Queer Movies, and the month of Mardi-Gras

10 years ago, on 3rd March 2007, I witnessed the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras (simply known as Mardi-Gras, down under). This was when I was a student, doing my MA in painting (2006-2007), at COFA (College of Fine Arts), UNSW (University of New South Wales). It was a spectacular event, with gaudily glittering floats, semi naked bodies, cute kids, and the Sydney Mayor. In full swing, in the Australian summer, it went on, from dusk till dark.

The Mardi-Gars festival, is actually a carnival before Lent, in the Christian calendar. BUT, in Sydney, it’s a Pride carnival. Mainly due to the fact, that during the Pride month (which happens to be the summer month of June); is in the heart of winter, down under; where seasons go in the exact opposite direction to the norm. Christmas down under, is in the height of the hot sweltering summer. Thus, the Pride March, down under, has been interwoven with the Mardi-Gras; and is known as the Sydney Mardi Gras!! This takes place, on the first Saturday, of March. And thus, this year, it was held on 5th March 2017!!

In 2008, it was on the 1st of March, 2008. By now, I’d completed my 2nd Masters, and I was temporarily working as an ‘International Student Advisor’, at the ISS (International Student Services), in UNSW. I did not attend it that year (in fact, March 2007, has been the only Mardi-Gras carnival I’ve seen, so far). But I did, go and see, one movie, at the Mardi Gras Film Festival, held in Sydney, in February 2008. The movie was, The Houseboy (2007); and it was pathetic. One of the worst films I’ve ever seen.
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Downloading

Towards the end of last month, I came across a fellow film buff, from Pakistan, on Twitter, with whom I ended up chatting (something I rarely do, that too on Twitter). Soon I befriended him, on FB (Facebook). And on his FB timeline, he had mentioned Mahershala Ali, an actor of Muslim faith, who won the Oscar, for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ for Moonlight (2016), at the 89th Academy Awards, held on the 26th of February 2017; and how proud he felt of being a Muslim, himself, for the very first time. I simply asked him whether he’d seen Moonlight, and that I’d love to. He told me he had watched it twice; and said he’d send me the link to download the movie. And he did.

Now, back to 10 years ago; Year 2007!! I was dead against piracy, and downloading movies on the web, et al. I remember how my Australian friends & flatmates, use to react; feeling embarrassed at doing such things themselves. But I have been living in Sri Lanka, for 7½ years now, and not being able to watch any good movies (as they practically are never shown in Cinema’s here); I’ve had to rent or buy films occasionally, that happen to pirated copies. See my posts on Life of Pi  (2012) and Mud (2012) from October 2013.

But, luck had me travelling to, places like:-
New Delhi, India, between 2010 & 2012 (where you don’t see pirated copies in street shops, unlike Sri Lanka, and have to (literally) go to an underground market, if you want cheap pirated copies); where I not only got to buy good original DVD’s (even though they were with Indian copyrights, thus they have to be approved by the Indian Censor board, and certain films, have a universal rating, with sex and nudity edited out; and though am against censorship, I prefer to buy original DVD’s, than badly pirated ones, found in good shops, in Colombo and it’s suburbs, in Sri Lanka), but also got to see some great films on the Big Screen, on the superb Cineplex’s of New Delhi (see my list on IMDB titled Oscar Winners … and then some 2012, from March 2012).
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Adelaide & Sydney (once again), Australia, in November 2014; where too, I watched a couple of the superb films, on the big screen, plus bought many a DVD’s (see my Blogpost Holidaying in Australia, comes to an end from November 2014).

Meanwhile, back in Sri Lanka, I’ve tried to download films, from certain sites; either I get an error message, or it’s not available in this country, or something or the other. So, only way, I’d watch films online, is if they were available on Youtube; and late last year, streamed a few on iflix. But, as I mentioned above, that this nice new (virtual) friendly acquaintance of mine, sent me a link. And on the night of 28th February 2017; I started to download, Moonlight. By the time, I finished downloading the film, it was next morning, i.e. 1st March 2017. Thus Moonlight, was my very first successful download. And within the next few days, I downloaded four more s; in conjunction, with the month of (or rather the last week of), Sydney’s version, of the Mardi-Gras festivities.
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5 Queer Movie, within the first 5 Days, of March 2017

So here are my mini-critiques on the 5 films, I’ve downloaded so far (downloaded for the very first time). And unlike the pathetic film I saw at the  Mardi Gras Film Festival; except for one here (which too was Averagely good), all the rest of the films were pure excellence of Cinematic magic.
Thus, here is my own little ‘Queer Film Festival’!!!!!!
Beware of some spoilers below!!!!!
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1. MOONLIGHT (2016)

An Art-House Film, that bagged the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar, this year; a rarity, and a win after a fumble at the Academy Awards, that almost felt like Moonlight, had not won.

Moonlight is a touching portrayal of a young, afro-American, gay man, Chiron, brought up in a rough neighbourhood, in Miami, Florida, USA. With a drug addicted, emotionally unstable and abusive, mother; plus being bullied and beaten up in school; Chiron grows up to be a thuggish looking drug dealer, with a heart of gold. The finalé with the admission of virginity, by a very masculine, strong built man, pulls at your heart strings. This is a brilliant, coming of age, drama, about sexuality, true love, and what it’s like to be black in America, especially in a poverty stricken neighbourhood. Directed by Barry Jenkins, who won the ‘Best Director’ Oscar; Moonlight is a powerful piece of though provoking cinema. This is also Jenkins’ directorial, feature film, debut.

Ashton Sanders & Jharrel Jerome in a scene from Moonlight (2016)

The strong built, Trevante Rhodes, brings out such a sensitive performance; through a character, that outwardly generally feels frightening, with his gold chain, and gold teeth; and tough, overtly masculine, act; that touches deep, seeping into your veins, feeling the pain he’s going through. What a beautiful human being the character of Chiron is. The movie is told in three chapters, with three actors, playing one character, Chiron, in three stages of his life. Thus, the film has a main character (Chiron the protagonist of the film), but no lead actor, as such. The trio of actors perfectly essay the role of Chiron. In fact, the whole ensemble cast is terrific.

Mahershala Ali; who won the Oscar, for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ (making him the very first Muslim to win an Oscar, in the acting category); plays a kindly drug dealer, who becomes a mentor, a father figure, for little Chiron. Overall an excellent movie, that deserved the ‘Best Picture’ award, at the 89th Academy Awards, held last month. Moonlight, was the first film with an all-black cast, and the first LGBT film, to win an Oscar, for ‘Best Picture’ ever.

Watched Moonlight, late Wednesday night (1st of March, 2017)!!

My Rating:-
Excellent!!! 10/10!!
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2. CAROL (2015)

A Christmas Carol, a beautiful Christmas romance, and a wonderful, lesbian, love story.

Cate Blanchett is superb as ever, nothing surprising about that fact. Todd Haynes, is an equally great director, again nothing new about that. But, Rooney Mara, WOW!!! What a brilliant performance. I’ve seen excellent films, starring Mara, in small roles, like in The Social Network (2010) and Her (2013); but I hardly noticed her in these movies. So she definitely was the surprise packet in Carol, for which Rooney Mara, tied in, for the ‘Best Actress’ win, at the 68th Annual Cannes Film Festival, in May 2015 (see my posts The 68th Cannes Film Festival finalé and Winners & Disappointments – at Cannes 2015, from May 2015).

Carol, is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, titled The Price of Salt. Though am a fan of Highsmith thrillers, I haven’t read this particular novel. This story, is very different to Highsmith books (at least that’s what I gathered from the movie). While most Highsmith literature has to do with crime, interwoven with themes of sexuality; The Price of Salt seems to be, an out and out, love story, of two beautiful women; living in a male oriented, homophobic, world. Sadly, this is the world, a great American writer like, Patricia Highsmith, a lesbian herself, had to survive in, in the 1950’s.

Carol is a beautiful heart warming Christmas romance, set in America, in the foxy 50’s, starring two fantastic foxy actresses. Rooney Mara carries ’s charm and simplicity, with grace; and bold Blanchett, is outstanding as ever. Carol, has the potential of being, a future Hollywood classic. While Moonlight, is a brilliant, low-budget, American indie-film; Carol is the quintessential, modern day, Hollywood romance.

I had the luck of seeing Cate Blanchett, in real life, down under. Heavily pregnant, she came to UNSW, to see a digital television exhibit, at our University; in early 2008. I actually didn’t recognise her at once. For one thing I wasn’t aware she was pregnant. So, when I saw a heavily pregnant lady, come out of the exhibit, in a massive pair shades, with a little boy, and stare right at me; I didn’t really pay much heed to her (I was waiting to go inside, with a couple of friends; waiting for whoever was inside to come out). But I did feel she looked familiar. Then she removed her dark glasses (for our benefit 😀 ), and started speaking to a person in a wheelchair, quite near me. It was her voice I recognised, and it’s only then I looked at her. After she left, I asked the students working the exhibit, and they confirmed it was her!! If I already knew she was pregnant, I would’ve recognised her instantly.

Watched Carol late night, on the 2nd of March, 2017!!

My Rating:-
Excellent!!! 10/10!!
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3. HOLDING THE MAN (2015)

Above: Actors Ryan Corr & Craig Stott; as Timothy Conigrave & John Caleo, respectively; in the film, Holding the Man (2015)
Below: The real-life Timothy Conigrave & John Caleo

What better day to watch an Australian Gay-themed film, than on the night of, Sydney’s Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. Of course being on this side of the Ocean, there is no way I can attend the parade, down under, in all it’s splendour. But instead, I watched an Australian Queer Film, based on a memoir; which was the basis of a stage play, with the same title, by Tommy Murphy (who is also accredited with the screenplay for this movie), that came out in 2006; whilst I was in living in Sydney. The play was a big hit in Sydney; and in 2007, I remember seeing an interview with Tommy Murphy, on a local television channel in Sydney. Unfortunately I never got to see the play.

As I mentioned, Holding the Man, is based on the true story, of Timothy Conigrave’s (stage artiste, writer & activist), 15 year love affair with John Caleo (who died of AIDS); which Conigrave penned down, in a book called, Holding the Man. Conigrave completed this book shortly before dying of an AIDS-related illness, himself, in October 1994, at the age of 34 (a month before his 35th Birthday).

Holding the Man, is a tragic story, chronicling the life of two gay men, in Melbourne, Australia, who fall in love as teenagers, in the 1970’s; and survive all odds, when the land of Oz, was still very homophobic. It’s a pity, Timothy Conigrave and John Caleo, weren’t able to see, how much the world has changed today, and how much more open, Australia is to gay culture today. In fact, Sydney is the next gay capital of the world, after San Francisco, in USA. BUT, no matter how open and free, homosexuality is down under, today; sadly many a Australians do take Gay people for a joke. Homosexuality is no laughing matter. People can still be pretty cruel, and inhumane, even in Australia, towards the LGBTIQ community.

Watched Holding the Man, late night, on the 4th of March, 2017. The movie finished past midnight!! A sad beautiful tale, filmed beautifully by director, Neil Armfield. This is among the rare greatest Australian films, I’ve seen.

My Rating:-
Excellent!!! 10/10!!
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4. REFLECTIONS OF A GOLDEN EYE (1967)

Brando & Taylor, on the sets of Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)

Based on the novel, Reflections in a Golden Eye, by Carson McCullers; this beautifully made movie, with a uniquely stunning photographic technique, was directed by John Huston, starring Elizabeth Taylor, in the lead, with Marlon Brando, Brian Keith, Julie Harris and Robert Forster. This was Forster’s debut role, where he played a sexual desire, of Brando’s character.

The main plot of the movie, revolves around the wife of a Major, stationed in a US Army post in the American South in the late 1940’s. The said wife is played by Elizabeth Taylor. A young new Private (Forster), has a perverted obsession, who voyeurs around the violet eyed beauty (Taylor), watching her naked body reflect through the golden brown lens of his eye. It’s a beautifully filmed, movie about a peeping Tom; unaware, of the Major (Brando), the husband, of his sexual desire, himself has a repressed homosexual desire for the Private. Seeing the Private’s naked golden body, many a times in the brown woods, only adds to the Major’s already uncomfortable want for a young man, he cannot have.

Despite a great story line, and the beautiful photographic technique, the film isn’t without it’s flaws. The most visible one being, that of Taylor’s character. Though the film is set in the late 40’s, Elizabeth Taylor’s look, just doesn’t feel the post-war period. With the latest hairdo’s and fashionable dress sense, straight out of the 60’s; Taylor is magnificently more modern, than the setting of the movie. Another flaw is, the movie starts to bore in the middle, especially after the death of a mentally unstable character, played by Julie Harris. Added to which, Huston could have focused more on the Major’s repressed sexuality; i.e. the character played by Marlon Brando.

A scene from the film, Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967); featuring Robert Forster, in the original release of the picture, with the golden hue, that did not impress audiences.

Initially the movie was released, with a golden hue enveloping the movie, as a reference to a drawing of a golden peacock, in the movie; a golden peacock in whose eye, the world is a mere reflection. But audiences did not seem to get this symbolic aspect, thus the original copy was withdrawn from cinema’s, and a normal coloured version re-released. I saw the ordinary colour version, but I’d love to check out Huston’s original aesthetic creation; with the warm sepia tint, over the colour film.

None the less, it’s a very admirable effort by John Huston. I watched Reflections in a Golden Eye on Sunday afternoon, 5th March 2017!!!!

My Rating:-
Average Fare!! 6/10!
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5. SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY (1971)

Last but not the least, most probably my favourite of the lot. What a clever, unusual film. The 60’s & 70’s were definitely the period that Hollywood ruled; bringing out bold unique plots.

Starring Peter Finch, Glenda Jackson and Murray Head; and brilliantly directed by John Schlesinger; Sunday Bloody Sunday, is a very mature, open minded, intelligent story. Murray Head plays a bisexual; who has two partners. One, played by Finch, and the other by Jackson. And each is aware of the other’s existence; and have a mature understanding, and acceptance, of the other, though neither of the, young bisexual scientific artist’s, partners have met each other. What’s more interesting, is how decent these people are, and in what a civilised manner, they handle sharing the same partner. They go on living a very normal life, with their lover, who finds time to spend with both, his male lover, as well as his female lover.

This is a very modern outlook, we don’t really see in this century. Of course, there are plenty of films on threesomes, extreme sexual deviations; but most of the time it’s showcased in a sleazy manner. That’s the beauty of this film, despite having a homosexual man and heterosexual woman, sharing one lover, there is nothing sordid about it. It’s so sophisticatedly handled, and is made to feel, so normal, and that too in a movie, that came out in the 70’s decade; it’s a wonderful feat.

One of the most intellectually adult movies, I’ve ever come across. Peter Finch, is spot on, as the elderly gay man, who is not seen suffering because of his sexuality, and who happens to a well to do Jewish doctor. Glenda Jackson plays a divorcee, who suffers from a childhood trauma, during the war. And each of them lives a relatively happy life, sharing one man, without suffocating the lover. And the lover, being bisexual, enjoys openly romancing both. And yet, it’s only the two of them he romances, and he doesn’t hide the fact he’s also seeing the other. So technically he is faithful to both his lovers.

A lot does happen in the movie, but it’s more character based, where these three people live a very civilized life, in a very normal manner, with acceptance and understanding. Isn’t this the kind of normal acceptance, of people who are different, and understanding them, that could make the world a better place. In a way, a very futuristic attitude. It’s a society that doesn’t have to fight for Gay Right’s, or Women’s Lib, et al; why?? ‘cause gay men and women are seen, living a relatively liberal lifestyle, with no judgement. Their friends accept them, friends’ children play with them, they are asked to take care of the kids, they trust each other; isn’t this the kind of normality, that ought to really exist, in today’s world, but sadly does not. Schlesinger, though set the movie in the 70’s itself, has forecasted a very progressive future, which should have made it’s way, by now.

This British film, is a masterpiece of cinematic intellect. A must watch. The Best film, in this list, I watched Sunday Bloody Sunday, late Sunday night (5th March 2017); the movie ended past midnight. Totally worth it!!

My Rating:-
Excellent!!! 10/10!!
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So that’s all folks, the 5 films I watched, within the first 5 days, of this month. Four of which, were pure excellence!!!

Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense

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