Thursday, February 28, 2019

Prison Walls & Eros - Part 3: A Brutal Splash Of Hard Paint

   The Berlinale Teddy LGBT Film Awards are important inasmuch as we’re invariably reminded that the Anglo version of Queerness as represented in film is often remarkably shallow and universally untrue. From its first award (Almodovar’s 1987 Law Of Desire) through The Way He Looks to last year’s winner Hard Paint (Tinta Bruta), the Berlinale reliably and regularly commits to the real diversity of the Queer male. And just as importantly, across three decades it's never committed to the ongoing Anglo triteness of "coming out" as central to queer men's stories. The pathos of fuckups who can't or won't come out - as well as the recycled tragedies of AIDS and homophobic violence - very quickly become exploitation of misery when consistently purged of anything resembling enjoyed sexuality or an uplifting experience at Le Cinema.

   Hard Paint throws everybody who sees it. Is it a loosely-assembled docudrama about a very ordinary Gen Z guy, or a Queer New Wave masterpiece which cannily draws us into a lived experience, and then some? Co-directors / writers Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon have chosen to ignore the fact that housebound online nerds are usually dismissed with a presumption of asexuality, or something like it. A predictable filmic device would then be to utilize a leading man who employs fashioned looks and acting tricks to mirror our own wishes to be “revealed” and “awakened” as someone desirable or lovable. Pedro (Shico Menegat) however isn’t gaming us that way: he’s unpolished, ungendered and disaffected. Looks-wise, he’s counter-gay at best. All in all, he's an unlikely candidate upon whom to hang a film which defiantly challenges the genre of young and silly faux-queer filmschool fluff.  Much more about sex than it lets on, Hard Paint confidently splashes its way to manhood without contrived ideas about young queers.

NeonBoy on the job as objet naïf.

  Pedro’s also like a virgin, slightly on the other side of sex: he scrapes out a meagre living as NeonBoy, performing online by dancing around in cheap underwear and smeared in neon paint. This crude flagrance doesn’t quite contrast with a bleak and shabby life in the bleak and shabby port town in Porto Alegre, Brazil. His back-story is jolting: the introverted sissy has violently fought back against bullying and is facing criminal charges for doing so. He hunts down a competing online copycat Leo (Bruno Fernandes) who refuses to be warned off, and seduces him instead. While Leo’s seduction speech is corniness personified, it subverts the notion that conflict drives real hot 'n' horny sex: Pedro and Leo’s sex is disarmingly natural. Their ensuing relationship however isn’t to constitute the film’s central tension. Instead of predictable neurosis for the sake of drama, a more real (and decidedly more Brazilian) type of guileless loving just becomes part of the disjointed narrative.

   “Disjointed narrative” may be exactly what our young queer lives were all about if we care to remember. What we view later as a syrupy blur was probably just a jig-sawed melange of experiences around our life in general, as people "moved on" but our queerness remained static...almost as if it were our jailer. Sex and sexuality however form part of the classic Existentialist narrative when it's reduced to men attempting to live their lives as free men. Pedro and Leo are constantly menaced by ominous and stark threats to freedom: imprisonment in its many forms hangs over their lives at every turn. 

   Hard Paint however isn’t afraid to wield sex like a weapon: after a thriller-like episode with a pickup we’re left in no doubt about the difference between sexual performance and sex...if perhaps we missed the NeonBoy metaphors. Notably, Pedro and Leo aren’t “porno-matched” inasmuch as their physical selves defy the narcissistic overtones of much male same-sex casting, as we've come to know it. Their freshness isn't mere casting serendipity - performances like these usually only come from surrender to the intense intelligence of good direction. With few establishing shots and questionable editing choices, the film stays true to both cinematic and personal interiors, as accessed through themes of abandonment (as experienced) and voyeurism (as practiced). Virtually any political statement can be made utilizing the male body, but things are bound to become interesting when philosophy intrudes and humanizes the relatively masculine body.

Pedro & Leo

  In Latin regions the marketing for Hard Paint screamed Escándalo!, and sensationalized the bruta aspects of it all. The movie’s real strength however is within its innate acceptance of loneliness and dehumanization as part and parcel of the ongoing queer male experience. Depressing? Not men in denial of their own existential loneliness often take it to extreme levels of acting out, and project loathing onto other guys who've come to honest terms with it. The odor of the "l-word" can be a cringe-worthy threat, as we court and carry on. The presumption that existential loneliness - and loneliness in general -  is both fatal psychological flaw and erection killer is erroneous. Neither mean "relationship problems", and needn't be read as cause for dismissal or masked as indifference.
  The self-deceiving homosexualist may casualize thoughts about dehumanization, and relegate the entire topic to vague social and technological abstractions in which he may or may not be an active participant...because after all we are of the flesh, and of our sex drive, right? Hard Paint forcefully disagrees, and is in singularly orthodox agreement with Sartre's Theory of Sexuality. The Being of the queer man is relatively robust when his sexuality isn't thwarted by bad faith about himself.  It's not too much of a stretch for the queer man to step away from the habitual male self-victimization anxiety patterns of heterosexuality, and sanely celebrate what he's not required to take on. Reolon and Matzembacher shatter a central gay vanity with the guns of psychological humanism: what remains is a not-so-fragile expose of two men experiencing what sex means by simply purposing it properly.

  Hard Paint keeps itself in check in terms of anger and melodrama, and appears to avoid liberation-through-love as the payoff. The takeaway? We’re enriched more than we know if can walk away from the show open to the possibility that the next charmless man we’re not attracted to may be the very man we should be with. Pedro takes us to that place in two hours flat; and without a hint of confected romance we're well and truly seduced.


While Hard Paint is a new film, it must also be seen in an even newer context. The likelihood that gay men (and LGBT people) will in future experience the uneasy balance of freedom, rights and homophobic violence portrayed in Hard Paint is under immediate threat in Bolsonaro's Brazil. In terms of film history, it may very well be on its way to becoming one of those films: the pre-Nazi films of the Weimar Republic, which stand only as hope demolished by modern reactionary forces.

Hard Paint is free for Australian viewers at SBS On Demand.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Marvin Gaye: Sexual Healing, and Otherwise

    Hollywood sharks continue to circle the prey that is a big-budget Marvin Gaye musical biopic, as they've done for years, The call to a violent epic fleshed out with a baby-making sensibility is irresistible, obvious and highly lucrative. There's no need to muddy the waters with perversion or a sensitively questioning take on the man. To put it bluntly, there's little likelihood that anybody's planning on remaking "Glen Or Glenda" with a dope soundtrack.

Contemporary male bisexuals and cross-dressers have only themselves to blame if their broad “acceptance” hasn’t followed in the wake of LGBTIQ successes. Beginning with their inclusion at the onset of the Queer movement (where they enjoyed more currency than transgendered people), the vast majority have subsequently declined membership of the club. Often demonstrating little more than a determination to uphold that brand of closetry and disassociation whose by-line (and identity) begins and ends with “I’m not gay", they wonder why nobody's really taking them seriously these days.

There's been little movement since this 2014 New Republic piece on the matter, so perhaps these guys need to think some more about what they are, rather than what they’re not. And that would begin with a broad look at all aspects of sexual attraction and masculinity, rather than playing to a numbers game which invokes “preferences”, as proof of something beyond aspiration. Profits aside, there's little to be gained from re-imagining Marvin Gaye - there is however a persuasive case for more appropriately imagining the man himself.

Subverting Boundaries And Delusions


   Some males exhibit hysteria around their own sex appeal when it comes to other men. (It's traditionally been impossible to gauge in advance whether acknowledging or disavowing their same-sex appeal will cause most offense.) The many versions of  "I'm not gay" presented as discussion-ending fact can't pass reasonable scrutiny for homophobic motivations and/or content. Realistically, Gen Z's ideas about pansexuality and sexual fluidity are coming to dominate modern narratives about sexual identity. With simple attraction as the touchstone - and a never-say-never attitude - even bi-sexuality as an idée fixe is looking a little old-school to under 24's. 

The data spewed out in "A Billion Wicked Thoughts" suggests that our ideas about a "homosexual male sexuality" versus a "heterosexual male sexuality" need drastic re-thinking, and not along fixed behavioral points on the Kinsey Scale. Two irrefutable facts about male sexuality (that gay interest is  a primary internet search, and that dicks elicit arousal in most men) can't be ignored. Common sense suggests that overlaying the data with older evolutionary thinking about male / female sexual selection science is to create conclusions which rely entirely on a host of binaries which may be substantially irrelevant. Queering Marvin Gaye then simply means he's re-evaluated for our times and not his: as public property, straight-washing the guy serves only the purposes of straight-washing.

The evolving 60s  style of Motown's Prince Charming

   The insinuating sex appeal of Marvin Gaye - one of music’s most sexually attractive men – is as intriguing as sexual attraction itself. Coltish thighs and rump packed into tight pants during his early Motown days was a nice way to package a girlish voice which swung easily to the R&B pop of the day. His boy/girl duets went a long way to cementing the genre, while establishing the boy's romantic appeal. Artistically he’d rather have been known for standards and show tunes, and he'd obviously learned more from Peggy Lee's contrived intimate vocal style than any rowdier or assertively male influences. In lionizing Sinatra, his vocal shifts may or may not have taken something from that old adage of the opera world: "Tenors thrill the ladies but baritones get to fuck them". With remarkable insight, his biographer David Ritz (in the excellent “Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye”)  challenged an older Marvin Gaye as to whether that voice was in fact indicative of a softer “woman within”: the sometimes candid Gaye dodged that bullet by attributing it to showmanship.

The bullets Marvin Gaye couldn’t dodge were those fired by his violent, cross-dressing father who shot him to death in 1984 – the day before his forty-fifth birthday. The father’s actual sexuality was never as well-defined as that of his siblings’: Marvin Gaye's paternal uncles were all gay. Suffice to say that the abused young Marvin’s shy sexuality, fueled by “daddy issues”, went on to define yet another conflict in a highly conflicted life. He pursued hyper-heterosexuality as an antidote to an unimaginably painful sexual insecurity - a pursuit which  could only sabotage a damaged boy’s potential for intimacy.

Humanizing A Heterosexual Fail

   While openly acknowledging his own cross-dressing tendencies as inheritance - as well as being intrigued by seeing himself as a woman - Marvin Gaye stopped short of acknowledging any inherited sexual ambiguity from father or uncles. Nor did he expound on the sexual aspect of his perhaps fetish. Religiously conflicted as well, he unsurprisingly embraced heterosexuality as religion, which compounded his woes to the degree that sexuality (as well as his innate sensuality) would bring him no worthwhile peace or comfort, spiritually or otherwise.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Sex-positive Isn't A Medical Condition

In a world of free-wheeling nosiness, I’ve come to believe that a “frank” question like “Are you gay?” deserves a truly frank (and reasonably unisex) answer: “Nah – I just like to have sex with other men. Do you know any attractive ones?” I figure that getting laid is more important than doing P.R. for identity causes, or other things things I’m even less interested in. It’s served me well, and I don’t have to get into the peripheral stuff like how I missed out on the gay decorating gene. Non-gays who are asked the same question often get to point by being upfront about what they’re after.

But I acknowledge that it’s a gay thing to get all fey when the topic implies cocksucking and M2M anal sex. Few of us can claim Arabic male modesty, as even fewer can claim to have asked ourselves just how sex-positive we truly are. Do we flaunt our homosexuality, or is our flaunting more about other things than the down-and-dirty basics?

The basics of course are nothing new. All kinds of men have had all kinds of sex with each other across all times. Homosexual sex, in all its prurient filth, forms part of the male heterosexual narrative. Gay Libbers in the early Seventies sharpened their focus on homosexuality as definitive of The Homosexual, within broader demonization of "The Other". As a menacing “whatever” cocktail of faggotry, sissyness, Jewishness and Commie tendencies, “The Other” was most successfully pressed into service by American war machine propaganda from the 1930s onwards. Not quite sophisticated racism, but a very close relative.

By focusing on liberating homosexuality itself, a more sharply defined narrative can be seen to deviate from earlier “pleas for tolerance”, bad psychiatry and de-sexed “sissies” figures of menace, ridicule and general entertainment. Sex sells, and for the first time in millennia the concept of gay rights had both a face and a groin and a determination to assert both, as sex-positivity with no apologies.

Politics & The Price of Free Love

It was always going to be an uphill battle to assert the sex-positive underpinnings of Gay Liberation when middle-class white gay men followed their muse of assimilationism, as determined by their middle-class suburban backgrounds and the sexual permeations of same. Or, more succintly, they didn’t leave their neuroses behind when they became “gay”. As a consumerist class we just bought what was sold by our early lifestyle sponsors: porn and alcohol. We mistook the former for sex education, and the latter as numbing medication for the psyche. We may have also missed the fact that we were vulnerable to our homosexuality being exploited by pernicious politics, and all that advanced capitalism determines will be. As we enrich the condom industry far beyond its wildest expectations, we don't often pause to ask if perhaps marketing principles like competition aren't preying on our male sexual insecurities.

Ill-prepared when AIDS hit in the 80s, guilt and shame obscured whatever sex-positivity we may have had. AIDS was a tremendous win for sex-negativity, inasmuch as assumed trust between men was replaced by life-or-death fear. Such a climate is likely to kill love unless we're acutely aware of the fact. We clearly see this evidenced by the embracing of “dating” as a new mating/sex ritual in response to AIDS. The ritual is a time-honored post-war American practice - born of American Puritanical prohibitions on sex, and its assumed immorality. To transfer that heterosexual sensibility to men who have sex with each other implies that the boy/girl dynamic must be clunkily reimagined in terms of how sex is transacted, rather than prioritizing whatever love may be in the situation. Dating might serve some men who want to “glue” a relationship and tease or trap a potential partner, but it can’t remotely be seen as a characteristic of sex-positivity, or leading to it.

Defiance, dollars, and..? (Photo:Ed Freeman)

The Queer movement challenged the exclusive-but-assimilationist tendencies of the gay men who in many ways squandered the opportunities presented by the 70's sexual revolution. For many, their approach to sex was simply an exploitative party which hurt as much as it healed. Sexual acting out isn’t sexual liberation if its origins are in prudish suburbia. Dating itself presents many great opportunities to grow real and lasting love between men. Conversely, we’re sabotaging ourselves when we go down the counter-productive path of assuming we have unlimited choices. We don't, and many are simply swiping their way back to existential loneliness - while paying for the privilege of  suspended reality in the form of ads and more.

Mark Brennan Rosenberg at HuffPo wades into the mud when he asks "Why Do Gay Men Make Dating So Hard For Themselves?"  Indeed...when the numbers get crunched, gay men might just end up happier with arranged marriages if their still-exclusive hopes and dreams hinge on superficial drivel like income, where we’re at sexually and what we have in common. One thing's for certain: vague ruminations about "chemistry" (and when it might happen) aren't the sign of a man who's genuinely looking for anything substantial.  Addiction to searching-into-perpetuity probably precludes actually ever finding something worthwhile, now or later.

Cultural Cringe

Queer Nation's early 90's upending of middle-class gay and lesbian narratives (as preached to the choir) saw the group cut through to America by speaking directly through tabloid media. National talk shows like "Nine Broadcast Plaza" were chasing Jerry Springer's audience, and very quickly learned that well-dressed "real live queers" almost coming to blows with homophobes gave their viewers just what they wanted. What producers also learned, to their complete shock, was that 'Hilary's Deplorables' actually supported things like gays in the military, and didn't want preachers telling people to boot their gay kids out either.

LGBT has a great unacknowledged debt to low-brow exploitative culture. The shoddy, emotive, not-for-primetime documentaries about transgenderism in the early Noughties paved the way for Caitlin Jenner's Vanity Fair cover "triumph". Hollywood's pretensions to art and entertainment represent a need to learn from trash TV.

"Naked Attraction": dick pics first, gentlemen!

The U.K. has made an artform of the genre, and it's current shocker is the very Queer-friendly "Naked Attraction". It's posited on the idea that everybody wants to closely examine genitals before they see faces or hear voices, and that's what dating is really all about. With no snickering or genital shaming, it's Grindr and Tinder come to life for one and all.  Contestants invariably represent the non-professional classes, but a nevertheless relatable range of Gen Y queer men.

As a cultural statement it's a graphic statement of liberation: "It's perfectly fine and fun for girls and boys to really like dicks and asses". What's not perfectly fine is that "Naked Attraction" is confined to adult viewing, when it should be shown in schools for sex-ed classes.

Sex Education...a.k.a. You're Gay  - No Need To Get Into That Homosexuality Shit!