Cinematic matters: Fall Arts films, part 2

  • by Brian Bromberger
  • Tuesday September 6, 2022
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Jalyn Hall as Emmet Till in 'Till'; David Bowie documentary 'Moonage Daydream'; Patricia Highsmith documentary 'Loving Highsmith'
Jalyn Hall as Emmet Till in 'Till'; David Bowie documentary 'Moonage Daydream'; Patricia Highsmith documentary 'Loving Highsmith'

In a February study, 'Where We Are on TV,' commissioned by GLAAD, streaming services are leading all entertainment sources in telling LGBTQ stories, with Netflix topping its streaming competitors with the most queer inclusivity.

However, a June article in Rolling Stone observed that though Hollywood outwardly supports LGBT rights, it still has a mixed track record in queer representation. "On the big screen, gay characters continued to be relegated to the sidelines, and edited out of movies altogether when they are deemed too high a financial risk," the article noted.

For example, in June, Disney demanded Pixar cut a harmless hello kiss between a lesbian married couple in "Lightyear," a spinoff of "Toy Story." It was only after Pixar employees protested via an open letter that Disney backed off. The film still had a disappointing opening and didn't do well in worldwide sales.

These content decisions have a greater impact on foreign box office, as certain countries like China and Saudi Arabia won't screen films with LGBTQ content. The article's conclusion is ultimately Hollywood's fear of not making money trumps any championing of queer people.

As this continued list of fall offerings reveals, there are many queer artists behind the camera, even if on camera portrayals are still a mixed bag.

"Moonage Daydream" is a documentary "illuminating the life and genius of bisexual English singer-songwriter David Bowie. Told through sublime kaleidoscopic, never-before-seen footage, performances, and music, this cinematic odyssey explores Bowie's creative musical and spiritual journey."

Bowie himself is the narrator and is the first officially sanctioned film on the artist. The doc might be as an immersive experience of Bowie as Todd Haynes accomplished last year in "The Velvet Underground" for that landmark experimental rock band. Perhaps it will also help us understand the "chilly, sexy, enigma" that was Bowie. The title comes from Bowie's 1971 song; in theaters, September 16, then HBO Max in Spring 2023.

It took almost 30 years, but "Hocus Pocus 2" is a haunting sequel to the 1993 Hollywood cult classic, which brings back the delightfully wicked three-hundred-year-old Sanderson sisters returning to present-day Salem seeking revenge for returning them back to the grave in the original fantasy comedy horror film. It's up to three high school students to stop their havoc.

Starring the original trio of Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler, and Kathy Najimy, this sequel could be another so-bad-it's-good campfest like its predecessor. Perhaps Midler will revisit her now definitive rendition of "I Put A Spell On You." - on Disney Plus, September 30 in time for Halloween.

Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) was the author of "Carol," (original title "Salt"), the first lesbian story with a happy ending and her life is illuminated in the documentary "Loving Highsmith," which screened at this year's Frameline. Based on her diaries and notebooks (found after her death in a laundry closet), it features interviews with family and surviving former gossipy girlfriends.

Her books "Stranger on a Train" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley" brought her fame and fortune, but she resented being pigeonholed as a crime novelist. She could be prickly and nasty (as well as hiding her sexuality from her family and the public) but she had a traumatic childhood; abandoned by her mother, who later rejected her as an adult. This intimate doc compels us to reevaluate Highsmith as an artist and grapple with how her sexuality impacted her creativity; in theaters, September 9.

The life of Italian fashion icon Salvatore Ferragamo is explored in the documentary, "Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams." In 1915 a poor teenage cobbler sailed from Naples to America seeking a better life. He settled in southern California and became Hollywood's go-to shoemaker during the silent era ("The Thief of Bagdad," "The Ten Commandments").

In 1927 he returned to Florence where he founded his luxury brand. Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, and Ingrid Bergman among other luminaries wore his shoes. The narrator is Michael Stuhlbarg, Elio's father, Mr. Perlman in "Call Me By Your Name." Fitting, as that film's gay director, Luca Guadagnino, performs the same duties for this doc; in theaters, November 4.

The biographical drama film "Till" follows educator and activist, Mamie Till-Mobley's pursuit of justice after the 1955 lynching of her 14-year-old son Emmett Till (Jalyn Hall). The film uses the research of Keith Beauchamp whose efforts led to the reopening of the Till case by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2004. Danielle Deadwyler ("The Harder They Fall") stars as Mamie, with Whoopi Goldberg in a supporting role; in theaters, October 14.

"Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" charts "every facet of the singer's life from his meteoric rise to fame with early hits like 'Eat It" and 'Like a Surgeon' to his torrid celebrity love affairs and famously depraved lifestyle." Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, who has created a fascinating adult career in offbeat, independent films, will star as Yankovic, along with bisexual actress Evan Rachel Wood as Madonna. Yankovic co-wrote the screenplay; in theaters, November 4.

In a case of perfect timing in light of the Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade last June, "Call Jane" revolves around a married woman with an unwanted pregnancy at a time when it was illegal to get an abortion. She works with a group of suburban women called the Jane Collective to find help and also fight for women's rights. Elizabeth Banks stars, but it is Sigourney Weaver getting raves as the Collective's leader. Lesbian Phyllis Nagy directs, but she's best known for her Oscar nominated screenplay for "Carol," Todd Hayne's 1950s lesbian romance; in theaters, October 28.

"She Said" is another biographical drama, with this one derived from the 2019 book about two Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Times journalists, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who exposed Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein's history of abuse and sexual misconduct against the female employees of Miramax and The Weinstein Company studios.

The film stars Carey Mulligan ("Promising Young Woman" and Zoe Kazan ("The Big Sick"). The allegations ignited the #MeToo movement and resulted in Weinstein being sentenced to 23 years in prison. Actor Brad Pitt is one of the producers, resulting in blowback because he was aware of Weinstein's behavior in 1996 by his then-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow, but continued to work with Weinstein afterwards anyway. A strong possible Oscar contender, it'll be in theaters November 18.

"The Fablemans" is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama, loosely based on director Steven Spielberg's childhood. It stars Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy Fabelman, who grew up in post-World War II Arizona from age seven to eighteen. He discovers a shattering family secret and explores how the power of films can help him see the truth, leading to his passion for movie-making.

It stars Michelle Williams and Paul Dano as Sammy's parents and Seth Rogen as his favorite Uncle Benny. Spielberg co-wrote the screenplay with gay playwright Tony Kushner ("Angels in America"). The Oscars love these directorial deeply personal stories (i.e. "Belfast," "Roma"). Spielberg's most personal film to date and with last year's 7-Oscar nominated reboot of "West Side Story," at 76 he is enjoying a late career renaissance; in theaters, November 11.

Prolific gay French director Francois Ozon's ("Summer of 85") latest, "Peter von Kant," reimagines his gay artistic mentor, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's lesbian classic "The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant" on its 50th anniversary. He reverses the gender spectrum of the all-female original, in which famous, narcissistic, and cruel filmmaker Peter von Kant, portrayed in an over-the-top performance by Denis Menochet ("By the Grace of God"), falls madly in love with Amir, a young gorgeous student, (Khalil Gharbia), introduced to him by his actress muse Sidonia (Isabelle Adjani, magnificent as always).

Peter makes him a star and that's when his troubles begin. Actress Hanna Schygulla, Petra's object of desire in the original, here plays Peter's mother. It's an homage to Fassbinder but incorporates melodramatic elements in the style of the 1950s legendary Hollywood director, Douglas Sirk; at the Landmark Opera Theater now.

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