Sunday, 19 June 2016

New Queer Cinema / LGBT Cinema - An Introduction

So what is "New Queer Cinema"? Simply put it's a genre coined by the academic  B. Ruby Rich in an issue of “Sight & Sound Magazine in 1992 as a way to encapsulate the rise in “queer-themed independent filmmaking” of the early 90’s and can be seen as an umbrella term for LGBT film making from 1990 to present.
To best explain the history of this era of LGBT cinema it no doubt best to look at LGBT cinema as a whole especially as LGBT cinema has unquestionably existed before the rise of this definition with film scholars citing both “The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) and “Lot in Sodom” amongst the earliest examples though the LGBT film making in this period was largely a closeted affair with films often being made to masquerade as hetrosexual fare for the mass-market while throwing in the occastional subtle wink to its true audience. Openly gay or lesbian characters meanwhile were used mainly as punchlines or characters destined for a tragic demise which would essentially continue to 1969 though examples can be found throughout the postwar American avant-garde cinema with directors such as Kenneth Anger, Gregory Markopoulos and the unquestionably most well-known Andy Warhol. At the same time European arthouse cinema was being populated by the likes of Jean Genet’s “Un Chant D’Amour which would prove to be a major influence for New Queer Cinema’s pioneer Todd Haynes whose “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story” and more key “Poison” which would be responsible for essentially kick-starting the sub-genre.

The Stonewall Riots of June 27, 1969 not only provided the catalyst for the LGBT civil rights movement but also LGBT cinema aswell with a large number of film festivals dedicated to Gay and Lesbian cinema being established for films which were either largely experimental or documentary based such as Milton Miron’s “Tricia’s Wedding. At the same time European cinema continued to provide its own unique brand of film making such as Ron Peck’s “Night Hawks” and Stephen Frear’s double header of “My Beautiful Laundrette” and “Prick Up Your Ears brought forth a new era of frankness while addressing the climate of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain of the late 80’s.
Unsurprisingly “New Queer Cinema” would be born out of the rise of the same independent film making scene which via Steven Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies and Videotape” had  started to see films from this scene starting to gain attention from the studios while for the film makers despite working with much smaller budgets than their studio counterparts found a freedom to express and create the films they wanted, making it the perfect breeding ground for the movement to take root with 1991 and 1992 being the key years in which LGBT film making really began to get noticed despite the likes of Gus Van Sant’s “Mala Noche” and Bill Sherwood’s “Parting Glances”. Sherwood’s film being especially notworthy for not only featuring the acting debut of Steve Buscemi as Nick a gay man living with aids in New York while being cared for by his ex-lover. The film sadly would be Sherwood’s only film due to losing his own battle with the disease but should be also noted as being one of the first to deal with the realities of aids in the face of the hysteria of the newspaper headlines and government propaganda.
Despite these films certainly making inroads in the mid 80’s thanks to their success with critics though were hampered by limited releases. They should however still be considered as being as important to the movement even if it wouldn’t be for another four years that the movement would really find its feet.  Amongst the first films to be cited under this new definition by Rich were “Poison” Todd Haynes which would win the 1991 Sundance festival Grand Jury Prize for Best Film followed by Tom Kalin’s “Swoon” and cinematic agitator Greg Araki’s “The Living End” all showcasing an exciting new and fresh voice for LGBT cinema.
The films which formed this new era of LGBT cinema were unapologetic in their approach to the portrayal of the LGBT lifestyle assuming that they their audience were members of this community and hence there was no need to “explain” either homosexuality or lesbianism to their audience. At the same time they cared little aswell for presenting the politically correct image of the community with the likes of “Poison” featuring pretty graphic depiction of sexual relationships between prision imates while Greg Araki reworked the chase movie to feature two young and HIV-positive men. These directors aiming not to push the sexuality of its characters but essentially demand that LGBT culture be acknowledged despite society at this period of time being keen to largely repress let alone acknowledge the community.
These films would open a gateway for not only similar films but also bringing forth a new openness which saw films such as Kimberly Peirce’s “Boys Don’t Cry” and Jamie Babbit’s “But I’m a Cheerleader” being produced which would likely not have happened had it not been for the success of their New Queer Cinema forefathers. By 2001 the Sundance Film Festival again would serve as marking the next evolution for the genre with the musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” wining the “Audience Award for Best Film” and the mainstream sucesss of “Brokeback Mountain” marking the genres merge with mainstream film making that we continue to see today with the likes of “Behind the Candelabra” and “Blue is the Warmest Colour” making it all those early films of this movement all the more relevant.

Starting Point – Five LGBT Cinema Essentials

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story – Todd Haynes debut short film based on the final seventeen years of Karen Carpenter’s life with all the parts played by Dolls which Haynes modified to tell her story, including whittling the arms and face of the Karen doll to show her anorexia.

Banned due to a copyright lawsuit filed by Karen’s brother, the film still turns up on VHS as well as youtube leading to it regularly being named amongst the top 50 cult movies of all time.

C.R.A.Z.Y. – The legend goes that nearly everyone in Quebeck- a population of around five million – has seen this film and its easy to understand why as Jean-Marc Vallee crafts an entertaining and occastionally tale which is as much about family disfunction and the things which tie them together as it is about sexual awakening. Something which perhaps has put more people off seeing this sadly much overlooked film.

Paris Is Burning – Often referred to as being one of the most important documentaries in Queer cinema history as director Jennie Livingston chronicles the ball culture of New York City, where contestants are required to give catwalk style walks while being judged on their dancing and outfits. The documentary also explores many of the contestants deal with issues such as racism, homophobia, AIDS and poverty, making it an important snapshot of the period.

Nowhere – One of the more accessible films from Greg Araki but still retaining all his usual oversexed randomness as it follows a group of LA teens over the course of a frenzied 24 hour. A day made up of a volatile cocktail of sex, drugs, suicide, bizarre deaths and alien abduction
The final film in his “Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy” which includes “Totally Fucked Up” and “The Doom Generation”, a trilogy based on shared themes rather than reoccurring characters, while this film also boasts one of the most impressive before they were famous casts since “Clueless”.

Fox and His Friends aka Right Fist of Freedom – written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder who also stars as the titular Fox a working class gay man who falls for the older and wealthier Max who initially wants nothing to do with Fox until he wins the lottery. However it soon becomes clear that Max does not share Fox’s feelings as he plots to swindle him out of his newly gained fortune.
Fassbinder is unquestionably a key source of inspiration for many directors who contributed to the New Queer Cinema movement while equally been an important figure in New German Cinema aswell.  Here he goes against the film making norms by portraying his gay characters as being normal rather than being a problem while showcasing that his letcherous homosexuals were really no different than any other films lecherous hetrosexuals.

Authors Note: Originally posted as part of The LAMB "Cult Chops" feature

Monday, 6 June 2016

Glow: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

Title: GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling
Director: Brett Whitcomb
Released: 2012

Plot: Documentary charting the rise and fall of the first all-women wrestling company which ran from 1986 to 1990.

Review: Recently it was announced that a new comedy based around the 80’s wrestling company G.L.O.W.  is being developed by Liz Flahive (Homeland) and Carly Mensch (Orange Is The New Black) for Netflix. Of course being a wrestling fan this immediately perked by interest, though to my shame and perhaps down to not being the biggest fan of old school grappling had never heard of G.L.O.W. the company the series was based on having wrongly assumed that “Shimmer” was the first all-female wrestling company.  Needless to say this documentary which looks at the original run for the company provides the perfect starting point for those wanting to see where Flahive and Mensch are to be finding their inspiration.

While to some it might come as a surprise especially with so much glitter and huge hair on display but G.L.O.W. was actually a company very ahead of its time seeing how wrestling at the time was still very much a male dominated industry with women wrestlers being viewed the same as midget wrestlers as they were a novelty act rather than the main draw that the company set out to make them.  At the same time it should be noted that none of these girls were particularly good at wrestling with most being either models or actresses who’d auditioned for the company not realising what they were signing up for exactly a fact openly confirmed by the performers while their former trainer Mando Guerrero is on hand to share the experience of attempting to turn them into believable wrestlers. The show itself as we get to see through the copious amounts of footage included being often more about the spectacle than the wrestling, especially with their roster being divided into Good and Bad girls and questionable raps and skits breaking up the in-ring action.

Assembling an impressive collection of interviews largely with the performers than any of those higher ups in the company, a couple of which are highlighted for declining to take part in the documentary. Still the interviews that director Brett Whitcomb has assembled are all interesting enough to really concern yourself over the ones he wasn’t able to get.  Needless say it’s an upbeat experience with all the performers named using their ring names all seem to have nothing but happy memories of their time with the company as they all come with great stories of how they developed their characters or just working in the company.

One thing that Whitcomb really does well here is to capture the energy of the company which fitting for its Vegas setting was all about spectacle and glamour and with the footage and interviews used here really captures it here, whether its Spike and Chainsaw using an actual chainsaw in the ring or a misguided attempt at riling up the crowd by having the heel trio come to the ring dressed as Nazi’s it’s all only adds to the documentary and inturn makes its accessable not only for the established fans and wrestling fans but also for those drawn in by the crazy visual or intrigued like I was to find out where the inspiration for this new Netflix series comes from.

On the downside here Whitcomb chooses to view the company for its original run, rather than look at the revival in the 2000, as he instead chooses to end with the wrestler coming together for a reunion before he reveals what happened to them after the closure of G.L.O.W. with all the girls having left the industry bar Matilda the hun and Lisa Moretti who wrestled as Tina Ferrari and would following the closure of G.L.O.W. go on to wrestle for WWE as Ivory making her arguably one of the more successful members of the original roster.

Which short in its runtime, it’s fitting for the subject matter and keep things flowing at a quick pace, especially when opting to not get bogged down in horror stories and regrets from the former employees. Still it’s a fun watch and one which will no doubt have you heading to Youtube to hunt down archive matches and skits from the show as soon as the credits have rolled.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

My Top 100 Film Moments

Taking inspiration from Patton Oswalt's "100 Favourite Movie Moments" which he includes along with several other pieces of writing at the end of his book "Silver Screen Fiend" I thought I would throw out my own 100 movie moments which have stayed with me since I saw them.

When compiling the list I have tried to avoid listing the usual favourites such as the "You talkin to me" scene from "Taxi Driver" or the "bigger boat" scene from "Jaws" as while they are still unquestionably great scenes, their inclusion in this list would only take away space from more less known but none the less essential film moments. Of course it equally goes without saying that this list really is a reflection of my thoughts at the time of writing and like any film junkies top 10 list any number of titles could be replaced with newer discoveries depending on my mood though I would hope that this list even as time passes still provide some kind of insight into my movie watching experiences.

1.       The recently dumped Zuckerberg creates “Facemash” – The Social Network

2.       Neo-Tokyo bike ride – Akira

3.       Introducing “Monster Island” – Destroy All Monsters

4.       The Moloko Milk Bar opening – A Clockwork Orange

5.       The Human Caterpillar rolls a cigarette – Freaks

6.       Kathryn teaches Cecile how to kiss – Cruel Intentions

7.       Major Kong riding the Atom bomb – Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb

8.       Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris fight to the death at the colosseum – Way of the Dragon

9.       Why do I have to be Mr. Pink? – Reservoir Dogs

10.   The House of Blue Leaves massacre – Kill Bill

11.   Samuel L. Jacksons motivation speech is suddenly cut short by a surprise shark attack – Deep Blue Sea

12.   Jacques car – The Big Blue

13.   Bob arrives in Tokyo – Lost In Translation

14.   Only the French would put a cinema inside a palace – The Dreamers

15.   It’s not about the coffee in my kitchen – Pulp Fiction

16.   Tank Joyride – Buffalo Soldiers

17.   Pilot takes fluid Karma and dances to the Killers “All These Things That I’ve Done” – Southland Tales

18.   The parents revenge – Lady Vengeance

19.   Olive mimicking pageant contest winners – Little Miss Sunshine

20.   The Tanker Chase – Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

21.   The squid scene – Oldboy

22.   Death Star contractors – Clerks

23.   Asami listens to the phone ring while the sack thrashes – Audition

24.   Jason’s surprise appearance – Friday the 13th

25.   This is Bat Country – Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas

26.   Michaud stares down the bomb – The X files: Fight The Future

27.   Hans Gruber – Die Hard

28.   Alleyway fight – Big Trouble In Little China

29.   Popo The Puppet – Beerfest

30.   The opening Knight Rider pursuit – Mad Max

31.   The gangs heading to the meeting – The Warriors

32.   Eric Draven becomes the Crow – The Crow

33.   The support groups – Fight Club

34.   The sign language sex scene – Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance

35.   Valentine’s Day is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap – Eternal Sunshine of theSpotless mind

36.   Brundel Fly begs for death – The Fly (1986)

37.   Kint loses the limp – The Usual Suspects

38.   John Does’ Apartment – Seven

39.   The opening tea-house bust – Hard Boiled

40.   Matt, Jack and Leroy reunite one last time for the Mythical Big Wednesday – Big Wednesday

41.   The Chest Burster- Alien

42.   The final test at the resturant - Nikita

43.   Dr. Dealgood introduces Thunderdome – Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

44.   Guido explains the “No Jews” sign – Life is Beautiful

45.   King Kong makes his last stand on the Empire State building - King Kong

46.   Andre’s fly head reveal – The Fly (1958)

47.   Marion is killed in the shower – Psycho

48.   Well I’m a little Bi-Furious – Scott Pilgrim Versus the World

49.   Buffalo Bill dances to Q-Lazurus “Goodbye Horses” – Silence of the Lambs

50.   Mecha-King Ghidorah is revealed – Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah

51.   Putting out the Engine fire – Mad Max: Fury Road

52.   The Lords of Death – Babycart at the River Styx

53.   Magot’s missing years revealed – The Royal Tennenbaums

54.   The restaurant explosion – Brazil

55.   Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to Violence  – Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

56.   The Naughty or Nice list – Christmas Evil

57.   The truck flip – Death Race

58.   Euthanasia day at the old folks home – Death Race 2000

59.   The dance routine – Silver Linings Playbook

60.   The secret of Shell Beach is revealed – Dark City

61.   Buttons the Clown is arrested – Greatest Show On Earth

62.   I need a room you mean old bastard – From Dusk Till Dawn

63.   The Training Video – Battle Royale

64.   The cut away boat – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

65.   Stansfield on Mozart – Leon

66.   The Pink Room – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

67.   Pinback gets stuck in the lift – Dark Star

68.   The Wicker Man is revealed – The Wicker Man

69.   The siege of Tir Asleen – Willow

70.   The Dude’s dream sequence – The Big Lebowski

71.   The curb stomp – American History X

72.   Chen final showdown with Fujita – Fist of Legend

73.   Lee in the room of mirrors – Enter the Dragon

74.   Ip Man Vs. 10 Japanese Black Belts - Ip Man

75.   Chase through dreams – Paprika

76.   The Stink Spirit – Spirited Away

77.   Donnie rides home soundtrack to “The Killing Moon” by Echo and the Bunnymen – Donnie Darko

78.   Randy and the former legends at the fan signing – The Wrestler

79.   Pawning the TV – Requiem for a Dream

80.   The Cook – Spun

81.   The Buyers market – 8mm

82.   The funeral procession – Stone

83.   Exploding Head – Scanners

84.   The Alternative opening timeline – Watchmen

85.   Gamera does the parallel bars – Gamera vs Guiron

86.   Enid and Rebecca flip off the school – Ghost World

87.   Leatherface swinging his chainsaw at the sunrise – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

88.   Playing the reel of confiscated scenes – Cinema Paradiso

89.   The Gremlin drawing on the table in the bar – Gremlins

90.   The lady in red prelude – Sin City

91.   The weapons room fight – Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

92.   Breakfast with the Pin – Brick

93.   Buster Keaton tossing railway sleepers – The General

94.   Dillion and Ripley face off over the breakfast table – Alien3

95.   Hans Landa and Shosanna eating strudel  - Inglourious Basterds

96.   Chang singing Karaoke – Only God Forgives

97.   Frank Mackey’s seminar – Magnolia

98.   Metatron appears to Bethany – Dogma

99.   The Lair of the Pale Man – Pan’s Labyrinth

100.  Gris licks the blood from the bathroom floor - Cronos

Friday, 20 May 2016

Biker Movies - An Introduction

If any aspect of cult cinema embodies the spirit of wild and carefree rebellion it’s the “Biker genre”. From its beginning in 1954 with the release of “The Wild One” staring a young (and less gelatinous and egotistic) Marlon Brando as the black leather jacket clad Johnny Stradler the leader of “The Black Rebels Motorcycle Club) who roll into Carbonville during a motorcycle race with the intention of stirring up trouble. While it might seem alittle twee to modern audiences the film was greeted with shock and hysteria by the press of the day, while the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) banned the film till finally awarding it an ‘X’ certificate (the equivalent of today’s ‘15’ certificate) when they allowed it to be released fourteen years after its original release, the original letter of rejection for certification stating that they were of the opinion that the film presented a
“spectacle of unbridled hooliganism… with no more than a mild censure from a police office, would be likely to exert a harmful influence in that very quarter about which anxiety is felt and would expose the Board to justifiable criticism for certificating a film so potentially danger on social grounds”
Unsurprisingly all this controversy resonated with the alienated youth of the time who loved the idea of the motorcycle riding rebel. While in the UK the battles between Mods and Rockers did little to ease the fears of the censors and general public leaving them to hold out on the film till they felt that the film had become too dated to appeal to the potential delinquents of the film whose rebellious nature they felt the film would only fuel.
Despite the controversy which surrounded “The Wild One” it would take the exploitation cinema legend Roger Corman to really launch the genre with “The Wild Angels” as he saw biker films as a way to revive the flagging Western genre seeing the biker film as its modern day equivalent with bikes replacing the horses. At the same time the wild nature of these films made them perfect fodder for the audiences of Drive-in’s and Grindhouse theatres who made up much of Corman’s target audience for the films he was producing especially with their common themes of revenge and the desire to live free and without the oppression of “The Man” (popular themes for the Blaxploitation films of the 70’s) which played perfectly in a time when civil liberties was still a key subject with the classic “Easy Rider” truly providing the embodiment of these themes.

“Easy Rider” would prove to be another influential title not only for how films were made, but the genre as a whole which soon saw more focus on storytelling as well as more essentially the riding sequences as producers attempted to hold onto an audience that had evolved and now craved more from these films than thrilling scenes of adventure and wild delinquency. It’s would being during these finals years for the genre that we also saw some of the most interesting films being produced such as the Blaxploitation influenced “The Black Angels” and the bikers in Vietnam “Nam’s Angels” aka “The Losers”; a film inspired by head of the “Hells Angels” Sonny Barger sending a telegram to President Johnson offering the Angel services as “gorilla fighters” (sic) which Johnson might have turned down but it did end up making a pretty decent biker movies as well as one can also be seen being watched by Fabienne in “Pulp Fiction”.

While stateside the genre might have been winding down but at the same time it also began to attract international attention with Japan giving us the “Stray Cat Rock” series whose first entry “Delinquent Girl Boss” memorably gave us a motorcycle / beach buggy chase through the streets of Shinjuku, Tokyo. Coming towards the end of the golden age for the genre, its presence would in Australian cinema as Ozploitation memorably brought its own twist on things with Australian cinema at this point already renown for its love of car chases really pushed the action side of the genre with the likes of George Millers “Mad Max” and its sequel “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior" both memorably featuring psychopath bikers aswell as some equally memorable stunt work often shot on roads unofficially closed down by the production team. We would also get with “Stone” arguably one of the most iconic moments to be featured in any biker movie as it featured a funeral procession complete with a motorcycle Hearse and hundreds of bikers thundering down the highway.

Not to be outdone Britain too would throw its gauntlet down with “Psychomania” which not only brought a horror element to the biker movie as a biker gang called “The Living Dead” make a pact with the devil to become immortal, while also being led by the frog loving Alex DeLarge clone Tom. Despite gaining a cult following in the years since its release, many consider the film to mark the end of the biker film genre as exploitation cinema moved onto other areas as the times changed. The bikers which had once been the focus now being pushed into the background or taking on the antagonist role especially with the increase of interest in post-apocalyptic movies of the 80’s were the marauding biker gang was a common sight.

Nowadays the biker movie is all but a forgotten concept outside of the occasional throwback that the Neo-grindhouse genre has given us such as the Quentin Tarantino produced “Hell Ride” aswell as the equally awful“Dear God No!” and its sequel “Frankenstein Created Bikers” leaving my genre fans with mixed feelings for the genre. At the same time it’s a genre which hides some great hidden classics especially during the 60’s and 70’s and while a lot of it can be seen as perhaps overly campy or grimy for some tastes for the more adventurous movie watcher there is still plenty to enjoy.

Starting Point – Five Biker Movie Essentials

Motorpsycho – Directed by Russ Meyer’s just before “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” this film is not only noticeable for the lack of his Ultravixens, but also for being the first film to give a portrayal of the disturbed Vietnam veteran, many of which had returned from the war and drifted into motorcycle gangs unable to handle the return to civilian life.  The film has also inspired the name of the Norwegian Progressive rock band aswell as being refrenced by “White Zombie” in the song “Thunder Kiss ‘65’”

Born Losers – The first of the “Billy Jack” trilogy following the “Half-breed” American Navajo Indian, who is also a Green Beret Vietnam Veteran aswell as a hapkido master who has taken to living in the California mountains in his attempts to escape from society. Things don’t however go according to plan as he finds himself having to defend the town of Big Rock against the members o the Born Losers Motorcycle Club. A commercial success despite a negative critical response, the film would be followed by “The Trial of Billy Jack” and “Billy Jack Goes To Washington”.

Angel Unchained – Angel feels that his days as a biker are coming to an end and breaks away his gang “The Nomads” to try and find his own way in the world only to find himself caught up in a conflict between a hippie commune and the local rednecks leading him to call in his former gang to help provide protection for the commune.

Werewolves on Wheels – One of the few films to combine both biker and horror genres see also (Psychomania, I Bought A Vampire Motorcycle) and directed by Michel Levesque who had previously been the art designer for Russ Meyer. This film was largely used as double bill fodder but still has a fun hook as Adam the leader of “The Devil’s Advocates” is unwittingly cursed along with gang with Lycanthropy (the posh term for Werewolf) and its not long before they leave a bloody trail in their wake as they hit the open road.

The Hellcats – A film no doubt already known to fans of MST3K, here the gender roles are flipped as crime boss Adrian uses  the female motorcycle gang The Hellcats to carry out his drug runs. However when a detective is killed by one of Adrians henchmen leading to his army sergent brother and girlfriend to go undercover as bikers to infiltrate the Hellcats to get their revenge against Adrian.
Authors Note: Originally posted as part of The LAMB "Cult Chops" feature
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