Month: March 2014

Blog Post #4: Fox & His Backstabbing Hoard of Elitist Frenemies

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Image from Rosenbaum, Jonathan. “Fox and His Friends (1976 Review).” Monthly Film Bulletin 43.504 (1976): n. pag. Web.

               The ironic title of Fassbinder’s rags-to-riches, New German Cinema masterpiece, Fox and His Friends (1975), forces viewers to question the very fabric of friendship; After all, Franz’s (aka Fox’s) so-called friends only feign affection in order to swindle from him the entirety of his lottery win which, in retrospect, seems the initiation of loss.  These frenemies bleed the carnie dry financially and emotionally with their incessant accusations of his inferiority and false promises.  Fox offers his trust, flesh, and money; all he desires in return is love. What he gets, however, is a steaming pile of betrayal seasoned with manipulation.  Finally, he pays the ultimate price:  his life. 

 

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Image from http://www.data.warped.com 

               The travel agency scene (an hour & eleven minutes into the film) illustrates the classism and condescension suffered by the film’s tragic hero at the hands of his greedy boyfriend. Noticing his lover’s increased distance, Fox offers to take Eugen on a dream vacation in an effort to revive their dying relationship.  At the agency, Eugen constantly belittles Fox, insulting his intelligence and even referring to him as a girl—an affront used throughout by gays to bash each other. Playing upon his perceived cultured status, Eugen decides that he would like to travel to Morocco. Of course, he makes sure to emphasize his superior skills since he alone can speak the French necessary for their voyage and desired ménage à trois.

 

               Never asking Fox for his opinion, Eugen—who gets high off of his own articulation—controls the scene with his egotistical speech.  But when it is Fox and not the cocky cultured gentleman who foots the bill, the secretary glares at Eugen in pure disgust.  The camera lingers on the woman’s face for a noticeable length of time, amplifying her shock. In so doing, the audience at once identifies with Olga, sharing her disapproval.  Cutting to Eugen then back to the travel secretary, the camera silently shows her reprimand him.  Eugen’s maintained eye contact seems to say, “Hold your tongue!  I’ll do as I please.”  Viewers grasp the immorality inherent in Eugen’s abuse of Fox shown in previous scenes depicting lavish purchases and extravagant requests. The camera zooms into Fox while he signs the check.  Highlighting the signature itself, the shot draws attention to the significance of his pricey declarations of love.  The enormity of his sacrifice is visually amplified.  While Fox is consistently treated like blue-collar scum, he—not Eugen or his stodgy family—is the one with money. 

 

ImageImage from http://www.allmovie.com 

               Money alone does not determine class or character; rather it is the viciousness embodied by the self-proclaimed “cultured” that places those who are kind beneath those cunning tricksters who resort to cruelty in their quest for cash.  Fox’s genuine character as well as his longing for true human connection mark him an outsider.  Riches or rags, Fox can never be accepted by the suit-and-tie club. Even in death, he cannot escape the ruthless nature of pickpockets.  In a haunting conclusion, children rob Fox’s corpse.  His “friends” walk past him, treating him like garbage, disposable and worthless. In a world of vice and vanity, sincere romantics are doomed to face a rude awakening.  Nothing is sacred.  Love is merely an exploitable commodity; a currency to be spent. And Fox spent it all.

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 Image from http://www.thepinksmoke.com

Fox and His Friends. Dir. Rainer W. Fassbinder. Perf. Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Peter Chatel. New   

         Yorker Films (USA), 1975. Hulu Plus.

Blog Post #3: The Celluloid Closet–Watch Between the Lines

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Image Credit:  Thirteen: Brandy Eve Allen

          I found The Celluloid Closet (1995) extremely enlightening.  Never before had I considered the complex history between homosexuality and film censorship.  I am aware of Catholicism’s sexual stringency.  After all, masturbation—sex with oneself—is deemed a mortal sin.  So religious opposition to homosexual passion, while disappointing, surprised me not.  I didn’t realize, however, the influence the Church held over cinema nor did I grasp the power of The Hays Code enforced in Hollywood following the pope’s threat of mass boycott.

I commend early filmmakers whose sharp wit and bravery worked around the stifling system.  The documentary reveals black-and-white pictures with subtle portrayals of queer craving.   To evade censors, homosexuality was indirectly explored through gender-bending wardrobes, characters who transgressed conventional treatment of masculinity/femininity, intimate friendships that hinted at more, as well as play with phallic objects such as guns.  I’m sad that the majority of explicitly queer characters in early films are murderers, monsters, or mad.  Such poor representations suggest an inherent link between homosexuality and mental illness.  Nor am I a fan of the sissy trope which likens gay men to impotent wannabe-women.   Constant death and punishment of gays in cinema while reflective of real world prejudice still disturbs me.  Persistent sad-endings suggest to gay viewers that their lives will ultimately end in misery.

Still, negative visibility is better than invisibility.  To acknowledge LGBT existence is in itself a feat given the puritanical constrictions of heteronormative society.   Hope is what I took away from the film.  Audiences have the power to inject their own persona into the projections shown on screen.  We have the responsibility and capacity to alter the future of film in the name of equality.  Shows like The Fosters, Glee, and American Horror Story depict LGBT members in a positive light, granting viewers characters for whom to root and with which to identify.

But despite progress, many films still rely on indirect condemnation.  Silence can be unsettling.  In Thirteen (2003), virginal Tracy is corrupted by seductive BFF Evie.  Tracy’s obsession with Evie is erotic.  While kissing a boy, Tracy watches her friend the entire time.  Her decline into drugs and delinquency is tied to the intimacy she shares with the beautiful femme fatale played by Nikki Reed.  Similarly, films like Hot Chick (2002) perpetuate negative stereotypes.  Popular teen Jessica wakes up in the body of a grungy man.  As a result of her girly mannerisms, everyone assumes she—now in male form—is gay.  In the film, being a woman and being gay become inseparable, denying gays their status as “real” men.  We still see same-sex kisses used as assaults.  In American Hustle (2013), Jennifer Lawrence aggressively plants a wet one on Amy Adams.  Change comes slowly.

Same-sex desire isn’t a product of the 21st century; it’s a force as primal and essential to the human species as hunger or thirst.  Originating with the dawn of man while preceding the flame and wheel, “queer” is everywhere.  Time to open our eyes and watch between the lines.

The Celluloid Closet. Dir. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Perf. Lily Tomlin. TriStar Pictures,

1995. Youtube. 15 Nov. 2013. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?

v=rhygdCjYrdk>.

Blog Post #2: Blades of Glory–Bro for the Gold!

 

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                                   Image Credit:  BLADES OF GLORY:  Suzanne Hanover

          Blades of Glory (2007) promotes intimate male friendship while parodying the politics and melodrama of figure skating.  The documentary style form that introduces Chazz Michael Michaels and Jimmy MacElroy directly parallels the expository videos which highlight athletes in the Olympics.  If the athlete bios aren’t obvious enough, filmmakers include grand trumpet theme music, joined circle motifs, real champions such as Scott Hamilton and Sasha Cohen, and medal ranking familiar to audiences around the globe to make the comparison crystal clear.

With skintight sequenced suits and glitter galore, figure skating is the most theatrical sport of the winter games, a point made all too clear by a fictionalized interviewee who when asked his thoughts regarding the male-male pair responds, “As if figure skating wasn’t gay enough already.”  The two-man team is viewed with initial contempt by Bible-thumpers to hotdog sellers.  After all, pairs skating traditionally involves opposite sex partners whose performance relies on implied romance, the man assuming the dominant role.  Essentially dancing on ice, the male duo is bound to be interpreted in homoerotic terms.

The film does not dance around the homoeroticism of the sport.  On the contrary, the comedy milks each queer moment for maximum laughs.  During tryouts, Chazz and Jimmy execute a number of tricks that mimic sexual positions from sixty-nine to scissoring.  Embracing intimacy, however, is precisely the key to their success.  The duo casts aside their pseudo-machismo  in favor of honest, close companionship.  True friends finally, the men achieve victory, winning gold in addition to the hearts of viewers who are fed up with the phoniness of catty couples like Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg who lie and cheat their way to the top.  Viewers also find refreshing the unabashed display of male bonding.

Critics who deem Blades of Glory homophobic need to realize that the film both celebrates and encourages male intimacy in sport and real life.  In fact, heterosexuality is presented grotesquely in the figure of Chazz.  Chazz, a sex addict, buries his repressed insecurity in female flesh, sleeping with most anyone—even considering his friend’s love interest a viable option.  Stranz and Fairchild, brother and sister, French-kiss at the movie’s end, revealing disturbing and disgusting incestuous desire.  Jimmy and Katie’s straight passion meanwhile is shown as juvenile and unexplored.  While the only explicitly gay character, Hector, does possess stalker tendencies, he is also responsible for discovering the loophole allowing Jimmy and Chazz to compete together.  Spawning Jimmy and Chazz’s road to redemption, Hector is the film’s hero who saves them from a destructive path of dead-end jobs, depression, and addiction.

Outside of the screen, males are not permitted to ice dance or figure skate together as partners in the OlympicsSystematic homophobia in Russia, host of the most recent winter games, as well as worldwide prejudice proves that progress must still be pursued.  If we all shed homophobic ideology, embracing intimacy’s spectrum, we will be winners in the game of life; the prize more priceless than any medal—bronze, silver, or gold.