It’s hard to imagine today but when Outfest Los Angeles began its life back in 1982 as the “Gay and Lesbian Media Festival and Conference,” it was little more than a few screenings of randomly assembled items (a scratchy old print of Maedchen in Uniform and a clutch of gay avant-garde shorts) surrounded by panel discussions of what gay and lesbian cinema might be—because we were nowhere near it then. Hollywood had stuck a toe or two in the water with Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Making Love (1982) but the “New Queer Cinema” that would bring us the likes of My Own Private Idaho (1991) and Swoon (1992) was years away. Television could tolerate the coded gayness of Paul Lynde but not real LGBT people—or “out” actors like Jim Parsons, Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen Degeneres. Nowadays Gay is everywhere (more at Fandor’s LGBTQ Genre Page)—and Outfest must surely be thanked in providing it with a launching pad. Judging from this year’s offerings it’s still in launchpad mode, in any number of ways. For while Hollywood is no longer “gay-shy,” it’s far from equipped to take on the people, places and things covered so well by a festival of this kind.
Running from July 10th through 20th, Outfest opens as it has done for a number of years at the Orpheum Theater in downtown L.A. where Life Partners, a comedy-drama by Susanna Fogel and Joni Lefkowitz, starring Leighton Meester and Gillian Jacobs explores the lives of two women who discover that they are more than “best pals.” The festival will close as it frequently does at the John Anson Ford theater with Space Station 76 (John Anson Ford 8 p.m.), a sci-fi fantasy-comedy marking the directorial debut of actor Jack Plotnick (Gods and Monsters, Girls Will Be Girls) and starring Patrick Wilson, Matt Bomer and Liv Tyler. In between these two dates the bulk of Outfest screenings will take place at the Directors Guild—where one large and two small screening rooms will be utilized. In addition several screenings will take place downtown at REDCAT adjacent to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Among the offerings one clear standout is Tom at the Farm (July 19, DGA 9:30 PM), from French Canadian dynamo Xavier Dolan. Based on a play by Michel Marc Bouchard, it deals with a tossle-haired hottie (Dolan) attending the funeral of a former boyfriend. Complications immediately ensue when he discovers the deceased’s mother (Lise Roy) has been in deep denial about his sexual orientation, imagining a casual female acquaintance (Evelyn Brochu) to be the love of his life. (tourismiceland.is) And then there’s the dead man’s hunky but decidedly menacing brother (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) who has a hard time deciding whether he wants to kiss Tom or kill him. Dolan puts aside the visual extravagance that has marked his previous films (Les amour imaginaires, Laurence Anyways) for something more direct and Polanski- like in its examination of the dark side of “everyday life.” This is not to be missed.
The same must be said of The Dog (July 19 Redcat 9:30 p.m.) Allison Berg and Francois Keraudren’s documentary about the late John Wojtowicz, the wild character who in 1972 robbed a bank in Brooklyn ostensibly to pay for his transgender lover’s sexual reassignment surgery. If this sounds familiar it’s because Al Pacino played a character based on John in Dog Day Afternoon (1982). As flashy and compelling as Pacino’s “Sonny” was in Sidney Lumet’s great film, the real “Littlejohn” (as he was known) was even wilder. As The Dog shows Wojtowicz became a member of the “Gay Activists Alliance” and participated in what now must be regarded as the first marriage equality protest. While married to a woman, and the father of several children, Wojtowicz was having affairs on the side with transvestites and transgenders–all of whom he wanted to marry. The Dog deals with the one “dog day afternoon” covered, but there were others after that. In fact there is so much to tell about John (full disclosure: being a member of the Gay Activists Alliance myself, I knew him) one could well make a trilogy….
Documentary is in some ways the beating heart of Outfest 2014. Others of note include To Be Takei (July 20, 1 p.m., DGA) Jennifer M. Kroot and Bill Weber’s delightful film about the Star Trek star turned late-in-life gay activist and Marriage Equality promoter. Takei is an amazing man with several stores to tell—the first being about the detention camps he, his family and hundreds of other Japanese Amercans were unjustly confined in during World War II; the second about being a working Japanese American actor breaking though racial stereotypes to the big time with Star Trek; and last but not least as the husband of Brad Altman, who after being with him for over twenty years took his name in legal marriage. It’s all very moving—and as everyone who has ever heard Takei on The Howard Stern Show knows, very funny.
An Honest Liar (July 17, 5 PM, DGA2) by Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom centers on another multi-faceted gay man, James Randi. A professional magician (“The Amazing Randi”) he became in later life a professional debunker of “psychics,” particularly Uri Geller whose alleged ability to bend spoons with his mind is shown by Randi to be nothing more than a cheap trick. Closeted for the bulk of both his careers Randi is now out at eighty-one—and thus this film.
A documentary about an exceedingly “out” man, I Always Said Yes (July 12, 2:00 p.m., Redcat) by Jim Tushinaki deals with Broadway choreographer turned gay porn pioneer Wakefield Poole whose Boys in the Sand and Bijou launched a mini-industry back in 1971. It’s quite a story as is the one contained in Regarding Susan Sontag (July 12 4 p.m., DGA), Nancy D. Kates’ study of the famed intellectual who was as uninhibited about culture as she was inhibited about her “private life.”
Outfest always includes special event and two of this year’s most noteworthy are the “Sing-along Wizard of Oz” (July 16, 8:30 p.m., Ford), in which we’re encouraged to do back-up for Judy, Pat Rocco’s Birthday Party (July 19, 1:30 p.m., DGA), a salute to the gay erotica pioneer and the mixed media show Tom Kalin + Doveman Present My Silent One ((July 11, 10 p.m., Redcat), in which the writer-director of Swoon and Savage Grace explores areas of visual design he hasn’t trafficked in since the glory days of the Gran Fury collective—the people who gave us “Silence = Death.” Now there’s a subject for a move. Maybe next year?