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2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: Film

‘Stranger,’ ‘Imitation Game’ and indie fare among year’s best

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queer film, Justin Simien, gay news, Washington Blade
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Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in ‘The Skeleton Twins.’ (Courtesy Roadside Attractions)

There were strong feature films (both mainstream and indie releases), fascinating documentaries and several supportive venues and festivals in Washington that are slowly growing a queer film culture here making 2014, overall, an excellent year in film.

One of the best releases was one of the first — “Stranger by the Lake.” This award-winning French film was billed as an erotic gay thriller and it lived up to that description. The action unfolds on the banks of a lake where men meet for sex, which is shown in graphic detail. The thriller starts when the seemingly innocent Franck watches Michel swim out into a lake with a man and swim back to shore alone. Director Alain Guiraudie skillfully captures the mundane yet thrilling rituals of cruising and the inscrutable passion that arises between Franck and Michel.

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Pierre Deladonchamps in ‘Stranger by the Lake.’ (Photo courtesy Strand Releasing)

Other highlights included:

  • • “Calvary” opens when Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is threatened with death by an unseen man in the confessional who was sexually molested by a priest when he was a boy. Among the suspects are a hypocritical closeted detective and a Hollywood-obsessed gay hustler who has also been the victim of clerical sexual abuse.
  • • Based on a true story, “Pride” tells the tale of an unlikely alliance between gay and lesbian activists from London and striking Welsh coal miners. While the screenplay relies a little too heavily on well-worn plot devices, the movie is an infectious and uplifting tale of personal growth and political solidarity.
  • • Written and directed by talented newcomer Julien Simien, “Dear White People” looks at the lives of four black students who get drawn into a racial incident at a predominantly white college. One of them is Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams), an undergraduate journalist who doesn’t fit in with either the gay or African-American student groups. Simien’s groundbreaking film marks the first time that a gay character has been featured in a predominantly African-American movie.
  • • “The Skeleton Twins” stars “Saturday Night Live” alumni Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as estranged twins who are reunited after his suicide attempt. He returns to their hometown to recover and to reignite an affair with his high school English teacher (Ty Burrell) while she tries to work out her marriage to Luke Wilson. Both Wiig and Hader turn in strong nuanced performances and Hader’s scenes in drag are wonderful.
  • • “Hector and the Search for Happiness” stars Simon Pegg as a bored psychiatrist who travels the globe to find the secret of happiness. One of his tour guides is an old friend who has found happiness by coming out of the closet.
  • • Though technically a made-for-TV movie, “The Normal Heart” debuted in May on HBO and was a widely lauded adaptation of Larry Kramer’s legendary AIDS-themed play of the same name.
  • • “The Way He Looks” is a charming Brazilian coming-of-age tale about Leo, a blind teenager who’s trying to escape from his overprotective mother. Leo befriends Gabriel, the new kid in town, and feelings begin to flicker between the two boys, much to the dismay of Leo’s best friend, Giovanna.
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Brendan Gleeson, left, and Chris O’Dowd in ‘Calvary.’ (Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight)

While it didn’t include any LGBT content, one of the most progressive and thought-provoking movies of 2014 was “Belle,” a beautifully filmed movie about a mixed-race heiress being raised by her aristocratic uncle in eighteenth-century England. Director Amma Asante and a knockout ensemble cast tackle complex themes of race, class and gender and tell a moving story that combines intimate details and epic historical sweep.

The year in LGBT feature films came to a dramatic conclusion with “The Imitation Game,” the story of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), the gay British mathematician who broke the German Enigma code during World War II but was later prosecuted for his homosexuality.

It was also a great year for LGBT-themed documentaries. One of the most notable was HBO’s “The Case Against 8,” which followed two California couples who brought their fight for marriage equality to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Other standout documentaries included “Shoot Me,” an incisive portrait of the legendary actress Elaine Stritch who passed away earlier this year; “Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda,” a searing examination of the spread of anti-gay sentiment and legislation in Russia; and, “Through a Lens Darkly,” a fascinating exploration of how photography has shaped the African-American community, including LGBT people of color.

There were, of course, a few disappointments. The highly anticipated “Love is Strange” starred John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as long-term partners whose lives fall apart when they lose their rent-controlled Manhattan apartment. Luminous performances from Lithgow and Molina could not overcome Ira Sachs’s implausible script and slack direction. Jennifer M. Kroot’s “To Be Takei” failed to create a cohesive portrait of the actor and activist, and in “Citizenfour” lesbian filmmaker Laura Portras and gay journalist Glen Greenwald failed to fully question the actions of NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

The emerging queer cinema scene in D.C. has been strongly supported by a number of marvelous venues and film festivals. The Landmark Theatres (on E Street in downtown D.C. and on Bethesda Row in downtown Bethesda) and the West Ed Cinema in Foggy Bottom frequently present LGBT movies, as does the newer Angelika Film Center Mosaic in Fairfax. AFI Silver in downtown Silver Spring often features LGBT works in its delightfully eclectic mix of contemporary independent releases and classics from Hollywood and international cinema.

The acclaimed D.C. Shorts Film Festival, headed by openly gay filmmaker Jon Gann, always includes strong LGBT programming, as does AFI Docs, which will now be headed by Michael Lumpkin, who served for more than 25 years as both executive director of Frameline and Festival Director for the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival. LGBT films have also been featured at the new Middleburg (Virginia) Film Festival.

With sponsorship from the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, Human Rights Campaign and the Washington Blade, Reel Affirmations has returned to offer monthly move nights and other film events.

The early winter months of 2015 give LGBT cinephiles in D.C .the chance to watch some of 2014’s best releases on DVD and to anticipate the exciting releases of 2015.

Justin Simien, gay news, Washington Blade

Tyler James Williams, center, in a scene from ‘Dear White People.’ (Photo by Ashley Nyugn; courtesy Roadside Attractions)

 

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Actor Richard Dreyfuss mocks transgender people in misogynistic rant

‘Jaws’ star appeared at suburban Boston theater

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Richard Dreyfuss walked onto the stage wearing a blue floral pattern house dress, pausing to turn away from the audience and shake his hips suggestively, actions that were caught on multiple mobile phone video footage posted online. (YouTube screenshot)

Patrons at The Cabot theater in the suburban Boston town of Beverly were all set to celebrate the 49th anniversary viewing of the classic 1975 Steven Spielberg horror film “Jaws,” along with a question and answer with one of the film’s stars actor Richard Dreyfuss, when from the minute Dreyfuss appeared on stage, the event derailed.

Dreyfuss walked onto the stage wearing a blue floral pattern house dress, pausing to turn away from the audience and shake his hips suggestively, actions that were caught on multiple mobile phone video footage posted online. Then two stage hands appeared and tore the dress off the actor who then took his seat opposite the event’s moderator.

According to Variety and the Boston Globe’s reporting, Dreyfuss ranted about subjects reported to include transgender people, Barbra Streisand, the #MeToo movement, and women in general. As attendee Diane Wolfe described it to the Boston Globe, “[Dreyfuss] said that the parents of trans youth, allowing them to transition, was bad parenting and that someday those kids might change their minds.”

Facebook/social media advertisement for the ‘Jaws’ screening by The Cabot.

A number of members of the audience took offense and left the venue. On The Cabot’s Facebook page one attendee wrote: “This was disgusting. How could The Cabot not have vetted his act better. Apparently (I found out too late), he has a reputation for spewing this kind of racist, homophobic, misogynistic bull crap.”

The Cabot has since limited commenting on its page.

The Cabot Executive Director J. Casey Soward on Sunday apologized in a statement that read:

“We regret that an event that was meant to be a conversation to celebrate an iconic movie instead became a platform for political views. We take full responsibility for the oversight in not anticipating the direction of the conversation and for the discomfort it caused to many patrons,” Soward said. “We are in active dialogue with our patrons about their experience and are committed to learning from this event how to better enact our mission of entertaining, educating and inspiring our community.”

WBSM News Talk Sports Radio in New Bedford–Fall River reported that The Cabot also sent an email, that the station had been forwarded, to those who purchased tickets apologizing.

“Dear Cabot Patrons,

I am writing to address an important matter concerning last night’s event with Richard Dreyfuss at The Cabot.

We deeply regret that Mr. Dreyfuss’s comments during the event were not in line with the values of inclusivity and respect that we uphold at The Cabot. We understand that his remarks were distressing and offensive to many of our community members, and for that, we sincerely apologize.

At The Cabot, we are committed to fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment for all members of our community. The views expressed by Mr. Dreyfuss do not reflect our beliefs, and we do not endorse them in any way.

We take full responsibility for the oversight in not anticipating the direction of the conversation and for any discomfort it caused.

We are taking immediate steps to ensure that such an incident does not happen again. This includes more rigorous vetting of our event participants and more proactive communication strategies to keep our audience informed.

Thank you for your understanding and continued support of The Cabot.

We value your feedback and are dedicated to learning from this experience to better serve our community.”

The actor has a lengthy record of anti-trans remarks and bigotry. He has directed transphobic rants about trans youth affirming their gender and has taken aim at the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences calling out the Academy’s diversity efforts in a 2023 PBS’ Firing Line broadcast saying that the Academy’s focus on diversity “makes me vomit.”

“We’re so fragile that we can’t have our feelings hurt,” he also said. “We don’t know how to stand up and bop the bully in the face.”

Deadline reported that Dreyfuss apparently made similar comments at a Friday night “Jaws” screening at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, N.H. “I live in Mass, but The Cabot showing was all booked so I saw him in N.H. on May 24,” a Facebook commenter wrote. “He made anti-gay remarks that night too.”

The actor has not responded to requests by multiple media outlets for comment.

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Photos

PHOTOS: Black Pride Opening Reception

Billy Porter headlines program at start of weekend activities

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Billy Porter performs at the Opening Reception of DC Black Pride 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Black Pride 2024 began at The Westin Washington, DC Downtown with an Opening Reception on Friday, May 24. The “Rainbow Row” resource fair was held in conjunction with the reception and featured community organizations and other vendors’ booths.

The reception was hosted by Anthony Oakes. Earl Fowlkes, outgoing chief executive officer and president of the Center for Black Equity, was honored by a mayoral proclamation. Performers included Billy Porter, Paris Sashay, Keith Angelo, Bang Garcon, Black Assets, Marcy Smiles and Sherri Amoure.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Books

Architecture junkies will love new book on funeral homes

‘Preserved’ explores how death industry evolved after WWII

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(Book cover image courtesy of Johns Hopkins University Press)

‘Preserved: A Cultural History of the Funeral Home in America’
By Dean G. Lampros
c.2024, Johns Hopkins University Press 
$34.95/374 pages

Three bedrooms upstairs. That’s a minimum.

You need a big kitchen, a large back room would be a bonus, you want lots of bathrooms, and if you can get a corner lot, that’d be great. The thing you need most is a gigantic all-purpose room or maybe a ballroom because you’re planning on a lot of people. As you’ll see in the new book “Preserved” by Dean G. Lampros, not all living rooms are for the living.

Not too long ago, shortly after he took a class on historic preservation, Dean Lampros’ husband dragged him on a weekend away to explore a small town in Massachusetts. There, Lampros studied the town’s architecture and it “saddened” him to see Victorian mansions surrounded by commercial buildings. And then he had an epiphany: there was once a time when those old mansions housed funeral homes. Early twentieth-century owners of residential funeral homes were, in a way, he says, preservationists.

Prior to roughly World War II, most funerals were held at home or, if there was a need, at a funeral home, the majority of which were located in a downtown area. That changed in 1923 when a Massachusetts funeral home owner bought a large mansion in a residential area and made a “series of interior renovations” to the building. Within a few years, his idea of putting a funeral home inside a former home had spread across the country and thousands of “stately old mansions in aging residential neighborhoods” soon held death-industry businesses.

This, says, Lampros, often didn’t go over well with the neighbors, and that resulted in thousands of people upset and lawsuits filed. Some towns then passed ordinances to prohibit such a thing from happening to their citizens.

Still, funeral home owners persevered. Moving out of town helped “elevate” the trade, and it allowed Black funeral home operators to get a toehold in formerly white neighborhoods. And by having a nice – and nice-sized – facility, the operators were finally able to wrest the end-of-life process away from individuals and home-funerals.

Here’s a promise: “Preserved” is not gruesome or gore-for-the-sake-of-gore. It’s not going to keep you up all night or give you nightmares. Nope, while it might be a little stiff, it’s more of a look at architecture and history than anything else.

From California to New England, author Dean G. Lampros takes readers on a cruise through time and culture to show how “enterprising” business owners revolutionized a category and reached new customers for a once-in-a-deathtime event. Readers who’ve never considered this hidden-in-plain-sight, surprising subject – or, for that matter, the preservation or re-reclamation of those beautiful old homes – are in for a treat here. Despite that the book can lean toward the academic, a good explanatory timeline and information gleaned from historical archives and museums offer a liveliness that you’ll enjoy.

This book will delight fans of little-know history, and architecture junkies will drool over its many photographs. “Preserved” is the book you want because there are other ways to make a house a “home.”

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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