Posts Tagged With: Gay Cinema

“The Whole World Will Admire Us!” Kung Fu From The Closet In Paul Grau’s Amazing MAD FOXES.

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“Mad Foxes” aka Los Violadores (Spain / Switzerland, 1981). Directed by “Paul Gray” (Paul Grau).

“Shut up, you shitty skunk or I’ll tear your tongue out!”

The roll of dishonour which constituted the “Section 3 video nasties” (i.e. liable for confiscation but not prosecution) was every bit as randomly thrown together as the list that the DPP compiled of their fully fledged “nasty” cousins, a real grab bag of the cinematic good, bad and what the actual fuck?!? Prominent among the latter was Paul Gray / Grau’s Mad Foxes. Although VCL’s VHS edition was significantly cut (notably missing a Nazi biker choking on his own severed genitals and another enjoying a bowel movement until somebody throws a hand grenade down the pan), in the UK the early ’80 were the best of times, the worst of times to release a tape with the legend: ” Warning: This is an extremely violent film which could seriously disturb you” emblazoned across its pack.

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Rewinding 50 years, does anybody (apart from Darrell Buxton, obviously) remember the Laurel & Hardy shorts Them Thar Hills and (its sequel) Tit For Tat? Those are the ones in which Stan & Olly take turns with Charlie Hall to perpetrate ever more surreal and outrageous acts of violence upon each other. Nobody tries to de-escalate the situation or even evade their turn on the receiving end, content that they’ll soon be able to retaliate with a real doozy. It’s like watching public information films explaining the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction. I consider it not entirely impossible (though admittedly unlikely) that Gray / Grau regarded Mad Foxes as an unofficial entry in the same series. If he did, no doubt he directed it under the working title Shit For Tat.

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The action kicks off with Hal Walters (“Robert O’Neal” = José Gras) out cruising in his Corvette Stingray with his best girl Babsy (“Sally Sullivan” = Andrea Albani) by his side, until they get into a little traffic light altercation with the lamest motorcycle gang since Homer Simpson formed a chapter of Hell’s Satans. Seriously, these guys ride around on trials bikes (the budget obviously wouldn’t stretch to Harleys) and one of them actually sits in his mate’s sidecar! Nor can they seemingly conclude a run without at least one of them falling off their vehicles. Plastered as they with swastikas, these guys’ political leanings are no big secret and their sexual orientation is scarcely less easy to discern… lots of lumbering around naked, with taut buttocks clenching and soft knobs dangling. If it’s any consolation for this flaccid disappointment, Hans R. Walthard (who produced Mad Foxes with Eurotrash legend Erwin C. Dietrich) is anglicised into “Woodhard” on that video sleeve. I guess there could be a hard core edit of Mad Foxes somewhere but if it exists, I really don’t want to see it.

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Word up, gay Nazi dude!

Hal runs one of these bully boys off the road, with fatal consequences. Obviously not wanting to let this disagreeable interlude ruin the romantic evening they had in prospect, Hal and Babsy adjourn to a swinging hot spot, where a jitterbugging competition is in full, anachronistic flow. Do these guys know how to party or what? Unfortunately, as they leave, the waiting bikers beat up on Hal and rape Babsy.

Hal rings his mate Linus at a martial arts club, the ambience of which seem scarcely more heterosexual than that prevailing in the motorcycle gang, its bare chested members (including the mandatory Bruce Lee lookalike) going through their sweaty paces in a broom cupboard sized gym. Good job this joint was closed (under the alarming circumstances described below) before social distancing became de rigeur. “Babsy was raped the other day and I went you to do me a little favour”, Hal tells Linus. “We’ve gotta give those pigs a good whipping…” agrees the latter: “You know our methods!”

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The bikers are cremating their pal Jimmy, with attendant manly drinking games, at a local amphitheatre (where else?) when Linus and co turn up. “Let’s teach these skunks a good lesson” he implores his students, but what ensues is one of the limpest dust ups in action cinema history. Nobody’s winning any Oscars for the fight choreography here. “Stunts” are attributed to one Ronnie Lee, though Mad Foxes seems to be his first and final film credit. Things climax  in memorable style though, with the Nazi biker honcho’s aforementioned castration and enforced genital auto-ingestion, a move straight out of the sho’nuff Shaolin handbook.

With Babsy avenged and apparently recovering in hospital, Hal is soon off shagging somebody else and the matter seems successfully concluded… but violence begats violence and the remaining bikers (announced by the disco music that heralds their every appearance) visit the kung fu clubhouse to establish conclusively that martial arts, of whatever sexual persuasion, are no match for machine guns and hand grenades.

Having gotten the gay kung fu dudes into another fine mess, Hal decides he’d better take a cooler and heads off to his parents’ country pile in the Stingray. En route he picks up promiscuous hitch hiker Lily and invites her to stay with him and the folks for the weekend, advising her that mom “fell from a horse and now she’s paralytic”. Dad’s a bit of a stock market whizz and “they never lock their doors”, which is convenient for the bikers when they, inevitably, arrive. Needless to say, before they do, Hal fits in another bonking session. “You don’t know how long I’ve waited for this moment” he tells Lily, a weird thing to say to a hitch hiker he only met a few hours ago, but we’ll let it pass. Plenty stranger things than that happen in this film…

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… and continue to do so as the bikers kill the gardener with his own shears, unconvincingly disembowel the hilariously badly dubbed (in broad cockney) maid and shoot everybody else up. “We’re the kings of the universe… the whole world will admire us!” is their verdict on their bloody handiwork. Well, perhaps not, though the scene in which Hal’s crippled mother gets blown out of her wheelchair is undeniably, unforgivably funny. Returning to discover this scene of carnage, Hal is understandably keen to find where the bikers are hiding out. Luckily he gets into a casual conversation with a bloke from the local garage, who can tell him precisely that. But is he sure they’re talking about the same guys? “Yeah, they have helmets and dirty hair”. Hal’s revenge includes hand grenade enemas and a session with a Nazi dominatrix before that dickless wonder from the amphitheatre atrocity pops up again for a truly explosive finale.

It took four people (Grau, Walthard, Melvin Quiñones and Jaime Jesús Balcázar) to write this thing, which is surprising enough. What’s really surprising, though, is that not one of them appear to have compared notes with the other three  on what, exactly, they were writing. Mad Foxes is so relentlessly random, it’s kind of the trash film equivalent to Bob Dylan’s Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, the lyrics of which comprise elusive allusions to songs that The Zim envisaged he would never live to complete in the wake of the Cuba missile crisis. What was Paul Grau envisaging when he directed Mad Foxes? If it was a long and illustrious directing career, he will have been disappointed. He did manage one more directing credit two years later, with a more typical outing from the Erwin Dietrich stable, a film whose title translates (loosely) as Six Sexy Swedish Girls Up A Mountain and which sounds as self-consciously straight as Mad Foxes is coyly gay. Those sexy Swedish girls might well have been up a mountain, but the film under review here will always remain Paul Grau’s career pinnacle (and no, I’ve got no idea whether he was related to the late Manchester Morgue mainman Jorge Grau or not).

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Should I Stay Or Should Iago? THE STRANGE ONE Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Indicator. PG.
Limited edition (3,000 units). World BD premiere.

If you’re expecting an uplifting tale of America’s Finest doing the right thing as they heroically uphold truth, justice and the ol’ Red, White and Blue here, you’ve got the wrong film, mister. Try An Officer And A Gentleman, instead. Actually, some of the characters in this one end up doing the right thing. Eventually. Sort of…

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“The Southern Military College” is an ostensibly upstanding institution, propagating a noble tradition. For many of its doughboys, though – certainly those within the orbit of junior officer Jocko De Paris (how’s that for an alpha male name?) – it’s a homoerotic hazing heirarchical hell hole (and that’s only the “H” words!) Jocko (as played by Ben Gazzara in his screen debut) is described on the film’s poster as “the most fascinating louse you ever met” though you’d undoubtedly be better off not meeting him, representing as he does the point on the graph where “evil Sgt. Bilko” meets “dime store Iago”.

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Motiveless malignity indeed, as Jocko’s Machiavellian machinations progress from humiliating uptight WASP weirdo Simmons (Arthur Storch) to getting star cadet George Avery (Geoffrey Horne) dishonourably discharged and goading Major Avery, George’s  father (Larry Gates) into slapping him, effectively terminating the military careers of two generations of Averys in one fell swoop. So why does Jocko have it in for this family? After puzzling over that one for a while, Robert Marquales (George Peppard, also in his first film appearance) works out that he doesn’t. He has it in for … everybody! “A man has to have a hobby” offers Jocko, when challenged. Should his peers blow the whistle? He’s taken pains to implicate most of them in some outrage or other and they’ve got a lot invested in their own careers. Will anyone have the moral courage / sheer balls to speak out?

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Calder Willingham adapted his own 1947 novel End As A Man to the stage, achieving  a Broadway run, no less, in 1953/4. Director Jack Garfein and most of the Broadway cast were retained for this screen adaptation (and Julie Wilson’s blousey character introduced to temper the otherwise overwhelmingly gay ambience), hence the strong ensemble playing. There’s inevitably a stagey feel about the film but it also derives much of its sheer power from the same source, much like Sidney Lumet’s almost exactly contemporaneous 12 Angry Men (Lumet would take The Strange One’s themes to their most brutal conclusion in his gruelling 1965 effort, The Hill).

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The film’s in b/w, BTW…

As well as the barely restrained sexual threat always simmering just below the surface at Southern Military College, plenty of other ugly American attitudes linger on. The racism is almost palpable, with several characters openly lamenting the Confederate States’ defeat in the Civil War. Quite the poisonous concoction and when somebody suggests that maybe Jocko is just a bad egg, Marquales develops the food metaphor by pointing out that mushrooms thrive best in a swamp. Tribal dynamics, a charismatic amoral leader, the acquiescence of underlings… what could poissibly go wrong? No surprise that this material was so interesting to Garfein, an Auschwitz survivor. Interviewed in the extras here, the late director recalls how producer Sam Spiegel (of all people) ordered him to remove any shots of black people, so that The Strange One would sell better in The South. Garfein disobeyed and Spiegel retaliated by soft-pedalling the picture, which promptly disappeared. Instead of going on to the Lumet-like career of which he was clearly capable, Garfein only directed one more feature (Something Wild in 1961, starring his then wife and future giallo queen Carroll Baker)… but hey, he’d done the right thing.

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Move along please, nothing remotely homoerotic to see here…

Additional extras include an interview with Gazzara, trailer and image gallery, collectors’ booklet and an audio commentary with critic Nick Pinkerton which alternates dry biographical detail with interesting observations on The Actor’s Studio, Bertolt Brecht and (believe it or not) the thoughts of Morrissey and Mark E. Smith. I’d hate to call Pinkerton a strange one, but Manchester? He’s clearly mad fer it…

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A Squirt Of Grease From The Nether Regions… Paul Verhoeven’s Scandalous SPETTERS Reviewed.

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BD / DVD Dual Format. Regions B / 2. BFI. 18. 

Like many of our antisocial media pals, I imagine, we at The House Of Freudstein held the obligatory November 2019 rewatch of Blade Runner and played the definitive game of “spotting all the onscreen stuff that didn’t actually make it to November 2019″… a list which now includes Rutger Hauer. That was a sad one… I well remember (how could I possibly forget?) the current Mrs Freudstein and I enjoying our very first snog to distract ourselves from a particularly rancid Rutger vehicle, David Peoples’ Salute Of The Jugger (1989). A much better film (albeit one in which Hauer plays a secondary, if not exactly minor, role) is Spetters, directed in 1980  by Paul Verhoeven.

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Verhoeven is a director whose career has paralleled that of Brian De Palma, both in the way that it has oscillated between auteurhood and the budgetary luxury / artistic compromises of big studio properties and the controversy it has often generated on account of its unabashedly sexual, violent and generally non-PC content (though, as with De Palma, history has tended to vindicate Verhoeven). PV’s previous hit, the Dutch resistance epic Soldier Of Orange (1977) had premiered in the presence of Holland’s Royal family but God only knows what Queen Juliana and co made of Spetters, a film which seemed to unite gays, women, the disabled, the religiously inclined and just about everybody else in a chorus of condemnation on its domestic release (one contemporary review even suggested that you could contract an eye disease from watching it), making the subsequent hoohah over Verhoeven’s Showgirls (1995) look like a comparative storm in a D cup. Maybe Her Majesty was sufficiently steeped in Dutch culture to recognise the parallels between Spetters’ vulgar vitality and the  more picaresque canvases of Pieter Bruegel the elder. Did this cautionary tale of ambition (never mind hubris) punished by nemesis remind her of Breugel’s masterpiece The Fall Of Icarus (below)? Perhaps she reacted favourably to the film’s update of the “three questing princes” theme? Perhaps not…

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… especially as the behaviour of Rien (Hans van Tongeren), Eef (Toon Agterberg) and (Hans (Maarten Spanjer) is anything but princely in the traditionally accepted meaning of that term (though I gather the concept has been subject to a major recent recalibration). “There are also heroes in blue collars” insists Verhoeven and the (anti)heroic attempts of these guys to escape grinding routine (and in one case, stifling religious fundamentalism) centre on motocross and the desire to emulate their dirt bike hero Gerrit Witkamp (Hauer), with plenty of partying thrown in. It would be fair to say that their sexual antics in this Satyricon by the Zuidersee are, er, frankly presented.

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They literally measure their dicks to establish who gets first crack at greasy spoon Aphrodite / Venus on the taco shell Fientje (Renée Soutendijk) but she has her own ideas. Like it says on the American poster, “Three men with dreams… one woman with a plan”. In other words, behind every great man there’s a great woman (because that’s the best poisition from which to stab him in the back, right?) Fientje works her way through Rien (until his dreams of sports stardom are shattered, along with his spine in a traffic accident) then Eef (until he discovers – under rather extreme circumstances – his true sexual orientation) and finally settles for the plodding but devoted Hans, with whom she calculates she can build a life a few degrees more comfortable than the one to which she has been accustomed. Perhaps her expectations have undergone adjustment (albeit along significantly less drastic lines than those of the male principals)… perhaps, like the true Sadean woman she is, she’ll abandon Hans as soon as somebody more promising comes along.

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Director Verhoeven ends his commentary track reflecting on the final shots of Fientje’s brother Jaap (Peter Tuinman), “the only character who has not changed in any way and disappears in the anonymity of the freeway… and the cars… and the landscape… and nature… life goes on”. Is that the sound of Icarus hitting the water… or somebody discarding a glob of deep fried dog food?

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In terms of Life imitating Art, Renée Soutendijk made a big impression in Spetters (and was also great in Verhoeven’s The Fourth Man, 1983) but never fulfilled her international potential in quite the same way as Hauer, co-star Jeroen Krabbé (who plays unscrupulous sporting mister fixit Franz Henkhof) or indeed Verhoeven himself. Soutendijk was most recently seen in Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake, which says it all, really. Hans van Tongeren was similarly tipped for great things but soon after finishing Spetters emulated his character Rien by taking his own life.

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The main feature has been scanned in 4k for this handsome Hi-def UK debut, on which it’s accompanied by a string of supplementary materials spanning Blu-ray and bonus DVD discs. In his interview Verhoeven talks about his own brief period of religiosity and how it influenced some of the imagery in Robocop (1987). Writer Gerard Soeteman discusses the “slice of life” philosophy under which Spetters was conceived, wondering why people need to fabricate stories when everyday existence is so compelling. He recounts as an example the exploits of his family members in the Dutch resistance (“That’s not a small cup of tea!”) A Dutch TV documentary from 2002 includes interviews with many of the principals and also those who originally opposed the film (one guy still detests it but the lady who fronted up one of the “anti-Spetters” action committees now finds the film “touching”) before concluding with the observation that its mercenary, self interested characters were a timely anticipation of the marketised society to come. There’s also a lengthy interview with DP Jost Vocano. Nederbeat fans already thrilled by Kayak’s main theme will be doubly delighted to glimpse former Focus bassist Bert Ruiter (then a member of Earth And Fire) turning up at Spetters’ Rotterdam premiere.

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Amy Simmons presents a sympathetic audio visual essay but perpetuates the notion that  Eef’s gang rape and his reaction to it are somehow “problematic”, seemingly unable to grasp that without these scenes, the film would degenerate from a critique of the gay-bashing mentality into an endorsement of it. She does point out that among the newer crop of directors, few can hold a candle to Paul Verhoeven’s habitual use of sex and violence to make important social points rather than as an end in itself. Indeed, Gaspar Noé would probably give his right arm to be Verhoeven… not to attain the same level of regard (because in this fucked-up world he’s probably at least as well regarded as the Dutchman in trendier circles) but to have a fraction of his integrity, talent and brains.

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“A World Unto Itself”: Al Pacino Is CRUISING For A Bruising In An Exemplary New Arrow Release…

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

In 1979, radiographer Paul Bateson was arraigned for one of several killings that had recently disfigured New York’s underground gay scene. Bateson’s previous claim to fame / notoriety was performing the cringe-inducing cerebral angiography in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973). The director visited him on Riker’s Island and by his (disputed) account, was both alarmed and fascinated when Bateson told him that he’d been offered a reduced sentence if he copped for other murders, to make NYPD’s clear up ratio look better. This, plus a Gerald Walker novel based on the killings, became the inspiration for Friedkin’s Cruising (1980)…

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Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is an ambitious young cop looking for a short cut to his detective’s badge. Because he shares many physical characteristics with several gay men who’ve already fallen foul of a serial killer, Capt. Edelson (Paul Sorvino) asks if he’s willing to pose as psycho bait. Burns readily assents but is warned that the milieu he’ll be moving into is “a world unto itself… heavy metal… S/M”. Reborn as “John Forbes”, Burns goes deep undercover in the meat packing district (ooh er, Missus!), frequenting such legendary establishments as The Ramrod and The Mine Shaft (Friedkin filmed in the actual venues, populated – with the understandable exception of the principal actors – by regular patrons) to bone up on his hankie etiquette and get closer (increasingly dangerously so) to the killer and / or killers. Unable to talk about his secret posting, Burns / Forbes realises that his relationship with girlfriend Nancy (the always adorable Karen Allen) is suffering and Nancy soon notices how he’s changing. Is he developing a taste for the gay life? Or something much darker?

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Even before shooting began, Cruising divided opinion in and beyond the gay community. The aforementioned heavy leather S/M crowd got right behind it but there was a strain of more mainstream homosexual opinion which held that a decade after the Stonewall riots, the director of such sensationalist fare as The Exorcist might be about to unpick the tentative social progress that had been and was being made. As Friedkin himself concedes, water sports, fist-fucking and serial killing might well not constitute the community’s “best foot forward” in this regard. Attempts were made to disrupt the films shooting (much of the dialogue exchanges had to be subsequently re-looped) and there were civil disturbances at early screenings. Cruising was and remains controversial stuff, with each revival / re-release serving as a weather vane for where we are now, attitude wise…

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Having said that, I must confess that this is the first time I’ve watched Cruising since its theatrical release in the UK. I remember that in 1980 I was fairly impressed by its gritty edginess (though of course its orgiastic tableaux now look pretty tame compared to, e.g. the opening / closing scenes of Gaspar Noé’s 2002 effort Irreversible) and found myself irresistibly drawn into its mystery, only to be frustrated by the film’s increasingly wayward narrative en route to a “WTF?” denouement, leaving the theatre with the impression that Friedkin had… er, blown an intriguing premise. In addition, of course, there was the lurking suspicion that Cruising was, yes indeedy, homophobic.

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39 years later, viewed through the prism of the cinematic obsessions I’ve accreted in the past four decades, my initial impression was how much influence Cruising (itself a vaguely gialloesque proposition) has exerted over another, perhaps even more notorious offering, Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper (1982), way over and above that of the other obvious precedent, Brian De Palma’s Dressed To Kill (1980). Of course Cruising wasn’t exactly fresh in my mind by the time I finally got to see Fulci’s much-banned giallo.

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Pacino’s attempts at dancing with amyl-fuelled gay abandon still look pretty risible (then again I think everybody – with the probable exception of Fred Astaire – looks pretty silly when they’re dancing)… and what exactly the fuck is it with the scenes in which a humungous black guy straight out of Tom Of Finland steps into interrogations, slaps suspects around then shimmies out the door?

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Friedkin makes fantastic use of Joe Spinell’s unforgettable physiognomy at various points and I’ve always cherished the entry that turns up in one suspect’s diary (“I feel my thoughts being born in my head. I can feel them taking shape. If only I could stop thinking. I can’t help but feel I’m on the verge of a discovery of some sort. Yesterday in the park, I saw an enormous dark shape. It seemed to hang suspended and dripping from the trees like a tar jelly. At its centre was a bright red glow”) because I love it when killers in these things have some kind of cracked mystical motivation. Still, not a patch on David Keith’s insane cosmological speculations in Donald Cammell’s White Of The Eye (1987, below).

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That demented diarist is only one of several candidates that Al’s got his eye on and I have to concede that I’m still as baffled as I was in 1980 regarding who exactly is killing whom… and why. Different suspects speak with the same creepy voice (and recite the same macabre nursery rhyme) as the hallucinated father of one of them. Is this a really lame attempt to forge some kind of link in the viewer’s mind between Cruising and Friedkin’s megahit The Exorcist (the director deploys subliminal footage to unsettling effect in both)? It doesn’t exactly help that a lot of the victims and possible killers look exactly like each other. Isn’t that what prejudiced people always say about minorities? Am I homophobic? Nah, just confused. I’ve spoken to gay friends and fellow pundits about Cruising and the general consensus seems to be that the film is problematic but probably not homophobic. But when Friedkin opines in one of the commentary tracks that “some of the cops were also degenerate”, you have to wonder.

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The impossibility of pinning down a single killer in Cruising leaves it open to the interpretation that even if you could put somebody away, there are always going to be more killings because “that’s what homsexuality is all about… deviance and premature death, innit?” Other possible interpretations emerge during the course of the supplementary materials on this disc. Apart from a trailer and two useful featurettes concentrating on the film’s genesis, production and controversial impact, you get a couple of commentary tracks. The archive one by Friedkin is a curiously unenlightening affair, for long stretches of which he merely describes what’s happening on screen. I really surprised myself by my positive response to the second, more recent track, in which BF’s comments are mediated by Mark Kermode…

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“Surprised myself” chiefly because I’ve never quite understood the esteem in which Kermode is rated as a critic. One of the biggest problems I have with him is his ongoing insistence that The Exorcist is, rather than some superior, turbo-charged variation on William Castle‘s formula of conveyor belt shocks, the best / most profound movie ever made. I mean… really, Mark? Come on…

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The main feature has never looked or sounded better than here, in a 4K restoration / 5.1 sound reworking. I still entertain nagging doubts about it but after consuming this edition I appreciate Cruising a lot more and understand it maybe a little better. Isn’t that precisely what these collector’s editions are supposed to do for us?

It was particularly helpful, while marshalling my thoughts (such as they are) on this film, to chat with @jonnylarkin from those Screaming Queenz. Here’s their SQ podcast on Cruising. Enjoy.

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Pro Boner Publico… Derek Jarman’s SEBASTIANE Reviewed.

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“One hundred and eighty!”

BD. BFI. Region B. 18.

Sebastiane (Leonardo Treviglio) is a senior officer in the Praetorian Guard, in fact you could say (if you’re one of those people who endlessly recite Monty Python routines) that he wanks as high as any in Wome. Unfortunately the Emperor Diocletian (Robert Medley), whom we see enjoying a bukkake dance performance from Lindsay Kemp in the company of an anachronistically clad Jordan (the punk rock one, not the “glamour model”) takes a dim view of Seb’s recent conversion to Christianity and exiles him to a remote desert outpost to serve under the aptly named Commander Severus (Barney James), alongside several resolutely gay squaddies and Max (Neil Kennedy), a homophobic brute with no nose. How (I hear you ask) does Max smell? “Terrible!” is the stock music hall answer but Max probably smells pretty good, spending as much time as he does in the bath house with his butch buddies. Severus develops a serious case of the hots for Sebastiane, who rejects his lustful pagan advances. Using Seb’s pacifism as a pretext, Severus subjects him to ongoing torments and humiliations, which seem to be equally enjoyed on each side of the SM equation. Ultimately Severus orders the guys to string Seb up and dispatch him with arrows, an order with which they eagerly comply… after all, you can’t beat a bit of Bully!

Unfortunately, Jarman chose not to depict the sequel to these sad events in which, according to hagiographical tradition, Sebastiane was miraculously revived by Saint Irene and returned to the court of Diocletian to plead with him to change his Christian-bashing ways. Instead, Diocletian had him cudgelled to death (for good this time) and chucked into Rome’s main sewer (depicted below in the 1612 painting by Lodovico Carracci). We also gather that Sebastian’s cranium turned up, silver coated, in Ebersberg, Germany during the tenth Century, and was used to dispense Communion wine to the faithful on the Saint’s birthday. His various relics are, moreover, reckoned proof against outbreaks of plague and pestilence.

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Aside from the reverence in which he is held in both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, the figure of Sebastian has long been regarded as a gay icon if not, er, pin-up boy. In Richard A. Kaye’s words: “Contemporary gay men have seen in Sebastian at once a stunning advertisement for homosexual desire (indeed, a homoerotic ideal), and a prototypical portrait of tortured closet case.” Artists as diverse as Andrea Mantegna and Yukio Mishima have tapped into this myth…

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The BFI’s press blurb describes Sebastiane as “a glorious hymn to the very real, living and breathing male body”. Indeed, Jarman and Peter Middleton (responsible for this film’s truly ravishing cinematography) dwell lovingly on the body in question and its workings, to the point where I found myself shouting: “Careful mate, you’ll have somebody’s eye out with that!” at the screen several times (and I wasn’t always talking about the arrows!) As such, Jarman’s uncostumed drama, which grafts bits of Melville’s Billy Budd and Laurens van der Post’s The Seed And The Sower (filmed by Nagisa Oshima as Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence in 1983) onto Christian tradition, enjoyed a brief success de scandale before much of its Roman romp thunder was stolen by Bob Guccione’s Caligula (1979). By having the dialogue spoken in archaic Latin, Jarman was presumably deploying and / or lampooning the convention by which you can get away with more in “Art” films, though I gather that he was originally planning (before distributors put their collective foot down) to have Sebastiane screened without benefit of subtitles. You can take anti commercialism too far, you know…

The male body, however real, living or breathing (they left out “arse-winking”), has never held any erotic fascination for me (frankly, on the cusp of my sixth and seventh decades, even the female body agitates me significantly less than it used to) but I enjoyed this opportunity to see Sebastiane again for three reasons. 1) It’s not Jarman’s excruciating Jubliee (1978), whose “punk rock” pretensions date it more horribly than any of The third Century shenanigans depicted here. 2) House Of Freudstein Hall-Of-Famer David Warbeck once told me that he’d put up much of the film’s finance. 3) Having suffered a Catholic education myself, I’m always glad to see the iconography of repressive religion subverted to the ends of irrepressible Desire.

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The Ecstasy Of St Teresa. Gian Lorenzo Bernini. 1647-52.

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Sebastiane. Derek Jarman. 1976.

Extras wise, you get Jazz Calendar (1968), 36 minutes of the Royal Ballet in rehearsal with the scenery and costumes by Jarman that impressed Ken Russell sufficiently to appoint him production designer on The Devils (1971) and set designer on Savage Messiah (1972)… film maker John Scarlett-Davis remembering how he was roped into the proceedings and subsequently mortified to see himself and his boyfriend snogging away on the cover of Time Out… and 62 minutes of an incomplete, black and white, un-subtitled work-in-progress cut, featuring different music from Brian Eno’s ambient noddlings as heard in the released version.

One thing that neither this disc’s bonus materials nor its fully illustrated booklet (featuring liner notes by William Fowler) shed any light upon is the role of long forgotten one-shot co-director (and editor) Paul Humfress (who also co-wrote Leslie Magahey’s BBC 1979 adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Schalcken The Painter). It would be interesting to learn how he and Jarman divided the work between them.

The behind-the-scenes Super 8 short The Making of Sebastiane, shot by Jarman and  sound assistant Hugh Smith… or at least that part of its 25 minutes not taken up with footage of Sardinian mountain roads shot through the window of a moving car… capture a singular historical moment, in which a repressed minority were starting to flex their muscles, joyously. Who could have known that another pestilence was coming, one against which saintly skulls would afford scant protection?

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