Archive for July, 2010

Hollywood: Land of the Lost Imagination

Posted in Uncategorized on July 26, 2010 by scottsteaux63

Back in 1998, Gus Van Sant, an interesting new voice in Hollywood, decided to do a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s immortal classic Psycho, a film that still gives me a raging case of the creeps no matter how many times I see it.

Naturally, the first thing I asked myself was “why???”  Then I found out that what Van Sant was doing was not just a remake, but a shot-for-shot carbon copy of the original, only with different actors and filmed in color.

Well, I avoided the thing like the bubonic plague for years, until one Saturday afternoon it came on one of my cable channels and I was home alone with nothing else to do, so I figured, what the hell, and I sat down and watched.

It was, in a word, painful.

Roger Ebert, a critic whom I generally admire, opined in his mostly negative review that Van Sant made an inferior film while using a more talented cast than the original.  I take issue with this one very strongly.  The two best actors in the cast were Julianne Moore and William H Macy, and while I would probably give them their due as equals to the great and underrated Vera Miles and the truly great character actor Martin Balsam in the original, the problem was that the film itself was working against them.

For starters, Anne Heche and Viggo Mortensen, unlike Janet Leigh and John Gavin in the original, had zero chemistry together.  Whereas Leigh and Gavin were quite the sexy pair considering that to all intents and purposes the original was  a film of the Fifties.

Then there was poor Vince Vaughn.  What ever made that man think he could step into Anthony Perkins’s shoes, I shall never know, but to be fair, probably no one could have succeeded as Norman, a role that Perkins made so much his own that it plagued him for the rest of his career.

And despite the carbon-copy nature of the film, there were a couple of differences.  Moore’s character is a Lesbian in the remake, for no apparent reason, and nothing is made of it, so it seems to me a rather pointless thing to do.  And in the famous scene where Norman watches Marion undress through the hole in the wall, the remake makes it quite obvious that he is masturbating.  Now, I saw this alone in my apartment, and not in a crowded theatre, but I would bet money that that scene drew laughs.

Anyway enough of Psycho; suffice it to say that I was so disgusted that I avoided Van Sant’s films for over a decade until I was given the DVD of Milk as a birthday present.  Milk redeemed Van Sant as a director of power and vision.  What he was trying to do with Psycho I do not know; all I know is that it was a bomb.

Which brings me (at considerable length I know) to the point of this, well, diatribe.  For it seems to me that Psycho was only the beginning of a rash of remakes of films that, quite frankly, did not NEED to be remade.  Most notably, there were not one but two remakes of The Poseidon Adventure, a film that I happen to like but no one ever accused it of being great art.  And as one might have predicted, both remakes were, you should excuse the pun, disasters.

Of course, the biggest and most egregious of all these remakes also happens to be the one that not only made the most money, but garnered a ton of Academy Award nominations as well:  James Cameron’s three-and-a-half hour piece of ass ache called Titanic, a movie that took a real-life drama that had been told in riveting, documentary style in 1958 by Roy Ward Baker in A Night to Remember, and superimposing a fictional teenybopper romance over the story, turned a historical tragedy of human errors and hubris into a silly, overblown teenage date movie.

Remakes have become an epidemic in Hollywood; they have revisited Halloween and Friday the 13th like cockroaches heading for the sugar bin, and I hear they’re looking to do A Nightmare on Elm Street over again.

I sort of blocked it out of my mind until a couple of months ago when TCM’s “The Essentials” broadcast John Frankenheimer’s brilliant, paranoid political thriller The Manchurian Candidate, starring Frank Sinatra in one of his best performances, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and Angela Lansbury as perhaps the most evil mother ever to grace the screen (If you think of her only as Jessica Fletcher, watch out).  And as I watched this brilliant film, one of those rare birds that rewards multiple viewings, it dawned on me that they had remade this one too.  I must have blocked it out, but it was indeed remade in 2004, once again by a very good director who should have known better:  Jonathan Demme.

I can’t comment on this one, because I have never seen it, and never shall, but I do know that they updated the story from the Korean War to the Gulf War.  How they managed the paranoia without the Cold War overtones of the original I shall never know.  But I do know that not even Meryl Streep can outdo what Angela Lansbury did with the role of Mrs Iselin.

There are other remakes I could mention.  Among them a disastrous retread of Sybil, with a much-too-old Jessica Lange playing the doctor and Tammy Blanchard doing a spot-on imitation of Sally Field in the original; in fact, Blanchard’s performance is so much a copy of Field’s that she must have watched the original and studied it as if for an exam.  And IMDb has had a remake of Fahrenheit 451 listed for a couple of years, though that one keeps getting pushed back and maybe God willing it won’t get made.

I know there’s talent out there in the film industry, but it seems to show itself more in the independent films than the studio product.  Hilary Swank’s seminal work in Boys Don’t Cry could never have come from a studio, and the gay romance Latter Days is another example of how great movies can be made without spending huge fortunes.

I just wonder if Hollywood is ever going to get the message.


Trials of a Liberal Gay Christian

Posted in Uncategorized on July 20, 2010 by scottsteaux63

Being a liberal Gay Christian usually means you get flak from all sides.  In fact, outside of our own home church, my husband and I often feel like a couple of pariahs.  No matter which way we look, we find our beliefs, our convictions, and often our very persons under attack.

For starters, let’s look at the “Christian Right” (which is neither).  This group is the obvious one with which to start, primarily because lately they’ve been so noisy.  As the struggle for marriage equality continues, these people are becoming increasingly desperate; they pull Bible verses out of their behinds (to say nothing of context), they refuse to accept the fact that some of them are poor translations and need to be looked at again, and lately we’ve seen a resurgence of Anita Bryant’s old tactic of telling outright lies about the LGBT community.  In fact, old Anita has been in the news lately; I doubt she’ll last as long as the carton of orange juice in my refrigerator.

“You can’t be gay and be a Christian.”  God, if I had a nickel for every time I heard or read that someplace, I could retire to Key West.  In fact I was a Christian long before I knew I was gay, so the answer “of course I can” is obvious, at least to me.

But I am not going to spend too much time on these reactionary conservatives.  They’re noisy, so everyone has already heard them a dozen times over.  I just wish the saner elements of the Conservative/Republican parties would finally sever their ties with this bat-shit crazy faction of Christianity, a “marriage” that took place during the Reagan administration and as far as I am concerned serves only to rob Conservatives of any and all credibility.  As liberal as I am, I do find myself agreeing with a Conservative on occasion, but until they clean their own house, I really have a hard time dealing with them.

Which brings me to the other side of the coin.  Liberal Gay Christians, as a movement, often find ourselves standing with a good many atheists, many of whom are former Christians of one denomination or another who were treated so cruelly by their churches that they have turned their backs on religion completely.

Here’s where it gets hairy.  Some of these people are what I refer to as “Fundamentalist Atheists.”  While discussions within the movement are usually about politics, the actions of the above-mentioned Christian faction often bring religion into the mix, and the results are usually disastrous.  Because we liberal Christians are usually so shamed by the words and actions of the extremists who claim to follow the same Teacher we do that we often find ourselves either apologizing for our own beliefs or saying nothing.  And on the rare occasions when we do talk openly about our beliefs, if there is a Fundamentalist Atheist in the room, (s)he will immediately go on the attack, claiming that Jesus never existed and referring to God as “imaginary friend” and “sky fairy.”

What these people fail to see is that when they resort to these insults, they lower themselves to the same level as those extremist “Christians” we are supposed to be united against.

I am not in any way defending the “Christian Right.”  The Jesus they follow is a gun-toting, reactionary bigot; in fact, if the REAL Jesus were ever to come back, in some parts of this country they’d probably demand to see His papers.

In the context of the struggle for full equality for the LGBT community, most Gay Christians do not proselytize; any faith-based or religion-based activity we engage in is usually in the context of educating the churches.  When we are engaged in other pursuits, most of us don’t say anything unless we’re asked, because Fundamentalist Atheists are just as bad, nasty, judgmental, and insulting as Fundamentalist Christians are.  In short, the extremists on both sides are hypocrites.  But in my view the atheists are worse.  NOT because they do not believe as I do (that is their own business, and I would not dream of trying to impose my belief system on them), but because in their anger at their own suffering at the hands of the Churches, they usually lump all Christians together, forgetting or conveniently overlooking that some of us are standing right next to them.

It’s a lonely place to be sometimes.

Facebook: Clutter and my Desk

Posted in Uncategorized on July 12, 2010 by scottsteaux63

As I sat down this morning in front of my computer with my usual cup of coffee and signed on to gmail and Facebook, as I always do, I noticed that my Facebook account and my desk are in a similar state of disarray.

On my desk, there are papers piled everywhere; most of them old bills that need to be thrown away (since I do all my bills on-line these days, this consists mostly of receipts I printed out; I can’t seem to break the paper habit completely).

My Facebook account is similarly cluttered:  pages I “liked” six months ago that are no longer relevant, Groups I joined that I either no longer agree with, that have become repositories for spam, or never discuss the topic the Group was created for in the first place.  Then there are the groups and pages I “liked” or “joined” on a whim or the recommendation of a friend only to realize later on that I could not possibly care less about…whatever the thing was about.

So I set out to clean up my Facebook account.  And they do not make it easy.  You have to pull up each group or page individually and “leave” the group or “unlike” the page.  Since between groups and pages I had well over two hundred of these things, getting it down to the ones I really care about or am interested in took a good three hours.

I am now quite ready for a nap, thank you very much.  And incidentally Facebook, while there is much about you that I love (For example, you have helped me locate some friends that I thought were lost to me forever), when it comes to managing my account, you are far from user-friendly.  I am not a computer programmer, but there has to be a faster way to clean out your Groups and Pages than having to go into each one separately.

TracFone “Customer Service:” Re-post from March 18,2010

Posted in Uncategorized on July 11, 2010 by scottsteaux63

I have been a subscriber to TracFone prepaid cellular phone service for five years with no problems. On Sunday last (14 March), I realized that I had allowed the minutes to expire (the expiration date was the 13th). First I tried to reactivate the phone on TracFone’s website, to no avail. I called their “Customer Service” number and after being on hold for NEARLY AN HOUR I finally got a person whose first language was obviously not English because every time she turned to speak to her co-worker they spoke what sounded like Chinese. I had to give her my information THREE TIMES only to be told that I could not purchase airtime with a credit card and that it would take them 48 hours to fix the problem and to call back. So I did.

48 hours later I call back only to discover that I CANNOT PURCHASE AIRTIME OVER THE PHONE, BUT MUST GO TO THE STORE AND BUY AN AIRTIME CARD. Now I not only have AIDS, but at the moment I have no car and I live three miles from the nearest store so the task of buying the card fell to my husband.

Call Number Three, Day Four: I call with the Airtime Card PIN code and after spending ANOTHER HOUR ON THE PHONE WITH THESE MORONS I AM TOLD TO CALL BACK IN 24 HOURS BECAUSE THERE IS ANOTHER ERROR THAT HAS TO BE FIXED.

The irony here is that I actually allowed the phone to expire by mistake once before; the only consequence that time was that I ended up with a different phone number; otherwise reactivating the phone took only about fifteen minutes.

They have 24 hours to give me satisfaction or this blog gets copy/pasted on Facebook and wherever else I can find to put it.

Indie Films and other LGBT gems from Hollywood: Repost from 10/19/06

Posted in Uncategorized on July 11, 2010 by scottsteaux63

And while we are on the subject of Brokeback Mountain and Making Love, I have a few other GLBT- related movies to recommend.

Boys Don’t Cry: Hilary Swank in an Oscar winning performance as transgendered teenager Brandon Teena; Chloe Sevigny also shines as the girl who falls in love with Brandon even while suspecting that he may not be what he seems.

The Boys in the Band: The first “gay movie” to be made by a mainstream director (William Friedkin of The Exorcist and The French Connection fame), this landmark adaptation of Mart Crowley’s off-Broadway hit play is brought to the screen with the entire original stage cast intact. The minimal plot revolves around a group of gay men who gather for a friend’s birthday party and the uninvited guest who may or may not be a closet case. Some feel that this movie has dated badly since it was first released in 1970, but for those of us who are old enough to remember those days, it remains not only relevant but an important historical document of gay male social life at the time. And it is loaded enough witty and bitchy dialogue to make anyone laugh out loud.

Longtime Companion: the first major AIDS drama is a fierce and poignant tale of a group of gay men told over the first ten years of the epidemic. Bruce Davison (in an Oscar-nominated role) is particularly memorable as a man who watches his partner succumb to the ravages of the disease.

Philadelphia: this one is a companion piece to Longtime Companion which derives most of its power from Tom Hanks’s Oscar-winning performance as a lawyer battling both AIDS and the law firm that fired him for having the disease. Director Jonathan Demme does not quite live up to the promise he showed with The Silence of the Lambs; instead of focusing his camera directly on the events that move the picture along, he plays it safe. Antonio Banderas is well-cast as Tom Hanks’s partner, but his role has been obviously cut, and the way they relate to each other seems at times like apair of college buddies living together. And much too much screen time is given to the homophobic ambulance-chasing attorney (played with considerable charisma by Denzel Washington); still, this is in the last analysis a courtroom drama, and once we actually get IN the courtroom, the film becomes a devastating statement about AIDS, fear, and homophobia in “old boy’s clubs” such as some law firms. Mary Steenburgen, as the defense attorney, has perhaps the best line in this film when, after cross-examining Hanks in a particulary cruel way, takes her seat at the defense table and mutters under her breath “I hate this case.” You may hate the case too, but Tom Hanks is unforgettable, and in spite of Hollywood sanitization, this remains an important film about GLBT people and about AIDS in particular.

Torch Song Trilogy: Harvey Fierstein and Anne Bancroft as mother and son; Ma is your typical Jewish mother,insisting on having her own way and trying to make her son live a life she can approve of. Oh, did I mention that the son in question earns his living as a drag queen? Brian Kerwin and Matthew Broderick are Fierstein’s love interests. Pure delight!

Latter Days: a recent independent film that tells the story of a Mormon Missionary and the gay party-boy he falls in love with. It is sappy and corny and all the things that make straight romances so popular. As for the lovemaking scenes, this one is far more daring and explicit than either Making Love or Brokeback Mountain, making this one not to be missed!

Brokeback Mountain: Re-post from 10/19/06

Posted in Uncategorized on July 11, 2010 by scottsteaux63

Well, I finally saw Brokeback Mountain; nearly a year has passed since this monumental film was released and my only excuse is I am always the last one to see anything.

Director Ang Lee shows once again his marvelous sensitivity for actors. Just as his Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was so much more than a martial arts film, so is Brokeback Mountain so much more than the “gay cowboy movie.”

This is because Lee puts his characters under a virtual microscope and leaves them there; we see all their trials and tribulations up close and personal, which makes this film particularly heartbreaking to watch.

Having said that, however, I must point out that this movie is not nearly as “groundbreaking” as its publicity suggests. Twenty-four years ago Twentieth Century-Fox made a little film called Making Love, starring Kate Jackson, Michael Ontkean, and Harry Hamlin, which covered a lot of the same ground as Brokeback Mountain did except for the fact that the people in Making Love were upper-middle class city dwellers. Making Love was the first mainstream film to show two men kissing; I remember when I saw it in a theatre people went “EWWWWW” and some even got up and left when the kissing scene happened.

Making Love was, unfortunately, a resounding flop. According to some sources I have read, word of mouth was that it was a dull film. I did not find it dull at all; in fact I was transfixed by it. Perhaps it was being eighteen and closeted that made the movie capture me so, but I would bet money that a good many gay men felt the same way I did when they saw this movie.

Brokeback Mountain is by far the superior film; unlike Making Love it delves deep inside the character’s emotions, giving it a raw quality that the previous film does not have (and probably did not even think to attempt).

As for me, I lovethem both; a double feature of these two films would be not only entertaining but edifying.

Same-sex Marriage Case in New York: Re-posting from 10/19/06

Posted in Uncategorized on July 11, 2010 by scottsteaux63

I was driving home from the grocery store and I turned on the radio; it was tuned to a Christian station that I sometimes listen to and there was a “news report” on the upcoming same-sex marriage case that is to be heard in the New York State Supreme Court.

The “reporter,” his voice positively dripping with disdain, referred to the case no less than four times as “so-called homosexual marriage;” as if the very idea made him want to either laugh or lose his lunch.

I suppose I should not be surprised; I have been hearing the so-called Christian Right’s hate for GLBT people for years. Since the Berlin Wall came down and they no longer have the Communists to demonize, the gay community has become the focus of their irrational fears and insane hatred. There was really nothing new in what I was hearing on my car radio.

But there is an irony here that makes my blood boil. These are the same people that have been saying since the 1950s and before that gay people are incapable of sustaining relationships. They call us sex-crazed and promiscuous, and insist that our relationships do not last.

Now, when we are taking a stand and saying, “Yes, we want to have lasting relationships. We want to be solid citizens. We want our loves recognized and validated, and to be seen as legitimate members of society;” they are doing a 180 and denying us the opportunity to have the very committed relationships that they accused us of not being able to form in the first place!

As I said, I suppose I should not be surprised. And on reflection, I guess I’m not, really. I just wish these people would make up their minds. They hate us so much that their hatred has blinded them even to common sense.

I hope we win the case here in New York; my partner and I will be the first in line for a marriage license. And if that nauseates some so-called Christians, they can just take some Alka-Seltzer and shut up.