Out Loud From Outfest '97
by Keith Wixon and Brian Brooks
OUTFEST '97 began two weekends ago in Los Angeles and it was clear
from the moment the gilded doors of the Los Angeles Theater opened that
the competition would be fierce. What would demand the most attention?
Would it be the featured films or the artificially beautiful crowd that
was there to see them? Both were striking and interesting to watch, but
each reflected very different interpretations of the gay community. The
films and the crowd were an odd reflection of each other. The characters
on the screen exuded a noxema freshness, wore khakis and drank coffee
while the people in the audience, squeezed into lycra with dripping hair
mousse onto their tangerine tans, gulped down cosmopolitans. It was
strange to be sitting in a theater where the characters on the screen
seemed more real than the people sitting around me. Two very distinct
gay worlds were facing each other, and only one of them was real.
Opening the festival, "I Think I Do," directed by Brian Sloan, (who
directed the award winning short "Pool Days") is a sweet romantic farce
about college roommates who finally confront their true feelings for
each other. Alexis Arquette charmingly portrays Bob, a young gay man who
must decide whether to stay with his current boyfriend, Scott Stearling,
a soap star, or to pursue a relationship with Brendan, his college
roommate whom he has always had feelings for. Through a series of
awkward and comedic situations Bob and Brendan ultimately end up
together. Sloan's first refreshing feature is an honest portrayal of the
nature of gay love.
"Defying Gravity," a 16mm feature directed by John Keitel, was the
featured film last Saturday afternoon. Again, set against a college
backdrop, the film follows Griff and Bradly, two fraternity brothers
whose friendship evolves into something more. The film involves the
complicated questions of coming out and gay relationships. It is not
until Bradly is attacked in a gay bashing and laying in a coma that
Griff's love begins to surface. The film makes it clear that it
shouldn't take a violent incident for someone to expose their true
These films made me nostalgic for a gay world where men and women are
smart, goofy, honest and concerned. I wanted to leave the clone
controlled reality of Los Angeles and jump into the screen where the
people were individuals and relationships mattered. Unfortunately, as
soon as the curtain came down and the lights came up, that world quickly
disappeared, lost in a cloud of dust left behind by the spandex clad
crowd stampeding out to the lobby for their free cocktails. Why did
these depictions of gay life feel so real, yet seem so non-existent?
Films are about image; reality about substance. Then I looked around the
empty theater and realized, this is West Hollywood. Honey, it's time to
dress up and dumb down. Reality is image, and everything is fabulous.
[Keith Wixon is covering OUTFEST for indieWIRE. He lives and works in
OK, I fought the traffic, cursed a few fellow motorists on Sunset, and
finally found a parking space after slowly stalking a woman to her car.
So, I ran upstairs, and low and behold, the films were later then I
anticipated... Great, time for a couple of drinks. I sat in a lounge in
the Directors Guild of America lobby and characteristically downed
a few glasses of red wine -- $3 each, no freebies today -- and scanned the crowd. No
surprise, everyone was a beautiful carbon copy and busily talking up the
biz. Most wore their attitude veneers and aristocratically posed (no
royal waves from these Queens).
First film was "The Cream Will Rise," helmed by Gigi Gaston. This film
documented an unspecified time in the life of singer Sophie B. Hawkins.
The singer's personal torment and joy were on full display on the silver
screen. Like "Truth Or Dare," the film intertwined the drama of real life
with live footage of the star singing. However, this was no Blonde
Ambition Tour, but more of an emotional ride in Hawkins' rather twisted
childhood. The time frame is mostly unknown unlike Madonna's
documentary, so it seems to lack a nucleus. Nevertheless, Hawkins' wit
kept everyone in the audience laughing -- or should I say giggling?
The next feature was, coincidentally, also a documentary on a rock star
-- this time veteran singer Elton John. Fittingly titled "Tantrums And
Tiaras," this David Furnish project had some parallels to "The Cream
Will Rise." Both filmmakers spent a decent amount of time introducing the
audience to the stars' dogs. Elton has a new puppy named Graham and
Hawkins has so many names for each dog -- including last names -- I
can't remember. David Furnish -- Elton's lover -- offers a rather
fascinating insider's view to the singer's flamboyant lifestyle.
Designerrama! Elton John never travels without bringing a significant
amount of clothes with him, thus he must get an accompanying hotel room
for all the fashion tragedies and then some. I could not help but enjoy
the film. Just witnessing his lifestyle was amazing and it reminded me
just how a mere mortal I am. Again, the time frame in the film was
lacking, so I had no idea when the film would end. Personally, I like
the idea of capturing life as it happens on film, but even viewers of
Warhol's "Empire" knew the film was 24 hours of the Empire State Building.
The LA Weekly trashed "Kiss Me Guido," but I liked the film. While
watching the movie I kept thinking, this could be adapted into a TV
sitcom similar to "Three's Company"-- oops, won't work, too many
boycotts. Essentially, the plot's unlikely twists were carried by the
characters' misunderstandings. How else could a straight Italian
rough-neck from the Bronx end up taking residence with a gay -- and I'm
not talking 'straight acting'-- guy from the Lower East Side? The
characters in the film were very lovable and the film achieved a unique
method of exploring gay life other than using the typical love drama,
'I'm learning to love myself' themes. I overheard someone behind me
utter, "that would never happen," but who cares? It's a movie.
If you want reality, go out to the lobby crowded with the seemingly well
healed gay-elite. Now that's reality...
[Brian Brooks just returned from living in Japan for a year-and-a-half,
and is now slowly trying to re-adjust to lala land. He is covering
OUTFEST and also writes daily news stories for indieWIRE.]