Apr 13, 2013

Toran Caudell, Boy Wizard

Born in 1982, Toran Caudell followed in his father Lane Caudell's footsteps with the gay subtext Max is Missing (1995). On vacation in Peru, Max (Toran) encounters a dying man, who gives him an ancient Incan mask.  It doesn't have magic powers, but  does send him on a wild flight through the wilderness,  chased by the bad guys, accompanied by the Quechua boy Juanito (Victor Rojas).

Nick of time rescues and physical buddy-bonding moments ensue.

Toran's shoulder-length blond hair and feminine pretty-boy features got him cast as a as shy, sensitive, gay-vague boy in Johnny Mysto: Boy Wizard (1997): he finds a magic ring that transports him to King Arthur's Camelot (where he fails to get a girlfriend).

Between 1997 and 2001, he had a recurring role on Seventh Heaven, the preachy, heterosexist "family" drama about a minister with a large brood of hetero-horny kids. Goth kid Rod (Toran) enters the series by dating daughter Lucy, naturally, but he ends up running away from home and butting heads with his mother's psychotic boyfriend.

Otherwise Toran did mostly voice work on Nickelodeon cartoons: Recess, Hey Arnold, Rocket Power. 

Today he is a song writer and music producer. He composed music for The Osbournes and My Super Sweet Sixteen.  Still androgynous though no longer blond, he has made no public statements about his sexual identity.

Apr 12, 2013

Fugitive from the Empire: Jonny and Hadji Grown Up

There have been many Europeans or Americans involved with South Asians, on tv (Maya, Jonny Quest, Gunga the Indian Boy), in books (Haji of the Elephants), in comics (Corentin) -but they are nearly always teenagers.  An exception came in 1981, in The Archer, also known as The Archer and the Sorceress, also known as Fugitive from the Empirea tv movie pilot that never became a series

The rather convoluted plot draws on Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian.  In a weird post-apocalyptic world, barbarian Toran (Lane Caudell, left) sees his tribe wiped out by the Evil Empire, and goes off in search of revenge.  He hooks up with a gay-vague South Asian thief named Slant (Kabir Bedi), who at first is in it for the money, but then begins to care for Toran.  The two are quite physical in their interactions and rescue each other several times.  The addition of a third team member, Estra (Belinda Bauer), does not detract from the romantic interaction; in fact, at the end of the movie Estra goes off on her own, leaving Toran and Slant to their own fade-out.

There isn't much beefcake, so the gay subtext is the only reason to watch The Archer; the plot is nonsensical, the special effects laughable, and the dialogue purple prose at best.  But on a Sunday night in April 1981, watching grown-up versions of Corentin and Kim or Jonny and Hadji was enough.

28-year old North Carolina native Lane Caudell had been playing Southern athletes, rednecks, and musicians for several years, mostly in tv movies like Hanging on a Star (1978) and Good Ol' Boys (1979).  He didn't do much of gay interest afterwards: a starring gig on Days of Our Lives and two country-western albums, including one entitled I Need a Good Woman Bad.  Oh, and he liked his character so much that he named his son Toran Caudell.

35 year old Kabir Bedi, however, was already well-known in India, Italy, and the U.S., with credits in several buddy-bonding movies, including Sandokan (1976), The Black Corsair (1976), and The Thief of Bagdad (1978).  In 2010 he starred in the Hindi movie Dunno Y Na Jaane Kyun (Don't Know Why), an entry in India's first gay film festival.

Tom Avni: Israeli Teen Idol

Adaptations of Kipling's Jungle Book are becoming increasingly heterosexist.  An Israeli stage musical version from 1996, directed by Hanoch Rosen, was about as heterosexist as you can get, transforming the theme from "savagery and civilization" to "young love." But it did win some awards and transform 10-year old Tom Avni (Mowgli) into a major child star.

In 1997 he starred in the Hanukah play Pestigal, and in 1998 Super Boy, about a boy who gets super powers, fights crime, and gets the girl. In 2003, another Hanukah play, Tom Sawyer. The Jerusalem Post quipped "You know it's Hanukah time when Tom Avri's name is posted on billboards."

Tom moved into Israeli television in 2002, becoming the host of Channel 6, the Israeli Children's Network.  By this time he was 16 years old, and muscling up, and his bare chest and abs were being displayed all over Israeli teen magazines and tv guides.

After the requisite military service, Tom moved into tv with a starring role as teenage millionaire Daniel Harris in the children's sci-fi series HaShminiya ("The Eight") (2006-2007).  He also starred in the series Tom Avni 24/7 (2007), about his "real life" as the host of Channel 6, with a weird agent, crazy friends, and unlikely complications (here's a clip on youtube) .   He continued to display his six-pack abs upon request.

Bubot ("Dolls") (2007-08) was about a group of models, some of whom were gay (Tom's character was apparently bisexual). Some episodes are available on youtube, if you speak Hebrew.

Today Tom is starring in the comedy Sabri Maranan (2011-2012), about an extended family that meets every week for a traditional Shabbat dinner ("Sabri maranan" is the beginning of a blessing.)  It is being adapted for broadcast in the U.S. as Tribes.  

Apr 11, 2013

Amir Shervan: King of 1980s Bad Movies

Born in Tehran in 1929, Amir Shervan moved to the U.S. to study theater. He returned to Iran in 1968 to direct several movies. The Iranian Revolution forced him to relocate to the U.S., where he wrote, directed, and produced five actioners which head the list of "world's worst movies" for their laughable dialogue, amateurish acting, and convoluted plots.  But they featured some of the biggest man-mountains ever seen outside of extreme bodybuilding, not to mention a leering pansexual sort of homoerotic subtext.

Hollywood Cop (1987): The Hollywood Cop (David Goss) tries to help a woman recover her kidnapped child, and meanwhile gazes lustfully at everyone in sight, male and female, including Aldo Ray, Cameron Mitchell, Troy Donohue, and a gay stereotyped waiter.  Then he goes home and parades around in his underwear. While makeing racist and sexist comments and blowing people up.

Samurai Cop (1989):  The Samurai Cop (inarticulate man-mountain Matt Hannon, who was in one other movie) glances lustfully at everyone in sight, male and female, but gives special attention to discussions of the penis of his partner Frank (Mark Frazer). Then he goes home and parades around in his underwear. While making racist and sexist comments and blowing people up.

And there's three that nobody can find. Maybe they were never released: Killing American Style (1990), with Blacksploitation legend Jim Brown as someone named Sunset; Gypsy (1991); and Young Rebels (1992), which has a tagline in French and stars "Johnny Greene," whom no one has ever heard of.

Apr 10, 2013

10 Things I Like about "Modern Family"

Ok, my post on "10 Things I Dislike about Modern Family" didn't go over well.  There are gay characters, and one of them is played by a real, life gay person, and it's been nominated for GLAAD Media Awards twice.  It even won once.

But the things I like about Modern Family have nothing to do with the gay characters.

1. Senior citizen Jay and his younger wife Gloria (a fiery Latina): some humorous interactions.

2. Their gender-transgressive but heterosexual son Manny, who is obsessed with fashion, hair-grooming products, and the culture of the 1940s.

3. Benjamin Bratt (left) as Gloria's ex, a irresponsible bad boy who still tries to be a good father for Manny.

4. Jay's daughter Claire, her husband Phil, and their kids (Haley, Alex, Luke): a conventional sitcom family: extremely affluent professional dad, stay at home mom, wisecracking kids.  But it turns out that driven, Type A personality Claire is in charge, and laconic Phil is merely going along for the ride.

5. The many times that Phil  (Ty Burrell, left) embarrasses himself publicly with comments or images that imply that he's a voyeur, into group sex, a pimp, or a pedophile.

6. Nolan Gould as Luke, the beset-upon youngest child of Claire and Phil, whose twitter bio begins "I'm not a dummy, I just play one on tv."  He graduated from high school at age 13, and is taking college courses.  And learning to play the sitar.  (See him in the 2012 gay-subtext horror movie Ghoul).

7. Reid Ewing as Dylan, the dimwitted but amiable boyfriend to teenage Haley, and his Reid-ing web series, which includes gay-themed episodes.

8. Phil's blatant homoerotic interest in Dylan.

9. I don't like much at Cameron and Mitchell's house, but I did like James Marsden as their new "neighbor," who turns out to be a kook living in their daughter's dollhouse.

10. Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who plays Mitchell, previously starred in The Class (2006-2007), a pleasant sitcom about a group of grade-school friends who reconnect as adults (Sean Maguire played the gay one).

11. Hot guest stars like James Marsden and Adam DeVine as Andy the Male Nanny, the most muscular male nanny this side of Muscle Beach.

Jackanapes: Boyfriends in a Victorian Children's Story

When I was a kid in the 1960s, there were only a few books in the house, so I spent many hours leafing through the nine volume Junior Classics (1956), an anthology of antiquated stories that someone born before horseless carriages were invented thought that modern kids should read, such as Alice in Wonderland and King of the Golden River.

As a nine or ten-year old, I often found the words too hard, the references obscure, and the plots disturbing. Julia Horatia Ewing's Jackanapes (1883), from the ironically entitled Volume 5, Stories that Never Grow Old, certainly qualifies: it starts with villagers who live on the Green talking about a sexton "who would be ninety-nine come Martinmas, and whose father remembered a man who had carried arrows, as a boy, for the battle of Flodden Field."

Ok: I didn't know what a Green was, or a sexton, or Martinmas, or Flodden Field.

And when I skipped ahead to the end, Jackanapes, whoever that was, had died.  Depressing.

Years later, in my college Shakespeare class, I heard the word again: Jackanapes was the nickname of Sir William de la Pole, who appears in Henry VI.  So I returned to the story, and found a Victorian model of same-sex love: a Bart Simpson troublemaker and his friend Tony, weaker, more cautious, and described as "beautiful."  The two smoke cigars, get sick on a merry-go-round, and concoct schemes to get money to buy horses.

Fast forward twenty years, and they are British calvary officers (and not married).  In the heat of battle, Tony falls off his horse and breaks his leg.  The enemy is approaching fast, but Jackanapes rushes over and prepares to lift Tony onto his own horse.

"Jackanapes! It won't do. You must go on. Tell the fellows I gave you back to them, with all my heart. Jackanapes, if you love me, leave me!"

There was a daffodil light over the evening sky in front of them, and it shone strangely on Jackanapes' hair and face. He turned with an odd look in his eyes that a vainer man than Tony Johnson might have taken for brotherly pride. Then he shook his mop and laughed at him.

"Leave you? To save my skin? No, Tony, not to save my soul!"

Jackanapes then rescues Tony, though it means that he will die.

The rest of the novella involves the folk back home gossipping about Jackanapes' sacrifice, and the author moralizing about God and country.  But the gay subtext is strong, and clear, and survives the obscurity of the text.

Later I discovered that Victorian literature is filled with gay writers.  Julia Horatia Ewing was not among them.

Apr 9, 2013

I'm Dickens...He's Fenster: Early 1960s Bonding

When I was a kid,  I knew John Astin as the mustached, googly-eyed Gomez Addams on The Addams Family (1964-66), as the Riddler on Batman (a replacement for Frank Gorshin), and as various kooky characters thereafter, such as Professor Gangreen in Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988).  Funny, but not really swoon-worthy -- I was more interested in his teen idol sons, Sean and Mackenzie.

And Marty Ingels as a voice on Cattanooga Cats and Grape Ape on Saturday morning tv, married to Shirley Jones and the stepfather of David, Shaun, and Patrick Cassidy.  Again, not really swoon-worthy.

Then a Boomer of the older generation suggested the sitcom I'm Dickens -- He's Fenster (1962-63), which appeared after The Flintstones on Friday nights.   I looked up some episodes on youtube.

John Astin (age 32) and Marty Ingels (age 26) play bumbling carpenters Harry Dickens and Arch Fenster.  Dickens is married, and trying to be stable and respectable.

Arch is a swinger (with a Little Black Book full of women's phone numbers), and keeps trying to drag his partner into crazy adventures.

But in spite of the blatant girl-leering, there's a blatant homoromantic subtext.  The two behave as if they were romantic partners, in that unself-conscious way that performers had before they were aware that gay readings were possible: an amazing physicality, a devotion to each other, and even a domesticity, as Fenster practically lives with Dickens.

And they are swoonworthy.  No nudity, but 32-year old John Astin displays a respectable chest and nicely-toned biceps in a tight black  t-shirt, and 26-year old Marty Ingels has a beefy, promising physique.

Producer Leonard Stern was also responsible for the beefcake-heavy Run, Buddy, Run and the buddy comedy The Good Guys.

Apr 8, 2013

Rent: 8 Friends, 3 Romances

Not one for musicals, I've never seen Rent, the Tony-winning 1995 Broadway musical, about a group of friends living in the artistic Bohemia of southern Manhattan during the heart of the AIDS crisis, in 1989 and 1990.  But I just saw the 2005 movie version.  A couple of problems with it:

#1: The convoluted, hystrionic melodrama.
Most musicals have four people falling in and out of love. Rent has eight:

The Lesbians. Performance artist Maureen breaks up with struggling filmmaker Mark and falls for Joanne, an Ivy-League African-American attorney.  But she has trouble staying faithful, so they break up.

The Heterosexuals. Struggling, HIV-positive musician Roger, who lost his girlfriend to AIDS, falls for heroin-addict prostitute Mimi, but can't bring himself to commit, so she begins seeing the wealthy, married Benjamin Coffin (Taye Diggs, left), who also happens to be Mark and Roger's landlord.

The Gays. NYU Professor Tom Collins falls for HIV-positive drag queen Angel, who dies.
Got all of that?

#2: How do these people know each other?
In what world do impoverished drag queens and heroin-addicted prostitutes hang out with Ivy-League attorneys and NYU professors?  Wouldn't class distinctions be a problem?  And if they do happen to all be close friends, why does the immensely wealthy Ivy-League attorney let the struggling filmmaker and musician nearly starve to death and get evicted due to non-payment of rent?

#3: Major continuity problems
On Christmas Eve, 1989, Mark is starving and destitute, Roger (Adam Pascal, left) meets Mimi, and Angel meets Tom. There's a "everybody hanging out and getting to know each other" montage, and then suddenly it's New Year's Eve, Mark is affluent, with a documentary tv series, and Roger/Mimi and Angel/Tom are long-term couples. You think a year has passed, but no, only a week.

Maureen asks Joanne to marry her. Cut to the most lavish wedding I have ever seen in the most ornate hotel, with both of their parents beaming and saying things like "I'm so happy that my daughter has chosen such a wonderful partner."  You think it's a fantasy sequence.  Nope, they put the whole thing together in a couple of days.

#4: Unrealistic HIV

Roger and Mimi are both HIV positive, but other than taking medication, they have no problems.  Angel has the sort of AIDS where you're completely healthy and energetic up until your final dying montage.

#5: I Love/Hate New York

First they sing about how much they hate New York, with its cold, dirty streets and horrible crime; they want to run away to Santa Fe and open a restaurant.  Then they sing about how much they love New York, with its freedom and happiness and universal friendship. So is New York a horrifying hellhole where everyone wants to kill you, or a pastoral Utopia where everyone is eager to be your friend?

But there were a few things I liked about it:

#1. A homoromantic subtext between Mark and Roger, who leaves, spends time living on the street in Santa Fe, then returns, to a big reconciliation.

#2.Mark is played by Anthony Rapp (left), a former teen star (Adventures in Babysitting) who is gay in real life.

#3.Angel (played by Wilson Jermaine Heredia) had an infectious good humor and a series of fabulous outfits (that she apparently made for herself out of scraps).

#4. Joanne (played by Tracey Thoms) had an excellent singing voice.

#5. "La Vie Boheme," a paeon to everything unconventional:

Bisexuals, trisexuals, homo sapiens,
Carcinogens, hallucinogens, Pee Wee Herman,
German wine, turpentine, Gertrude Stein
Antonioni, Bertolucci, Kurosawa, Carmina Burana
Apathy, entropy, empathy, ecstasy
Vaclav Havel, The Sex Pistols, 8BC
Sontag, Sondheim, anything taboo
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