May 1, 2014

The Surrealistic Nudes of Lembit Sarapuu

These photos by Triinu Jurves on the Noolegruppe blog for Estonian artists are entitled A Homage to Lembit Sarapuu.  There are several other photos of semi-nude men flexing their muscles in rustic settings.

I'm interested in any artist who inspires semi-nude male photographs.  But who is this Lembit Sarapuu?

The Estonian version of Wikipedia just states that he was born in 1930, he's won several awards, he's interested in surrealism, and he's married to a sculptor.

The surrealism is obvious: Euro Referendum in Estonia depicts two Western Europeans in 1950s garb trying to interview Estonia, depicted as a wild man, naked,  fully aroused.

Kalevipoeg and the King of the Underworld, depicts a muscular, naked Kalevipoeg encountering a talking anus.

An interview with Eve Kask doesn't reveal much more: he likes women, he is interested in myth and nature, and if he could choose to live in another time, he would be a Cro-Magnon painting on a cave wall.

Thus, his frequent use of male nudity may not be a deliberate attempt to evoke the homoerotic, but an evocation of the pre-civilized wild man.

His work is sometimes criticized as sexist, depicting women only as objects of male conquest, as in A Walk Through the Park.

Of course, that doesn't explain his many nude men standing alone, raging against the modern world.

See also: Kristjan Raud; Kalervo Palsa.

Apr 29, 2014

Butterflies are Free

The 1972 movie Butterflies are Free is about the hippie counterculture trying to break loose from establishment oppression.  In the form of a heterosexual romance, of course.

Blind guy Don Baker (Edward Albert Jr.) has been smothered by his domineering mother all his life.  He moves out, and makes her promise not to contact him for two months.  Meanwhile he begins a romance with free-spirit Jill (Goldie Hawn).

Mrs. Baker (Eileen Heckert) is upset about Don's new girlfriend, and advises Jill to break up with him.  But Jill wisely tells her to butt out, and Mrs. Baker finally realizes that all the younger generation wants is to be free.

The claustrophobic movie has three sets: Don's apartment, a mod shop, and a restaurant, and five speaking roles  (in addition to the main three, Paul Michael Glaser as Ralph, the director of the play Jill is in, and Michael Warren as Roy, the owner of the mod shop.

There is a gay reference, taken directly from the original 1969 play by Leonard Gersche (starring Keir Dullea and Eileen Heckart):

Jill is starring in a play about a woman with a gay husband -- he was an alcoholic in the book, but they changed it to gay to be "in."  She doesn't approve of the new visibility of gay people: "I always thought of them as kind of magical and mysterious -- the greatest secret society in the world. Now they're telling all the secrets and you find out they're just sad and mixed-up like everyone else."

She asks Don if he's gay, and when he says "no," mentions her friend Davis, a fashion designer who made the blouse she's wearing: "Actually, he made it for himself, but I talked him out of it."

The rather homophobic statements are accentuated by the gay symbolism.  A "smothering mother" at the time was thought to be a "cause" of gay identity, so Don's blindness becomes a stand-in for gay identity "cured" by heterosexual romance.

Modern versions of the play often avoid the gay references.  But sometimes they leave it in, along with 60s music, remembering that this was one of the first times the average moviegoer heard the word "gay" spoken aloud, symbolic "cure" or not.

By the way, the film and most stage versions also  feature Don in his underwear.

See also: Alice's Restaurant.

Apr 28, 2014

Throb: How We Watched TV in West Hollywood

The 1980s were extremely homophobic.  If you could manage it, you took refuge in a gay neighborhood, and rarely spoke to a heterosexual.  You absolutely never came out to any heterosexual except your family. If they found out accidentally, you could expect, at best, a deer-in-the-headlights stare and a stumbling protest that "I'm...I'm...not gay."  Often much worse.

And you absolutely stayed away from mainstream media.  Newspapers were full of shrieking editorials about how "They're sick!!!!  They're disgusting!  Put them in concentration camps!"

Movies couldn't go five minutes without a homophobic slur.

TV was a little better, generally presenting a world where gay people did not exist.  Still, most programs were incessantly heterosexist, so it was best to keep the tv off.

So in high school and college, I watched 10-14 prime-time network tv shows regularly, but when I moved to West Hollywood, the number decreased to a non-heterosexist 4 or 5:  
21 Jump Street: Buddy-bonding among undercover cops, including Johnny Depp (left).
Night Court: Buddy-bonding among the denizens of a night court.

Head of the Class: Buddy-bonding among high school overachievers.
 The Golden Girls: Four heterosexual women live together and form an alternative family.
Kate & Allie: Two heterosexual women live together and form an alternative family.

But you had to be careful: even the most "gay friendly" could turn on you at any moment, with a limp-wristed hairdresser swishing in, or a character who has trouble "accepting" a visiting gay relative.

I don't remember any limp-wristed hairdressers or visiting gay relatives on the workplace comedy Throb (1986-88).  It starred Diana Canova of Soap as Sandy (right), the decidedly unhip newly-divorced 30-something who finds herself a fish-out-of-water in the young, ultra-cool, hipster office of a New Wave record company.

She was heir of Mary Richards of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and the precursor of the dozen or so women in workplace comedies of the 1990s, such as Caroline in the City and Just Shoot Me.  

Her coworkers included:

1. The boss,  diminuitive go-getter Zach (Jonathan Prince) channeling Michael J. Fox.  Today a writer and producer, Prince was at the height of a brief 1980s acting career: he played Johnny Depp's buddy in the sex comedy Private Resort and Clark Brandon's buddy on Mr. Merlin.

2.  Hip business manager Phil (Richard Cummings, Jr., later to star in Northern Exposure).

3.  Spaced-out former singer Blue, probably based on the Andy Warhol superstar Ultra Violet (Jane Leeves, who would go on to play psychic therapist/housekeeper Daphne on Frasier).

By the way, Sandy had a 12-year old son at home, played in the first season by future screen hunk Paul Walker, and then by Paul Walker lookalike Sean de Veritch.

I actually don't remember any particular episodes, just the jazzy theme song, some buddy-bonding moments between Sandy and Blue, and the very attractive Jonathan Prince.

But I remember watching, and finding it a moment of freedom from the "We hate you!!!!" of 1980s media.

You can see full episodes on youtube, in German.

Apr 27, 2014

Not a Lot Goin' On: Corner Gas

My favorite tv program of all time is Corner Gas (2004-2009), a workplace comedy set in the fictional town of Dog River, Saskatchewan, where a new generation of young hipsters has taken the reins from their elders:

1. Sardonic slacker Brent Leroy (Brent Butt) has taken over the only gas station-convenience store in 60 km from his irascible father Oscar (Eric Peterson) and formidable mother Emma (Janet Wright).  He hires his man-child high school buddy Hank (Fred Ewaniuk) as a mechanic and the self-professed smartest person in town, Wanda (Nancy Robertson), as a cashier.

2. Lacey (Gabrielle Miller), a fish-out-of-water from big-city Toronto, has arrived to run Ruby's Cafe, left to her by her late aunt.

3. Naive by-the-books police constable Karen (Tara Spence-Nairn) has just graduated from the academy and moved to Dog River, where her partner is middle-aged Sergeant Davis (Lorne Cardinal).

 In spite of the theme song proclaiming that there is "not a lot goin' on," the regulars are very busy with comedy nights and talent shows, hockey and curling tournaments, bingo, book clubs, a 10K Fun Run, Brent's attempts to foster tourism, Lacey's attempts to modernize things, visiting relatives, visiting Canadian celebrities, practical jokes, pranks, and misunderstandings, plus the full round of holidays (except Christmas: it's always summer or fall).

Fred Ewaniuk (Hank) is the most attractive member of the cast, but he never takes his shirt off.  There is no beefcake.

No gay characters are identified.  There is a bit of homophobia in Hank, who worries that cafe's new frou-frou decor will turn him gay, but it is counterbalanced by the other characters' nonchalant acceptance of same-sex potential; for instance, everyone who goes on a fishing trip with Hank falls in love with him.

Besides, you don't need gay characters to be gay-friendly.  A lack of hetero-mania is just as good.

In most American sitcoms, every other line is about someone's hetero-horniness, every other episode involves someone's hetero-romantic conquest, and eventually all of the regulars are paired off  (think of Friends or How I Met Your Mother).  Not in Corner Gas.  Brent and Lacey briefly consider dating, but drop the idea and remain friends.  Five episodes total involve someone's hetero-romance.

Corner Gas is about a group of friends.

 No wonder, as the theme song says, "It's my happy place."  An episode of Corner Gas is a sure cure for depression.  Except for the last episode, in which Brent becomes a professional comedian and has to say goodbye.

Buy any of the seasons, and watch in any order; there are no character or premise changes.

See also: Trailer Park Boys
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