Jul 27, 2013

Crash & Bernstein: a Boy, His Puppet, and His Boyfriend

12-year old Wyatt (Cole Jensen) lives in a house full of girls, and longs for some masculine companionship.  Then Crash, the puppet he created at the "Build-a-Bestie" store, comes to life.  Apparently this is a common occurrence, as no one seems surprised when a crass, abrasive talking puppet moves in with Wyatt and starts attending his school.

Boys with puppet, alien, and talking-dog companions are commonplace in comedy; the bits of talking felt can engage in more wild physical stunts and say more outrageous things than humans, and they also perform the "necessary" function of reducing the gay subtext that would inevitably accompany two real boys learning to love each other.

In the case of Crash & Bernstein (2012-) on the Disney Channelit doesn't work.  Wyatt already has a best friend, the pretty, stylish Pesto (Aaron Landon, right), whose gay-coding lies just beneath the winking asides and in-jokes: "this is a basketball game, not a Lady Gaga contest!", he's told when his mannerisms become too fey.  Pesto and Crash dislike each other from the start, and openly compete for Wyatt's affection.

Other school friends and enemies include Curtis Harris as Scottie, Zachary Conneen as the Slapper, and Jess King as Jess.





Of course, they all crush on girls -- the cardinal rule of juvenile media is "boys must promote heterosexism through constant tongue-lolling girl-craziness" -- but that's just a convention, like portraying all families as affluent and all teachers as sadistic.

Furthermore, their landlord, Mr. Poulos (Danny Woodburn of Seinfeld) displays no heterosexual interest, but likes to spend a lot of time with "the guys."





Preteens might swoon over Pesto's androgynous dreaminess.  Otherwise there's not a lot of beefcake. But the cast might grow into it -- look at The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.



Jul 26, 2013

The Meaning of Life: Meetings with Remarkable Men

In the fall of 1979, during my sophomore year of college, the Cineplex had a poster advertising Meetings with Remarkable Men (1979).  It showed a man walking through a parched rocky landscape, like the desert world of Tatooine, Luke Skywalker's home in Star Wars.  So I figured it was science fiction.

And a movie about how to meet men had to be good!




Not sci-fi after all.  A Russian guy named Gurdjieff (Mikica Dimitrijevic, left, Dragan Maksimovic) wanders around looking for the Meaning of Life.  And meeting men.  Lots of them, some attractive, most with no heterosexual interest.

Pogossian (Donald Sumpter, top photo), a theological student in Armenia, who invites Gurdijeff to live with him (hint, hint).


Prince Lubovedsky (Terence Stamp of the gay-positive Billy Budd and Priscilla Queen of the Desert), who tells him that the mysterious Sarmoung Brotherhood of Sufi Islam knows the Meaning of Life.


 Karpenko (British teen idol Gerry Sundquist, left), who joins Gurdjieff's all-male commune in Constantinope.  How much of a gay subtext do you need?

Not a lot of beefcake.  In fact, most of the movie involves Gurdjieff walking, walking, walking endlessly through the desert of Afghanistan standing in for Turkey, Armenia, and Persia.  It really looks like another planet, except it's a lot more boring than anything Luke Skywalker encountered.

When he finally reaches the Sarmoung monastery, he learns that we are all sleepwalking.  We need a jolt to wake us up, let us see the world as it really is.  That's the Meaning of Life.

Or maybe it's starting an all-male commune full of cute guys.




Later I discovered that there was a real spiritual teacher named G.I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949), who wrote a long series of semi-allegorical memoirsHe was, by all accounts, an unpleasant fellow, bitterly, vocally homophobic, sort of the Jerry Falwell of the spiritual movement.   Although he didn't seem to mind lesbians. 

See also: The Penis Cemetery of Iran.


Bolero: Not for Heterosexuals Only

Classical music is usually a relief from heterosexism  -- you can't hear a refrain of "Girl! Girl! Girl!" if no one is singing.  But Maurice Ravel's Bolero has been definitively associated with heterosexual sex.

On a 1972 episode of The Partridge Family, pop star Keith (David Cassidy) moves into his own apartment, invites a girl over, and intends to play Bolero in the hope of seducing her.  Before the episode ends, his mother, sister, younger brother, and manager have all asked "Bolero?" with surprise, bemusement, or disgust.

The terrible Allegro Non Troppo (1976) which includes such "delights" as a satyr wandering around on a giant woman's body, uses Bolero in a segment illustrating the evolution of humanity.

In 10 (1980), Bo Derek asks "Did you ever do it to Bolero?"  Later she starred in a softcore porn move entitled Bolero (1984).



In The Closing of American Mind (1987), right-wing pundit Alan Bloom claims that, because teens are obsessed with heterosexual intercourse, Bolero is the only piece of classical music that they listen to.
Apparently it has beating rhythm that emulates the back-forth movement of...you know, and lasts just long enough to get it done.

I still like Bolero.  It's fun to perform, and the composer was gay.  Besides, it doesn't have to be about heterosexual sex.

Last spring there was a new ballet set to Bolero at the Opera Garnier in Paris.  It featured semi-nude male dances and an intensely homoerotic choreography (left)  by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (also known for Tempus Fugit and Man of Wood).

You can see another ballet Bolero on Sky Arts tv on August 1st, with choreography by Maurice Bejart.  It alternates male and female dancers, so no doubt there will be considerable homoeroticism as well.


Jul 25, 2013

Jackass: The Gayest Show on TV

The MTV reality series Jackass (2000-2002) and spin-off movies (2002, 2006, 2009, 2011) were about guys (including "Wee Man" Jason Acuna, left) engaging in crazy stunts:

 Bam Margera uses Steve-O as bait to fish for sharks.
Steve-O stuffs raw chicken in his underwear and crosses a tight-rope over a pit of alligators.






A house falls on Johnny Knoxville (left).

Or practical jokes, often involving nudity or revealing thongs.

Chris Pontius (left) walks through a hotel lobby naked.

Wee man invades a board meeting naked.

The guys hugged, kissed, and climbed all over each other while naked, a big, bold, in-your face homoeroticism that had nothing to do with subtexts.

When Vanity Fair asked if Jackass was "a smidge gay,"  Johnny Knoxville retorted that it was a lot gay: "We're over here sitting on rainbows!  We're a gay pride parade!"

One could interpret the homoeroticism as just another "gross out" factor for the intended audience of heterosexual male adolescents: "Look, Chris just put his mouth on Steve-O's junk!  Sick!"  But it was so gleeful, unself-conscious, and endearing that you couldn't be cynical.



Jackass received a lot of criticism, mostly about how it was crass, vulgar, idiotic, dumbed-down, not nearly as intellectually stimulating as King Lear.  

Ok, it wasn't King Lear.  But you got to see more penises.  A lot more.

Steve-O and Chris Pontius went on to the nature program Wildboyz (2003-2006), which involved frolicking naked with wild animals, not to mention partying down with Australian aboriginal dudes.  And got them on my list of Top 10 Nature Show Hunks.



Jul 24, 2013

The Spanish Hour: Opera in Underwear

I don't usually like opera, but I like Maurice Ravel's L'heure espagnole, or The Spanish Hour (1904).  It's short, I can understand the language, and it has a strong gay subtext.

Like a lot of Spanish literature, or at least what the French thought of Spanish literature, it's about adultery.

Clockmaker Torquemada goes away for the day, leaving his wife Conception eager to find men to share her bed.  First she sets out to seduce the foppish poet Gonzalve, but he's more interested in composing poetry and complementing her "fabulous" home.  Then the blustering banker Don Inigo, but he's more interested in business and propriety.



Both end up hiding in clocks.

The muscular muleteer Ramiro keeps stopping by to see if he can get his watch fixed, but Conception doesn't think about flirting with him because he "doesn't know what to say to women."

Torquemada returns, leaving Conception unsatisified, but, she reasons, she can try Ramiro tomorrow.


The gay connection:

1. The staging turns everyone into clockwork, their actions, gestures, and thoughts not their own, but parroted for the purpose of the plot.  Sort of like mouthing the words of heterosexism in Leonard Bernstein's Mass.
2.  The foppish, gay-coded Gonzalve stands in for Ravel, who lived for his art and was "secretly gay."
3. In the performance I saw, Gonzalve and Don Inigo end up in their underwear.

Gonzalve, a tenor, is usually played by slight performers, such as Yann Beuron, Thierry Dran, and Elliot Madore (top photo).

Ramiro has been played by some of the most muscular baritones in the business, including Franck Ferrari, Alek Shrader (left), and Christopher Maltman (below).

It's not performed often, but you can get a copy of the 2004 telecast from the Parisian National Opera, or the Glyndebourne Festival version (2009) with backgrounds by children's author Maurice Sendak.


Ant Farm: Disney Channel Fail

The Disney Channel is usually good at providing gay subtexts in its teencoms, but A.N.T. Farm (2011-), about students in a school for the gifted, leaves me cold.  Maybe it's because I've only been able to sit through two episodes, but I find it unremittingly heterosexist.

Bffs Chyna, a musical prodigy, and Olive, an intellectual giant, spend most of their time getting unrequited crushes on guys and fending off guys with unrequited crushes on them.

Such as Fletcher (Jake Short, left), an aspiring artist -- but not to worry, art doesn't equate gender transgression; he uses it entirely for failed attempts to impress Chyna.  He doesn't have a sidekick.




The main antagonist is a computer hacker, Angus (Aedn Mincks, left), who has a crush on Olive, and doesn't bond with anyone.

Devin Weitz (right), a young actor with autism, appeared in a guest spot, but didn't bond with anyone.

Billy Unger (top photo) also had a guest spot as an Aussie outback expert who bedevils Fletcher.







Cameron (Carlon Boomerrey), Chyna's older brother, is girl-crazy as well, and doesn't bond with Fletcher.  He does join the Beauty Club, but only to keep tabs on his girlfriend, and it backfires when all of the girls mob him.

This is the same It's a Laugh production company responsible for gay-subtext faves Wizards of Waverly Place, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and Lab Rats, so why the dearth of subtexts?

Several of the cast members, including Jake Short and Devin Weitz, are evangelical Christians, which is often associated with homophobia.

Maybe there's a connection?

See also: Mr. Young

Geraldo Rivera Bares It All

The blogosphere is going wild over Geraldo Rivera's semi-nude photo that got tweeted to all his followers earlier this week.  Mostly with outrage: "how dare a 70 year old display his body, and disgust everyone?"

Everyone?

I've been told my whole life that "everyone" finds some bodies (ones with breasts) beautiful and others (ones with pecs) disgusting, so I'm leery of people trying to dictate what I find attractive. No matter what your body type is, someone thinks you're hot, and you should have the right to display your physique without ridicule.


Geraldo was a gay ally during the 1980s, when most commentators were cool, at best.  He was rumored to be gay due to his Castro Clone moustache, fey mannerisms, and semi-nude photos in Playgirl.  

In his 1991 tell-all autobiography, amid endless discussions of bedding every woman on Earth, Geraldo  describes a wild night in 1972 with Rudolph Nureyev and Mick Jagger -- but cautions that the festivities fell short of sexual contact.

He regularly topped the list of "hottest talk show hosts," and some classic moments made him an unforgettable 1980s icon.






Like his ill-fated 1986 tv special The Mystery of Al Capone's Vault. live, on national tv, with millions of people watching, his crew broke into the secret vault of gangster Al Capone.  He expected to find corpses, treasure, or maybe priceless historical documents.  He found broken bottles.

In 1988, he invited some white supremacists onto his talk show, and in the resulting melee, his nose was broken.

Later in 1988, he hosted a tv special about Satanic Ritual Abuse, breathlessly claiming that there were millions of Satanists in the U.S. kidnapping thousands of kids every day for ritual sacrifice and murder.  Except he had no evidence.

Today Geraldo continues to make outrageous and often unfounded claims from his desk at Fox News.  But he's still a gay ally.

Jul 22, 2013

Richard Arlen: First Gay Kiss in the Movies

I just saw The Island of Lost Souls (1932), an adaption of the H.G. Wells science fiction novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, about a mad scientist who turns animals into humans through vivisection.  Richard Arlen plays Edward Parker, a young man who stumbles onto the nefarious plot, and falls in love with a panther girl, but ends up returning to his fiancee.

Guess what?  The original novel had no panther girl and no fiancee.  Edward never displays the slightest heterosexual interest.  Nor does anyone else.

Richard Arlen (1899-1976), who was quite the hunk in his day, made hundreds of movies, mostly two-fisted actioners.  Apparently a  good number introjected heterosexism into neutral or gay-subtext projects.  I've only seen a few:





The silent movie Wings (1927), which features the first gay male kiss in mainstream movies, is "really" about two pilots (Richard, Jack Powell) in love with the same woman.










The Four Feathers (1929) is based on a novel by A.E.W. Mason, about British officers bonding in the Sudan.  There's a girl in it, but only a minor character, not the Goal of the Adventure.











Legion of Lost Fliers (1939) is based on a story by Ben Pivar about a group of brawny pilots making their way across the frozen north, but it adds The Girl.

During the 1950s, Richard Arlen began appearing on tv, mostly in Westerns: Yancy Derringer, Wagon Train, Bat Masterson.  He appeared in the buddy-bonding military comedy The Last Time I Saw Archie (1961), but not as one of the buddies (they were Robert Mitchum and Jack Webb).

He died in 1976, after nearly two hundred movies and tv series over a period of 60 years.


Alice's Restaurant: Gay Subtexts in a Hippie Classic

On Thanksgiving Day 1965, Arlo Guthrie, the 18-year old son of folksinger Woody Guthrie, offered to haul a load of garbage to the dump for his friends, Ray and Alice Brock, who ran a restaurant/hippie commune in rural Massachusetts.  He was arrested and fined for littering, then conscripted into military service, but rejected because he had a "criminal record."

He memorialized the event in a song, "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" (1967), which became a counterculture classic and the cornerstone of his career.  The 1969 movie version, Alice's Restaurant, encapsulates the gay promise and anxiety of the hippie generation.

Transforming a 20 minute monologue into a 2-hour movie requires a lot of padding, so director Arthur Penn adds endless scenes of hippies dancing, singing, and saying things like "We have what we need!  We don't need anything else!"

And, at the beginning, lots of scenes that imply that Arlo is gay.

He experiences homophobic harassment due to his long hair.  He rejects several women's advances, and apparently invites male friend Roger (Geoff Outlaw) into his bed.  The landlady refers to them as "friends" with a disgust that usually implies "lover."











But then, as if worried that they might be going too far, Roger vanishes (to reappear later).  Arlo begins sleeping with women, and gets a girlfriend.  There's still a gay subtext, but int involves hippie commune leader Ray (James Broderick)  aggressively courting troubled heroin addict Shelly (Michael McClanathan) -- their grabbing and pawing has to be seen to be believed -- which causes Alice (Patricia Quinn) endless jealousy.

While Ray is watching a film of Shelly, Alice literally stands in front of the screen to distract him.  She also seduces Shelly to "get even."

(By the way, this isn't Michael McClanathan.  It's Daniel Garth, star of Any Body, Any Way (1968), Michael's first movie.)





Alice's Restaurant contains a lot of male semi-nudity, including an extended scene in the induction center, with dozens of recruits wandering around in their underwear.  There's even some homoerotic frolicking, as Arlo waits with the other inductees who may be "too immoral to kill babies and destroy villages."








There's a line in the original song in which Arlo suggests that you can get out of the draft by singing "Alice's Restaurant" to the psychiatrist.  Or two of you can sing it together, and he'll think you're both "faggots" and let you out.   Another example of the hippie anxiety over potential gay identity.  But during the 1990s, in live performances, he changed the line to protest the homophobic "don't ask, don't tell" policy.



Kyle Bornheimer: Bear Bares It All

Kyle Bornheimer has been in the business for less than 10 years, but he is already getting a reputation for failed sitcoms: Worst Week, Perfect Couples, Romantically Challenged, and most recently Family Tools.  In all of them, he plays the same kind of character, a likeable nebbish who is clueless about matters of hetero-romance.  





I suggest some of his non-heterosexist comedy shorts instead, such as Gym Day, about a man who goes through endless hassles to get to the gym, only to find it closed, or God Reschedules Rapture, about...well, God being too busy to hold the Rapture as scheduled.  Some appear on the Funny or Die website.

Kyle has also played  likeable nebbish characters who are clueless about matters of gay romance:

In Spokane (2004): a straight guy falls for a gay guy at a wedding, resulting in a naked hotel room encounter.  You can see it on the collection Boys Life 7 (2010).





In a 2006 episode of the shortlived Lovespring International, about a dating service,  he played a clueless gay nebbish looking for a date.

He also "hints" about same-sex desire, as on Perfect Couples (2010-2011), when Dave (Kyle) makes a gay friend, and his wife is jealous.

Bachelorette (2012) is a raunchy comedy about four women preparing for their friend's wedding.  A gay guy does a striptease for them.






Or most recently, on Family Tools (2013), his character has a requisite crush on a girl, but also cozies up to his assistant, Darren (Edi Gathegi)

And in all of his performances, we get shirtless and nude shots of his muscular bear physique, often hiding his private parts behind humorous objects.  In Spokane, he bares it all.