Mar 19, 2014

Dante's Inferno: Beefcake and Buddy-Bonding in Medieval Italy

The Divine Comedy gets a bad rap.  It's not incomprehensible, elitist, or heterosexist, like many other "great" works of literature (Ulysses and The Sound and the Fury spring to mind).  Granted, Purgatorio and Paradiso are a little dry, but what could be more interesting than the Inferno? 

 It's a tour of hell with the feel of a Dungeons and Dragons quest, or maybe the Wizard of Oz, with two guys, Dante and Virgil, buddy-bonding en route.

They have to find some way to get past Cerberus, the giant three-headed dog.  
They fight giant winged Furies.   
They tame a monster with scorpion-stingers to fly you down a treacherous cliff.   

Finally they reach the center, where Satan, a monster embedded in ice, is chewing on three traitors, one with each of its gigantic mouths. 

And how they you escape from Hell?  They have to climb down Satan's fur through the center of the Earth.

There actually is a Dante's Inferno video game, but it's much more heterosexist than the original.

Of course, the original isn't entirely free from heterosexism.  He journeys through Hell, then through Purgatory and Heaven, at the request of Beatrice.  He spent his life "deeply in love" with here, even though they only met twice (when he was 9, and again when he was 17), and on both occasions she merely said "hello."

She sounds more like an evocation of the divine, a sort of Blessed Virgin, than a real object of Dante's heterosexual longings.

And he's not nearly as homophobic as other Italians of the Middle Ages.  He did put the sodomites (gay people) in the Seventh Circle, farther down than the murderers, but not as far down as the fraudsters.   But when he meets his old teacher and guardian Brunetto Latini among them, Dante treats him the utmost of love and respect.

He also paints some sympathetic portraits of sodomites in the Purgatorio.  

Get a bilingual edition -- the original Italian is far superior to any translation.  And be sure it has the beefcake-heavy illustrations by Gustave Doré.  Or buy the illustrations separately.

Mar 18, 2014

Tom Hanks' Bachelor Party

During the 1980s, there was a fad of movies about the crazy maneuvers that hetero-horny guys go through en route to getting laid, usually with tons of female nudity and tons of racism and homophobia, as the guys are waylaid by predatory (but swishy) leathermen, transwomen, and giggling Japanese businessmen.

Bachelor Party (1984) has all of that and more.

The premise: Rick (Tom Hanks, when he was still doing comedy) is about to be married, so his friends, led by Jay (1980s fixture Adrian Zmed) throw him the mother of all bachelor parties, with "chicks and guns and fire trucks and hookers and drugs and booze."

He vows to remain faithful to his fiance, Debbie (Tawny Kitaen), but her father and snively ex-boyfriend Cole (Robert Prescott) disapprove of the union, and scheme to mess things up.

There are dominatrix hookers, lesbian strippers, male strippers, predatory transwomen, offensive-stereotype Japanese businessmen, panicked homophobic flights, kidnappings, car chases, and several "hilarious" failed suicide attempts.

So why is it worth a look for gay audiences:

1. Rick is pleasantly immune to the homophobia of his friends, and even makes a few comments suggesting homoerotic intent. When his friend Brad tries to slash his wrists with an electric razor, he says "At least our wrist will be smooth and kissable."

2. Buddy-bonding between Rick and Jay.

3. There's a tremendous amount of beefcake. All of Rick's friends strip down at one point or another. There are Chippendales dancers and a male stripper (played by Brett Baxter Clark)

4. Christopher Morley, who played the transwoman "She-Tim," was a well known drag performer of the era.

But be careful -- the homophobia is rather intense, even by 1980s standards.

See also director Neal Israel's Police Academy (1984), with Steve Guttenberg as an unconventional police cadet, with the same combination of borderline-bisexual shenanigans and homophobia.

The Naked Ghost Festival of Thailand

When I visited Thailand, I was busy dealing with my ex-boyfriend Alan's drama.  So I didn't have time to drive 6 hours north of Bangkok to Dan Sai, near the Laotian border.

It's a small town with a folk museum and a famous pagoda, but not much else to draw tourists away from Bangkok and Pattaya.  Except for the Phi Ta Khon Festival ("Ghosts with Human Eyes"), held every year at different times depending on the spiritual conditions (in 2014, on the weekend of June 27th).

It commemorates an event in the life of the Buddha's last incarnation, Prince Vessantara.  He fell asleep, and his followers thought he was dead.  They decided to celebrate his escape from samsara, and made so much noise that he woke "from the dead."

The festival begins begins with a Buddhist ceremony that invokes guardian spirits, followed by a procession of the men in the village, nude except for rice-husk loincloths, covered with river mud, waving giant wooden phalluses of various sizes and shapes.

The male spectators wave phallic charms (paladkik) or giant phalluses of their own, inscribed with characters meaning "Big Man."  Apparently guardian spirits likes penises.

On the second day, there's another parade (Hae), with more semi-nude men, but generally more elaborate costumes of ghosts and monsters, with ornate masks.  Crossdressing is common.  As are penises so large that they're hard to carry.

There are prizes for the best costumes and dances.  Plus phallic rockets (Bangfai Ko) and partying all night.

The third day is devoted to Buddhist sermons, prayer and meditation.

Mar 17, 2014

Not-Gay Bullying on "One Life to Live"

During the last decade, conflicted gay teenagers have become a staple of daytime soap operas. But not the long-running One Life to Live, which I watched occasionally after Dark Shadows when I was a kid.

The most you can hope for are gay subtexts, like the bromance between Trevor St. John and Dan Gauthier, or the "non-gay" bullying plotline of 2011.

Shane Balsom (Austin Williams, left) came to Llanview in 2007, and was embroiled in plotlines involving paternity, not liking Mom Gigi's boyfriend, and being diagnosed with leukemia.

But by February 2011, he was 14 and a gay-vague high schooler, and he became the target of bully and all-around bad guy Jack Manning (Andrew Trischitta, top photo).

No anti-gay slurs were used, but the homophobic context was made obvious when Jack stole Shane's clothes and then posted naked pictures of him on Myface.  Shane was so upset that he attempted suicide, got a psychological evaluation "to cope," and dealt with the situation by dropping a barbell on Jack's foot.

Shane remained a gay-vague bullying victim through the next year, with plotlines involving Jack killing Gigi, but not really, Shane shooting Jack, but not really, and Shane hiring Jack's girlfriend to secretly record a confession. Finally he and his mother and new stepfather went to England, where they hoped he wouldn't be bullied so much.

Ever hear of punishing the bully?

Why didn't the writers explicitly identify Shane as gay?  Head writer Ron Carlivati explains his heterosexist reasoning here.  The answer: lots of heterosexual kids get bullied, too. We wanted this to be a human story, not a gay story.

I've heard that heterosexist nonsense before: everyone can relate to stories about heterosexuals -- it's universal human experience -- but no one who isn't gay could possibly relate to a story about gay people.

No word on whether either of the bully-victim duo is gay in real life.

Mar 16, 2014

The Innocents: In the South of France, Everybody Wants Everybody

Movies and tv programs typically permit same-sex relationships only when they are interracial.  The racial stratification "stands in" for gender stratification, male-female transposed into white-black in America, British-Indian in Britain, and in France French-Arab.

In The Innocents (1987), André Téchiné uses several French-Arab relationships to mirror the tensions between France and its former colonies.

The gay teenager Alain (stage actor Stephane Onfroy, in his only film appearance) has been living in the southern port city of Toulon with the Algerian Said (Abdel Kechiche), a thief and hustler.

Said's main client is the German musician Klotz (Jean-Claude Brialy), who has an Arab fetish.

Alain's sister Jeanne (Sandrine Bonnaire) arrives to look for a reconciliation, and moves in with Said and Alain.

She begins relationships with both Said and Klotz's son Stéphane (Simon de la Brosse), who is bisexual also, but has a mysterious antipathy to Said.  She suspects that they were formerly lovers.

Confused yet?  Don't be: just think "Everybody is interested in everybody," and concentrate on the beach scenes.

Turns out that Stéphane belongs a radical racist organization which set fire to an immigrant hostel, and was stabbed by Said in retribution.

They argue over Jeanne, and Stéphane has his organization target Said.

The only innocent is the gay teenager, Alain.

Many of the cast members have a gay connection.

Simon de la Brosse (1965-1998) was working as a waiter when he was discovered by gay talent agent Dominique Besnehard. for the heterosexual-awakening Pauline at the Beach (1983).  He was reputedly gay or bisexual in real life.

Jean-Claude Brialy (1933-2007) was gay.

Abdel Kechiche went on to direct the lesbian-themed Blue is the Warmest Color (2013).

The movie is not out on DVD, but you can see it on Full TV

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