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Daily Reads: How Tarantino Acknowledges Gay Porn in ‘The Hateful Eight,” Why Awards Season Is to Blame for Screener Leaks, and More

Daily Reads: How Tarantino Acknowledges Gay Porn in 'The Hateful Eight," Why Awards Season Is to Blame for Screener Leaks, and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. How Quentin Tarantino Acknowledges Gay Porn in “The Hateful Eight.”
In the coming weeks, there will be a lot of intense discussions about Quentin Tarantino’s new film “The Hateful Eight.” Some of these will likely consider questions of race and gender, as well as the director’s intentions and whether or not the film succeeds in its goals. But one thing that will probably not be discussed is how Tarantino tips his hat to gay porn in his new film. For Out Magazine, veteran critic Armond White examines Tarantino’s acknowledgement of legendary gay porn director Joe Gage and why it’s exploitative and not endearing.

In his latest genre mash-up, “The Hateful Eight,” that sly-boots sadomasochist of the big screen, Quentin Tarantino, gives one of the treacherous characters in his epic 70mm outlaw western the maverick name “Joe Gage.” This must be the first time a legendary director of gay male pornography (Gage is best known for the ’80s trilogy “Kansas City Trucking Company,” “L.A. Tool & Die,” and “El Paso Wrecking Crew”) received a snap of a jimmy hat as a salute from a mainstream Hollywood director. But this is not the first time Tarantino put on kinky boots. His game-changing 1994 film “Pulp Fiction” was rife with disturbing gay content: Pre-transition actor Alexis Arquette appeared in an early sequence as one of a group of quasi-gay L.A. preppies who are slaughtered by Jules and Vinnie (Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta). Later in that film, Tarantino played with gay S&M subculture in the sequence where black gangster Marsellus (Ving Rhames) was humiliated by a pair of white racist sodomites. The degrading horror of male butt-fucking was such that Marsellus forgave his beef with the obviously-named Butch (Bruce Willis) in exchange for keeping the secret of his “unmanning.” (The buggerers not only boast a Confederate flag, they kept a leather-hooded Gimp on a leash.) It wasn’t only Marsellus who got “medieval.” “Pulp Fiction’s” old-fashioned, shameful gay male sex (limited to rape and depravity) is part of the hipster, frat-boy snarkiness with which Tarantino has changed modern film history. But the covert and snide reference to gay porn culture is part of the problem that makes “The Hateful Eight” odious. Tarantino doesn’t even allow his Joe Gage character the allure of same-sex attraction. He’s just a villain. Michael Madsen acts the role with admirable subtlety but he’s just a subtle non-entity, same as the rest of the cast: Kurt Russell’s John Wayne pastiche, Channing Tatum’s tight-pantsed hooligan and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s gruesome harridan whose not given enough psychological detail to match her role model: Mercedes McCambridge’s classic Western dykes in “Johnny Guitar” (1954) and “Giant” (1956).

2. Awards Season Is to Blame For “The Revenant” and “The Hateful Eight” Leaks.
As you may have heard, a few movies have been leaked to the public from awards screeners. Though many are quick to blame critics for these lapses of judgment, it’s more often than not one of the many random industry people who receives award shows screeners. The Guardian’s Calum Marsh argues that awards season is to blame for these leaks because everyone wants the opportunities to “consider” films this time of year.

The latest films of note to surface on torrent sites feloniously are “The Revenant” and “The Hateful Eight,” a pair of well-reviewed, hotly anticipated action-dramas poised for critical and commercial glory. They shimmered into view early on Monday morning, and by that afternoon, when Variety reported the case, they had already been downloaded more than 1m times combined. Both films are due to arrive in theaters in limited release in the United States this weekend, on Christmas Day, before expanding nationwide in mid-January; both have been screened extensively for film critics across the country, in order to qualify for critics’ group votes, and both aspire with some confidence to perform well at this February’s Academy Awards. Both will be affected by this leak. It’s difficult to say for now to what degree. How does piracy of this sort happen? You may be imagining a man in an oversized coat squatting in a theater with a camcorder nestled on his knees, but no – it’s nothing so precarious. Every winter, as the year in moviegoing comes to an end, studios and distributors mail their most prestigious titles to people with the power to give them awards. These complimentary DVDs are known in the industry as For Your Consideration screeners, and a great deal of them make their way around the country annually. I receive them in my capacity as a professional critic. And consequently I have about 50 FYC screeners stacked on my desk beside me right now, including copies of “Spotlight,” “Concussion,” “The Big Short” and “Steve Jobs.” There are hundreds of film critics in America – all of them equally furnished with coveted films. The studios, meanwhile, also express-ship screeners to voters in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, an organization whose membership sprawls into the many thousands, as well as to various industry professionals relevant to the promotion and exhibition of the film. “The Hateful Eight’s” leak has been traced, according to the Hollywood Reporter, to Andrew Kosove, co-CEO of the production company Alcon Entertainment – though, like Ellen, he denies being personally responsible. Still, it could have been anyone. When a film like “The Revenant” or “The Hateful Eight” emerges where it shouldn’t the list of potential culprits is vast. Even if we’re fully committed to keeping these things off the internet the danger still looms. How difficult do you suppose it would be for one of us to misplace “The Martian” on the subway or lend to the wrong kind of friend “Bridge of Spies”? (“You agree to destroy this screener when you have finished viewing it,” reads the small print on the back of my “Sicario” DVD – quite an honor system.) The pertinent question isn’t how high-profile piracy happens. It’s why it doesn’t happen faster or more often.

3. Natural Revelations: Andrew Haigh and Tom Courtenay on “45 Years.”
Andrew Haigh’s newest film “45 Years” has garnered almost universal critical acclaim, but especially for its performances courtesy of Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling. RogerEbert.com’s Brian Tallerico sits down with Haigh and Courtenay to discuss the film.

How much history and detail do you two create for the back story? How much do you know about the last 45 years?

Tom Courtenay:
 You just respond to the words that they give you. That’s always what I do. I found the words very informative. And the words I wanted to speak. It was easy. I couldn’t wait to learn. I love that. I find by learning the words so they’re in you, it’s most of the work. What you say; what he doesn’t say. The little things. Listening. Andrew shoots in this very naturalistic way. There aren’t many close-ups. Often, they’re a hindrance. If you have a two-shot and two singles, it’s not the same. You don’t have the same relationship. Rod Steiger told me a famous story. In the back of the car in “On the Waterfront” with Brando — “I coulda been a contender.” They did the two-shot. Then they did the single with Brando. Then he went home. I said, quite honestly, “Rod, I think you were better off without him.” [Laughs] Close-ups can be artificial.

Andrew, how much back story do you develop as a writer?

Andrew Haigh:
I think what I do is not so much back story in terms of they did this, they did that, but I always work out what music people love, what films they like, what books they read, their political views. I work on those philosophical things that define a person more. I do come up with some key events that may have happened in their relationship — how they met, what they did, key conservations. I put that away, but it’s in the back of my mind when I’m writing. It’s helpful. I know what book she’s going to read if she grabs a book. I know what Geoff will take off the shelf to re-read. It’s just helpful when writing.

But a lot of it is unspoken—you don’t say it to your actors?

AH:
I think we talk a little bit about it. In the end, you’re just capturing what happens in the moment when you turn the camera on. I think sometimes analyzing the details of deep emotional things can over-do it.

TC:
I just did this television series which was good stuff. And the collaborator said that his main job on the set is to forget all of his homework. Forget it.

AH:
You prepare. You over-prepare. And then you forget it and just try to respond to what’s happening.

4. “The Greatest Gift of All!” Is a Christmas That’s as “Real” as “Stephen Colbert.”
Throughout the month of December, The A.V. Club has run a column called The New Christmas Canon that celebrates relatively recent holiday classics. Previous installments include the “SNL” skit “Dick In A Box,” a Christmas episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and even “Krampus.” Today, we wanted to highlight Erik Adams’ tribute to 2008’s “A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift Of All!” and how it pays homage to Christmas specials of yore.

While the targets of “The Colbert Report’s” near-nightly lampooning were all too real, the type of TV variety special spoofed by “A Colbert Christmas” didn’t really exist in 2008. Like celebrity panel games and variety shows, this type of TV programming is kept alive in the public imagination largely by those making fun of it. Colbert’s first Comedy Central home even contributed to the tradition, drafting a primetime staple of the season for “The Daily Show Andy Williams Christmas Special” in 1997. Promoting “A Colbert Christmas” on “Fresh Air” 11 years later, Colbert brought up Williams’ classic Christmas specials in a discussion of “A Colbert Christmas'” development: “We really wanted to create something that wasn’t really cynical or dark or distant or alienating. We really wanted to do something that was in keeping with the spirit of the show that we do every day, but also really was somehow sincerely celebrating the season. And so that’s what our attempt was. And those shows were all the inspiration. You know, let’s find out what was actually enjoyable about those. Why did we actually watch the Andy Williams specials when we were [kids]?” If “A Colbert Christmas” is the answer to that rhetorical question, those annual TV showcases drew viewers because of their music, unapologetic corniness, forced interactions between celebrities, and flashy production numbers. A vintage comedy routine in which Williams dresses down Yogi Bear’s non-union taxidermy equivalent is ripe for a riff from the bear-hating fake Colbert; naturally, “A Colbert Christmas” begins with the host stranded in his mountain cabin after a close encounter of the ursine kind. The special’s structure, meanwhile, harkens back to the very last of Bing Crosby’s holiday extravaganza. Like David Bowie dropping in to “sing the same songs” in “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas,” Colbert’s cabin is visited by a cavalcade of stars who just happen to be in the neighborhood, and have a song prepared for the occasion. The Willie Nelson-led “Little Dealer Boy” makes explicit reference to the historic Crosby-Bowie summit, quoting the contrapuntal melody that Larry Grossman, Ian Fraser, and Buz Kohan cooked up when Bowie objected (and rightfully so) to trudging through “Little Drummer Boy.”

5. Make It Real: The Ones That Got Away.
During this time of year when the Internet is filled with lists and celebrating the previous year in film, it’s easy to lose track of the movies that for whatever reason haven’t been acknowledged. Film Comment’s Eric Hynes writes about a few overlooked documentaries that didn’t really make it into the year-end conversation.

I first caught Nick Berardini’s “Killing Them Safely” back in the spring, at a sneak preview screening before its premiere in Tribeca, and when it was still called “Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.” Yet in conversation, it’s always been referred to as “The Taser Film” in honor of its subject — Taser International, founded by Rick and Tom Smith. Purveyors of the world’s most popular stun gun, which is purveyed wholesale to law enforcement agencies around the world, Taser enjoys name recognition not unlike Hoover or Kleenex in the mid-20th century — the brand has become synonymous with the product. The same reason “Killing Them Safely” stuck with me is the same reason that it can be a tough sell in a marketplace accustomed to easy arguments and sermons delivered to a pre-sold choir: it’s an exposé less of an undisputed evil — on the whole, Tasers are indeed safer than guns — than of the company’s unnecessarily and ultimately lethally shady business practices. Through deep and nimble reporting, Berardini shows that Taser has made a habit of downplaying its product’s flaws, deficiencies, and dangers, even to the law enforcement officers who then misuse the product to sometimes deadly effect (crucial clips of which are responsibly included in the film). It’s less an issue film than a nuanced moral inquiry, one that had me feeling as squeamish about the larger culture of corporate impunity as about the admit-no-wrongdoing spin-doctoring of the Smiths. They’re like the insouciant protagonists of an after-school special who forgot to tighten the wheel of a boxcar, and then won’t take responsibility for the crash it caused. Except this involves millions in profits, fickle stockholders, supposedly safe weapons being handled homicidally, and citizens being killed.

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