May 25, 2019

"Rim of the World": Missed Opportunity for Gayness

The first third of Rim of the World (2019) is a comedy about sardonic counselors at an elite summer camp:  the two black guys who discuss white privilege, the guitar-playing lesbian, the stoner, the one with a chest.

Then we shift focus to three mismatched kids, who for some reason are left behind during a camping trip:

1. Alex (Jack Gore), a socially awkward video game addict with a smothering helicopter mother.

2. ZhengZheng (Miya Cech) from China, who conned her way into the camp for reasons that are never explained, and who doesn't speak. Until she does.  Her reasons for pretending to be mute are never explained, either.

3. The bling-wearing, girl-crazy, ultra-rich Dariush (Benjamin Flores Jr.), who lives in a mansion with his ultra-rich father and his trophy wife.  With all that excess, one expects Dad to be a famous actor or musician, but actually he owns a car dealership.  Several statements make it clear that Dariush is scripted as Persian, but the actor is black.

Suddenly there are explosions in the air, a "mandatory evacuation" text appears on their cell phones, and this becomes an alien invasion movie.  They return to camp to find it deserted.  And a fourth kid appears:

4. The mysterious Gabriel (Alessio Scalzotto), who won't say where he came from and doesn't know some of the basics of modern society, like how to read numbers.  I thought he was either an alien in disguise or the actual angel Gabriel, but his secret is much, much more banal.

Aliens attack the deserted camp.  One of them has a dog, which results in a Jurassic Park raptor-in-the-kitchen scene.

Another extrudes a long tube from its head into Dariush's mouth and deposits something.  We expect that Dariush will develop super powers, or turn into a half-alien hybrid, or something, but nothing comes of it.

The kids find a key that can be used to destroy the alien mother ship, and have to cross 40 miles of deserted, destroyed Los Angeles to the Pasadena Space Center to use it (that's right, the entire greater L.A. area was evacuated in a few hours).

On the way, with no prior warning, Alex and ZhengZheng fall in love.  They hold hands; they spend the night cuddling; they kiss to lush triumphant music.  The closing montage that shows the kids being lauded for saving the world includes a prom picture.

Equally without warning, the sparring Gabriel and Dariush fall in love.  They hug; they almost hold hands; they spend the night spooning.  But just as we think that they're going to become a canonical gay couple, they break away, and spend the closing montage on opposite sides of Alex and ZhengZheng.

So are they a couple or not?

The spooning scene is worth the price of admission, but they could have been much more open.

Just another one of the missed opportunities in this movie.

Beefcake:  The counselor with the chest appears for about a second.

My grade: D

May 24, 2019

Male Nudity in Italian Class

The only good thing about Hell-fer-Sartain, Texas, where I taught at a horrible state college after getting my M.A. in 1984, was the free tuition for faculty.  There wasn't a lot at that I wanted to take, but the did offer Italian.

It didn't start out well:
Roger e un ragazzo americano. Maria e una ragazza italiana. Roger e Maria sono amici. . .

Roger is an American boy visiting Italy. He goes to a cafĂ© and tries to pick up a local girl. In the first lesson we learned “What is your name?”, "Your country is beautiful," and "How old are you."

Roger learns the time so he won’t be late for the cinema, learns the names of food so he can order in the restaurant, gets an overview of national history as they tour the museums.  In Chapter 10, we learn the Italian word for "kiss" (bacio).

Why do even language-learning dialogues have to be about a boy and a girl?  No men in Italy?

I never thought of Italy as a "good place."  The only fiction about Italian boys in love was The Little World of Don Camillo, and movies set in Italy seemed to involve mostly horny heterosexuals: Roman Holiday (1953), La Dolce Vita (1960),  Island of Love (1963), Avanti (1972).  Pasolini was entirely heterosexist. I had never seen Ernesto (1979).

I knew about Thomas Mann's gay obsession in Death in Venice, and about Wilhelm Van Gloeden's homoerotic photographs of Sicilian youth, but they were German.

But one weekend I drove two hours into Houston, to the Wilde-and-Stein Bookstore, and bought Ganymede in the Renaissance, about how Renaissance artists used the myth of Ganymede, a mortal boy swept up by Zeus to become his catamite.

And I discovered a whole gay world in Renaissance Italy, artists, writers, statesmen.

1. Leonardo Da Vinci. He got a girlfriend on Rocky and Bullwinkle.

2. Michelangelo.  As portrayed by Charleton Heston in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), he got a girlfriend.

3. Donatello, who sculpted the famously effeminate David, a counterpart to Michelangelo's more macho version.

4. Benvenuto Cellini.  His Autobiography was on the list of recommended readings in my class in Renaissance History in college.  But not a word in class.

5. Caravaggio, played by Dexter Fletcher and Nigel Terry in the 1986 movie.

6. Aretino, who wrote Il Marescalco, about a gay man forced to marry a woman, but she turns out to be a man.

7. Ariosto.  I bought his Orlando Furioso in a Ballantine Adult Fantasy edition, but had no idea.

8. Matteo Bandello, who wrote 12 Novelle, one about a gay man.

9. Dante.  Ok, he was probably heterosexual, and from the Middle Ages, but he wrote the beefcake and bonding classic, The Inferno.

10. The painter Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, nicknamed "Il Sodoma"

11. Giovanni, the foreign exchange student I had a crush on at Rocky High.

May 22, 2019

Why We Read "Playgirl" in Rock Island

Back before the internet allowed us to download 100 pictures of naked men before breakfast, you got a few pictures per month, in expensive, glossy magazines.  In West Hollywood, you could get In Touch for humorous articles  along with your porn, Mandate for hairy-chested machismo, Advocate Men for twinks, Drummer for leather, Inches for...well, inches.

But you'd never dream of picking up Playgirl, except maybe when it featured a nude celebrity like Christopher Atkins.

It was a magazine for women, with articles for women, ads for women, and heterosexual models disrobing for women.  Gay men absolutely, emphatically did not exist.  Who in West Hollywood could tolerate such a slap in the face?

Not until the 2000s did the editors admit, privately, that some men bought the magazine, that men existed who liked looking at photos of naked men. 

But outside gay neighborhoods, in the homophobic small towns of the Straight World, gay magazines were often unavailable, so Playgirl was all you could get.  Many gay men had fond memories of nervously bringing a Playgirl to the counter at the 7-11, claiming "It's for my girlfriend" or "It's a gag gift for my sister." 

They found something quite different from what they would find in a few years, in the gay magazines in West Hollywood or the Village.

The models in gay magazines were portrayed as overcome by a passion, grimacing, leering, inviting -- no, daring you to do the forbidden, to walk on the wild side.

But the models in Playgirl were warm and safe, comfortable, disrobing for a wife or girlfriend, inviting you to engage in in a wholely conventional, expected, "normal" activity.

The models in gay magazines had perfect bodies and enormous penises.  They displayed themselves as a challenge. You would never meet anyone like them in real life, or if you did, they would shoot you down instantly.

The models in Playgirl tended to be more "natural," not particularly muscular, not particularly hung.  They looked like men you might actually meet, who you might actually have a chance with.

So thousands of gay men moved to West Hollywood and the Village, expecting not endless nights of tricking with superstuds, but someone to cuddle on the couch with.

This post with nude photos is on Tales of West Hollywood.

May 21, 2019

Gay Neighbors in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

The toddler tv show Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood (1966-2001) arrived in Rock Island when we got PBS in 1971 or 1972.  I was too old for it, but my sister watched, and sometimes I caught a glimpse while waiting for Cartoon Showboat.

The live-action segments I could do without: Mr. Rogers visits a nursery school or a bakery, or tries to put things together.  But I liked the Neighborhood of Make Believe, a medieval kingdom with both puppet and real-life residents who weren't entirely maudlin.

The pompous King Friday XIII, whose rendition of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" became "Propel, Propel, Propel Your Craft," was the only resident to engage in heterosexual behavior, at least in the episodes I watched.  He fell in love with a Southern-accented commoner named Sarah, married her, and sired a son, Prince Tuesday.

The other residents didn't display any heterosexual interest, and many had gender-atypical traits which allow for a gay reading.

The feisty Lady Elaine Fairchilde, who runs a revolving museum, flies in a spaceship to Jupiter, and calls everyone "toots."

X the Owl, with a Southern drawl and an affinity for Benjamin Franklin.

Daniel Striped Tiger, a tame tiger of French ancestry, neat, tidy, fashion-conscious, who carefully points out that his middle name has two syllables.

Not a lot of beefcake, but Joe Negri was cute (early photo, left), and Chuck Aber (top photo) had a muscular physique.

A Presbyterian minister before entering show biz, Fred Rogers was apparently tolerant of gay people but an opponent of gay marriage.

In 2012, an animated sequel, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, premiered on PBS.  Set entirely in the Neighborhood of Make Believe (which has somehow become a tropical jungle), it stars the children of the original cast.  Apparently Lady Elaine Fairchild and Daniel Striped Tiger were heterosexual after all.

But not X the Owl -- he's raising his young nephew, O the Owl.  So maybe there's still a gay neighbor in  Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.

May 20, 2019

Imposters: Gay Subtexts in a Long Con

The first episode of Imposters is nightmarishly heterosexist, but hang in there -- it gets better.

The awkward, shy, but somehow extremely wealthy Ezra (Rob Heaps) works for his father's shoe company, where water-cooler banter involves mostly boobs and how much you are getting. 

Somehow Ezra grew up less sexist, and married the "the woman of his dreams," the French-accented Ava (Inbar Lavi),  even though he has to negotiate his Neanderthal brother (Adam Korson) and boorish father (Mark Harelik), with their "does she like it when you have sex with her?" leering.

It's no wonder that she vanishes a month after the wedding, draining his bank account and leaving a very nice "it's not you, it's me" video.

Then Ezra meets dumb but formerly extremely wealthy jock Richard
(Parker Young, top photo), who married the same woman, only she called herself "Alice."  One month, bank account drained, vanished.

 And lesbian artist Jules (Marianne Rendon), who married Cece.  One month, bank account drained, vanished.

The trio vow to track down the elusive scammer, to get their money back, or at least say "how could you treat me like that?  I thought our love was real." (Their only cue is a story about her pet dog, which she told to each of them).  They are brok, so they indulge in some cons and identity-theft tricks to raise money, and become quite proficient at it.

Eventually they track down the scammer -- real name Maddie -- in Seattle, where she is working on her new mark, a disagreeable, violent-tempered banker (Aaron Douglas).

She has two older associates with the ridiculously 1940s names Max and Sal (Brian Benben, Katherine LaNasa), and a big boss, the ridiculously malevolent Doctor.  If ever she tries to get out of the game or shirk her duties by getting a boyfriend on the side, the Doctor will send in his cool-as-ice fixer (Uma Thurman).

 Things get complicated when Maddie falls in love for real with the extremely wealthy Patrick (Stephen Bishop).

And even more complicated when her banker mark ends up murdered.

And even more complicated when Patrick turns out to have a game-changing secret of his own.

And even more well, you get the idea... when the Bumblers (Ezra, Richard, and Jules) show up in Seattle, and agree to work with Maddie and her associates to bring the Doctor down.

Gay characters:  Jules, who starts dating Patrick's "sister" Gina, even though they're both working on cons against the other.

Maddie is bisexual, I suppose, but it's never referred to.

Gay subtext:  Richard strikes me as gay but not out (Jules even refers to this or that hot guy as his new "boyfriend" or "man-crush").  He has a gay-subtext bromance with Ezra, and then switches to Maddie's associate Max.  Side note: Silver Daddy Brian Benben was last seen as a bare-butt Dad on Dream On?

Beefcake: Occasional shirts off. The cast is surprisingly top-heavy with hot guys.  For example, Samuel Patrick Chu plays a nebbish working at the bank, not part of any scams, with only a few lines.  And here's his physique.

I've only seen one season of The Imposters.  My grade: B

There are nude photos of Mark Harelik on Tales of West Hollywood.

See also: Chris Demetral

Tarzan Time

It's spring, time for high school and college hunks from all over the country to put on a loincloth and dreadlocks and go vine-swinging in their local productions of Tarzan: The Musical.

1. Monterey High, California.  That's a gigantic loincloth.  I guess they didn't want any accidents.

2. Like what happened with this Tarzan from Dixie High (in St. George, Utah, not in the South).  Fortunately he was wearing an under-loincloth.

3. Rockford University, Illinois.  "Loincloth" is the first word I learned through reading, back when I was five or so, and my parents bought me an abridged Tarzan at the supermarket.  It said that Tarzan was "naked," so he killed a leopard and made a "loincloth" from its skin.

4. This Sterling, Illinois Tarzan seems quite proud of his physique.

5. Palo Alto Dinner Theater, California.  That crouching pose is commonly used for posters.

6.  Springfield, Oregon New Hope Christian College.  Same pose, bigger biceps.

7. Trinity High School, probably the one in Louisville, Kentucky.  I understand painting on abs, but painting on pecs?

8. Clearfield Area Junior-Senior High School, Hyde, Pennsylvania. Nice to see a Tarzan with a little bulk.  Apparently you can get pie in the jungle.

9.  Bangs High School, Bangs, Texas. No dreads, thank God.

10.  Newark High School, New Jersey.  Newark is 50% black and 36% Hispanic.  What are the odds that they would cast a white boy?

Here's  what he looks like as a civilian.  An ordinary high school drama club kid transformed by the magic of the stage into a superhero.

May 19, 2019

Bruno and Boots: A Gay Couple at MacDonald Hall

Bruno and Boots are the stars of a series of children's books by Gordon Korman, set at a down-and-out boarding school near Toronto:
This Can't be Happening at MacDonald Hall (1978)
Go Jump in the Pool (1979)
Beware the Fish (1980)
The Wizzle War (1982)
The Zucchini Wars (1988)
MacDonald Hall Goes Hollywood (1991)
Something Fishy at MacDonald Hall (1995)

I haven't read any of the books -- I never heard of them before Netflix - but Bruno is the "let's fill the swimming pool with jello" trickster, Boots the "but we'll get in trouble" superego, and they're surrounded by the usual high school nerds, jocks, and martinet teachers.  The rival school is the snooty York Academy, and Miss Scrimmage's Finishing School for Young Ladies provides a female Bruno-Boots pair to spar with and get crushes on.

A series of movie adaptions has appeared in Canada.  The first, Bruno and Boots: Go Jump in the Pool (2016), now streaming on Netflix, stars:

1. Jonny Gray, a Disney teen, star of the similarly-themed Max and Shred (2014-2015) as Bruno.

Jonny is the one on the far right.

2,  Callan Potter, a newcomer who would go on to star in The Other Kingdom on Nickelodon, as Boots. 

The plot:  In the book, a gay subtext:  Boots is forced to transfer to York Academy so he can compete on their swim team.  Bruno hatches some wild schemes to raise money to buy a pool for MacDonald Hall, so they can stay together.

In the movie:  They just want the pool.  Plus Boots goes out for swimming so he can impress The Girl.

That's right, the gay-subtext motive has been obliterated, and a hetero-horny motive introduced.

I guess because in 2016 you couldn't pretend that gay people do not exist anymore.

I fast forwarded through the other two movies, to see if there was anything good:

Bruno and Boots: This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall (2017): The headmaster tries to separate the duo.

Bruno and Boots: The Wizzle War (2017): They try to get even with a crazy teacher.

Gay characters: The girl-crush is de-emphasized.  You can still read them as a gay couple, if you want. .

Beefcake:  Bruno and Boots rush to class in their underwear, with some blatant bouncing around.  Otherwise nothing much.

My grade: C-
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