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It seems as if every time you turn around in the film industry, you see yet another romantic comedy. From the cheesy to the touching, they are everywhere. You know the typical story: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl encounter obstacle, boy and girl eventually end up together and live happily ever after. However, replace the girl with a boy and you will have a tough time finding even a handful of blockbuster movies that apply. Recently, Before Night Falls made a splash as the story of gay Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas. For those thirsting for more such movies, the Boston Gay & Lesbian Film/Video Festival is running from May 2—20 and promises to bring a variety of films and videos that will delight a wide range of audience members.
One of the feature films of the festival is All Over the Guy, which makes its world premiere at the Men’s Opening Night Screening on Tuesday, May 3. Directed by Julie Davis and produced by Don Roos (who also wrote and produced The Opposite of Sex), All Over the Guy is a romantic comedy about two men who have been set up and do everything in their power not to fall in love. Richard Ruccolo (“Two Guys and a Girl”) plays Tom, a special ed teacher who is a recovering alcoholic and dislikes any threat of commitment. While Tom grew up making martinis for his alcoholic parents, his love interest, Eli, played by the film’s author, Dan Bucatinsky (The Opposite of Sex, Bounce), has to deal with a set of overemotional, intrusive parents who made him play with dolls as a child. The two are set up by mutual friends Brett and Jackie who fall in love while Eli and Tom are busy resisting any attraction to each other. The problem in the central couple’s relationship arises mainly from Tom’s desire to take things slow, or as everyone else in the movie sees it, an intense fear of commitment. His one-night-stand personality directly clashes with Eli’s more sensitive, long-term view of life.
In seemingly endless cycles of happy moments, feisty arguments, storming out of houses and hesitant reconciliations, the story of these two men stagnates towards the middle and early end of the movie. During these parts the movie loses a little bit of its hold on the audience, although a few good one-liners and running jokes keep some of the momentum. As Tom articulates at one point, the only men he can rely on are “Ben, Jerry and Jose Cuervo” while he is at Jackie’s place watching “Lifetime—television for women and gay men.” Further oddities that weave in and out of the movie include Eli’s passion for Planet of the Apes action figures, his persistent nagging whenever anyone uses a word or phrase in the wrong way, as well as the very way in which the story is actually told: Eli tells his story to the receptionist at the AIDS clinic where he is being tested for HIV, and Tom tells his story to a fellow recovering alcoholic at an AA meeting.
All Over the Guy, which also features Christina Ricci, Lisa Kudrow and Doris Roberts, is sweet, funny and romantic, even if it drags at times. It’s running themes apply to relationships of all kinds: the awkward blind date experience, unrequited love, mixed signals of all sorts, the joy of reconciliation between two quarrelling partners.
For those people looking for a slightly different film experience, History Lessons by Barbara Hammer will certainly fit the bill. Far from being a mushy love story, History Lessons is instead a documentary, of sorts. Barbara Hammer (Tender Fictions, Nitrate Kisses), a pioneer in the lesbian film industry who is widely acclaimed for her over 70 films and videos, delves deeply into the history of lesbianism, providing a somewhat irreverent, comical and often very intense look at the portrayal of lesbianism from the first days of cinema. Beware these history lessons are not for the faint at heart. The film contains such strong and explicit sexual content that it borders on pornography, which can be potentially offensive to all audiences.
Set within the framework of a person selecting films from an archive, History Lessons has very little dialogue but makes up for this fact with attention-grabbing visual effects. Hammer uses her artistic license generously as she dubs in lesbian-rights messages over women’s voices in old films of a roundtable discussion. This effect, which Hammer uses throughout the film, provides a bit of needed levity. Her presentation of antiquated photographs, transposition of negatives and reverse negative images, and carnivalesque background music creates an interesting mixture of the serious and the playful, the historical and the present.
Many of the visual images that are utilized in History Lessons are actual magazines, books and movies from the past, almost all of which make a negative statement about lesbians. Though it seems odd that such derogatory images should be used in a film that is a celebration of being a lesbian, the juxtaposition of these divergent images is a stark, but very effective, contrast. In doing so, Hammer challenges the “traditional” notions of lesbians as being “butch” and “she-males.” Overall, History Lessons is a compelling, sometimes offensive, but always unpredictable journey into the roots of lesbianism back as far as the 19th century.
Also featured at the film festival will be the Lesbian Short Film Program (May 4), a compilation of short films touching on a wide variety of subjects and lengths. Above the Dust Level, for example, is a 12-minute Australian film by Carla Drago about stolen men’s underwear, cross-dressing ex-lovers, AIDS and one woman’s obsession with allergies and dust. Girl Under the Table, a three minute film by Dominique Zeltzmann, is about a young girl who recalls, “when I was six, I fell in love with my brother’s girlfriend. She was 26.” In a short period of time, we follow the girl to adulthood with a new semi-stalking personality. Not in the short film program, but featured before the film Boy Named Sue, is the 13-minute film XXXY by Porter Gale and Laleh Soomekh. This emotionally gripping short film centers on two people who were born intersex—Kristi, a bike messenger, and Howard, a clinical psychologist. Their stories share the common pain of being raised after having undergone corrective genital surgery as children. Fighting against a world in which doctors make arbitrary choices about children’s sex and gender, independent of their parents, Kristi and Howard relate the horrors of adolescence and adulthood when one is “not wholly male or female.” Kristi, who was born XY (male) but was raised as a girl, sums up the confusion and pain of hermaphrodite individuals when she says, “I’m not a girl. Stop treating me like I am!” Other short films deal with coming out to one’s family, the joy of lesbian cooking (Baking with Butch), and what happens when a gay couple and a lesbian couple live next door to each other.
There will be something for everyone at this year’s Boston Gay & Lesbian Film/Video Festival, from self-proclaimed dyke dramas to documentaries to the ubiquitous romantic comedy. Whether films under five minutes are your fancy, or you enjoy full-length movies with developed plots, you will be able to find what you are looking for.
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