Friday, June 15, 2012

Adam Hartzell's Canadian Frameline

Of all the so-called "special interest" film festivals on Frisco Bay, there's none larger, more festive or more inclusive than Frameline, which began yesterday. This "Cannes of gay film festivals" builds its programming of films to appeal to a core audience of LGBT moviegoers, but invariably brings film programs that straight, cis cinephiles won't want to miss either. I'm personally most interested in delving into the New Queer Cinema retrospective, in seeing George Kuchar's final SF Art Institute "class film", Empire Of Evil at the Roxie. and in attending the Castro for the Iranian film Facing Mirrors, which my friend Michael Hawley calls "the Frameline36 film no one should miss." The Film On Film Founcation dutifully indicates which of the festival's screenings are to be shown on that dwindling festival format: 35mm. But another friend, Adam Hartzell, has got me thinking about another set of Frameline selections. Here's Adam: 

The embarrassment of cinematic riches San Francisco's larger festivals provide can be overwhelming at times.  In spite of that, I always appreciate the opportunity to self-curate a deeper festival focus nested within the larger mission of each festival.  And for the 36th year, Frameline presents so many different aspects of the Queer community on which to focus.  Hmmm, I could center my viewing on Intersex issues, the Bear community, or even the intersection of Queer folk and sports.  Instead, I chose my screeners based on country of origin.  And those who know me know I have more than a soft spot for Canada.

And Frameline has a spot for Canada in its closing film this year.  Cloudburst (Thom Fitzgerald, 2011) features the star power of Olympia Dukakis as Stella, an lesbian of the senior set who wears a cowboy hat but her back is anything but broken, because she won't take any shit from anyone.  And I choose to cuss because Stella never met a swear word she needed to censor.  As for her partner of 31 years, Dot (played by Brenda Ficker of My Left Foot), her language is more polite (and Irish-ly-lilted), but along with her vision being mostly gone, her bones are a bit more brittle, as evidenced by a vibrator-induced fall that leads to a broken butt.  This incident begins the power struggle with Dot's granddaughter who seeks to separate Stella and Dot.  As you can guess by my quick analysis of Stella, she won't let this happen, so she helps Dot break out of the nursing home and they head from Bangor, Maine to the Canadian border, (picking up a young, hunky hitchhiker on his way to Lower Economy, Nova Scotia), in order to get married with hopes this will provide a stronger legal grounding to contest Dot's granddaughter's control of Dot's final years.

The enjoyment of Cloudburst solely comes from the wicked pleasure of the vulgar dialogue given to Dukakis.  Sadly though, that's where the enjoyment ends.  One has to snip out these creative fits of curses and hold on to them as the film rides from one bit of otherwise choppy plot progression to another.  Not  even a great actress like Dukakis can save this from the lesser hands of the editing and direction.

But there are the two more Canadian films to choose from.  First, there's Margarita (Dominique Cardona & Laurie Colbert, 2012), but there's a review hold on that one, so I can't tell you that I fairly enjoyed it and how it provides an interesting opportunity for a critical frame from the POV of a bicycle seat.  The other is the best of the three, Daniel Roby's Funkytown, which proves that along with yogurtbagels, circusesprotests, and corrupt construction industries, the French Canadians do cinema way better than their anglophone compatriots (Egoyan, Cronenberg, and Maddin excepted, of course). 

Quebec Cinema continues to represent recent periods lavishly on screen. I know none of you saw it, because it was basically just my wife and I in the theatre during the Tiburon International Film Festival this, and pretty much every, year, but one great example of these Quebec period pieces (in this case the 1960s) brought to the Bay Area recently, was the powerful Michel Monty film Life Begins, about a boy dealing with his father's death by popping papa's little helpers. Funkytown recreates 1976, jumping between English and French because, as Roby told Bernard St-Laurent on the CBC's English language program on French Canadian culture, C'est la vie, Montrealers regularly jumped between languages back then. The film primarily focuses on two characters - Bastien (Patrick Huard of Bon Cop, Bad Cop), a radio DJ and host of a show called 'Disco Dance Party' who eschews his family responsibilities for the disco lights, dazzling drugs, and sexy ladies; and Tino (Justin Chatwin from the Middle of Nowhere), a young Italian Canadian carving out a space for his desires within the cultural confines of mandatory heterosexuality.

Other characters with considerable screen time include father-son owners of the 'first disco club in North America' The (later, thanks to the PQ, 'Le') Starlight, a has-been French disco star, a model turned fashion 'reporter' wanting a turn at musical stardom, and an early gay icon in Montreal's disco world.  Each of the characters are handled with enough depth to keep you from feeling they are tossed in as afterthoughts or poor editing choices.  The portrayal of Adriana the model, (played by real life Guess Girl model Sarah Mutch), is particularly refreshing.  When she is interviewing a Montreal fashion designer that doesn't know English, (and Adriana knows no French), Adriana doesn't come off as the cliched 'dumb blonde' but as someone way out of her league positioned merely because she's considered beautiful by the media.

That scene has the Montreal Olympic stadium as its backdrop, and Funkytown begins at the apex of Montreal's standing, the Olympics of 1976, then slowly follows the four years as Montreal's bills came due.  (Montreal didn't finally pay off those Olympic bills until late 2006.  For a long time, the Olympic Stadium, or 'The Big Owe', stood as signage for poor municipal decisions, such as the genius use of the stadium as a bureaucratic dystopia in Denys Arcand's The Age of Ignorance.)  This financial debt due serves as background for the moral/ethical debt due for many of the characters in the film's foreground. 

Something else that Adriana's scene underscores is the interplay between French and English in Montreal and how Roby uses this in his film.  As the interview with St-Laurent on the CBC notes, Roby's decision to mix-up French and English in the film was controversial in Quebec.  Yet I am happy he made this choice because there are moments, such as lovely scene where Bastien hopes to reconcile with his daughter, where the code--switching adds layers of how we negotiate intimacy and emotional connection through the languages we use with different people in our lives.
And what is a festival like Frameline but one expanding the language of cinema in speaking on topics about which we often feel forced to remain silent.

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