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Coming attractions

Gay themes in both indie and mainstream fall film fare

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Nicole Kidman as Charlotte Bless in Lee Daniel’s steamy ‘The Paperboy.’ (Photo courtesy the Karpel Group)

The LGBT fall film calendar gets off to an exciting start with the D.C. release of “How to Survive A Plague” on Sept. 28.

The inspirational documentary by first–time filmmaker David France tells the story of two coalitions — ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and TAG (the Treatment Action Group) — and how they changed medical and political history. France, a journalist who has been covering the AIDS crisis for 30 years, draws on archival footage, much of it shot by the activists themselves, to tell the stories of the brave men and women who banded together to fight the plague.

The film examines how they saved the lives of millions of people by battling apathetic government bureaucrats and politicians, developing shocking outreach strategies to spur a complacent media into action, exposing greedy pharmaceutical companies and educating a scared and ignorant populace.

Lee Daniels, the openly gay director of “Precious,” returns to the big screen with “The Paperboy.” Based on the novel by Pete Dexter and set in the swamplands of Florida in 1969, The Paperboy offers a provocative, sexually charged tale of desire, ambition, prejudice and crime.

The film centers on two brothers returning to their hometown. Jack Jansen (Zac Efron) has been kicked out of college and is now working as a paperboy for his father, the local newspaper publisher. Miami journalist Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) comes home to prove the innocence of death row inmate Hillary Van Welter (John Cusack). Ward’s investigation reveals of tangled web of sexual tension, mixed motives and shadowy facts.

The cast is rounded out by Nicole Kidman as vampy death-row groupie Charlotte Bless, David Oyelowo as Ward’s hotshot writing partner Yardley Acheman, and Macy Gray as Anita, the family maid. The film’s producers hint that a central plot twist involves a character’s emerging sexuality, but are tight-lipped about which character comes out. They do, however, confirm the tabloid rumors that Zac Efron dances in his underwear and frequently appears shirtless. It opens Oct. 5.

On a lighter note, “For a Good Time, Call …,” helmed by openly gay director Jamie Travis, is a comic look at two Manhattan women who get involved in the phone sex industry. Estranged college friends Katie Steele (Ari Graynor) and Lauren Powell (Lauren Miller, who also co-wrote the script with Katie Anne Nayton) are reintroduced by their gay mutual friend Jesse (Justin Long) when both face a housing emergency.

Katie is initially shocked when she overhears her new roommate talking to one of her clients, but quickly sees dollar signs. The two establish their own company, and are quickly raking in the cash as they resume their friendship — and possibly more. The film includes cameos by Seth Rogan, Ken Marino and Kevin Smith as three clients. It’s in theaters now.

“Keep the Lights On”  is a drama about a closeted lawyer (Zachary Booth) and a documentary filmmaker (Thure Lindhardt) and their mercurial relationship. It opens Sept. 21 in D.C. at West End Cinema.

“Diana Vreeland: the Eye Has to Travel” is a documentary about the former Vogue editor. It opens Sept. 21.

And speaking of documentaries, details are still be worked out, but former Log Cabin president-turned-documentarian Patrick Sammon is finalizing details for a screening of his first film about the life of Alan Turing (called “Codebreaker”), the gay World War II-era legend. It’s tentatively slated for an October opening and a November wider release in 20-30 U.S. cities.

Other LGBT releases expected this fall include:

  • “Pitch Perfect,” a battle-of-the-sexes comedy about the rivalry between two college a cappella singing groups (Oct. 5).
  • “Bear City 2,” a sequel to the popular movie that takes the cast of bears and chasers from their New York City lairs to the wilds of Provincetown. It will be screened as part of Reel Affirmations in D.C. on Nov. 4.
  • “Gayby,” about the problems that ensue when frustrated single Jenn asks her gay best friend Matt to help her conceive a child the old-fashioned way. It’s also in Reel Affirmations. Look for it Nov. 3.

Speaking of Reel Affirmations, D.C.’s annual international LGBT film festival, the 21st festival is scheduled for Nov. 1-4 and the selection committee is currently hard at work finalizing the schedule. In the meantime, RA XTRA offers monthly film screenings. September’s screening, a double feature of “Cloudburst” and “Men To Kiss,” will be held on Sept. 20 at the Carnegie Institute for Science.

“Cloudburst” is a romantic road movie about two lesbians (played by Oscar winners Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker) who flee their nursing home in Maine and drive to Nova Scotia in an attempt to be legally married. “Men To Kiss” is about Ernst and Tobias, a gay couple in Berlin whose lives are upset when Ernst’s old friend Uta draws them into her schemes.

The Chesapeake Film Festival in nearby Easton and Oxford, Md., is Sept. 21-23 and includes two LGBT-themed films — “Trans” and “Queen of Country” (both screening Sept. 22 at the Academy Art Museum). Visit chesapeakefilmfestival.com for details.

The D.C. Shorts Film Festival continues through this weekend. It, too, has LGBT content in several films. Visit dcshorts.com for details.

The fall film season comes to a spectacular close with the much-anticipated release of the cinematic adaptation of the hit Broadway musical “Les Miserables” (Dec. 14). Based on the classic Victor Hugo novel with music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, lyrics by Alain Boublil and screenplay by William Nicholson, the epic movie traces the decades-long battle between escaped convict Jean Valjean and obsessed police inspector Javert. The all-star cast includes Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter.

 

 

 

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PHOTOS: High Heel Race

Spectators cheered along drag queen contestants for the 24th annual event

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@dragqueenathena and Dan won the 24th annual High Heel Race. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The 34th annual High Heel Race was held along 17th Street on Oct. 26. The winners this year were @dragqueenathena and “Dan.” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee and members of the D.C. Council joined drag queen contestants and hundreds of spectators for the event.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Movies

New music documentary is ‘Velvet’ perfection

A piece of pure cinema that exemplifies its genre while transcending it

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The Velvet Underground (Photo courtesy of Apple TV)

When it comes to great music documentaries – the ones that stick with you after you watch and make you want to come back to them again and again – there is one ingredient that stands out as a common thread: immediacy.

From D.A. Pennebaker’s fly-on-the-wall chronicle of young Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of the UK in “Don’t Look Back,” to Martin Scorcese’s joyful document of The Band’s final concert performance in “The Last Waltz,” to Jonathan Demme’s thrilling cinematic rendering of the Talking Heads in performance at the peak of their creative genius in “Stop Making Sense,” all of these now-revered films have endured – indeed, even grown – in popularity over the years because they captured the talent, the personality, and the power of their subjects on celluloid and preserved it for the ages, allowing generations of audiences, fans and soon-to-be-fans alike, to feel as if they were there.

But none, perhaps, have ever done it quite so viscerally as Todd Haynes’ “The Velvet Underground.” This is a remarkable feat when you consider that the films listed above, as well as most of the other highly regarded “rockumentaries” of the past, were all concert films, showing the performers at their center in the full bloom of their musical gifts, and Haynes’ film is not that. It’s something else, something singular, a piece of pure cinema that exemplifies its genre while transcending it entirely.

The basic outline of the band’s story is well known, now. Coalesced in the early ‘60s New York art scene around a pair of charismatic geniuses (John Cale and Lou Reed), the Velvet Underground was swept into the orbit and under the wing of Andy Warhol, who turned them into the house band at his famous “Factory,” added to their mix an exotic European chanteuse named Nico, and launched their record career by producing their first album – and designing an instantly iconic cover for it featuring a banana, to boot. They were, for a while, the darlings of the New York underground set, birthing a handful of additional albums across the latter years of the decade; but their sound, which was experimental, rough, and a far cry from the flower-power sound being embraced within the status quo of Middle American music fans, did not catch on. That, combined with the volatility of the relationships at its core, ensured an ignoble and unsung dissolution for the band; though its two front men went on to forge expansive solo careers on their own, the Velvets themselves remained a kind of blip, an ephemeral presence in the history of rock – and the history of New York – remembered by anyone who wasn’t actually on the scene as nothing more than a buzzy band they never actually heard with a catchy name and a familiar album cover.

As one of the voice-over interviewees in Haynes’ movie points out, however, the counterculture wasn’t actually the counterculture – it was the culture. The rest of the world just didn’t know it yet. Decades later the Velvet Underground is credited with, among other things, providing early inspiration for what would become the punk rock movement, to say nothing of influencing the aesthetic palate of (surely without exaggeration) thousands of musicians who would go on to make great music themselves – often sounding nothing like the Velvets, but somehow cut from the same raw, edgy, white-hot honest cloth, nonetheless. Yet in their moment, they were doomed before they had even begun to become a sideshow attraction, hurling performative realness in the face of a curious-but-disinterested glitterati crowd that was already embodying the superficial fakeness that would be so aptly monikered, both as an ethos and a watchword, as “Plastics” by Buck Henry and Mike Nichols in “The Graduate” barely a year after their first album was pressed.

Frankly, it’s the kind of story that makes for a perfect rock ‘n roll legend, and the kind of legend that deserves to be explored in a film that befits its almost mythic, archetypal underpinnings. There’s nobody more qualified to deliver that film than Todd Haynes.

Haynes, of course, is a pioneer of the ‘90s “New Queer Cinema,” whose body of work has maintained a consistent yet multi-faceted focus on key themes that include outsider-ism, dysfunctional socialization, and the fluid nature of sexuality and gender. Each and any of these interests would be enough to make him a perfect fit as the person to tell the story of the Velvet Underground, but what gives him the ability to make it a masterpiece is his ongoing fascination with music and nostalgia. Beginning with his controversial debut short “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story,” the musical landscape of his formative years has been inseparable from his milieu, and films such as his glam-rock fantasia “Velvet Goldmine” or his post-modernist Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” have dotted his career like cornerstones. Likewise, his painstaking recreation of the past in period pieces like “Far From Heaven,” “Carol,” or “Wonderstruck” has proven his ability not just to capture the look and feel of a bygone era, but to transport audiences right back into it.

In “The Velvet Underground,” it’s more like he transports the era to the audience. His comprehensive chronicle is not just the story of the band or its members, but the story of the time and place that allowed them to exist, in which a generation waking up from the toxic artificiality of their parents’ “American Dream” took creative control of the future through an unprecedented explosion of art and culture. Art was a by-any-means-necessary endeavor that now demanded a fluency across various forms of media, and a blending together of any and every thing that worked to get the message across. And yes, sometimes the media itself was the message, but even within that depressingly superficial reality was room for an infinite layering of style and substance that could take your breath away.

That description of the era in which the Velvet Underground thrived, in which Andy Warhol turned the shallow into the profound (whether he knew it or not), in which music and film and photography and poetry and painting and every other form of expression blended together in a heady and world-changing whirlwind, is also the perfect description of Haynes’ film. Yes, there are famous veterans of the age sharing their memories and their insights, yes there is copious archival footage (including the godsend of Warhol’s filmed portraits of the legendary faces in his orbit), yes we get to hear about Lou Reed’s struggle with his sexual identity – and it’s refreshing that Haynes makes no effort to categorize or finalize that aspect of the rock legend’s persona, but merely lets it be a fact. But even though “The Velvet Underground” checks off all the boxes to be a documentary, it’s something much more. Thanks to Haynes’ seamless blend of visuals, words, history, and – always and above all – music, it’s a total sensory experience, which deserves to be seen in a theater whether you subscribe to Apple TV or not. It puts you right in the middle of a world that still casts a huge shadow on our culture today.

And it’s unforgettable.

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PHOTOS: Best Of LGBTQ DC party

Blade’s 20th annual awards celebrated at Hook Hall

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Cake performs at the Best of LGBTQ D.C. Awards Party on Oct. 21. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Blade presented the 20th annual Best of LGBTQ D.C. Awards at a party at Hook Hall on Thursday, Oct. 21. To view this year’s winners, click here.

Event sponsored by Absolut, DC Brau and Washington Regional Transplant Community.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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