of it was just poorly scripted – in an effort, I imagine, to create the shock ending. Oh well, at least it was the only turkey I saw this year.

Greg Louganis - doing what he does best.

Greg Louganis – doing what he does best.

 

Back on Board: Greg Louganis (USA, Cheryl Furjanic), not surprisingly, is a documentary about openly gay and HIV-positive Olympian Greg Louganis. It explores his early career as a diver, and how he became the world’s greatest diver, with Olympic records still unbroken 28 years later. It also charts the more recent battle to save his houyse, and his reintroduction into the diving world.

Greg is now a handsome silver fox.

Greg is now a handsome silver fox.

With lots of archival footage, and frank and candid interviews with Louganis and his coaches, it’s an absorbing and well-crafted film. Louganis was – and still is, in his early 50s – an infredibly handsome man, and footage of his Olympic diving demonstrates his skill, grace and beauty as a diver. It also affirms that diving showcases the male physique at its best.

These white Speedos are just a little sexy...

These white Speedos are just a little sexy…

And of course, there were plenty of Speedos – including the very racy, slightly transparent white Speedos Louganis wore at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Nineteen

Nineteen

Our final session for 2016 was the Australian Shorts program – always on the list because it’s interesting to see what’s happening in our local filmmaking industry. This year featured a strong selection of films, covering a wide range of outlooks, experiences and approaches.

The Summer of ABC Burns

The Summer of ABC Burns

Oasis1

Oasis

Winning the City of Melbourne Award for the Best Australian Short this year was Nineteen (Madeleine Kelly), the story of a vulnerable young man’s encounter with a rent boy. Taking the Film Victoria Award for Best Director was Dannika Horvat for The Summer of ABC Burns, a well-told tale of schoolgirl love and popularity. And the Shaun Miller Lawyers Award for Emerging Australian Filmmaker went to Joshua Longhurst for Oasis, an understated story of an awkward boy’s interaction in a caravan park shower block with the object of his desire.

Other notable shorts include Cake (Jacintho Muinos), a fun film about a Grindr hookup and its consequences, and Marrow (Stevie Cruz-Martin), a brave and confronting self portrait of sexuality and disability.

Marrow

Marrow

Each short film embraced and explored their sexuality and Australianness – voices that have not always been loudly proud. No cringe factor here, thanks very much.

 

 

And that’s it for another year – the first for Spiro Economopoulos and Dillan Golightly, and a successful one. let’s see what they present for us in 2017.

 

 

Melbourne Queer Film Festival 2016 – part one

Oh, I do love Melbourne in autumn. All the colours, the vibrancy…

Okay, that was a little cheeky – extra points if you can tell what Doctor Who story I massacred that quote from – but Melbourne really is alive in March and April, and the CBD is buzzing with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Melbourne Queer Film Festival creating a stimulating and often exhausting level of activity.

Proudly Different

I haven’t seen any Comedy Festival shows yet – I am planning to – but I have seen a few MQFF films over the past week.

First up in this, the first festival for new Executive Director Dillan Golightly and Program Manager Spiro Economopoulos, was the Opening Night film, That’s Not Us (USA, William Sullivan). Opening night films are tricky beasts, as I’ve observed before. It’s got to be something that’s going to appeal to a wide cross-section, and That’s Not Us certainly had all the right elements: three couples, a lesbian couple, a gay male couple and a straight couple head off together for a weekend away at an aunt’s beach house. Now there’s great opportunity to explore all sorts of dynamics: sexual, social and domestic. What a shame then that it didn’t exactly deliver.

Lesbians on the Loose. Well, almost...

Lesbians on the Loose. Well, almost…

Yes, each of the couples had their own issues to deal with – the girls hadn’t had sex with each other for quite a while, the boys were wrestling with the Chicago university offer one had received, and the straight two were grappling with gender role expectations, but the three storylines all operated independently of each other. And while they are all legitimate issues within a relationship, they’re not exactly redolent with dramatic potential and conflict. It all felt just a little… beige, to be honest.

I don't remember the boys playing football in the film, but that would have been more interesting than their argument about university

I don’t remember the boys playing football in the film, but that would have been more interesting than their argument about university

There were no real shouting matches or cross-couple tensions or bitch fights, and maybe that was the point of the film, but for me, it left me unmoved and ultimately I didn’t care for any of the characters. The after party in the Fed Square Atrium was a hit though.

Chemsex is definitely not an Opening Night film, but it is a good example of why we still need a queer film festival. It’s a UK documentary directed by William Fairman and Max Gogarty and it explores the rising use of drugs in London’s gay scene, the sex activity and rise in HIV infections that are intrisnically linked to it.

You may think this would make for an erotic and sexy film, and given its late-night Friday screening, a lot of the audience seemed to be up for that – but it was not sexy at all. It was sad, confronting and at times difficult to watch.

Some of the interviewees remained anonymous - understandably

Some of the interviewees remained anonymous – understandably

I’ve never been a drug user – pre-existing medical conditions prevent that – and I’ve never found the idea of chemsex attractive at all, but it’s going on here in Melbourne too, and apps like Grindr and Scruff are facilitating unsafe and addictive sex and drug use.

This documentary shows the effects that has on the lives of the men interviewed, and it is destructive. It’s a sobering, cautionary tale that despite its difficult content is a necessary film for most gay men to see.

On a much lighter note is Tab Hunter Confidential (USA, Jeffrey Schwarz), a documentary about the 1950’s Hollywood heartthrob. It charts the career of this impossibly handsome blond, blue-eyed man, from Z-grade movie actor to singer, star and household name.

Luckily, Hunter is still alive, so rather than just rely on the recollections of his co-stars and other celebrities, the filmmakers speak at length with him, and hear his stories first-hand.

Tab Hunter, the quintesential Hollywood heartthrob

Tab Hunter, the quintesential Hollywood heartthrob

What’s interesting is that while Hunter kept his sexuality hidden in the ’50s – necessarily, given the era – he wasn’t pretending to be straight, he just kept his private life out of the spotlight, and he talks quite candidly about that now, as an 80-something man.

He looks happy, and why wouldn't he? He's Tab Hunter!

He looks happy, and why wouldn’t he? He’s Tab Hunter!

It’s the innocence of a bygone era that’s the charm of Hollywood docos like this, and Schwarz has a lot of fun playing with that, using old footage and photos to ironic effect. And it certainly makes you wonder, 60 years from now, what Hollywood celebrities will we be watching with similar stories.

 

 

A world away from Hollywood is the Spanish film, Hidden Away (Mikel Rueda). Set in Bilbao, it’s about Ibra, a young Moroccan refugee who runs into Rafa, a young Spanish boy, in a nightclub. There’s an instant connection, especially for Rafa, who goes out of his way to seek out Ibra’s friendship. But both of them have to deal with prejudice in various forms: racism, classism and homophobia.

As far as plots go, it’s not exactly new – it’s a Romeo and Juliet scenario in many ways, but that storyline prvides a good framework for the more complex racial and sexuality themes. Interestingly, like last year’s Brazilian film, The Way He Looks, not once does either boy state they are gay, although some of Rafa’s friends are less than complimentary, and their attraction for each other takes a while to develop.

Ibra steals a glance at the sullen Rafa

Ibra steals a glance at the sullen Rafa

Thankfully, there are no sex scenes; it’s more about two teenage boys coming to terms with their feelings for each other and their own sexuality.

 

 

And that’s somewthing it shares in part with the festival’s Centrepiece Presentation, the local documentary Remembering The Man (Nickolas Bird and Eleanor Sharpe). It tells the not-unfamiliar story of Timothy Conigrave and John Caleo – immortalised in Conigrave’s memoir, Holding The Man, and its stage and recent screen adaptations.

Using archival footage – including home movies of the pair – and photos and interviews with the friends and colleagues of Conigrave and Caleo, it tells the story of their love, beginning as teenage boys at Xavier College, and their experiences with AIDS in a candid, heartfelt and moving way. It also provides aspects and anecdotes not heard before, and paints a respectful portrait of the men that works well as a complement to last year’s film version.

So young, so in love. A great way to remember Tim Conigrave and John Caleo

So young, so in love. A great way to remember Tim Conigrave and John Caleo

Even though it is a tender and emotional telling, there’s still a measured objectivity here that really makes it work as another part of a love story that has become part of Melbourne’s legacy and history.

And so, off I go, diving into the final weekend of MQFF films. Expect a report early next week. I promise!

 

 

MQFF 25

Lisa Daniel, we salute you for 16 years as Festival Director

Lisa Daniel, we salute you for 16 years as Festival Director

2015 was something of a landmark year for the Melbourne Queer Film Festival – not only did it celebrate its 25th year, but it was also Lisa Daniel’s last year as Festival Director after 16 years in the position. Under her educated and keen eye for queer film, the festival has grown and become one of the largest and most respected queer film festivals in the world – something she should be very proud of, and Melbourne should really appreciate.

This year I decided to go for (mostly) quality over quantity of screenings, and took heed of some of Lisa’s recommendations, as well as seeing two Australian feature films – something that’s been very thin on the ground for some time now.

The Way He Looks

The Way He Looks

Opening Night is always a good night, and this year Lisa selected Brazilian film, The Way He Looks, to open the festival. And it hit the mark. In the past, there’s been negative responses to foreign language films on opening night, but not this year – which demonstrates that Lisa has indeed done a good job in educating Melbourne audiences.

Leo and Gabriel find themselves attracted to each other

Leo and Gabriel find themselves attracted to each other

It’s the coming-of-age/coming out story of blind teenager Leo as he becomes attracted to the new boy at school, Gabriel. It’s sweet and gentle, and affirming without preaching, and remarkable not only because its focus is not on physical attraction and there’s a pleasing lack of sex on screen, but also because the word ‘gay’ is never used, and the boys’ sexuality is not an issue to any of the characters, themselves included.

They may be wearing aussieBums, but Drown is not all about sexy men.

They may be wearing aussieBums, but Drown is not all about sexy men.

The first of two Australian feature films I saw was Drown, directed by Dean Francis, based on a play by Stephen Davis. I’ve seen a number of his short films, and they’ve dealt with homophobia and bullying in a dark and angry way, so I knew this film wasn’t going to be light and fluffy. This is the story of Len (Matt Levett), the local hero at a Sydney surf lifesaving club, until he’s threatened by new member, Phil (Jack Matthews), not only because of his physical abilities, but also because he’s gay, and that creates quite a bit of conflict for Len.

Len isn't having a great night

Len isn’t having a great night

Drown is a fascinating, often confronting, exploration of masculinity and sexuality and how they are expressed by both straight and gay men. There’s an inherent aggression here, for all the characters, and it demonstrates that at their most extreme, straight men and gay men aren’t that dissimilar; while straight men channel that aggression into sport and competition and fighting, gay men express it through dancing, drugs, seduction and sex.

Told through the eyes of Len, Drown has a heightened and often exaggeration perception of reality, and while there’s plenty of bare flesh and aussieBums on screen, it’s not a superficial or titillating film. Yes, some of the sex scenes are erotic, but for the most part, they’re overshadowed by violence and conflict. At times it is too violent, and some scenes could have done with an edit, but there’s also a lot of ambiguity and unspoken subtext at work here.

Just a bit confronting...

Just a bit confronting…

The fact that this film was produced quickly and through crowdsource funding is not evident on screen at all – it’s beautifully shot and has a polish and finish that belies its low-budget production. Let’s just hope that Francis’ next film isn’t quite as angry.

Jamie Marks is Dead... apparently

Jamie Marks is Dead… apparently

Jamie Marks is Dead is a US supernatural (I guess) directed by Carter Smith. When the dead body of teenage boy Jamie Marks is found in a river, the spirit or ghost of the bullied gay boy connects with Gracie, and straight boy Adam for help to cross to the other side. It’s a curious film, with almost incidental queer content. There’s a dark melancholy with a touch of whimsy at work here, but to be honest, I’m not sure that as a queer/supernatural crossover is works very well. Still, it was good to see an American gay film that didn’t follow the same tired formulaic story.

Barrio Boy

Barrio Boy

Cocktales was one of the short film packages and provided an interesting and varied mix of gay shorts. Like many queer films, the quality of the short films is much better than it used to be, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t get predictable stories, such as Dinner at 40 and Open Relationship, and mawkish ones like Pepper. But we also get the understated Searching and Barrio Boy, and the very silly and fun If We Took a Holiday. And interestingly, none of them actually featured an sex at all.

It's Mission: Impossible, gay-style!

It’s Mission: Impossible, gay-style!

Also silly and fun was the Dutch comedy, Queen of Amsterdam directed by Tim Oiehoek. Fluffy and far-fetched, and perfectly programmed at 6pm Friday night, it’s about the regulars of a gay bar in Amsterdam who concoct a plan to raise the money to buy back the bankrupt bar – and that plan involves a jewel heist and the Gay Pride Parade. Not necessarily groundbreaking but enjoyable nevertheless.

Ben Wishaw in Lilting

Ben Wishaw in Lilting

Onto something more grounded, Lilting is a British film directed by Hong Khaou, and is a beautiful portrayal of the awkward relationship between a gay man Richard (played by Ben Wishaw) and his recently-deceased partner Kai’s (Andrew Leung) Chinese-Cambodian mother, Junn (Pei-pei Cheng). To broach the language barrier, Richard brings in a translator and the two begin tentative steps to an understanding. It’s poignant and understated and a sensitive representation of a gay relationship. Once again, there’s no on-screen sex, but convincing post-sex discussions, and is much more powerful for what it doesn’t show or tell.

Unfortunately, that is something missing from the final film I saw, at its encore screening, the second Australian feature, The Dream Children, directed by Robert Chuter and based on a play by Julia Britton. It’s the story of a gay couple, Steven (Graeme Squires) and Alex (Nicholas Gunn), who live in St Kilda. Steven is a closeted game show host who nevertheless has a very active extra-curricular sex life, and Alex wants to adopt a child. Legal options are non-existent, so the couple explore black market adoption with predictable results.

Steven and Alex argue even at the pool while  swimming laps

Steven and Alex argue even at the pool while swimming laps

Chuter’s better known as a theatre director, and has quite an extensive back catalogue, including some well-respected outdoor period plays in the grounds of Rippon Lea, and more recently the divisive production of Teleny in 2014 (read my thoughts on that here), and indeed, he directed a stage production of this play in 2009. While The Dream Children‘s intentions are noble, the delivery is forced and heavy-handed. It opens with a fairly full-on sex scene between Steven and Alex which is decidedly unsexy and feels like it was included merely to shock. And many of its other sex scenes – and there are many, as well as a number of other scenes involving the trailer trash child surrogate and her cliched drug-addicted partner, feel contrived and gratuitous.

A rare tender moment in The Dream Children

A rare tender moment in The Dream Children

The relationship between Alex and Steven lacks intimacy and affection; they’re mostly arguing about the adoption arrangements or having mechanical, soulless sex, except for scenes where we see them enjoying time with their young son.

The dialogue is awkward and stiff and often didactic, the mood and the drama are overwrought and could really have done with a more delicate touch. Conflict and arguments don’t always equal good cinematic drama, and unfortunately there is too much of it. If only more time had been spent fleshing out the final ten minutes, where their relationship finally flourishes, rather than focusing on unnecessary and overlong scenes of conflict.

If only we'd had more of this and less conflict

If only we’d had more of this and less conflict

 

Having said all that, it’s an impressive looking film – Melbourne, especially St Kilda and Elwood, look great on film, and like Drown, is an independently-funded and produced film. Hopefully we’ll see more Australian queer features in the future – and heaven forbid, government funding bodies and local distributors may even look past their cautious and conservative choices and see the merit in backing films such as these.

And if that is something that Lisa Daniel has had more than a hand in changing, then that is legacy enough from her. But she leaves behind her a great legacy of which this will only be a small part. Congratulations, Lisa, on the 25th MQFF, and for 16 amazing years as Festival Director. You will be missed!

 

 

Gay theatre at two extremes

This week, the last week of May, has seen two new productions open at Chapel off Chapel in South Yarra. Both deal with gay culture, and couldn’t be any more different if they tried – in more ways than one.

"I want to welcome you to my home."

“I want to welcome you to my home.”

First up is Supergirly: Return of the Pop Princess. For those who don’t know who Supergirly is, she’s the alter-ego of Lulu McClatchy, and often performs at DT’s Hotel. Basically what she does, and has been doing since the late ’90s in London, is take pop songs and change the lyrics into smart and very funny pisstakes on the performers, their audience and the nature of celebrity in general. No one is safe, and that’s certainly true in this, her first theatre show. Now she has a set – a very glamorous set at that, a co-performer, Bradley Cooper (really it’s Lyall Brooks, but Supergirly thinks he really is Bradley Cooper), about 10 costume changes, and a storyline.

We are the Pet Shop Boys

We are the Pet Shop Boys

It’s a bit like Supergirly’s hosting her own chat show from her own home, and Bradley is her manservant. They often break out into song, Bradley tells Supergirly’s (mostly) fictional story from a fur-covered story book, and answers the door for her many (imaginary) celebrity guests (all played, of course, by Brooks as well).

Britney vs Britney

Britney vs Britney

Supergirly is wonderfully cheeky, snarky and deluded, and McClatchy and Brooks are more than happy to take the piss out of each other, themselves, the audience, the celebrities they parody – in fact, no one and nothing is safe. This approach gives the whole show a delightfully silly but grounded tone, and works perfectly with the songs and celebrities they target. Some favourites include the Pet Shop Boys, a clever Lady Gaga/Madonna mash-up (complete with some enormously silly back-up dancing from Bradley), a revealing Britney song-off, Lordes, and the Black Eyed Peas ‘Shut Up’, with Bradley providing some very impressive rapping.

Cats? Or Voguing? It's hard to tell...

Cats? Or Voguing? It’s hard to tell…

If you’re looking for a theme in the show, it’d be exposing the ‘truth’ behind the cult of the celebrity, and takes said celebrities down a peg or two. McClatchy and Brooks are both strong singers, seasoned performer,s and have great comic timing. They know how to bounce off each other and know how far to take a joke, and when to pull back – which is not very often.

Yes, the show could be a bit tighter, but it’s a wonderfully, chaotic, delirious two hours that keeps the audience laughing almost non-stop. And it’s great to see McClatchy’s talents shine in this context so we can really appreciate her skills.

I wish the same could be said for Teleny.

The main players in Teleny

The main players in Teleny

Teleny is a play written by Barry Lowe and directed by Robert Chuter, based on an anonymous late 19th century erotic novel purported to be the work of Oscar Wilde and his circle of friends. Here, however, it’s relocated to 1920’s Paris.

Camille Des Grieux (Tom Byers) attends a piano recital with his mother (Frederique Fouche) and finds himself fascinated by the exotic pianist Rene Teleny (Jackson Raine). The attraction is mutual, but Camille has trouble admitting his desires, but eventually succumbs and falls in love and into a secret relationship with Teleny. Soon the pair are exploring the underground ‘deviant’ world of their closeted and secret sexuality, thanks to the flamboyant Briancourt (Dushan Philips).

Tom Byers as Camille and Jackson Raine as Rene Teleny

Tom Byers as Camille and Jackson Raine as Rene Teleny

Now that’s all well and good – it’s a story that has some relevance and resonance with a 21st century audience, even as an historical record of such matters in less accepting times and societies, but it’s far too long for a play of this kind. It’s also too laboured, too heavy-handed and takes itself too seriously. The first act, at two hours long, is much too long, and moves far too slowly. And unfortunately, the main character, upper class Camille, who narrates his story, is too detached and disaffected, and not a particularly sympathetic character. At times, the dialogue, while clearly emulating the language of the literature of the period, leans towards the melodramatic, and its relocation to the 1920s adds very little, except for some impressive set design and costumes (and lack thereof).

Nudity abounds in the second act of Teleny

Nudity abounds in the second act of Teleny

Yes, there is plenty of nudity and simulated sex (of which we are warned before entering the theatre, along with drug use and coarse language), especially in the second act, but its impact and ‘shock value’ is soon lost and replaced by leaden expository dialogue and plot development.

Dushan Philips plays the flamboyant Briancourt

Dushan Philips plays the flamboyant Briancourt

Performances range from wooden (Byers) to brave (Jonathan Duffy in a gender-bending role), strong (Philips) and perplexing (Timothy Hare as a buff Turkish model), and the staging old-fashioned and slightly portentous. A lighter touch that doesn’t take itself too seriously, a brisker pace, less angst, and halving the 210-minute running time would have helped immeasurably. It’s no wonder that a third of the audience left at interval, and those that remained found humour in the uttering of ‘pianist’ and sniggered at the exaggerated and overwrought (anti) climax. Perhaps a warning of the three-and-a-half hour length and ponderous dialogue would have been more helpful.

Which is a shame, because Teleny should have been brave, strong and memorable theatre, but I fear it is the victim of its own excess – much like the characters in the story themselves are.

 

 

Adventures in Cabaret

Anybody who believes Melbourne shuts up shop in winter is wrong. In many ways, winter is when classy, cultural Melbourne wakes up and shows itself off. And the Melbourne Cabaret Festival is fast becoming another of our city’s popular winter attractions. This week I’ve seen two very different shows that really demonstrate the range of what’s on offer during the festival: one sublime, one ridiculous, both intentionally so, and both worth seeing.

Michael GriffithsSweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox is written and directed by Dean Bryant and performed by singer and pianist Michael Griffiths who gets under the skin of Annie Lennox and revisits and recounts her career as a singer-songwriter and her life of love and heartbreak. With just his voice and a grand piano, this sexy, dapper and slightly cheeky gay singer transports the audience back to the early ’80s when Lennox, along with her one-time lover Dave Stewart, were hugely successful as the Eurythmics.

Griffiths doesn’t try to to impersonate, or even ‘channel’ Lennox; he simply inhabits her life through her music and links it with first-person reflections, often dry, wry and witty (just the way we like reflections). And it’s this simplicity that makes Sweet Dreams so effective.

MICHAEL_GRIFFITHSWith his strong and clear singing and evocative and accomplished piano arrangements, Griffiths shows how timeless and poignant Lennox’s songs are, full of raw emotion – mostly pain, jealousy and self-deprecating irony. He weaves songs and anecdotes from different periods in and out of each other, and tells a compelling and entrancing story. You can’t help but find yourself reassessing those old Eurythmics songs and albums and hear them afresh.

Of course, Griffiths does justice to songs such as ‘Love is a Stranger’, ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’, ‘Why’, ‘Who’s That Girl’ and ‘Little Bird’, but what he does with other songs is quite incredible. By stripping away the 80’s over-production, songs such as ‘Right By Your Side’, ‘When Tomorrow Comes’ and ‘There Must Be an Angel (Playing With My Heart) sound new, gentle, even wistful, and ‘This City Never Sleeps’ is truly hypnotic.

It’s an emotionally charged show, full of joy, sorrow, bitterness and hope, all the more effective thanks to some well-considered lighting design and the occasional use of some retro reverb on the microphone. Even if the Eurythmics and Annie Lennox weren’t an important part of your teenage years and musical development, Sweet Dreams will haunt your waking hours and sit nicely in your subconsciousness as you sleep. It’s an inspiring show not soon forgotten.

Maybe a little more immediate in its tone and production is Trevor Ashley’s new adults-only panto, Little Orphan trAshley. While the show was originally called ‘Trannie’, objections from the transgender community and the producers of the musical Annie required the name to be changed, Ashley’s not letting that stop him. He drops in quite a few bitchy one-liners about it – and just about everything else, from the recent Labor leadership spill to Linden Gallery’s ‘pornography’exhibition hoo-ha and many other cheeky, crass and downright wrong comments.

TrashleyWhich is what pantomime is all about, and as such, there is a loose, off-the-cuff feel to the show, but I don’t see that as a problem. In a nutshell (so to speak), it’s the story of Fanny (played, of course, by Ashley), an orphan left in the care of the drunk and nasty Miss Trannigan (played with wicked relish by Rhonda Burchmore, of course), but who is then ‘adopted’by millionaire Daddy Warhorse (Gary Sweet, having a great time, even if he looks like her has no idea of what’s going on – again, part of the point). But Fanny is actually transgendered and looking for someone to fund her gender reassignment surgery, and Daddy Warhorse fits the bill perfectly.

Naturally, the cast have great fun singing, dancing and swearing their way through the brisk parade of jokes and set pieces, held together tenuously by a bit of story, and while everyone is showing off their natural talents (Rhonda’s legs and stage prowess, Gary’s blokeyness and bald head, Trevor’s sharp tongue and comedic timing), Rhys Bobridge as the leathered-up dog Bullshit is the one who almost steals the show. Not just because he’s running around the stage on all fours yapping and whimpering like an excitable puppy with his bare arse in the air, but because he almost makes you believe he’s an actual dog.Rhys B

According to those who saw the show in Sydney, this incarnation is much tighter, which is a good thing. Pantomime can easily become self-indulgent and smug, but Little Orphan trAshley isn’t. It’s self aware enough to know when to leave things alone, when to milk what’s working, and when to change horses midstream if necessary. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of wrong fun, and another show worth seeing.

 

And… 12 months later, I’m back online!

Yes, apologies. It has been over twelve months since I last posted something here, and in that time, I’ve experienced my second trip to Bali (Seminyak, naturally) and my first trip to Europe (London, Cardiff, Paris, Berlin, Rome and Venice). Work fortunes have fluctuated and yes, I have seen plenty of theatre, comedy, exhibitions and films – most of it good, some of it questionable, but that’s the way it goes, really. I’ll be seeing some Melbourne Cabaret Festival shows this week too, so more of that later this week. But in the meantime, here are some thoughts about television, in particular new Australian drama and classic Doctor Who.

We’re being spoilt for choice with new Australian drama on TV, especially on Sunday nights. ABC1, after treating us with the two-part miniseries Paper Giants: Magazine Wars last month, is now indulging us with The Time of Our Lives at 8.30pm, a new series from the creators of The Secret Life of Us, Judi McCrossin and Amanda Higgs, all those years ago. It’s new territory, but familiar ground for them; it’s wonderfully recognisably Melbourne, mostly around the bayside suburbs, and is about an extended family of siblings in their 30s, maybe a little older, and the hurdles they face in their domestic lives. That of course includes being left at the altar, infidelity, separations, ex-wives and children, and it certainly has a ring of truth about it.

claudia karvan

Claudia Karvan as Caroline ponders her parenting skills in The Time of Our Lives

There’s also some fine acting talent here: William McInness and Claudia Karvan as the central couple Matt and Caroline, struggling with a dead marriage and a son who is developmentally challenged. Karvan as the uptight, controlling mother who believes her son is ‘gifted’, and isn’t dealing with her husband’s departure, plays her with just enough detachment and obsession for us to be able to sit back and comment on her self-delusion, but adds enough vulnerability to truly elicit sympathy. McInnes has his spent and callous, if not selfish, character down pat. Justine Clarke is a delight as Bernadette, new partner to Shane Jacobson’s Luce and stepmother to his 11-year-old daughter, and Anita Hegh is perfect as his slightly bitter ex-wife. I get the feeling that Stephen Curry’s character, the unofficial adopted son to the family Herb, still has some development coming, and it seems we’ll be seeing more of Michael Dornan as the jilter of real adoptive daughter Chai Li (Michelle Vergara Moore).

a place to call home

The Bligh family in a Place to Call Home has its fair share of secrets…

There’s more family drama on Seven in the same timeslot but from a different era in A Place to Call Home. Set in 1953 on a wealthy country property just outside Sydney, it’s dealing with privilege, racism and homosexuality in post-war Australia, and while it’s unashamedly in soap opera territory, terrific performances from Marta Dusseldorp, Noni Hazlehurst Brett Climo, Craig Hall and David Berry make it great Sunday night viewing. Oh, and some hot topless masculinity in the shape of the gay farmer/object of desire doesn’t go astray either.

place to call home 1

Not quite topless, but gay farmer Harry still gets James Bligh excited…

 

Kane_Shot1_0111

Tim Campbell and Gyton Grantley as gay dads in House Husbands. Lucky Stella!

Just two channels away on Nine is House Husbands, a surprise hit for the network, especially since it features a gay couple very prominently in the mix. In many ways, House Husbands is very safe viewing, with its focus on more Melbourne domestic scenarios and popular names such as Gary Sweet. Julia Morris, Rhys Muldoon and Firass Dirani, and that’s why it’s both a surprise and a delight to see the gay couple Kane and Tom, played by Gyton Grantley and Tim Campbell (read my interview with Tim for Time Out Melbourne), as such an important part of the show without being tokenistic or stereotyped.

 

 

offspring - season 4

Patrick is worried that Nina’s Post-It notes are multiplying…

Wednesday nights is Offspring night again, and continues its slightly heightened treatment of its familial dramas to great effect. Witty, well-written and wonderfully performed, it’s encouraging to see Australian drama can do this sort of programme well. And I guess all of these shows have a debt to Packed to the Rafters, which is calling it a day. Maybe it should have pulled the plug about a year ago, but it’s still sad to see it finish.

I’ve also been celebrating Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary by re-watching stories from its Classic days (1963-1989) in a random fashion. Covering all seven Doctors and all 26 seasons (The 1996 TV Movie will get its own one-off viewing soon), I’ve been selecting stories least watched and remembered, and that’s provided some very interesting viewing indeed. From the remastered Hartnell story, The Reign of Terror, now with animated missing episodes, to the unfortunately dull and earnest Colony in Space, Pertwee;s first trip in the TARDIS, the camp double-dealings of Tom Baker’s The Androids of Tara, and the slightly homoerotic Davison story, Planet of Fire.

doctor_who__planet_of_fire_beach

Turlough is exhausted after saving Peri from drowning. Well, that’s the ‘official’ story…

Homoerotic not just because Mark Strickson strips down to Speedos as Turlough rescues a drowning Peri (Nicola Bryant in a very brief bright pink bikini) off the coast of Lanzarote, and subsequently spends the rest of the story in short 80’s shorts, but because the not unattractive, for once, male natives of the planet Sarn run around in even shorter shorts and their leader Timanov, played by Peter Wyngarde, wears heavy eyeliner, and new companion Peri’s stepfather Howard’s first appearance is topless, in tight denim shorts and a fetching bandana around his neck (this is 1984, after all). Howard was played by Dallas Adams, who was 37 at the time, and is best known, it seems, for receiving the then-biggest palimony payout from his former boyfriend. He also died, apparently from AIDS, in 1991, aged 44.

dallas adams

Peri had no idea that her new stepfather was much more interested in hauling phallus-shaped artefacts out of the sea…

Eye candy aside, Planet of Fire isn’t a great story. It had a lot to do, what with introducing Peri as the new companion, writing out Turlough, while explaining his murky past, and getting rid of failed robot companion, Kamelion. Oh, it also killed off the Master – again; something of a habit in the 1980’s Master stories. But that’s no excuse for wooden acting, bad dialogue and that old ‘alien visitor worshipped as a god’ scenario.

Which, strangely enough, rears its head again in the story I’m watching now: The Trial of a Time Lord parts 1-4, also known as The Mysterious Planet. While the whole concept of an on-screen trial to mirror its off-screen troubles must have seemed like a good idea at the time, and there are some astute self-aware asides about censorship and screen violence, it does feel forced and very contrived as an umbrella for this 14-part, four-story 1986 season.

glitz and dibber

Glitz and Dibber didn’t understand why they were taken captive. No one told them their facial hair was offensive, clearly…

It’s also sad to remember that this is Robert Holmes’ last full story for Doctor Who – he died not long after writing this and before he finished the last episode of the season (that confused mess was penned by Pip and Jane Baker, desperately trying to pull everything together), and it’s not one of his best efforts. The galactic criminal duo Glitz and Dibber give the story some much-needed relief from the clunky robots and unmemorable supporting characters (apart from a dreadfully over-acting Joan Sims), and Colin Baker, who is trying way too hard. He is, I’m afraid, still my least favourite Doctor, and while it’s good to see he and Peri aren’t bickering as they were in their previous season, his brashness still grates.

Anyway, I’ll keep you updated with other developments and reviews soon. Or I’ll try to…

Catching up on comedy, nudity, big-budget superheroes and no-budget Classic Who

Yes, yes, I know; it’s been well over a month since I last posted, but unfortunately, other things have been getting in the way: work commitments, a sick husband, family functions… you know how it is. It doesn’t mean I’ve been idle, though.

It’s been a mixed bag of cultural experiences, from three very funny but very different Melbourne Comedy Festival shows to a blockbuster movie, a naked stage show, and a dodgy DVD. Let’s go on a quick cultural tour of my last month.

April in Melbourne of course means the Comedy Festival, and while I didn’t bust a gut to get to too much, I did see three shows: Dixie’s Tupperware Party, Nath Valvo’s Walk of Shame and Joel Creasey’s Naked. All gay shows, but all very different. Dixie Longate – essentially a drag show from a Deep South trailer trash mother and her newfound love of Tupperware. Yes, it was fun, and Dixie was quick-witted and well-rehearsed, but while there was plenty of laughs and sharp off-the-cuff material, there was no real payoff at the end, and it felt like a camp, dressed-up Tupperware party – which is all it was, really. Great fun, but not groundbreaking.

Nath Valvo contemplates how far he can push the envelope in 'Walk of Shame'.

Nath Valvo was pushing more boundaries though. In his show about being on the dole and his achievement of passing two kidney stones – with very clever and funny stops along the way – he doesn’t apologise for being gay, or for a fairly confronting (well, for the straight audience members anyway) tale about a foursome. And while he may seem scattered and random, you can tell he knows exactly what direction he’s going – even if it almost derails when he involves the audience at the end.

Joel Creasey's promotional material exposed more flesh than he showed on stage...

Joel Creasey, surprisingly with a show called Naked, was a little more ‘family-friendly’, but just as funny as he spoke about his fear of being naked in front of other people – and his country gig where he was chased by anti-gay protesters. It wasn’t his flesh he was exposing – but there was some of that as well. As there should have been.

Both Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans had their work cut out for them when faced with their gay admirers.

 

 

 

 

No naked flesh however in The Avengers, Marvel’s blockbuster movie featuring six – count them – superheroes. And that’s despite Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth reprising their roles as Captain America and Thor respectively. At least we got some great views of Evans’ arse and Hemsworth’s arms, some fun banter between the Avengers (yes, Robert Downey Jr came out on top there), and the decimation of Manhattan by Loki and his alen allies that makes Independence Day look like a senior citizens’ sightseeing tour. While not as earth-shattering as the CGI would suggest, The Avengers was an enjoyable, overblown piece of superhero cinema.

Thor wonders how many bicep curls he'll end up doing tonight...

Captain America finds sprints achieve the perfect bubble butt...

 

 

 

 

 

 

One show that needed some extra fluffing – at least, the night I attended – was Naked Boys Singing, and it wasn’t their tackle that needed tending to. Unfortunately, two of the cast were unable to perform, which left five naked boys, and the dance captain stepping up to help out.

Two of these Naked Boys were missing - can you pick which ones?

The problem was, while the boys did an admirable job singing and dancing in the buff, it was obvious that they were covering the missing boys’ arses, and some numbers seemed lacklustre and the performances uncertain. Which was a great shame, because some of the other numbers were very good. But good-looking naked boys and in-your-face tackle wasn’t enough to carry the show.

Check out the flares on those Mandrels!

Not all my cultural pursuits have been in theatres and cinemas. There’s been plenty to keep me entertained at home. Released recently on DVD was the 1979 Doctor Who story, Nightmare of Eden. Starring Tom Baker as the Doctor and Lalla Ward as Romana, from the oft-ridiculed Season 17, Nightmare of Eden is one of the most reviled, and that’s essentially because of the very cheap studio-bound sets (a staircase shifts as Baker races down it), equally cheap, but camp costumes (the designers had clearly just discovered Spandex and sparkly fabric), and the flare-legged Muppet monsters, the Mandrels, who managed not to be menacing at all, and whose flares were already out of fashion.

Even the Doctor has trouble coming to grips with these - erm - monsters...

I first saw this story in 1980, when it first screened on Australian TV, at the very start of my love affair with Doctor Who. I was 13, so still able and willing to be impressed, and there is much to admire in this story: the drug addiction backstory, the hyperspace collision, and of course Baker and Ward relishing their witty asides and double act. Watching it now, it alternates between being inspired, dreadful, camp, boring, sobering, and a lot of fun. Even when Doctor Who is really bad, there’s always something worth watching it for.

So that’s me caught up, in time for the end of autumn. Now I’m immersing myself in trashy television of many kinds – but more of that later…

 

The Safe and Comfortable Marigold Hotel

My film reviewing has slipped a bit recently, and after my Melbourne Queer Film Festival overdose in March, I’m still catching up on recent releases. Last week I finally saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

I’d seen the trailer, and that pretty much told me everything I needed to know: a strong British cast, including Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, that woman from Downton Abbey(Penelope Wilton, otherwise known as Harriet Jones, Prime Minister – we know who you are), that other woman’s who’s not Imelda Staunton (Celia Imrie) and Maggie Smith (naturally) playing a group of older people who all decide to live out their twilight years in an unlikely hotel in India. There’ll be awakenings, enlightenment and endings, all presented in a safe and comforting tone peppered with pithy one-liners and lashings of stiff upper lip sensibility.

Welcome to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - now with guests!

And that’s exactly what you get. Not a bad thing, but there’s a certain contrived and formulaic approach here as well – the nature of the beast really. It’s territory that director John Madden has traversed before – with good and bad results. Mrs Brown (1997) and Shakespeare in Love (1998) are two of his better films; Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001) not so successful. But here he does get reliably solid performances from stalwarts like Dench and Smith; immediately making the film worth seeing.

Judi Dench is delighted to be in India.

But I couldn’t help thinking that pushing a boundary or two wouldn’t have hurt, beyond putting these archetypal British characters in a chaotic and completely foreign environment where some will thrive and some will not. Maybe the fact that Wilkinson playing a gay man entering his retirement was enough of a nudge of the boundaries, but even that felt tokenistic.

What was more telling though was the audience at the screening we attended. It was at the Rivoli, so there’s always that ‘respectable’ Camberwell presence, but for this film, most of the audience were the same age, and in the same situation, as the characters – there was quite a lot of laughter as people recognised familiar scenarios and even conversations from their own lives played out on the silver screen.

And that’s where the comfort factor comes into play again. These people weren’t seeing the film to be challenged, or even educated. They were there to be entertained and engaged, and on that level, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel succeeds. And that was enough.

The Good, the Bad, and the Thought-provoking at Melbourne Queer Film Festival

So that’s a wrap for the 22nd Melbourne Queer Film Festival. And after 14 sessions, and an interesting selection of films, I hit my queer film threshold, and piked on my final session. We went hard, and then we went home. But not before we’d seen a number of good films, and at least one disaster.

The Argentinian film 'Absent'

I kicked off last week’s screenings with an Argentinian film, Absent, directed by Marco Berger, whose first film Plan B screened in 2010. Absent is about a 16 year-old boy who contrives a way to stay the night at his swimming instructor’s apartment. It’s clear – although not to the instructor, initially, that this boy is infatuated with said instructor, and the sexual tension literally drips off the screen. The infatuation is not returned, but it does trigger something of a sexual awakening in the instructor. Absent says a lot with very little dialogue, and explores desire and sexuality in a detached but compelling way. If only some US filmmakers could tell stories like this too.

The AIDS documentary 'We Were Here'

Wednesday night was a two-films back-to-back night, both very good, and both sobering and thought-provoking. The first, We Were Here, was a documentary about the beginning of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco. A series of first-person accounts from people who lived through the late ’70s and 1980s as many of their friends and lovers died around them. A moving way to see how far we’ve come, and a reminder that the battle isn’t over yet.

The very repressed Francois in 'Beauty'

The South African film, Beauty (Skoonheid), treads a dark path, with a middle-aged married man, Francois, who attends men-only sex sessions but denies he’s gay, becoming obsessed with a friend’s young and very attractive son, the flipside to Absent, really. With more than a touch of Death in Venice, it’s a tense story about a fairly unlikeable man, but its ambiguity and an enlightening final act make for engaging viewing.

Vito Russo, gay activist and writer

An interesting companion piece to We Were Here is the doco Vito, the story of gay activist and writer Vito Russo. It charts similar territory, focussing on Russo’s activist work in New York during the ’70s and ’80s. And like We Were Here, it’s a very moving and timely portrait of an important figure in queer history.

I only got to see one short film package, Sex Drives & Videotape, and what was most interesting about that was the number of short films now dealing with how gay man relate to each other, either in relationships or sexual hookups. The quality of the filmmaking has gotten better, and demonstrates a growing confidence in storytelling.

The cliched and insubstantial 'eCupid'

Unfortunately, confident storytelling isn’t something I can ascribe to eCupid: Love on the Download. This was my Festival Fail for the year. Essentially a gay rom-com that had a promising premise – a smart phone app interferes with the lead couple’s relationship – it just couldn’t fulfill. With wooden acting, dreadfully trite dialogue, and a cheesy and annoying habit of spelling out everything the characters were feeling, this was a throwback to the kind of US gay comedies I thought we’d seen the back of five years ago.

My own Private Romeo...

Private Romeo, on the other hand, was a brave fusion of a group of young and attractive military cadets rehearsing an all-male version of Romeo and Juliet. The more they rehearse it, the more it takes over their lives, and results in a simmering sexual interpretation of the play, complete with Shakespeare’s original text. Not everyone’s cup of tea, and hard-going for a late Friday night film, but rewarding nonetheless.

'Hollywood to Dollywood'

Another film that could have benefited from a different time and venue was the doco Hollywood to Dollywood. Midnight at the Greater Union in Russell Street on a Friday night wasn’t ideal, especially when punters were encouraged to dress up as Dolly Parton. Suffice to say, there was only one, a woman. the fact that a pack of drunken straight men passing the cinema before the session and wondering loudly why there were ‘so many poofs’ in the cinema may have had something to do with that. the film itself was a fun road trip with gay twins Gary and Larry on a mission to drive to Dollywood in Tennessee to hand deliver a screenplay they’ve written for Dolly.

An important and weightier documentary was The Cure – an exploration of ex-gay programs run by Christian churches in Australia. Having had a rigorous Pentecostal upbringing myself, many of these stories were very familiar to me, and credit must go to the interviewees for being so open and honest about their experiences. Hopefully this film will be picked up by SBS or the ABC, because it really needs to be seen by a wider audience beyond queer film festivals.

A hot 'August' day...

My final film was August, one that I’d heard mixed reviews of. Starring Australian actor Murray Bartlett as Troy, a man returning to Los Angeles after living in Spain, and reconnecting with his ex, Jonathan, whose heart he broke when he left. Of course, Jonathan has a new boyfriend, Raoul, but that doesn’t stop him from having some hot, and very setamy sex with troy. Unlike eCupid, August doesn’t spell everything out, and maintains a smouldering sexual tension throughout the film, and just enough subtext and commentary about relationships to keep it interesting. And it made for a fitting end to the festival – for me at least.

And, as always, MQFF has left me with plenty of food for thought, especially regarding my own feature film script. One day it too will screen at MQFF. I hope…