Film

Divine, Elizabeth Bishop, and Actual Spooge

The 18th Annual Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival

Divine, Elizabeth Bishop, and Actual Spooge

I AM DIVINE How one fearless performer attacked the world, ate dog poop, and became a star.

It's 2013. Same-sex couples can get married in Washington State. Jennifer Lopez is executive producer of a show about a pair of lesbians raising a big mixed family that airs on ABC Family. Films on LGBTQ issues can be seen all over, from SIFF to Netflix. In this age of ever-growing mainstream acceptance, how can LGBTQ-specific film festivals remain relevant? Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival's answer: Stock your queer-identified film festival with a ton of great films that people would be happy to see at SIFF or in general release, with a spotlight on the queer pioneers who fought for their lives long before anyone in the larger culture was on their side. For a full rundown on the films and performances featured in SLGFF 2013, visit threedollarbillcinema.org. For reviews of a select few, keep reading.

I Am Divine

dir. Jeffrey Schwarz

One of the many revelatory elements of I Am Divine—the new documentary about the legendary drag-queen performance artist and the opening-night film of SLGFF 2013—is the careful parsing of credit in Divine's creation. Makeup artist Van Smith is the one who shaved back Divine's hairline, creating a vast expanse for explosively dramatic eyebrow situations. Filmmaker John Waters is the one who urged his friend Glenn Milstead to channel his anger—over daily beatings in high school, over being a fat queer kid rotting in Baltimore—into the character of Divine. But beyond this, it was all Divine creating Divine, a fearless gender warrior who means as much to the history of punk as the history of drag, and one of America's great movie stars.

Directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, whose documentary Vito was one of the highlights of the 2011 fest, I Am Divine covers all its biopic bases well. Kicking off with the premiere of Hairspray—Divine and John Waters's 1988 mainstream breakthrough—the film tracks back to Milstead's privileged but lonely childhood in Baltimore, carries us through the birth and reign of Divine, and gathers voluminous evidence of Divine's star power to make his premature death land as it should. ("I still can't believe he's dead," says Waters, with love and light bafflement.) Beyond the basics, Schwarz shines plenty of light into less-investigated corners of the story: Divine's love life (robust!), pot habit (robust!), and career beyond the John Waters universe (from off-Broadway plays to international disco hits). Bookending the film are stories from Divine's high-drama family saga, which I won't spoil for you here, but which will muss much mascara among audiences. (Bring a tissue.)

But the most powerful moments of I Am Divine are the most powerful moments of Divine on film, racing on the insane chemistry she enjoyed with John Waters. In his early works—Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble—Divine attacked the world like no one before, coming on like a one-man Never Mind the Bollocks a half-decade before the invention of the Sex Pistols. Go, cheer, cry, gape in awe.

Stranger by the Lake

dir. Alain Guiraudie

Winner of the best director award at Cannes 2013, Alain Guiraudie's Stranger by the Lake is a slow, lovely, exceedingly sexy movie (nude men abound, an erect wang ejaculates) with a brilliantly black heart. The story: At a lakeside cruising spot, Franck, a cute twentysomething gay man, makes two new connections. One is a schlumpy older guy who never swims, never cruises, just sits and waits for his friendly daily chat with Franck. The other is a sexy cruiser with a Magnum P.I. mustache and a passion for compartmentalized sex (he'll fuck Franck in the lakeside's tall grasses, but forget about dinner, sleepovers, etc.). Before long, a body is found in the lake, an investigator starts snooping around, and Stranger by the Lake turns into something deep and terrifying, dealing both literally and conceptually with notions of sex, risk, danger, and the moral apathy of the horny.

Reaching for the Moon

dir. Bruno Barreto

Elizabeth Bishop is the American poet who won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature (the only American of any gender to do so) before her death in 1979. Bruno Barreto's Reaching for the Moon covers but a fraction of Bishop's life—focusing on her glorious, ruinous love affair with the Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares—but from this extended episode, Barreto extracts a complicated portrait of the artist as a high-functioning alcoholic lesbian blessed with otherworldly talent. Miranda Otto is excellent as the fragile, passive-aggressively ferocious Bishop, and Brazilian TV star Gloria Pires nails her role as the powerful Don Juanita left powerless by what she loves and cannot keep.

R/Evolve

dir. Billie Rain and Basil Shadid

Billie Rain and Basil Shadid are the creative team behind Heart Breaks Open, the small, scrappy, emotionally powerful film about a young man's HIV seroconversion (and the complicated queer community in which he must process it) that proved to be one of the most interesting films screened at the 2011 SLGFF. Two years later, here's R/Evolve, which again finds Rain and Shadid mining visual poetry and emotional truth from Seattle's young queer community. Unfortunately, this small world of truth and poetry is submerged in a larger film that aims to tackle big, important ideas with paper-thin characters and cartoonish stereotypes. The gist: A burgeoning queer activist collides with the world of corporate influence, "Pink Money," and assimilationist politics via the drive for marriage equality in Washington State. This premise could power a very good movie—maybe a dozen very good movies—but R/Evolve refuses to be one of them. After the depth of humanity in Heart Breaks Open (and in Raccoon's scenes in R/Evolve), it's a shock to encounter the witless machinations of R/Evolve's plot, which is fleshed out with cartoon caricatures on the level of Snidely Whiplash. ("You must pay the gay-assimilationist rent!") When Shadid and Rain are willing to bestow a similar humanity on both heroes and villains, they'll have something to say.

Find info on every last film and performance event happening at the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival—including Jinkx Monsoon and Peaches Christ's live extravaganza Return to Grey Gardens, Ian Bell's Reading Rainbow (featuring a staged reading of John Waters's unproduced Pink Flamingos sequel Flamingos Forever), a live version of Clyde Petersen's interview series Boating with Clyde, the Scream Club documentary And You Belong, and Valencia, the experimental film version of Michelle Tea's beloved autobiography—at threedollarbillcinema.org. recommended

 

Comments (1) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
1 Comment Pulled (Threatening) Comment Policy

Add a comment