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.

 

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…

 

An Unreel Out, Loud, Proud Cloudburst of an opening for MQFF

Sorry, it’s been a while since I posted a blog; life gets in the way sometimes, and will continue to do so for a little while yet.

I’ve been meaning to write about the demented Danger 5 on SBS1 Monday nights – an hilarious pastiche-spoof-tribute to cheap and cheesy TV from the 1960s – it’s a mad mix of Get Smart, Thunderbirds and classic Doctor Who among others. It’s not to everyone’s taste, I know, but I love ‘deliberately bad’ satire.

Fra from bad though was the Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF) Opening Night film, Cloudburst. Rather, it’s the best festival opener in many a year, and for the first time, Opening Night was held at ACMI in Federation Square. I’m not sure yet if this new version of Opening Night worked – after so many years of being spoilt with the glorious Astor in St Kilda, it’ll take some getting used to. Waiting at the bar for a pre-show drink during the speeches was hard work, but we were rewarded with a heartfelt speech from special guest Magda Szubanski – and she was greeted with an incredibly appreciative and extended ovation.

I’ll talk about the party in a bit; but first, the film.

Directed by Thom Fitzgerald, who has directed other wonderful films, The Hanging Garden (1997) and Beefcake (1998), it stars Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Blethyn as an older lesbian couple, Stella and Dotty, who have been together for 31 years. Dotty’s blind, and Stella looks after here until a fall, and Dotty’s granddaughter decides that Dotty would be better off in an aged care facility – something that Stella won’t have a bar of.

The pair are soon on the run to Canada where they can legally marry, and they pick up pretty boy hitch-hiker Prentice (Ryan Doucette) along the way. On-the-road hijinks ensue.

Olympia Dukakis and Ryan Doucette in 'Cloudburst'

That’s not a bad thing – in many ways it’s a fitting vehicle for the story’s sensibilities and emotions. The three leads are all great; Dukakis and Blethyn are completely credible as two women still very much in love. There are some cracking one-liners, poignant insights and sharp observations, and you can’t help but reflect on your own relationship while watching – well, i did anyway. It’s not quite 31 years, but we’re well on the way; Kieran and I were deciding who corresponded to whom. It’s great to see such a mature and well-expressed queer film on the big screen.

It was certainly getting universal praise from everyone at the after-party – if you could hear the shouted conversations in the loud and echoing downstairs foyer at ACMI. Nevertheless, it was still fun to catch up with friends and people you only ever see at MQFF.

I did make it my mission to meet the magenta-dyed US actor-writer-director Jesse Archer, who now lives in Sydney, and is in Melbourne for the Festival with the short film he directed, Half Share, and the feature he appears in, Going Down in La La Land; both of which screen tonight, Friday night. And it was Mission: Accomplished too. He was a lot of fun to take to, quick and witty and very generous.

I’m seeing Going Down in La La Land, and shall report on that, and the many other films I’ll be seeing over then next ten days, so stay tuned. I might even make some sense, too.

Extending that Chorus Line

Sometimes there’s nothing better than a bit of musical theatre, and Melbourne certainly loves its musicals. But you better be quick to see A Chorus Line, because it’s only in town for a very limited time at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Exhibition Street.

"And step, two, three, four." The cast are taken through their moves.

It’s a revival of the 1975 Broadway musical about a group of young hopefuls auditioning for a place in the chorus of a new musical; not quite art imitating life imitating art, or the old show-within-a-show, but more like a musical version of a behind-the-scenes doco, or even a reality TV show. There’s plenty of singing and dancing, naturally, but not much in the way of love, drama and romance – well, not in the traditional narrative sense.

It is, of course, all about the dancers themselves; their lives, their hopes, dreams and desires. Because of that, it’s all about their performances, and this cast certainly delivers that in abundance. Most of the ensemble have had plenty of experience as ensemble performers before, so it’s great to see such talented individuals given the chance to really shine. For that reason, it’s a little unfair to highlight any of those individuals. But I will.

Take Josh Horner, for example. (I know plenty of people who would, for various reasons…) While he’s not an unknown – especially now he’s a judge on dancing With the Stars – he does a great job as Zach the director holding the audition. He demonstrates the right amount of experience and authority needed for the role – and manages to maintain that when he’s offstage and addressing the hopefuls from the back of the theatre, which he does for most of the show.

Josh Horner in full flight as Zach. And that's Euan Doidge as paul on the left, and over on the far right is James Maxfield in those impressively tight pants of his...

Euan Doidge is also great as Paul, the young gay dancer who talks about the pain of his childhood. of course, we’ve had plenty of similar characters and stories on stage and screen since then, but in 1975, portrayals of gay characters like this were rare, and this was groundbreaking.

And, Head Shots at the ready, please!

Other standouts include Leah Lim as Connie, the short Asian girl determined to make it in showbiz, and Debora Krizak as Sheila, the slightly jaded performer just a little older than the rest of them. Anita Louise Combe as Zach’s ex-girlfriend Cassie also delivers a powerful performance, especially during her big solo number, ‘The Music and the Mirror’.

On a slightly more superficial level, Rohan Browne as Greg and James Maxfield as Mike both put in great performances; their physical prowess and male beauty are mesmerising, and they have incredibly magnetic stage presences that sometimes makes it hard to take your eyes off them. Not that I’m complaining. That, and Mazfield’s amazing arse in his very 70’s, very fitted dance pants…

Be warned though, there is no interval in A Chorus Line, and has a running time of around two hours. This obviously proved a problem for the two blonde girls seated to my right on opening night – they kept checking their iPhones throughout the show, maybe waiting for a better offer. they obviously got one; they left about half an hour before the end. Which is a shame really, because they missed two of the biggest and best-known numbers from the show, ‘What I Did For Love’ and the gold-lame wonder of the finale, ‘One’.

The finale and the gold lame really kicks in...

The good news is that the Melbourne season has been extended until 11 March 2012, so you still have a chance to get to see A Chorus Line. Best you do…

Oh, and check out some of the Opening Night Party shots.

 

‘A Chorus Line’ Opening Night after party

A Chorus Line opened in Melbourne on Saturday, 4 February, and it was followed with a very attractive, star-studded event. here are some photos of stars and cast – and my partner Kieran McGregor!

Don’t worry, a review will be coming shortly…

Melissa Berglund and Kieran McGregor

Rohan Browne and Tim Minturn

Nick Bracks and Josh Horner

Josh Horner, Brynne Edelsten and Nick Bracks

Rachel Berger and Kieran McGregor

Mark Strom, Ashley McKenzie and Tom Lambert

Peter Veltman, Kurt Doulgas, Tom Lambert and Mark Strom, feeling the pink.

And then Mark mixed it up gelati style. Strawberry and lemon, I'm thinking...

Melissa Berglund and Josh Horner

James Maxfield and friend

Mish and Michael Cormick

Michael Cormick and Gerrard Carter

Chelsea Gibb, Kellie Rode and friend

Kieran McGregor and Chelsea Gibb

Mark Hill and Travis Khan

Mark Hill and Ben Osborne in matching check shirts and bow ties.