Film forum: gay DVDs to tide you over

  • by Brian Bromberger
  • Tuesday September 12, 2023
Share this Post:
'In From The Side,' 'Lonesome' and 'Minyan' on DVD and BluRay
'In From The Side,' 'Lonesome' and 'Minyan' on DVD and BluRay

It now appears certain that both the Hollywood writer's and actor's strikes are going to last a while. Films scheduled to open in the fall and early winter have been postponed and/or pushed back to 2024. While streaming channels have finished films and series for the fall, come the new year they will have less new product, though they'll likely be importing more foreign entertainment, not affected by the strikes.

'Bare' (TLA Releasing)  

Since one can only watch so many reruns, queer audiences might reconsider discovering movies from last year that have recently been reissued on DVD and Blu-ray. Of course, major LGBTQ-related Hollywood movies such as "Tar," "Everything Everywhere All At Once," and "The Whale" are already purchasable on DVD or streaming channels. This prolonged drought in Hollywood gives viewers a golden opportunity to explore less well-known independent and foreign films, some of which you might have missed when they played here at local film festivals.

Not only are the following gay-themed DVDs available and worth purchasing, but with one exception (the Bressan films), all are free to check out from the San Francisco Public Library.

All Man: The International Male Story (Giant Pictures, $24.95)
A popular offering at Frameline46, this made my list of the Top LGBTQ films of 2022. This documentary charts the history of the International Male catalog, which began in 1976, that not only featured provocative men's fashion (especially underwear) but gorgeous models who set the standard for gay male physiques for decades, even though most of them were heterosexual.

The catalog allowed gay males to indulge their sexual fantasies, inside and outside the bedroom, but also provided a safe bridge for them to come out and not feel so rejected. The film argues that the catalog helped change conservative notions of American masculinity and dress, making it more carefree and confident, as well as sexy. It wasn't just selling menswear but promoting a lifestyle brand.

Narrated by out actor Matt Bomer, this lighthearted film with its breezy tone gives the catalog the credit it deserves for redefining images of masculinity in popular culture, changing the way men looked at themselves and each other.

Bare (TLA Releasing, $24.99)
This voyeuristic, behind-the-scenes documentary from Belgium gives a bird's eye view as a choreographer (Thierry Smits) and his team audition, rehearse, and eventually premiere the dance piece, "Anima Ardens," in which all the men will dance nude. The film reveals the internal artistic conflicts between the dancers and their personal challenges of creating the performance, showing how vulnerable they can be, as they strip away their defenses, all in pursuit of artistic freedom. It's not as exciting as it could have been and you get used to all the nudity. There are definite dull patches, still this doc is an unabashed celebration of movement and the male body, attempting to eliminate the taboos linked to the masculine form.

In From The Side (Strand Releasing, $24.99)
This gay British rugby film, a favorite at Frameline46, concerns two team squads, whose boundary is not to be crossed, until Mark (Alexander Lincoln) and Warren (Alexander King) have a fling after a drunken soiree. They are both in unhappy committed partnerships, so no one can learn about their full-blown affair, since it could destroy the club they love.

Lincoln and King have an undeniable frisson, especially as they writhe in grimy mud. Sexy and homoerotic, with an almost inevitable end that can border on melodrama, it's a guilty pleasure that is absorbing and hot, despite their sweaty encounters resulting in collateral damage.

Like Me (Breaking Glass Pictures, $24.99)
This coming-of-age film from Israel focuses on confident Tel Aviv high school senior Tom (Yoav Keren) who discovers his sexuality in a threesome with a gay couple, and is evicted by his distant widower dad when he finds some incriminating photos on his phone.

Tom finds himself smitten with an older fashion photographer twice his age, but he's also secretly in love with his straight friend Gilad (Mendi Barsheshet), despite his beginning a relationship with his Instagram-influencer girlfriend Noa (Roni Adler). This is one of those 'will they or won't they' situations as Tom wonders whether Gilad is bisexual. The plot can seem abrupt but our free-spirited gay hero, assisted by striking visual imagery and some sultry dancing, does win our hearts as he sorts out his sexual identity.

Lonesome (Dark Star Pictures, $24.99)
Another crowd pleaser at Frameline46, this is a sexy drama from Australia in which country boy Casey (Josh Lavery) fleeing a small-town scandal, escapes to Sydney to start a new life. Through a threesome he located on Grindr, he meets Tibi (Daniel Gabriel) and after a successful hookup, winds up staying at his apartment. They work together for cash in a series of odd jobs. An effective team, they grow closer as both are alone in the world.

Both men have withstood physical and emotional abuse. Can the couple overcome their scars and build a life together? Josh Lavery, with his James Dean-like looks and vulnerability, gives a star-making performance, putting his bid in as the next Heath Ledger. He's nude for at least half the movie, but we promise you won't mind. He's the heartthrob who will break your heart. A story that's been told many times previously, the top-notch performances raise it up and you can't help but root that despite their individual traumas, they'll be able to make a permanent connection.

Minyan (Strand Home Video, $24.99)
This period piece brilliantly recreates 1987 Brighton Beach Brooklyn during the AIDS era, revolving around 17-year-old David (Samuel H. Levine, in a breakout role). Son of Russian immigrant parents and a yeshiva student, he's sorting out his sexuality (with a gay bartender, in hot scenes) and his attachment to Judaism's culture and tradition. Ron Rifkin radiates as his beloved elderly recently widowed grandfather as they live together and befriend a closeted elderly holocaust surviving male couple in their building. They help David sort through his competing identities. Evocative and powerful, this small jewel can be appreciated even if you're not Jewish.

Passing Strangers/Forbidden Letters (Altered Innocence, $29.99)
These two films were made in the early 1970s by Arthur Bressan, a true pioneer of gay motion pictures, who died of AIDS in 1987, best known for "Buddies" (the first film to ever deal with AIDS) and "GayUSA" (the first documentary about Gay Pride). These films blurred the boundaries between the artistic and the erotic. They are classy porn movies among the first to have a narrative plot with real characters.

In "Passing Strangers," a closeted gay teenager finds love, community, and a political awakening when he answers a personal ad from an older, jaded man. "Forbidden Letters" concerns Larry, who waits for his older lover (early porn star Richard Locke) to be released from prison. He reads through the letters he wrote to him, wondering whether the spark will still be there when he's released. These films are considered landmarks of early queer cinema, restored in 2K with a host of new bonus features.

The Power Of The Dog (Criterion Collection, $39.95)
One of the top films of 2021, "Dog" was produced by Netflix, which like most streaming platforms ordinarily doesn't release its movies on DVD (because they want you to subscribe to its channel). But because it received so much critical praise and 12 Academy Award nominations (it won one for Jane Campion as Best Director), it licensed Criterion to create one.

Based on Thomas Savage's 1967 novel, it's a master study of closeted behavior and repressed desires. In the desolate plains of 1920s Montana, a brother marries a widow and with her son, they come to live at his ranch along with his brutish brother who's both repelled and attracted to the enigmatic son.

The films awakens in his loutish behavior a capacity for tenderness that may lead to redemption or destruction. Brilliant performances include Benedict Cumberbatch as the tormented brother and Kodi Smit-McPhee as his conniving victim. As with most Criterion films, there are many extras including interviews with Campion, actor Kirsten Dunst (as the widow) and the producer, as well as novelist Annie Proulx (of "Brokeback Mountain" fame) who knew Savage.

Private Desert (Kino Lorber, $29.95)
A highlight at Frameline46, this is a trenchant examination of toxic masculinity from Brazil, which has among the highest crime rates against transgender and queer people. Daniel (Antonio Saboia, in a bravura performance) is a police academy instructor, who —in an act of violence perhaps resulting from the stress of caring for his aging ex-military commander father—in a violent confrontation with a rookie cop, lands him in a hospital in a coma.

Disgraced and suspended from the police force, Daniel's emotional anchor is a flirtatious online relationship with his internet girlfriend Sara, who catfishes him and stops answering his texts. Sara isn't everything she claims to be. Daniel travels 1500 miles to track her down to discover what has happened, in a journey of obsession, hope, and transformation. It's the story of a sexy and unconventional romance, battling repression in its many forms.

Rob Epstein And Jeffrey Friedman Collection (Kino Lorber, $24.99)
Epstein and Friedman are perhaps the foremost gay documentarians. This collection features three of their most essential works long out of print, in new restorations. "Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt" (1989) uses the Names Project Memorial Quilt to explore the cross-section of identities affected by HIV/AIDS, to commemorate those lost to the pandemic, as well as to combat the stigma, misinformation, and political obstruction that deepened the crisis. It won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

"Where Are We? Our Trip Through America" (1992) follows Epstein and Friedman as they chronicle an 18-day road trip through red states from coast to coast, in an early attempt to build a bridge with conservatives, as they interview a large variety of people, asking about their hopes and regrets.

"Paragraph 175" (2000) reveals the history and lasting consequences of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals prior to and during World War II, which continued after the conflict by keeping this anti-queer law on the books. There are lots of extras for all three docs including interviews with the late activist Vito Russo as well as gay Holocaust survivors.

Sublime (Cinephobia Rising, $19.95)
This sensitive feature debut is a sweet, coming-of-age drama from Argentina about shy 16-year-old Manuel (Martin Miller) who, with his best friend Felipe (Teo Inama Chiabrando), forms a garage rock band. Close since childhood, strains develop when Felipe starts dating a girl, as Manuel suppresses his nascent sexual feelings for him even as he also start seeing a female classmate. Confused and fearful, he begins lashing out, though his concealed emotions will tenderly surface. Understated with a definite chemistry between the two leads as they navigate their desires. The pop songs are charming and contribute to the pleasing ambiance.

The Swimmer (Strand Home Video, $24.99)
This is a tense gay sports drama from Israel about five guys competing for one spot on the Olympic swim team, one of whom is Erez (Omer Perelman Striks), who's gay and has a crush on a fellow teammate Nevo (Asaf Jonas). He can't decide whether he wants sex or a chance at winning more. While the guys are all gorgeous looking, this is really about the physical and emotional toll that training and competition takes on athletes.

Their homophobic coach subtly threatens Erez, which only mounts the increasing anxiety and desire. And is Nevo interested in Erez? It all builds to the final race that will determine the ultimate winner. The film asks, is all the ambition and competition worth it and what is winning anyway? This tense drama that will keep you intrigued to the final resolution.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.