03 March 2006

Two Hours Of My Life That I'll Never Get Back

This week sees the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and in conjunction with it, they've been having a Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. I walked past the cinema where it was taking place nearly every day and never thought seriously about seeing any of the films, and it occurred to me that every big city I've lived in or spent significant time - London, New York, San Francisco come to mind - has its own Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and I've never attended any of them.

Perhaps this is due, as I'm sure someone will suggest, to my own deeply internalised homophobia, but I prefer to think of it as my deeply internalised philistinism: my attitude is that if any of the films on offer are actually any good, they will eventually be shown in a proper cinema, one that has popcorn and half-price matinees on Tuesdays.

So the Sydney GALFF very nearly passed away without benefit of my company as well, but on the next to last night, a mutual acquaintance walked up to Robert and me and handed us two tickets to a Canadian film called "Eighteen" by one Richard Bell. "Do you want to go?" asked Robert. "Might as well," I said. "After all, how bad can it be?"

We were soon to find out. As it turns out, "Eighteen" is not even a particularly gay film. It has some gay characters, but what sitcom doesn't these days? Mostly it's about this thoroughly unlikable 18-year-old (allegedly; the actor playing him looks about 35) who is booted out and/or runs away from his upper middle class home and in about two days becomes a hardened, feral street beggar, the kind you're always tempted to kick except that they're bigger and scarier looking than you are.

He takes up with some dingbat chick who, as Robert astutely observed, looked like she'd just parachuted in from a shampoo commercial, but who we know is a Nice Person because she volunteers in the Food Bank where feral beggars go for their handouts. She saves him from being murdered by her moronic boyfriend, and the two of them go off to the abandoned glue factory where he's squatting to have inane conversations by candlelight and make feral babies.

So far, so bad, but that's actually the plausible and palatable part. Where things really go off the rails is when the lead brat (I can't for the life of me remember what his name was supposed to be) gets a cassette tape from his deceased grandfather, to be listened to on his 18th birthday. Well, it turns out to be Ian McKellen, he of the deep, resonant tones, which provided a pleasant sonorousness that had been sadly lacking.

Unfortunately, the film's producers apparently only had enough money to pay for a couple minutes of Sir Ian's dulcet renderings, which meant the rest of his story, something about two WWII soldiers (who unaccountably seemed to be dressed in WWI uniforms) running through the French forest bleeding profusely, injecting morphine, dodging Germans, and apparently falling slightly in love before one of them croaked and the other (the wrong one, in my opinion) survived to go back to Canada to continue the family blood line that led to the unpleasant protagonist and therefore made this movie possible.

Low-budget films with marginally talented actors should not attempt epic war scenes. The "bombs" were more convincing than the "acting," but not by much, and the "French forest" looked suspiciously like Vancouver's Stanley Park. Which is a picturesque and beautiful place, but will never be confused with France by anyone who's ever strayed more than a few blocks off Davie Street.

Meanwhile, in a sub-subplot that's actually more interesting than the main plot or the main subplot, a wisecracking street hustler and go-go boy takes pity on the lead character (damn it, I wish I could remember his name, but only because I'm tired of typing "lead character" or "protagonist") and gets ripped off and abused for his pains, but it's all right, because eventually he finds true love with the closeted service station attendant (looked like the BP station at the corner of Davie and Burrard, if I'm not mistaken) and instantly abandons his hustling ways and cynical attitude.

By now the L.C. has impregnated Shampoo Girl, who has to get rid of the baby before her parents (obviously also Nice People) come back from helping the poor in Guatemala or somesuch place. L.C. throws a fit, steals Hustler Boy's only possession, a video camera, to raise money for the abortion, only to have the money thrown back in his face by Shampoo Girl, who tells him with a stern face (but still seems to be giggling inside) that she was just testing him; abortions are covered by national insurance.

There's a goofy Irish priest, Father Chris, who manages to get involved in everyone's life, and a flashback that explains why L.C. has gone so feral: apparently his white upper middle class hypocrite (as if there were any other kind) father tried to teach his gay brother a lesson along the lines of, "Oh, you think smoking cigarettes is cool, do you? Well, here, smoke ten of them all at once," only substituting (it pains me to have to write this, but I can't think of a more delicate way of putting it) his penis for cigarettes, if you get my drift. And then, drunk off his ass, drove the car into a telephone pole, killing Gay Brother. This didn't prevent from from winning Judge of the Year award, presented to him by a committee that must have represented pretty much all of Vancouver's ethnic minority population (no, I didn't know that white people no longer were involved in the legal profession in Vancouver either, except of course for upper middle class hypocrite judges who are about to given their comeuppance).

Said comeuppance is not long in, well, coming up: L.C. magically appears on his father's rooftop and denounces him in front of everyone, then returns a few days later to tell him, "I don't forgive you, Dad, but I've forgiven myself." Apart from being a bad actor in a worse film, I'm not sure what exactly he'd done that needed forgiving, but with that resolution, he runs off to save Shampoo Girl from the abortion clinic and the film closes with the two of them curled up on some bohemian mattress, by candlelight again, with a feral rugrat crawling between them, and we are all supposed to be thrilled that another generation of this awful family has entered the world.

As "The End" mercifully trailed across the screen, I expected the audience to collectively exhale a relieved, "At last!" But I was wrong. At least half of them applauded, which was more than Robert could take; "Don't clap!" he admonished them, but to no avail. They were, after all, Nice People themselves, and this was an at least marginally gay and lesbian film at a Gay and Lesbian Film Festival; of course it was going to get a clap.

I was too busy fuming about this being yet another example of the harm done by public funding of the arts. Not that I knew for sure that "Eighteen" was subsidised by the Canadian Film Board or whoever it is that doles out free money for uncommercial filmmakers to produce films that no one in their right mind would risk their own money on. I tried looking it up, but couldn't find a definitive answer.

But it had Public Funding written all over it, either that or some philanthropist was on drugs or the film's producer was independently wealthy. I would hate to consign all decisions over what films should or shouldn't be made to the vagaries of the marketplace, but seeing excrescences like this one makes me less inclined to think it's a bad idea.

Thank goodness for Robert and his rude comments, which were more entertaining than anything in the film itself. The best one: L.C. was very painfully emoting, i.e., screwing his face up more tightly than usual, and declaiming in a moo-cow voice, "I'm angry. I'm so angry!" to which Robert replied, "Then join the Labor Party."

Okay, it's kind of an Australian in-joke, but just think of the Australian Labor Party as the approximate equivalent of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and it will make sense.


Spoke said...

I don't know how to post a link in a comment box, so I copied it and will now try to paste it here. Quit laughing at me!



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