Queer films rock the Roxie

  • by Sari Staver
  • Tuesday February 28, 2017
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With a long history of supporting queer cinema, the Roxie Theater is really rocking it this month, with seven films of interest to LGBT audiences on their March calendar.

First on tap is Staying Vertical (3/3, 5, 7 & 8), a new film Vanity Fair magazine called the "most controversial film" to screen at the Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Alain Guiraudie, who is gay and has directed 10 mostly LGBT films since 1990, his latest film tells the story of a writer trying to finish a screenplay and his interactions with a variety of people while coping with writer's block.

Among the scenes many reviewers found shocking was one in which the writer sodomizes an elderly man who is dying after taking a suicide cocktail. The scene is graphic, showing the two having sex, both nude and uncovered by sheets, until the man is dead. The film, greeted by mixed reviews, was nominated for the prestigious Palme d'Or (the highest prize awarded at Cannes) as well as the Queer Palm. The New York Times film critic A.O. Scott said the film has a "rough gravity that holds your attention and sticks in your mind."

On March 6, the Roxie has two screenings of the 1981 black comedy Polyester, which was directed, produced and written by John Waters, and stars Divine, Tab Hunter, Edith Massy and Mink Stole. The film was shot in Baltimore, Waters' hometown, and features a gimmick called "Odorama," allowing moviegoers to smell what they saw on the screen through specially made scratch-and-sniff cards.

Last year, when the Roxie screened the film complete with the scratch-and-sniff cards provided by Warner Bros., the film sold out quickly and another screening was added. The film, a satirical look at suburban life, involving divorce, abortion, adultery, alcoholism, foot fetishism, and the religious right, has been popular with gay audiences since it was released .

On March 9, moviegoers will enjoy a double bill. The 30-minute lost documentary Gay San Francisco screens at 6:45 p.m., followed by the underground cult film Meat Rack, with an Q&A with director Michael Thomas following the film. The screenings, co-sponsored by the Tenderloin Museum, depict the early queer movements in the Tenderloin, unveiling the district as pivotal in the gay rights movement as the first gay neighborhood in the city.

Gay San Francisco, shot between 1965-70 by Jonathan Raymond, features a collection of footage of San Francisco's thriving LGBT culture, with scenes from gay bars intercut with interviews featuring gay men, lesbians, and trans women discussing issues from harassment to sex to job security. Filmmakers Susan Stryker and Victor Silverman unearthed Gay San Francisco while researching their Emmy Award-winning documentary Screaming Queens: the Riot at Compton's Cafeteria. The Tenderloin Museum screened the film for the first time in 30 years to a sold-out audience.

The soft-core rarity Meat Rack, shot mostly in San Francisco, is a gritty, brooding story of a bisexual hustler who has sex with anyone who has the money. According to the Roxie website, the film uses sexploitation and art-film esthetics and is "an essential and compelling artifact of pre-hardcore adult cinema." Director Thomas, who shot the film when he was 21, went on to co-found Strand Releasing, one of the most important American independent distributors and a central force behind the New Queer Cinema of the 1990s.

Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs in director Howard Brookner's Burroughs. Photo: Courtesy the Roxie

For three nights beginning March 10, the Roxie will screen the 1983 documentary Burroughs, made up of intimate revelatory footage of the author and poet William Burroughs filmed over the course of five years by Howard Brookner, which had been lost until the late director's nephew discovered a print of it in 2011 and spearheaded a restoration. The film is a nonfiction portrait that features onscreen appearances by artists Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Huncke, Patti Smith, and Terry Southern.

Howard Brookner and William S. Burroughs in Uncle Howard. Photo: Courtesy the Roxie

Also beginning March 10 and screening nightly through March 16 is Uncle Howard, a new release telling the story of filmmaker Howard Brookner, whose work captured the late 1970s and early 80s cultural revolution, as well as his nephew's personal journey 25 years later to discover his uncle's films and the legacy of his life, cut short by AIDS. The film includes long-lost footage and archival photos of Andy Warhol, Spike Lee, John Waters, and Madonna.

Finally, on March 24, the Roxie presents the local premiere of Douglas Langway's Bear City 3, which screens for seven nights. The Bear City trilogy began in 2010 with a comedy depicting a group of bears, who returned in 2012 for Bear City 2 with new cast members Kathy Najimy, Richard Riehle, and Kevin Smith.

The Bear City films were written, directed and edited by Langway, who won the 2010 grand jury award for best screenplay by the Los Angeles LGBT film festival, Outfest. Langway, who is gay, also wrote, produced, directed and edited the first gay action film, Raising Heroes, in 1996, dubbed "a nonstop speeding bullet of a picture" by the online website Film Threat .

The Roxie has always had a commitment to LGBT cinema, said executive director Dave Cowen, a straight ally, in an interview. Last year, after hiring longtime LGBT programmer Jennifer "Junkyard" Morris to the staff, "We've been able to increase the quantity and quality of our LGBT programming," he said.

Roxie fans who would like to support the independent movie-house should consider either joining its membership program (roxie.com/membership) or attending the March 8 annual fundraiser, a $150 per person (a significant portion of which will be tax-deductible) event that includes dinner, bowling, and an auction, held at the trendy Mission Bowling Club ( accelevents.com/events/roxie#the-event).