Sunday, February 24, 2008

Keillers Park

Keillers Park is a 2006 Swedish movie inspired by real events. Peter is a man in his thirties with all the bourgeois marks of success – good family, good job, loving fiancée – whose life falls apart when he finds himself attracted to a man. Not because this love affair can’t possibly go anywhere, but because the world conspires to take it all away from him. His girlfriend, no surprise, dumps him, his father disowns him, his best friend gets his job. And that’s just the good news.

The main characters are more or less believable, the staging is professional, the plot runs along at a good pace. The flashbacks tell the story interestingly enough for a while, there are a couple good erotic scenes, and the relationship is almost convincing. It ought to be a good movie.

But it isn’t. The biggest problem is the story doesn’t come across as worth telling. You don’t see the relationship grow; you learn that it has when the action leaps ahead. The girlfriend and the best friend and the father act out stock roles without depth of character. Peter’s friends are shallow. The bad guys are a cross between Satan and Ronald McDonald. Martin Klingberg as Peter takes a long time to connect with, and it’s uncertain whether it’s the acting that keeps him unsympathetic until the very end or the script. The choppiness of the scene changes means he jumps straight from cluelessness to passionate lover to bitch queen and on to the next mood when the storyline requires. There is no evolution.

Pjotr Gigo as Nassim has the advantage of being a love interest, and thus gets to play the wild and crazy guy, and who doesn’t fall in love with wild crazy guys.

But it’s not a romance; it’s a police mystery with a hurried summary of events thrown together to make an ending. It is as if the filmmakers realized they no longer had the time or the funds to tell the story in real time, and, once they had shown you the world is a bad place, there was nothing left to say anyway.

The story waiting to get out is one in which a gay man loses one life and has to build another, but lacks the wherewithal to do it quickly and well. His doubts isolate him and invite possible allies to come down on him hard. His naïveté leaves him unarmed against the onslaught. But that story remains in your imagination or your life experience; it cannot be derived directly from the telling of this story.

Best way to watch this film is to play the ending first and get it over with. Then go back and enjoy the love scenes. There is no there there in the rest of the film.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Go West

Looking for a movie made in Bosnia-Herzegovina? With lots of blood and guts and religion and tribal savagery and war and death and despair and insanity?

Got just what you’re looking for. It’s called Go West.

Stars Mario Drmac as Kenan and Tarik Filipovic as Milan.

That’s Tarik with the Arab name and therefore no doubt Muslim in real life who plays the Serb and Mario with the romantic Western name who plays the Muslim. Which should tell you something about the cultural orientation and possibly political sympathies of those involved in the film.

Not that anybody would be likely to know that before seeing the movie unless you were Bosniak yourself maybe. In a region where identity politics is a life and death issue, it is not surprising that the first film I’ve ever taken notice of from Bosnia should deal with this topic.

What is definitely surprising, however, is that Kenan and Milan are gay lovers.

Unless you’re really warped and like to see misery portrayed for misery’s sake, don’t go see the movie for the story. These two guys hide out in a Serbian village of people who have just massacred their Muslim neighbors and are lusting for more killing. It’s a movie of human depravity and good people trying their best to keep from being eaten alive. And, since this isn’t Hollywood, don’t expect the bad guys to see the light or get mowed down by good guys with AK-47s in the end.

If you are one of those gay people who like to keep watch over the gradual evolution of a gay conciousness around the world, there is at least this reason to see this very out-of-the-way piece. And the acting is good. You’ll recognize the guy who plays Ljubo, Milan’s father, Rade Serbedzija. He has played a lot of the bad Serb roles in things like 24 and Mission Impossible as well as other down and out types. He’s a well-known singer and musician, has some 125 acting jobs on his resume, and gives you a sense in this film of what it might feel like to be a Serb watching the world fall apart. Actually he’s a Croatian Serb, so he probably doesn’t have to dig very deep to get at some of the life-weariness he portrays so well.

And Serbedzija is not alone. Mirjana Karanovic, a Serbian actress of some renown, it seems, plays a stunning character, the village witch. There’s another story hidden there. Karanovic, from Belgrade, caused a stir by playing in both Croatian and Bosnian movies before, and the sheer presence of such people as these suggests there is much to learn about the struggle by their ilk to maintain (or resuscitate) a sane cross-cultural cross-political union of Yugoslav peoples since the breakup.

And, just possibly (but don’t ask me why), the cameo appearance of Jeanne Moreau, who also served as associate producer, might reel you in.

It’s a rough 97 minutes, so be prepared. Go West came out in 2005 and even today it does not appear on Rotten Tomatoes. Some will say with good reason, considering its misery index. But not a gay historian. Or anybody with an anthropological interest in this tragic part of the world. Or, I think, any serious film buff.

Netflix three stars, in my opinion.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Birthday, Charles

Yesterday was Darwin’s 199th birthday, and I missed it. I hope people are paying closer attention and he gets his due next year when we celebrate his 200th. The man is a reminder that the human race isn’t so bad, if we put our mind to things.

I remember a conversation with a born-again once. Bush had just told some reporter that Jesus was his favorite political philosopher. “Jesus wasn’t a philosopher,” I said, launching into another of my many dead-ended conversational gambits over religion. “OK, Mr. Smarty Pants, then who is a great philosopher!”

Wow. Guess she got me there. If Jesus isn’t a great philosopher, I guess there aren’t any.

I thought I had something. Talk about whether Jesus was or should be “a personal Savior” as opposed, say, to an imaginary friend (which sums up our two takes on Jesus), had gotten us nowhere. I thought maybe here we might find something new and useful to chew on.

“Whatever you think of Jesus, the real historical Jesus as you know him from texts telling his story, or the one in your imagination,” I said, “there is a useful distinction to be made between moral leaders who tell you how you should behave and philosophers who wonder aloud about truth, beauty, goodness and the meaning of meaning.

“But if you have Jesus, you don’t need all those other ideas.”

That’ll teach me to nitpick.

Man, how many times have I ended up here, up against an ideology which enables people to reject clarity of thought as unnecessary. No reason to worry about what your categories are. They none of them matter as much as Jesus. No need to worry, once you’ve established them, what to put into them. Jesus will tell you what you need to know.

Categories do matter. It matters, for example, that we assign explanations to race that are more accurately attributable to class and to poverty. We have a problem with armed robberies in Berkeley and half the suspects are identified as black. In a town that is only 8% black, that fact gets attention. We register race before we register height or shades of color or cleanliness of fingernails or hairstyle or all sorts of ways of describing suspects, and end up with a race explanation when in fact the muggers don’t rob us because they are black but because they belong to a category of people who believe it’s a good idea to stick people up for money. Has nothing to do with being black when you consider 99% of black people don’t do it and all sorts of white people do.

True, there is a correlation between race and poverty and a lack of ownership in the values of civilized society, but it’s ignorance we should be rooting out, not blackness. Not black men, but men with holes in their hearts.

Let’s work on those categories. It’s inclination to terrorism, not Muslim identity. And not even Wahhabi identity. Literalism and closed-mindedness, not evangelical Christian identity. Everywhere you turn, we’re working with the wrong category markers.

Years ago I wanted to get into the Army Security Agency and had to answer a bunch of questions. One of those was, “Are you communist, fascist or homosexual?” I was in my young twenties at the time, less familiar with the ways of the world, but perhaps quicker at thinking on my feet, and I answered what I thought was the intent of that question rather than its literal content. I understood that to be, “Are you a bad man?” and said no. I have never fit anybody’s notion of fascist, and would never be seriously taken as a communist either. I tossed out any responsibility to fess up for the third. I resented the implication those three belong in the same category. Reminds me of that division of animals into “two legged animals, four legged animals, and animals that live in the king’s garden.”

Category errors have an even more evil twin, and that is the inclination to believe what we want to believe. Put false category together with false conviction and you’ve got some serious trouble.

196 years after the birth of Darwin, in 2005, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life took a poll and discovered fewer than half of the American people are persuaded Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is a valid explanation for how life on Planet Earth came about. That’s not quite as depressing, I suppose, as the fact that 20% believe the sun revolves around the Earth, but it’s close.

How did we get this stupid? How is it that we spend millions of dollars on places like the Creation Museum where people can pay $19.95 ($14.95 for seniors) to see saddles Adam’s kids made to wear when they rode around on dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden?

I know when groups of people follow somebody like Jim Jones off to Guyana it’s because they’re lonely and worn thin by the struggles of life. But is all our intellectual folly attributable to brutality?

Apparently we have spent $1500 per person so far on the war in Iraq. What a shame that money didn’t go into bullshit detectors instead. If they had, and if we had had them working when the neocons told us Al Qaeda was in Iraq with Saddam Hussein and God was guiding our president’s actions, we’d be in a better place today.

I’ve been reading about the failure of the Exodus movement to brainwash gay evangelicals into thinking Jesus wants them to go straight. Exodus provides therapy which includes denying one’s feminine side (fancy food and wine - bad) and fostering one’s masculine side (belching, scratching and farting - good), and praying your erections away.

I’m not kidding. Read Wayne Besen’s Anything But Straight if you’re having a low energy day and want to get riled up. Or Straight to Jesus, Tanya Erzen’s ethnography of the New Hope Center in San Rafael, California. It is like something out of Saturday Night Live or Monty Python. Besen stresses the ridiculous and the hypocritical aspects of the movement. Erzen comes at the victims more sympathetically, and makes you want to bake these poor fellows cookies, maybe rock them to sleep and convince them that tomorrow will be a better day. Both document ways we can use our minds to trash our bodies.

“Men are gay because their fathers were distant and their mothers overly nurturing.” Jesus Almighty, is this old chestnut still around? Doesn’t anybody read the papers? Does nobody look at Japan where men are far more distant and homosexuality is present in roughly the same percentage of the population? Does nobody ask why so many gay kids have loving relations with both parents? Why so many straight kids have lousy relationships with their fathers yet end up straight? Does nobody see that looking for negative causes for homosexuality depends on seeing it as a negative result? That if one categorized it as a positive result we’d be out there looking for evidence of a healthy upbringing? And finding about as much evidence? Does nobody see that single explanations for complex phenomena are inherently suspect?

Well, no! That’s the whole point. They don’t ask these questions because that would suggest they have a tad of familiarity with the scientific method – to say nothing of common sense. People reach these conclusions based on thin air assumptions, and jump straight from there into policy for making changes. Pull healthy teeth because they can’t distinguish them from rotten ones.

That conversation about Jesus, the political philosopher? It came on the heels of another in which I was informed that Einstein “accepted” God before he died. Never mind that Einstein’s idea of God would never satisfy a born-again Christian – the point is that little factoid (if that’s what it was), once generated, would help fill a little box labeled “Little Victories over Atheism.”

“Or was that Darwin who accepted Christ? I can’t remember.”

It had to be Einstein. Darwin, remember, is the Antichrist.

This is America. I don’t have to believe what you believe.

I got my rights.

Happy Birthday, Charles.