Thursday, July 28, 2011

Amy Winehouse

Bob and I were in one car, Brandy and the Jennys were in another. Parking was going to be a disaster. We were all trying to get to Coachella in time for Amy Winehouse. She was only a little on my radar at the time thanks to some NPR story I'd heard saying she was about the best thing to come out of South By Southwest that year. I'd heard a snippet of "Rehab" and knew she was all the rage, but I had no idea how crazy Brandy was to see her.

I think Bob predicted it; we'd beat the girls there because he had the better parking pass. I remember running to get to the tent and Bob laughing, saying, "Brandy's going to miss her and she's going to be so pissed!" We got to the backstage area and watched her set from behind; I could see only her skinny frame and her tall rat's nest of hair. The sound was never that great behind the stage but I could hear how deep her voice was. I could hear the response too. People were loving her.

Brandy and the Jennys got there right as she was wrapping up, I think. Brandy was devastated, but as we walked away from the tent, Amy walked right past us, a tiny, wispy mess of a thing. Brandy pointed at her and her eyes went big. Just there for a second and gone.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lucian Freud

Thursday afternoon I responded to a call for a last-minute replacement for the July occurrence of homo-centric's reading series. I was deciding what to present and reading over one of the two or three personal essays I have collecting dust on my hard drive when I saw news on the internet that Lucian Freud died. It made me want to want to write up something new for the occasion, but I didn't have the time. So I figured I'd do it here.

It must've been February 2003; I only know this because of the internet, although I wonder if I was keeping a journal at the time. I was invited to see a Lucian Freud retrospective by someone who shall remain Nameless. Nameless had flirted with me a little during a party the previous Christmas in someone's house in Beverly Hills. I didn't know that many people, so I was a little over the whole experience. Nameless made a bee-line for me as I was standing around awkwardly, sipping wine and wondering about leaving. The southern accent charmed me and made me feel comfortable; I wasn't all that attracted to him, but he was flirting and he was near my age. He seemed like a friend worth getting to know, at the very least.

We kept in touch and he offered to take me to a member's opening at MOCA for the Freud show. He had been given the tickets by a friend and didn't really have a clue what we were going to see, but I did. I remember reading about Freud for the first time when I lived in Houston, curious about a show there and miffed at myself for never getting it. I gladly accepted the invitation.

Nameless came to my place and then insisted on my driving. He didn't have clear directions on how to get to the museum, and since I had been in town less than six months, I was still relying on my Thomas Guide to get around. All the while he was changing course and telling me to turn and merge and exit at the very last possible second because he didn't really know where he was going, he was also complaining about how my driving was making him nervous. At one point I think I said, "I would've been happy for you to drive, Nameless. But you didn't. So." I can't remember if that shut him up or not. Probably not.

During one of these last minute merges and lane changes, I scraped up against someone in an SUV. The accident seemed minor, even before we got out of the car to inspect. When we did, we were confronted with a mute man of what appeared to be Middle Eastern descent. He inspected his car carefully, seeing what were surely scratches at best. Nameless and I stood uncomfortably, waiting for him to issue a verdict on my driving record. Even though he wasn't even driving, Nameless was the one who finally broke the silence with a classy question:

"Do you speak English?" His southern accent seemed suddenly thicker as he said it.

The other driver just scowled and nodded. I simultaneously laughed nervously and said "Of course he speaks English!"

Even after that misstep, the man graciously said "Don't worry about it," and let us go without trading info. Nameless was all but inconsolable after that point from the time we got back into the car until we arrived at the museum. I'm sure I repeated at least once, "You could've driven. But you didn't. So--" I'm not sure if he was bright enough to intuit the unspoken "SHUT THE HELL UP," I intended to communicate.

When we got to the crowded gallery, we rounded the rooms too quickly, looking at all the pictures while making room and finding room for ourselves in the midst of all the well-dressed party-goers. I tried to make the most of it, commenting to Nameless about the heavy, textured application of paint, the odd use of color, trying to engage with Nameless about what we were seeing. Anything I know about art and viewing art is more or less self-taught, so I just like to talk about what I see. I assumed at some point he would start doing the same, but he parroted everything I said. It was like moving around in an echo chamber. He exhausted me. If this was a date, there wouldn't be a second one.

I feel like a snob writing this. That said, I wouldn't actually become completely annoyed with Nameless until some time later, when I would learn enough about him to be justifiably turned off by him. At this point I guess I was just irritated. Displaced southerners aren't automatically kindred spirits. Sometimes the shared accent just isn't enough.

I made it back to MOCA on my own to see that show a second time. Freud's paintings are too demanding, too fascinating to let the trappings of a crowded party and bad company distract you from them.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Belated other Outfest post

I'm pretty sure you'll get a chance to see this one in some sort of release or on DVD. You should. It's lovely.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Outfest: Shut Up Little Man!

The other San Francisco documentary I saw was Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure, about the underground phenomenon of Peter and Ray, the screaming elderly alcoholics of the Lower Height in the 80s, one gay and petulant, the other homophobic and also petulant. The movie's an exciting and disturbing story, but what impresses me the most is how tough the filmmakers are on their subjects, Eddie and Mitchell, two middle-aged men who have spent much of the past 20-odd years cashing in on the (mostly) surreptitious recording of their two very sad old drunken neighbors back in 1987. To this day you can buy copies of Peter's and Ray's death certificates for 3 bucks a pop on their website, shut-up-little-man-dot-com; when asked about this in the film, Eddie discussed the importance of art to be challenging. Okay then.

It's a fascinating movie not just because of the odd story, but because of the ways Eddie and Mitchell both justify their own exploitation of Ray and Peter and defend the material against others who would more casually exploit (translation: profit from) it. In their defense they also spend some time seeking out the men, wanting to make a connection, seeming to look for the depth and humanity that their recordings don't capture. They recount an evening prior to filming when they sat down with Peter and offered him some money from the record company that was cashing in on his rants. The event apparently ended with Peter trying unsuccessfully to trick with them. An inverse example is given by a man eager to make a movie about Peter and Ray who needed Peter to sign a release; he got what he needed by making out with the old man. There are a lot of layers of exploitation to peel away here. Seems nobody's off the hook in this one.

Mitchell and Eddie's meager attempts at investigation in the time-line of the filming feel necessitated by the cameraman following them around. They also center on the puerile. When they finally get in to talk to Peter and Ray's friend Tony, the only living connection they can find (massaged with a 6-pack and a bit of cash), the first question out of Mitchell's mouth is about whether or not the two bickering men had sex. They get great footage out of Tony in spite of themselves, and it's not because Ray and Peter did or did not have sex. It's because Tony admits that he would gladly desecrate Peter's grave if given the chance.

Peter was cruel. So were Tony and Ray. These aren't nice people. Maybe they deserve to be exploited. Mitchell asserts as much by saying that screaming so loudly you keep your neighbors up at night means you're asking for it. He does have a point. And it is funny to listen to these old tapes of decrepit lushes going at it, at least for a minute or two, when it starts to get really pathetic. But what is it that we're expressing by laughing at them? The same cruelty they inflict on each other? Amazement at their cruelty? And is it permissible to exploit people just because they're jerks?

All of that is clearly on the mind of the filmmaker, but that self-justification is too. The constant ways we compromise and capitulate, the ways we lash out, the ways we live with ourselves. Peter and Ray and Tony did. And now Eddie and Mitchell. The documentarian who dramatizes dark, spooky, blurry altercations between two bloated, slobby actors playing Peter and Ray as he plays the tapes of their screaming at each other. The audience who laughs and passes judgment while ignoring their own hypocrisies, while lying to themselves and others about any number of things.

Heavy stuff. It's a good movie. Check it out.

Outfest and We Were Here

I usually write about Outfest about this time every year, and I have been seeing a fair amount. I've still got Hit So Hard at the Ford, my third documentary, on schedule for tonight. There's late night flick I want to see on Saturday but I haven't bought the ticket yet. Anyone want to go?

So far so good on my picks this year. I've only really disliked one movie, and it was more of an embarrassment than a downright miserable experience. In other words, it was typical trashy GLBT film festival fare with some decent eye candy. Generally speaking, I'm pro-eye-candy.

Everything else has been interesting to excellent. Even though they've started this strange 5 at 5 series for documentaries, screening several documentaries at 5pm on weekdays at a reduced price and making it impossible for folks like me with day jobs to see them, I've still managed to see two extremely strong documentaries, both of which should get theatrical runs of some sort, so keep an eye out for them.

The first was We Were Here, about San Francisco during the onset of the AIDS crisis. It's mainly a talking-head doc, but the subject matter is of course intensely rich. The filmmakers introduced the movie as a "love letter to San Francisco," which it definitely is. My only quibble was with their use of footage from a very Los Angeles film, Silverlake Life, The View From Here, to show scenes of the physical devastation AIDS waged on its victims. JW and I both regretted not asking about that during the Q&A, but the tone was so reverential and laudatory, I for one didn't want to sound like a party pooper. My favorite remark from the audience came from a young guy right behind me who was hardly reverent, but still gushed; he thanked the filmmakers for the history lesson because he said he "doesn't have time to read And The Band Played On. I wanted to ask him, "Why, are you too busy making your way through Proust?"