Two More Days

Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Film, Friends, Stavros, Travel | 2 Comments

I’ll be 48 for only two more days. Ron was 48 when we briefly went out nearly 30 years ago. Well, we didn’t really “go out,” we actually just boinked a few times, but man did I have a crush on that guy. His big gray mustache and eyebrows, his deep bellowing laugh, the craggy lines on his big face. I completely fetishized the late 40s for much of my baby gay days. I’m that age now, but somehow can’t make the leap to thinking of myself as his peer, or having my grays and wrinkles and ear hair fetishized.

My sister died less than 2 years ago. I still wake up crying, I still can’t wrap myself around the notion of Susie being so profoundly gone. I read about Syrians and Palestinians losing several generations of family members in one brutal moment, and wonder how in the heck they do it. And I have a home and hot water.

Life used to be this thing that was forever in the future, so many things to do, so much time to get it all done, later, always the possibility of later. Now it seems that later is now, and the only inevitability is more ear hair, more gray, a body that gets progressively less cooperative… On the bright side, I’m totally on the road to becoming the man I love, or at least looking like him. As soon as my back hair grows in I won’t need anybody. I used to think of old people as a sort of other species, that they were cranky because they were of a different sort of genetic material. Now I find myself complaining about Republicans and dirty sidewalks and noisy kids and the changing demographics of my neighborhood. I listen to the Carpenters with no irony.

And then Davide came to visit, fresh from his breakup, and dated up a storm while he was here, no not a storm, some sort of southeast Asian typhoon-like squall, and with all these guys with beards down to their bellies and bellies sitting on their laps.

And then Stavros and Giorgos came to visit. I seemed to be sick the entire time they were here, but with me hacking and wheezing we went to Lake Tahoe with Big Chris and the dogs, took the ferry to see Ai WeiWei’s show on Alcatraz (a few visually dazzling sculptural statements, but generally Public Art for people who like confirmation that what they think they’re experiencing they are indeed experiencing: lots of stuff to read, politically correct, softcore, nothing particularly memorable or challenging), we visited Julia Morgan’s Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, met with my movie group, had a reception for my show at Mercury 20 and the same three guys who eat everything at all of our openings came and ate all of our deviled eggs and pickled veggies, attended a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving dinner in honor of Big Chris’ little sister’s birthday, celebrated my grand-nephew’s first birthday, attended an authentic suburban party in honor of my friend Thomas’ 50th birthday, with taco truck!, spent a day driving up and around the Sonoma Coast, saw a million movies together including Cloudburst, known as the best geriatric lesbian road movie every made, but it’s really the only geriatric lesbian road movie ever made and it put seven of us to sleep, plus two dogs… and then they were off, back to Athens, the visit over way too fast. Now I miss my little Stavros again, the dogs my only furry companions, pushing me into an increasingly tinier corner of the bed as they flash their fuzzy tummies at me to rub.

I hope you all saw Dean Smith’s show at Paule Anglim’s. It was great, paintings from before his current obsessive compulsive squiggly line and check phase. I was mesmerized by the simultaneous flatness and depth, some like windows onto some unreachable but lush and possibly fleshy scene. Those surfaces are something else, so much happening, with lines, strokes and waves going this way and that… and Dean’s hand nowhere but obviously everywhere. So satisfying to see paintings that have so much physicality and visual allure, that change so radically with proximity.

And now my sister Carol is visiting. We’re up at my other sister June’s for the day, in Santa Rosa, the first of my birthday celebrations. Last night Carol and I watched a wonderful Italian film, Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso about a studious shy recluse, Roberto, swept away by a gregarious stranger, Bruno. Virtually the only person in town while the rest of Rome is off to the country celebrating Ferragosto, Roberto lets Bruno use his phone, and then reluctantly agrees to take a short break from his studies to share a quick drink with the dynamic Bruno, who is eager to show his gratitude for the use of Roberto’s phone. Once in the car, numerous delightful diversions ensue, with Roberto gradually relaxing and letting himself enjoy the various unexpected and wild whims of Bruno. After 2 days on the road together, Roberto, excitedly egging on Bruno to pass cars, laughing wildly, declares the past 2 days to be the best of his life. The car swerves off the road, Bruno is thrown safely to the shoulder, but Roberto, our shy recluse, trapped in the car, is crushed to smithereens as the car tumbles down the cliff.

It can all end any minute now, so stop resisting and enjoy the ride.

What I Did This Summer by SanFranChrisKo

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 | Art, Film, Food, Friends, Travel | 1 Comment

I’m up at my buddy David’s, enjoying a quiet weekend at his place in Point Reyes, overlooking the placid Tomales Bay, like sitting in a Monet painting, finally able to do some catching up.

For the past few months I’ve been preparing a show of my work, my first solo exhibition in 7 years. I’m showing now with an artists collective in Oakland, the Mercury Twenty Gallery. The thought of being with another commercial gallery—well, actually their collective sort of decision to not work with me, lol—pushed me into seeking an alternative venue to show my work in, one not constrained by profit or homogeneity, but defined by community and the support of ideas and creativity. The members of the collective are responsible for all aspects of running the gallery and presenting exhibitions. I have a backlog of projects, rejected over the past few years by the likes of Mark, Pat, Paule, Brian, and Bernie, that I’ll now have the opportunity of moving from my basement into the light of the white cube, that you all can finally see!, beginning with my recent projects Bouquet and A Dozen Little Roses that opens this Thursday.

So David. He and I dated briefly 20 or so years ago. He’s kind of exactly the guy that I should have settled down with, but I was distracted by the chubby men. Years go by without seeing each other, but whatever attracted us to each other in the first place keeps bringing us back together. He’s working on his memoirs in the garden, while I wait for the blur of my summer activities to coalesce into some internet appropriate narrative.

Big Chris’ big family visited. We took them to see the sea lions at Pier 39, via the touristy Hyde Street Pier and Pier 39, but they were all off mating somewhere. San Franciscans never visit this part of the city. And really, they shouldn’t. Seeing the remains of what was once a working port was sort of thrilling but also instilled a sad sense of loss in my otherwise chirpy proto-tourist demeanor. I love the crazy gospel people, though, the ones with the “He died for you” signs and portable amplification systems, next to the break dancers and old Chinese erhu players. Their sincerity and intensity and vaudevillian showmanship make for great family entertainment, like the 8-year old reverend Jimmy Joe Jeeter on Mary Hartman Mary Hartman. And I love hearing those Bible words, like “smite” and “asunder.”

My mom flew to Chicago to spend some time with her sister, so I flew to Birmingham to dadsit. The downtown is really hopping, with a new arts district and lots of really great restaurants. Rather than replacing southern cuisine with healthy west coast or skimpy nouvelle stuff, they’re integrating other styles and flavors while emphasizing local ingredients and updating classic southern dishes. And you always get a square meal.

Same thing is happening in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Chrissy and I flew out for Labor Day weekend to pick up d’Auggie’s little brother, Zoobie, the latest addition to our ever expanding alternative family. Zoobie is great, the brother of the Best Dog Ever, soon to be the Other Best Dog Ever. He’s soft and cuddly and does all the same bad things that his brother did when he was a small puppy, down to chewing on the same plant in my garden and peeing on the same spot in my kitchen. So Sioux Falls has this little foodie renaissance happening downtown. We ate at Parker’s Bistro. My favorite dish was a soup, a warm silky sweet potato soup with a puree of chilly avocado and cream swirled into it, stimulating the taste buds with contrasting flavor and temperature sensations. We had an amazing meal, at about 1/4 the price we would have paid in San Francisco. And a parking place right out in front! I’m thinking of becoming a part-time mid-westerner.

Chrissy and I flew to New York for a few days. Just to remind people: we are not boyfriends. Despite his looking like the kind of guy that I would marry, despite having dated him on and off for the past 15 years, and despite us doing everything together, we are not boyfriends. My boyfriend lives in Greece and is named Stavros and you can read about him in my past entries, and when he arrives next month for his periodic conjugal visit. So anyway, New York. The occasion of our visit was to see Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert in Genet’s The Maids, two of our greatest actresses in a deliriously demented play. And Jeff Koons’ show was great! Shut up! People who don’t like his work probably don’t like puppies either.

What else did I do this summer? I sadly missed all chances to have anything other than my extremities exposed to the sun, and thus developed a pronounced farmer tan. High school buddies Jason and Weestro came to visit, and Archie and Vicki, and Lilly from New York. Lilly was being celebrated for her films at the Jewish something or other Center in Berkeley, and I went one night to see her amazing film about good-intentioned heroic Palestinian and Israeli women peacemakers who end up at each others’ throats by the end of the film. I introduced my buddy to her afterwards and he said something along the lines of “Well, I can’t imagine giving Manhattan back to the indians” which amazingly and almost surreally missed the entire point of not only Lilly’s film but the entire Palestinian peoples’ ongoing struggle to free their land from its occupiers. Lilly’s talk after the film was interesting more for the sparring that took place in the audience. This was a mostly over-70 crowd, mind you, and most seemed well acquainted with each other and with each other’s long developed and unchanging perspectives, and ready to pounce. When one calm and articulate rival of hers seemed to be getting too much positive attention, Lilly leaned into her mike and chastised her with “Hey, this evening is about ME, not about you.” I started a new photo project with spider webs, Bob’s and my book project got shelved by our publisher, Aimée made raspberry-topped chocolate cupcakes for Luna’s birthday that were the best treats of summer—actually the best sweet treats, the best savory were the forbidden victuals at Traif in Brooklyn. I saw hardly any art. I’m like a lapsed Catholic kind of artist. Well, actually, I should say that I saw hardly any art that I can remember. Except for Christopher Williams’ The Production Line of Happiness at MoMA, which so completely and with energetic theoretical rigor encompassed the entire art making visual technical consumerist experience. I saw a million movies, but really liked Blue Ruin, The Test, Pietà, Night Moves, Martin Gable’s only (directed) film The Lost Moment, Stranger by the Lake, 7 Boxes, Enemy, Romance and Cigarettes and Under the Skin.

Okay, back to the city…

Dinner and a Movie. And a Show.

Saturday, April 26th, 2014 | Family, Film, Food, Friends | No Comments

Bob had me over to watch Babette’s Feast. He made beer bread soup, taking inspiration from a culinary corner of the film that isn’t the one that usually inspires such activity. He took some liberties with the recipe in the film (beer, water and bread), including the addition of pureed fresh peas, which provided some much needed vegetable matter as well as a not entirely pleasant green tint that brought to mind scenes from The Exorcist more so than Babette’s Feast. I brought over some plundered Pliny the Elder beer from a visit last week to the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. The beers there are lip-smackingly delicious, covering the entire breadth of tastebud sensation, from sweet caramel to sour cherry. After dinner and the movie, we went to Oddball Cinema on Capp to check out the evening’s show of vintage erotic films. One film from 1970 was a filmic equivalent of the sexual experience—lots of blurry red body parts, hair, and panting—and came the closest to creating a sensual and erotic atmosphere. But generally, the films were the stuff of stag parties in the 1950s and 60s, mostly titillation, except for a disturbing screwball comedy porn flick from the silent era starring a trio of scantily clad beach beauties, a horny little dude, and a goat. Another prescient silent film depicted the developing medium of television as a potential means of bringing topless women into the homes of frustrated adolescents.

David and I went to see Morgan James at the Venetian Room. She’s a young singer with a powerful voice who idolizes Nina Simone, one of the great song-stylists of the 20th Century, and while singing her tunes, channels instead that high-pitched Broadway belting style that is about as far as one can get from Nina Simone. She did deliver a few amazingly forceful interpretations of jazz standards that went slightly beyond her Jazzy Little Mermaid voice into the realm of soulful interpretation. I really should have taken notes, because I can’t for the life of me recall the particular songs, but if you like that kind of powerful high decibel singing free of burdensome emotional content, she’s the singer for you!

Pesca-vegie-occasional-bacon-itarian Homobots

Friday, March 21st, 2014 | Film, Friends, Gay | No Comments

Last night Dean & Mike came over for dinner. I inadvertently made exactly the same thing that I made for them when I had them over last time. In my baby-gay days, my older buddy William would have me over for lunch and always make the same thing for me, a sort of flavorless broccoli pasta and a green salad. Always. And he’d always ask excitedly how I liked the pasta, as if it were the first time for me to experience it, and I’d always find something positive to say, like “the broccoli was cooked perfectly!” I got a kick out of it, each time wondering if there would be some kind of variation. I attributed it to the onset of senility, normal for people over 45, I thought. And now I am William. The thing is, these guys are vegetarians, well, sophisticated pesca-occasional-bacon-itarians, and I’ve run through all my veggie standards, so maybe I’m seized by a lack of culinary exploration and not some nascent middle-aged senility… not quite William. I hope.

I wonder if I’ve already written a post about this?

We watched Funeral Parade of Roses, Toshio Matsumoto’s wild inversion of the Oedipus myth, set in the gay subculture of late-60s Tokyo. The fractured narrative and visceral imagery and occasional shots of the filmmaking process and interviews with the actors were simply electrifying. Nothing else is like it, well, I should say that nothing else that’s like it is terribly watchable, and certainly nothing as engaging from or about the gay community lately. Except maybe the lesbotic but more mainstream Blue is the Warmest Color, which so profoundly and intimately captured erotic awakening, and Concussion, examining the other end of the erotic timeline. The thing I love most about those two recent films is that homosexuality is incidental–no coming out stories, no suicides or conflicts over their sexuality, no tidied-up sexless made-for-primetime-viewing homobots, just real people struggling with real issues who happen to be gay. The queens in Funeral Parade of Roses put on the masks of another gender in order to simulate acceptability, and despite the artifice and posturing, seemed so sadly real, like killing one’s mother and sleeping with one’s father were not only plausible, but inevitable.

Earlier in the day a new buddy from the east came over for tea, let’s call him Bill Cosby. I had met him only earlier that morning online, and because we hit it off so swimmingly and he was leaving town the next day and I had but a teeny window of availability, I abandoned my cardinal rule of meeting in a public place where I could easily escape from, and asked Mr. Cosby up to the CocoPlex for a spot o’ tea and conversation. What a story he told me! He’s married, and to a woman(!), and has all these kids, and only came out of the closet a few months ago and is staying with his wife as they transition to whatever is to come. I admired his honesty and openness, and could sense the relief and enthusiasm he must be feeling to finally express a side of himself that’s been dormant for so long. He even blurted out that he’s a Republican. We were sitting on my back deck at the time and I quickly glanced around to make sure there were no neighbors passing by who may have heard his pronouncement, briefly fearful that my leftist credentials would be tarnished by association. I didn’t directly tell him that I’m a Prius-driving ultra-liberal socialist, but I did chastise him for supporting a fascist regime whose backward fantasy-based environmental, social and fiscal policies are going to take decades to unravel if the public ever wakes from its brainwashed tea party stupor.

Anyway, he’s sort of exactly the kind of middle-aged guy that I always went after during my halcyon twinkie days (balding, furry face, dark eyebrows, hairy forearms, yadda yadda, you all know my type) and now he’s, like, my age! I felt an instant affinity, having experienced the same thing with Bob, realizing I was drawn towards something else but not wanting to end such a beautiful relationship and eventually deciding it just wasn’t fair to anybody. He’s at the beginning of this process, and like a bad therapist, I told him what was going to happen by telling him what happened to me. A delightful man, starting a new life in middle age. Lou Grant said, “You’ve got spunk,” and so does this guy, a lot of spunk. Lou also said “I hate spunk,” but I love it, and am eager to follow this developing story.

Broadway, Burglary, and Sergeants Bert & Ernie

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014 | Art, Film, Food, Friends, Travel | No Comments

Big Chrissy and I took a trip to New York City for Christmas.  We had our luggage stolen from our hotel room, but we saw some great shows, were photographed by Bill Cunningham buying bananas in Brooklyn, and got to ride in a cop car!

The night our luggage was stolen, we made our way to the local precinct to report the burglary.  It was just like in Barney Miller, a shabby interior filled with wise-cracking, heavily-New-York-accented helpful cops.  They drove us back to our hotel in a real NYPD cruiser, but somehow the back seat was pushed forward taking up all the legroom, so Chrissy sat side-saddle and I in a lotus position.  Looking through the rain-smeared windows at the blinking lights outside I thought of Taxi Driver and Bernard Hermann’s haunting score.  “This is totally worth being burgled,” I told the cops.

We spent several hours with them at the hotel, as we waited for the fingerprint guy.  I told them that we had already fouled the crime scene and that fingerprints weren’t necessary and that in San Francisco the police would have never taken the theft of our underwear and socks so seriously.  “Aren’t there other crimes in the neighborhood that you guys should be looking into?  Rapes?  Murders?”  Sergeants Bert & Ernie looked at us gravely, “We take every crime seriously.”  Chrissy and I just melted.  New York cops are indeed the finest.

We saw Isaac Julien’s ridiculous but sumptuous installation at MoMA, supposedly about some tragic drowning, but really about Maggie Cheung flying over gorgeous Chinese scenery, the subject matter seemingly of no real interest to the artist or anybody there.  The Margritte show was just a delight, completely amazing the dazzlingly mature and inventive body of work that he produced from the ages of 28-30.  Walking through Mike Kelly’s retrospective at PS1, the only thought that came to mind was that suicide was inevitable.  Ah, Wangechi Mutu’s show at the Brooklyn Museum was the show for me.  First of all, nobody goes there, to the Brooklyn Museum, so you can really spend time with the work with no one taking pictures over your shoulders.  She creates collages and sculptural pieces that are simultaneously lovely and disturbing, two qualities that I strive for but rarely achieve.  I’m totally going to steal from her this year, so watch out…

On Broadway we saw two Pinter plays, No Man’s Land with Ian McKellan and Captain Picard, and Beyrayal with Rafe Spall, Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz. Pinter can create scenes that have nothing to do with plot or story, just language, how we use it, what it does… Of course there usually is some kind of story, but the dialogue is about the essence of communication and words liberated from silly things like narrative. We also saw the awesome Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Goldblum in Domesticated, which takes as its thesis the basic inessential and catastrophe-prone nature of the male of the species. We saw a couple of other things, but I don’t think they were all that memorable, so let’s move on…

We met up with Emily for a traditional Ukranian Christmas Eve repast at Veselka’s in the East Village, followed by American Hustle. As we left the movie, and once again Jennifer Lawrence was dynamite, after having eaten all the same things and with Chrissy and I about to explode, Emily announced that she was going out for dinner. What a metabolism! And she’s like this super skinny chick. “I’ll have what she’s having.”

We spent Christmas lunch eating Swedish meatballs in the West Village and seeing Jia Jiang-Ke’s completely depressing A Little Sin on those stupid little IFC screens that they should really only charge $5 entry to see, then meeting my brother Paul and sister-in-law Debbie at their hotel near Grand Central. Chrissy and I didn’t want to leave their room–unlike ours, theirs had a window. And a view. Not that ours didn’t have a window, or a view, of sorts. Our window opened onto a narrow eternally dark alley that only a pigeon could squeeze into, our view the filthy building windows next door, mounded with pigeon poop dating back to the early days of Broadway. We enjoyed a really great French dinner in the West Village, laughing and stuffing ourselves silly. The next morning we met at the big tree in Rockefeller Center and toured the murals in the GE Building, imagining what Diego Rivera’s mural there would have looked like. It was ordered destroyed by Nelson Rockefeller after Rivera refused to replace Lenin’s portrait with that of an anonymous face. The subsequent murals, by Josep Maria Cert, form an almost homoerotic allegory depicting big beefy white guys constructing modern America in loin cloths–just like I’ve imagined it…

Really Huge Pretty Things

Thursday, March 21st, 2013 | Art, Film, Stavros | No Comments

Well how do you like that. I just spoke with Stavros, and I’m the villain! A manipulative raconteur! Evidently, I caused tears to flow from those beautiful Grecian eyes by making assumptions (in my previous post) that were quite far from accurate. He loves me! I think. Or am I making another assumption? Oh wait, here comes my Chorus of Therapists… “Oy, Coco, what did we tell you about this style of communication? It’s not only manipulative, it’s indirect, passive aggressive! He’s talking to you, loud and clear, through his actions, what’s this dreck about needing words? Words, words, words… Learn to understand his language! Enough already!” Stavros also took issue, humorously as always, with my presenting him in my blog as a sort of indecisive rapscallion and me as the wronged romantic dream lover. Ironically, this is exactly what annoyed me about Bob’s last book of short stories, the Bob character an amusing composite of both of our good qualities, and the Chris character representing all of our less desirable characteristics. I’d like to declare narrative immunity, but alas, I must protect my Stavros’ reputation and admit my contribution to his semi-frequent bouts of relationship anxiety.

And speaking of anxiety, I just saw Farewell, My Queen, an incredible film set in Versailles, in the few days after the storming of the Bastille in 1789. The film is about interior and exterior anxiety, featuring an implied lesbonic bond between la Reine and la duchesse de Polignac. The story is told through the eyes of the Queen’s reader, a young woman completely devoted to her mistress while the other servants and aristocrats gossip and eventually change into their grungy Citizen outfits and hit the road.

I’m photographing again. A new project, of flowers. Real ones this time, not ones made out of fuzzy blurry body parts. I’ll not say anything else, as I don’t know the what else just yet, just that the promise of new life is beckoning me, and I’m having such fun shooting again and hanging out with the bees in my plum tree. These will be large prints, 30″ x 40,” and all very close up—from the bees’ perspective. It seems like most everything there is to say about flowers has been said already, so I’m not thinking about breaking new conceptual ground, just in making really huge pretty things.

Naked Guys, Rosselini, White Teeth and Greek

Thursday, October 18th, 2012 | Film, Gay | 2 Comments

The Board of Supervisors here has passed legislation making it now illegal to be naked in San Francisco. Except behind closed doors, or during the seasonal bacchanalias and street fairs. The mayor has a week or so, I think, to sign or veto it, so you can still be naked for a few more days without getting in trouble. For some time now, all the guys in my neighborhood with shaved pubes, after discovering that nudity by itself was not illegal, decided to hang out in the Castro Commons in their tenny-runners and nothing else. Seeing them walking down the street naked as jaybirds with backpacks was one of the great joys of living in this neighborhood. I’m really saddened that it’s come to this, enforced tan lines. When I moved here in the early 80’s, I remember a kind of “anything goes” attitude, our diversity and uniqueness celebrated. Now it seems all about melding into a mainstream. Where have all the sissies gone?? Thank you Sylvester that there is at least a RuPaul on TV. I’ll miss the naked guys and their golden leathery shaved skin and little button peepees. And that one very talented naked plein-air painter.

I’m trying to get caught up on my film viewing. I tend to see very little in the theaters now, only those films with really loud explosions and Bruce Willis. On Fridays I read all the film reviews and then add the interesting ones to my Netflix queue. By the time the film is released on home video, I’m usually about 3-9 months behind the rest of my film-enthusiast friends, but I get to watch movies in my underwear with a glass of wine and on a 10 foot screen. My dream as a kid was to have such a screening room in my house, and the accessibility of home theater projection systems and blu-ray has made the experience possible, affordable, and negligibly different from the experience of seeing something at, say, the Opera Plaza. Here’s what I’ve seen over the last week:

Jesus Henry Christ, The Sisters, Love Crime, Norwegian Wood, Guest of Cindy Sherman, Frankenweenie (at the cineplex), Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Belle de Jour, Belle Toujours, Looper (Bruce Willis, so at the cineplex), Roma Città Aperta.

I’m still a little dazed from Rosselini’s neo-realist melodrama Roma, Città Aperta last night. First a pregnant Anna Magnani is shot dead while rushing to reach her fiancé as he’s being taken away by the Gestapo, and on the day that they are to be wed! And then, after our other hero is tortured to his death with torches and clamps and whips, the cute parish priest is tied to a chair and shot dead! Seeing Anna Magnani shot in the back was unsettling enough, but the chubby little priest… che roba brutale!

I had my teeth whitened. It lasted for a day, and then my diet of Trader Joe’s mini chocolate peanut butter cups and iced tea instantly re-yellowed them. The dentist was the only one in the office when I arrived mid-afternoon. And I was her only patient. Perhaps for the whole day? She told me cautiously that she was born “overseas,” and we hit it off instantly when I mumbled some Arabic that Nemr taught me. I was there for 3 hours. She talked the entire time, like she hadn’t talked to another person in weeks. She’d ask me a question and I’d gurgle a response. I had the feeling that she doesn’t have many patients. It really felt like the backdrop of a film, I mean the absence of employees, fellow dentists, hygienists, and patients, like if my Arab Dentist/Terrorista put me to sleep I’d wake up in a male brothel in Morocco. With white teeth, of course.

I’m starting to learn Greek. It’s all about rote memorization, as most words have nothing to do with anything I’ve heard before and seem completely disconnected from their meaning. At least now I can read stuff. At a five year-old level. I spent the better part of yesterday trying to pronounce the word for “the hotel.” It’s “το ξενοδοχείο,” pronounced like “to-xen-o-doh-cHEE-o.” It seems like way too many sounds for such a simple concept. The book that I’m using is really great, because they don’t have conjugation tables or declensions of articles, just dialogues, so you learn the language by absorption and repetition. I yearn for those days when I didn’t have to study, when my brain absorbed whatever it read. I remember once in 4th grade a student talking about studying for a test, and I was paralyzed that I didn’t know what that was or how to do it. I just seemed to grasp and remember everything. Already I’ve forgotten what that word was for hotel.

But I am Napoléon!

Monday, April 2nd, 2012 | Art, Film | No Comments

I spent my entire Sunday on my little butt in the glorious Paramount Theater in Oakland, watching the 6-1/2 hour Napoléon, by Abel Gance. Made in 1927, it’s a grand silent epic about Napoléon’s early years, from but a wee snowball-hurling laddy, to his triumphant campaign in Italy. The first two hours and the last hour were the most thrilling moments that I’ve ever spent in a theater. Gance employs hand-held camera shots, enormous close-ups, point-of-view shots, an underwater sequence, superimposition, split screen, double exposures, film tints, mosaic shots, lightning fast cutting… The middle three hours or so tested my theater knee, but with just enough moments of dazzling brilliance and ibuprofen to get me through. And Artaud plays Marat, his death staged after the David painting!

The first sequence opens with Napoléon as a child, a very serious child, playing in the snow with his school chums. They’re engaged in a very serious snow ball fight, Napoléon and his little friends outnumbered 10 to 40 by the rival hurlers. It’s one of the great battle scenes on film. The camera is constantly moving—you’re in the middle of the snowball battle!—kids frantically flailing about, snowballs and kids crashing into the camera, but the camera settling down only on Little Napoléon’s steadfast seriousness, his visage filling the frame. The cutting is frantic, rapid, at times images flooding past too quickly to grasp, just emotion-inducing impressions.

There’s one scene around the middle of the film, when Napoléon’s a little older. He’s on his home turf, Corsica, the French Revolution is going on, chaos. He’s in a tavern, and all of the various factions seeking control of Corsica are getting all activated, “Corsica belongs to the British! Death to Napoléon!” “Corsica belongs to Italy! Death to Napoléon!” and on and on. Napoléon stares them down, “Our fatherland is France! …with me!” The camera goes back and forth from Napoléon’s big face, illuminated gorgeously from behind by the setting sun, to the yelling factions, shielding their eyes, blinded and seduced by him.

There are so many many scenes like this, some calm, framed almost like tableaux, others visceral, the camera probing and roving. For the final hour-long sequence, presented in “Polyvision,” curtains on either side of the screen slide back, revealing two more screens, tripling the size of the viewing plane. He uses this space in probably as many ways as you could imagine, ways that were not utilized until Cinemascope in the 50s and only recently in artists’ video installations. There are scenes where the images on all three screens come together in a nearly seamless panorama, the foreground and background utilized dynamically, with horses and soldiers traversing diagonally across the screens. Other sequences are presented with a single image of Napoléon in the center, his advancing troops marching towards the camera on the adjacent screens. Sometimes the flanking images are flipped, sometimes there are three different sequences playing at once, one close up, the other a landscape, yet another an eagle, a zealous admirer. It builds and builds, the cutting getting faster and faster, until in the final few moments the left screen is tinted blue, the center white, the right, red, as in the French flag, with an explosion of such amazingly beautiful imagery that flies past, eventually settling on Napoléon’s face, so heroic and magnificent. The images flood past so quickly, the effect is like an enormous waving flag. I started crying, I was so overwhelmed by the emotional and visual weight. And this was supposed to have been the first of six films! Even I can’t imagine that much stimulation.


Monday, March 19th, 2012 | Film | No Comments

In Joseph Von Sternberg’s Dishonored, Marlene Dietrich plays a prostitute whose patriotism and sexual allure are so admired by the chief of the Austrian secret police that he asks her to put those qualities to work for her country. She shows up for her job interview in a frilly revealing dress and wrapped in a coat with a high feathered collar, a veil of black lace. After successfully uncovering the traitorous plans of her first conquest, and nabbing a second guy working for the Russian secret police, she’s sentenced to death(?!!) when the second guy—with whom she’s incidentally fallen in love, and from whom she’s sent in to procure some last minute espionage details before he’s put to death—escapes. She asks for her civilian clothes, the frilly dress and the coat with the high feathered collar, and is led to the firing squad. She smiles at the head of the firing squad, the guy who escorted her to her job interview about 45 minutes earlier, and he starts yelling, “I won’t! I won’t kill a woman! You call this patriotism, I call it murder!” As he’s dragged away, Marlene takes the opportunity, in a gorgeous blurry close-up, to reapply her lipstick and straighten her stocking. And then she’s shot! Shot dead! No lingering, she just drops to the snow, The End, lipstick perfect.

I love this movie!

Meat Rack and Manpower

Friday, February 17th, 2012 | Film, Gay, The Dating Game | No Comments

Tonight the Major and I saw a vintage soft-core porn film at YBCA, The Meat Rack, a sort of cinéma-vérité style homage to, believe it or not, Who Killed Teddy Bear, but minus an Elaine Stritch or Sal Mineo. I don’t even think the actors were listed in the credits. Aside from some great location shooting in San Francisco, it was exactly the kind of movie that I expected someone to make in 1968, and disappointing for precisely that. All of the gay characters are retched people: a chubby cross-dresser moaning about having to pay for sex; renegade drag queens shooting porn at knifepoint…

The depictions of that underbelly of society have always annoyed me, primarily because there’s no balance, so few positive portraits. And this was by the underbelly! I’m reading a book now, Full Service, by Scotty Bowers, about his experiences as a hustler in post-WWII Los Angeles. He has sex with, arranges for his friends to have sex with, or claims to have had sex with all the usual cast of Hollywood characters (and Walter Pidgeon, which was a surprise for me). I got read the Riot Act this morning from a friend who said he was sick of these kinds of tell-all books and invasions into private life, but I disagree. I love hearing about gay people enjoying their sex lives during a time that we associate with so much repression, finding ways to express themselves within the restrictive structure of the studio system and the public condemnation of homosexuality. I think it exposes the hypocrisy of the time and normalizes gay experience.

I watched Manpower last night, starring George Raft, Edward G. Robinson, Marlene Dietrich, Eve Arden, and Alan Hale, directed by Raoul Walsh. Yes, I bet you’re thinking the same thing I thought, What a cast!, but man, what a stinker. It was interesting to see a drama centered around the men of the electric company, (“Power and Light”) which I’d never seen before—maybe this is the only one of this particular genre—but Marlene Dietrich just can’t act and Walsh unfortunately is no Von Sternberg, he gave her actual things to say, and without fuzzy closeups and smoke billowing out of her half-opened mouth. All the guys were drunks, all the dames stoic and motherly. I guess that heterosexuals, too, occasionally suffered the indignity of unsavory representation.

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