Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Last Week, in Review

Brought to you by the letter B

      There’s not much I can add to existing commentary on the jaw-dropping idiocy (and clear mental issues) of 20-year-old Ashley Todd, who seemingly took a Crayola crayon to her face, wrote a backwards but perfectly formed version of the second letter in the alphabet, and then claimed that a scary (but politically aware) Negro thug had carved a “B” for Barack into her cheek. It speaks volumes about the depths of Republican desperation and depravity that the transparent bullshit of Todd’s claims was ignored and racial flames were stoked in last-ditch efforts to “win” the election. Still, it’s fitting that as the presidential campaign finally winds to an end, it circles back to the beginning(s). Right from the start, when the Democratic hopefuls were battling it out for their party nomination, the complicatedly violent, myth-strewn history of black male / white female dynamics was in play. Hilary and Barack were in a waltz that predates their existences but whose music dictated the terms on which they interacted. Barack had to be especially attuned to the ways his spoken language, body language and demeanor would be interpreted as he did battle with Mrs. Clinton, lest he be (re)cast as something straight outta Birth of a Nation.
      Todd, fed by the apocalyptic racial fury that's been giddily stoked by the McCain campaign, tapped right into that agonized history of the savage, rampaging Negro and the delicate flower of white womanhood. Should Barack win the election, this is only a harbinger of things to come. This country’s running on parallel tracks as it heads into future, but with the two trains headed into wildly divergent imaginings of what that future is or could/might be. The multi ethnic/racial/cultural hordes supporting Barack might actually have greater numbers on their side but the country’s ingrained racism and white supremacy is far from wobbling on its last legs. Shit’s gonna be interesting the next four years.
Sight + Sound of the Day

Noah's Creaking Arc

      Almost ten years ago, I was in the sold-out audience at the Sundance film festival when Patrick-Ian Polk’s film Punks sashayed into the world. There’d been a huge amount of buzz around Punks right from the start of the festival. Posters for the film hung all over Park City. Reportedly, there was going to be a huge, splashy VIP-filled post-screening party sponsored by MTV (and co-sponsored, I think, by Vogue but memory is fuzzy on that.) It was that year’s must-see title and it seemed like everybody wanted a ticket. After standing in a never-ending line, I grabbed a seat with my brother Billbrown, who was attending the festival that year, and we settled in for what was touted as a revolutionary film about the lives of four colored homosexual best friends. We really wanted to like the film. But it was not good.
      When doing press for the film, Polk announced that he’d been inspired to make Punks after sitting through too many white-boy queer films such as Broken Hearts Club and seeing either no representation of black men, or seeing those lives marginalized. And that was a large part of the problem with Punks. (Weak acting, writing and direction were the rest.) The film felt reactive, pitched in truth toward someone else’s gaze and approval (guess who) while claiming to be unapologetically about the lives of colored homos. A hodge-podge of pop culture references, diva worship and drag musical performances (set to the music of Sister Sledge) swirled around the story of Marcus (Seth Gilliam, of "Oz" fame) a shy, bespectacled, successful fashion photographer and Darby (Rockmund Dunbar) the gorgeous, straight-but-homo-friendly guy who moves in next door and sets Marcus’ heart aflutter. When the film was finally released in theaters and I reviewed it, I wrote that Polk’s cameo in a party scene in which he is shown dancing with and then kissing a generically attractive blonde guy seemed the whole reason for the film's existence. That kiss, that embrace. That validation.
      I’ve always been kinda cool on “Noah’s Arc,” Polk’s hit cable TV series about the lives and loves of four colored homo friends living in Los Angeles / West Hollywood. I’ve watched it, chuckled a bit and even gotten caught up in the arc of storylines. But I kept it at arm’s length largely because of its being drawn from (and not substantially veering enough away from) the template of “Sex & the City.” Black faggotry modeled on vapid white womanhood is backwards-motion in the quest for forward motion on black gay / gay black representation. And this is speaking as someone who was a fan of “Sex & the City” for its first few seasons. But as I wrote recently about the “Sex & the City” TV show when reviewing the Sex & the City movie for my Flaunt DVD column:

The first two seasons of HBO’s cultural juggernaut "Sex & the City" centered on the character Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), presenting her as a witty, fashionable, smart but fallible, recognizably flawed woman cruising through her ‘30s, trying to make sense of being single in modern Manhattan. She was desirous of a romantic relationship but didn’t always possess the best judgment in men or her own actions. Her emotional support system consisted of three starkly different “types,” none of whom would likely hang out with the others in real life. But the show often crackled with quick, insightful writing and solid acting. Its best moments captured something about female camaraderie and internality that rang true. There was more than a little melancholy and fear in the emotional currents explored, along with some fear-based desperation, that added texture to the sitcom sheen of the whole package. But somewhere around season three, Carrie became insufferable – a narcissistic, cloying, emotionally devolving creature whose trying-too-hard fashion get-ups often bordered on the avant-ridiculous and were a rich metaphor for the direction in which the character was nudged over time. But this is also when the series became interesting and accidentally brave in ways cast and creators hadn’t intended. Carrie became a caricature of her former imperfect (but appealing) self in scarily accurate reflection of the ways that so many LA & NY women do – particularly those who are slaves to trends and media-dictated notions of what viable, attractive womanhood is. She became shrill, stupid and repetitive. Sex & the City: The Movie stays the character and the film in that groove.

     I reviewed the film Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom for the LA Weekly last week (click here for the review) and unfortunately my key point was lost to my editor’s delete button. I wrote, “Noah’s Arc, both the cable television series and the Jumping the Broom movie that it’s spawned, belong in that category of pop art that’s important but not necessarily good.” I went to see the movie again over the weekend, to take it in with a crowd of folks who actually had to pay to see it, and I may have been the only person in the sold-out auditorium who was not completely besotted with it. But my original critique stands. On top of a lot of weak acting, a visual style that’s not up to the task of bringing the viewer into Polk’s fetishizing of “the good life,” and some unforgivably wack fashion choices (at least three times during the press screening I attended several weeks back, I uttered “Tha fuck is he wearing?” when Noah appeared onscreen), the big problem is that there’s just too much crammed into a script that is simultaneously thuddingly heavy-handed and underdeveloped in its rush to affirm a status quo of consumerism and class snobbery, and to mindlessly embrace gay marriage on the most hackneyed of terms, all amongst a whole buncha other plot-lines, sub-plots and tangential issues. [SPOILER: Early in the film, Wade makes a comment that illustrates his assumption that he and Noah will at some point be parents. Noah’s facial reaction makes it clear that wasn’t necessarily part of his plan. The subject is completely dropped, though, until the end of the film when Noah – with no further conversation on the subject having transpired – approaches Wade and grins that of course he wants children… just not right away. Polk has no interest in digging into the grit of what marriage & parenthood might really mean for queer folk. He and his characters simply lust for signifiers of the status quo and their soothing marks of validation. Why bother with the messiness of real thoughtfulness?]
     The fact of the film’s existence is… a triumph. Undoubtedly. That a camera was turned on black male bodies that are gay / queer / same-gender-loving, with the final product put up on silver screens across the country (albeit in very limited release) is no small thing. And part of the enthusiasm behind its reception is the hunger of folks to see something of themselves and their concerns authenticated through the pop culture machine. I get that. But I can’t help but put the film’s release in the context of this year being the one in which we saw the re-issue of the classic Negro homosexual literary anthologies In the Life and Brother to Brother after years of both being out of print. (Props to my publisher, Lisa Moore of RedBone Press, for bringing them back.) While tackling everything from AIDS to racism, from self-hatred to the joys & hardships of men building lives with other men, the books in sum were radical for claiming subjectivity for Negro homosexuals by making it clear that Afro homos aren’t just white fags in blackface, that they aren’t all jonesing to be women (white or otherwise), and that the approval of white queer establishments and gatekeepers (or the approval of self-appointed black cultural gatekeepers, for that matter) are not high on the list of shit desired by a sizeable number of this particular minority. The work of Patrick-Ian Polk, despite whatever flickers of subversive progress he shows (the scene of Noah braiding Wade’s hair in Jumping the Broom is lovely) or the still-fledgling artistry he’s growing into (the inspired showcasing of the great Phoebe Snow as a wedding singer in the film, and then letting her steal the show) feels like a couple of steps backwards.

PSThis clip is sexier than anything I’ve seen in any American film (queer or straight, Negro or Keebler) in ages. Not x-rated but may not be safe for work.

Station break:

Long Lasting Flava

I don’t yet have any photos from the first Blow Pop! club thrown by the New Ninjas collective (of which I am ¼) but it was pretty fucking amazing. The crowd was a lovely multi-generational, multi-racial mix that spawned the exact chill, friendly, house-party vibe we’d hoped for. Our two DJs, Kim Hill and Kim Blackwell, turned it out with funky/sexy/soulful sets that included the music of Tricky / Shirley Caesar / Prince / Side Effect / classic LaBelle / Aaliyah / Maze / Stevie Wonder / the Jacksons... my mind is blanking on it all. What pleased me most was seeing a turnout that simply looked like Los Angeles. Our Asian brothers and sisters were well repped; the Latino contingent showed up full force; the Negroes definitely held it down. My friend Lisa came up to me at one point and laughingly apologized ‘cause her crew was “dancing like white girls.” And they were. But it was nothing but love ‘cause those white girls were the first ones to take to the dance-floor and among the last to leave. What made the night a success for me personally: My friend Joshua had had a really rough day. He’s an Iranian Jew who’s converted to Islam, and whose full beard and traditional attire get verbal darts thrown at him almost daily, from all sides; that day had been especially rough for him. But at one point late in the evening, he turned to me with a smile, squeezed my shoulder and said, “This has been the best night…” One of the Kims was concerned at first that folks weren’t dancing too tough; she couldn’t tell if they were having a good time or not from her vantage point behind the turntables. But they were. Heads were nodding, crews were intermingling and steeping outside the circle of friends they'd come with to connect with new folks; shoulders were swaying and people were singing along to the songs. My mouth fell open when a young Asian cat lost his mind to the opening notes of Side Effect, and then proceeded to sing along to the song. It was just a very chill time. The short films we played at the start of the night were a big hit, and gave me some ideas for curating the film section of our next night, which is going to be on November 21st @ Club Fais Do Do. Come check us out.


copper gypsy said...

I agree... the night was so right! And props to Fais Do Do for always reppin' for the neighborhood and letting us do our thing. A bit of trivia, I sang with Side Effect when I first moved to LA which led to a short run as a background singer for Brothers Johnson. Good lookin' Ms. Blackwell...

Jack Curtis Dubowsky said...

I never got into sex and the city. Maybe it's cuz I never had TV or Cable. But when I did see it, I was taken aback by how it was just vicarious entertainment for gay men. It seemed to be women not playing women, but playing gay men. Those aren't women playing women, they're women playing gay men. Well what could sell more in urban markets than that??

Wish I had been there for opening night of Blow Pop. I think the name of the venue, Fais do do, is funny... Translates roughly as "Go Beddy Bye." Here's an expression in French for "daily grind" : "Metro, bulot, dodo" : lit. subway, job, beddybye.. Anyway I'm so Impressed you are doing a club and I want to go!!!

Have not seen Noah's Arc but would like to. That video clip, I find the animated little red heart / flower petals hilarious.

I had not seen a photo of the B woman until your column, and no one had reported the B was backwards. duh! Looking in the mirror no doubt.

I have to say I voted already, I voted early, I could not wait to cast my vote. Most of the televised No on 8 advertising I've seen, even here in SF, has been so weak. I'm glad you posted a No on 8 clip. I did not see that one on air.

Lisa C. Moore said...

Thanks for the RedBone Press love--and fine criticism of In the Life and Brother to Brother. I feel so validated!

I wish I could go to Fais do do. We in Louisiana know what it means. Sounds like you all did a fine job. Would it ever become a traveling show? Huh? Please?

Jack Curtis Dubowsky said...

oooh am i keebler??? :)