Saturday, January 14, 2006

Saturday Gumbo

0Last night I finally saw Michael Hanneke's 2005 film Caché (photo at right, from easily one of the best films I've seen this year, so I'll post on it in maybe tomorrow. It was the sort of film that immediately made me want to puzzle out its implications and discuss it with someone. If it's in your area, you're not too literally minded, and don't mind a tiny bit of violence and gore, definitely check it out.

I've yet to see Brokeback Mountain, which has inspired encomia all across the Web, as if this were the first and best gay movie ever (though it probably is the first about gay shepherds/cowboys in Wyoming set in the pre-to-post Stonewall Era). I probably will see it at some point, but Littlemilk at Unbeached Whale has a take on it as the "Cinematic Gay Craze" that I sort of agreed with. Direland has links to other views which similarly depart from the chorus. Then again, it is an Ang Lee movie, which does recommend it, and supposedly the acting is great, the love story is truly moving, and the scenes of the Canadian landscape-masquerading-as the Equality State (though I think the story also takes place in other Western venues) are enchanting.

But the whole premise just...doesn't grab me at all. Heather Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal inspire yawns (I can't think of any other movie the former was in, though the latter was pretty good in Donnie Darko). A friend who's also a big sports fan suggested, and I agreed--even though I haven't yet seen the film but read reams about it--as we were chatting on the phone and praying for the postcard-perfect New England Patriots not to wheedle their way back to the Super Bowl (they didn't, the Denver Broncosousted them), that it's sort of like the Gay Aryan Shepherd/Cowboy Movie. Maybe it should the DL Shepherd/Cowboy Movie. Littlemilk says that the beauty of the two stars "cancels itself out." (Perhaps there are some shepherds/cowboys of color or other folks in it, I don't know, not that there have to be any people of color in an American movie for me to watch and enjoy it, since I am a big fan of David Lynch's films, as well as a great deal of Hollywood classic cinema and film noir, to give several examples). When I heard that one of the protagonists dies by the end, I sighed and thought, this sounds like the usual Hollywood mainstream narrative about gay lives. But I've been told that the film goes does go to some interesting places. So at some point, I'll probably go see it. I bet it'll be very popular overseas....

Update: Writer Meghan Daum has an incisive and hilarious piece in the LA Times, "A Breakthrough on Brokeback," on what's really going on in Brokeback Mountain (at least from her straight, female perspective). Quoth she:

Talk about something being worth the price of admission! For women, "Brokeback Mountain" is kind of like a vacation from our own brains, at least the part of our brains that obsesses over relationships. Instead, we get to watch men express the feelings we always want them to express but often end up doing for them. The sex, whatever the brand, is incidental compared to the unprecedented purity of male emotion on the screen.

Gay men may relate to this film in more complicated ways, but from where I sat, the effect on heterosexuals seemed pretty clear-cut. To my left was my (straight male) date, who I occasionally caught checking his watch and hiding his eyes during the love scenes (though he claimed he was simply rubbing them). To my right was a woman who, when she wasn't talking back at the screen ("Say yes, Ennis! Say yes!") was loudly sobbing through much of the picture. For my part, I was just pretending Heath Ledger was vomiting because of me.

Though what "Brokeback Mountain" amounts to, in effect, is female-targeted emotional pornography, both sexes of all inclinations could learn a thing or two from it. By acting like men but emoting like women, by embodying both sides of the divide, Jack and Ennis cover all the bases of the romantic equation. This makes more conventional movie characters — male or female — seem woefully one-dimensional by comparison.


Speaking of Direland, he has the goods as usual on his site. There's a tribute to Gilles Deleuze, that inexhaustible well (I saw his book on Francis Bacon for the first time today); information on the ongoing persecution of homosexuals in Iran; exposés on the CIA's site for kids, on how Abramoff helped fund the GOP's anti-gay agenda, a piece on NSA whistleblower Mike Tice and the broader scope of the secret, warrantless eavesdropping/wiretapping, and a scathing piece, which I'm linking to directly, on how mediocre gay TV is. And those are the topics for just the last few weeks.


Sueyeun Juliette Lee and Eric Baus are two of the coolest people I met for the first time in 2005. Juliette, a talented poet who also runs her own handsewn book press, hosted Christopher Stackhouse and me last fall when she organized a reading at Amherst Books for the publication and début of Chris's lovely chapbook, Slip. It was one of the most enjoyable readings I've participated in in years, and several local writer-scholars, including Keguro and Ronaldo V., were in the house. Now, Juliette has three poems online in the Coconut 2 and a chapbook from Coconut entitled trespass slightly in, which you can read online or download. There's some tight work in it!


Kai Wright,who I'm guessing is the Kai from NYC whose responses keep me on my toes and who offered great advice when I translated the late Dominican poet Carlos Rodríguez's poem, has a provocative article in the current online issue of The Nation. Titled "Is Fear the Best Way to Fight AIDS?" the article examines the attempts by AIDS prevention and education organizations in recent years to return to a rhetoric and narrative of fear in combatting the ongoing transmission of HIV/AIDS among gay men. Wright cogent piece raises a lot of important points, including the basic absence of sex-positive prevention efforts or frank discussions, which could be incorporated into prevention and education programs and materials, of situationally negotiated risk(-taking). I hope more AIDS-service providers take note of his arguments and others like them, though the current cast of the government (and the previous one was not so great either on this point) means that some of the most revolutionary and potentially effective approaches will have to wait for a while, unfortunately.


TlaliAn author I'm reading for the first time, as a result of a student's thesis: Miriam Tlali (at left, photo from Webhustlers). The book: Muriel at Metropolitan (Longman, 1979). It's certainly one of the more challenging and enjoyable texts I've had to read for work purposes in some time, and I'm glad to have learned about her. Next on my list, her Between Two Worlds (Broadview, 2004).


RIP Shelley Winters. This blowsy Brooklynite, who went on to win 2 Best Supporting Actor Oscars, the first as the obnoxious wealthy wife in the Diary of Anne Frank (1959) and the second as a racist mother in A Patch of Blue (1965), and who also gave the alltime unforgettable (and hilarious) performances in The Poseidon Adventure (1975), also shares something in common with T. S. Eliot, Betty Grable, Chuck Berry, Dick Gregory, and Nelly: she's a native of St. Louis, born on Newstead Avenue in 1920, or 1922, depending on who's telling it. She's even has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.


  1. An interesting article on HIV/AIDS, though I don't think Kai (the other one) goes nearly far enough in his analysis. In my own head, I've puzzled out two takes on HIV prevention among gay men which I've labeled the (1) root cause solution and the (2) stop-gap but eminently effective solution.

    Were I going to write about the root cause solution I'd need to tease out (at about ten pages of length each) (1) American cognitive dissonance on the issues of sexuality in general, and homosexuality specifically, where fundamentalist religious propoganda and absurdly contradictory prudery of a specifically American brand (i.e., a movie dealing with gay men, even with extremely discreetly portrayed sexuality, rates at least an R; male nudity is infinitely more charged than female; depictions of violence, even ultra violence, are appropriate for any age, but sexuality always worrisome) clash always and forever with simple straight forward medical facts: think of how we teach sex education in this country as opposed to the Northern Europeans. I'd need to dwell at some length on how (2) political and religious rhetoric, as they dominate and desseminate through the media and crowd out all good sense, and as they're institutionalized in law and cliches of representation and language generally, distort or demolish the American homosexual's identity and sense of self worth--trebly the case for blacks and others of color. (Again, let us imagine other western democracies response to [chosen at random] that Jersey govenor what'shisname, who cheated with a man; gay marriage, adoption and immigration; or American politicians unabashed use of overt religious rhetoric in justifying their bigotry). And finally (3)--which coincides with my stop gap solution--the murderous idiocy of how we present safe sex information.

    My take on the horrendous problems with safe sex propaganda developed in large part first from that essay of Delany's included with "Of Plagues and Carnivals," which he recently revisited and updated in a journal linked on Frank's site. With breath-taking good sense, Delany tears away the scrim of preconceived notions, naive credulity and an insufficent discrimination between "hearsay" and "concrete fact" which mars almost the entire body of so-called scientific research concerning HIV transmission. Then he gently leaves implicit for the alert reader (anything more explicit would, of course, be rash) the fact that the only properly administered study (yes, there's been only one, in all these years) confirms what many of us have suspected: as a gay man, you catch HIV from being fucked (without a condom) in the ass. So why, why, why do all the little pamphlets have everything from hand-holding, dry kissing, to receptive unprotected anal sex laid out on a stupefyingly long, disheartening chart labeled from "low risk" to "high risk"? Why not simply tell every punk, from a young age, "wear a condom when you get fucked" and you are MOST unlikely to ever become infected? (And then, without the information overload, maybe we could actually be heard in a discussion about "negotiated safety" and always taking your nigga in to get a test if you feel the burning need for unprotected sex). In HIV prevention too much information, too many doubts, too much labeling of simple, direly necessary human behavior as "risky" is the same as --as Kai Wright points out-- no information at all.

    Whew, Kai, tell us what you REALLY think! lol

    Kai in NYC

  2. indulge my silliness: if you feel a "burning need," you really should be going for another kind of test!