Buddies

(USA 1985)

Initially, nothing about Buddies jumps out as remarkable. I never heard of the film, screenwriter/director Arthur J. Bressan Jr., or anyone involved. It feels like it was thrown together and pumped out in a matter of days, like a porn. At best, it’s as if Ed Wood were aiming for Jean-Luc Godard; at worst, early John Waters doing an Afterschool Special.

Technically, it’s messy. The camerawork is choppy, darting crudely from character to character. The script is amateur, preachy, and at times emotionally manipulative. Except for a few scenes, the acting is stiff and overdone, like a Fifties B-movie or a soap opera.

All that said, well … I’ll borrow a term from a different and much later movement: it gets better. This film really got to me. For all its low budget shortcomings, Buddies packs an emotional whollop. Truth and heartfelt sincerity shine through, and they go a long way in making the sum here much greater than its parts.

The film follows David Bennett (David Schachter), a Manhattan guppy in what appears to be a happy but bland and maybe safe monogamous relationship, who volunteers to be a “buddy” for another gay man, Robert Willow (Geoff Edholm). Robert is dying in an AIDS ward. As a buddy, David is there to offer a helping hand or an open ear with the hope of ensuring that Robert doesn’t feel forgotten (https://www.villagevoice.com/2018/06/18/buddies-remains-an-urgently-moving-study-of-life-and-death-in-the-aids-era/).

At first, their interactions are uncomfortable and perfunctory; this is usually how it goes when trying to connect with a total stranger. The two don’t have all that much in common: David is quiet, cautious, and reserved; Robert is out, spirited, and definitely someone who has been around the block. Tinged with an outlying jealousy and perhaps a scintilla of superiority, David finds Robert to be too much: all his talk about sex and politics (not to mention his rage) turns him off. David isn’t invested in this relationship, forced as it is.

The ice breaks when Robert tells David about the love of his life. Touched and maybe finally able to relate, David opens up and starts listening to what Robert tells him.

I didn’t quite care for where Bressan ultimately took David. Still, he (Bressan, not David) is an astute observer of human nature. He touches on attitudes that tend to prevail when one person in a relationship is, shall we say, in a better position than the other, and he demonstrates how judgment can rear its ugly head. I like that Robert is unapologetic, which redeems him in the end.

Buddies is a film that takes on significance once you consider its historical perspective. It was the first American feature film to address the burgeoning AIDS crisis, back when it was called a “gay disease” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_J._Bressan_Jr.). It deals with AIDS head on, and it did so during Reagan’s first term. If it feels slapped together, there’s a reason for it — Bressan, a fairly prominent porn director, was dying when he made it. His sense of urgency is palpable.

This screening, a brand new digital restoration, was the first one we attended at Reeling. It is a fitting choice because Buddies was the same festival’s opener the year it was released (http://reelingfilmfestival.org/2018/films/buddies/).

With Damon Hairston, Joyce Korn, Billy Lux, David Rose, Libby Saines, Susan Schneider, Tracy Vivat

Production: Film and Video Workshop

Distribution: New Line Cinema, Vinegar Syndrome

81 minutes
Not rated

(Landmark Century) B-

Reeling International Film Festival

BPM (Beats per Minute) [120 Beats per Minute] [120 battements par minute]

(France 2017)

Ah, the early ’90s: I was in college, jeans didn’t fit right, George H.W. Bush was president, MTV was relevant, and AIDS was as deadly as ever. In the United States, the number of new cases peaked around 1993 (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5021a2.htm). During the 1980s, a slew of activist organizations sprung up in response to government indifference and inaction, largely but not exclusively that of the Reagan administration, and Big Pharma shadiness — organizations like the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Queer Nation, and perhaps most famous (or infamous) ACT UP.

This is the backdrop of Robin Campillo’s BPM (Beats Per Minute), an imperfect yet captivating and rich period piece that portrays the AIDS crisis with accuracy, drama, a little humor, and the slightest bit of nostalgia — ill-fitting jeans be damned. BPM puts us smack in the middle of the Parisian chapter of ACT UP, which seems constantly on the brink of self-destruction with all the debating, infighting, and struggling for control among its members.

Campillo starts with a broad picture, introducing us to the group through hunky Nathan (Arnaud Valois), who joins ACT UP for reasons that he keeps guarded. Right up front, members of the group confront radical Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), a scrawny firecracker who favors the back of the room. He went off script during a botched protest involving balloons filled with fake blood.

Sean’s motive is soon clear: he’s running out of time and has none to spare for diplomacy. His impatience and prickliness are particularly acute when he’s dealing with the chapter’s leader, Thibault (Antoine Reinartz), and elder comember Sophie (Adèle Haenel), who tends to be the voice of reason.

Those in the group don’t shy away from saying what’s on their mind, and their debates are vigorous to say the least. Interestingly, there’s a lot of flirting and cruising going on. Nathan encounters some attitude, particularly from the poz members — he happens to be HIV negative. He and Sean hit it off, though. Campillo zooms in on them as they get intimate, letting their relationship take center stage. We get their backstories over pillow talk, and it makes for some of the finest moments in this film. They get closer as Sean’s health deteriorates. Campillo brings the group back to the fore by the end, displaying the strong sense of community that has been there all along. It outshines all the bickering and dysfunction.

BPM is an accomplishment on many levels. The historical perspective is solid, giving the whole thing an authentic feel, almost like a documentary. Cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie’s faded color palette and lighting actually look like the ‘90s. Campillo and Philippe Mangeot’s screenplay is smartly written, loaded with sharp dialogue that engages even when the activity level drops. The narrative arc here is terrific. The end could use some minor editing, but otherwise the long scenes and slow pace work because we’re getting a lot of information. While each actor carries his or her own weight, Pérez Biscayart easily emerges as the star.

Politics, ideology, and HIV status all draw lines in this group, but its members are united by a shared mission. Plus, they’ve got lives to lead, however much time they have left. BPM is a gentle — and somehow very French — reminder that life goes on.

With Felix Maritaud, Médhi Touré, Aloïse Sauvage, Simon Bourgade, Catherine Vinatier, Saadia Ben Taieb, Ariel Borenstein, Théophile Ray, Simon Guélat, Jean-François Auguste, Coralie Russier, Samuel Churin, Yves Heck, Emmanuel Ménard, Pauline Guimard, François Rabette

Production: Les Films de Pierre, France 3 Cinéma, Page 114, Memento Films, FD Production

Distribution: Memento Films

143 Minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) B+

Chicago International Film Festival

http://bpm.film

Paris Is Burning

(USA 1991)

“Opulence. O, P, U, L, E, N, C, E, opulence. You own everything. Everything is yours!”

—Junior LaBeija

Before The Crying Game and Transamerica, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, and Scissor Sisters’ “Let’s Have a Kiki,” there was Paris Is Burning. I first saw it at a screening on my college campus, I think, when it was fairly new—I remember a double feature with Madonna’s Truth or Dare, so it had to be summer or fall 1991. I’ve since seen it countless times. It’s one of the films I quote most. I love it, even as it turns 25 years old. It is, in two words, fucking fabulous!

Shot in 1987 with a short check in three years later, Paris Is Burning is ostensibly a documentary about the Harlem nightlife ball culture (pronounced “boo-wall” by most here). The film takes its name from one said ball, a rather clandestine affair held in a shabby party hall somewhere near Lexington/125. A world unto itself, ball culture was loaded with costumes, wild dancing, attitude, hierarchy, and tons of rules. There was blood, sweat, tears, and fighting—but there was also community and (for some) glory. As one subject, Willie Ninja, informs us, the balls may have been long and drawn out, but they were never boring. Amen! This is clear.

Much to her credit, director Jennie Livingston goes—excuse how this sounds—beyond the balls, getting into the daily challenges not only gay men and drag queens faced, but also actual bona fide transgender women. This was probably the first exposure I had to that. I mean, being gay in the Reagan Era was bad enough: if you weren’t destined to live a long and lonely life in the closet, you were going to get AIDS. Either way, the only thing straight about you was your road to hell. Transgender was…something else altogether. America was not ready for it when Paris is Burning came out, which makes it all the more remarkable.

Paris Is Burning is a big middle finger to all that thinking. While not everyone subscribed to that view, Paris Is Burning was the first film to show a lifestyle like this in a positive light. It was effective; it showed how fun and liberating it could be to walk a ball, fake tits or not. Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side. Damned fun! No wonder Madonna co-opted vogueing and snagged two Xtravaganzas for her tour.

Although there are undertones of sadness throughout, every person in this film is a hero. They were courageous simply living their lives how they did, when they did. The key was a mix of self confidence and major guts. Dorian Corey gave me a crash course on reading and shade. Pepper LaBeija showed me that living the good life takes more than money. Venus Xtravaganza showed me that life is a negotiation. Whatever category you choose, you better work it!

Sadly, the era and the players of Paris Is Burning are long gone, but their spirit doesn’t just live on—it thrives. Paris Is Burning and its subjects are legendary.

Side note: everything has its dark side. This is a perfect example: http://dangerousminds.net/comments/dorian_corey_the_drag_queen_had_a_mummy_in_her_closet

In 2016, the United States Library of Congress deemed Paris Is Burning “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

71 minutes
Rated R

(Home via iTunes) A

http://www.jennielivingston.com/paris-is-burning

Everybody Wants Some!!

(USA 2016)

For me, Richard Linklater is hit or miss. Everybody Wants Some!! initially hit me as a miss: taking the same template, it starts out more like a Dazed and Confused knock-off than the “spiritual sequel” it’s billed as. It ultimately delivers—though what it delivers probably isn’t for everyone.

It’s August 1980. Jake (Blake Jenner) arrives at an unnamed Texas university, where he is attending school on a baseball scholarship and living in an off-campus house provided for the team. Predictably, the house and his teammates are a mess. His teammates are a motley crew of personalities that don’t always mix: competitive jocks, competitive weirdos, and competitive clowns. Most of them are on a quest for diversion: getting drunk, getting high, and getting laid. Through this quest, they bond as a team.

The energy and the humor here are definitely male—juvenile, lowbrow male at that. Picking up four years after Dazed and Confused, Jake might as well be Mitch (Wiley Wiggins), who played baseball and would have graduated from high school and started college during the summer of 1980. Regardless, the characters grew on me as I kept watching. So did the story.

Everybody Wants Some!! would be nothing without its excellent ensemble cast, which does an impressive job together. I fully expect to see some of these guys in bigger and better future projects. The chemistry between the team members is palpable and works really well. Glenn Powell—Chad Radwell in Scream Queens—is a natural as mischievous smooth-talker Finn, whose pickup line involves his “average dick.” He shines the brightest. Jenner exudes a boyish charm and confidence, and Tyler Hoechlin as McReynolds does cocky—and deflated—exceedingly well. Wyatt Russell as Willoughby nails “stoner”—anyone who went to school in the Seventies or Eighties will recognize him as someone they knew. Juston Street is awesome as Niles, an angry, angsty psycho who thinks he’s destined for the Majors. Zoey Deutch brings a winsome coquettishness to Beverly, Jake’s love interest.

I forgot about Dazed and Confused as Everybody Wants Some!! rolled on—its own essence and identity slowly but surely emerge. The plot is rambling and aimless—no big shock there—but it’s also fun and entertaining in its ridiculousness. I identify with its ridiculousness, totally. I like that Linklater chose the dawn of the Eighties—before Ronald Reagan, MTV, and Madonna—rather than deep in the throes. Everybody Wants Some!! is a nostalgia kick, and it got me reminiscing about my own college antics. It’s not profound. It’s not a great film, either—not even for Linklater, whose distinct touch is all over it. I still enjoyed it for what it is. A summer release makes a lot more sense than its currently scheduled April Fools Day opening, however fitting that particular day may be.

(Music Box) B-

http://www.everybodywantssomemovie.com