Great First Times

Thursday, May 8th, 2003 | Film, Travel

I saw a delightful little film tonight, Raising Victor Vargas, Peter Sollett’s first film about a Dominican-American family in the lower east side, very much a slice of life taken from reality and not from Hollywood cliche. There’s so much tenderness, as well as a lot of young male posturing and sexual agressivity that remains playful, never threatening or escalating into violence. When I was very young, very naive, and very into glamour, in 1985, I took my first trip to New York with my friend Augustine. His “Nanna” offered to put us up in her apartment on West Moshula Parkway. We had no idea that West Moshula Parkway was in the Bronx, and thus an hour away from anything, nor that Nanna lived in the projects. We arrived at 2:00 in the morning with our 5 suitcases and Augustine’s furs (it was May), and my chandelier drop earrings. As soon as Nanna opened the door, she looked us up and down and said “I got someone I want y’all ta meet” and in the morning took us downstairs to meet Winston, her skinny queeny hairdresser, snap snap, who showed us fabulous New York. The guys in the projects would whistle at Augustine, and call him “Miss Thing” but it was all in fun, and we never felt threatened. And some guy always opened the door for Augustine. Maybe we were just lucky, but I did go away thinking that the media had created an illusion that was out of synch with reality. Raising Victor Vargas is a very real and very familiar New York family snapshot, if not completely original, and loads of fun.

I saw another interesting first film this week, Justin Lin’s Better Luck Tomorrow, which borrows heavily from film narrative, but creates very rich portraits of bored Asian-American teenage over-achievers who get involved in drugs and crime. An incredible first film–very well-written, with excellent performances.

I also saw Sex and Lucia this week, which I also liked, particularly for its integration of pornographic content, and more particularly for one scene of an enormous mud-smeared glans slowly emerging from an equally enormous mud-smeared foreskin. I am so in favor of this recent European tendency to challenge any distinctions between nudity and pornography. I am not that fond of genre porn because the sex is presented in a language that doesn’t draw from my reality, or even an abstraction of it that moves me, aside from the brilliant “art” films of the Brothers Gage, where you see guys playing with stereotypes and really enjoying what they’re doing.

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