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Shades of ‘Blue’

Lesbian-themed ‘Warmest Colour’ the toast of Cannes

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Blue is the Warmest Colour, gay news, Washington Blade
Blue is the Warmest Colour, gay news, Washington Blade

Production still from Cannes Palm D’or winner ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour.’ (Still courtesy of Sundance Selects)

It was a good year for LGBT film in 2013 — which means plenty of DVD options for cold winter nights at home.

The most fabulous movie of the year was clearly Pedro Almodóvar’s “I’m So Excited.” This superb farce by a master filmmaker at the peak of his powers is staged largely within the confines of a malfunctioning airplane. While the pilots try to find a place to land, the three male flight attendants drug the coach passengers and perform elaborate musical routines to distract the first class passengers, who include a virgin with psychic powers, a notorious dominatrix (played by Almodóvar regular Cecilia Roth), a shady businessman, a pair of newlyweds and a famous actor. While maintaining a delightfully campy tone, Almodóvar manages to make some interesting observations about sexual identity, death, ethics and morality.

Camp was also an essential element of a more mainstream offering: “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” Wonderful over-the-top performances by Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman and Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket skillfully guide the audience through the darkening political landscape of the dystopian Panem.

Real-life stories served as the inspiration for several notable LGBT movies of 2013. Helmed by openly gay director Lee Daniels, “The Butler” chronicled the emergence of the civil rights movement through the eyes of White House butler Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker). “The Dallas Buyers Club” told the story of Ron Woodroof, a homophobic straight man who is diagnosed with AIDS. With the help of Rayon, a transsexual, he fights the medical establishment by smuggling drugs into the county. HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra” recounts the tempestuous relationship between famous pianist Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his younger lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), whom he literally tries to remake in his own image.

HBO also presented “Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ to Tell You,” a documentary about the groundbreaking African-American stand-up comedian. Director Whoopi Goldberg details not only Mabley’s onstage life as a trailblazing performer who challenged racial and gender barriers and who was the highest paid performer at the legendary Apollo Theatre, but also her offstage life as a lesbian who was teasingly called “Mr. Moms.”

Another outstanding documentary was “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,” written and directed by filmmaker Alex Gibney, who combines archival footage with incisive interviews to tell the intertwined stories of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Private Bradley Manning (now known as Chelsea Manning).

Directed by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the documentary “Bridegroom” tells the emotional story of Shane Bitney Crone and Tom Bridegroom. Their plans to marry are crushed by Bridegroom’s untimely death. Crone’s grief is exacerbated when his partner’s family bars him from the funeral. A year after Bridegroom’s accidental death, Crone made a video called “It Could Happen To You.” The video became a viral sensation on YouTube and Facebook and inspired Bloodworth-Thomason to make this moving documentary about the importance of marriage equality.

Although billed as a murder mystery, “Kill Your Darlings” is really a coming-of-age story about Beat poet Alan Ginsberg (played by Daniel Radcliffe). The movie recreates the meeting of Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs and the tortured relationship between their friend Lucien Carr and David Kammerer (an excellent Michael C. Hall).

Lesbian director Kimberly Peirce took an unexpected turn after winning acclaim for “Boys Don’t Cry.” Working with openly gay screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who adapted Lawrence D. Cohen’s script for the famous 1976 Brian De Palma film of the Stephen King novel), Peirce tried to put a contemporary feminist spin on the classic horror tale “Carrie.” While Peirce never manages to fully put her personal stamp on the material, her version is still quite terrifying. She puts a stronger focus on the tangled relationship between fundamentalist Margaret White (an unnerving performance from Julianne Moore) and her teenage daughter Carrie (the tremendous Chloë Grace Moretz) and takes a fresh look at spoiled rich girl Chris (Portia Doubleday). Peirce also explores Carrie’s fear and delight at researching and refining her new-found telekinetic powers, (and the careful orchestration of her revenge at prom) and the dehumanizing impact of technology.

Blue is the Warmest Colour” was the surprise hit of the Cannes Film Festival. In an unprecedented move, the jury awarded the prestigious Palme d’Or not only to director Abdellatif Kechiche but to lead performers Léa Seydoux (Emma) and Adèle Exarchopoulos (Adèle). Inspired by both the contemporary graphic novel of the same name by Julie Maroh and a sprawling 18th century novel by Pierre de Marivaux, the movie tracks the rise and fall of the passionate relationship of teenage schoolgirl Adèle and blue-haired art student Emma. The movie was controversial for explicit sex scenes between the two women, a controversy that was mirrored in the movie’s discussions of how male artists have depicted female nudes throughout the ages.

Finally, one of the queerest movies of the year came from straight director Woody Allen. Inspired by the Bernie Madoff story, “Blue Jasmine” is Allen’s heartfelt homage to Tennessee William’s “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Jasmine French (the superb Cate Blanchett) is a New York socialite who loses everything when her investment banker husband Hal is jailed for fraud. She flees to San Francisco to live with her estranged sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine tangles with Sally’s ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), who lost his life savings in one of Hal’s schemes, and Sally’s current boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), resists the advances of her lecherous boss (Michael Stuhlbarg) and is wooed by the suave but naïve diplomat Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard).

The movie moves back and forth between Jasmine’s memories of her Park Avenue life with Hal and her attempts to start over again in San Francisco, which are derailed by the potent combination of guilt, anger, denial, vodka and Xanax. Blanchett, who won raves for her recent stage performance as Blanche DuBois in “Streetcar,” offers a stunning performance as a forlorn figure who is both exasperating and seductive as she descends into madness.

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Theater

‘Hadestown’ comes to the Kennedy Center

Levi Kreis discusses return to live theater

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Levi Kreis is an out actor who plays Hermes in the national tour of ‘Hadestown’ soon opening at the Kennedy Center. (Photo courtesy of Levi Kreis)

Hadestown
Through Oct. 31
The Kennedy Center
$45.00 – $175.00
Kennedy-center.org
For Covid-19 safety regulations go to Kennedy-center.org/visit/covid-safety/

Early in September at New York’s Walter Kerr Theatre, out singer/actor Levi Kreis was in the audience for the long-awaited Broadway reopening of “Hadestown,” Anaïs Mitchell’s rousing musical reimagining of the Orpheus myth in which the legendary Greek hero descends into the underworld to rescue his lover Eurydice. 

After almost 18 months of pandemic-induced closure, the Tony Award-winning folk opera was back and the house was full. In a recent phone interview, Kreis describes the evening as “love-filled, and electrifying and emotional after such a difficult time.” Now, Kreis is onstage in the national tour of “Hadestown,” currently launching at the Kennedy Center. As Hermes, the shape-shifting god of oratory, Kreis is both narrator and chaperone to the story’s young lovers. 

A Tennessee native, Kreis, 39, has triumphantly survived turbulent times including a harrowingly prolonged coming out experience that included six years of conversion therapy, education disruptions, and music contract losses. He officially came out through his acclaimed album “One of the Ones” (2006), which features a collection of piano vocals about past boyfriends. And four years later, he splendidly won a Tony Award for originating the role of rock and roll wild man Jerry Lee Lewis in the rockabilly musical “Million Dollar Quartet.” 

Throughout much of the pandemic, Kreis leaned into his own music and found ways to reconnect with his largely gay fan base. But he’s happy to now be touring, noting that all the “Hadestown” cast have been hungering to perform before a real live audience.

When not on the road, he’s based in New York City with his husband, classical-crossover recording artist Jason Antone. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Hermes is the same role for which André De Shields—the brilliant African American actor, also gay, and some decades your elder won a Tony and has resumed playing on Broadway, right?

LEVI KREIS: That’s right. It’s really a testament to the creative team. Rather than laying us over what Broadway created. They’re creating a tour that’s uniquely different; still true to the beauty of the story but with a different flavor. 

BLADE: What attracted you to the part?

KREIS: First, I fell in love with the show. My own musical sensibilities understand the origins of where this music comes from. It’s very bluesy and gospel. Southern and rootsy. And that’s everything I’ve created in my career as a singer/songwriter.

BLADE: With your life experience, do you feel called to mentor?

KREIS: The biggest effort I’ve given to this narrative is being a pioneer of the out-music movement starting in 2005 which was a moment when gay artists were not signed to major labels. I want through eight major labels—when they found out I was gay things always went south. 

It’s been amazing to be a voice in LGBTQ media when no one was speaking about these things. It’s popular now, but back when it mattered it was a lot harder to start my career as an openly gay artist and speak about these issues rather than keep quiet, cash in, and only then come out. 

BLADE: Where did that nerve come from?

KREIS: Less about nerve and more about being beaten down. How many things have to happen before you give up and decide to be honest?  

BLADE: For many theatergoers, “Hadestown” will be their return to live theater. Other than it being visionary and remarkably entertaining, why would you recommend it? 

KREIS: We need encouragement right now. But we also need art that facilitates a lot of important conversation about what’s happening in the world. This has both elements.  

“Hadestown” is not a piece of art that you easily forget. You’re going to walk out of the theater with a story that sticks with you. You’ll realized that your own voice matters. There’s a part in the show, Orpheus’ song, when the gods encourage him to get the balance of the world back again by telling him that his voice matters. 

BLADE: Is it timely?

KREIS: Art is here to change the world. And this piece of art hits the nail right on the head. I’m a purist when it comes to art and song. There’s a reason why we do it. people are listening now in a way they haven’t listened before. To miss that is to miss the role of society, I think. 

BLADE: And going forward? 

KREIS: It’s going to be interesting. We could double down on super commercialized theater or we may decide to really go the other direction and reclaim innovation. That remains to be seen. 

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Books

Book details fight to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Clinton-era policy was horrific for LGB servicemembers

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‘Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
By C. Dixon Osburn
c.2021, self-published $35 hardcover, paperback $25, Kindle $12.99 / 450 pages

When Senior Airman Brandi Grijalva was stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base, she talked with a chaplain’s assistant about some problems she had at home. The chaplain’s assistant said what she told him would be confidential. But when she revealed that she was a lesbian, the chaplain’s assistant no longer kept her conversation with him confidential. Grijalva, after being investigated was discharged.

Craig Haack was a corporal in the Marines serving in Okinawa, Japan. Haack, who had made it through boot camp, felt confident. Until investigators barged into his barracks. Looking for evidence “of homosexual conduct,” they ransacked everything from his computers to his platform shoes. Haack was too stunned to respond when asked if he was gay.

In 1996, Lt. Col. Steve Loomis’ house was burned down by an Army private. The Army discharged the private who torched Loomis’ house. You’d think the Army would have supported Loomis. But you’d be wrong. The army discharged Loomis for conduct unbecoming an officer because a fire marshal found a homemade sex tape in the ashes.

These are just a few of the enraging, poignant, at times absurd (platform shoes?), all-too-true stories told in “Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by C. Dixon Osburn.

As a rule, I don’t review self-published books. But “Mission Possible” is the stunning exception that proves that rules, on occasion, are made to be broken.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was the official U.S. policy on gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in the military. Former President Bill Clinton announced the policy on July 19, 1993. It took effect on Feb. 28, 1994.

Sexual orientation was covered by DADT. Gender identity was covered by separate Department of Defense regulations.

Congress voted to repeal DADT in December 2010 (the House on Dec. 15, 2010, and the Senate on Dec. 18, 2010). On Dec. 22, 2010, Former President Barack Obama signed the repeal into law. 

DADT banned gay, lesbian and bisexual people who were out from serving in the U.S. military. Under DADT, it was not permitted to ask if servicemembers were LGB. But, LGB servicemembers couldn’t be out. They couldn’t talk about their partners, carry photos of their girlfriends or boyfriends or list their same-sex partner as their emergency contract.

It took nearly a year for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to go into effect. On Sept. 20, 2011, Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “certified to Congress that implementing repeal of the policy {DADT} would have no effect on military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion or recruiting and retention,” Osburn writes.

Before DADT, out LGBT people weren’t permitted to serve in the military. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was intended to be a compromise—a policy that would be less onerous on LGB people, but that would pass muster with people who believed that gay servicemembers would destroy military readiness, morale and unit cohesion.

Like many in the queer community, I knew that DADT was a horror-show from the get-go. Over the 17 years that DADT was in effect, an estimated 14,000 LGB servicemembers were discharged because of their sexual orientation, according to the Veterans Administration.

But, I had no idea how horrific “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was until I read “Mission Possible.”              

In “Mission Possible,” Osburn, who with Michelle Benecke, co-founded the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), pulls off a nearly impossible hat trick.

In a clear, vivid, often spellbinding narrative, Osburn tells the complex history of the DADT-repeal effort as well as the stories of servicemembers who were pelted with gay slurs, assaulted and murdered under DADT.

Hats off to SLDN, now known as the Modern Military Association of America, for its heroic work to repeal DADT! (Other LGBTQ+ organizations worked on the repeal effort, but SLDN did the lion’s share of the work.)

You wouldn’t think a 450-pager about repealing a policy would keep you up all night reading. But, “Mission Possible” will keep you wide-awake. You won’t need the espresso.

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Arts & Entertainment

NSYNC star Lance Bass & husband Michael Turchin welcome twins

Singer, husband, and popular West Hollywood nightclub owner, now adds the job of ‘Dad’ to his resume

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Lance Bass and Michael Turchin via Instagram

WEST HOLLYWOOD – Former boy-band NSYNC star and co-owner of the popular LGBTQ+ nightspot Rocco’s, Lance Bass, announced that he and husband Michael Turchin are the proud parents of twins, Violet Betty and Alexander James.

In his announcement on Instagram, Bass wrote; ‘The baby dragons have arrived!! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ I can not express how much love I feel right now. Thank you for all the kind wishes. It meant a lot. Now, how do you change a diaper??! Ahhhhhhhh!”

The babies were carried via surrogate, the singer noted saying that Alexander, born one minute before his sister on Wednesday, weighed 4 lbs., 14 oz. Violet weighed 4 lbs., 11 oz. Bass said in his Instagram post.

His husband also announced the news on his Instagram account. “Introducing the newest members of the Turchin-Bass household: Violet Betty and Alexander James!!!! They’re pure perfection and yes that includes the dozens of poops we’ve already dealt with. Our hearts our full!!! Thank you everyone for the well wishes 🥰🥰🥰”

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