Aug 2, 2014

Super Mario Brothers

When I was a kid, there were no video games.  In college we played Asteroids, in which your space ship shoots asteroids and flying saucers.

Mario Brothers appeared in arcades in 1983, and the Nintendo home game Super Mario Brothers in 1987.  Oddly enough, my parents were fans.  I have fond memories of summer nights in the 1990s, living in West Hollywood but back in Rock Island for a visit, the screen door open to let in a breeze, eating watermelon or corn on the cob, and listening to the theme music coming from the living room.

There was also a Super Mario Brothers All-Stars in 1993, a Super Mario Brothers Deluxe in 1999, and various games devoted to other characters in the Mario universe, but by that time my parents had lost interest.

Nearly all of the game plots are sexist.  A princess is kidnapped, and the brothers Mario and Luigi, drawn as stereotypic Italian-American plumbers, must rescue her.

They are sometimes accompanied by Yoshi, a sentient dinosaur, and Toad, a sentient mushroom who wears a turban.

The only game without a princess to rescue is Yoshi's Island (1995), in which Baby Mario, accompanied by a clan of Yoshis, must rescue Baby Luigi.

However, none of the games involve a fade-out kiss: neither Mario nor Luigi display any heterosexual interest, leaving them open to gay subtexts.  Maybe they're a gay couple, not "brothers."

Mario cosplay is common, with some muscular Marios, Luigis, and Toads strutting about.

A film version, Super Mario Bros., appeared in 1993.  It stars Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as Mario and Luigi, plumbers in real-life Brooklyn who are zapped into a parallel Earth run by the descendants of dinosaurs,  They rescue Princess Daisy, as expected.

  Of course, Hollywood movies must always have a heterosexist plot, so Luigi and Daisy fall in love.

But, on the plus side, John Leguizamo has a shirtless scene (top photo), before he got all craggy and bizarre.

Aug 1, 2014

Pierre Perrier: Bisexual Nudity a la Francais

Pierre Perrier (great name!) has made a career of playing guys involved with men and women.

Beginning with Douches froids (Cold Showers, 2005), about a tragic three-way romance between teenagers (Pierre, Johan Libéreau, Salomé Stévenin).

And Chacun sa nuit (One to Another, 2006), about a small-town teenage musician (Arthur Dupont) who is having affairs with just about everyone, from his sister to Sébastien (Pierre).  A definite disadvantage in tracking down his killer when he ends up dead.

He has only a small part in Le héros de la famille (Family Hero, 2006), about a drag performer/night club owner who dies, leaving coworkers, friends, and family scrambling to take over.  Maybe that's why there's no bisexual love triangle.

But he's back to the boy-boy-girl machinations with Plein sud (Going South, 2009).

In American Translation (2011), a guy (Pierre) has a girlfriend (Lizzie Brocheré), but also enjoys having sex with gay men and then strangling them (here Arthur Harel).

Chroniques sexuelles d'une famille d'aujourd'hui (Sexual Chronicles of a French Family, 2012) reveals the sexual pecadillos of three generations of horny Frenchmen after young Romain (Mathias Melloul) is caught masturbating in class.  There are gay and straight liaisons, prostitution, three-ways of various sorts, and lots of heterosexual machinations.

In the tv series Les revenants (The Returned, 2012), several people who died years ago return to a small French community, with no memory of their deaths or the passage of time.  Simon (Pierre) returns to find that his fiance is engaged to someone else.  She says that he committed suicide, but he believes that he was murdered.  No gay content.

Still, that's quite a lot of same-sex romance and sexual machinations.  And when you consider that most of Pierre's movies feature frontal nudity, sometimes even with arousal, it makes his career well worth following.

Jul 31, 2014

James Shigeta and His Gay Buddies

Asian male actors have been underrepresented in American media, and when they appear at all, they are typecast as computer nerds and wise purveyors of inscrutable wisdom, never as hetero-romantic leads.  Even when they are action heroes, they never "get the girl."

Except for James Shigeta, who died a few days ago at the age of 85.   When he first started out in Hollywood in the 1950s, he broke through the racial barriers to land hetero-romantic roles.  One was even interracial, which scandalized audiences in the 1960s.

Generally the pursuit of The Girl was mediated by a competitor or buddy, giving Shigeta's movies a number of pleasant gay subtexts.

The Crimson Kimono (1959): Two L.A. detectives (Shigeta, bisexual actor Glenn Corbett) fall in love with the same girl.

Flower Drum Song (1961): Two Chinese-American men, a nightclub owner (Jack Soo) and a college student (Shigeta) fall in love with the same girl.

Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966): Elvis starts a helicopter service in Hawaii, and bonds with Dan Kohana (James Shigeta) and his ten-year old daughter.

Nobody's Perfect (1968): In Japan, an American soldier (Physique Pictorial star Doug McClure) falls in love with a Japanese woman who is betrothed to a traditional man (Shigeta).

Shigeta received fewer starring roles after the Swinging Sixties ended, but he appeared on tv in Medical Center, Mission: Impossible, The Young Lawyers, The Streets of San Francisco, and Hawaii Five-O, playing both idealistic young heroes and villains.

I remember him in Samurai (1979), a silly tv pilot with Joe Penny (then rumored to be gay) as a lawyer who goes undercover as a samurai warrior (which the producers thought was some kind of superhero).  Shigeta played Takeo, his Asian-wisdom-spouting sensei.

In Cage (1989) and Cage 2 (1994), two buddy-bonding man-mountains (Lou Ferrigno, Reb Brown) open a bar, and run afoul of the gang lord Tin Lum Yin (Shigeta) and his illegal "cage matches."

His last role was in The People I've Slept With (2009), about a woman who has had many lovers.  When she finds herself pregnant, she goes on a quest to find the father, accompanied by her gay BFF (Wilson Cruz). Shigeta plays her hip dad.

No wife is mentioned in his wikipedia article.  Maybe he was gay.

See also: What Happened to the Asian Beefcake?

Jul 30, 2014

Thornton Wilder: Gay People Can Write Depressing Novels, Too

I have no time for Great Literature.  It's not only heterosexist, it's usually terribly depressing.

Heterosexuals aren't alone in insisting that Great Literature must be terribly depressing.  When gay people write Great Literature, it's usually terribly depressing.

Like Thornton Wilder.  I've been force to read (or pretend to read) his stuff three times.

1. People fall to their deaths.  

When we were in junior high, we were too young for Great Literature like Ulysses and As I Lay Dying, so our English teacher substituted The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), by Thornton Wilder.

"This is Great Literature," she said.  "It won a Pulitzer Prize because it's so great.  Read it, and you'll see."

I read the back cover blurb.  A group of people fall to their deaths when a rope bridge in the Andes collapses.

"Why on Earth would anybody write about something so terrible?" I wondered.  "I'm certainly not going to read it."

When the teacher asked us to "Explain the theme of this book," I wrote: "Everybody dies."

 I got a C-.

2. People die of various ailments. 

In high school, my English teacher assigned Wilder's Our Town (1938), which also won a Pulitzer Prize because it's so Great.

It's about small-town teenagers George and Emily fall in love and get married. Emily dies in childbirth.  The last act has her in the cemetery, talking to the other people who have died since Act I.

"Why would Thornton Wilder sit down and write this stuff?" I wondered.  "And why would people actually pay to see it performed?"

When the teacher asked us to "Explain the theme of this play," I wrote: "Everybody dies." again.  I got a D.  I guess she wanted detailed analysis.

I should have written "Emily and everybody else dies."

3. The world comes to an end three times.

When I was in grad school at the University of Southern California, my Modern Drama professor insisted that we read Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth (1942), which also won a Pulitzer Prize because it's so Great.

I was leery, but also curious.  How could Wilder up the ante of depressing Great Literature?

Easy:  it's about a New England family, George and Maggie Antrobus, who are also Adam and Eve, and their two children, Henry and Gladys.  They live through the destruction of the human race three times.

In the First Act, by an Ice Age.
In the Second Act, by a Flood.
In the Third Act, by a cataclysmic war.

But every time they just start over again, and things go back to being exactly the way they were.

Talk about depression!  It's an endless cycle of death and despair!

When the professor asked us to "Explain the theme of this play," I wrote "It replicates the Hindu cycle of samsara, death and rebirth."  I got a C+.

And, by the way, none of the three works contain any gay characters, themes, plots, or subplots.  Nil.

Who was this Thornton Wilder who spent his life writing depressing, heterosexist Great Literature that I couldn't read, so I had to fudge, with the result of low grades?

He was a celebrity writer,a bon vivant, who traveled in famous circles and knew everyone in the Jazz Age.  He was gay, but so tortured by self-hatred that he didn't do much about it.

Even with his close friend, the very hot Samuel Stewart, who later became famous as the novelist Phil Andros (top photo).  Stewart said that they had a relationship, but their sexual encounters were skittish, furtive, momentary, and never discussed.

Wilder wrote in journal:

 "I am more and more willing to agree with certain authorities that homosexuality is negative — that it is, even when apparently aggressive, a submission to solicitations."

Ok, that sounds homophobic, until you remember that in Thornton Wilder's world, everything is negative.  There is no meaning, no hope, just suffering and the inevitability of death, no matter if you are gay.

See also: Why I am Not a Novelist.

Jul 28, 2014

The Mysterious Cabinet Photo of Jasper Redfern

I found this photo on the internet.  An extremely muscular man, with a modern bodybuilder's physique, with his hands behind his back.  The caption said "Jasper Redfern...Sheffield."  Obviously the photographer.

Who was this Jasper Redfern who was taking photos of naked men at the turn of the last century?  Was he gay?

According to Who's Who of Victorian Cinema, Jasper Redfern (1872-1928) was a photographer and exhibitor for Lumière Cinématographe, an early film producer.

In 1899 he began to photograph sports matches, including Sheffield's football games, and in 1900 he took a tour of North Africa, making motion picture travelogues along the way.

North Africa seems promising.  The "Lure of the Mediterranean" was very strong.  Gay men from Andre Gide to William Burroughs traveled there in search of homoerotic freedom.

Upon his return, Redfern became a full-time moviemaker, directing films like Uncle Podger's Mishaps and Kick Me, I'm Bill Bailey.  He opened the Jasper Redfern Palace by the Sea at Westcliffe, which offered offered a variety of Vaudeville acts in addition to film.

Later he devoted himself to medical research, experimenting with the use of X-Rays to cure cancer.  Ironically, he died of cancer caused by over-exposure to X-Rays.

No mention of a wife and kids, but he may have had some.

So why the muscleman?

It's a cabinet photo from the 1880s, when Redfern was still a teenager, still thinking about his life's work.

Often the photos were sold to painters as a cheap alternative to hiring models.  Maybe Redfern sold it to a student at the Sheffield Institute of the Arts.

Or maybe he kept it, as a model for his own destiny.

Manly P. Hall: Gay Psychic Murdered by His Lover

When I lived in Los Angeles, there was a University of Philosophical Research at 3910 Los Feliz, near the Silverlake gay neighborhood.  But it wasn't a university, and it didn't do any philosophical research, although it had a library of 50,000 volumes.  It was a mystical/occult organization founded by Manly P. Hall (1901-1990), who published The Secret Teachings of All Ages (1928).

I haven't read it.  It's a gigantic compendium of occult lore, thick, dense, and impenetrable, with chapters on "The Bembine Table of Isis," "The Hiramic Legend," "Hermetic Pharmacology," and "Fundamentals of Qabbalistic Cosmogony."  But it was immensely popular, on the shelf of everyone from H.P. Lovecraft to F. Scott Fitzgerald, and it has never gone out of print.

Hall became one of the biggest celebrities of the era.  In 1934 he founded the Philosophical Research Society, and stocked its library with thousands of rare occult volumes purchased for him by wealthy disciples, notably oil heiress Carolyn Lloyd.

He wrote many more books -- nearly 200 -- some with beefcake covers, like this rather buffed deity with a shining phallus creating the worlds.

He delivered over 7,000 lectures.

For all his erudition, Hall's philosophy was simple.  His Ten Basic Rules for Better Living include:
1. Stop worrying.
2. Don't try to dominate and control other people.
3. Learn to relax
4. Cultivate a sense of humor
5. Reign in your ambition.
6. Don't accumulate more than you need.
7. Believe in something bigger than yourself.
8. Never intentionally harm anyone.
9. Beware of anger.
10. Never blame others for your own mistakes.

Elvis Presley was a fan.  So was Ronald Reagan. He officiated at the wedding of horror movie great Bela Lugosi.

Disciples stood in line around the block on Los Feliz Avenue to hear his advice.  Astrologers, bodybuilders, magicians, actors, writers, philosophers.

A few -- the best and brightest, the most eager, the most muscular (see top photo) -- stayed on, to become his assistants.  Like future paranormal researcher Arthur Louis Joquel.

Hall was gay or bisexual.  He was married twice, but neither marriage was ever consummated.  His wives and disciples turned a blind eye to his interest in attractive male proteges, and quickly put a stop to any hint of scandal. Except for the last one.

In 1988, when Hall had become morbidly obese, almost unable to walk, and showed signs of dementia, he fell in with a salesman-turned-psychic named Daniel Fritz, who claimed to be a reincarnation of a prince from ancient Atlantis, and his son David, who regularly took spirit-journeys to Jupiter.

No different than the hundreds of other psychics, astrologers, occultists, and reincarnated princes that Hall had entertained over the years.  But his disciples suspected that these two were con artists.  

In August 1990 Hall rewrote his will to give Daniel his entire estate, worth some $52,000,000.  Six days later, he was dead.  Daniel and David were alone with the body for several hours.  Disciples believed that the two had murdered him.

An inquest found no evidence of foul play.  But the will was contested, and the estate reverted to Hall's widow.  Daniel and David moved on to other clients.

Jul 27, 2014

Herman Brix: Almost the First Tarzan

The iconic Tarzan has always been Johnny Weissmuller, who took Edgar Rice Burroughs' sophisticated, multilingual Lord Greystoke and embued him with  "me Tarzan" jargon, the fake-African "Umgawa," the chimp companion, and the vine-swinging.  But for a trick of fate, Herman Brix would have become the Ape Man.

Like Weissmuller, Herman Brix was an Olympic athlete. He won a silver medal for the shot-put in 1928.  He moved to Los Angeles in 1929 and went to work in the movies.  In 1931, MGM chose him to star in the new talkie, Tarzan the Ape Man, but he broke his shoulder before filming could begin, and Johnny Weissmuller took his place.

But a few years later Brix had another opportunity to play Tarzan, in a movie serial, The New Adventures of Tarzan (1935).  

It was so popular that Brix became typecast as Tarzan, and found it difficult to get other work.

He de-Germanized his name into Bruce Bennett, and appeared in many more movie serials, Westerns, and detective movies.  After serving in the Navy during World War II, he continued to work, mostly in B-movies.

In 1961, he wrote and played the villain in The Fiend of Dope Island.  The "dope" is marijuana, which whip-wielding Charlie Davis (Bennett) forces innocent Caribbean natives to grow for him, until David (Robert Bray) shows up.

He died in 2006, at the age of 100.

An Excruciatingly Boring, Heterosexist "Boyhood"

In college I learned that whenever someone tells you that a novel like Ulysses is Epic!  Marvelous! Stupendous!  The Best Thing Every Written!, it's bound to be heterosexist.  Not to mention deadly dull.

I'm pretty sure that's the selling point.  It's the Best Thing Ever Written because there are no gay people in the universe.  No gay people!  Marvelous!  Stupendous!

Same thing with movies.  I just saw Boyhood (2014), which got reviews like A Triumph! One of the Most Extraordinary Films of the Century!  Will Change Your Life!

It was awful.  Like two tv movies on the Hallmark Channel crammed together, but without the dramatic tension.

Movie #1:  Single Mom Patricia Arquette is raising two children in small-town Texas, with the unwelcome interference of her irresponsible ex-husband (Ethan Hawke, left), who wants to become a country-western singer but settles for working in an insurance agency.  She goes to college, where she dates and marries her psychology professor  (Marco Perella), but he turns out to be abusive, so they divorce.

She completes her doctorate in an impossibly short period of time, and becomes a professor without any publications.  One of her students (Brad Hawkins, top photo) catches her eye, so she marries him.  Later they divorce, I think.  It's not really clear.

Movie #2: The story switches to her son Mason (Ellar Coltrane), who has become a sullen, artsy, exceptionally ugly teenager.  He gets a part-time job as a dishwasher, butts heads with his photography teacher, gets depressed, smokes, drinks, has sex with girls, and has long, boring conversations about the meaning of life.

In the final scene, he begins college.  His roommate and two girls invite him to go camping for long, boring conversations about the meaning of life.

The schtick of the movie is: it was filmed over a 12 year period, with the main cast returning year after year to film new scenes.

That might explain why it is so episodic, with characters appearing out of nowhere and then vanishing without comment.

And why it's so incredibly, intensely, "just shoot me" boring.

But it doesn't explain why this is such an aggressively heterosexist world.  In Psychology class, the professor lectures on universal heterosexual desire:  "Whenever you see someone of the opposite gender, you are instantly drawn to them."  Questions of "Do you have a girlfriend?" and advice about how to handle heterosexual relationships inform Mason's life, long before his parents have any way to know his sexual orientation.  Once he becomes a teenager, it's girls! girls! girls! all the time.

I think the new Transformers movie is playing in the theater next door.  See that instead.

Or anything on the Hallmark Channel.  At least it will break up the monotony with commercials.


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