Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The 24th Day: A Gay Misfire

LOGO has been showing a 2004 film called The 24th Day a lot lately. It comes off to me as a film that exploits gay and HIV subject matter, throws in some interesting tidbits, but doesn't really know what to do with them, mostly due to the insufficiencies of the screenwriter. Based on a play by one Tony Piccirillo, it was also written and directed by him. According to Piccirillo, he got the idea for the play after he got strep throat or something after a brief affair with a woman (sic), and a nurse suggested he should get tested for AIDS. He confronted the woman, who told him he was making too much of it. This somehow evolved into an essentially gay film (what -- heteros don't get HIV?) about a married-and-in-denial guy, Tom (Scott Speedman) who ties up an out-of-the-closet gay man, Dan (James Marsden of X-Men) because he thinks he gave him AIDS during an encounter years before. It turns out that Tom was married, and his wife committed suicide after learning she had AIDS. He claims that he is essentially straight and had only one sexual encounter with a man -- Dan. He feels that Dan to all intents and purposes murdered his wife and ruined his life. Dan says he didn't force him to commit adultery with a man and it's Tom's fault if he passed HIV along to his unknowing spouse. Tom takes a sample of Dan's blood, gives it to a friend to take to a lab, and says he'll set Dan free if he's HIV negative, and kill him if he's positive.

Yuchhh. First let me say that the main problem with the film -- and there are many -- is that we've got a situation where a self-deceptive, self-hating, homophobic closet queen somehow holds himself to be morally superior to an out-of-the-closet gay man. There doesn't seem to be any indication that Dan knew he was HIV positive (assuming he is) at the time of their encounter, and Tom himself takes no responsibility for having unsafe sex. Dan does suggest that Tom may well have had many more homo encounters than he's admitting to, and also advises him that since his wife had symptoms first, she actually might have given the virus to her husband. To be fair, this is an intriguing (if melodramatic) situation, but the movie doesn't make the most of it, going awry long before the conclusion.

Unwisely, the film tries to be trendy when it comes to sexual identity. Dan admits that just because he has sex with a woman now and then doesn't mean he's straight (or even bi), that he has absolutely no intention of giving up men and getting a wife. Fine. But he seems to agree with Tom that an occasional episode with a man doesn't make a man gay or bi, which is ludicrous at its core. If we didn't live in a world that was full of homophobia and yet devoid of heterophobia (which affects every gay person even on a subconsious level) I might buy this notion of "bicuriosity." On the contrary, I think it's bullshit. Bicurious men are men who can't quite accept their homosexuality, plain and simple, political correctness and bisexuality be damned.

Instead of really exploring this issue -- one of internalized homophobia -- Piccirillo gives Dan a ludicrous speech about not putting people in boxes, and how men who are essentially straight but also attracted to men have a more difficult time of it than women in the same (if opposite) situation. "It's totally messed up for guys who prefer women and have a slight curiosity about men. ... "

And : "Being with a man or wanting to be with a man doesn't make you gay ... "

Uh, sure.

Let me make it clear that this speech is not given to Tom, the closet case, but to Dan, the gay guy! But it's just the sort of thing that gay guys in denial are always saying. [Read my controversial post, Seriously in Denial.]

Now another problem with this project is that it doesn't seem to be the product of what you might call gay sensibilities. The two lead actors are apparently straight. All I know about Piccirillo is that he had a four-year-old son at the time of the film's release and once upon a time was afraid he'd caught AIDS from a girlfriend. And isn't it ridiculous that in the 21st century we still don't really know who's gay or who isn't or who's in denial and who's supposedly "bi-curious" and even if we do know we can't come right out and say because even though there's nothing wrong with being gay saying someone is gay can still be considered as libelous as saying someone is a serial killer or a terrorist. (All right -- take a deep breath after that sentence.)

That being said, I also must say that I have no personal knowledge of the private lives of Marsden, Speedman, or Piccirillo. Another truth is that The 24th Day comes off as the project of straight men who are totally out of their depth (and closet cases -- not that I'm saying that that's what we're dealing with here -- might just as well be straight due to their lack of any gay sensibility). One has to ask why Piccirillo couldn't have used heterosexual characters in the same situations - after all he supposedly got the idea from an encounter with a woman. Did he think The 24th Day might get more attention or support as a "gay" movie? Does he still think AIDS is a "gay disease?" It's like having a Caucasian writing a play about African-Americans and inevitably getting it all wrong. Sometimes going for publicity-generating controversy is the worst way to go. (By the way, the title refers to the fact that Tom learned he had HIV 24 days before the film proper begins.)

The film is also a disappointment on the artistic front. A really great play could have been written employing these two characters and dealing with the same themes -- certainly personal responsibility as well as responsibility to others is important these days when it comes to the HIV pandemic (but this is as true for straights as it is for gays) -- but Piccirillo is stepping out of his league in tackling these matters. As a director, he fails to imbue his film with enough thrills or tension (it's supposed to be a thriller, after all, but mostly comes off as a talky videotaped stage play). The performances of Marsden and Speedman are certainly not awful, but the actors aren't quite up to the script's challenges, and soft-spoken Speedman is often unintelligible. They don't really seem to understand the characters -- but neither does Piccirillo. [Does he relate at all to Dan? Does he relate to the pathetic Tom?] To be fair to Piccirillo, he makes an effort, but whether the problem is lack of identification or lack of talent or both, it just isn't enough.

And why on earth does Picirillo have the two men go on and on about the show Charlie's Angels, which these characters, given their relative youth, could only have seen on TVLand if at all? I have had countless conversations with gay men of all types and ages over the years but I've yet to have a conversation about Charlie's Angels, be it TV show or movie.

I don't know if Dan was originally conceived as a "pig," a gay man who will try just about anything, safe sex be damned. There's no denying that men like this exist, but they also have their heterosexual equivalent. But there are a great many gay men who are constantly conscious of safe sex, carry condoms at all times, and are responsible to themselves and to their sex partners. Straight characters [a widow whose husband died of AIDS confronts the male drug user who gave her HIV, for instance] might have actually made the play/movie even more controversial and timely, given how HIV infection is rising in the heterosexual community.

Given its subject matter, I guess I can't fault LOGO for airing the film so that the three or four people who've heard of it can make up their own minds. Frankly The 24th Day muffs so many great opportunities for drama and enlightenment that I can't think of a better place for it than at 5 AM in the morning. Too bad. Interesting situations and discussions are sort of frittered away in a two-man acting exercise where the uncertain actors sort of sink to the level of the exploitative material.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Oy Vey -- A Daily Variety of "mincing effeminacy"

The Kid from Brooklyn, a new musical about the comedian Danny Kaye, was reviewed in Daily Variety [December 17th 2007] by Bob Verini. Verini writes: "As for Kaye's psychological makeup, tantalizing hints (a cheek touch from Laurence Olivier) that his mincing effeminacy [italics mine]was no pose go unaddressed." [For the record, in his biography of Laurence Oliver, Donald Spoto suggested that the great tragedian might have had an affair with Kaye, but while this bit of info was fascinating, it wasn't really substantiated, alas.]

As you can see from the comical pose above, Kaye -- like most comedians -- could do the mincing (but not necessarily gay) business with the best of them, although I never really thought of him as "effeminate" (not that that would make him a bad person). Certainly this doesn't mean that he, Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope and legions of others were all gay in real life. When Kaye wasn't -- for lack of a better term -- camping it up, he always seemed perfectly "masculine," which certainly doesn't preclude his being gay. What bothered me is the way Verini suggests that if a man is gay any "mincing" he does -- even if it's only for the camera as part of some comedy routine -- is of course the way he actually is off-screen, all gay men presumably -- according to Verini's mind-set -- being "big swishes." Verini may not have meant it that way -- --the reviewer is a complete unknown to me, I know nothing of his personal life -- but this whole gay-man-as-mincing-faggot business is so incredibly out of date and irritating, given what we now know of the expansiveness of the gay male community, that it raises my blood temperature no matter who says it or how.
Even those gay men who are effeminate rarely "mince" in the way that alleged comedians portray them, and -- possessed of their own inner strength (if for no other reason than their having to deal with gay-bashing comments on a nearly daily basis) -- they absolutely do not deserve the disrespect that seems continuously poured over them -- and by extension all gay men -- in buckets. Comedy may in part be about exaggeration, but when you've heard the same jokes over and over and over again it gets old real fast.

Some straight men sometimes see/describe gay men as camping, mincing, being "light in the loafers," floating several inches off the ground, etc. even when the gay man in question is butch. Most straight men -- especially if they're insecure -- can't deal with the fact that there are gay men who are a lot more manly than they are. They can only comfortably deal with a masculine gay man if they imagine that no matter how he acts in public, when he's home alone with his friends suddenly his wrists go limp and he walks around with a decided wiggle. Even if they don't think that, they still like to think that the man is somehow feminine on the inside. And this applies to gay-friendly straight men who should know better as much as it does to the homophobes.

So -- was Danny Kaye gay? Apparently Hollywood insiders of a certain age say that there were rumors for years. One prominent Hollywood chronicler I know labeled him "bisexual" (at least in the technical sense as he was married with children). While I often found Kaye to be a little overbearing for my taste, he was a talented man and a likable performer.

If it turns out he was gay, so much the better.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Don't Ask, Don't Tell on 60 Minutes

Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes did a new report this past Sunday (December 16th, 2007) on the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy concerning gays. The gay soldiers (including mechanics, technicians and linguists) interviewed ran the gamut from cute, somewhat "sweet" young guys to very butch marines, all of whom seemed highly competent at their jobs, the point of which was made by Stahl and others. [The segment was produced by Karen M. Sughrue.] Cholene Espinoza, a lesbian combat pilot who now flies for commercial airlines and works to repeal the DADT policy, was interviewed, along with the usual homophobic suspects, such as General
Daniel Davis, who argued that military units are generally conservative and that "morally repugnant" gays who were open about their sexuality would, in essence, negatively affect morale.

Another idiot, Presidential candidate Duncan Hunter of the Armed Forces committee, claimed that gays just weren't tough enough to be in combat, more dumb all-gay-men-are-big-sissies stereotyping. He felt that the American military needed "hardened soldiers" more than the countries that permitted gays to serve! [No doubt Hunter thought it hilarious that the combat pilot was a lesbian. I have known gay men who were combat pilots and I have no doubt there are many in Iraq and elsewhere today, although they may not have been interviewed by Stahl.] I know Stahl was going for balance, but I feel she gave far too much air time to Hunter. The trouble was that it was undoubtedly difficult for her to find gay servicemen and women willing to talk on camera, for obvious reasons.

One of the gay soldiers said that about 100 people knew he was gay (he was not stereotypically gay) and felt that no one had reported him because they were his peers, "the Will and Grace generation," and didn't see homosexuality as a sickness. Even Stahl mentioned that perhaps he and the other soldiers were being a little naive. One of them mentioned how his petty officer told him that he found homosexuals to be disgusting on every level but "we still love ya," he assured him. Another man had faced much more discrimination and was discharged when it was discovered he was gay. The gay soldiers felt that the pentagon was out of touch with most Americans when it came to the DADT policy and Stahl said that indeed a survey indicated that 75% of the country felt it was okay for gays to serve in the military (that seems a little high to me).

In England gays are allowed to serve openly, and even allowed to march for Gay Pride. Admiral Sir Alan West (who I thought was terrific) made the point that the Spartans were plenty macho and, according to him, most of them were gay. He ridiculed Hunter's comments, saying one doesn't have to be all stereotypically gung ho to get the job done. Oddly, none of the group of military men who recently came out against the DADT policy were interviewed (maybe because their superiors wouldn't allow it).

This whole business of all gay men being weak sisters persists generation after generation. On The Late, Late Show a young comedian named Gabriel Iglesias recently told one of the most vile homophobic jokes I've heard in a long time. Telling about how he was on a plane when it suddenly dropped a great distance, he said "Now I'm a pretty tough guy but I went gay for three seconds," then proceeded to screech and squeal and wiggle in an effeminate manner -- acting like a gay guy, ha ha -- that many drag queens would have thought over the top. The host and the audience roared with laughter as if they thought it was the funniest thing they'd ever heard.

Now anyone would probably be terrified if they thought their plane were about to crash (not exactly a great topic for humor to begin with) but surely Iglesias could have made that point without doing the usual "faggot" routine. He never used the "fag" word, but he might as well have. Gay men -- along with lesbians -- remain easy targets, the last acceptable group to bash and make fun of. (In contrast, bisexuals don't even have their own slur word, and while drag queens get bashed -- as gay men -- transsexuals seem to be under the radar for comics, although that may change in the future as their visibility increases.)

I'd like to think that there were some straight people in the audience of The Late, Late Show who were also appalled by the "joke."

I can only imagine how any gay people sitting in the audience must have felt.

Truth Wins Out

Wayne Besen, author and activist, is executive director of Truth Wins Out (TWO), a group that is dedicated to exposing the lies of "ex-gay" groups who promote homophobia and self-hatred and who dupe confused homosexuals into believing they can turn straight. Numerous ex-gays who have appeared on talk shows to talk about how straight they've become have been caught cruising gay bars in town only hours later. Groups such as Exodus try to convince homosexuals that they can "convert" via a combination of prayer and what one might call "stupid pet tricks."

You can check out Truth Wins Out's website here.

Two has just released two Internet commercials which debunk the idiotic and offensive claims of the ex-gay moment. You can check out one of them here on youtube. [NOTE: the photo above is from the ad. That is not Wayne Besen but ex-gay survivor Nick Cavnar.]

Wayne crossed swords with a homophobic "ex-gay" in a comical fashion on the Daily Show. You can read my report of this amusing episode here.

I hope TWO gets all the support it deserves.

And I think Wayne Besen is great.

The sad thing is that many gays who don't keep up with things have no idea how many hate-mongering, homophobic assholes are out there, many of whom point to the bible to justify their anti-gay prejudice. The blog Good as You (GAY) has a link to a radio interview between "ex-gay" Charlene Cothran and a few other self-justifying homophobes which you can find here.

A Shot of Sheer Stupidity

MTV, the network that's brought us such intellectual programs as The Real World and Jackass, has now come out with another "gem," A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila. The modestly-attractive Tila [photo on left] is a reality show participant who's bent on stardom and -- even with the absence of any discernable talent -- will do just about anything to get it. She's started on a course that may remind some of Anne Heche, who used a relationship with Ellen Degeneres to kick-start her career.

Tila identifies as bisexual. Which is strange because she's said that her new reality show will help her decide whether she likes boys or girls (and here I thought bisexuals already knew that they liked both). The premise of the show is that Tila will date 16 straight men and 16 lesbians and then decide on who will be her lover. The twist is that the men and women will not be told that they'll be competing against each other until the second episode. (On this episode one gay woman wisely packs up and gets the hell out of there.)

I know there are people -- mostly the very young, stupid and possibly bi-identified -- who will say that the show is a breath of fresh air, so enlightened and liberated, fun for gays, straights and bi's.,that one would have to be an old meanie to object to it. Actually I think anyone would half a brain would see this merde for exactly what it is. A show that has absolutely nothing to do with gay (or even bi) pride and more enlightened attitudes and everything to do with simple exploitation and even homophobia, an even stupider show than Gay, Straight or Taken.

First of all, the outcome of this show was never in doubt. Did anyone seriously not think, in true Anne Heche fashion, that "bisexual" Tila would pick a guy in the final episode -- which is exactly what she does (wouldn't it be funny if he were a closeted homo?). Is there anyone of intelligence who does not see that the celebrity-seeking Tequila might be willing to neck with women to turn on straight male executives (and what is that about anyway?) but isn't willing to enter into a real live lesbian relationship for the cameras. [NOTE: Straight guys only get turned on by women getting it on together -- for whatever reason -- if the women are boobed babes -- as well as boobs -- and are definitely not total lesbians.] Tila is using a kind of mock bisexuality -- and this should insult the bi-identified as much as gays -- to be hip and different, to get attention, knowing as long as she suggests she's also or mainly into dick she won't be considered an icky "dyke." Going "straight" worked for Anne Heche, after all (does anyone think any of Heche's marriages to men will be particularly long-lasting?) If you want to believe that either Tequila or Heche are bi or straight, be my guest, but don't ask this doubting Thomas to agree with you.

So in the final episode Tila predictably picks a guy while the attractive lesbian gets to walk off into the sunset by herself. Gee -- this has nothing to do with the fact we live in a homophobic world? There is no talk about sexual identity, internalized homophobia, or any of the other factors that may have influenced her decision -- it's just show biz, as insubstantial and fluffy as cotton candy. Of course, let's not feel too sorry for the gay gal, who should have taken a hike as soon as she discovered the dumb deception behind the show (one woman honestly thought the program was a ground-breaking lesbian-only dating show and was proud to be part of it until she discovered the truth.)

I only watched the final episode, but gleaned other information from reviews and the like on the web. On one episode, one of the allegedly straight guys tells the other men that they shouldn't be upset that they lost an athletic competition to the lesbians because "they're really men, after all." Yes -- that's the level of discussion on homosexuality on A Shot at Love, which only manages to debase lesbians, especially those who aren't of the "babe" variety.

Bay Windows published an especially good review of the program by Linda Rodriguez, which can be found by searching their website. And there is an amusing write-up of the show by Susan Norfleet at the blog queersighted.