May 22, 2021

The Strange/Scary House: Hendrik is Gay for 45 Minutes

 While trying to track down my Hazel poison mushroom memory, I stumbled upon the German movie Das schaurige Haus ("the scary house," but for some reason appearing on Netflix as The Strange House). It's set in Austria, on the Slovenian border, so I thought it might have some Slovenian spoken, and the protagonist Henrik (19 year old Leon Orlandianyi) is kind of cute, so I gave it a go.

Scene 1:
Mom, surly teenage Henrik, and adorable preteen Eddi drive through the beautiful Austrian mountains to their new home, Bad Eisenkappel/Zelezna Kapla ("Iron Chapel" in German and Slovenian; this must be on the Austrian border).  They pull up to a horrible. overgrown barn-style house.  The leering real estate agent shows them around: it's horrible on the inside, too. There's evidence that the previous tenants, another single mom, teenage son, and adorable preteen, left in a hurry.  And a locked door marked with a trail of salt "to keep the ghosts away." 

As they unload their stuff, a neighbor lady peers down from her window, prays, and crosses herself.  Bad things happen in that house.  But the title sort of gave that away.

Somebody or something calls to Eddi from behind the locked door.

Scene 2: Dinner in the scary house.  Surly teenage arguments.  Henrik storms away.  He sees that the locked door is open -- it leads to a staircase.  But he doesn't go up -- smart kid!  

Later, Eddi comes into Henrik's room while he is in bed and scrawls a mysterious symbol on the wall.

Scene 4:  Henrik skateboards through town to the grocery store to get bread rolls.  The locals stare open-mouthed, and he has trouble communicating, because everyone speaks Austrian German or Slovenian.

After breakfast, the family goes over to meet the spying neighbor lady. Growl, stare. "You won't last long." Slam.

Scene 5:
The boys go exploring, and find an overgrown grave yard.  One of the tombs has photos that look like the previous tenants: teenage Ralf and ten-year old Roland.  Is it an odd coincidence that Hendrik and Eddi are exactly their age?

Eventually the boys reach a lake where lots of people are hanging out, picnicking, playing with Frisbees, swimming.  Henrik spies a girl that he'd like to have sex with, and tells Eddi to go find some kids his own age to play with.  But before he has a chance to approach her, a boy named Fritz approaches him!  This must be a prime cruising site.  

Suddenly a group of bullies approach to torture intellectual/outsider Fritz.  They quickly turn their attention to the "anti-German slur" Henrik, but Henrik grabs Eddi and runs away, with Fritz tagging along.  He tells them about the previous tenants (actually way back in 1980): Amelia Polzmann murdered her two sons by feeding them poison mushrooms, then killed herself.   

Scene 6:  Mom is tired, so the boys cook dinner.  Eddi hears someone calling for Roland, one of the dead boys, and sees a mysterious figure watching them from outside.  A ghost, or anti-German stalking?

Later, Henrik looks up a news story about the murders, and shows Mom. Dismiss, dismiss.  "What about Eddi seeing things and sleepwalking?"  Nope, dismiss.

Later, the boys are brushing their teeth when -- ok, enough shots of Henrik in his underwear!  Granted, he's 16, legal age in Germany, and the actor is 19, still, this is supposed to be wholesome family entertainment.  I didn't come her for penises.   -- when they overhear Mom arguing with the Leering Realtor.  

Meanwhile, Mom sees a new wall-scribble, and a photo of the dead family.  Is that the Leering Realtor with them?  Looking exactly the same? Gulp!

Scene 7:  Late at night.  Henrik climbs out of bed, in his underwear, of course, and takes away all of Eddi's art supplies so he can't scrawl weird symbols on the wall.

It doesn't work.  Later, Henrick and his penis are  awakened from a nightmare to see Eddi scrawling on the wall again.  The word GOBE.

Scene 8: Henrik and Fritz on a date, lying on a blanket at the park.  Henrik tells Fritz about GOBE.  It's Slovenian, but he doesn't know what it means.  He grabs Ida, a passing girl, to translate (uh-oh, love interest): Mushrooms.

Fritz deduces from this that Amelia Polzmann didn't murder her sons.  One of the dead kids is speaking through Eddi, trying to exonerate her. 

Chris and his band of bullies arrive and punch Henrik in the nose.  Fritz faints at the sight of blood, but Ida administers first aid  (uh-oh, Fritz has just been replaced by Ida).

Scene 9: Eddie rushes out to the old cemetery, explaining "The woman called me."  He draws pictures of dead people on his sketch pad.  

Cut to night.  Henrik and his penis text Ida to discuss the ghost stuff.  Then he climbs into bed with Eddi to keep him safe from the ghosts.

Scene 10.  Morning.  A knock on the door.  Henrik and his penis rush to answer: it's Ida, gazing like she's about 10 seconds away from tearing the rest of his clothes off.  He brings her up to his room to wait while he finishes getting dressed.  She sees a girl among his photos, and roils with jealousy.  "Is this your girlfriend?????!!!!"  "No, just someone from my group of friends."  "What a relief!"

Another knock on the door.  It's Fritz, Henrik's boyfriend!  Well, this is awkward.

They get down to the business of finding the real murderer.   The ghosts might know who killed them, so let's conduct a seance!  Aww-- a seance means holding hands.

Scene 11:
The seance.  Eddi is possessed by the ghost of Roland Polzmann, who leads them up to the attic, to a locked room full of scary artifacts.  It belong to Ralf, the teenager brother, who was heavy into the occult.  A devil's head bookcase has a hidden compartment, and inside a book with another secret compartment!  Then Ralf shows up as an evil ghost, so they have to scram! 

Scene 12: The secret compartment contains a Super 8 film from the 1980s and a small diary.  While Fritz rushes home to get projection equipment, Henrik and Ida sit touchy-feely on the bed to, I mean, I mean they are interrupted by Leering Realtor.

Fritz returns, and squeezes between Henrik and Ida on the couch to watch the film (too late, kid -- you should never have left them alone).

Nothing incriminating:  home movies of Roland and Ralf, augmented by the diary: Ralf is unhappy in their new home.  Roland has made new friends, but he's all alone.  Mom picks mushrooms; Dad is surprisingly close to the housekeeper.  If it's all innocent, why bother to hide it so thoroughly?

I'm not going to go through the rest scene-by-scene.  

Beefcake: Henrik and his penis are on display for about 3/4ths of the movie.  Some teenage bare chests.  The only significant adult male is the Leering Realtor.

Other Sights: Some nice village establishing shots, the cave that Mom explores.

Gay Characters: Henrik and Fritz, for the first 45 minutes.

Heterosexism: A completely unnecessary romance between Henrik and Ida, obviously tacked on when the director realized that his original rejection of her could be "misinterpreted" as signifying that he is gay.   Then an even moreunnecessary two-scene romance between Fritz and a girl at the village party, obviously tacked on at the last minute to alleviate suspicions that Fritz is gay.

The movie was based on a 2012 novel by Martina Wildner, which has no hetero-romantic plotline.

Plot twists:  The murderer's identity is a surprise.

Plot holes: Why did the dead boys wait 40 years to manifest and request that the living solve their murder?  Did they need two tenants their exact ages?

My grade: B until they decided to heterosexualize Hendrik and Fritz.

Jerry Lewis Falls in Love

In 2007, comedian Jerry Lewis (1926-2017) called someone a "fag" during his telethon, and apologized the next day for his "bad choice of words."  In 2008, he referred to cricket as a "f-- game" during an interview on Australian tv, but refused to apologize.

Ok, he was homophobic.  But no more homophobic than other people born in 1926: Paul Lynde, Aldo Ray, Tom Tryon, Allen Ginsberg, Cloris Leachman, Charlotte Rae. . .never mind.

[I'm being sarcastic, of course.  This is a list of people who were born that year who were gay or gay-friendly, which supports my argument that you can't excuse his homophobia due to his age.]

But in his early days, Jerry Lewis was gay.  Or rather, he played gay.

In 1946, the young Borscht Belt comedian Jerry Lewis and the nightclub singer Dean Martin started a comedy duo act.  It spun into a radio program (1949-53), numerous television appearances, and a series of 16 movies, beginning with with My Friend Irma (1946) and ending with Hollywood or Bust (1956).

From the 1920s through the 1960s, many comedians came in pairs:  Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, The Smothers Brothers, Gilligan and the Skipper.  They were a relic of Vaudeville, where a "straight man" would set up the joke and a "stooge" would deliver the punchline.

In comedy duos, the straight man (Hardy, Abbott, the Skipper, Dean Martin) strived for respectability: a job, a house, a wife.  He wanted to do things "right," conform to the rules of heterosexist normalcy.  The stooge (Laurel, Costello, Gilligan, Jerry Lewis) was a court jester, like Harlequin of the Commedia dell'Arte or Skip in the Little Nemo comic strip. He stymied the straight man's plans, skewered his pretensions, brought anarchy, rebellion, and freedom.  He was often not interested in women.

Most comedy duos eliminated the potential for gay subtext by pretending to hate each other, but Dean and Jerry obviously cared for each other.  Jerry went even farther, however, hinting to the oblivious Dean that he was in love.  And sometimes going beyond hints.

Dean: I want to read this fan letter.
Jerry: You don't need to read it to me.  I know what it says. "Dear Mr Martin, you're wonderful, I adore your voice, I dream of you, I sleep with your picture under my pillow."
Dean: How did you know?
Jerry: That's how I feel,  too.

Jerry was also extremely physical, always hugging, holding, and trying to kiss Dean, who accepted the displays of affection with some embarrasment.  In My Friend Irma Goes West, Dean is rubbing Jerry's chest in a circular motion; Jerry says that it feels good, but he would prefer "bigger circles."  Where, precisely, does he want Dean's hand to be?

In their movies and nightclub acts, Dean played the self-absorbed, not-always-faithful "husband," and Jerry the devoted but sneaky "wife."  Dean went off to carouse with his card-playing buddies, while Jerry waited at home with dinner in the oven.  Sometimes Dean hooked up with women, but Jerry always found a way to sabotage the relationship.

If it was all part of the act, what was it for?  What joy did Dean and Jerry expect homophobic 1950s audiences to find in watching unrequited same-sex love?

The pair had a nasty breakup in 1956, and rarely spoke to each other again, except at the funeral of Dean's son, Dean Paul Martin.    Dean Martin went on to the famous homoerotic Rat Pack.

But Jerry occasionally commented on their relationship: "It was like a romance"; "We were closer than brothers"; and, in an interview I remember from the early 1970s, "It makes you wonder if there is something to homosexuality."

There are nude photos of Martin and Lewis on Tales of West Hollywood

See also: The Gay Adventures of Jerry Lewis.

May 20, 2021

I Dream of Jeannie

When Larry Hagman died, his obituaries praised his conniving Texas oil magnate J.R. Ewing of Dallas (1978-1991, plus a 2012 remake).  But I rarely watched Dallas.  I remembered him from one of the "I've got a secret" sitcoms of the 1960s, I Dream of Jeannie (1967-70).

I didn't watch that a lot, either.  Most gay kids preferred Bewitched.  The premise seemed too much like a Playboy fantasy: astronaut Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman) finds a bottle washed up on a beach, opens it, and out pops a genie -- nameless, so he calls her Jeannie (Barbara Eden).  She calls him Master.  She wears a belly-dancing costume that leaves little to the imagination, and is willing to do anything he wants. Anything.

To his credit, Tony doesn't take advantage of the situation.  Like Darren of Bewitched, he wants to take care of himself, and he forbids Jeannie from using her magic (she, of course, disobeys him). His best friend Roger (Bill Daily) is less scrupulous -- he can think of lots of things to wish for.

Neither makes the slightest attempt to compromise the lady's virtue, but no doubt that is exactly what was on the minds of millions of straight male viewers.

Every "I've got a secret" sitcom has a Gladys Kravitz to suspect the secret, peer through windows,  and snoop around.  On Jeannie, it was base psychiatrist Dr. Bellows (Hayden Rorke), who was gay-vague: no wife, and no reason for his obsession with the strange goings-ons in the Nelson household, except for a desire to see more of the hunky astronaut.

According to Barbara Eden's autobiography, Rorke (here with gay icon Judy Garland) was "unashamedly gay" in real life, and "a prince" who often invited cast members to dinner parties at his home.

After Jeannie, Larry Hagman went on to Dallas, of course, and Barbara Eden chose roles involving gutsy, go-getting women to prove that she wasn't just a belly-dancing sex object.

 She reprised her Jeannie character twice:

I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later (1985) substituted Wayne Rogers of M*A*S*H for Larry Hagman, who was busy with Dallas.   In order to save Tony's life, Jeannie has to sacrifice her relationship with him -- and he must forget that he ever knew her.

In I Still Dream of Jeannie (1991), the events of the previous movie never occurred, but Tony was absent (Larry Hagman was still busy).  Jeannie has to find a new temporary master, and meanwhile saves her kidnapped son, Anthony Jr. 

The Action-Adventure "Hazel"

Amazon Prime is streaming a lot of old sitcoms from the 1960s: The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, The Lucy Show, Dennis the Menace.  I can't wait for them to get around to Hazel (1961-66), with Shirley Booth as the maid for a middle-class family.  Not because I loved it.  Because it gives me a visceral sense of foreboding and dread, as if something is not right.  And I want to find out why.

I was only five years old when the program ended, so I don't recall more than a few snippets of episodes.  Maybe the premise itself is not right?  

.In the 1960s, middle-class households did not have live-in servants.  Single fathers might have a nanny.  Hazel is a bizarre throwback to an earlier generation.  

There are two types of servants on tv: heartwarming nannies who bring joie de vivre to sullen children (like Fran Fine and "Charles in Charge"); and sarcastic maids who skewer their boss's pretentions (like Florence on The Jeffersons).  But Hazel is neither.  

Accoding to the episode synopses, Hazel doesn't behave like a servant at all: she gets a job at a department store; she publishes a cookbook and goes on tour; a talent scout hears her musical group perform; she takes a job as a spokesperson for a cake mix.  When does she have time for cleaning the house?  Why does she stay a maid, instead of embarking on a career as an actress or singer?

Hazel actually works for two families.  During the first four seasons, lawyer George Baxter (Don DeFore), his wife Dorothy (an interior designer), and their son Harold (Bobby Buntrock).

I tried to research whether Don DeFore was gay, but only discovered that he was married several times and a staunch Republican who worked on the Barry Goldwater campaign in 1964 ("In your gut you know he's nuts.")

Bobby Buntrock retired from acting after Hazel, and died in an auto accident in 1974, at the age of 21. I couldn't find out if he was gay, either.

 In the last season, the network wanted to appeal to a younger audience, so they axed George and Dorothy, sending them off to Iraq (without informing the actors), and gave Hazel and Harold to a younger family: George's brother, real estate agent Steve Baxter (Ray Fulmer), his wife Barbara, and their young daughter Susie.  

Harold was now a teenager, so he started getting "teenage" plotlines about jobs, girls, and the generation gap, and he got a new best friend, Jeff (Pat Cardi).

Ray Fulmer has only a few acting credits on IMDB, notably a 17-episode the soap opera Somerset and the 1963 movie Wild is My Love, about three college boys who fall for a stripper. 

None of this sounds very appealing, but it doesn't explain the visceral dread.  Granted, the snippets of episodes that I remember would be very scary for a five-year old: 

1. Some poisonous mushrooms accidentally ended up in the supermarket.  Some worried-looking government guys complain that not all of the packages have been returned; one is missing.  Whoever bought it doesn't listen to the radio or read the newspaper.  Cut to Hazel, turning off the radio and throwing out the newspaper as she prepares the mushrooms that will kill everyone.

2. Hazel is tied to a conveyor belt that will carry her through a claw machine to her death.  Her hunky, much younger boyfriend arrives in the nick of time, stops the machine, and unties her.  They hug.

But I have found neither of those scenes in the episode synopses, or in the complete acting credits of Shirley Boothe (in case I made a mistake). Hazel has a boyfriend in only four episodes, and it's the middle aged Mitch (Dub Taylor), not the young hunk of my memory.

Maybe that's the reason behind my dread.  I was peering into another universe, where Hazel was an action/adventure series, not an outdated sitcom about a maid.

May 19, 2021

Los Angeles as Home: "The Lucy Show"

The Lucy Show (1962-68) was a fixture of my childhood.  I wasn't exactly entranced by the show -- no cute boys, no exciting outer-space adventures -- but it wasn't designed for kids.  Lucy had boring, mundane adult problems like sticking to a budget and worrying about her job, and she all but ignored the swirling social unrest in the world outside.  But my parents liked it, so it became a warm, comforting presence on Monday nights.

Apparently there were two versions.  The first (1962-65) was an early Kate and Allie:  Widowed Lucy Carmichael (Lucille Ball) and her divorced friend Viv (Vivian Vance) live in Danville, New York, with their children (Jimmy Garrett, Candy Moore, Ralph Hart).  Before my time.

I just remember the second version (1965-68), with Lucy Carmichael living in Los Angeles, where she worked for blustering bank president Mr. Mooney (Gale Gordon) and got into crazy predicaments.  

In spite of the lack of beefcake and space adventures, there were five points of interest:

1. Some of the guest stars were cute, like Frankie Avalon, Ken Berry, and Clint Walker (left). Not her son, Desi Arnaz Jr., though.

2. Years later, when I began watching classic movies and tv shows, I realized that many of the stars were familiar from guest appearances on The Lucy Show: Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney, George Burns, Paul Winchell, John Wayne, Jack Benny, Sid Caesar.

3.  In later seasons, Lucy gets a sidekick, the hip, sprightly Mary Jane (Mary Jane Croft, right), who seems to "like" Lucy, and continues to hang around in spite of the constant scrapes and catastrophes.

4. Lucy and Mr. Mooney were two grown-ups, a man and a woman, but not married to each other.  In fact, they weren't married to anyone, nor did they express any interest in getting married (actually Mr. Mooney had a rarely-mentioneed wife off camera).   Maybe Los Angeles offered an escape from the endless man-woman couples that I saw in real life, that the adults insisted was my destiny.

5. Episodes involving movie stars, references to Graumann's Chinese Theater and the Brown Derby, even throwaway lines like "I was stuck on Santa Monica Boulevard" helped define Los Angeles as an Arcadia or Oz, a place that is intimately familiar, that you constantly long for, even though you have never actually been there.

Maybe Los Angeles was a "good place."

What Kind of Flower are You: Queer Boys of the 1920s

Before World War II, teenage boys were not expected to like girls.  At Everett High School in Washington, most of the boys in the graduating class in 1925 are memorialized in their yearbook with manly "woman-hating mottos": "Tall, dashing, quick and fair, spurns all girls with vigilant care!"

In movies and literature, the teenage boy who liked girls was labeled gay, an effeminate contrast to the real, red-blooded, masculine boy who “spurned all girls with vigilant care.”   He was jeered, blackmailed, and ostracized. He was asked “What kind of flower are you?” and “Can I borrow your lipstick, dearie?”  His peers called him “honey-boy,” “panty-waist,” “mollycoddle,” and “Percy,” and the adults, “sensitive,” “gentle,” “artistic,” and “sweet.”

Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt (1922), though hetero-horny himself, worries when his son Ted, “a decorative boy of seventeen,” offers to give two girls from his high school rides to a chorus rehearsal.  “I hope they're decent girls,” he muses. “I wouldn't want him to, uh, get mixed up and everything.”  (Ted was played by Raymond McKee in 1924 and Glen Boles in the 1934 movie version.)

His wife suggests that he take Ted aside and give him a little talk about “Things,” but he rejects the proposal: “no sense suggesting a lot of Things to a boy’s mind.”  He assumes that no seventeen-year old boy could possibly experience heterosexual desire unless he is manipulated from outside.

The next summer, Babbit discovers Ted kissing a girl, but he blames her for "enticing him," refusing to believe that any eighteen-year old could want to kiss girls of his own accord.

Richard, a boy just short of his seventeenth birthday, falls for a girl in Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! (1933), but he is coded as gay.  There is “something of extreme sensitiveness. . .a restless, apprehensive, defiant, shy, dreamy, self-conscious intelligence about him.”  He reads too much poetry, especially sexual anarchist Swinburne and gay icon Oscar Wilde, whose trial and incarceration for “the love that dare not speak its name” was still freshly scandalous in 1904 (the date of the plot).

“He’s a queer boy,” his mother muses. “Sometimes I can’t make head or tail of him.”

Richard has been played in movies by Eric Linden (1935), Simon Lack (1938), and Lee Kinsolving (1959), and in the theater by many actors, including Luke Halpin (of Flipper), left and T.R. Knight (of Grey's Anatomy), top photo.

In the first movies of his series (1937-1939), Andy Hardy (played by Mickey Rooney, left) had an effeminate girl-craziness and was  psychoanalyzed as "queer," suffering from a “unconscious fixation on youth.”

Henry Aldrich, gay girl-crazy star of his own movie series (1939-1944) (played by Jimmy Lydon of Tom Brown's School Dayswas subject to pummeling by bullies and tense heart-to-hearts with his parents.  His buddy Dizzy usually tolerated his eccentricity,  but sometimes even he couldn’t take it anymore, and yelled “What the heck’s the matter with you, anyway?”

May 18, 2021

Mary and Rhoda and Gordie the Weatherman: 1970s Hip Sitcoms

During the 1970s, the success of All in the Family led to a fad for sitcoms with hip, relevant, "mature" themes.  Most were set in "real places,"  not New York or L.A., and juxtaposed the work and home lives of young adult professionals (if they were white) or poor families (if they were African-American).

All of the adults watched, but kids were leery, unless there were teenagers in the cast (Alice, One Day at a Time).  

But who wanted to watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77), with the former star of The Dick Van Dyke Show as a Minneapolis tv writer, when the other channel had The Most Deadly Game, with gay actor George Maharis (left) as a crime-fighting criminologist?

Or The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78), about a psychologist with wacky patients, when the other channel had The Streets of San Francisco, with the hunky Michael Douglas as a detective?

Or Rhoda, Phyllis, Maud, Good Times, That's My Mama, MASH, Sanford and Son, Chico and the Man, Archie Bunker's Place....

So I didn't begin watching until 1974, when I was in ninth grade and trying to fit in with a hipster crowd, and then only occasionally, when I had nothing else to do.  I found some gay content.

1. Beefcake.  Not a lot, but occasional bulges or hints of hairy chests. Paul Sand had a hot older brother.  Joe (David Groh), the contractor who married Rhoda, deserved special attention.

As did John Amos, who played Gordie the Weatherman on Mary Tyler Moore before scoring his own sitcom, Good Times.  He also starred as the older Kunta Kinte on Roots (1977).

2. Bonding.  I missed the overt homoromantic bond between Mary and Rhoda on Mary Tyler Moore (left), but what about Hawkeye and Trapper John on MASH, or odd couple Chico and Ed on Chico and the Man?

3. Gay-vague characters. Not a lot, but I wondered about Howard Borden (Bill Daily, right), the next-door  neighbor who dropped in every five seconds on The Bob Newhart Show.  Bill Daily also played Tony Nelson's best friend on I Dream of Jeannie, and Leif Garrett's boyfriend on an episode of Chips..

4. The first gay characters on television.

May 17, 2021

"Cruel Summer": Do You Really Want to Watch a Gay/Autistic Kid Gets Tortured for an Hour?

Autistic teenager Danny (Richard Pawulski, left) is working toward a Duke of Edinburgh  Award.  One of the requirements is "expedition," planning and going on an adventure, so Danny talks his parents into leting him go camping in the Welsh countryside.  

The first hour of Cruel Summer juxtaposes Danny's expedition -- buying the equipment, hiking through the woods, setting up his tent, going fishing -- with the mounting tension of what's going to happen next. 

Back home, Julia (Natalie Martins) is angry because Danny rejected her advances, so she wants to "get even."  She tells her boyfriend Nicholas (Danny Miller) that his ex-girlfriend Lisa slept with him.  I don't know why Nicholas would care, since they have broken up, but he gets all angry and plots revenge.  They need a third person, in case the kid tries to defend himself or something, so they tell Calvin (Reece Douglas, left) that Danny is a pedophile murderer responsible for the disappearance of a little girl.  The trio buys some torture/mutilation/murder tools and sets out looking for him.

The last hour of the movie is a blow-by-blow of the trio, mostly Nicholas, humiliating and torturing Danny, as in Deliverance.  I expected Danny to turn into a bad ass and retaliate, as in Deliverance, but he just begs, cries, and screams, as I fast forward.  Eventually Calvin realizes that the other two lied, and goes home.  Julia didn't expect things to go so far, but she stands by mutely as Nicholas continues the torture, and finally hacks Danny to death. 

The last hour is unwatchable torture porn.  Sure, this movie was  "based on a true story": in 2004, a boy with learning disabilities was hacked to death by three teenagers in the Welsh woods.  But it's called fiction for a reason: you get to invent new situations.  Like not having the protagonist die.

This reinforces the myth that people with autism -- and, really, members of any marginalized group -- are perpetual victims, unable to take care of themselves.

Richard Pawulski is not autistic in real life.  Strangely, he gets brutalized and beaten to a pulp in both of his film credits, Cruel Summer (2016) and All in the Valley (2014).  

Beefcake:  We see Richard Pawulski nude -- nice abs and butt. if you don't mind seeing them while he is sobbing. trembling, and begging. 

Other Sights: Just woods.

Gay Characters: Danny doesn't express any heterosexual interest, that I could see.  He can be read as a tortured/murdered gay teen.

I couldn't find out if Richard Pawulski is gay in real life, but Danny Miller plays a gay character on the soap opera Emmerdale Farm.

My Grade:  They killed the gay/autistic kid.  What do you think?


May 16, 2021

Meet the Brains and Brawn Behind "S'ids Lake," the Worst Movie Title of All Time

 I went onto Amazon Prime this morning, as usual, and a movie "we think you'll like" jumped out at me because of the title Studs Lake.  Bring on the studs!

No, wait that's STDs Lake.  Don't want to be dipping a toe into that.

Ok, it's the garbled S'ids Lake.  The protagonist is Sid --  is the apostrophe misplaced deliberately, or is this an editorial mistake?

Some of the actors on the IMDB cast list are cute, such as Tomoslav Smith (left), so I'll watch until they explain the crazy title, or until he meets the Girl of His Dreams.

 A man and a girl at a bus stop. "If you sat next to this man on a bench, would you trust him not to hurt you?  Of course you would." Is this about stereotyping?  Well, I would trust him not to stab me right there on the bench, but I would need more information before accepting a date or hookup. 

"We think we perceive events and people accurately, but we don't."  Yawn.  Everybody knows that. 

A woman giving birth.  The delivery doctor stares in shock.  "A baby is born that allows people to see things the way they are."   It grows into a man.  "If ever you encounter him, you will have to admit that the way you think is wrong." This reminds me of the ludicrously irrelevant introduction to Plan 9 from Outer Space, widely panned as the worst movie of all time. But at least the title was spelled properly.

  The title is definitely S'ids Lake, produced by S'ids Lake Productions.  So the apostrophe is deliberately misplaced.  But why?

Scene 1: A high school class full of 30 year old students.  The teacher is explaining their upcoming frog dissection, although they're not in a lab and there are no frogs around.  Sid -- not the guy from the intro -- is pulling a hoodie over the left side of his face.  To hide his scar?  How could he do that all the time?  He'd never be able to take notes in class, or eat.  I suggest a half-mask, like the Phantom of the Opera wears.  Or else just reveal it. People may stare at first, but they'll get used to it quickly.

Sid glances over at the Girl of His Dreams.

I'm out after 2.02 minutes.  But I accidentally watched the next exchange:

The Professor yells at Sid for a brief glance -- whoa, strict --  and forces him to take off his hood.  He reveals a deep scar down his left cheek.  The rest of the class laughs and makes fun of him.  Because of a scar?  Who would do that?  And how can those sitting behind him and to his right even see it?  This is utterly ridiculous.

Surprise: the writer is also the star, Kristian Pierce. According to an interview, he grew up in Arizona hoping to play professional basketball, but when no one offered him a scholarship, decided to major in sports management.  But he didn't like the classes, so he decided to become an actor instead, and enrolled at Oklahoma State University.

Then he moved to Los Angeles and slept "on the ground" in his mother's apartment (that's usually called the floor), and made youtube videos with a friend named Anthony Billionaire.  Eventually he graduated to making Instagram videos for a duo named Spooky Bonus.   A friend named Spencer introduced him to another friend named Jason, who was a cinematographer.  

He has 10 acting credits listed on IMDB -- all shorts -- plus three writing and two directing credits -- all shorts. 

I figured at this point that Kristian must be gay -- such a fey manner, so many male friends -- but his instagram gallery shows him hugging and kissing a girl a lot. 

But nowhere on IMDB or in the interview does he reveal the big mystery: Why S'ids? 

David Cassidy

The oldest of a show biz family (his brothers are Shaun, Patrick, and Ryan), David Cassidy got his start on The Partridge Family (1970-74), about a family of pop singers who tour the country in a psychedelic bus (Danny Bonaduce played his younger brother). It aired on Friday nights in a block of gay teen "Must See TV," including The Brady Bunch, Room 222, and The Odd Couple.

His character, Keith Partridge, was interested in girls, but never portrayed as a absurdly girl-crazy, like most teenagers on prime-time in the 1970s. And, although pop superstars were presumably dream dates for every girl on earth, Keith frequently encountered girls who disliked pop music, who had never heard of his group, or who simply did not find him attractive. This self-deferential parody, a teen idol who can’t get a date, destabilized the myth of universal heterosexual desire; if some girls are not attracted to Keith, perhaps some boys are.

In “Days of Acne and Roses” (November 1971), Keith teaches a shy delivery boy named Wendell (Jay Ripley) how to date girls. He demonstrates the “yawn, stretch, and arm around” maneuver on Wendell, and then pretends to be a girl so that Wendell can practice his pick-up lines. Keith is remarkably unself-conscious about the physical contact and the mock flirtation, and he is not the least worried about someone overhearing and thinking that he is gay. When most of his fellow television teens recoiled in heart-pounding terror at a buddy’s touch, Keith’s nonchalance seems aggressively gay-friendly.

The teen magazines went wild with shirtless, swimsuit, and towel-shots, revealing David's slim, androgynous body, but in this case they were justified in praising his talent: his music was good.

And gay-friendly.  Songs credited to The Partridge Family (studio musicians except for David and his mother, Shirley Jones) almost entirely eliminated the incessant “girl!” that deadened most bubblegum pop lyrics in the 1970s. In the emblematic “I Think I Love You,” David awakens to the disturbing realization that he is in love:

I just decided to myself, I'd hide it from myself
And never talk about it, and [so I] didn't go and shout it
When you walked in to the room.

Why does he “never talk about it”? Heterosexual teenagers in love do nothing but talk about it. In 1971 I concluded that there must be something more to “a love there is no cure for,” perhaps a love that dares not speak its name.

David’s solo numbers also eliminate almost all gender-specific pronoun or refrainsof “girl!”  For instance in“Where is the Morning,” he laments a failed hookup that could be with either a boy or a girl:

I can’t sleep tonight. I found someone.
You smiled at me and said you were free. And I was alone.
Would you meet me again? 

My friend Derek claimed to have dated him, but David doesn't mention any same-sex relationships in his memoirs, C’mon, Get Happy (1994).

He does graciously acknowledges his appeal to gay boys: “I had a pretty strong gay following. I kind of liked it. Gay publications ran pictures of me; I was named gay pinup of the year by one. I’d get fan letters from gay guys saying things like ‘I can tell by the look in your eyes that you’re one of us.’”

And in a sense, he was “one of us,” an ally, demonstrating that same-sex desire was not only possible, but valid and worthwhile.

David spent most of his later career in Las Vegas, where he wrote songs and performed for audiences of both men and women.  He died in 2017

See also: Derek and the Pop Star.
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