Mar 11, 2016

Lizzie Borden Chronicles: Beefcake and Splatter

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles is an 8 episode miniseries that aired on Lifetime in 2015 and is now on Netflix.  It chronicles the adventures of the famous Lizzie Borden (1860-1924), after she was acquitted of the murder of her father and stepmother.

Many books and movies have delved into the question of what happened on that hot August morning in 1892, but the Chronicles leave no doubt: Lizzie (Christina Ricci) did it.  She gleefully kills her parents and anyone else considers she considers a threat.

 She has some noble instincts: she is protective of animals, children, and abused women.  But her go-to solution to any problem, even the most trivial, is murder.

It is a handsome production, with beautifully designed sets and street scenes full of life and color.  The costumes are perfect.  The customs and language of the late 19th century are expertly reproduced.  You're not looking into the dead past, but into a "now."

But Lizzie's numerous murders of neutral and positive characters, including her girlfriend/ kept girl Adele and her sister's fiancee, become difficult to watch.  And the production seems rushed.  The most interesting story is of Lizzie's sister Emma (Clea DuVall), who transforms from a spinsterish recluse to a murderer in her own right, and becomes involved with the Trotwood crime family of Boston.  But her story is told quickly, over a couple of episodes.

Since this is Boomer Beefcake and Bonding, you're probably wondering -- well, is there any beefcake and bonding?

There's a lot of lesbian interest.  Lizzie seduces Adele and lives with her.  Nance O'Neil, who briefly befriends Lizzie before finding out her secrets, is presented as ambisexual; in real life she was probably lesbian, and Lizzie's lover.  We see lesbian intimacies occuring at a party, and a photographer shoots a scene of "sapphic" erotica.

There don't appear to be any gay men in this world.  Every male character of any importance is shown kissing, having sex with, or propositioning women.

But there's ample beefcake.

1. Cole Hauser  (left) as Charles Siringo, the Pinkerton agent assigned to investigate the murders.  Emma kills him.

2. Dylan Taylor as Officer Trotwood, who protects the sisters and proposes to Emma.  Lizzie has him killed.

3. Bradley Stryker (top photo) as Skipjack, a low-life who occasionally works for Lizzie. She kills him.

4. Rhys Coiro (left)  as Chester Phipps, a seedy photographer who Lizzie kills.

5. Chris Bauer and Matthew LeNevez as Tom Horn and Bat Masterson, real-life cowboys who come looking for Siringo.  Lizzie kills them.

6. Frank Chiesurin as Spencer Cavanaugh, a playwright who raises Lizzie's ire by assaulting Adele.  She kills him.

7. Cody Ray Thompson and Will Rothhaar as the Trotwood boys, one of whom Lizzie kills.  The other she just shoots.

The spectacular beefcake almost makes up for the splatter.

Mar 10, 2016

Weird Science

The 1985 movie Weird Science was terrible, an entry in the "sex with the babysitter" genre that featured nontop assertions that gay people don't exist.  But strangely enough, the spin-off tv series (1994-97) was not terrible.

1. The boys, Gary (John Mallory Asher) and Wyat (Michael Mannaseri) do create a magical computerized babe named Lisa (Vanessa Angel), but she is neither sex partner nor sex object; she acts more as their big sister and mentor.

2. Of the 26 first and second season episodes, only 5 involve dating/romancing girls.  The others are wacky science fiction adventures:

Gary ends up stuck in a time loop, repeating the same events over and over.

Wyatt becomes President of the United States

Clones of Gary and Wyatt take over their lives

3. Lisa never removes any articles of clothing, but Gary and Wyatt and their male peers are often displayed as shirtless, in swimsuits, in the shower, in locker rooms.

4. Gary and Wyatt may be aggressively heterosexual, but older brother Chet (Lee Tergesen, later to display full frontal nudity on Oz) has almost no interest  in girls.

An amazing turn-around from the movie.

The same plot was used in the 2014 Disney Channel movie How to Make a Better Boy.

Mar 9, 2016

Finding the Gay Men in Old Photographs

I love finding beefcake in old photographs: hard chests, bulging biceps, perhaps a hint of beneath-the-belt gifts, men and boys caught at a moment of time a century or more ago, bright with promise and erotic energy.

I try to imagine the lives they had.  The books they read, the games they played, their hundreds of sunrises and breakfasts and walks through city streets.

I try to imagine their friends, their lovers.

I try to figure out if they were gay..

Of course, they grew old and died long ago, so I can never really know them.

Unless they drop in for a visit.

Remember what Walt Whitman said:

Full of life, now, compact, visible,  
To one a century hence, to you, yet unborn, seeking me
Fancying how happy you would be, if I could be with you, and become your comrade.  
(Be not too certain but I am now with you.)

Usually there's no name to go with the physique, so research is impossible.

But for these turn-of-the-century hunks, I have a name and a place. They are the Tonawanda, New York high school basketball team, which won the New York State Championships in 1907.

Basketball was only invented in 1891, so they were playing an innovative new sport.

1. Hewitt Miller, the oldest of the group, born 1887.  He went to Michigan State College, where he joined the Sigma Chi Fraternity.  In 1919 he was back in Tonawanda, where he played for the American Legion basketball team.

In 1924, he told the Michigan State College Record: "Am still single."  If he wasn't married at age 37, chances are he never had a wife.

He also said  "Hope the dormitory fans win out, because it is there the rigorous and hearty germ of college spirit is sprouted, and kept alive."

He really liked those MSC dorms.

2. Harry Webb was born in 1889.

As an adult, he worked in a granite factory.

An article in the Grand Island Dispatch mentioned that he belonged to the Young Men's Club of Grand Island, which played pingpong in Larson's Soda Bar.

In 1952, "Harry Webb's Orchestra" performed at a Gay Nineties review at an elementary school in Grand Island, near Tonawanda.

He died in 1957 in Toledo,  No mention of a wife and kids.

3. Legrand (Bill) Simson (1886-1974).  went on to Cornell, where he was student body president, the captain of the football team, and on the rowing team.  Later he became a businessman.

In 1972, Cornell alumni news tells us that his old friend Clarence N. (Sliver) Seagrave tracked him down: "They were a great pair and still are."

4. Blake Miller.(1889-1987).  He went to Michigan State College with Hewitt Miller, no doubt his brother, where he played football, baseball, and basketball.  Later he played pro football, coached at Michigan State, and was a golf pro at the East Lansing Country Club.  He was married, and died in Lansing, Michigan in 1987.

5. Duval Hosmer.  Can't find anything on him, but a Duvill C. Hosmer is one of the plaintiffs in a court case filed against Buffalo Commercial Insurance Co. in 1907, and a Clarence Hosmer (1891-1968) was an offensive guard for the Tonawanda Kardax football team in 1921.

Who do I want hovering over me now?

Simson is the hottest and Hewitt is most likely to have been gay.  But if I can only get one, I'll take Duval-Duvill-Clarence.  He has an air of mystery, and perhaps of tragedy.

See also: Beefcake and Bonding in Old Photographs; Beefcake and Bulges in Old Swim Team Photographs

Brian Krause: Not Charming on Charmed

When Brian Krause starred in Return to the Blue Lagoon (1991), yet another "discovering girls on a desert island" movie, there was a collective groan from West Hollywood.  Sure, gay teens probably found him dreamy, but why did they have to sit through two hours of heterosexist "you don't exist" propaganda for a glimpse of a slim chest?

Next he starred in the homoromantic December (1991), as the jock boyfriend of quiet, studious Wil Wheaton in a prep school during World War II.

But it's all downhill from there.

Next Brian starred in an aggressively homophobic movie, Sleepwalkers (1992): Charles Brady (Brian), a feminine-stereotype villain, and his mother/girlfriend, feed off the life force of virgins.  But he takes a moment from his busy schedule to dispatch a gay high school teacher named Mr. Fellows, who keeps hitting on his students. It's Stephen King, so there's bound to be a lot of anti-gay hatred.

Family Album (1994) is not quite as homophobic: Greg Thayer (Brian) is the son of a famous actress (Jaclyn Smith of Charlie's Angels) and her husband (Michael Ontkean).  When his brother Lionel announces that he is gay, it causes immeasurable strife in the family.

Then he starred in some heterosexist "erotic thrillers," which provided some nudity, but they were about guys having sex with girls.

And some buddy-bonding movies, but he never played one of the buddies.

Brian most prominent role to date has been in the tv series Charmed (1998-2006), about three witch sisters (eventually a fourth) living in a gay-free San Francisco.  Brian played Leo Wyatt, the sisters' Whitelighter (guardian angel).  He begins a forbidden romance with Piper (Holly Marie Combs), and eventually they marry and have children.

While the "I've got a secret" genre is always open to queering, the Charmed ladies are so aggressively searching for heterosexual partners that any symbolism is drowned out in the constant exchanges of "I met a new guy!" "Is he hot?"

Plus only one gay character -- Duncan Philips (Blake Bashoff) -- who appears in only one episode, apparently the only gay student at the Magic School, and the only gay person in San Francisco.

Plus female-female friendships are fine, but men approach each other only with suspicion, as competitors and potential enemies.

No word on whether he's a gay ally in real life.  I doubt it.

Mar 7, 2016

Fargo, the Series: Homophobia, Heterosexism, and 70s-Bashing

I always get sensitive when people say "Life used to be so great, and now it's so terrible !  We cared about each other then!  It was a simpler, more innocent time!"

I have binge watched Fargo Season 2, the tv series based on the Coen Brothers' black comedy, about a simpler, innocent, loving time.

The 1940s.

It's set in 1979, a year everyone hates.  They're always moaning about everything is so bad now, society has gotten so violent, everybody at each other's throats, much worse than the kind, loving, innocent 1940s (really, they say that).

World War II?  Auschwitz?  Really?

And 1979 was the best of times!  Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out, and we were singing "We are Family".

Living life is fun and we've just begun to get our share of the world's delights
High hopes we have for the future, and our goal''s in sight

Maybe 1989, after 8 years of Reagan-Bush homophobia, AIDS, Chernobyl,  and the Iran-Contra Scandal.  But not 1979!

It's about an ordinary couple in "you betcha" small-town Minnesota in horrible 1979, Ed and Peggy Blumquist (Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst), who accidentally kill the son of an organized-crime syndicate, and find their lives unraveling.  They are targeted by the syndicate, dogged by the police.  They have to kill more people.  Ed finds himself tagged as the Butcher, a famous paid assassin with a price on his head.

The crime syndicate is led by the taciturn housewifely Floyd (Jean Smart), who butts heads with her domineering, sexist son Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan), who disapproves of a woman running the empire.

Dodd has a partner, boyfriend, foster brother, or something, the taciturn Indian Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon).

There are two other surviving sons, plus a granddaughter and a  grandson, Charlie (Allan Dobrescu), who has a hand deformity.  Both have been excused from the action due to, but they long to participate in some of the bloodshed.

Meanwhile Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine), a fixer from a rival gang, tries to find out who theis Butcher is, who is disrupting gang alliances in the Minnesota-North Dakota crime game.

Meanwhile the state trooper investigating the case, Lou Solverson (the very ugly Patrick Wilson), has a disgustingly heteronormative wife and daughter.  Oh, so perfect!  They love each other so much!  Isn't that what life is all about, the only thing that makes life worthwhile is gazing into the eyes of a heterosexual life partner and the wondrous new life that your love has created.  Anyone who doesn't have this incredible heterosexual bond is worthless, and probably out to destroy us all.

I'm not kidding.  That's exactly what the Coen Brothers say, or indicate, over and over again.

Well, it's not completely perfect.  The wife has cancer, caused by the 1970s (they do explicitly say that).

No gay people exist, except for a predatory lesbian who paws at Peggy, and is rebuffed.

No beefcake, unless you're a chubby chaser (Jesse Plemons is a little on the pale, portly side).

I'd give it a miss, unless you love heteronormativity and hate the 1970s.

Why even set your series in a decade you hate?

Mar 6, 2016

Lord of the Flies

The "boys alone" genre (White Water Summer, Toy Soldiers, Bless the Beasts and Children, The New People) usually features a group of teenage boys isolated from adult society, stripped down to their underwear, and working together to survive or fight a common enemy.  It argues that competition, envy, hatred, and strife are plagues of adulthood, that in the primal Eden of adolescence, we are all one.

But William Golding's 1954 novel The Lord of the Flies, based on the children's novel The Coral Islandturns the genre around, arguing for the natural enmity of men without women.  It was required reading in high school: our teacher expected us to have an ephiphany, thinking "Yes, we are savages. Only the adult rules keep us from killing each other."

  It has been filmed twice, in 1963 and 1990.

When their plane crashes, a group of British school boys find themselves stranded on a desert island.  Ralph (James Aubrey, Balthazar Getty) takes charge and establishes a democratic society, as in Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky.  He organizes the search for food and the rescue fire, and uses a conch shell to call the citizens to a democratic congress.

But the boys fear the Beast who roams the jungle, and develop bizarre manhood rituals.  Jack (Tom Chapin, Chris Furrh), Ralph's best friend in civilized life, leads a rebellion.  His "savages" worship a rotting pig's head (the "Lord of the Flies").

Tensions escalate, and the savages attack.  A boy named Piggy is killed, the conch broken, and Ralph's boys scatter into the jungle.  Jack leads his savages to attack Jack, but just as they close in for the kill, the adult rescuers arrive.  Civilization restored, the boys begin to cry.

Why is this story so different from the others, so depressing, so skeptical of the human spirit?  William Golding is generally a downer  -- his second most famous work, Pincher Martin, is about a man dying on some rocks in the ocean.

But there is an obvious gay subtext. Ralph is a veritable teen idol, strong and handsome, and though he cares for Jack, he doesn't display any homoromantic intensity.

Jack, soft, blond, feminine, "queer," has an unrequited romantic interest in the stronger, more muscular boy.  He manipulates the other boys' fears, orchestrates the mutiny, the bizarre rituals, and finally the attack -- not out of unrequited love, but out of hatred for the civilization which denies his homoromantic potential, which doesn't even have the vocabulary for expressing what he feels.  In the end Lord of the Flies is about what happens to a dream deferred.  Sometimes it explodes.

Rob Lowe

Rob Lowe started his career as one of the slim, androgynous prettyboys who populated the 1980s (others included Tom Cruise, Peter Barton, Corey Haim, and John Stamos).  He played a teenage father in an Afterschool Special; he was in the small-town Angst drama The Outsiders (1983), along with every other young-adult hunk in Hollywood (Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, Tom Cruise, even Leif Garrett).

He played a teenage operator who buddy-bonds with the naive Andrew McCarthy in Class (1983).

He did the "Yank skewers the pretentions of stuffy Brits" thing in Oxford Blues (1984).

There was some buddy-bonding, some homophobic slurs, lots of shirtless, underwear, towel, and jockstrap shots.

He was widely rumored to be gay.  My friend Mario claims that they dated, or at least had sex a few times, in the spring of 1981.  But Rob doesn't mention any same-sex activity in either of his autobiographies.

Millions of heterosexual girls and gay boys had his poster on their bedroom walls (Corey Haim's Sam had this one in The Lost Boys).   

So far, not much different from the other slim, androgynous prettyboys of the 1980s.

Then something happened that changed Rob Lowe's life and career forever.  During the Democratic National Convention in 1988, Rob had sex with two women, one of them underage. A film of the act appeared, along with some footage of Rob and a friend having sex with another woman in Paris.  It was blurry and grainy, but you could see more than enough.  Rob Lowe at his most intimate.

The scandal rocked his career, forever marking him as  dangerous, deviant, and overtly sexual.  You knew things about him that you didn't about any other celebrity.

Rob capitalized on his new aura of danger in Bad Influence (1990), luring a yuppie (James Spader) onto the Dark Side, and The Dark Backward (1991), a dark comedy about a pair of garbage collectors who want to become standup comics.  Eventually he moved on, starring in a TV version of the gay-themed classic Suddenly, Last Summer (1993), and playing one of the "good guy" survivors of the plague, the deaf Nick Andros, in an adaption of Stephen King's The Stand  (1994).

A fixture on television in the 2000s, Rob Lowe has never played a gay character, though he has played many gay-subtext relationships.  Politically conservative, he is not a strong gay ally.

See also: Mario's Date or Trick with Rob Lowe; Justin Morrit, the Guy Who Shared Rob Lowe.
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