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Hollywood kicks into high gear with its end-of-year major award contenders

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Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Julianne Nicholson, August Osage County, film, gay news, Washington Blade
Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks, Walt Disney Studios, gay news, film, Washington Blade

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in ‘Saving Mr. Banks.’ (Photo courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

This year’s holiday film releases have little direct LGBT content, but still offer many delights for gay audiences.

Opening Dec. 20 is “Saving Mr. Banks,” the story behind the making of the movie “Mary Poppins.” Walt Disney (played with great gusto by Tom Hanks) has promised his daughters that he will make a movie of the beloved book by P.L. Travers. There’s only one problem — the equally curmudgeonly Travers (Emma Thompson) does not trust Disney to treat her story with the respect she feels it deserves.

He finally wears down her resistance, but the two continue to spar during the production of the movie (Travers, for example, hates the animated sequences). The film also features Colin Farrell as Travers’ alcoholic banker father (seen in flashbacks) and Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the Sherman brothers who wrote the famous score.

Award-winning filmmaker David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook,” “Three Kings” and “Flirting with Disaster”) is the director and co-writer of “American Hustle,” a fictionalized version of the ABSCAM scandals that rocked American politics in the late 1970s. The film stars Christian Bale as con man Irving Rosenfeld, with Jennifer Lawrence as his unpredictable wife and Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser, his seductive British partner in crime. Opening in D.C. today, the movie also stars Bradley Cooper as a wild FBI agent and Jeremy Renner as a corrupt New Jersey politician.

Another fact-based tale of corruption, “The Wolf of Wall Street” opens on Wednesday (Christmas). The latest opus by Martin Scorsese stars Leonardo DiCaprio and tracks the rise and fall of wealthy stockbroker Jordan Belfort.

Also on Christmas Day, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” opens in wide release. Based on the late leader’s autobiography, the film chronicles Mandela’s life from his childhood in a rural village through his years in prison to his triumphal inauguration as the first democratically elected President of South Africa. The movie stars Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela and Naomie Harris as Winnie Madikizela. At the film’s London premiere on Dec. 6, Elba announced the news of Mandela’s death to a shocked audience.

Also opening Wednesday is the gripping family drama “August: Osage County.” With a screenplay by Tracy Letts based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the film chronicles the turbulent lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston clan who return home when their father Beverly (Sam Shepard) goes missing. Meryl Streep (likely to rack up another Oscar nomination for her performance) stars as the ailing, but still monstrous, matriarch Violet, with Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis as her three long-suffering daughters. The powerful ensemble cast is rounded out by Dermot Mulroney, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch.

The increasingly popular Cumberbatch will also be heard as the voice of the dragon Smaug in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” which opens Wednesday and features the return of openly gay actor Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf. On a lighter note, Ben Stiller takes on the title role in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” a remake of the Hollywood classic based on the famous story by James Thurber.

In addition to these new releases, some movies with LGBT content that opened earlier in the season will no doubt linger on area screens through the holiday season.

Philomena” tells the true story of an Irish woman (Dame Judi Dench) who was forced to give her son up for adoption. With the help of disgraced journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), she discovers that her son was a closeted advisor to President Ronald Reagan who died of AIDS.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DBPqcp6Hc4

Also inspired by real events, “The Dallas Buyer’s Club” tells the story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a homophobic straight man who is diagnosed with AIDS. With the help of transsexual Rayon (a bravura performance by Jared Leto), Woodroof fights the medical establishment by smuggling HIV drugs over the US border.

 

Also of note, finely honed performances by Stanley Tucci (Caesar) and Elizabeth Banks (Effie) blend high camp and high drama in highlighting the darkening political atmosphere of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.”

Finally, gay playwright and activist Langston Hughes’ perennial holiday stage classic “Black Nativity” has been brought to cinematic life by director Kasi Lemmons (“Eve’s Bayou”). Hughes’ Christmas pageant is framed by a modern-day story of a troubled youth who embarks on an unexpected and inspiring journey. Already in local theaters, the film features high-wattage performances by Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett.

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Gender expression is fluid in captivating ‘Paul & Trisha’ doc

Exploring what’s possible when you allow yourself to become who you truly are

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Paul Whitehead and Trisha van Cleef in ‘Paul & Trisha.’ (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

Given the polarizing controversies surrounding the subject of gender in today’s world, it might feel as if challenges to the conventional “norms” around the way we understand it were a product of the modern age. They’re not, of course; artists have been exploring the boundaries of gender  – both its presentation and its perception – since long before the language we use to discuss the topic today was ever developed. After all, gender is a universal experience, and isn’t art, ultimately, meant to be about the sharing of universal experiences in a way that bypasses, or at least overcomes, the limitations of language?

We know, we know; debate about the “purpose” of art is almost as fraught with controversy as the one about gender identity, but it’s still undeniable that art has always been the place to find ideas that contradict or question conventional ways of viewing the world. Thanks to the heavy expectation of conformity to society’s comfortable “norms”  in our relationship with gender, it’s inevitable that artists might chafe at such restrictive assumptions enough to challenge them – and few have committed quite so completely to doing so as Paul Whitehead, the focus of “Paul & Trisha: The Art of Fluidity,” a new documentary from filmmaker Fia Perera which enjoyed a successful run on the festival circuit and is now available for pre-order on iTunes and Apple TV ahead of a VOD/streaming release on July 9.

Whitehead, who first gained attention and found success in London’s fertile art-and-fashion scene of the mid 1960s, might not be a household name, but he has worked closely with many people who are. A job as an in-house illustrator at a record company led to his hiring as the first art director for the UK Magazine Time Out, which opened the door for even more prominent commissions for album art – including a series of iconic covers for Genesis, Van der Graaf, Generator, and Peter Hammill, which helped to shape the visual aesthetic of the Progressive Rock movement with his bold, surrealistic pop aesthetic, and worked as an art director for John Lennon for a time. Moving to Los Angeles in 1973, his continuing work in the music industry expanded to encompass a wide variety of commercial art and landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records as painter of the largest indoor mural in the world inside the now-demolished Vegas World Casino in Las Vegas. As a founder of the Eyes and Ears Foundation, he conceived and organized the “Artboard Festival”, which turned a stretch of L.A. roadway into a “drive-through art gallery” with donated billboards painted by participating artists.

Perera’s film catches up with Whitehead in the relatively low-profile city of Ventura, Calif., where the globally renowned visual artist now operates from a combination studio and gallery in a strip mall storefront. Still prolific and producing striking artworks (many of them influenced and inspired by his self-described “closet Hinduism”), the film reveals a man who, far from coming off as elderly, seems ageless; possessed of a rare mix of spiritual insight and worldly wisdom, he is left by the filmmaker to tell his own story by himself, and he embraces the task with the effortless verve of a seasoned raconteur. For roughly the first half of the film, we are treated to the chronicle of his early career provided straight from the source, without “talking head” commentaries or interview footage culled from entertainment news archives, and laced with anecdotes and observations that reveal a clear-headedness, along with a remarkable sense of self-knowledge and an inspiring freedom of thought, that makes his observations feel like deep wisdom. He’s a fascinating host, taking us on a tour of the life he has lived so far, and it’s like spending time with the most interesting guy at the party.

It’s when “Art of Fluidity” introduces its second subject, however, that things really begin to get interesting, because as Whitehead was pushing boundaries as an in-demand artist, he was also pushing boundaries in other parts of his life. Experimenting with his gender identity through cross-dressing since the 1960s, what began tentatively as an “in the bedroom” fetish became a long-term process of self-discovery that resulted in the emergence of “converged artist” Trisha Van Cleef, a feminine manifestation of Whitehead’s persona who has been creating art of her own since 2004. Neither dissociated “alter ego” nor performative character, Trisha might be a conceptual construct, in some ways, but she’s also a very authentic expression of personal gender perception who exists just as definitively as Paul Whitehead. They are, like the seeming opposites of yin and yang, two sides of the same fundamental and united nature.

Naturally, the bold process of redefining one’s personal relationship with gender is not an easy one, and part of what makes Trisha so compelling is the challenge she represents to Paul – and, by extension, the audience – by co-existing with him in his own life. She pushes him to step beyond his fears – such as his concerns about the hostile attitude of the shopkeeper next door and the danger of bullying, brutality, and worse when Trisha goes out in public – and embrace both sides of his nature instead of trying to force himself to be one or the other alone. And while the film doesn’t shy away from addressing the brutal reality about the risk of violence against non-gender-conforming people in our culture, it also highlights what is possible when you choose to allow yourself to become who you truly are.

As a sort of disclaimer, it must be acknowledged that some viewers may take issue with some of Whitehead’s personal beliefs about gender identity, which might not quite mesh with prevailing ideas and could be perceived as “problematic” within certain perspectives. Similarly, the depth of his engagement with Hindu cosmology might be off-putting to audiences geared toward skepticism around any spiritually inspired outlook on the world. However, it’s clear within the larger context of the documentary that both Paul and Trisha speak only for themselves, expressing a personal truth that does not nullify or deny the personal truth of anyone else. Further, one of the facets that gives “Art of Fluidity” its mesmerizing, upbeat charm is the sense that we are watching an ongoing evolution, a work in progress in which an artist is still discovering the way forward. There’s no insinuation that any aspect of Paul or Trisha’s shared life is definitive, rather we come to see them as a united pair, in constant flux, moving through the world together, as one, and becoming more like themselves every step of the way.

That’s something toward which we all would be wise to aspire; the acceptance of all of our parts and the understanding that we are always in the process of becoming something else would certainly go a long way toward making a happier, friendlier world.

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PHOTOS: Pride Rewind

Official Sapphic Queer Dance Party held at The Square

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(Washington Blade photo by Emily Hanna)

The Capital Pride Alliance held its “Pride Rewind: Official Sapphic Queer Dance Party” at The Square (1850 K Street, N.W.) on Saturday, June 8.

(Washington Blade photos by Emily Hanna)

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PHOTOS: Pride on the Pier and Fireworks Show

Washington Blade holds annual event at The Wharf

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2024 Pride on the Pier (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Blade and the Ladies of LURe held the Pride on the Pier and Fireworks Show at The Wharf on Saturday, June 8. The fireworks were presented by the Leonard-Litz LGBTQ Foundation.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key and Emily Hanna; Wildside Media photos used with permission; @marvimage photo used with permission)

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