Had gay German director/writer/actor Rainer Werner Fassbinder not died of heart failure in 1982, he would have been 70 this year. Although this year’s Frameline program doesn’t offer a new Fassbinder work, there is a film which contains previously unseen interview footage of Fassbinder in his prime.
The footage in question appears in Christian Braad Thomsen’s documentary “Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands.” The documentarian befriended the late director after his “Love Is Colder Than Death” screening was greeted with boos from attendees at a festival premiere.
Thomsen’s friendship with Fassbinder doesn’t mean “Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands” smacks of glorified hagiography. His documentary considers the late filmmaker’s history through several psychological themes that ran through his life, such as a continual yearning for a family unit. Less than flattering reminiscences regarding Fassbinder comes from such associates as actress Irm Hermann and actor/assistant director Harry Baer. These incidents include Fassbinder’s wanting to have a baby with Hermann as well as the director’s blowing the profits from his enormously successful films on his lover du jour.
However, Thomsen includes clips from such Fassbinder classics as “The Merchant of Four Seasons,” and “Ali: Fear Eats The Soul” to remind viewers of Fassbinder’s filmmaking gifts. The late filmmaker’s admiration for director Douglas Sirk eventually leads to an amusing story about Fassbinder bringing Sirk home for dinner with Fassbinder’s mother.
The don’t miss “Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands” ends up being both a heartfelt introduction to Fassbinder’s films and a powerful reminder to old Fassbinder fans of the man whose career burned brightly if briefly.
Mario Fanfani’s French drama “Summer Nights” would have worked better had it gone for being a balls-to-the-wall musical. The energy seen in the film’s musical numbers have an energy that the film’s drama seriously lacks. “Summer Nights” may mix transvestites with Algerian War fever in 1959 Alsace. But the end result feels like a drag.
Michel, the notary who likes dressing up as the bourgeois Mylene, thinks he needs to be either perfectly respectable or live out as a woman in his country villa. Yet aside from a reference to having been with Flavia aka the tailor Jean-Marie for fifteen years, the viewer never gets a sense of what made them become a couple aside from mutual interest and isolation. Nor does Michel’s desire for normality feel like anything other than ambition mixed with cowardice. The casual racism and jingoism of Michel’s peers certainly doesn’t make this social path compelling.
Fanfani likes ribbing the ignorance of the “normal” French with such moments as the cops referring to the drag queens as “inverts.” Yet the film’s sympathy for Flavia and the drag performers doesn’t extend to accepting them as they are. The camera fearfully avoids ruining the illusion of sexiness in a blonde drag queen by never showing the performer’s face. The home filming of the drag queens at play feels more like potential blackmail material than a record for the future. In fact, the Brecht and Weill song which ends the film seems to treat such hopes for eventual acceptance as an illusion.
Add the wasting of Jeanne Balibar’s talents in the role of Michel’s wife, and “Summer Nights” winds up being both stuffy and airless.
Viewing Mikki del Monico’s comedy “Alto” feels like watching someone attempting to simultaneously balance several spinning plates on sticks. The film’s plotlines include cultural authenticity, career advancement, family secrets, Mafia politics, and a love triangle. The resulting film feels more like an exercise in excess narrative hand-waving than skillful story-telling.
Only the romance between struggling Italian-American singer/songwriter Frankie (“American Idol” runner-up Diane Di Garmo) and Mafia princess Nicolette possesses anything that could be described as dramatic heat. Del Monico prevents Frankie and Nicolette’s make-out sessions from pandering to the male gaze. Di Garmo’s performance pushes her character a mark or two above “gay for pay” levels. Otherwise, a viewer can find better Frameline offerings elsewhere.
“After Love,” a debut film from German director Marc Jago, includes several visually moody sequences to match its depiction of life on the bohemian margins. The most memorable of these is the nightclub sequence, where the pounding music and the looks characters give each other make dialogue unnecessary.
Were visuals enough to judge a film, then Jago’s effort would be worth a look. But the film’s visuals are married to a story about a fashion photographer who lusts after a rent boy who lusts after a transgender model who wants revenge on the photographer. The acting in that love triangle of the damned story makes “After Love” feel far longer than its relatively short running time. The photographer acts as if displaying feelings of lust was an alien experience. The rent boy mistakes a continual pout for sexual allure. The model’s desire for revenge feels hollow.
“After Love” is noir for those who believe in the coexistence of doomed passion and apathy.
Stephen Winter’s “Jason And Shirley” offers a satirical speculation on what happened during the 12-hour filming session that resulted in Shirley Clarke’s controversial documentary “Portrait of Jason.” The events suggested by Winter’s film include an interracial and creative power struggle as well as jazzy and hallucinogenic trips through gay black hustler Jason Holliday’s psyche. Strong performances from Jack Waters (Jason) and Sarah Schulman (Shirley) buttress an excellent avant-garde interrogation that ultimately indicts critical and film-making racism. A Frameline must-see.
(“Fassbinder– To Love Without Demands” screens at 4:00 PM on June 23, 2015. “Summer Nights” screens at 9:30 PM on June 24, 2015. Both screenings take place at the Castro Theatre (429 Castro, SF). “Alto” screens at 9:30 PM on June 23, 2015. “After Love” screens at 9:30 PM on June 24, 2015. Both screenings take place at the Roxie Theater (3117—16th Street, SF). “Jason And Shirley” screens at 9:30 PM on June 23, 2015 at the Victoria Theatre (2961—16th Street, SF). For further information and to order advance tickets, go to www.frameline.org .)Filed under: Arts & Entertainment