Why are we talking about Moneyboys? Well Jose’s recently read DIE PUPENJUNGE/ THE HUSTLER: THE STORY OF A NAMELESS LOVE FROM FRIEDRICHSTRASSE , City of Night, and Dancer from the Dance and is fascinated by gutter and underbelly, night and shadows, criminality and liminality, the ways social and psychic alienation can combine with carnal immersion though sexual connection, the tension in sex work between certain types of freedom and certain types of bondage. Moneyboys is too high class to touch on many of those things. But Richard IS interested in Taiwanese Cinema, in Hou Hsiao-hsien and in Haneke — interests which do intersect with Moneyboys — so humours him. In the podcast we talk of the significance of a Taiwanese film on this subject being set in Mainland China; the tensions between the rural and the city; the biological family which accepts money earned from sex work but casts out the worker; the value of constructed families; the various kinds of love valued (and de-valued) by the film; the possible conflation of sex work and homosexuality; the fluid long takes and the emotional distance evoked. It’s an accomplished first film, interestingly made, and interestingly made under a pseudonym. In the podcast we talk through our responses to the various strands it dramatises and the issues they raise. The film is currently on MUBI.
I wanted to talk to someone about Judy Garland as soon as I saw the BFI program celebrating the 100th anniversary of her birth, ‘Judy Garland: A Star is Reborn’. And who better to talk with about Judy than Richard Dyer? The conversation is an informal one, a recorded zoom call between friends, that then cuts off at the end as soon as the 45 minute zoom time-limit ends. But it does cover a lot of ground: her artistry, her persona, her significance to gay men, her performances in various films, her duet with Barbra Streisand…and much more. The video may be seen below:
Those of you who prefer to listen rather than look, can hear the conversation in podcast form here:
Just finished re-reading DANCER FROM THE DANCE and it does seem to capture a brief moment in a particular time and place, gay Manhattan circuit culture in the 70s: the drugs, and the dancing (the Philadelphia sound and beginnings of disco) , the clothes (burn the Lacostes!), Perrier and Angel Dust, the Pines and the Everhard baths. Everyone from elsewhere, escaping the material and psychic oppression of their hometowns and finding community in the sex and the music and the dance….all conveyed by a camp that rarely strays from the cusp of hurt.
When I first read it, I ignored the sadness, the loneliness, the aspect of the story that dramatised how these men don’t find love, f**k away the years, and then age creeps up on them and they move to San Francisco or return to look after ageing parents or jump of a rooftop. I thought it all glamorous and aspirational.
Now, it seems such an exemplar of a kind of unconscious wasp dominance. Malone is a BLONDE God; the Puerto Ricans — so desired — are barely legible as people. I also now re-read it with the knowledge that many of them would have died a few years later, that a fate much worse than working insurance in their hometowns awaited so many of them.
The spiritual emptiness depicted in the novel seems more clearly a result of structures of oppression, and the appreciation of the dancing and the music and the surfaces of things seem to glow in the mind: I made a playlist of every song mentioned in the novel. There’s an expression in Spanish, ‘que te quiten lo bailao’ i.e. they can’t take away that which you’ve danced (I know there’s a similar expression in English; I just can’t think of it now).
The novel left me feeling that at least they danced and enjoyed their bodies, joked and were in on the joke. Edmund White compares it to THE GREAT GATSBY in the way it glamorises a decade and a culture, but there’s also the romanticism, the sadness, the green light, that is here that relationship that is always within reach but forever tragically unobtainable. A beautiful read.
The Italian Job is a classic British caper familiar to everyone who’s grown up in the UK, so often has it been shown on telly and so embedded in British culture is the iconography of the red, white and blue Minis, the chase through Turin, only being supposed to blow the bloody doors off, and of course, the cliffhanger. Even those who, like Mike, have never watched it from beginning to end, know and love it as an unimpeachable icon of British cinema.
Which may be curious, considering Mike’s dislike of a UK that has left the EU in a storm of angry little Englanderism and British exceptionalism, as that reliving-the-war, one-in-the-eye-for-the-Europeans attitude can be read throughout The Italian Job – but, José argues, it’s a film that conveys affection for the continent, too, in its globetrotting nature and the beautiful scenery it shows off; and after all, its release came just a few years before the UK joined the EEC, which would later become the EU, in 1973. So it’s not quite that simple.
The Italian Job‘s notion of national identity is also conveyed through class, which is clearly delineated here, particularly through its use of Michael Caine and Noël Coward, who each connote specific strata of the class system. Importantly, this is no tale of class warfare – everyone’s in it together for Queen and country, and the gold heist that everything’s leading towards is explicitly given a national purpose. All that gold isn’t being stolen just for fun: who it’s being stolen from and for are key.
While our heads swirl with all these issues and more – including whether the chase is a good as all that, and the sexism of the comedy delivered by Benny Hill’s character – we have a grand old time at The Electric seeing The Italian Job. It falls short of cinematic greatness, but it’s jolly good fun, and those iconic images and sequences, which might only have existed in your mind’s eye for years since you last chanced upon the film on TV, don’t disappoint when you see them once again.
A discussion of the first Cameroonian feature film, a story of a doomed love, marriage made impossible by patriarchal structures shored up by tradition. Ngando and Ndomé are young and crazy about each other. Ngando’s uncle has promised him the dowry for the marriage, which he has a moral obligation to provide, as he inherited everything Ngando’s father owned upon his death, including Ngando’s mother. But the uncle takes one look at Ndomé and wants her for himself. Ndomé thinks the way forward is for her to have a child with Ngando, which would shame her and her family but might get the uncle out of the way – he already has four other wives — and allow her to marry her love. Instead, the uncle forces Ndomé into marriage and claims the child as his own. The film begins as Ngando kidnaps the child, setting up an inventive flashback structure that allows the film to unfurl as if that moment is the film’s continued present, a present where tradition enables injustice after injustice and in varied dimensions: social, sexual, economic, affective. The film is currently on MUBI and the podcast an array of reasons to view this wonderful film.
Returning guest Celia joins us from Canada to discuss the 1970s Tyneside noir of Get Carter, a moody story of a man’s investigation into his brother’s death that’s today considered a classic of British cinema. We discuss its setting in Newcastle, Michael Caine’s stardom, the influence of its director, Mike Hodges, along with two other British directors, on Hollywood aethetics, its use of women, and more.
The first writer to make a gay life seem glamorous, sophisticated and sexy to me ( in DANCER FROM THE DANCE); one potentially full of humour, dancing, sex and the search for romance; now turns his eye to old age. Andrew Holleran’s triumph in THE KINGDOM OF SAND is to make a page turner about all the little sadnesses that accompany it: the increasing loss of mobility, the loss of friends and increase in loneliness; the social invisibility; the feeling of being out of step with the world.
The unnamed narrator moved back to Florida from New York to look after his ageing parents, which he did until –many, many, years later — they died; it’s a world of highways, malls, suburban houses with for rent signs. He still goes to the gym, still cruises in piers, rest stops, video stores and the few remaining physical spaces only those one step from the grave continue to visit for sex. There’s another world in Grinder but one he feels too old to connect to. So he visits his friend Earl to listen to opera and watch old movies, gets little thrills out seeing the young men who bag his groceries; times his visits to Walgreens so he can get a look at the pharmacist with the Edgar Allan Poe face or the clerk with the Bette Davis eyes.
Movies become a point of reference. Is Earl’s handyman becoming too much like Charles Boyer in GASLIGHT? Or maybe Mrs. Danvers in REBECCA? Why are they embarrassed to be seeing DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS in their own living room just because a heterosexual’s around? Why don’t people talk like they do in THE THIN MAN? Why can’t everyone be like Irene Dunne?
The narrator’s friends are spread all over the country but few live near him. So aside from brief visits or phone calls, his time is spent establishing a routine and trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. He ponders the significance of the mementos his parents and his friends have left him, when to clear his house in preparation of death, who to leave things to, is there ever a good time to enter the care facility? The search for human connection persists and the attempt at kindness to others in not letting them know the loneliness he suffers from: ‘There’s not many things more forlorn than going to a mall to look at people’. It’s a book that succeed in immersing the reader in this particular world, one becoming all too familiar, with many passages one underlines to remember and savour.
Flatpack Festival and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery are running a marvellous exhibition until 30th October 2022: Wonderland tells stories of filmgoing and cinema culture in Birmingham. It begins with the earliest days of cinematic experimentation, including a visit from Eadweard Muybridge to demonstrate his moving images, through the glory days of the picture palaces in the 1930s and 40s, the influence of Asian and Caribbean immigration, and the slump of the 1980s, to where we are today, with a combination of multiplexes and more specialised venues, including, of course, the Electric, which continues to proudly boast the title of the UK’s oldest working cinema.
It’s a densely packed exhibition, full of elegantly and concisely organised information, focusing not only on places and eras but also people: individual attention is given to notable figures such as Iris Barry, the UK’s first female film critic, Waller Jeffs, who popularised cinema in the 1900s with his annual seasons at the Curzon Hall and travelling show, and Oscar Deutsch, the Balsall Heath-born creator of the Odeon brand, the first cinema of which opened in Perry Barr in 1930.
Wonderland: Birmingham’s Cinema Stories is free to visit at BMAG until October 30th, and it’s a must-see for anyone interested in filmgoing in Birmingham. The history it describes is cultural, technological, social and economic, and it’s beautifully curated and designed to just that. It’s also got a big interactive map in the middle where you can look for your house and see the five cinemas that used to be on your road back in 1940. Don’t miss it.
Finished reading DIE PUPENJUNGE/ THE HUSTLER: THE STORY OF A NAMELESS LOVE FROM FRIEDRICHSTRASSE by John Henry Mackay, published in German in 1926 under the pseudonym of Sagitta, which took me forever to read. It’s hyper-sentimental in the ways only cheap German Romanticism and bad melodrama can be and I could only take so much at one time.
Gunther and Hermann both arrive in Berlin from the provinces on the same day. They meet in The Passage, a famous arcade in Unter Der Linden and Friedrichstrasse, bombed during WWII, but which was a pickup place for prostitutes of both sexes in the Twenties. Both are completely clueless. Hermann sees Gunther’s panicked face and falls in love. But Gunther disappears and, cold and hungry, is quickly taken under the wing of an older boy, groomed to hustle, and becomes an underage prostitute. Meanwhile, Hermann becomes a clerk at a respectable publisher’s and leads a quite boring life until he once again sees Gunther by chance and all his sexual and emotional energies get directed onto him. Gunther thinks Hermann is a very odd john; Hermann doesn’t yet know the boy’s a prostitute. There are dozens and dozens of pages of monologues of Hermann’s feelings, his overpowering love, how to deal with it, how to make Gunther love him, how he suffers, etc. It all reminded me a little bit of Lillian Gish, hand on forehead, wandering through the streets of Paris looking for her sister in ORPHANS OF THE STORM…but without the artistry.
What I liked best was the description of a young hustler’s life, where they hung out, the relationships between them, the pecking order, the connection to drugs and the prevalence of cocaine, the cinemas they went to, the danger of the police, the punishment they received when caught. Christopher Isherwood loved the book in spite of the sentimentality because he said it described that scene accurately and as he himself had known it first-hand. The book is a tract against state oppression, particularly Paragraph 175 of the Penal Code, which prohibited relationships between men and proscribed prison sentences of 1-4 years for those caught. It was only abolished in 1994. More controversially, and perhaps a reason the book is less well known in English, is that the book is also a plea for Man-Boy love. John Henry Mackay, a Scott-German brought up in Germany, describes clearly at the end that this love, however intense, is temporary as can he imagine loving a man with a moustache? I read it because it was mentioned by one of the characters in Brendan Nash’s marvellous THE DIRECTOR…and I’m very glad I did. It would make a great movie now
Gregory Woods commented on this: ‘We’re spoilt. Imagine reading it in 1926! (I feel much the same about The Well of Loneliness.) Then it becomes a great book.
I do see that but, as with The Well of Loneliness would counter that it becomes a great book for a middle-class reader only. i wonder what a working class reader — and there might have been one then — would have made of Gunther’s having any joy and adventure in life finished by the age of 16. Hermann gets the inheritance and the narrator paints a future for him. But the poor working class boy, hustling and prison in the past, sheer wage slavery and drudgery under constant observation for the rest of his life, and without ever really having felt love, at leat not the kind experienced by Hermann….some thought.
In last week’s discussion of Med Hondo’s SOLEIL Ô (1970), we asked what was being done in Britain in this period? The answer is Horace Ové’s PRESSURE (1976), the first British feature film made by a black filmmaker. It’s a more inward looking film then Hondo’s or ALI IN WONDERLAND (Djouhra Abouda, Alain Bonnamy, France/Algeria, 1975) or MANDABI (Ousmane Sembène, 1968), in that it focuses on racism and familial, social, and inter-generational relations in Ladbroke Grove, rather than making explicit links to colonial regimes or international revolutionary movements. It’s also less formally experimental than the other films and, perhaps because of that, more accessible. We discuss this film in relation to the above and also Sidney Poitier’s work in the US (BUCK AND THE PREACHER, 1972) plus trace links through this work to the Sankofa film collective, the films of Isaac Julian and those of Steve McQueen, particularly the latter’s SMALL AXE (2020), which seems to be having an ongoing cultural conversation with PRESSURE, our favourite of this grouping of films. It can be seen on BFI Player and is also available on DVD. The podcast may be listened to below:
‘ this is a connection few people will have made . I was digging around for information on his children’s series “The Latchkey Children” – this is the most detail I can find although its mainly about the original novel rather than the TV series http://markwestwriter.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-latchkey-children-by-eric-allen.html “The group later expands to five with the arrival of Duke Ellington Binns, who helps Froggy escape from bullies and slowly becomes his friend – Binns likes England well enough but misses – and talks often of – his hometown Port Of Spain, in Trinidad. ” And like Pressure it’s also about learning the power of protest … “The Latchkey Children of the title are a gang of kids (who are around 11 years old or so), most of whom live on the St Justins Estate on the Thames Embankment and meet in the park after school. Their focal point is an old tree so when the council decides to get rid of it – and replace it with a concrete railway engine (“but that’s for kids!”) – the children decide to mount a protest. The story follows them on this protest – and in various adventures along the way.”
Also – Duke in the TV show is played by Ian Roberts in his first acting role, he later changed his name to Kwame Kwei-Armah, and he’s apparently said that the money from doing this show funded his – I guess otherwise he would have perhaps left school at 16 and so wouldn’t now be running the Young Vic…
I read this as a teenager and don’t think I then had the cultural capital – the access to the language, tonalities, frames of reference – to understand GOODBYE TO BERLIN. It seems magnificent to me now: the characterisation, the description of places, the shifts in narration, the comedy and the critique; with Nazism structured into the stories and their ordering in the volume so that by the end they have invaded all areas of life in Berlin. I may have to revisit his other major works and see if my experience of them match my memory.
Gregory Woods has pointed out to me that this is the edition that, ‘ speaks of a “gay couple” on the back cover, which drives a steamroller over all of Isherwood’s daringly ambiguous restraint’. It is:
It is that edition and it would certainly be reductive and inaccurate to describe Otto as ‘gay’. Still that’s a problem with the production of this particular edition — which I otherwise really love; the novel feels lovely to hold — rather than the novel itself.
PS: Now reading Christopher and His KInd where Isherwood says that Mr. Norris is based on Gerald Hamilton and that ‘MR. NORRIS fails to reveal what was the most enduring bond between Gerald and Christopher, their homosexuality.’ … so my intuition wasn’t wrong.
A wonderful read; laugh-out-loud funny in places; precise and with very subtle use of what can only be called camp. It vividly evokes the politics of the era right from the beginning; the fights between the Communists and the Nazis; the violence and brutishness of the latter. Berlin in the early thirties is vividly evoked. And at the centre of it all is Mr. Norris, the scoundrel; exceedingly polite, very secretive, outgoing, vain, a charmer constantly on the look-out for that easy pot of gold, untroubled by morals or ethics. The only thing that mars it is what I see as a kind of sexual masquerade; one can imagine Mr. Norris so much more easily licking the boot of a Hans rather than an Annie as he begs to be whipped. It would also make the relationship with Schmidt much more understandable. Mr. Norris reminded me a bit of Quentin Crisp: the rouge, the nails, the exceeding politeness, the coquetry through culture; Norris is a bit more nervous and lacks the abundant hair, having to wear wigs that always end up slightly askew. But there are similarities. I once knew elderly gay gentlemen like that. Norris as heterosexual doesn’t quite convince. But it doesn’t matter really. Isherwood probably got away with as much as was then possible. Besides, the book offers so much else.
Gaspar Noé dials down his typical cinematic spectacle to bring us a slow and moving exploration of dementia and how it drives a loving couple apart. He still has one visual trick up his sleeve, however: Vortex uses splitscreen to show us two lives lived in close proximity but not shared. His cameras follow their subjects individually, sometimes observing them go about separate activities, sometimes occupying almost the same perspective as the characters sit together and engage in conversation, nearly giving us a unified widescreen shot that captures both husband and wife in the same frame – but never being able to. But while Vortex is given structure by its visual design, what it depicts is as crucial as how it depicts it. It’s not a sentimental film, but neither is it harsh – and it’s well worth your time.
I’ve spent most of the Jubilee weekend immersed in Brendan Nash’s evocation of Berlin in the 1920s. THE DIRECTOR is as much a page-turner as THE LANDLADY; the same characters re-appear, even more likeable; their movements through various spaces in the city – some still legendary; many subsequently destroyed in WWII –roots the fiction in a particular kind of historicising, where events read simultaneously as vividly alive and lost; and as the book proceed its status as historical fiction becomes clearer. It’s not just that Claire Waldorff is a substantial character in the novel; but director Billy Wilder becomes a main one, appearing right from the beginning accompanying the arrival of Paul Whiteman’s band in Berlin; with the inspiration behind his and Robert Siodmak’s PEOPLE ON SUNDAY (1930) occupying several short chapters; we also go into Babelsberg where Pieps becomes an extra in METROPOLIS; Leni Riefenstahl or someone very much based on her appears tangentially but recurringly; and Goebbels, who likes to be called ‘The Director’ appears at the very end. The book is set in Berlin in the Summer of 1926, and divided into three sections, one for each month. Politics are the background to the book’s main pre-occupation, the search for love by people who are different, in a wide array of ways, but nonetheless want to live as they imagine themselves to be. The street fights between the Nazis and the Communists are just shocking background on their way to an assignation or a day out. What I found particularly lovely about these books as historical fiction is that the focus is not on the great figures of the era, though they do appear, but on ordinary people trying to get by; some of them are taxi dancers; some of them get a scholarship to the Bauhaus; some are cleaners and gardeners, some of them end up singing with Paul Whiteman. But what makes THE DIRECTOR such a democratic iteration of historical fiction is that the stars are ordinary people, very understandable and perhaps extremely likeable for being so, who appreciate they’re living in an extraordinary place, many of them sought Berlin as a destination, a place that allows them to be. What the place was like– and more concretely what particular cafes, cinemas, restaurants, hotels and nightclubs in the Berlin of the period were like — and who these characters want to realise themselves as, is part of the fascination of these extremely likeable page-turners.
The Criterion Collection calls SOLEIL Ó/ OH, SUN , ‘A furious cry of resistance against racist oppression and a revolutionary landmark of political cinema’. The Celluloid Liberation Front, writing for MUBI, calls it ‘one of the most dazzling debuts in the history of cinema’; ‘A work of erudite formalism and incendiary refinement’; ‘never didactic’. We dispute all of this. The film is definitely, flamboyant, anti-clerical, modernist, anti-colonial, deploying folklore and experimenting with style. An important film then, very much of its time, but which can now seem to lack complexity and subtlety, though perhaps subtlety was never its aim; and perhaps we should also acknowledge that our perspective is that of two white men. Richard appreciated it more than I. We both urge everyone to see it. It’s an interesting companion piece to Ali in Wonderland and Mandabi. We discuss all of this in the accompanying podcast. Part of the series of important restorations being screened on MUBI.
A page-turner of a novel, reminiscent of Armisted Maupin’s TALES OF THE CITY. This city, however, is Berlin in the twenties instead of San Francisco in the 70s. Prices are out of control and rising every day. Everything is changing, and survival means being open to whatever comes next, to be modern. Meta has always been well off but soon won’t be able to pay the rent on the large apartment she’s taken for granted the last two decades. Her landlady, Esther, manages the apartment building and is the widow of Meta’s long-term lover. Esther’s son Pieps, works delivering coal by day but by night explores Berlin’s gay hot spots, where he’s sometimes mistaken for a rent-boy. He falls in love with Frank, who claims to be an actor from America but is actually a drug-addicted ship’s steward trying to pack in as much of Berlin as he can in his week’s leave. Eva, Meta’s maid, becomes lovers with Lotte, the woman who pulls the strings in Berlin’s most fashionable queer clubs. Claire Waldorff is known by all and Claire knows a certain Marlene. A great read, with the city itself as a main character, and Berlin’s legendary queer nightclubs of the era as historical settings which the appealing fictional characters move through in search of their desires. I’m now eager to read Bredan Nash’s follow-up, THE DIRECTOR.
First chapter of THE DIRECTOR begins with the arrival of Paul Whiteman in Berlin, from Vienna, with a certain journalist in tow, not yet named but clearly the young Billy Wilder. So, exciting from the first!
Dionne Warwick is 81, and since I suspected this might be the last time I’ll see her on stage I splurged on great seats. She looked fantastic, hair all white, the cheekbones still sculpting the face as sharply as ever. But she could barely walk across the stage, and one could feel the effort it cost her to do so on her own. She had an operation on her leg a month ago and did the concert sitting down on a stool. She asked for it to be changed, which it wasn’t, and one could see her occasionally wince in pain. The voice is not what it was. She sang everything in a low register whilst still giving the impression that she marked all the key changes and note shifts on all her famous Bacharach-David songs: The enunciation remained supreme; the tone of the voice unique. But its power, precision, and versatility is gone: her voice is not the extraordinary instrument it was. Still it was a very moving evening. The audience was with her all the way, sang with her, occasionally *for* her. It seemed an extraordinary ritual; her pain, her extraordinary showmanship and control of the audience, touching this mass of people still and transmuting it all through that fantastic songbook into love, verbally expressed, and loudly. At the end, she said, ‘farewells aren’t fair and goodbyes aren’t good’ as she painfully hobbled off stage to waves and waves of applause, the audience on its feet and visibly moved. I was glad to be part of it.
A gorgeous film, shot in a quasi neo-realist style that nonetheless aims squarely at poetry and critique; clearly influenced by John Ford Westerns in its use of landscape; with shoot-outs staged amidst minarets and water fountains, horses vying with jeeps. A structure reminiscent of Angels With Dirty Faces in that two childhood friends end up on different sides of the law. With the great Yilmaz Güney as a father caught between a rock and a hard place — does he continue smuggling sheep across the border; the only option to feed his people; or does turn to farming that might not render enough to feed everyone but allow the school to come in that might offer a better life for his son? It’s a film where one feels the heat, the thirst, the despair; an existential noir amidst the barren landscape; with a great feel for places and the people who inhabit them. Güney as the father has something of Clint Eastwood’s granite iconicity about him but with life and feeling behind the eyes. Restored in 2013 by Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, in association with The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, Dadaş Films, and the Turkish Ministry of Culture. Restoration funded by Doha Film Institute
We’ve seen a lot of the multiverse lately, and Everything Everywhere All at Once brings to it a combination of Gen Z existential angst and mid-life where-did-things-go-wrong woe, in a frantic comic-action-sci-fi wrapper. It’s a lot of things in one, and we discuss as many of them as we can remember, including its campness, puerility, basis in multi-generational immigrant life, film references, endless endings, and much more. It’s full of life and imagination, and despite its unevenness, easy to recommend.
The groundbreaking and influential Hard to Imagine: Gay Male Eroticism and Photography and Film from their Beginnings to Stonewall is coming to its 25th anniversary. I talk to Tom Waugh to ask about the intellectual and social context in which the research took place, the methods developed to produce it, the way materials were gathered, who was interviewed, the many barriers to its publication, how the book was received then and why it continues to be so influential now. The video contains images from the book and other sources to illustrate the discussion which albeit vintage are nonetheless explicit. One of the struggles of the book, and one of its glories, was to publish such images in a scholarly context.
For those who need to avert their eyes, or who simply need to wash the dishes, I’ve also turned the interview into a podcast.