Archive for san fransisco

Slate Gets Milk- Gus Van Sant’s new Film

Posted in film, Guide to What's Good, Mr Slate Honey, People of Color, politics, queer with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2008 by thebrooklynsocialite

Great review and thoughtful Analysis of Milk by Mr Slate Honey. Van Sant is giving a Q&A tonight at MOMA- hopefully I’ll get tickets and be able to report back tomorrow.-R

It seems everybody and their gay dads saw Gus Van Sant’s Milk as part of the Thanksgiving routine this year.  I was warned to go equipped with tissues and to be ready for problematic portrayals of the few characters of color in the film.  (Thanks lover, for the forewarning by the way.) I went prepared with a dewey heart and my critical lenses on.

I have been a committed Sean Penn fan ever since I saw Dead Man Walking when I was a little mister.  And I got on the Gus Van Sant train a bit late but his recent films Elephant, Last Days, Paranoid Park have served my grungy emo-homo skater-boy obsession very well.

Cinematographer Harris Savides and Van Sant make a great visionary team.  They previously worked together on Elephant, a film with a very precise, clean cinema verité style that transforms violence into real-time horror and renders its viewers innocent witnesses.  In Milk, Savides and Van Sant play with perspective, creating layers of consciousness for Penn’s character.  Switching perspective and cinematic style, and weaving archival footage into the film, Savides and Van Sant reveal a determined, emotional man at the center of a violent socio-political setting.  A particularly lush scene that is classic Van Sant perspective comes early on in the film.  Harvey and Scott (played by James Franco) fall in love in a soft-focus dreamscape of close movement, shot all in extreme close-ups set to the soundtrack of their tender conversation.  Gorgeousness.

Overall, Milk is very historically accurate.  Activist Cleve Jones and friend of Milk’s was on-set during production and connected Van Sant with screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who had long been preparing a manuscript. Milk serves as a good personal portrait counterpart to the 1985 documentary The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, directed by Rob Epstein.  I had the feeling watching MILK that I could trust the filmmaker team’s attention to detail and the solid sense of collaboration gave the narrative a documentary quality.

So the accuracy and detail of the film bring up a pretty big concern on the race-politics front.  I was charmed by Sean Penn’s old-school New York accent and faggy gestures, seduced by James Franco’s flirty eyes and mini handlebar moustache and increasingly worried as Josh Brolin’s character’s passive aggressive repression began to seep out.  And the constant influx of characters served well as a distraction from the tragic and narrow development of the few characters of color.

A member of Milk’s activist dream team includes an Asian man who is only referred to as Lotus Blossom despite his many appearances.  Random folks of color magically appear in the crowd every time Milk gets a further push forward in the political machine.  During an acceptance speech near the climax of the film, a black woman with a classic 70s look complete with afro smiles enthusiastically behind Harvey.  She promptly disappears behind a shower of balloons as soon as Harvey wraps up his speech.

Leaving the theatre, my mom suggested that the race politics of the film merely mirrored the San Francisco scene in the 1970s.  There just weren’t that many people of color, she argued.  And there were barely any women in the film, she added.  Historical accuracy?  (And, I might add, how much has the San Francisco gay scene departed from a mostly white gay male playground thirty years later?)

The seldom appearance of people of color is one thing.  I suppose you can reason this with some argument about accuracy.  What is more troubling is the passiveness of the characters of color.  Black and Asian extras dot the activist scenes, always with their thumbs in the air and big smiles.  Lotus Blossom doesn’t seem to wince at his nickname.  And finally, Jack, the one Latino character that makes it on-screen for more than thirty seconds is portrayed as an irrational, mentally unstable, co-dependent, infantile wifey.  Jack’s tragedy becomes expected and you can almost hear the characters whispering under their breath “She brought it on herself.” This is fodder for post-colonial theory.

So my warnings were well-heeded.  In the end, I cried like a baby, just as hard as I cried when I watched ‘The Life and Times of Harvey Milk’.  I left the theatre thinking about the fearless work of an older generation of queer activists that laid some ground for young folks to make demands relevant to what it means to be queer and fight for rights today.  I also left thinking about how race politics have systematically been swept under the rug by a white gay and lesbian rights movement in the 70s.  I thought about what work that has left contemporary queer activists of color.  And how truly far-thinking activists never get comfortable and only keep pushing and questioning.  Finally, making my way out of the city back to Brooklyn, I meditated on queer love as freedom, queer survival as civil rights, and a beautiful fearlessness that comes naturally to us.

Valencia, Cafe Lafayette

Posted in Book, Guide to What's Good with tags , , , , , , , on November 11, 2008 by thebrooklynsocialite

I just finished reading Michele Tea’s Valencia, this is the second book that I’ve read by her, not including Baby Remember My Name an anthology that she edited. The first was Rent Girl, which I found to be really interesting and would require a whole other post to discuss properly. About Valencia, what I can say is this: Tea is something of a hero in the world of lesbian lit, one of the more successful writers in this heavily marginalized genre. Like watering a dry garden, her words effectively begin to fill the void of queer stories. It is good to hear something relatable, depictions of characters that I can recognize and landscapes that I have at least partially inhabited. However, it all feels like one long spit session, perhaps thus originated the tittle of her Sister Spit literary tour. The chapters all inhabit one novel/memoir/autobiography, but they don’t seem to flow together and it feels like she hasn’t completed any of her stories. It reminds me of commentary, would make for excellent blog posts, but I don’t think it functions as well as a consecutive, ideally complete book. Tea talks a lot about drinking, smoking, drugs and sex, a little bit about prostitution and love and self-loathing, but a sense of emptiness is transferred more than anything else. It’s strange to talk about love, yet express vacancy more than depth. I did enjoy it though, it had that addictive quality and really made me consider moving to San Franscisco. In a way I like Tea’s voice, but kept wishing she might write slower and consider craft over expressive explosion. But what do I know? I ‘m not the Queen of queer lit, not yet anyway! I know crossing Michelle Tea could be like crossing Oprah, but the Brooklyn Socialite is nothing if not honest.

A quick mention goes out to Cafe Lafayette. If your in Ft Greene, check out the amazing Lafayette burger, French bistro style, chill with the Mexican waiter, drink Corona’s after closing, or come on the weekend for yum crepes and good coffee. I love this place (G L)

Acousitic Cash, Impermanence, The Rubin Museum, San Fransisco-Michelle Tea

Posted in art, Book, Guide to What's Good, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 8, 2008 by thebrooklynsocialite

Acoustic Cash last night was quite beautiful. It was held in this warm small theater inside the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art. Roseanne was classy and sardonic, saying things like, “I liked the Rubin better when it was a Barneys.” Tongue in cheek of course, because the Rubin really is a cool space, forever in reference to Buddhist thought, the floors spiral upwards towards a stunning glass dome.The theme of Roseanne Cash’s musical interview with Joe Henry was Impermanence. They played songs which related to the Buddhist concept that nothing is permanent except for the self. Clinging to that which is fleeting, (almost everything) is what causes human suffering. Roseanne played some of her father’s songs and Joe managed to charm the audience with his twinkly smile, constant tuning, and that confidence that comes with knowing you are really good at something. Most of the people there were middle aged straight women, with husbands in tow. He sang a song called Flag and talked about how Americans resist letting go of dead ideas, such as bankrupt nationalism. Quickly, he added something about how in the new Obama-America maybe some of those beliefs can be rekindled.

America sees itself as a constant-a self, so to speak. Can it be permanent?

roseand-joe

The night ended with a Tupelo Honey/ People Get Ready duet and then, yes, a sing-along to The Times They are a Changing! (ha ha)

Just a quick note about Michelle Tea and San Fransisco: I am reading Valencia and although it takes place in the 90s, I can’t help but wonder if San Fran is really that cool? What do you think, how does it stand up against Brooklyn (ok NYC)?

I’m off to see Dr Atomic at the Metropolitan Opera, will report back later today.