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Reeling 2002


Reeling 2002, the 21st Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival, continues Friday through Thursday, August 2 through 8. Screenings are at the Three Penny and Landmark's Century Centre. Advance tickets can be purchased from 10 to 6 weekdays, noon to 5 Saturday, at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark; same-day tickets are available only at the venue box office. Tickets are $8, $6 for screenings until 5. Discount passes are available; for more information call 773-293-1447 or the festival hot line at 312-458-9117. Films marked with an * are highly recommended.


Karmen Gei

Senegalese director Joseph Gai Ramaka reworks Bizet's Carmen, with Djeinaba Diop Gai as a singing-and-dancing bisexual dynamo who seduces a female warden, escapes from prison, and enlists a policeman as she smuggles contraband. In one libidinal dance number the irrepressible Karmen taunts the corrupt authorities in her audience: "You have swallowed up the country--we'll eat your gut." Produced in 2000, Ramaka's film upset the authorities too: according to the BBC, Senegal's prime minister led protests against the film because Mouride chants accompanied a scene in which Karmen's lesbian lover, the prison chief, is buried, and members of the Islamic sect threatened to torch a Dakar cinema. The film's story line is loose, but Gai gives a strong performance as the transgressive heroine, a voluptuous woman with a passion for populism. In French and Wolof with subtitles. 86 min. (Bill Stamets) (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:00)

The Man I Love

Stephane Giusti (Why Not Me?) wrote and directed this French TV drama (1997) about a lifeguard in a Marseilles suburb (Jean-Michel Portal) who falls reluctantly and then passionately in love with a gregarious pool boy (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo). The film's first third--in which the lifeguard's feisty girlfriend (Mathilde Seigner) encourages the coy and testy relationship developing between the two men--is more complex emotionally than the balance of the film, which mixes gooey romantic scenes, ACT UP politics, and pleas for gay marriage (the pool boy suffers from AIDS). Giusti knows the message he wants to convey and has Jacques Bouquin's sun-drenched cinematography on his side, but the tone veers toward the ludicrous: in one scene the two lovers sing a socialist anthem with the pool boy's flamboyant mother as they drive around in a pink Mercedes trying to find a cemetery. In French with subtitles. 87 min. (TS) (Three Penny, 7:00)

* Metrosexuality, 1-3

Created, written, and directed by its star, Rikki Beadle-Blair, this rich, multicharacter miniseries was broadcast on Britain's Channel Four in 2001, and it puts American series like Queer as Folk to shame with its frenetic camerawork, brain-spinning narrative, and witty, sometimes highly poetic dialogue. Set in contemporary London, it connects a dozen or so friends, relatives, and utter strangers in a wonderfully complex lattice of relationships, at the center of which are Max (Beadle-Blair), his estranged gay lover, and the straight 19-year-old son whose custody they share. The plot woven around this collection of punks, sexual outlaws, and eternally foolish mortals moves fast enough to give you mental whiplash, yet Beadle-Blair still finds time to create fascinating, three-dimensional characters. Certainly it helps that the filmmaker's worldview is as warmhearted as it is multicultural, polysexual, polymorphous, and perverse; he also has an extraordinary talent for keeping the story moving without resorting to contrivance or PC sentimentality. The festival is screening the first six episodes in two blocks, each running about 112 minutes; viewers who catch the second program without having seen the first will have their work cut out for them. (Jack Helbig) (Landmark's Century Centre, 8:45)

Pretty Ladies

In Pretty Ladies: A Super-8 Explosion!, four lesbians awaken in separate beds and begin to search for mates. Director Catherine Crouch uses the style of silent movies, including intertitles and music, as she mixes eroticism and humor in her exaggeration of gestures such as cigarettes touching; she also uses stark, high-contrast imagery to intensify the focus on bodies. Self-parody adds an amusing edge, as when ludicrous humping on a tractor--and a kinky cut to nearby cows--follows sensuous lovemaking. The humor is even sillier in several shorter media parodies that still manage to entertain: Mark Kenneth Woods's Pimp and Ho: Adventures in Queersploitation (2001) focuses on the heroes' attempts to keep drug dealers sent by "hetero scumbags" out of their "gayborhood" using a gun that turns victims gay with beamed fruit. Margaret Broucek parodies Jewish parody in Your Better Butch Fashion (2001), in which a Jewish mom dispenses wisdom such as "If you're going to walk with your mother and be a butch, wear Tommy Hilfiger" and seeks an alternative mate for a daughter who plans to shack up with a "living rack of earrings." Also on the program: work by Nina Xoomsai, Vanessa Stalling, and Sam Stalling; Kristin J. Mohr and Kelly Hayes; George Lyter; and Nanci Gaglio. 95 min. (FC) (Three Penny, 8:45)

When Boys Fly

Two videos that address the risks inherent in sex, drugs, and "fun." In Stewart Halpern and Lenid Rolov's When Boys Fly a group of friends goes to a circuit party with different plans--one intends to stay off drugs, another to do "seven hits." Incisive contrasts are created by intercutting sexy shirtless bodies with one couple breaking up, others making new friends, and some people OD'ing. A similarly diverse group of attitudes from two different generations is explored in Jim Arnold's Our Brothers, Our Sons (2001), as older gay men decry new AIDS infections among the young, worrying that the gains they fought so hard for could be lost, while others argue that the meaning of gay sex is "getting another man's semen inside you"--which the video's closing statistic on new infections places in a sobering context. 87 min. (FC) (Landmark's Century Centre, 10:15)

Under One Roof

There's a bit of the TV soap and sitcom in this San Francisco romance, but it's good-humored and erotic too. A young Chinese-American accountant living with his mom--that's the tradition until he's married--complains that he just watches his condoms expire. Mom, who doesn't want to know he's gay, rents a basement apartment to the very out Robert, and the two men fall in love. By putting off any contact between them for a half hour, director Todd Wilson lets them develop a sincere affection and builds a real sexual tension. The too cute voice-over sometimes irritates, but the somewhat sappy ending manages to be touching. 76 min. (FC) (Three Penny, 10:30)


Swimming Upstream: A Year in the Life of Karen and Jenny

Jennifer Freedman's video documentary examines the mood swings, social strain, and sexual anxiety of a lesbian couple preparing to give birth to a child, and though it's pretty dull visually, its emotional content is often breathtaking. Karen, the expectant mother, recalls the repercussions of her Southern Baptist upbringing and her delay in acknowledging her homosexuality; her mate, the more aggressive Jenny, was the plaintiff in a landmark California case charging gender discrimination against girls who wanted to play Little League baseball. The elaborate role-playing between the two women, their complex social identities, and their disruption of cultural and sexual stereotypes are all handled gracefully and intelligently, providing an emotional setup for the tense and numbing birth of the child. The video suffers from an abrupt and fairly unsatisfying ending, the result of trying to summarize everything that preceded it, but this is still compelling stuff. 74 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (Three Penny, 12:45)

* It's My Life

Brian Tilley's moving 2001 documentary profiles Zackie Achmat, the South African AIDS activist whose Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) is committed to making antiretroviral drugs available to anyone in South Africa who is HIV positive, especially pregnant women. The video follows Achmat's arduous court battles in Johannesburg, which initially forged an uneasy alliance between the government and multinational pharmaceuticals to deliver affordable drugs to the general population. He reached an impasse when President Thabo Mbeki called into question the connection between HIV and AIDS and selectively cited American warnings about the toxicity of some antiretroviral drugs. Both HIV positive and gay, Achmat is in a moral and political bind: he declines to treat himself with drugs he could easily afford but most of his countrymen cannot. Tilley juxtaposes Achmat's complete absorption in preparing for demonstrations and court appearances with his private battle to ward off a host of HIV-related maladies, and his frequent visits to his doctor reinforce his personal stake in hammering out a national policy that will prescribe medicine to millions who have HIV. 72 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Landmark's Century Centre, 1:00)

The Heart's Root

A maddening musical farce about sexual politics, this 2001 feature from veteran Portuguese director Paulo Rocha concerns a right-wing candidate for mayor of Lisbon (Luis Miguel Cintra) who leads a clandestine life: he's had an affair with his father's mistress, a madam-pornographer (Isabel Ruth), and he's in love with her young transsexual photographer. Out in the streets the black-clad militia cracks down on drag queens, a duel portrayed as a Felliniesque carnival. Ultimately the film is too far-fetched, disjointed, and confused about its own motives to be damning. In Portuguese with subtitles. 115 min. (TS) (Landmark's Century Centre, 2:30)

Ke Kulana He Mahu: Remembering a Sense of Place

Our contemporary political struggle over gay marriage supplies the framework for this engrossing 2001 documentary about the acceptance of homosexuality in native Hawaiian culture. Directors Kathryn Xian and Brent Anbe piece together interviews with historians and gay and trans activists to show that the Hawaiians' communal society included neither the nuclear family nor European sexual morality. In the 19th century tribal chieftains adopted Western law, a failed attempt to protect the country from colonization, but before that most children were raised in extended families and many chiefs had male lovers; the Hawaiian word for gay sex also means "safe sex," because it precludes conception. 67 min. (FC) Also on the program: For Straights Only (2001, 22 min.), a video by Vismita Gupta-Smith. (Three Penny, 2:30)

* The Business of Fancydancing

Writer-director Sherman Alexie offers a richly detailed version of the identity contradictions Native Americans wrestle with in this tale of a gay Indian poet who's left the reservation for success in the white world: he writes about life on the reservation but rarely returns, and he's had many white lovers but no Native Americans. Alexie mixes up time and juxtaposes scenes to create meaning as he tries to explain the poet's rejection of life with his tribe. A triumphant Indian football victory is followed by a scene of kids forced to wait in the car while their parents get plastered; a boyhood friend challenges the poet for rejecting the rez, yet the poet meets the man who would become his longtime lover at a dance in Seattle; and some cuts-both-ways humor illuminates the justifiable bitterness Indians have, as when the poet explains to his white lover, "I just pretend you're Custer." Also on the program, Jasc's short Thorn Grass, a somewhat sappy meditation on the brutal murder of a gay, or possibly transgendered, boy. 111 min. (FC) (Three Penny, 4:15)

A Swiss Rebel: Annemarie Schwarzenbach (1908-1942)

The father of lesbian writer, photographer, journalist, and morphine addict Annemarie Schwarzenbach suggested that she work for Hitler's "great, purifying movement"; instead she wrote mostly unpublished anti-Nazi articles. Her mother rejected her; she lurched from one lover to another; a brother, disgusted by her homosexuality, felt she wasn't worth the cost of a sanatorium. Director Carole Bonstein's 2000 video offers excerpts from Schwarzenbach's writings, friends' letters, and family home movies, as well as period footage of places she lived and interviews with a few who knew her, including her gay ex-husband. In French with subtitles. (Reviewed this week in Section One.) Also on the program: Karen Murray's Life's Evening Hour (2000), about commercial photographer John Dugdale, whose story should inspire almost anyone in trouble. Nearly blinded by an AIDS-related infection, he vowed from his hospital bed to become "the most famous low vision or blind photographer in the country," then reinvented himself by making moody and often erotic naturally lit cyanotypes that are now sold in a tony New York gallery. 104 min. (FC) (Landmark's Century Centre, 5:00)

* Fish & Elephant

Described as "the first-ever lesbian film from mainland China," shot "underground" with nonprofessional actors, this 2001 video centers on three women: an elephant keeper at the Beijing zoo, her new lover, and her ex, who's on the run after murdering her father for raping her in childhood. Like many other current Chinese directors, Li Yu does most scenes in a single take with only rare close-ups, and her gentle but distanced compositions create relationships between actors and viewer very different from those of Hollywood films, which often use intercutting and histrionic acting to manipulate our emotions. A long take in which the daughter comes out to her mother, ending mom's almost comical attempts to find her a husband, lets us imagine the parent's distress through her small movements and few uncomprehending words. And while at first the juxtaposition of scenes seems almost random, it eventually reinforces the tragic trap of the narrative as the police close in on the fugitive. In Chinese with subtitles. 95 min. (FC) (Three Penny, 6:30)

Fixing Frank

This engaging 2001 video concerns a writer who has covered mostly "tulip festivals and antique shows," but to please his "superfag" activist lover tries an undercover expose of a therapist who claims to convert gays to heterosexuality. Complications ensue as the therapist proves less evil than expected and the writer starts opening up to him about his problems. But is the therapist as much a manipulator as the lover? Andrew Elvis Mitchell's portrayal of this insecure writer torn between two strong men is especially supple, and Michael Selditch's direction is tight and competent. But Ken Hanes's witty script shows its origins in his stage play, with the repartee often a bit too thick and fast for the screen. 103 min. (FC) (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:00)

The M.O. of M.I.

Like a really bad soap opera, this 2001 indie video from Austin crosses into that strange nether zone of compulsively watchable junk. A performance artist and hustler (David Christopher) finds himself performing in the town where his former lover lives (David Stokey) and immediately finds a way into the man's house and life. Trouble ensues when the visitor threatens to reveal some of his old flame's shady business transactions, and the flame's live-in boyfriend (Cory Schneider) becomes hysterical over the visitor. Director Susan Turley has little control over her material--which includes a double cross, a triple cross, and a bizarre subplot involving a stolen briefcase pursued by a pair of sadistic thugs--but she has enough sense to maintain a high level of hysteria. If nothing else, you won't be bored. 90 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Three Penny, 8:30)

The Politics of Fur

Laura Nix's oppressively closed-off feature maps the evolving power and sexual relationships that connect a domineering music-talent manager (Katy Selverstone), her fastidious personal assistant (T. Jerram Young), and the beautiful, self-possessed musician she falls for (Brynn Horracks). The video creates a potent sense of how capitalism functions within personal relationships, but visually and dramatically the video is inert, its talented actors mostly confined to the dead, stylized space of the manager's blinding white apartment. The blunt shifts in plot and character motivation only intensify the feeling that the film is unsure of itself. 80 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (Landmark's Century Centre, 9:00)


Manuel Josell Ramos interviews an exhaustive roster of less than eloquent DJs, club managers, sound engineers, and nostalgic patrons to remember two New York clubs of the 70s and 80s: the Loft and Paradise Garage. One scene-ster explains that the Loft was the only place in the city that played Chicago house music, while another lauds the bass acoustics of one legendary sound system ("I can't even describe the tightness"). Ramos memorializes the innovative DJ Larry Levan, who died in 1992, and the community of gay youth fostered by the clubs. "It was about completely being safe from the social restrictions from the outside," he says in a voice-over. "Everything that the Moral Majority told you you couldn't do, it didn't exist anymore." For a film about dance clubs, this pays little attention to styles of music or dance, and the long-winded talking heads are punctuated by the same few clips of archival video. 96 min. (Bill Stamets) (Three Penny, 10:15)

Zipper and Tits

This glamorously moody exercise in erotic ethnography by Japanese video maker Koji Shirakawa (2001) studies two underworld hookers: Zipper is introduced with unfocused snapshots of his childhood and a woebegone voice-over: "All I know is that I lost something important. I can't remember what it was." Blank faced, he turns tricks with men in a garbage-strewn alley, one of whom beats him bloody shouting, "I'm not one of you!" Tits's childhood snapshots are sunnier; "I had been and will continue to be nothing," she announces. She turns tricks with rough-trade males, and a woman pays for the privilege of cursing her. The video benefits from its lush visual effects but has precious little grasp of its subjects. In Japanese with subtitles. 71 min. (Bill Stamets) (Landmark's Century Centre, 10:30)


Hope Along the Wind: The Life of Harry Hay

In 1948, Harry Hay founded the Mattachine Society of Los Angeles, the first advocacy group for homosexual men in the U.S.--but, as he explains in Eric Slide's documentary (2001, 57 min.), for the first two years he couldn't find anyone else to join. Hay went on to join gay activists in the 1960s and found the Radical Faeries in the 1970s. As profiled by Slide, he seems like the genuine article, a man far ahead of his time who says his greatest compliment came from a young man who whispered, "Thank you for my life." (FC) Also on the program: Melissa Regan's 24-minute video No Dumb Questions. (Landmark's Century Centre, 1:00)

Sister Smile

This unpleasant drama of debasement imagines the trajectory of Belgian nun Jeanine Deckers, whose 1963 hit record "Dominique" inspired the 1966 film The Singing Nun starring Debbie Reynolds. Apparently Deckers left her calling the same year, and 22 years later she committed suicide with her lesbian lover, another ex-nun. Director Roger Deutsch begins with storybook narration, as the young Jeanine climbs down knotted bedsheets from her second-story window, buys a guitar on a whim, and enters a convent (which will later receive all the royalties from her international hit). The tone turns sordid, with detours into surreal lechery and even an animated fantasy sequence, yet the film never explores the spiritual or even the sexual aspects of her experience. Flippant nihilism drives the narration at the end, which tells us Deckers "dreamt of what the world would have been like if she had never been born" and discovered that "everything was exactly the same except she wasn't there." In Italian with subtitles. 98 min. (Bill Stamets) (Three Penny, 1:00)

* African Stories

American gays griping about homophobia should consider the much worse horrors displayed in these three videos about Africa. The mother in Mpumi Njinge's My Son the Bride expresses disgust on finding a lover in bed with her son, then tries to kill the son with a pot of hot cooking oil (though the lover's family accepts the couple with hugs and attends their wedding). Sue Maluwa Bruce's Forbidden Fruit (2000) is the story of two women discovered together in their Zimbabwean village and forced to separate for two years; it's narrated largely by a storyteller, whose delicate voice and rhythm offer a telling contrast to the oppression she recounts. Beverley Ditsie and Nicky Newman's Simon & I (2001) shows how South African lesbians are often threatened with rape as a "cure"; but Ditsie narcissistically conflates her troubled friendship with activist Simon Nkoli, who refuses to separate his blackness from his gayness, with their larger and more interesting struggle. 108 min. (FC) (Three Penny, 3:00)

Kevin's Room

Chicago director Sharon Zurek presents five gay African-American men facing HIV/AIDS with a spectrum of emotions, ranging from fearful denial to delusions of invincibility. The title describes a support group run by a social worker, Kevin (a surrogate for the video's sponsor, the Chicago Department of Public Health). Designed as a pilot episode for a series, this hour-long drama premiered last year on Channel 50 and ends with the unusual proviso "Neither medical advice nor other professional services are intended or being provided. Please consult your physician or healthcare provider for specific treatment." Actors Perry Cavitt, Da' Non Bolden, Malik Middleton, Byron Stewart, and Kevin Butler (in the title role) are uniformly polished, but they're hemmed in by the exclusively interior locations and the video's consciousness-raising agenda. Also showing: Sheila Wise's 15-minute video A Different Kind of Black Man. (Bill Stamets) (Landmark's Century Centre, 3:00)

Keep the River on Your Right

The sensationalism of this video biography of Tobias Schneebaum seems less than apologetic, its manipulation of him despicably real. Schneebaum, an abstract expressionist painter who left Manhattan to visit the Amazon in 1955, was presumed dead when he didn't return after seven months, but actually he'd become a temporary expatriate and accidental ethnographer. In his late 70s during much of the filming, he's frequently shown expressing the wish that his actions not be further sensationalized, though he'd once sensationalized them himself--in clips from old talk shows, he puts quite a spin

on the sex and other experiences he shared with native people in the jungles of Peru and later Indonesia. But the hosts and other guests on the shows seem so narrow-minded and ethnocentric it's hard to blame him for being provocative. Filmmakers David and Laurie Gwen Shapiro--who've included footage of Schneebaum saying that they forced him to revisit people and places he preferred to keep as memories and that he regrets having once joined the Amazon natives in cannibalism--have somehow rationalized yet another round of exploitation. 93 min. (LA) (Landmark's Century Centre, 5:00)

Queerly Animated

Many of these shorts showcase relatively unconventional forms of animation. In the whimsical Dress Code (2001) by Canadian Martha Newbigging, the female symbol found on women's rest-room doors metamorphoses into an exuberant dancer in pants. In Mike Trull and Rick Ziegler's offbeat and off-color Preemie (2001) a radioactive premature baby discovers his supernatural powers while defending his Asian-American sister and her butch lover against the forces of evil. Don Thomas's Pedro + Tony (2001) documents the domestic squabbles between a Latino dog named Pedro and his rooster lover, Tony; rendered in a strange cut-and-paste style, it's a surprisingly cogent glimpse at the art of postargument compromise. In Shawn Atkins's The Traveling Eye of the Blue Cat (2001) assorted clip-art women pursue amorous encounters, besieged by odd blue cats and psychedelic birds. And Jim Tushinski's hilarious Jan-Michael Vincent Is My Muse recounts a man's long-ago infatuation with the 70s teen heartthrob. A mix of film clips and clip art shows Clarence as a nerdy teen engaged in a series of improbable fantasies involving Vincent. Also showing: films by Paula J. Durett, Todd Downing, Michael Lucid, Dino Alberto, Dave Hughes, Luna Luis Ortiz, and Derek Frederickson. 96 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Three Penny, 5:00)

Between Two Women

This 2000 English video by Steven Woodcock, about thwarted desire and economic restriction in the north of England, never overcomes a sluggish opening. Set during the spring and summer of 1957, the story concerns the friendship and unconsummated sexual attraction between an unhappily married woman and the sympathetic teacher who teaches her prodigiously gifted ten-year-old son. The class distinction and sense of social grievance are sharply etched, and the wife's bid for adventure produces one dense and beautiful sequence at a summer retreat during which the land and water conjure the thrill of wonder and the despair of the unattainable. Unfortunately the drab misery of the characters' lives and the defeatism of the young boy's father choke the life out of the material, and the point of view shifting from son to mother weakens the dramatic possibilities and sets the story adrift. 82 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:00)

* Daddy and Papa

This 57-minute documentary by Johnny Symons looks at four gay couples adopting children, including his partner and himself. Besides the obvious transition each couple faces both personally and publicly, Symons shows what the children go through, especially those old enough to remember a previous family life. Another wrinkle is the tendency of white or interracial couples to adopt black children, largely due to their greater availability. Symons's boyfriend argues that most white people who downplay the significance of a child's race are being naive if not insensitive. Unfortunately Symons backs off from the issue, except for a brief conversation with one child who expresses both his love for and his confusion toward his single white gay dad. Also showing: Dads (Papas), a 2000 mockumentary by German filmmaker Martin Gypken. A gay couple adopting two young brothers are followed everywhere by an off-camera interviewer who seems unwilling to accept their status as parents. This is an accomplished piece of filmmaking, shot in gritty verite style, and it's virtually indistinguishable from the real thing until the end credits reveal it to be scripted (solidly, by Jorge Prinz). In German with subtitles. 36 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Three Penny, 7:00)

Stray Dogs

Local filmmaker Catherine Crouch shows considerable craft and sensitivity in this debut feature, adapted from Julie Jensen's play, about a love triangle on a ramshackle farm in Appalachia. A sultry pregnant woman (Guinevere Turner of Go Fish), fed up with her hotheaded husband (Bill Sage), bonds with her burly sister-in-law (Dot-Marie Jones). In the stage version the wife falls for a brother-in-law, yet Crouch's lesbian twist subtly alters the psychodynamics, providing a new angle on the familiar southern-gothic elements (purple prose, biblical quotes, cruelty to dogs, etc). The drama is nicely paced, and though the film was shot mostly in Stockton, Illinois, it captures the drowsy

feel of the hill country. 95 min. (TS) (Three Penny, 8:30)

I Love You Baby

Spanish directors Alfonso Albacete and David Menkes (I Will Survive) appropriate a real-life accident that befell pop singer Boy George as the pivotal incident in this likable if patronizing piece of whimsy (2001). A country boy new to Madrid (Jorge Sanz) falls in love with a young two-bit actor (Santiago Magill), but after being hit on the head by a falling disco ball he succumbs to the advances of a single mother from the Dominican Republic and his old flame dresses up in drag to win him back. Much of the courtship and cross-dressing comedy is lame, but Dominican song-and-dance numbers crank up the energy, and the heart-to-heart scenes are sweet. Predictably, Boy George has a cameo. In Spanish with subtitles. 103 min. (TS) (Landmark's Century Centre, 9:00)


Bedtime Stories

Five shorts about sexual longing and human connection, told in sharply contrasting styles. By far the strongest entry is Mary Feuer's Rock Bottom, which sympathetically observes the shifting relationship between a lonely, taciturn writer and the hip, attractive, sexually open street hustler he brings home. The lower depths of Los Angeles provide a cool and haunting landscape, establishing the jagged emotional rhythm between the two wary strangers. John Daschbach's Bedtime Stories (2000) cuts among three different couples in the same apartment building, straining toward a facile and unimaginative conclusion. Joshua Sanchez's INSIDE/out studies the entropy of a young man whose experiments with rough sex go dangerously awry. And Stewart Wade's video Coffee Date, about a vain straight guy who's tricked into a blind date with a man, belabors the sexual and emotional ignorance of heterosexuals, yielding little in the way of surprise or excitement. Also showing: Paul VanDeCarr's Sexual Orientation. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (Three Penny, 7:00)

That's My Face

Both films on this double bill take a literary form, the personal essay, as their model for highly personal autobiographical documentaries. In That's My Face (2001, 56 min.), Thomas Allen Harris recounts his spiritual journey from his home among Christian parents in the U.S. to Africa and Brazil, where he discovered the religious beliefs of his African ancestors. The film is filled with fascinating clips from Harris's various trips, and his affable, unpretentious narration quickly establishes an easy intimacy, an effect enhanced by the fact that much of the film was shot in Super-8 and later blown up to 35 millimeter. I'm still skeptical of Harris's grandiose declaration at the end of the film that a return to African polytheism has calmed his spiritual and psychological distress. Canadian video maker Richard Fung sets a more modest goal with Sea in the Blood (2000, 26 min.), a cinematic memoir of his older sister, who suffered from the rare, terminal blood disease thalassemia. Packed with photographs from his childhood and scenes from various travels, this gentle, intelligent account of a sister's illness offers an apology for youthful folly (Fung missed his sister's death because he refused to cut short a trip to Europe and Asia), and mourns his boyfriend's battle with another blood-borne disease, AIDS. (Jack Helbig) (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:00)

Friends and Family

Everything's sugarcoated in this mild but likable comic fantasy (2000) about two closeted gay lovers who work for one of New York's bigger organized crime families. Director Kristen Coury portrays the mob as a safe harbor in a crazy world, where tradition, loyalty, and family still matter, and the lovers are the kind of pasteurized homosexuals popular on TV--neat, handsome, stylishly upscale, and utterly sexless. The story, by Joseph Triebwasser, is a sitcom perennial: one fellow's midwestern parents, aware that their son is gay but not that he kills people for a living, decide to drop in for a surprise visit. The results are amiably bland, and while the farcical ending is quite funny, the story is so far removed from reality that it's disorienting. 92 min. (Jack Helbig) (Three Penny, 9:00)

Kali's Vibe

See Black Harvest International Festival of Film and Video sidebar for review. (Landmark's Century Centre, 9:00)



This made-in-Chicago 2001 video drama about sexual ambiguities centers on the teenage Shannon, who gets two male high school friends to kiss each other and enact the tamer portions of a gay porn story, causing them to discover they have feelings for each other. In one subplot, told from the perspective of a judgmental teen, Shannon's mom's pursuit of a younger coworker seems a bit pathetic. Director Jeffrey Maccubbin's intercutting of multiple stories isn't always successful, but he has a good feeling for the isolation desire can cause--faces are seen in tight close-up during a phone conversation--and the unease of adolescent sexuality. 70 min. (FC) (Three Penny, 7:00)

Lifetime Guarantee: Phranc's Adventures in Plastic

This 2001 documentary profiles Phranc, the Jewish lesbian folksinger who enjoyed her 15 minutes in the late 1980s and then settled down to raise a family--and became a top seller of Tupperware. Director Lisa Udelson captures her abundant charm as she seduces customers with frank talk, randy jokes, and songs delivered in dulcet tones over strummed ukulele. In one funny yet poignant segment Phranc travels to Las Vegas for a Tupperware convention, her suit and flattop haircut leading many to mistake her for a man and prompting self-deprecating jokes--all of which is juxtaposed with her concert there a decade ago, when she was at the height of her fame. 58 min. (TS) Also on the program: Marla Leech's 30-minute video It's a Boy (2001). (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:00)


A wildly uneven program of shorts. In Kieran Galvin's moving Australian film Contact, a gay man in his early 30s struggles to cope with the death of his lover, the simple story (boy loses boy, boy mourns boy, boy meets new boy) enhanced by Mark Bliss's cinematography and Michael Teulon's portrayal of a man alienated from family and friends who hangs out at the beach, trying to put his life back together. John J. Fanning's Chatter (2001) is an inspired but unfocused tale of intrigue in Internet chat rooms. Alexander James Messer's Childish Things (2001) is sweet but too short to generate the sort of emotional resonance he seems to desire. Bryan McHenry's David and Goliath (2001) and Tadeo Garcia's Broken Warning (2001), both shot in Chicago with local actors, feel like student exercises. 99 min. (Jack Helbig) (Three Penny, 9:00)

El Rey de Rock n' Roll

Elvis impersonators are a dime a dozen, but Mexican-American musician Robert Lopez has found his niche as "El Vez," whose variations on the King's hits include "You Ain't Nothin' but a Chihuahua." Marjorie Chodorov's video documentary traces the evolution of the act, which began as a media stunt but developed into a vehicle for Lopez to address issues like imperialism, cultural stereotyping, and immigration policy ("Suspicious Minds" becomes "Immigration Time"). Sincere and self-effacing, Lopez hopes to raise the political consciousness of young people who might be intimidated by such thorny matters, but Chodorov undercuts this with commentary from pretentious academics who inflate the act's importance to absurd levels. Lopez may have noble intentions, but he's still jumping around in an Elvis costume and a Cantinflas mustache--and even he admits that he can't speak Spanish. 65 min. (Reece Pendleton) Also on the program: De Colores (2001, 28 min.), a video by Peter Barbosa and Garrett Lenoir. (Landmark's Century Centre, 9:00)


Gypsy 83

Two misfits flee small-town Ohio for New York City and find self-acceptance along the way in this 2001 debut feature by Todd Stephens. Gypsy (Sara Rue), a big gal who wants to become a singer like Stevie Nicks, and Clive (Kett Turton), a goth kid who's a closeted homosexual, forge a bond against conformity and boredom, and despite Rue's tendency to showboat, Stephens creates a nice give-and-take between the two vulnerable souls. Unfortunately the story lurches like the characters' beat-up T-bird, with long pit stops at a roadside cafe (where amateur night is hosted by karaoke chanteuse Karen Black) and a public washroom (where both Gypsy and Clive have trysts with unlikely partners), and the film's rebellious attitude wears thin long before its sentimental denouement. With John Doe as Gypsy's father, a failed rock musician. 95 min. (TS) (Three Penny, 7:00)

* Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House

The gay community's claim that the stereotypes are wrong and that lesbians come in all types has rarely found more eloquent proof than Ruthie and Connie of Deborah Dickson's video documentary. These two Brooklyn Jewish housewives, realizing they were lesbians in love with each other after more than a decade of friendship, eventually divorced their husbands and moved in together in 1974. Ruthie also successfully sued her employer to obtain domestic-partner benefits. Hearing the duo tell their stories with passion and verve in their New York Jewish accents is alone worth the price of admission; most touching is hearing Ruthie, who gave Connie her first orgasm, speak with shame of the cute plaques that identify two bedrooms in an attempt to conceal the relationship from their children: "They represent the closet." 55 min. (FC) (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:00)

* The Mars Canon

Japanese director Shiori Kazama presents a quiet but observant study of love in all its downbeat ambivalence. A fiercely independent Tokyo shop girl (Makiko Kuno) yearns for marriage but endures an illicit affair with a married man (Fumio Kohinata) who seems to want her only for sex. By accident she meets a young woman newly arrived from the country (Mami Nakamura), who forms a strong attachment to her and then moves in next door. Working with subtle actors and complex characters, Kazama captures even the slightest change in emotional dynamics in one long take after another, declining to moralize or psychologize about the unconventional relationships. In Japanese with subtitles. 121 min. (TS) (Three Penny, 9:00)

Ordinary Sinner

A young seminary student (Brendan P. Hines) decides against becoming an Episcopal priest and, in classic Thoreauvian fashion, retreats to a shack near a rural Vermont college to contemplate his future. A childhood friend (Kris Park) who attends the college introduces him to a loquacious coed (Elizabeth Banks) who's turned on by his lack of sexual experience and promptly seduces him, but their idyllic summer is interrupted when the student's spiritual mentor (A. Martinez) reveals to his parishioners that he's gay and subsequently dies in a mysterious accident. John Henry Davis, directing his first feature (2001), excels at developing the relationships among his three principals, but the film collapses under the weight of numerous melodramatic subplots. One saving grace is veteran character actor Peter Onorati, who has some affecting moments as the late priest's grief-stricken lover. 92 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Landmark's Century Centre, 9:00)


* Metrosexuality, 4-6

Three episodes of the British TV series; see listing for Friday, August 2, for full series review. 112 min. (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:00)

Julie Johnson

Lili Taylor plays the title character, a harried New Jersey housewife who wants to better herself through education despite her macho husband's objections, in this 2001 indie feature adapted from a play by Wendy Hammond. Her math classes at a local community college introduce her to a caring mentor (Spalding Gray) and chaos theory (the film's overriding though uncomfortable metaphor) and after she kicks out her husband, her best friend (Courtney Love) moves in, and the frustrated wives fall in love. Taylor's gentle determination contrasts nicely with Love's genial coarseness, but the film is marred by Bob Gosse's literal direction and a patchy, rather pretentious script. The sound track features songs by Liz Phair. 94 min. (TS) (Three Penny, 7:00 and 9:00)

Notorious C.H.O.

The new concert film by stand-up comedian Margaret Cho, following her 2000 release I'm the One That I Want. 95 min. (Landmark's Century Centre, 8:30)

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