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Reeling 2002

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Reeling 2002, the 21st Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival, runs Friday, July 26, through Thursday, August 8. Screenings this week are at the Music Box and Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark. Advance tickets can be purchased at Chicago Filmmakers 10 to 6 weekdays, noon to 5 Saturday; same-day tickets are available only at the venue box office. Tickets are $8, $7 for screenings at Chicago Filmmakers, and $6 for screenings before 5 PM. 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.

FRIDAY, JULY 26

* Visual Explosives

Third Known Nest (1999) collects a number of Tom Kalin's experimental videos from as early as 1991, some set to tracks by Brian Eno or Roxy Music; their mix of styles may seem chaotic at first, but taken as a whole they form a moving portrait of a consciousness on the edge. The nervous energy creates a focus on the present (arguably a response to living with AIDS), while writhing male bodies add an erotic shading. Rapid montages divide the viewer's attention, and quoted texts from gay writers parallel this fragmentation, turning it into a metaphor for the dissimulation often forced on homosexuals. A similarly divided sensibility characterizes Hung Keung's Www.Tube&Memory.Hk/Love.97 (1998): two men, isolated from each other in adjacent frames, cavort in the glitzy colors of their respective spaces, struggling against the line that separates them. John R. Killacky and Larry Connolly's Crip Shots (2001) collects six performance pieces by the physically challenged; in one, a beautifully edited wheelchair dance, Judy Smith projects a yearning to move as freely as possible through the surrounding space. Also showing: videos by Zack Stiglicz and Punam Sawhney. 90 min. (FC) (Chicago Filmmakers, 7:00)

* Gaudi Afternoon

Like her big hit, Desperately Seeking Susan, this entertaining 2001 release by director Susan Seidelman finds a dissatisfied woman drawn out of her dull existence into a whimsical adventure that's part whodunit and part screwball comedy. Martini-dry Judy Davis plays an American expat in Barcelona who makes a living of sorts translating literature; hired by an exotic San Franciscan (Marcia Gay Harden) to find her missing gay husband, the translator becomes entangled in a world of sexual intrigue in which nothing is as it seems. Based on a novel by Barbara Wilson, the screenplay by James Myrhe and Joaquin Oristrell leans heavily on voice-over by Davis; the film would have been better had its makers trusted in the tale's ambiguities and the quirky performances (including the lovely preteen actress Courtney Jines as a missing child and Lili Taylor and Juliette Lewis as a butch-femme lesbian couple). Yet the lush, hallucinatory main titles give way to spectacular footage of beautiful Barcelona--winding mazelike alleys, sprawling sun-drenched plazas, and fantastical vistas designed by art nouveau architect Antonio Gaudi. 93 min. (Albert Williams) (Music Box, 7:30)

Lesbians Behaving Badly

In this British TV program (2001, 51 min.), Kerry McKibbin documents lesbian nightlife in London's Soho, capturing the vigor of young women as they kiss ravenously, break up other couples, patronize a women-only sex shop, and flock to a party with "over 800 red-hot lesbians." There are loads of sexy girls, but the video lacks depth, and eventually the British detachment of its faux-serious narrator becomes tiring. Much better is Richard Currier's The Butch (26 min.), a portrait of the unique and formidable comic and singer Lea DeLaria. She defines a butch as neither man nor woman but "like a different gender," explaining that she limited herself to dating straight and bisexual girls after lesbians got "whiny and ridiculous." She also gripes that airport security questioned her about her dildo; eventually she gets sick of being taped and insists that the camera be turned off. (FC) (Chicago Filmmakers, 9:00)

Km.0

A dozen singles looking for love and sex on a sizzling day in Madrid pair up in this 2000 romantic comedy by Juan Luis Iborra and Yolanda Garcia Serrano. Km.0 (kilometer zero), the square where most of them have arranged to rendezvous, is the symbolic center of Spain, and the characters are supposed to represent a cross section of the country's sexually frustrated urbanites--gay, straight, and otherwise. The film flits from one relationship to another, dispensing some well-acted bedroom scenes and a fair amount of angst and philosophical dialogue in a neighborhood bar; Iborra and Serrano try for the insouciant, enchanted tone that often propels such roundelays but deliver mostly cuteness and hot air. With Concha Velasco and Tristan Ulloa. In Spanish with subtitles. 105 min. (TS) (Music Box, 9:30)

SATURDAY, JULY 27

Staying Power

The most accomplished of these five shorts, Brian To's Audit (2001), follows a young couple as they report for an IRS audit and get more than they bargained for. The striking, slightly exaggerated formal compositions suggest the mounting absurdity of their dilemma as the auditor forces the husband to disclose details of his sex life and a lesbian staffer flirts with the wife. And in Steve Salinaro's acrid but hilarious Shooting Blanks (2001) an Italian-American butcher with a low sperm count and an unhappy wife abducts his gay brother and demands some semen, handing him a stack of stroke magazines so he can masturbate in the back of the delivery van. Also on the program: films by Chiedu Egbuniwe and S. Leo Chiang. 108 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Music Box, 12:45)

Weeki Wachee Girls

A quartet of insightful 16-millimeter shorts tracing the blurry line between friendship and sexual attraction. Queen's "You're My Best Friend" furnishes the theme song to Kim Cummings's beautifully crafted Weeki Wachee Girls (1999); two teenage pals aspire to be mermaids for a water show, practicing routines in a backyard pool, but their friendship is tested when one of them develops a crush on a third girl. Jennifer McGlone's Breaking Up Really Sucks spoofs the ups and downs of single life, as the plucky lesbian narrator bounces from one hot mate to the next. Laura Jean Cronin's wry if occasionally clumsy Block Party (2001) follows two women as they stage a benefit in Seattle; one is breaking up with an old lover while the other is trying to hook up with a new one, and their day of snafus is spiced with cameos by colorful locals. David Quantic's After School Special suffers from amateur touches but reaches a clever climax (so to speak) as a gay teen and the lesbian girl next door use each other to satisfy their respective queer fantasies. 74 min. (Bill Stamets) (Music Box, 3:15)

Waterboys

The producers of the Japanese films Shall We Dance? and Sumo Do, Sumo Don't have turned out a clone based on their audience-winning formula, replacing ballroom dancing and sumo wrestling with synchronized swimming. Waterboys is another zany story about oddball loners--in this case, nerdy high school boys--who find inner strength, build team spirit, triumph over adversity, and demonstrate every other cliche of the genre. You have to wonder what brought independent director Shinobu Yaguchi on board. Sadly, his amusingly twisted, anarchic spirit can't shake Waterboys out of its predictability, though he comes close in the grand finale--a swimming exhibition so goofily over-the-top it's breathtaking. 90 min. (Shelly Kraicer) (Music Box, 5:00)

Just Call Me Sir

Two documentaries on the issues and challenges surrounding sex-change operations. Melanie La Rosa's Sir: Just a Normal Guy (2001, 57 min.) is the more satisfying of the two: for 15 months La Rosa documented Jay Snider's transformation from female to male, from her first testosterone injections to her breast-removal surgery, and the metamorphosis is fascinating. But even more remarkable are the film's portraits of Snider's friends, lover, and husband, whose adjustments are almost equally profound; about three quarters of the way through the procedure Snider's lesbian lover must confront the fact that she's now in a committed relationship with a man. In Just Call Me Kade (2001, 26 min.), Sam Zolten profiles an adolescent girl undergoing a similar transgender procedure in Arizona, but his film never achieves the depth or sensitivity of La Rosa's. (Jack Helbig) (Chicago Filmmakers, 6:30)

Play Dead

A gawky, straight-arrow high school student (Nathan Bexton), stuck baby-sitting a neighbor's bratty kid (Jessica Stone), fantasizes about gay love with the star of the wrestling team. After his butch best friend (Diva Zappa) kills the jock in a freak accident, the two pals try to dispose of his corpse, aided by their petulant charge. Jeff Jenkins, who directed this goofy black comedy (2001), could've learned a thing or two from the inspired irony of Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry, but he's more in sync with the tasteless lunacy of Weekend at Bernie's (one outrageous scene shows the baby-sitter losing his virginity by humping the cadaver). The film's only saving graces are Bexton as the earnest loser and Stone as the testy but savvy kid. 79 min. (TS) (Music Box, 7:00)

Whether You Like It or Not: The Story of Hedwig

Created by former Chicago actor John Cameron Mitchell and songwriter Stephen Trask, Hedwig and the Angry Inch was a "neo-glam post-punk rock musical" about an East German "girly-boy" whose botched sex-change surgery leaves him with an "angry inch" of genital flesh. Mitchell starred in the off-Broadway version, a 1998 hit, and his subsequent film adaptation won awards at Sundance and other festivals. This 2001 documentary by Laura Nix is featured on the movie's DVD; a video diary of the show's genesis, it mixes puffy talking-head interviews, sometimes indecipherable clips of Mitchell's first rock-club appearances as Hedwig, footage behind the scenes of the film shoot, and so on. There's even an appearance by Mitchell's dad, former commander of U.S. forces in divided Berlin during the cold war, who helps explain Hedwig's roots in Mitchell's army-brat upbringing--and who wonders aloud when his boyish-looking son will go back to Broadway musicals like The Secret Garden. 85 min. (Albert Williams) (Chicago Filmmakers, 8:30 and 10:00)

Guardian of the Frontier

Billed as the first Slovenian film directed by a woman, this 2001 feature by Maja Weiss is an allegory about sexual and political boundaries, but its own murky border between fantasy and reality makes it hard to fathom. Three young college women in bikinis canoe down the Kolpa River, a sylvan setting stocked with right-wing nationalists, refugees from China, and an assortment of vague bogeymen. At a traditional festival they hear a self-styled "guardian of the frontier" rail against city girls with piercings and no boyfriends who'd "rather have parties than families." As two of the women busy themselves flirting with each other, the third smiles weirdly toward the shadowy forest, whose inhabitants range from a psychotic killer to the mythical King of the Forest. Weiss stirs a promising cauldron of ideas, but ultimately it boils over into nonsense. In Slovenian with subtitles. 98 min. (Bill Stamets) (Music Box, 9:00)

SUNDAY, JULY 28

Wu Yen

A bumbling, dissolute emperor (Anita Mui in a male role) gets mixed up with a scar-faced woman warrior (Sammi Cheng) and a gender-bending fairy enchantress who seduces him (Cecilia Cheung). Directed by Johnny To (The Heroic Trio) and Wai Ka-fai, this 2001 costume fantasy is very loosely based on an ancient moral fable, rendered incoherent by the dizzying pace, frantic slapstick, and nonstop dialogue. The infantile humor deals with flatulence, cross-dressing, swishy ministers, and sexual paranoia--this is Hong Kong cinema at its nadir. In Cantonese with subtitles. 123 min. (TS) (Music Box, 12:45)

* Brother Born Again

Born into a Jewish academic family in New York, filmmaker Julia Pimsleur embraced feminism and bisexuality, going on to form her own film production company; her older brother, Marc, found himself desperate and suicidal until he joined the Family, a fundamentalist Christian commune on an Alaskan island. Ten years after his conversion, Julia set out to reestablish contact with him, and her engrossing 2000 documentary shows how far apart siblings can grow. Marc is completely divorced from his urban Jewish roots: an outdoorsman given to quoting scripture, he excels at hunting, fishing, farming, and logging. Julia tries to understand how her brother turned out the way he did, yet the two find themselves at odds over the issue of her bisexuality. This is an honest portrait of a family divided, in which love and respect clash with personal ideology. 76 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Chicago Filmmakers, 2:00)

After School Activity

An uneven potpourri of shorts, most of them about male teens yearning for sex and/or companionship. Patrick McGuinn's two entries are the strongest, perhaps because each expresses its idea honestly and succinctly: in Soda Pop (2001) a young man falls for a Spanish foreign-exchange student, and in Baby Blue a man ponders a risque encounter with a childhood pal he hasn't seen in years. In contrast, Pascal Vincent's Final Exams (2001) takes a charming but meandering look at French teenagers' attitudes toward sexuality; it's less wholesome than Dawson's Creek but equally mixed-up. On the same program, films by David Quantic, David Kittredge, and Julian Cautherley. 68 min. (TS) (Music Box, 3:15)

Out in the Cold

Advocates for the "profamily" religious right should be required to view Eric Criswell and Martin Bedogne's 2001 video documentary on homeless gay kids. Many of the subjects were expelled from their homes by Christian parents: according to one man, his father told him, "I hope you get AIDS and die," and he was saved from suicide only when his grandmother took him in, ignoring the counsel of her minister. The video is stylistically bland, and its narrator sounds like a refugee from a bad educational film, but the details are compelling (one interviewee explains how to minimize the risk of getting raped while sleeping on the street). Two shorts complete the program: Keith Wilson's Southern Family is a rambling and unexceptional documentary about his folks coming to terms with his sexuality, but Kris Anchor's Accidental Insolence (2001) is a provocative montage about cultural attitudes toward queer teenagers, mixing movie clips with a voice-over quoting a Florida legislator who warned gay kids that God would "destroy" them. 74 min. (FC) (Chicago Filmmakers, 4:00)

The Journey to Kafiristan

Brothers Fosco and Donatello Dubini based their script for this 2001 German drama on the diary of Annemarie Schwarzenbach, a Swiss writer and gadabout of the 1930s. In the months leading up to Hitler's invasion of Poland, Schwarzenbach (Jeannette Hain) and German ethnologist Ella Maillart (Nina Petri) traverse the Balkans, Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan in a stylish Ford coupe, hoping to observe the storied nomads of the Kafiristan Valley north of Kabul. Yet the film is mostly an inner road movie about spiritually thirsting lovers; rescued from a Zurich asylum, Schwarzenbach tells her traveling companion, "I want to cross every border--with you." The film is a window on the sort of orientalism that would be unthinkable for most Western women today. In German with subtitles. 100 min. (Bill Stamets) The festival will screen Carole Bonstein's documentary A Swiss Rebel: Annemarie Schwarzenbach 1908-1942 on Saturday, August 3. (Music Box, 5:00)

Hand on the Pulse

Joyce Warshow's 52-minute video profiles Joan Nestle, a self-described bad girl who established the Lesbian Herstory Archives in her apartment on New York's Upper West Side and later riled the feminist movement by championing erotic lesbian literature. Nestle inherited her political bent from her outspoken single mom ("In the 40s and 50s [other] mothers didn't talk about liking to fuck," she brags). Warshow's admiration for Nestle is obvious: a key sequence shows the irrepressible archivist beaming as grand marshal of the 1999 pride parade in her hometown. Also on the program, Liz Miller's video Novela, Novela (2001, 30 min.) documents the origin and outreach of Sexto Sentido, Nicaragua's first homegrown soap opera, whose story lines promote tolerance through gay and lesbian characters. The video is grant bait for progressive philanthropists, noting at one point that the budget for one episode of Friends would fund 432 episodes of Sexto Sentido. (Bill Stamets) (Chicago Filmmakers, 6:00)

Elvira's Haunted Hills

Too goofy to be sexy, too desperate for laughs to be funny, camp comedian Elvira spoils this 2001 send-up of Roger Corman's low-budget Poe adaptations. Stranded at an isolated castle on a dark and stormy night, the heroine becomes enmeshed in the lives of a dysfunctional aristocratic family headed by the evil but tortured Richard O'Brien (The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Director Sam Irvin superbly re-creates the look and feel of those old American International releases, right down to the eccentric camerawork. The script (by Elvira and John Paragon) might have yielded a witty homage, but it's undermined by the star, who overplays mercilessly, telegraphing her punch lines and delivering numerous jokes about her bust. 89 min. (Jack Helbig) (Music Box, 7:00)

Horizon Girls

Forbidden Fruit (2000), a German-Zimbabwean coproduction by Sue Maluwa Bruce, Beate Kunath, and Yvonne Zuckmantel, tells the true story of two women in an African village who fell in love and ran afoul of their narrow-minded families. Part documentary, with footage of African village life, and part oral history, with an on-screen narrator walking us through the story, the film never shows the two women at its center, but by the end they linger in the mind as vivid personalities. The other two shorts on the program, which is geared for women ages 14 to 23, are less impressive. Michael Apted's sincere but dull Lipstick, about a high school girl who comes out to her friends, preaches to the choir, as does Sam Zolten's Just Call Me Kade (2001), about a young woman undergoing transgender surgery. 66 min. (Jack Helbig) (Chicago Filmmakers, 8:00)

* O Fantasma

Eerie and perversely engrossing, this 2000 feature by Portuguese filmmaker Joao Pedro Rodrigues centers on a young garbage collector in Lisbon (Ricardo Meneses) who stalks a biker he desires but finds release only in anonymous rough sex. Like the brooding blue-collar hustlers of Jean Genet and Kenneth Anger, he's a lonely narcissist looking for his other; Rodrigues also presents him, less convincingly, as an outcast who cleans up other people's messes but can't sort out his own impulses, a pitiable figure warped by social norms. Some of the plot twists don't make sense, yet Meneses delivers an obsessive, animalistic performance, and Rui Pocas's sharply shaded night cinematography turns the city's street corners into dark pockets of desire. In Portuguese with subtitles. 90 min. (TS) (Music Box, 9:00)

MONDAY, JULY 29

Lesbians Behaving Badly

See listing for Friday, July 26. (Chicago Filmmakers, 7:00)

Total Loss

Dana Nechushtan's stylish psychological thriller (2000) opens with a gripping sequence in which a car carrying three men spins out of control in a darkened tunnel, flips over, and bursts into flames. Concisely edited, the scene rhythmically matches interior and exterior shots as the car swerves violently along a final stretch of pavement. Unfortunately the balance of this Danish release is less impressive, rendering in fragmented flashback the sad stories of the doomed passengers: an angry drifter (Yorick van Wageningen), a doctor from a wealthy family who falls in love with him (Roef Ragas), and a suicidal fellow (Franky Ribbens) grieving over the death of his father. The premise of these damaged, volatile men being thrown together is intriguing, but the disjunctive narrative sheds little light on why we should care about them. In Dutch with subtitles. 85 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Music Box, 7:00)

* Britney Baby, One More Time

In 1999, Robert Stephens beat out 12 biological women and girls to win a Britney Spears look-alike contest--which offered as its prize a chance to meet the star herself--only to be rebuffed by the Spears organization when he attempted to collect. Ludi Boeken's witty comedy uses this incident as a jumping-off point for a comic fantasy about a crazed low-budget filmmaker (Milwaukee schlockmeister Mark Borchardt of American Movie) and his hapless crew, who fail to score an interview with the pop princess and instead trick a drag queen into playing her for a series of "exclusive" interviews on the road to a much publicized concert in New Orleans. The result is unexpectedly understated, thanks to Jonathan Bourne's subtle script and the many fine performances. Boeken bypasses the common gags about Spears, zeroing in on the paradox that she seems at once artificial and absolutely authentic: the impersonation offered by Stephens seems no more fake than the singer's impersonation of herself. 83 min. (Jack Helbig) (Music Box, 9:00)

Chicas por sentimiento

Five transsexual women living in Barcelona discuss what it's like to live in the sexually open society of post-Franco Spain, no longer banished to an underground existence, in this German-produced documentary (2001) by Kriton Kalaitzidis. Trini, born after the Franco years, has a defiance that the others lack; Marie-Jose and Dora recall the hardship of those difficult times, when a betrayal could mean imprisonment or worse. Most of the women are still marginalized and resort to prostitution to make ends meet, fearful of police or government reprisal. Ironically, Dora laments the old days, when transsexual hookers had more flamboyant personas and attracted a smaller market. Kalaitzidis wisely shows his leading ladies almost exclusively at night, at work and at play, prowling the city's back alleys, bars, and nightclubs--despite Spain's sexual liberation they remain creatures of the night. In Spanish with subtitles. 63 min. (Joshua Katzman) Also on the program: Mafer Suarez's video The One of Your Dreams I'll Be (2000, 17 min.). (Chicago Filmmakers, 9:00)

TUESDAY, JULY 30

Luster

Lust, exploitation, and unrequited love are the competing impulses in a zine poet's self-conscious and rambling account of a wasted weekend in the city. A young record clerk swoons over David Cassidy and numerous other men, including a well-built, uninhibited Iowa cousin and a rough-trade masochist, oblivious of those in love with him. Director Everett Lewis creates a queer artsy slacker scene in which everything is permissible and camaraderie comes easy but few relationships take hold. Aside from a sadistic big-time rocker, he treats the characters with an insider's affection; the film flits from one messy liaison to another and in time is muddled by them. 92 min. (TS) (Music Box, 7:00)

* Tom

Canadian Mike Hoolboom's 2001 portrait of New Yorker Tom Chomont, an avant-garde filmmaker since the 60s whose now-emaciated face testifies to his struggle against AIDS. Its loosely associative, experimental style can seem obscure at times but also offers considerable rewards. Interweaving images of his subject today with fragments of porn, home movies, Hollywood films, and Chomont's own work, Hoolboom makes some provocative connections. He heroicizes the struggle of independent artists, intercutting Chomont at his editing table with a skyscraper under construction and an automobile assembly line. Chomont's account of his older brother's death from AIDS becomes a way of contemplating his own, inflecting the sea of images that floats around him. Hoolboom's style complements Chomont's explanation that his own films mime the patterns of memory. 75 min. (FC) (Chicago Filmmakers, 7:00)

* I Remember Mother

Tim McMurtry's 53-minute drag-queen documentary centers on the outrageous Joseph "Mother" Cavellucci, who spent more than a half century in wild drag. After early rejection by her Philadelphia family she found a more tolerant community in New Hope, Pennsylvania: a local cop, the story goes, was amused rather than offended when she invited him up to her room; she offered "cock reports" to patrons of a local bar; and sometimes she forgot her false teeth in the sex booths of an adult bookstore. Also showing: Daniel Lee's Tillie (12 min.), a portrait of a memorable drag diva who's been performing in Chicago bars for 37 years. She comes across as a self-made authentic, saying she declined to join the army in World War II because she didn't take to its "butch routines." (FC) (Chicago Filmmakers, 9:00)

P.S. Your Cat Is Dead

James Kirkwood's comedy of sexual ambiguity was ahead of its time--it flopped on Broadway in 1975, though it was subsequently a hit at regional theaters, including Chicago's Stage Left--but in this 2001 adaptation the material seems dated and coy. Director-star Steve Guttenberg plays a stressed-out actor-writer whose girlfriend has dumped him and whose cat has died. When a bisexual cat burglar (Lombardo Boyar) breaks into his house, the writer ties him to the kitchen counter bare assed and threatens to kill him. The situation turns flirtatious as the rascally robber tries to seduce his supposedly straight captor and becomes even more complicated (and the script more cluttered) when the writer's home is invaded by a repellent trio of gay sex addicts on a spree. Guttenberg discards the boyish charm of previous roles to deliver an intense performance as a man on the brink of a meltdown; actually it undercuts the script's humor, making this perhaps more of a psychodrama than Kirkwood intended. Boyar is charming as the burglar, a role Sal Mineo played onstage and was hoping to transfer to the screen when he was murdered in 1976. 92 min. (Albert Williams) (Music Box, 9:00)

WEDNESDAY, JULY 31

* Down and Out With the Dolls

Kurt Voss, who offered a somber portrait of over-the-hill rockers in the 1999 feature Sugar Town, follows up with this 2001 tragicomedy set in Portland's indie rock scene. The screenplay, coauthored with Nalini Cheriel, charts the quick rise and even quicker flameout of a fictional girl band, the Paper Dolls, and while the plot may bring back bad memories of Josie and the Pussycats, Voss presents an intelligent and credible world full of venal collaborators, envious friends, irritating lovers, and failed schemes. Tony Croll's cinematography is wonderfully jagged and raw; often the camera scrambles to keep up with the action, a touch of disorder adding to the darkly funny chaos at the center of the film. Voss fills his cast with rising and struggling indie recording artists, among them Kinnie Star, Coyote Shivers, and Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister; composer turned actor Zoe Poledouris kills as the band's slutty and self-centered lead singer. 88 min. (Jack Helbig) (Music Box, 7:00)

Publicsex.com

In the best of these three videos on sex, the autobiographical Cyberslut (2001, 8 min.), Jonathan Gann confesses to cruising the Internet back in the days of 1,200-baud modems, though he maintains certain rules (married men and Republicans need not apply). His lighthearted treatment and the male-body close-ups portray sex as good fun. In Peter Barbosa and Garrett Lenoir's Out in the Open (2001, 58 min.), the testimonies of several men are intercut to contrast their views: for one guy good sex means intimacy, for another anonymity and darkness. Between the interviews, guys get spanked in the street and jerk off in bathrooms, the images composed to look sleazy--which for some will make them more erotic. Frederic Moffet's Hard Fat (23 min.) portrays a truly strange fetish--"gainers" who've grown fat intentionally and the "encouragers" turned on by them. Stills document the various physiques of Rick, who weighed 155 pounds in college but later hit 340 as a way of "seeing my body change." At one point he bemoans guys who "stuff you until you're really full," have sex, and then leave. (FC) (Chicago Filmmakers, 7:00 and 9:00)

* Food of Love

May-December romances between men are often portrayed as aberrant if not predatory, but this 2001 drama by Spanish director Venture Pons never exploits the heady relationship at its center, a short but tortuous affair between an apple-cheeked keyboard student (Kevin Bishop) and the concert pianist he idolizes (Richard Rhys). In the second half the student's neurotic mother in Marin County (Julie Stevenson) becomes hysterical when she learns of her son's homosexuality but cools down after a group therapy session (treated satirically by Pons) and gradually accepts his independence. Adapted from David Leavitt's novel The Page Turner, the film presents a low-key treatment of the affair that's counterbalanced by the actors' realism and genuine feeling. 102 min. (TS) (Music Box, 9:00)

THURSDAY, AUGUST 1

Girl King

Gender-bending silliness, as two women, Butch and Claudia, are captured by the female cross-dressing pirate Captain Candy and taken to a remote island. Its lonely, sexually frustrated queen beseeches Butch to recover her treasure, which has been stolen by the departed king, and agrees to set sail with Candy to win over the comely Claudia. This Canadian feature, shot on a shoestring, seems a lighthearted romp, but director Ileana Pietrobruno subverts her material by intercutting old pirate movies featuring Douglas Fairbanks, snippets from Lewis Milestone's Mutiny on the Bounty, and porno both straight and lesbian. Pietrobruno seems to be exploring certain aspects of male machismo and how it affects either sex: one clip, with Fairbanks chasing a frightened damsel around a ship's galley, intertwines with lesbian pirates mounting young women. Pietrobruno takes care to protect the film's cheerful camp appeal, though at the conclusion a title card exhorts everyone to have an orgasm with whomever and by whatever means necessary. 80 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Music Box, 7:00)

Myth of Father

Paul Hill created this winning 60-minute video diary (2001) about his plainspoken father in New York, who waited until the death of his own father to become a preoperative transsexual. Hill's account centers on a Mother's Day reunion he set up in Columbus, Ohio, where his father scolds his various relatives for misspelling the name Jodie. The suburban decor, body types, and intimacy issues recall another Hill clan--from Fox TV's King of the Hill. Also on the program is Melissa Regan's delightful video No Dumb Questions (24 min.), in which three nieces--ages 6, 9, and 11--talk about their Uncle Bill turning into Aunt Barbara. "Wow, this doesn't happen every day," observes Chelsea, the eldest. Her mother confesses, "I think she was really excited because she got to say the word penis." During the first encounter with auntie the more sophisticated child is fearful and the youngest becomes a model of tolerance and curiosity, leading the trio. (Bill Stamets) (Chicago Filmmakers, 7:00)

Lan Yu

Stanley Kwan (Actress) directed this 2001 feature from Hong Kong, about a young architecture student drawn into an affair with a self-assured businessman. Adapted from the 1996 Internet novel Beijing Story. In Mandarin with subtitles. 86 min. (Music Box, 8:45)

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