Controversial Gay Movie Scenes at LACMA: Andy Warhol & Gus Van Sant + Jean Genet
Whether or not you find the label “queer” misleading, idiotic, and/or offensive, if you’re in L.A. it would be worth your time (whatever your sexual orientation and however you choose to label it) to check out the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s mini-film series “Outlawed! Queer Cinema Before the Culture Wars.”
On Saturday, March 23, in conjunction with the closing weekend of its exhibition “Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ,” LACMA will be presenting two film programs “that not only share Mapplethorpe’s provocative embrace of homosexual themes, but were also subjected to the same suppression and censure that confronted Mapplethorpe’s art”: at 5 p.m., “America’s Most Wanted: The Queer Underground,” featuring Jean Genet’s Un Chant d’Amour, Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures, and Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising; and at 7:30 p.m., “Temptations: My Hustler and Mala Noche,” featuring Andy Warhol’s My Hustler and Gus Van Sant’s Mala Noche. Admission is free.
Jean Genet’s Un Chant d’Amour, Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures, and Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising
The 26-minute Un Chant d’Amour (1950) is Jean Genet’s only film, which, unsurprisingly, faced censorship issues when first screened in the United States in the mid-1960s. The LACMA release (see below) describes Un Chant d’Amour (“A Song of Love”) as “an iconic landmark of queer cinema for its lyrical, often surrealistic portrayal of the depravation and auto-erotic despair of male prisoners in solitary confinement.” Now, that’s not quite the movie I saw. Though undeniably lyrical and dreamlike, in Un Chant d’Amour Jean Genet doesn’t pass judgment on the sexual actions and/or imagination of the film’s handsome male prisoners. In fact, Genet blatantly eroticizes their hunger for (physical) human contact. No wonder U.S. cops and judges were so pissed off at the film. (And if you think that’s a thing of the past in the so-called “Western Democracies,” you might want to think again – or just get yourself better informed.)
I’ve never watched Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures (1963), but considering the fact that it has angered reactionary politicians, police officers, and Supreme Court judges eager to make a mockery of democracy whenever they get a chance, Smith’s film must definitely be worth a look. Described in the LACMA release as a “paean to biker culture,” Scorpio Rising (1963) is an underground classic of sorts. The film’s director, Kenneth Anger, is best known for his putrid Hollywood Babylon books.
Andy Warhol’s My Hustler and Gus Van Sant’s Mala Noche
In My Hustler (1965), Paul America is the hustler of choice “for both the men and the women who are shacked up in a Fire Island beach house.” America died at age 38, after being hit by a car in Ormond Beach, Florida.
Based on Oregon poet Walt Curtis’ autobiographical novel, Gus Van Sant’s Mala Noche (1985) is a loosely constructed drama about a handsome Portland store clerk (an excellent performance by Tim Streeter) who falls madly in lust with a young, poor, undocumented Mexican. The weirdest thing about Mala Noche, the movie that launched Van Sant’s career, is that this mostly raw, uncompromising effort was made by the same guy who would direct stuff like Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester. Note: To the best of my knowledge, at least in the few American urban centers where it was shown, Mala Noche was never outlawed or banned or confiscated.
LACMA warns that the films in the “Outlawed! Queer Cinema Before the Culture Wars” screenings “may not be suitable for all audiences, viewer discretion is advised.” If only they’d had that sort of warning prior to a screening of the nausea-inducing It’s a Wonderful Life. See below more information about the “Outlawed!” films and their legal problems, via the LACMA website.
Un Chant d’Amour – … The film was banned in the US in 1966 after a Berkeley screening led to a trial by the Alameda County Superior Court and subsequent hearings by the California District Court of Appeals and, eventually, the Supreme Court. Long admired by everyone from Jean Cocteau to Todd Haynes (who pays homage to it in his New Queer Cinema classic Poison), Genet’s film will screen in a recently struck 35mm print. 1950/b&w/26 min. | Scr/dir: Jean Genet.
Flaming Creatures – Jack Smith described Flaming Creatures as “a comedy set in a haunted movie studio.” … Dogged by law-enforcement authorities ever since its midnight premiere in the spring of 1963, Jack Smith’s film has perhaps the most storied journey of any underground movie, and serves as a testament to the censorship faced by queer filmmakers: in Belgium, Jonas Mekas, the film’s distributor and biggest champion, screened it his hotel room to guests including Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda and Roman Polanski and later dropped it between reels of Andy Warhol’s Sleep during a public screening, causing a small riot and intervention of the Minister of Justice; in March of 1964, two NYPD detectives raided a screening of the film, impounded the print and arrested everyone working at the theater, among them the film’s projectionist (experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs), the case went to trial in New York and led to a conviction for both Jacobs and Mekas; a confiscated print ended up in Washington, D.C. where the Supreme Court uphold the ruling; later one of the dissenting judges had his opinion used against him as he sought confirmation to be Chief Justice, which improbably led to a screening of the film in the capital under the auspices of Senator Strom Thurmond. … 1963/b&w/43 min./16mm | Scr/dir: Jack Smith.
Scorpio Rising – Rock ‘n roll sides, ample leather, and Marlon Brando all figure into Kenneth Anger’s seminal paean to biker culture. The same day Jonas Mekas was arrested in New York for screening Genet’s Un Chant d’Amour as a benefit for the defense fund in the Flaming Creatures lawsuit, across the country Michael Getz is taken into custody by a Vice Squad in Los Angeles for playing Anger’s film in his Hollywood theater. 1963/color/30 min. | Scr/dir: Kenneth Anger.
My Hustler – Inspired by Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures … Andy Warhol turned to filmmaking in 1963. Two years later, he had a considerable filmography under his belt, and, thanks to My Hustler, a bonafide underground film hit. … 1965/b&w/67 min./16mm | Scr/dir: Andy Warhol; w/ Paul America, Ed Hood, Joseph Campbell.
Mala Noche – 1985/b&w/78 min. | Scr/dir: Gus Van Sant; w/ Tim Streeter, Doug Cooeyate, Ray Monge.
Divine & Alla Nazimova: London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival
The 2013 London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival kicked off with a gala screening of Jeffrey Schwarz’s I Am Divine on Thursday evening. In the coming days – the LLGFF comes to a close on March 24 – the festival will be screening dozens of movies featuring transgender, gay, lesbian, hetero, bi, tri, multi, pluri, and pansexual characters from various parts of the world.
Among tonight’s features is John Waters’ camp classic Female Trouble (1974), starring Divine as Dawn Davenport, a youngster who, after running away from home on Christmas Day, getting raped and pregnant, and becoming a single mother, evolves from spoiled schoolgirl to hardened criminal. Edith Massey plays Aunt Ida, who clearly spent her life hanging out with the wrong hetero crowd, lamenting at one point, “The world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life.” Anyhow, every demented Republican who claims rape would not result in pregnancy should be forced to sit through Female Trouble.
Also screening tonight is director-screenwriter Tom Shkolnik’s Dogma 95-ish The Comedian, which stars Edward Hogg as a call-center worker by day and unfunny standup comedian by night who becomes involved with a man (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) he meets on a bus, while also tackling his ambiguous relationship with his female flatmate (Elisa Lasowski).
On Saturday, the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival will be presenting Ira Sachs’ Keep the Lights On, starring Thure Lindhardt and Zachary Booth as lovers stuck in a highly dysfunctional relationship; Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways, about a male college professor (Melvil Poupaud) who one day decides to switch genders, and how his girlfriend (Suzanne Clément) copes – or doesn’t cope – with his decision; and Marçal Forés’ drama Animals, which shares a few elements with Seth MacFarlane’s Ted (though clearly not the same sensitivity or dramatic goals): in Animals, an introverted adolescent (Oriol Pla) spends his time chatting with his imaginary childhood friend who takes the form of a Ted-like teddy bear. Eventually, the young man decides to tackle life’s hardships without the assistance of his pal.
Also on Saturday at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival: Alla Nazimova produced with her own money and plays the title role in Salome, a 1923 avant-garde silent film based on Oscar Wilde’s play. Salome, which never received proper distribution, is notable for its decor, costumes, and assorted (and ludicrous) rumors – e.g., that the cast consisted only of avowed gay men and women, or some such nonsense.
The truncated Salome lasts only 72 minutes and it’s indeed a feast for the eye; dramatically, however, the film falls flat. Charles Bryant, Nazimova’s business manager and purported husband at the time, directed.
“Salome was willing and eager to give all, [but] her love was repudiated scornfully,” Nazimova explained to the press back in the early ’20s. “Since she could not rule, she was impelled to ruin the life that might have saved her.”
And finally, also screening at the 2013 London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival on Saturday is James Franco and Travis Mathews’ Interior. Leather Bar. More on that sexually charged film in a follow-up post.
More information on the LLGFF website.
Alla Nazimova Salome quote via Gavin Lambert’s Nazimova.
Alla Nazimova in Salome, Oriol Pla in Animals, and Divine in Female Trouble photos via the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.
Gay marriage debate gets a song: Veteran MGM actress Marsha Hunt ‘inspired’ by U.S. Supreme Court marriage equality debate
Gay marriage is a divisive issue, leading to all kinds of different responses. It’s a fact of life in Argentina, Portugal, South Africa, Vermont, and Iowa, but it’s all but unthinkable (for now) in Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Iran, South Dakota, and Arizona. Angelina Jolie’s father (that’s Midnight Cowboy‘s Jon Voight) and Brad Pitt’s mother are adamantly against it, while Dirty Harry‘s Clint Eastwood couldn’t care less about who gets married to whom. Unlike Eastwood, former MGM actress Marsha Hunt (scroll down for more information on Hunt’s movies) and a social activist in the last six or seven decades, does care. (Image: Marsha Hunt and Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity director Roger C. Memos.)
Marsha Hunt’s gay marriage song: Old melody, new lyrics
According to a report by the Sherman Oaks Patch, at age 95 and with failing eyesight, Marsha Hunt has written a song inspired by the current marriage equality a.k.a. “gay marriage” debate at the U.S. Supreme Court. [Update: Hunt herself has said it didn’t happen quite that way. See video below. As a result, this article has been amended. The new information has been placed in brackets.]
The star of None Shall Escape and A Letter for Evie wrote the song “Here’s to All Who Love” at her piano in her home in the Los Angeles suburb of Sherman Oaks. The melody is old – Marsha Hunt hummed it decades ago while driving home from a United Nations meeting, in an attempt to stay awake at the wheel. The lyrics, however, are relatively new [though written prior to the recent gay marriage debate at the U.S. Supreme Court]. Based on “a conviction that love is good and hatred is bad,” they include the following:
Here’s to all the lovers,
Here’s to all who love,
Never mind their genders,
Love will rise above.
“I have been to two gay weddings and I have been so enriched in their friendships,” added Hunt, who also wrote the song “Here Come the Grooms” for one of the ceremonies. “I’m not militant about the issue, but if it takes marriage to bring acceptance to gay and lesbian relationships then it needs to be total acceptance.” [Hence, Hunt’s decision to make her song go public in late March, while the gay marriage debate was raging at the U.S. Supreme Court.]
Roger C. Memos, who is currently working on the documentary Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity, called Hunt’s gay marriage song “an amazing contribution to the movement.” He will have it recorded at a public event on April 19 in Venice, with Carol McArthur singing the lyrics.
Hosted by Marsha Hunt’s nephew, actor Allan Hunt (of the ’60s TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea), the evening will kick off at 7 p.m. at The Talking Stick Coffee House on Lincoln Blvd. Besides McArthur, other performers include Peter Quentin, connie-kim, Lyric Everly, Suzy Williams & The Nicknamers, and The Shoo Flies (Frank Nemiroff, Eric Ahlberg, Sam Clay and Philip Garaway).
The Marsha Hunt “gay marriage song” event organizers are asking for a $5 donation and a purchase at The Talking Stick Coffee House.
Here’s the link to the fundraising campaign for Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity at indiegogo. And for more information on the Marsha Hunt documentary, click here. (See also: “Marsha Hunt Bio: Hollywood in the ’40s.”)
Marsha Hunt movies
According to the IMDb, Marsha Hunt was featured in more than 60 films, from 1935 to 2008. The bulk of those were released by Paramount in the mid-’30s, when Hunt was a minor contract player (College Holiday, Easy Living, The Accusing Finger), and at MGM from the late ’30s to the mid-’40s, when she landed several meatier roles – and when gay marriage was as much an issue as free speech on the Internet.
Marsha Hunt’s MGM movies include Robert Z. Leonard’s Pride and Prejudice (1940), as one of Greer Garson’s sisters; Norman Z. McLeod’s The Trial of Mary Dugan (1941), supporting Laraine Day; Richard Thorpe’s anti-Nazi drama Joe Smith, American (1942), as Robert Young’s wife; Jules Dassin’s The Affairs of Martha (1942), as a maid writing her (supposedly) tell-all memoirs; Richard Thorpe’s Cry Havoc (1943), as one of several Army nurses in Bataan, among them Margaret Sullavan, Joan Blondell, Ann Sothern, Fay Bainter, and Ella Raines; and Jules Dassin’s romantic comedy A Letter for Evie (1945), opposite John Carroll.
Hunt’s Hollywood career suffered in the late ’40s, following accusations that the liberal-minded actress was a communist. She resumed working in films in 1952 (The Happy Time, with Charles Boyer and Louis Jourdan; Actors and Sin, with Edward G. Robinson), but mostly stayed away from movies after 1960. (See also: “Marsha Hunt: Hollywood Blacklist.”)
Since then, Marsha Hunt was only seen in three features, including blacklisted screenwriter-director Dalton Trumbo’s outstanding Johnny Got His Gun (1971), starring Timothy Bottoms as the victim of both war and military / government ruthlessness, and Eddie Muller’s 2008 film noir-ish short The Grand Inquisitor.
And below is a Marsha Hunt video, following the performance of “Here’s to All Who Love” on Friday, April 19, in Venice, California.
Marsha Hunt, Roger C. Memos photo, “Here’s to All Who Love” gay marriage song image credit: Marsha Hunt and Roger C. Memos.
Academy Award nominee Fernanda Montenegro gay kiss protest in Brazil
Forget Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock and Scarlett Johansson, Madonna and Britney Spears, and Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner. Fernanda Montenegro, best known internationally for her Academy Award-nominated performance in Walter Salles’ 1998 drama Central Station, kissed stage actress and acting coach Camila Amado in the mouth at Rio de Janeiro’s Theater Producers Association Awards ceremony held in that city last Monday, March 25.
The liplock between Montenegro, 83, and Amado, 77, following another “gay kiss” at the ceremony – between actors Ricardo Blat and Tonico Pereira – wasn’t intended to liven up another dull awards show. Instead, the two veteran actresses (and actors) were joining hundreds of thousands of Brazilians in taking a stance against the selection of Social Christian Party representative Marco Feliciano as head of the Brazilian Congress’ Human Rights Commission.
Anti-gay pastor who claims Africa’s woes are the consequence of Noah’s curse presides over Brazil’s Human Rights Commission
The story reads like the plot of the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup mixed with elements from Elio Petri’s Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, Stanley Kramer’s Inherit the Wind, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Day of Wrath, and Richard Brooks’ Elmer Gantry, with a touch of Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon.
Here’s a condensed version: A radical Christian, Feliciano is currently under investigation by Brazil’s Supreme Court on charges of embezzlement. If that weren’t all, Brazil’s Human Rights Commission president and Church of the Assembly of God pastor must also answer to accusations that he is a rabid anti-gay bigot – hate speech is a crime in Brazil – having referred to AIDS as “the gay cancer” in addition to tweeting the following: “The rottenness of homosexual feelings lead [sic] to hate, crime, rejection.”
There’s more. Feliciano has implied that the feminist movement would result in a society “where there’ll be only homosexuals,” and tweeted that “Africans are descendants of an ancestor cursed by Noah.” (That’s the guy aboard the biblical Ark.) Hence, the continent’s widespread suffering.
Fernanda Montenegro ‘gay kiss’: Sensation in Brazil
Although criticized by radical Christians and by right-wing elements in the Brazilian media (e.g., Veja magazine, a sort of neo-con Brazilian Time), the Fernanda Montenegro / Camila Amado kiss became a sensation in Brazil, a multiethnic nation where gay civil unions are recognized by the federal government, and gay marriage is recognized by seven state governments and the Federal District, besides being accessible via judicial order or the conversion of a civil union into marriage in Brazil’s remaining 20 states.
Fernanda Montenegro movies
In the last five decades, Fernanda Montenegro, the First Lady of the Brazilian Stage, has been featured in nearly 30 features, in addition to providing the Portuguese-language voice of Jeanne Moreau in Carlos Diegues’ Joanna Francesa (1973).
Besides Central Station, Montenegro’s movie credits include Leon Hirszman’s socially conscious drama They Don’t Wear Black Tie (1981); Bruno Barreto’s Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award nominee Four Days in September (1997), starring Alan Arkin and Montenegro’s daughter Fernanda Torres; Marcos Bernstein’s Rear Window-inspired The Other Side of the Street (2004); and Andrucha Waddington’s House of Sand (2005), co-starring Torres.
Additionally, Fernanda Montenegro had a supporting role in Mike Newell’s Love in the Time of Cholera (2007), an English-language production featuring an international cast that included Spaniard Javier Bardem, Italian Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Colombian Catalina Sandino Moreno, Mexican-born Laura Harring, and Americans Benjamin Bratt and Liev Schreiber.
Fernanda Montenegro’s most recent film was Eduardo Ades’ 2012 short A Dama do Estácio, in which she plays an old woman obsessed with the idea of dying and finding herself the perfect coffin.
According to the IMDb, upcoming Fernanda Montenegro movies include Jayme Monjardim’s O Tempo e o Vento (“Time and the Wind”) based on a classic Brazilian novel by Érico Veríssimo, and, currently in the pre-production stages, A Igreja do Diabo (“The Devil’s Church”), based on short stories by revered 19th-century Brazilian writer Machado de Assis, and to be directed by 104-year-old Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira. In addition to Montenegro, A Igreja do Diabo is to feature 83-year-old Brazilian film and TV actor Lima Duarte.
Of note: Fernanda Montenegro lost the 1998 Best Actress Oscar to Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love. Sort of like Amour‘s Emmanuelle Riva losing the Best Actress Oscar to Silver Linings Playbook‘s Jennifer Lawrence earlier this year.
Fernanda Montenegro-Camila Amado “gay kiss” photo: Cristina Granato via globo.com.
Re: “every demented Republican who claims rape would not result in pregnancy…”: This opinion was voiced by only one (possibly senile) Republican. Other Republicans, without exception, were at pains to distance themselves from this outrageous utterance.
Wonderful that these films are being shown in such a series at MOMA, especially “Mala Noche” and “My Hustler.”
I watched Un Chant d’Amour five or six years ago. It’s an incredible film. I need to read Genet’s books as well! Thanks for the great post, as always, Andre.