Tag Archives: gay cinema

The Man Whose Mind Exploded

The Man Whose Mind Exploded
The Man Whose Mind Exploded

Format: Cinema

Release date: 1 July 2014 (UK), 13 June 2014 (London & Brighton)

Distributor: Picturehouse Entertainment

Director: Toby Amies

UK 2012

77 mins

For many years 70-something-year-old Drako Oho Zahar Zahar was a prominent figure in the British gay underground. In his time as a dancer he had posed for Salvador Dalí, worked with Andy Warhol, and can be seen, leather-clad, giant black dildo in hand, writhing around in the foreground of Derek Jarman’s The Garden.

But that was then and this is now. Today Drako suffers from anterograde amnesia: he is a man with no past, just a permanent, rolling present that forces him to take everyone, and everything, at face value, including filmmaker Toby Amies. When Amies first visits Drako to discuss making a film about him, Drako remembers nothing about their arrangement, but agrees to do it anyway, abiding by the code he has lived by, and has tattooed onto his arm, ever since losing his memory: ‘Trust, Absolute, Unconditional’. The moving and inspiring film that emerges from several years of regular visits to Drako’s cramped Brighton council flat, festooned from wall to wall with gay pornography and scribbled notes-to-self, is a deeply human portrait of a developing friendship, and of a difficult life lived to its fullest.

Rather than document Drako’s colourful existence before the accident that robbed him of his memory, Amies makes the bold decision to focus on Drako now, choosing to take his subject for what he is, rather than for what he used to be. As their bond strengthens, and Amies shifts in Drako’s consciousness from another unknown to a ‘cher ami’, so Amies’s role changes, from documenter to carer, and the genuine warmth between Drako, on screen, and Amies off it, is enough to heat even the largest gentlemen’s sauna.

This in itself should counter any accusations – and they have been raised – that the film exploits Drako’s mental health problems: indeed Amies confronts his subject with that very question. ‘I like to be used,’ moans Drako, staring into the camera, tugging at his stretched, pierced nipples through specially prepared holes in a chunky knit sweater. Just who, we are forced to ask, is using who here?

With all the current talk of ‘British Values’, it strikes this reviewer that every voting age adult in this country should be encouraged, or, if they protest, forced to see The Man Whose Mind Exploded. Here they will learn about the once deep-seated British Values of not just tolerance, but of celebration of difference and eccentricity that must be retained, and will surely be lost, in a world without Drakos.

Mark Pilkington

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Behind the Candelabra

Behind the Candelabra_2
Behind the Candelabra

Format: Cinema

Release date: 7 June 2013

Distributor: E1 Entertainment

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Richard LaGravenese (screenplay)

Based on the book Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace by: Scott Thorson and Alex Thorleifson

Cast: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Dan Aykroyd, Rob Lowe, Scott Bakula

USA 2013

118 mins

From the moment Behind the Candelabra opens with a blow-out of disco-genius and camp, one can’t help but embrace two thoughts: first, that Matt Damon and Michael Douglas don’t actually make a bad pair of lovers; and second, that Side Effects, thankfully, doesn’t go down in cinema history as the last Steven Soderbergh film ever made. Instead, at the age of 50, the bustling director has once again crafted a fine-tuned drama that manages the balancing act of being exuberant and lavish without being patronising, and that is outrageously witty, feisty, slick looking and well-acted, without feeling conceited or narcissistic. What’s more, although doomed as ‘too gay’ by Hollywood’s studio bosses, and hence produced by HBO with no theatrical distribution deal in sight in the US, Behind the Candelabra shrewdly dissembles the various obstacles Soderbergh ran into when trying make what is now said to be his directorial swansong.

Part of the magic in Soderbergh’s thoroughly entertaining biopic on the life of flamboyant piano virtuoso Liberace comes from the way it strives to be as free-spirited, wily and simply irresistible as its subject. Based on Scott Thorson’s memoir about his troubled five-year relationship with the alluring entertainer, the film begins as the young, bisexual Thorson (Matt Damon) is introduced to the aging, publicly heterosexual megastar (Michael Douglas). As you would expect, Thorson soon can’t resist the palatial kitsch and subtle arts of seduction thrown at him by Liberace (who comes across as a lascivious, eccentric and oddly jealous father-figure). Soderbergh spends a reasonable amount of time plotting a credible romance between the two men in an unashamedly hilarious setting of late 1970s extravaganza, before delving into melodrama and tragedy as Liberace averts his gaze from his younger love interest and, ultimately, succumbs to AIDS at a time when many people still believed it was a pestilence sent by God to extinguish the bad seeds in his creation. At the same time, the film showcases some of the best acting seen to date by both Douglas and Damon. While Douglas banks on cocky charm and sympathy, the younger Damon delivers a more understated yet weighty performance, which comes across in unassuming looks and gestures compared to the obvious seduction, delusion and ultimate rejection engineered upon his character by Liberace.

In other words: Behind the Candelabra is more than just an epilogue to a career that embraces a wealth of inspired, original, if occasionally flawed, pieces of filmmaking, ever since Soderbergh first emerged on the big screen with Sex, Lies and Videotape in 1989. And suddenly it all makes sense, at least to the craftsman himself, as he reflected on his departure from the director’s chair after the world premiere of his film at Cannes: ‘I am absolutely taking a break, I don’t know how extended it is going to be. But I can’t say that – if this was the last movie I made – I would be unhappy. And there is a connection to my first film, because by the end of the day, it’s really about two people in a room. At the same time, stylistically, it’s a progression. If you’d flashed me forward and showed me this film, I would have been able to recognise that there was a lot of experience that resulted in kind of a simplicity and directness in the filmmaking, that I think would have made me very happy. It’s been a nice run.’

Pamela Jahn

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The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome

Double Exposure (1969)

Format: DVD

Release date: 26 March 2012

Distributor: BFI

Director: Peter de Rome

USA 1969-72

90 mins

‘Hi, I’m Peter de Rome, and I spent the last 50 years making gay porn movies.’

With The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome, the BFI continues its thankless task of rewriting the universe of alternative British filmmakers, otherwise lost, forgotten, or never discovered in the first place. De Rome, now almost 90, was born in 1924 in Juan-les-Pins, and spent his formative years in a Lancashire mill, followed by a stint in Birmingham Rep, though in the documentary that accompanies the DVD extras he more fondly recalls his times living in a beach hut in Ramsgate, jerking off to matinee idol pin-ups.

A veteran of D-Day, De Rome had been a publicist for Rank, Korda and David O. Selznick, who took him to Hollywood with the promise of work on an adaptation of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, though De Rome soon quit the movie business mainstream in favour of a sales job at Tiffany’s (he reminisces about encounters in the basement store room). A cinephile in the 60s, with an admiration for Antonioni and Bertolucci, he took to porn very gradually. To get around the processing restrictions, he would begin each roll with an innocuous piece, duping the labs at Kodak into thinking this was a generic home movie. Made just for fun, as a way of picking up boys, his films act as Proustian visual diaries of ex-lovers and one-night stands, his long zoom lens stalking its prey, mirroring his own scopophilic desires.

After one of his films, Hot Pants, won the top award at Amsterdam’s Wet Dream Film Festival in 1971, attracting a review in the Financial Times and a letter of endorsement from William Burroughs, he was approached by producer Jack Deveau, who blew up a selection of his shorts from standard 8 to 16mm for wider distribution. The six-minute film shows a young black crotch in tight jeans and string vest dancing to James Brown, the pants mysteriously falling down, revealing full frontal and bare ass, as the cock gyrates up and down, twirling around, getting harder, then spurting.

Despite the obvious limitations of the boy-fucks-boy genre, De Rome shows endless possibilities in the variation of these simple narratives. In Second Coming, a group of cruisers from London and Paris make a pilgrimage to the white village of Casares in Malaga, where they witness a crucified Adonis, twitching his member to attention, and coming all over himself in his moment before death. In Green Thoughts, a man wanders through a park land, with various stems of trees and plants offering phallic prompts as we cut to him in bed fondling the budge in his Y-fronts. John Gielgud was a fan - while doing Pinter on Broadway, De Rome took him to the Anvil club and Gielgud suggested a plotline for another film idea, though it never materialised.

Though certainly not camera-shy of full-on oral and anal, explicit 69-ing and montage of golden showers, De Rome was clearly interested more in titillation and the aesthetics of arousal, in filmic terms more exciting than the money shot of the act itself. Intentionally or otherwise, the vibrant cine colours, vérité compositions and lack of dialogue lend his work an artistry perhaps not evident in the execution. The ambient muzak scores preserve each scenario as some sort of forbidden Pathé newsreel that we were never meant to see, and the collection now serves as a wistful, nostalgic and almost innocent travelogue of gay life in the 60s and 70s.

The quintessential Englishman in New York, though with a strong resemblance to Edgar Allan Poe, this grandfather of gay porn quit filmmaking in the 80s, after the clean-up of adult theatres and the onslaught of AIDS. Never before commercially available in the UK, his work suggests a parallel reality to the sophomore Sapphics of Hammer or the castrated innuendo of the Carry On films. One waits in eager anticipation for the Blu-ray restorations of the works of George Harrison Marks, John Lindsay and Ben Dover.

Robert Chilcott