Reviews From Frameline 41

by on June 15, 2017

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The screening of Carolyn Sherer and Lara Embry’s moving documentary “Alabama Bound” will very likely be one of Frameline 41’s more interactive showings.  Audience members will cheer subject Cari’s efforts to be legally recognized as a mother.  Meanwhile, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s appearances onscreen will understandably provoke loud boos and worse.

These audience reactions are understandable.  The film shows that this incredibly conservative Southern state seems politically determined to reject the lessons of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and other Civil Rights struggles.  In Alabama, as one subject puts it, anything associated with the federal government (e.g. the Voting Rights Act) will garner instant opposition.

That political reality makes the struggles of the subjects of the film all the more poignant. In the Alabama state legislature, out lesbian Patricia Todd serves as the state governing body’s sole LGBT voice.  Kay and Cari wage a nearly decade-long fight to obtain legal recognition for Cari as a parent of Kay’s then-infant son.  Kinley and her wife Autumn fight repeated court delays and judicial hostility to regain custody of Kinley’s son after she learns the boy’s step-mother has been physically abusing him.

It’s one thing to remember the truism that fighting for social change is basically a “two steps forward, one step backwards” dance.  It’s another thing to see the small but noticeable human costs of waging that struggle.  The years of endless court delays prevent Kinley and Autumn from even planning a simple family vacation.  Kay’s son spends his childhood watching strange adults deny his parental relationship with Kay and Cari.

Seeing Judge Moore’s very visible Ten Commandments lapel pin makes ludicrous Christofascist attempts to clothe their homophobia in “protecting family values” dress.  A judge who intensely grills Kinley while treating a physically abusive straight step-mother with kid gloves isn’t protecting the best interests of Kinley’s son.  He’s more interested in using the law to preserve Christian privilege.

Certainly the subjects of the film could find more socially welcoming states elsewhere.  But their love for their home state means fighting to make it a welcoming place that will accept LGBTs.  As such small successes as changing neighbors’ mental images of gays and lesbians show, even a conservative backwater has the potential to change for the better.

***

Catherine Gund’s web docuseries “Dispatches From Cleveland” shows that no injustice is an island, a wrong to be suffered solely by the directly injured community.  Instead, its five chapters outline how seemingly disparate wrongs such as economic apartheid and trans rights can provide starting points for unifying different communities.

Providing a throughline for “Dispatches From Cleveland” is the tragic Tamir Rice shooting and the efforts of Rice’s surviving family to obtain justice.  It’s horrible realizing just how close the 12-year-old boy was to his front door when the two Cleveland cops abruptly shot him in less than a second.  Images of the Rice memorial being buried in snow poignantly symbolize the heinous efforts of Cleveland officials to bury public anger at the shooting’s occurrence.

By widening its scope beyond a 12-year-old boy’s tragic death, Gund’s webseries shows that Rice’s death was a symptom of a systemically unequal city.  Cleveland unfortunately deserves its reputation as America’s most distressed city.  Its state of economic apartheid means West Cleveland is prosperous while East Cleveland, where most of the city’s black residents live, is economically struggling.  Four to five years of home foreclosures have wiped out decades of painfully built black wealth.

“Dispatches From Cleveland” may offer a clear-eyed presentation of realities in Cleveland’s poorer half.  But it doesn’t wallow in factual miserabilism.  Residents such as Khnemu Community Center organizer Fred Ward struggle to build community in this economically devastated area.  Ward himself turned to crime as a survival tool.  Fortunately, an act of compassion by then-police officer Marvin Cross led to a 10-year prison stay that eventually provided Ward with an opportunity to find a more constructive direction in life.

Connecting trans rights to Rice’s killing is not that great a stretch.  The murder of transwoman  Cemia “Cece” Dove was treated with the same public disrespect that befell Rice.  Yet a discussion among different stakeholders shows accepting connecting trans rights to police killings of blacks is still a big ask.

Gund’s Frameline Completion Fund Recipient may not offer uplifting catharsis.  But her docuseries offers an honesty that its marginalized subjects have been denied in other media.

***

Ernesto Contreras’ “I Dream In Another Language” may possess a title promising mystery and magic.  Yet the onscreen results feel as flaccid as the penis of an internally homophobic character.

That statement doesn’t really spoil Contreras’ film.  “I Dream in Another Language” is screening in an international LGBT film festival.  Why characters Isauro and Evaristo have spent decades refusing to speak to each other can be reasonably guessed.  If anything, the plot revelation will spark a bored sigh.

Getting Isauro and Evaristo to speak to each other again provides the film’s suspense.  At stake is the preservation of a dying language.  These two men wind up becoming the last speakers of the Indian language Zikril.  Young linguist Martin cannot preserve Zikril except via recorded conversations of the language being used.

Yet Zikril as spoken never lives up to its legend as a language partially rooted in nature’s sounds and partially a gift from the gods.  Whenever the language is spoken onscreen, it never feels like a weakened but still living thing.  The director’s decision to not provide subtitles for his fictional language leaves the viewer wondering whether there is some common lyricism in Zikril that’s passing over their heads.

But very old school anime fans, those enthralled by anime despite lacking subtitles, can pinpoint where Contreras truly goes wrong.  The actors speaking in Zikril never convey the emotions behind their alien words.  Except for one amusing moment where Evaristo uses Zikril to complain about Martin’s carnal interest in Evaristo’s granddaughter Lluvia, this fictional language repeatedly feels as if it’s already dead.

***

Frameline Award-winning director Jeffrey Schwarz (“Tab Hunter Confidential”) returns to the Frameline screen with a rollicking hard-partying portrait of a Hollywood producing legend.  Schwarz’ documentary “The Fabulous Allan Carr” follows the life of the titular 1970s-1980s producer whose fabulous Tinseltown life avoided the blight of mediocrity.

The man born at birth as Alan Solomon adopted the Carr name because it rhymed with “star.”  But as Schwarz shows, Carr’s star-making acumen could live up to his stage name.  Bringing out the untapped potential of Ann-Margaret and turning the “Grease” movie into a world-wide phenomenon were just two of his professional accomplishments.

Schwarz captures the truth that Carr’s fascination with Hollywood stardom didn’t stop with creating stars.  It extended to living a star’s life.  Carr’s frequent weight problems meant both that he wouldn’t have a star’s ideal body and that caftans would be an essential part of his wardrobe.  But in other respects, such as the old Hollywood pedigree of his primary home and the parties for the famous held in his personal Egyptian-themed disco club, he lived his dream life.

“The Fabulous Allan Carr” shows that Carr’s commercial instincts could pull him out of the Hollywood fanboy category.  Would a fanboy have seen the American commercial potential in a film about a soccer team forced into cannibalism to survive a plane crash in the Andes?  Yet the producer’s commercial sensibilities never seemed sufficiently grounded in reality to warn him away from disaster.  Instead of disowning Olivia Newton-John for declining the lead role in “Can’t Stop The Music,” Carr should have taken Newton-John’s rejection as a warning about the film’s commercial problems.

Carr’s production of the 1989 Academy Awards ceremony probably seemed to him like a career apotheosis, a way to publicly give back to the glamorous world that shaped his life.  Yet bringing out period stars to evoke the legacy of old Hollywood in the opening number only embarrassingly underlined the generation-and-a-half gulf between 1950s Hollywood and late 1980s Hollywood.

Schwarz does show that the rest of Carr’s ceremony was far less disastrous than contemporary critics thought.  Carr’s replacing of “And the winner is…” with “And the Oscar goes to…” has now been accepted as the standard Oscar winner announcement.   Still, San Francisco Bay Area viewers will be upset with Schwarz’ failure to mention “Beach Blanket Babylon” creator Steve Silver’s crafting of the notorious opening number or Silver’s thinking behind it.

That cavil aside, “The Fabulous Allan Carr” is an entertainingly bubbly tribute to one of the last big Hollywood dreamers.

(“Alabama Bound” screens at 11:00 AM on June 17, 2017 at the Victoria Theater (2961-16th Street, SF).  “Dispatches From Cleveland” screens at 9:15 PM on June 20, 2017 at the Roxie Theatre (3117-16th Street, SF).   “I Dream In Another Language” screens at 6:30 PM on June 20, 2017.  “The Fabulous Allan Carr” screens at 4:00 PM on June 18, 2017.  Both of these screenings take place at the Castro Theatre (474 Castro, SF).   For further information about these films and to order advance tickets, go to www.frameline.org .)

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