Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Queer slant at Sundance


A scene from Derek Jarman's Edward II .
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To its lively Queer Lounge and annual Queer Brunch, the Sundance Film Festival generally adds more than a dollop of challenging content. The queer class of 2008 includes 17 feature-length and 10 short films, and highlights include a much-anticipated adaptation of Michael Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh; the long-awaited return of pioneer director Tom Kalin (Swoon ) with the family meltdown drama Savage Grace; a documentary tribute to the late Derek Jarman, with a revival of his much-touted history saga Edward II; and a shorts program that ranges from intrepid black lesbians defending South Bronx turf (Pariah ) to the closely-kept secret of a pair of manly Icelandic wrestlers.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh This adaptation of the 1988 Michael Chabon novel plops down at Sundance to respectful reviews (Variety, The Hollywood Reporter), but with a web boycott by devoted fans. The source of consternation is a plot rewrite (by director Rawson Marshall Thurber) that replaces the gay lover, Arthur, with a career turn from a smoking Peter Sarsgaard as Art's bi hoodlum biker bedmate. Jon Foster, Sienna Miller, Mena Suvari, and Nick Nolte as Art's gangster pop round out the cast.

Savage Grace "One of the uses of money is that it allows us not to live with the consequences of our mistakes." This quote from a participant in a homicidal meltdown that befell a real-life mainline American family in the early 70s gives a hint at the depths of depravity artfully covered in queer director Tom Kalin's second feature. Based on a true crime story by Natalie Robbins and Steven M.L. Aronson, Savage Grace tracks the tragic descent into madness of a young gay scion, Tony Baekeland (Eddie Redmayne), when caught between the delinquencies of a smothering mom (Julianne Moore) and a homophobic, philandering dad (Stephen Dillane). Set among expatriates still reeling from 60s excess, the film has one critic comparing Kalin's work to that of European masters Visconti, Fassbinder and Godard.

Otto, or Up With Dead People Canadian bad boy Bruce LaBruce reportedly outdoes himself with a mix of outr� sexuality and German Expressionist horror motifs that have this spooky treat confined to Sundance's Midnight showcase.

Hamlet 2 Andy Fleming's high school-based spoof (already ranking as one of Sundance's all-time major money deals) features British comic Steve Coogan as a misbehaving drama teacher whose attempt to put Shakespeare's brooding Dane to music results in an orgy of politically incorrect humor, including some unsavory queer jokes.

Derek Derek Jarman delighted in staging saucy reinterpretations of historical giants (Caravaggio, Edward II) using starkly dressed sets, sexually nimble, youthful casts and an array of creative anachronisms. The short career of Britain's minimalist screen genius is remembered in Isaac Julien's film, narrated by his close friend and collaborator Tilda Swinton.

The Living End The festival digs into the vaults to revive Gregg Araki's crazed, campy but stirring tale of two HIV+ lads on a crime spree. One of the first Castro box office hits from the New Queer Cinema, this frisky caper had LGBT fans divided about its merits, bu

Scene from Hamlet 2.
t not its heart.

Patti Smith: Dream of Life Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's one-time roommate and close friend Patti Smith and her pioneering musical pilgrimage are captured in this full-length portrait from Steven Sebring.

Pariah At 27 minutes, Dee Rees' short film about a charismatic Bronx black lesbian teen's attempts to buck social and familial rejection while staying on course for happiness seems primed for a feature-length expansion.

American Soldier Writer/director Edet Belzberg's story of a top army recruiter includes a subplot involving a young lesbian soldier.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster Christopher Bell profiles three brothers on a steroid binge. The doc includes a conversation with an HIV+ man who advocates steroid therapy.

Birds of America Queer director Craig Lucas' drama about sibling orphans (Ben Foster, Hillary Swank and Matthew Perry) includes a supporting character undergoing a sexual identity crisis.

Be Like Others Tanaz Eshaghian's doc focuses on an Iran where gay men and women are forced to consider gender reassignment surgery to survive in a land ruled by Islamic law.

The Assassination of a High School President Canadian comedy prodigy Reece Daniel Thompson's battles to overcome a speech impediment and the lure of gay erotic calendars were so enticing in last year's Rocket Science that he's back as a gum-chewing school reporter on the lookout for missing SAT tests.

Sundance Awards went to docs shot on the sites of recent American disasters. Trouble the Water, compiled from home movies shot by New Orleans residents at the height of Katrina, notched the Grand Jury Prize for best US Documentary, while the artfully produced Man on the Wire, about a French daredevil's successful 1974 bid to walk across a wire stretched between the former World Trade Center towers, captured the world doc prize. Frozen River, the story of two women smuggling workers across the American/Canadian border, copped the festival's Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Feature.

Jonathan Levine's Wackness, a quirky comedy about a teen drug-dealer's (Josh Peck) hobby of swapping pot for sessions with his shrink (Ben Kingsley), got the US Audience drama prize, while the Audience world drama trophy went to the Jordanian feature Captain Abu Raed, about an elderly storyteller's efforts to improve the lives of street urchins. Jens Jonsson's Swedish coming-of-age drama King of Ping-Pong got a world drama prize. Director trophies were also given Nanette Burstein's American Teen, detailing real-life high school stories; and Ballast, Lance Hammer's finely nuanced tale of how a man's suicide alters the lives of a teen, his single mom and a formerly disgruntled neighbor in a poor Mississippi Delta community.

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