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The Other High School Musical

The Other High School Musical

Despite what Radar Online said in the Wall-E post yesterday, that with an opera version of Brokeback Mountain, same-sex marriage in California and Madonna’s new album, America is, by any reasonable measure, getting its gay on, besides maybe that little robot, the American film industry, is doing quite the opposite.

This is not new news, and Gregg Goldstein summed most of it up a few weeks back, noting:

Strand Releasing’s 22 films in theaters last year (most with GLBT themes) grossed just $462,000. Killer Films has shifted its focus from queer-themed features to true crime dramas and other films, with tepid critical and financial success. Rotten Tomatoes says that gay- and lesbian-themed films averaged a 51.5% rating in 2006 and 2007 (well below its under-60% “rotten” threshold), while projects like the 2005 Toronto fest’s best Canadian feature winner, “C.R.A.Z.Y.,” can’t secure U.S. theatrical distribution.

With all this talk about the troubles of the independent film industry, its already been clear for a few years that gay independent film has been undergoing a bit of a negotiation. Theatrically, a “gay film” hasn’t made over $700,000 since Brokeback Mountain made 80 times that in 2005 (unless you count Notes on a Scandal).

The top five grossing GLBT-themed films since Brokeback?

1. Imagine Me and You FoxS $672,243
2. Another Gay Movie TLA $654,132
3. Adam & Steve TLA $309,404
4. Boy Culture TLA $220,409
5. The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green Reg. $153,122

According to boxofficemojo, none of them are even among the top 100 grossing gay-themed films of all time. Only 1 2008 release, Shelter, has grossed over $100,000.

Not to say that gay films aren’t making money, or getting made or being seen. Its just gay film festivals are more relevant than ever, Logo is easily filling its programming, and in a throwback to old school methods of gay distribution, mail order catalogues like TLA’s have become an increasing form, which takes the act of watching farther into the private in a similar way beefcake magazines or gay porn did decades ago (and entire other problem, one that begs more consideration that I have to offer here, is how very, very white all the films are, and how predominant masculine pretty men and feminine pretty women are in the lead roles…)

But anyway, this is not the point of this entry. These conclusions and accusations have been drawn many a time, and I just spent four months analyzing them in a thesis. And maybe someday when Im done edits and defending the fucker, I’ll share more. But what I’m trying to lead into is as Goldstein’s RT ratings suggest, since Brokeback, there hasn’t been really too much that’s made me feel sorry for the works being screwed over by these changes in distribution. Its quite possible I just wasn’t seeing enough, and because of these trends missed out on some very hidden gems that didn’t see the light of day. But in the past few months, I’ve seen four gay-themed films that really deserve some attention: three documentaries.. Derek, Chris & Don: A Love Story and A Jihad For Love, and one narrative film.. Were The World Mine. And I fear they won’t. The latter two docs are already in release, doing good business in very limited locations, and though I hope that they expand nicely, I would not bet on it. And one, World, doesn’t even have a distributor.

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I heard about Were The World Mine a month or so back, but kept missing its screenings. I missed it at Inside Out and wasn’t around for NewFest, but when fellow iW-ers, Brian and Charlie raved about their viewings, I felt like I needed to catch up. So I asked the publicist for a screener, and he happily obliged. Which is always a tad risky, since I might have hated it, and then obviously would have no warm things to blog about. But this was not the case.

Were The World Mine is a musical inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Directed by Tom Gustafson, it centers around a high school production of that very play, where a small town gay boy, Timothy (Tanner Cohen) finds a recipe hidden with the script for a love potion. In the form a purple “love pansy,” Timothy know has a weapon of mass sexual disorientation, transforming his small town into a bunch of queers, including a very hot jock boy that Timothy pines over.

Extending the themes of Midsummer, Gustafson explores ideas of identity, love and sexuality with the help of vibrant imagery, great performances, excellent production value despite a very limited budget, and wonderfully executed musical numbers. Its not perfect, particularly if you pay close attention to the script, but its undoubtedly a joyous cinematic experience.

The film has played a couple mainstream fests – Florida and Nashville most notably – but mostly GLBT fests (winning audience awards left and right). Unfortunately, I watched this film alone, on a laptop, and it simply did not feel right. I needed an audience. I needed mutual cheers and mutual laughter. Were The World Mine doesn’t belong in a DVD catalogue or on a download-site. It belongs in theatres.. not just in New York and not just in GLBT film festivals. Now, I can’t imagine it won’t get picked up (apparently the film is entertaining offers), but it remains to be seen whether it can overcome the gay-indie obstacles that have been facing past the festival circuit.

A former small-town gay myself, I am a sucker for this narrative, especially when its told originally and with the frankly unparalleled energy of Were The World Wine. And small town gay boys all over deserve to at least be able to take a trip to the nearest mid-size city to see this in a theatre. But they probably won’t, and maybe they wouldn’t even if they could. Maybe they’d rather watch Zac Efron and place naughty subtexts in their minds while doing so. Or maybe they’d rather watch reruns of Queer as Folk, taking it too seriously and breeding a new generation of shallow. Or maybe that’s all a little harsh, and all they need is to experience something more innovative and more important. And I can only wish that Were The World Mine somehow plays a little role in doing that. On a big screen.

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