I confess I don't expend much effort to follow developments in gay film. Truthfully, gay films of the 80s and 90s were so generally awful they turned me off to the point where I lost interest in keeping up. So I was curious to see where things were now with this latest collection of gay short films, and am happy to report conditions much improved!
The first film on this compilation is called The Young and Evil. We open with a young black man moving about his apartment while his catatonic mother sits in the foreground. This is Karel. He grabs his mother under the arms and pulls her bodily to a new position. He goes outside and is soon taunted by four guys on the ball field for being gay. He likes the lead guy, pulls out his dick and starts masturbating as he looks at him! That's one way to handle it. Then he goes and gets the results of his HIV test. He is negative, and muses on whether he is immune, because he loves getting fucked raw, and declares how much he loves unsafe sex. His counselor, as you can imagine, is appalled.
He goes to a sex club where he meets his lively friend, and does some kind of drug. Meth? Got me. He soon meets the thug who taunted him on the ball field earlier, and they go back to the thug's house. They have a highly-charged conversation in which Carrell comes on hard to the guy, who is HIV positive, saying he wants to catch his bug. Things escalate quickly, then they go for it. Then the man gives a soliloqy, then we have a tableaux of black men arranged in an ornate setting seemingly trying to emulate an old religious painting. The end.
This one is good as announcing the tone of these films as being highly arty and ready to take some highly-charged topics squarely on. It is photographed very well and the actors are good, only betraying its provenance as a low-budget art film in certain character twists that come off as contrived, like certain points in the rapid escalation between the two men. The final turn into artsiness was good in terms of keeping things interesting things, but I confess I wasn't that moved to pore over it and decode what it means. I suspect there is some message about the universality of Karel's situation and a way in which he and others in his situation represent a kind of tragic beauty, what with the consciously artful tableaux they are finally presented in. But whatever.
The next film is called Spokane and features someone who is a television actor. I'm not sure which one. There is a dry and wry gay guy David at his brother's wedding. He meets straight guy Dave, his brother's friend, who is scuffy and hot in a kind of Seth Rogenish way. They end up talking, then go smoke a joint out in the car, where they start talking the difference between being straight and gay ["What's the deal with using your ass as a pussy?" James asks], and it finally comes around to them making out. Then they go back to a hotel, have fumbling sex, James wakes in the morning, and leaves without waking David. The end.
This one was the least successful of the bunch. The two actors are good and the script is decent [if ever-so-slightly tendentious] and it has a good rhythm, but ultimately you're just waiting for it all to lead to something and it just never does. It's also all so dark and hard to see it becoems distracting.
The third film, First Date, was my favorite. We open with text on screen as we hear from a guy who says he's a "Latin top. Ready to pop." He is not given a name in the credits, but called Ricardo at one point, so let's just call him that. He then goes to this older white guy and demands keys to a car. I was fairly baffled by what the situation was here--Ricardo seemed to be in some sort of halfway house situation or something--but I was interested. Ricardo accuses the white guy of being queer [but we all know who's queer, right?], and finally storms out. Then he is in a bar talking to this Mexican guy, asking for keys to his car, but the guy keeps repeating that he doesn't have the keys. Ricardo accuses both the guy and another fellow of being queer. Then he goes to this supermarket and is obsessively eyeing these two kids [while you're like "WHERE is this going?"] when suddenly...
He steals the car keys and then the woman's car! All of this effort, by the way, to meet this fellow from the chat room, who is soon revealed to be this pudgy, unattractive kid of maybe 21 or so. Ricardo claims to be straight because he is the active partner, but the kid insists that he's actually gay. There is a great tension created here because you're thinking "Shut up, kid! You don't know how volatile this guy is!"
You know what, I'm not going to spoil the rest for you, and that's because it is genuinely interesting and surprising, creating a lot of tension and ending in an unexpected way. This one, like the others, just kind of ends with nothing really being resolved [which is one quite valid way of dealing with the compressed space of a short film], but it contains so much provocative and evocative content while it's on that you don't feel like you've just watched some time-filler.
The scenes with the two guys Ricardo is demanding keys from is also an excellent example of the kind of scene where we the audience don't understand what's going on but remain intrigued, WANTING to know what's going on, which is a fine distinction from the kind of scene where the audience doesn't know what's going on, and quickly stops caring.
The final film is Amor Crudo, and has the tone of a Hispanic gay Juno. It takes place on high school playgrounds among Hispanic youth, and features a light folky pop song as we see hand-drawn credits. It lasts about 20 minutes and centers on two friends, roughhousing, jerking off together, etc., but one of them is falling in love, while the other is just a friend. At the end, they graduate, and the other walks away, watched by the first. It's very sweet and melancholy, but slight. It's a nice movie to end with, and it's very well-made and looks great, but it aims small and ends up just that: small and slight.
Overall a pretty good collection, and one that adjusted my view of the state of artsy gay film out there going on right now. On the other hand, this seems to be only of interest to those who want to keep up with gay short film. The fact that these films don't top 30 minutes and the anthology nature of it keep it from being something a mainstream audience looking for a good evening's entertainment can just relax and get into. But for those who want to get the pulse of the state of gay film, well here ya go.
I felt a little bad about opening this review with my reluctance to engage with this series based on its earlier volumes, but felt a little validated when I told my friend Howard I was watching this and he said "Oh GOD." So I was happy to tell him that things are largely on a good, much improved track. I am always annoyed at undiscovered artists who seem to be trying to hem themselves in to court perceived mainstream tastes. I always think: "Look, while you're undiscovered, and you're not bound in by rules, why not go for it and make something really out there and unique?" And by an large, the filmmakers here have. They're not afraid to present jagged little stories that don't have every thread sewn neatly together and maybe leave you wondering what's going on a little bit. Which, to me, is better than having no doubt exactly what's going on.
If you want a glimpse of the state of gay film.