We’ve got some thought-provoking LGBTQ documentaries, or documentaries that appeal to LGBTQ tastes, that you may have missed. Below you’ll find documentary reviews from the Metrosource Editorial staff and movie trailers, including That Summer, Dream Boat, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, McQueen, The Gospel of Eureka, and Uncle Howard.
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
In telling the story of Marsha P. Johnson, oscar-nominated director David France (How to Survive a Plague) also tells the story of the gay rights movement. Marsha was at the Stonewall riots leading the charge against cops who routinely harassed gays. She ended up on the front lines in part because, like so many trans individuals, she’d been pushed to the margins of society. That’s what this documentary is really about: those bold, beautiful individuals and the debt our community owes them for advancing the cause. One such woman — an old friend of Marsha’s named Victoria Cruz, leads us through the film on a quest to find out what really happened to Marsha before she was found floating dead in the Hudson River in 1992.
The cops labeled her death a suicide and made no investigation (as the film explains they often dealt with homicides and disappearances of those who were regarded as unlikely to be missed). But Marsha is still loved by many who are sure she did not kill herself, and while there isn’t much footage of her, what we do see tells us a lot. Even when her clothes are askew or her makeup is not applied quite right, her whole face shines with a radiant warmth. Though Cruz may not find answers, she stirs important reminders of those who do not deserve to be forgotten.
Review by Jonathan Roche
If you’re looking for a seafaring celebration that never ends, you’ll be surprised — and delighted — by a documentary called Dream Boat, where five men around the world who come to party and end up facing themselves.
Dream Boat could have been an empty and vapid affair skimming the surface of what life looks like if you’re a hunky and horny guy between 25 and 35 whose life revolves around turning down anyone who’s not as buff, handsome or socially hip as you. Certainly the visuals of the film directed by Tristan Ferland Milewski are packed fore and aft with beautiful men having the time of their lives — even if some of them are too wasted to know it half the time. And not only are the men beautiful, but the ship as often seen gliding through the blue waters of the Atlantic is depicted as an idyllic voyage where the only bumps are the ones the boys on the boat bounce and grind against nightly.
But in delving deeper, Milewski finds a panoply of gay men, some of whom fit the hypermasculine Adonis archetype to a tee, while others dance on the sidelines hoping that someone somewhere in this literal sea of humanity will somehow notice them for what makes them unique and worthy of attention.
There’s an exile from Palestine reveling in how his move to Belgium has finally landed him a life where the police actually protect gay men from harassment rather than providing its source. A wheelchair-bound Frenchman and his partner make the most of their vacation by spending little time fretting about the past and soaking up the sun and energy swirling around them. An Indian man now living in Dubai finds that sex is easier to come by than affection, and at the center of it all is what you’d think is everybody’s ideal of physical perfection — a Polish immigrant now living in England who wants to be seen as more than a commodity. He’s met every possible criteria for desirability, but he wonders aloud if the cruise isn’t just an empty exercise in preening, hooking up and getting blasted.
While all those stories are not particularly party compatible, they add a multi-dimensionality that gives the film soul and resonance far beyond the pleasures of watching men in next to nothing dance the night away in neon, fetish wear, drag and skimpy swimsuits. Also be aware that unlike the recent Tom of Finland biopic, Dream Boat shows men doing what men will in such environs. It’s not gratuitous, but to leave sex out of a movie where men go to sea to play? Well, that boat won’t float.
Review by Kevin Phinney
Anyone who lived in New York City in 2011 but was foolish enough not to attend Savage Beauty, the record breaking exhibition of fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will feel the regret of missing out after viewing this excellent documentary about a simultaneously magnificent and ordinary man. The film follows McQueen (Lee, to his friends) from humble beginnings on London’s East End to the heights of international fame from which he tragically could not find his way back. Disarmingly plain in appearance (chubby, with a weak chin and a mouth that tended to hang open), McQueen looked more like a pizza delivery boy than a designer of haute couture. Beyond just appearance, there was something pleasingly pedestrian about the man, who shied away from the spotlight — living for his work, friendships, beloved mother and playful dogs.
Scored with tracks by film composer Michael Nyman (The Piano, Man on Wire), a favorite of McQueen’s, the film brims with an urgency furthered by the intensity of McQueen’s runway shows: their unusual names become the film’s chapter titles – e.g. “Highland Rape” and “The Dance of the Twisted Bull.” Crackling with McQueen’s talent and dark psychic energy as well as the efforts of his gifted collaborators, these fashion shows appear more like true art than any others I’ve seen. And through this well composed collage of interviews with friends, archival footage and overall exquisite visuals, you get a remarkably clear picture of a complex artist and his visionary art. McQueen suggests — quite possibly correctly — that its subject was in a league all his own, and this doc offers an intimate glimpse into the person behind the art.
Read about Andrew Wilson’s book, Alexander McQueen: Blood Beneath the Skin
Review by Jonathan Roche
The Gospel of Eureka
In “The Gospel of Eureka”, documentarians show us a town shared by the passionately Christian and the proudly gay.
A Deeply Divided America Meets in Eureka
These days America’s deep divisions are on everyone’s mind, so it’s nice to see a documentary like this one. It reminds us that on both sides, most Americans are just tacky, ridiculous, salt of the earth folk.
Who better to narrate this undeniable truth than Mx Justin Vivian Bond? Bond’s sweet and salty southern tones seem to float over the misty town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas like warm rain.
What makes Eureka such a one-of-a-kind Ozarks oasis is the town’s surprising mix of Christian piety and queer community. One of the town’s main attractions is a massive statue of Jesus and an amphitheater where they perform a nightly passion play. Meanwhile, downtown there is a big gay bar, where leathery-skinned drag queens holler for tourist’s dollars. Its owners jokingly refer to it as a real “hillbilly Studio 54”.
The Passion of the Left and Right
Ultimately, each of the shows acts like a kind of communion, though one has more booze and fewer virgins. The mash-up of the passion of Christ with the screams of drag queens is the film’s best trick. It displays the ‘queer’ similarity between the two, despite their obvious differences.
The film plays the same game with the colorful local folk whom documentarians Michael Palmieri & Donal Mosher capture on camera. Compare the guy who plays Christ with the old gay couple who own the bar. Meet the the Christian t-shirt designer who seeks to identify with his dead gay father. Note how a trans woman and her loving husband are indistinguishable from anyone in the crowd waiting to see Jesus finally come down off of his cross.
Ultimately, what could be a story of division ends up offering a heart-warming dose of all-American optimism.
Review by Paul Hagen
A young filmmaker creates a cinematic elegy for the hero he lost to the epidemic.
To the world, Howard Brookner was a rising Hollywood director who died of AIDS on the cusp of his 35th birthday in 1989. To his nephew Aaron, he was the loving and inspirational Uncle Howard.
“He gave me the same thing he gave everyone: when he was with you, he was really with you, and there was nobody else in the room or the world. He was genuinely interested in you,” Aaron recalled while preparing the film. “I could see that in his home videos, when he was spending time with me and interested in what I was doing.”
Those videos — along with memories of a beloved uncle — help paint a portrait of a life cut short in Aaron Brookner’s film, Uncle Howard, which is now available on multiple streaming platforms (including iTunes, Amazon and Netflix).
“It’s a film about love. It’s a film about filmmaking. It’s a film about AIDS. It’s a film about the power of what you can do with your time in the world, and that what you create while you’re here can really outlive you,” the younger Brookner said.
His uncle completed only three features before he died during the worsening AIDS epidemic; but he made an indelible impression on those who traveled in his circles. He spent years with Beat writer William S. Burroughs — the subject of his 1983 documentary Burroughs, which Howard created with fillmmakers Jim Jarmusch and Tom DiCillo.
Uncle Howard follows nephew Aaron as he reviews more than 300 reels of film from his uncle’s life and career, including outtakes from Burroughs, in the hopes of better understanding his childhood hero. Aaron intersperses interviews with his uncle’s former colleagues and other family — including Howard’s longtime partner, novelist Brad Gooch, who describes Howard as a genial life-loving man. Howard’s video diaries and photographs further illustrate his passion for film and life.
As Howard’s health worsened, he was directing the movie Bloodhounds of Broadway, which he would not live to see released. Aaron recalls visiting him as a youngster at St. Vincent’s Hospital, which was ground zero for treatment of AIDS patients in the early years. “I didn’t quite understand what was going on,” Brookner says now. “But it was never dark around Howard. He retained his sense of humor until the end.”
If there is a message Aaron hopes resonates with audiences, it’s to pursue your passion. “Howard died really young,” Brookner said, “but he didn’t feel entirely cheated because he was able to do what he wanted to do, and that’s an important message that we need more than ever now.”
Review by Jeff Simmons
Those who love the unflinching documentary Grey Gardens will be happy to know that there’s more to be seen of its subjects in this film that is, in many ways, an even closer look at what was already a rather wrenching portrait. The footage comes from two years before the legendary Maysles brothers would return to the filthy East Hampton estate that was Grey Gardens to document the lives of the eccentric aunt and cousin of former first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. The brothers served as crew on a documentary project with basically the same mission as their eventual masterpiece. Together with the beautiful and fashionable younger sister of Jackie, Lee Radziwill, and their mutual friend, artist Peter Beard, they made the first filmed incursion into the curious and decaying world of ‘Big’ and ‘Little’ Eddie Beale.
Already a part of a fabulous gaggle of artists frequenting Montauk (including Andy Warhol and his cohorts from The Factory and sometimes even Truman Capote), Radziwill and Beard’s goal was to show how the Hamptons were changing. Who would serve as a better example than these two marvelously strange women so adept at living in the past? Göran Hugo Olsson assembles a wealth of footage — some lost for 45 years — to provide an even more candid visit with the Beales. That Summer is less controlled than the Maysles’ Grey Gardens, but no less compelling. A cold open of Peter Beard displaying his photo collages sets the scene of that summer — of beautiful celebrities and American royalty hanging out and being fabulous, and both Radziwill and Beard (who was truly movie-star handsome) continue to narrate throughout the film. It’s almost as adept at conjuring the past as the Beales themselves.
Review by Jonathan Roche
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Last modified: March 28, 2019