Bitter pill: Sunday's homophobia-in-sports double bill of Training Rules (pictured) and Claiming the Title: Gay Olympics on Trial was an emotional event at Frameline33.

Frameline33: Icons and Unsung Heroes

Matt Sussman June 25, 2009

"What do they want from an old dinosaur like me?" quips John Hurt, reprising his career-making role as Quentin Crisp, in response to an invitation to regale a much younger audience about his life. By this point in An Englishman in New York, Richard Laxton’s sequel to The Naked Civil Servant (1975) and this year’s opening night film at Frameline33, Crisp has been branded a black sheep for refusing to retract flip comments made on the then-emerging AIDS crisis and is still adjusting to the slights that come with being perceived as some living relic of the past. To a large degree, the image of Crisp as a stoic holdover from an earlier age of faeries and rough trade who survived on wit and sheer force of will was one of his own making, and it is certainly a reputation that Claxton’s film helps secure.

"I hope that this film introduces a new generation to Crisp," explained Claxton in the post screening Q&A, implicitly answering Crisp’s carping over his legacy in the face of younger generations. I kept wondering what the sexually curious Latino teens in Brian Harris Krinsky’s wonderful short Dish (which was the clear highlight of a somewhat tepid edition of the ever-popular Fun in Boys Shorts program) would make of Crisp. Would they, with their flat-ironed emo hair and sausage-casing pants, see a kindred spirit in the man who risked his life wearing makeup and flamboyant clothes in public to show the world he existed? Or would they simply respond with an indifferent "meh" and resume texting each other about their latest drunken hook-up?

Specious postulating aside, the question of what becomes an LGBT icon most was very much at the forefront of the festival’s first week. Frameline’s closing night happens to fall on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and a special subset of programming highlights films related to the heady years of Gay Liberation and the early queer outbursts to emerge from underground cinema in the ’60s and ’70s. And while it was thrilling to get to rub shoulders with the likes of former Warhol and Paul Morrissey pin-up Joe Dallesandro (who quipped during the post Little Joe Q&A that all he wanted to do nowadays was eat ice cream and get fat), and see local legends such as George and Mike Kuchar and Vickie Marlene have their fascinating lives and storied careers paid tribute to onscreen, this week has also had its share of unsung heroes and icons-in-the-making.

There was by far no more emotional screening than Sunday’s homophobia-in-sports double bill of Training Rules and Claiming the Title: Gay Olympics on Trial. Training Rules, Dee Mosbacher and Fawn Yacker’s excoriating look at the psychological and emotional cost wrought by former Penn State University women’s basketball coach Rene Portland’s rampant homophobia (the doc’s title comes from Portland’s unofficial training rules: No drugs. No drinking. No lesbians), made your blood boil. But to see so many of the former squad members, who had so bravely come forward to recount the living hell they had been put through some 20 years ago, standing on stage and proudly declaring that participating in the documentary was part of their healing process was deeply moving.

It took some emotional gear shifting to prep for the screening of Jennifer M. Kroot’s charming It Came from Kuchar later that night, but the Castro was no less full and the audience no less buzzed. San Francisco has been fortunate to be at the center of the brothers’ cinematic cesspool since the Art Institute snagged George some 40 years ago, and its hard to think of many local filmmakers who haven’t been inspired by their feverish reinvigorations of melodrama, love of the absurd, and no budget aesthetic. Plus, they are total charmers. Upon expressing thanks at receiving the Frameline Award, George commented, "My films are like my kids, which is why I’m extra happy to get this reward on Father’s Day." Joining the brothers on stage for a post-screening love fest were many faces from the film, including George’s latest muse, septuagenarian artist (and occasional exhibitionist) Linda Martinez, who, looking every inch the movie star in her red vinyl cocktail dress and glittering rhinestones, delivered a sweet paen to the brothers’ talents ending with a toast of sorts: "Let’s make more films!" Somehow, for this inexhaustible duo, I don’t think that will be a problem.

This year’s festival also marked the return of one of its strongest, more recent pairings—Argentine director Lucia Puenzo and actress Ines Efron—who stunned audiences last year with the intersex coming of age drama XXY. Since El Nino Pez was one of the afternoon TBA screenings, attendance was sparse, which is a shame considering more people should see this film. Puenzo’s beautifully lensed drama holds all its strands—cross-class lesbian love story; crime drama; magical realism—together with an assured hand. Like Alex in XXY, La Guayi, the 20-year-old Paraguayan maid who poor little rich Argentine Lala (Efron) falls for, is drawn to water (but for reasons far darker than the couple’s pillow talk about eloping to Lake Ypoá gets at). By the film’s second half, a larger, uglier world has been laid bare beyond the shaky insular comforts of La Guayi and Lala’s forbidden romance, and we find ourselves watching a very different film from the one we thought we has settled into.

El Nino Pez ends on a "Born to Run" moment, with the embattled couple’s future gravely uncertain but pregnant with some hope that having forfeited everything but their love they have nothing left to lose. Like the speaker says to her lover in Adrienne Rich’s "Twenty-One Love Poems," La Guayi and Lala are, "out in a country that has no language/ no laws." Quentin Crisp was staking his way through such territory as a foppish youth in pre-War England articulating his identity through theatrical performance, even if by the time he had come to fully inhabit "Quentin Crisp," the language being spoken was no longer the Queen’s English, as it were. In a sense, these were the conditions under which most of the icons Frameline honored this year were operating—as agents without a map, but with and unquenchable drive; visionaries willing to use anything at hand to communicate their visions. "The rules break like a thermometer, " Rich writes, "quicksilver spills across the charted systems." Lucky for us, someone thought to get it on film.

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