Wednesday, March 26, 2008

So I'm a little behind here. I won't even try to remember which days I watched these movies, but it was some time in mid to late February.

A Taste of Honey, Tony Richardson, 1961

Here’s another one of those “kitchen sink” dramas I was talking about the other week, though this one differs slightly in that the focus is on an angry young woman. In this “Victorian melodrama” (as one of the characters refers to it), a teenage girl named Jo is impregnated by a black sailor she’s particularly smitten with. She befriends a gay man who looks after her—she’s pretty incompetent, it seems—after her sailor has left port and her mother has kicked her out so that she and her brand new husband can have the place to themselves. Jo argues constantly with her mother, who calls her a whore—her husband, might I add, is a loser with a glass eye who laughs like Beavis and makes comments like “look who’s got a bun in the oven!” I suppose the viewer should be sympathizing with Jo, but she’s just so obnoxious and shrill, to the point where I really can’t say I like her at all, even beneath her flaws.

While the film’s tone is fairly serious, the ill-fitting soundtrack seems like something repurposed from a wacky comedy of the same period. In unrelated trivia, I managed to catch a line of dialogue (“the dream is gone but the baby is real”) that was used in a Smiths song 20 years later, which is probably knowledge of which I shouldn’t be admitting possession.

Chicken Hawk, Adi Sideman, 1994

This documentary about NAMBLA (the North American Man Boy Love Association, for those unfamiliar) is most notable in its nonjudgmental, objective approach towards an extremely sensitive and taboo subject. This conveyed impartiality is most likely the reason why those interviewed were willing to discuss this controversial issue so openly on camera.

The film explores possible reasons as to why these men are partial to young boys. Many of them profess to have become sexually active as children, experimenting with their male peers, which is where this activity seems to originate. They remember how much fun these early experiences were, their sexual preferences never maturing past that point.

One man seems deluded about the motivations of young boys he comes across—he imagines that they’re flirting with him, that they appreciate that he supposedly understands them. But judging from interviews with the boys, that doesn’t seem to be the case, leading to some uncomfortable scenes in a convenience store parking lot.

Regardless, NAMBLA members assert that they’re not doing any harm (one of them proclaims, “I’m not a child molester, I’m a child lover!”). This statement remains debatable, though the film certainly falls into gray area, with no concrete conclusion achieved. Certainly, these men aren’t merely interested in sex; they become romantically attached, falling in love with little boys, as well as the memories of youth and playfulness and innocence they evoke.

East Side Story, Dana Ranga, 1997

As the film’s narrator states, “This is the odyssey of a filmmaker searching for music, fun and colors in the world of ambiguity and suspicion”—in other words, a documentary about the Iron Curtain musicals popularized in Communist countries in the mid-20th century. These movies mimicked the Hollywood musicals of the day, effecting bizarre scenes depicting comrades driving tractors, harvesting crops, and toiling away in factories, while cheerfully singing the joys of socialism to choreographed dance moves.

I say bizarre, yet I suppose there was nothing bizarre about them to the audiences who loved them. They provided a mode of escape from the grim reality people living in Communist countries faced every day—hope through hit musical numbers. Outsiders like myself, though, were often astounded by these strangely familiar yet utterly foreign films, while central committees condemned them as “the most flagrant offspring of the capitalist pleasure industry.” Stalin, however, was a fan, developing a taste for wacky musical comedies—quite a contrast from his historical legacy. As the film’s often witty narrator says, “Even Jean-Luc Godard once said that the history of film was the history of boys photographing girls. But Stalin had another fantasy: boys photographing tractors.”

Not to over-quote the film, but there’s another great line that sums up its clever, lively tone, both commemorative and analytical: “Who knows how things might have turned out if Socialism could have just been more fun?”

Performance, Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, 1970

Chas, a gangster on the run from the mob after fouling up a job, seeks refuge in a vacant room in the home of a reclusive rock star (played by Mick Jagger). His plan is to hide out there until he can get a passport and fly to New York, dyeing his hair with red paint and adopting the ludicrous story that, like Jagger, he’s also a performer: a professional juggler. But Chas is soon sucked into the hedonistic lifestyle of excess that this household observes, ingesting psychedelic mushrooms, and losing his sense of personal identity in the process.

For the most part I found the movie kind of unwatchable—it’s attempting to achieve something profound, but falls short. Or maybe it’s just really dated.

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