Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hmm.

1. From Nathan Lee's review of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry:

"Tremendously savvy in its stupid way, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is as eloquent as Brokeback Mountain, and even more radical. "The gay cowboy movie" liberated desires latent in the classic western, and made them palpable (and palatable) by channeling them into the strictures of another genre, romantic tragedy. Progressive values were advanced by a retreat to a traditional mode of storytelling, the love that dare not speak its name rendered intelligible through the universal language of the upscale weepy.

"Chuck and Larry takes this strategy much further, baiting a far less adventuresome demographic. Gay themes won't deter the Sandler cult, who can rely on their man not to be a fag. And that, precisely, is the canny maneuver here. Our pussy-loving men's men are New York City firefighters to boot, the very embodiment of all-American heroism (and object of gay fetishism). Sandler's womanizing bachelor Chuck Levine reluctantly agrees to play the homo husband of his buddy Larry Valentine to help secure pension benefits for Larry's kids—one of whom, a flaming little 'mo named Eric (Cole Morgan), likes to practice numbers from Pippin in an outfit inspired by Flashdance. Oh, snap! Chuck and Larry is the first movie to effectively hijack that all-purpose justification for right-wing bigotry, "protecting the children," and redeploy it as a weapon of the homosexual intifada."

2. Andrew Grossman, excerpt from his Bright Lights essay "Sexual Atonality":

"The problem, though, is once again intentionality: in order for the queer collisions and subsequent catharses to occur spontaneously and with minimum public resistance, stealthily queer films would have to be released with no demographic advertising, promotion, or any intended audience, ensuring that all audience members, the unsympathetic and sympathetic alike, could equally enter the theater without being frightened away (or, indeed, attracted and flattered). It would be paradoxical for filmmakers to intentionally create a film with no intended audience; indeed, I am unaware of any such film. However, I have found one sexually explicit film that accidentally, randomly, and amorally — that is, queerly — seems to be intended for multiple and simultaneous conflicting audiencesHero Dream.

"When all other queer films have been exhausted, desperate academics may turn to this presently un-interpretable artifact, perhaps holding some intelligentsia bee to determine whose analysis is the cleverest and most quotable. Director Lau Keung-fu’s Hero Dream seems the first and only film of its kind: a low budget, generically macho Hong Kong action film unaccountably interpolated with — in addition to a few prosaic scenes of heterosexual rape and one sequence featuring a nude male bodybuilder — explicit, lengthy, X-rated sexual encounters between male-to-female transsexuals equipped with both penises and breasts. There is some semblance of a plot. To avenge his wife’s murder at the hands of Thai crooks, tough cop Chin Siu-ho — once the stalwart hetero hero of numerous Shaw Brothers adventures and mid-1980s classics (Mr. Vampire) — journeys to Thailand, joins forces with the local, machine gun-toting “Transsexual Gang,” and, with little explanation, occasionally lounges on a hotel chaise while before him two transsexuals have open, tender, full-frontal (if flaccid) intercourse. One of the transsexual gangsters falls in love with Chin secretly, and comes rushing to his rescue with jeep and automatic rifle when he is overpowered by the villains; taking a fatal bullet for his beloved, the transsexual dies in Chin’s arms, a gesture that unintentionally parodies both heterosexual tragedy and the honor-infested buddy-buddy embrace common to the Shaw Brothers martial arts films in which Chin once starred. Flabbergasted and dumbstruck upon hearing the transsexual’s romantic confession, Chin can muster little more than a “Thanks, but no thanks” as his bloodied savior-transgressor slumps limp in his arms. In the grand finale, the entire Transsexual Gang proves sadly impotent and pitifully unskilled in wielding the machine guns we automatically interpret as hard male power; climactically rushing into the villain’s den to assist our hero, the transsexuals are, dozen by dozen, mowed down like trapped turkeys, leaving impenetrably straight Chin to mop up Thai villainy with single-handed, heterosexual zeal, and then shower his affections on a lovely Thai nurse.


"Considering the perfunctory normalization of heterosexuality at the film’s close, at whom, exactly, is the film’s abundant transsexual pornography directed? The typical testosterone demographic likely to buy tickets for a Chin Siu-ho B-movie, even one with a tell-tale “category 3” rating (the HK equivalent of NC-17), would surely recoil at the very thought of penises and breasts existing harmoniously on the same body, and nauseate if forced to witness several such bodies rapturously and frequently intertwine. A perverse but unlikely argument might suggest Hero Dream’s exoticizing of Thai kathoeys is intended as a cynical, repulsive, Mondo Cane-style spectacle for straight consumption. Nevertheless, we must conclude the film’s raison d’être is more d’être than raison — a chaotic intermixture of colliding sexualities defying rationally goal-directed (i.e. demographically-motivated) explanation.

"Amazingly, Hero Dream does appear to be an example of a coordinated film production that produces random, aleatory generic and sexual experiences (mis-)directed at multiple conflicting audiences — those who enjoy heteronormative B-grade action films and those who enjoy transsexual erotica. But can we ever satisfy the second condition of amoral queerness, an entirely random viewing environment unprejudiced by any advertising or promotion that might disclose that this is a queerly-inclined film to be resisted or avoided altogether? The posters for Hero Dream present it as a superficially generic, violent action film whose shoot-outs and kung fu battles should lure a normative, mass audience — there is no indication or forewarning that unguarded audiences will be soon jolted with dissident, vivid pornography violating demographic norms. This demographic violation crucially separates Hero Dream from better-known queer action films like Clarence Ford’s Cheap Killers (1998), which is far too sexually coy to jolt, educate, or effect a change in the perceptions of a mass audience, and Marcelo Piñeyro’s more explicitly gay Burnt Money (2000), which sells its homoeroticism to a sympathetic queer demographic right from the start.

"Nevertheless, did any public screenings of Hero Dream ever really attract unsuspecting, random, diverse mass audiences? I was fortunate enough to have experienced precisely such a screening of the film, in 1999, at Manhattan’s now-defunct Chinatown Music Palace, infamous for its general disrepair, slightly urine-scented viewing area (depending on one’s proximity to the uninhabitable bathrooms), and frequent lack of seasonal temperature control. By 1999, first-run HK films were growing increasingly unwatchable, and the Music Palace was attracting fewer and fewer patrons. One week, the owner, presumably defeated, alcoholically desperate, and now indifferent to conventional mores, dug into his archives and unearthed the unheard-of Hero Dream for an unsuspecting audience of beggars seeking shelter, adolescent boys smoking in the balcony, henpecked Chinese husbands escaping their peckers, a few soldiering cineastes like myself, and whomever else happened to randomly stumble in (along with the usual stray cats) from the bitter cold.

"It would have been unnecessary to survey departing audience members to gauge their reactions to the screening: during sequences of transsexual pornography, the entirely male audience observed a tangible, agonizing silence broken only by intermittent, derisive, nervous titters (from the boys in the balcony, I’m sure) during the transsexual turkey-shoot finale. To be sure, as a random experiment in cinematic receptivity and education, the screening was an icy, alienating failure, resulting in no catharsis or epiphany. Perhaps if the theater had been sold-out, with unsuspecting viewers piled in shoulder-to-shoulder, unable to make their defensive laughter convincing and unselfconscious, unable to hide their blushing emotions from one another, unable to look down from the screen without their cowardice being judged by an intrusive neighbor, a segment, at least, of the once-uncurious, belligerent audience might have lowered its defenses or burst into revelatory, mass-hypnotic elation, just as worshipful outbursts of laughter occur only in collective spaces, where one’s individuality is irrationally, spontaneously surrendered to the group.

"Though the viewing conditions were not optimal that day — they will probably never be ideal — I can nevertheless swear that once in my lifetime I’d not simply seen a queer film, but was in the midst of a queer experience of a film."

3 comments:

anon said...

Chuck and Larry is the first movie to effectively hijack that all-purpose justification for right-wing bigotry, "protecting the children," and redeploy it as a weapon of the homosexual intifada."

I'm almost curious enough to go see the movie so I know what the heck Lee's talking about here. Is it something more than the existence of a likely gay child character (like in School of Rock or Ma Vie En Rose), or something more substantial or explicit? Does Chuck and Larry do anything on this front that wasn't already done on Ugly Betty this past season (pace the difference in medium)?

If only movie tickets were cheaper, I'd be willing to answer these questions myself.

Anon

Zach Campbell said...

Not having seen the movie (and not wanting to), I am unconvinced by Lee's review. I'm still not sure what he's arguing is so effective about the film. (That's why I lined up his quote with Grossman's--there's a similar sentiment in both, but Grossman is very clear and painstaking about what he's illuminating in terms of genre, audience expectation, audience reaction, etc.)

Zach Campbell said...

By "unconvinced" of course, I mean that I'm unpersuaded to see the film, unpersuaded to really care to rethink whatever conclusions I've come to by the trailer alone--not that I would actually argue with Lee's take on the film based solely on having seen the trailer a few times.