Category Archives: 99 Problems but a Bitch Aint One

1001 Movies: Naked Lunch

I wrote this for the 1001 Movies you Must See Club.

I think I was predisposed to like Naked Lunch more than most people. I love David Cronenberg, I’m fascinated by explicitly sexual experimental imagery, and I have an annoying habit of trying to counteract popular opinion. There are a lot of things that don’t work in the film, but when you approach it like a drug-induced dream state, there are some interesting uses of narrative at play.

The film stands at an awkward injunction between experimental/abstract filmmaking and conventional narrative. There is a loose plot structure that you follow pretty much linearly complete with mystery and suspense. But I don’t really see a point in following that structure. It’s pretty clear that Bill (Peter Weller) is hallucinating for the entire film, so it seems more helpful to look at the film as a random set of images. Each image interacts, not to form a complex symbol, but to distort any potential of symbolism.

Some themes stand out. Like how Bill is unable to express his sexuality in this 1950s setting until he’s ridiculously high. Even then, his sexuality continues to assault him, violently and always with disgust. (His typewriters talk with asshole-like mouths, a phallus protrudes from the machine and intrudes on Bill’s heterosexual attempts, homosexual sex is transformed into two bugs destroying each other, dungeon alien blow jobs, etc. etc.) Writing feels compulsory. Bill is obligated to “make reports” on his hallucinatory life. He’s not trying to invent a narrative…he doesn’t seem capable of writing fiction. And his more steady friends, Ginsberg and Kerouac, understand his compulsion more than anyone.

I think people assume that Cronenberg’s adaptation of William S. Burroughs’ novel is accidentally silly. That it’s alluding to meaning that a viewer can’t figure out because of bad filmmaking. I disagree. I don’t think there is any concrete meaning to uncover. I think it’s supposed to be silly. It’s obviously a parody of fifties detective movies – jazz music in the background, exaggerated costume design – and while Naked Lunch isn’t a comedy, it’s not meant to be taken so seriously. It’s a series of moods that continually make fun of the source material and the main character/author.

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99 Problems: Vol. 3

I watched Fall from Grace (K. Ryan Jones, 2007) this afternoon. While it’s a decent documentary, covers the facts fairly, and views pretty throughly, I’m interested in the intent behind such a film.

The film is about the Rev. Fred Phelps, head of the Westboro Baptist Church. He and his family are infamous for their protests against homosexuality and the military around the country. Most notoriously, there those charming fuckers at military funerals that say the reason soldiers are being blown up in Iraq is because “God Hates Fags” and “America Loves Fags.” You’ve seen them. They’re the ones with neon and rainbow colored signs wearing short, jean shorts…or, well, the neon rainbow sign carriers with the short, jean shorts spreading hate messages.

A huge point of the film is that the publicity the Phelps family receives from media around the globe is only helping their cause. Every time Rev. Phelps sees himself on the news or reads about himself in the papers, he figures that his message is traveling further and reaching more people. Every time someone approaches their group to argue with them, they figure that their message must be important enough to get attention.

So someone made a documentary about them.

It’s a rocky slope. On the one hand, you want people to be aware of the issues involved in hate groups and first amendment rights. You want to teach those of us not living in The Middle about what fundamental groups are capable of. On the other hand, you don’t want to encourage the members of these groups further by spreading their publicity.

If we support the first amendment and their right to protest, then there isn’t anything legally we can do about them. In fact, the ACLU defended them, and as supports of gay rights we better support the ACLU, right? So perhaps the best defense against Rev. Phelps and his family is by making them irrelevant. Obsolete. Legally, we fight for gay rights and for the acceptance of gay rights. And in the mean time we ignore them. It’s important to start conversations about such a group. It’s just tricky to do so without making them feel happier and more justified.

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99 Problems but a Bitch Aint One: Vol. 2

In doing research for this little series I’ve come across a lot of lists of LGBT films. And close to the top of every list is Brokeback Mountain, or what we here at Dear Jesus call “The Gay Cowboy Movie.” I like Brokeback Mountain. It’s visually beautiful, it’s a beautiful story, starring beautiful people. And it came at a time when people seemed to be ready for it and in a form people would accept. The film is an epic love story, told in traditional Hollywood (heterosexual) ways, and that made it palatable to ambivalent audiences.

But I was more impressed with Ang Lee’s latest effort: Taking Woodstock.

As a film, Brokeback Mountain is miles ahead of Taking Woodstock, which seems clumsy by comparison. But Taking Woodstock presents homosexuality in a much more subtle and, ultimately, effective way. Because did you even know that Taking Woodstock had gay characters? That’s the point.

Just like heterosexuality comes to us who play for that team as pretty much a given, Elliot (Demetri Martin) shows slight confusion but acceptance when he expresses his sexuality for the first time. Likewise, his dad sees him kissing on some dude and is a little disappointed but, like many parents of LGBT kids, he isn’t that surprised. And then it isn’t an issue anymore. The film doesn’t dwell on his sexuality as the biggest conflict of the film, but moves on and lets another plot develop. Being gay is just an aspect of Eliot’s character, among many others.

Liev Schreiber as Vilma is also a pretty amazing representation. He plays a transgendered man not-quite-passing as a woman bodyguard. Once again, her appearance and sexuality is called into question for just a moment, and then melts into the background as just another part of her personality. Other elements like her compassion and bad assness is much more central to the plot than the fact that she’s wearing a dress.

Taking Woodstock is kind of rough. Parts of it are so poorly put together that it’s hard to sit through. But I recommend seeing it just to see what can be done in a film when homosexuality is not the central theme.

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8: The Mormon Proposition

Blog Post Also Known As: 99 Problems but a Bitch Aint One – Volume 1

8: The Mormon Proposition
Directed: Reed Cowan and Steven Greenstreet
USA, 80 min.

As far as I’m concerned, 8: The Mormon Proposition has its heart in the right place. But, I’m coming from a very biased position. 8 attacks the church in ways that will be construed as manipulative and underhanded and, therefore, will end up preaching to the choir. Then again, Mormons are up to the same techniques in their political corner, so maybe you have to fight fire with fire.

To start, I need to come right out and say that I was raised Mormon, but haven’t attended church regularly since 2002. It has been a long 7 years, full of drama and tears, and I could relate to the ex-Mormons in the film more than I can express in writing. A lot has changed in the church since I was a member, but these particular issues were raging 7 years ago, too. I’m familiar with the hurt and fury behind the issues of gay rights as they concern the LDS church. I could never write an objective review.

That said, I could still recognize the factually…um….iffy…moments in the film that will decrease its validity to those in the know. As far as I know, for example, Mormons don’t believe God had multiple wives. And it is not established doctrine that there will be polygamy in heaven. That said, it’s not gospel principles that are really the subject of the documentary (though the filmmakers certainly use their interpretations of these principles as forms of manipulation). And the information they give surrounding Proposition 8, as far as I’m aware, is accurate.

With a subject as dividing as this one, presentation is key, and 8: The Mormon Proposition does not seem to concern itself with any attempt at conversion. The first image of the film is a creepy, distorted video of prominent Mormon leaders discussing what they see to be an important moral issue at stake in 2008′s election. The video streamed via the internet through a perfectly clear webcam, so the distortion is on the part of Cowan and Greenstreet, who use such a removed, foreign image to automatically position viewers politically. 8 continues to utilize sound distortions and eerie music to manipulate viewers into thinking that the LDS church is more than just an extremely conservative group: it’s a criminal organization, akin to the mafia.

What’s frustrating, is that the film is convincing enough without all the transparent manipulations. The facts stand up on their own! The Mormon church was the leading organization behind the “Yes on Prop 8″ campaigns. They contributed the most amount of money. This led to many LGBT supporters to finally leave the church. Chris Butters is an asshole. Many LGBT kids in Mormon families suffer tremendously. The interviews with the families affected by this issue should be enough without all the conspiracy theories, and would provide a much more compelling/convincing approach to a delicate issue.

8: The Mormon Proposition will be affective on both sides. On my side of the fence the film produces righteous injustice; and on the other side it produces….righteous injustice. While this kind of ranting and raving can be very therapeutic, I doubt that this is the documentary that will promote policy change.

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