Jan 29, 2015

PRIDE DVD Straightwashed for US market

Two postings ago, I offered my brief review and recommendation of Pride, as the best gay film of the year. In fact, it won the British Independent Film award a month ago for best overall British film of the year.

I wasn't aware at the time of posting that the DVD cover of the film for US markets had removed all references to 'gay' and 'gay activists' from both the cover and the write up blurb. Yet again another sign of just how backward parts of US culture remain. There were, of course, a number of attempted rationalizations - to the effect that if the gay references were left in, the film would be back shelved and out of reach. By cleansing the product, it makes it more accessible, ete etc. Here's the director trying to put a positive spin on it (He was clearly taken by surprise)

"Pride" is a film which plays incredibly well to a global mainstream audience of any political or sexual persuasion. It’s a film about two groups of people forming an unlikely alliance and fighting each others’ corners rather than just their own. It is probably one of the most political films ever to hit the mainstream and it is certainly one of the most loved films of the year (even by people who hate politics). I don’t consider it a "gay film" or a "straight film." I’m not interested in those labels. It is an honest film about compassion, tolerance, and courage.
Marketing "Pride" has proved an interesting challenge from day one, and there are many people in the mainstream who have yet to see the film. My guess is some of those people are imagining that the film is maybe "too political" for them, and some others are imagining it could possibly be "too gay." As it happens, these concerns completely evaporate in the presence of the movie itself, but they are important when attempting to manage potential audience perceptions through marketing. Since the day I first read the script I have felt passionately that this film, of all films, deserves to find a fully diverse audience from all walks of life. Indeed its very meaning and message is diminished the more "niche" it becomes. I look forward to living in a world where these kinds of marketing negotiations are neither valid nor necessary -- but we're not there yet. In a sense, that's why I made the film.
For these reasons I don’t automatically condemn any attempt to prevent the movie being misunderstood as an exclusively “gay film." I certainly don’t regard such attempts as homophobic.

Quite a difference, I must say, and a shameful one.

Jan 27, 2015

A World of Shadows: CITIZEN FOUR, Edward Snowden, and Charlie Hebdo

(These reflections were taken from previous posting, which was a little too long with too many themes.)

The world is not in a good state at the moment at this beginning of 2015, and I certainly don't wish to be a prophet of doom. I trust as always in the deeply hidden mystery of Divine Providence, ever there, ever watching, always guiding, always supporting - in the shadows, in the silences, in our doubts and fears - the loving face of the Divine leading us through darkness into the glorious light. 

I just watched Citizen Four, the extraordinary, chilling documentary about Edward Snowden by Loira Poitras.This one is also not to be missed. Scary and horrifying to see it all layed out there, the full extent of the surveillance machine aimed against us. The film helped me immeasurably to come to terms with the enigma of Edward Snowden, and as I feel about good Pope Francis, I continue to believe in Snowden's integrity and courage, despite some very alarming red flags! There are suspicions in some quarters that he was a CIA plant from the get go, dishing out carefully controlled and selected revelations as a way of protecting the truly damaging secrets. A disinformation agent engaging in 'controlled dissent.' Hard to believe, however, than any one human being would make such a sacrifice, forced to hide away in a foreign country, cut off from family and friends with little hope of returning home. Why has this radical point of view gained any credibility? Because of the strange linkage of journalist Glen Greenwald and documentary filmmaker, Laura Poitras with billionare owner of Ebay (and Pay Pal), Pierre Omidyar. This was all the more disturbing when it was revealed that Omidyar has close ties with the NSA, the very institution that Snowden was supposedly exposing. Furthermore, Omidyar was funding some of the same Ukrainian NGO's the US was funding in its (successful) attempt to overthrow  the pro Russian Ukrainian government. This has led to suspicions that he was funding on behalf of the US government and not simply acting independently.  Suspicious indeed. Now this billionaire business man with close ties to US intelligence, surveillance and government essentially owns the 'secrets of Edward Snowden'. Not a propitious ending to this story at all and it leaves a very sour taste in the mouth. The subsequent posturings and rationalizations of Greenwald have not helped the case either. The documentary, however,  takes us right into that famous Hong Kong hotel room two years ago when Greenwald and Poitras first met Snowden, recording history in the making. I felt the film revealed a genuine, honest, thoughtful idealist, who seemed truly pressured and in fear for his own safety.  This was not an acting performance we were treated to, the man seemed really under threat - no matter how the affair has ended up - and it is certainly not ended yet. But the mystery and enigma is shrouded in shadows. Who is the real Edward Snowden, living in exile in Moscow - with no uncertain future ahead of him, 'the most wanted man in the world'? Let the reader decide. 

Here's a worthwhile article asking the right questions:

Keeping Secrets: Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the privatization of Snowden’s leaks.

Edward Snowden has popularly been compared to major whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg,Chelsea Manning and Jeffrey Wigand. However, there is an important difference in the Snowden files that has so far gone largely unnoticed. Whistleblowing has traditionally served the public interest. In this case, it is about to serve the interests of a billionaire starting a for-profit media business venture. This is truly unprecedented. Never before has such a vast trove of public secrets been sold wholesale to a single billionaire as the foundation of a for-profit company.

Here is FBI whistleblower, Sibel Edmonds, website, BOILING FROGS:, which contains the most searching critique of the Edward Snowden affair available online. Since Sibel is a noteworthy whistle blower herself, her criticism has considerable merit and deserves to be taken seriously. I just can't go quite as far as she does in dismissing Snowden as as a fake from the get go. Sorry, Sibel, he seems like the real thing to me (but then what do I know), but he handed over all controls and documents to Greenwald and Poitras. Are they the 'villains' in this story? 

In the interests of fairness, here is Laura Poitras explaining her own motivations and the many grave risks she took in making the documentary. It is stirring stuff.

My own intuitions are with Edward Snowden as a genuine hero for the age. 

I see I've babbled on enough in this posting about too many disparate subjects, but for any readers interesting in exploring the background investigations going on about the horrendous Paris shootings, here is the website of former secretary of the Treasury under President Ronald Reagan, Paul Craig Roberts (Paul Craig Roberts:Institute for Public Policy), who is now a fierce critic of US foreign policy. He frequently publishes updates from his French contacts on the Charlie Hebdo affair - and the number of alarming red flags surrounding it and the glaring holes in the official story. I kept my distance from all of the mass hysteria, the marching in the streets, the arms joined by some of the worst offenders of free speech in the political world. It just seemed too suspicious to me. However, I was moved by the solidarity of the 'masses' in the streets of Paris, joining hands across religious and ideological lines. Was this, indeed,  a false flag event, as many are suggesting? Circumstantial evidence seems to point as much in this direction, and to various security agencies (unnamed),  as it does towards the two (conveniently) assassinated radical Islamic brothers. Were they set up as patsies beforehand, with a trail of incriminating actions they might have been led into by double agents? Fodder for a great spy novel. I would say it's about 50/50 at the moment, but it does all have a very fishy smell. However,  this is food for a future posting. 

Not a very happy or uplifting way to end a new year posting, but then it has been a shocking beginning to 2015. So here is a great photo of our favorite, gay friendly Super Model, River Viiperi! Looking very sexy and sassy in white! 

Jan 25, 2015

Gay Culture and Films for the New Year

This stunning painting of gay love surviving in the shadows of a hostile world is by the wonderful artist, Doug Blanchard, who is responsible for the extraordinary gay stations of the Cross, The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision, with text by Kittredge Cherry! Check out her Jesus in Love site, devoted to LGBT spirituality. 

This painting captures so many dimensions which words cannot adequately express - the dingy hotel room with the cracked grey walls, the shattered window pane, the broken coffee cups. It looks very much like a refuge, a place of hiding and escape. The two men's bodies glow with a life giving warmth, but the look of yearning and sorrow on the young man's face is both passionate and mournful. Together at last, yet for how long, for only this brief moment? When will the shadows disperse and when can we be open and free.

On a similar note, I recently went through what are probably the three most noteworthy gay films of the past year, in order of my preferences:

The wonderfully heartwarming, Pride, nominated for a Golden Globe for best picture and for several Bafta's, including Best British Film of the Year, which I hope it wins - though the award will probably go to one of the biops The Imitation Game or The Theory of Everything. The film tells the story of "U.K. gay activists working to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984." A deeply moving study of how tenacity and passion can eventually overcome the barriers of homophobia, the ending brings tears to the eyes. The largest contingent of marchers in the fledgling London's Gay Pride Parade of 1984 - was composed of seven tour buses of Welsh miners come to support their friends.  Their numbers were so great, they were put at the head of the parade, banners and all! In those long ago days, there were few communities more homophobic than the Welsh miners and their wives. The motley group of young gay activists, passionate and idealistic, broke through all barriers `and won the miners' hearts and respect, but not before suffering much misunderstanding, ridicule and rejection.  Deeply moving and powerfully political, and as one reviewer noted - and I paraphrase - "with no disrespect intended, this would make a great musical." The best gay film of the year in my humble opinion! Not to be missed. 

My second favorite film of the year was the tender, poignant and very timely love story, Love in Strange, the story of a gay teacher (Alfred Molina) who loses his position as choir director at a Catholic high school when he marries his partner (John Lithgow) of many years. This couldn't be more relevant, as numerous gay employees of Catholic institutions are fired right and left for marrying their partners or coming out as married in any public way.  We the viewers suffer with heartache as the couple in the film deals with the devastating consequences of the Church's intransigence - the loss of their security, their own apartment, health insurance = all the consequences of a deeply homophobic church, unable to face its own dark shadow or practice the virtues it preaches. Devastating. Molina and Lithgow deliver such tender, true performances, with all the wrinkles of such a relationship on display, warts and all. Yet what remains is the haunting image of their lasting love throughout it all -  including bouts of infidelity. Some gay reviewers at IMDB objected to the ending, the long lingering look at Lithgow's young teen nephew, riding his bike alongside his new girlfriend, a bittersweet, sad smile on his face as he thinks with affectionate nostalgia of the uncle he recently lost and whom he deeply misses. In the previous scene, we had seen him sobbing on the stairway, overcome with grief.  "See, he's not gay, thank god," was the cynical response of quite a few of these (younger) gay reviewers, incensed that this seemed to be a film for straight people, reassuring them that the younger boy would not turn out gay (whew! sigh of relief). I'm not sure what to make of that. A bit of truth to it, I suppose, a final note of reassurance for straight viewers that 'even' a gay uncle can have a loving, positive influence of a young male gay teen. "Thank god he was not a pedophile," seems to be the subliminal message some of these viewers read into the film. Yet I found the ending quite positive and affirming. After all, life goes on and what are the statistical chances of the young man being gay? Had he been gay, I would have found the story a bit contrived. Instead, we are presented with a picture of an average straight boy starting out in life, discovering love for himself - after his loving gay uncle gave him the necessary push in the right direction. The gay uncle understands the power of love and what the young man needs to do to find it. In the end sexual orientation matters not a wit. What matters is love and the power of affectionate commitment and loyalty to the end. A beautiful film, not to be missed. 

Alan Turning being arrested on charges of indecency.

The last film, The Imitation Game, chronicles the true life story of Cambridge mathematician, Alan Turning who successfully cracked the German Enigma spy code, helping to shorten the war by at least several years and saving several million lives in the process. He was of course, 'tortured' for his homosexuality when it was discovered in the 1950's (a tryst in a toilet with an undercover policeman). He was forced to undergo chemical therapy to inhibit his gay libidinous tendencies. He committed suicide a year after the treatment began. He was posthumously pardoned by the Queen on December 24th, 2013, a little over a year ago. It is a sad and shameful tale of an extraordinary  man, a hero by any accounts, who made an inestimable contribution to his community, but who was persecuted for his sexual orientation which he had to keep secret for most of his life. The film takes quite a close look at this dimension of his character, including his loving relationship with one of his female colleagues on the Enigma team (the lovely Kiera Knightley) who wants to marry him, sexual orientation be damned. "We can be companions,' she tells him. Benedict Cumberbatch is nominated for both an Oscar and a Bafta for his performance. Another unmissable film. 

Other news:

I Have been watching 'poor' Pope Francis stumble his way through the contraception, birth control debacle, trying to find his way out without compromising the reputation of his office and authority in general in the church - on the one hand, wanting to ensure more Catholic babies, on the other assuring us we don't need "to breed like rabbits." Poor man, trapped by his own preconceptions, priorities, intellectual and theological formation and the heavy pressures of his inflated office. I continue to like him as a sincere, spiritual man, and unlike the cynics, I do not think he is simply lying or playing a propaganda game. Yet it is difficult not to become cynical when - in the words of Jerry Slevin - we see the Pope kissing babies on the one hand, and hobnobbing with billionaire right wing extremists (heavy donors to the church) on the other He seems really and truly trapped by too many restrictions coming from too many directions, not least of which is the pressure from his fellow cardinals seeking to shore up their own authority and escape prosecution for crimes against children. The message I get from this - apart from the obvious one, that we need to stop relying upon authority figures to solve our problems for us or reform anything - is that even a good and spiritual man with the best intentions in the world can be compromised and even corrupted by this system of authority in the Church. It's too easy now to paint him as a hypocritical villain, slyly playing a double game, talking nicey nicey while dealing deviously behind the scenes, shoring up the financial pillars of the institution, protecting the criminals, propping up its tottering public image and authority by trying every which way to continue the contraception ban. I can't quite accept this scenario, though I might simply be naive myself. There seems to be  an authentic decency in the man, genuine and true, and therein lies the paradox. Decency is simply not enough these days! This is a much more subtle, complex picture of a human being than the simple caricature being parroted about here and there. One wonders if John Paul I, Albino Luciani, wouldn't have been somewhat the same.  Caring, decent, saintly - and yet also a man of the church who would have moved very slowly. But given his history of comments about birth control, one also suspects that on this one issue he would have been ahead of his successor + 2.

From The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision by Doub Blanchard (artist) and Kittredge Cherry (author).