In or out of Greenwich Village, August is either the dog days of summer or the time to vacation with a good book or feel good movie. That is how it used to be. But no more now that the Oscar campaigning has seeped into August. We can thank our neighbor uber-Producer Harvey Weinstein for moving the starting line. Case in point:
LUCY staring the Westbeth raised Scarlett Johansson is just about the best of the summer movies. It breeds pleasure without dumbing you down. It’s a smart action film that has a very human, if punkish, action hero in Scarlett Johansson.
First up two very different but intriguing programs: At the Museum of the Moving image in Queens is the The Rural Route Film Festival (Aug 8-10). From their website: “The Rural Route Film Festival was created to highlight works that deal with unique people and places outside of the bustle of the city. Taking in a Rural Route program is like choosing the road less travelled, and learning something new about our constantly amazing world. Content consists of top quality, cutting edge contemporary and archival work from sources both local and far, far away. Their films tackle some of the most important topics of the day including global warming/environmental arena and life sustainability symposium.” You can find a trailer for the program on YouTube.
A stand out this year is SUNSET EDGE a new film from Villager Daniel Peddle best know for his ground breaking documentary on the boundaries of gender expression and identity among black self-identified lesbians who called themselves “aggressives”. The Aggressives is the title of Peddle’s documentary. He spent five years on the Hudson Park Trust piers gaining the trust from the FIERCE youth community of color. As a Southern white gay male it took time. The results were remarkable and opened the door to a world most people never knew existed.
Up at Lincoln Center the annual SOUND and VISION series brings together an eclectic mix of music films and documentaries from around the world and a program of live music. I recommend: (Films) Tosca’s Kiss, Mateo, Pulp (the brit smartypants band), Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense (David Byrne at Q&A) Message in Music: Senegal in Transition+ live performances including EUROPE IN 8 BITS, GLASS GHOST and two FREE performances: Heroes of American Root From the Historical Film Archives and The 78 project movie/live recording session.
LETS GO TO THE MOVIES:
SUNSET EDGE director Daniel Peddle
If Flannery O’Connor were to have conjured up a compassionate horror story and set it in North Carolina, SUNSET EDGE could very well be her muti-layered dream. Four teens (locally cast actors) who live in a trailer park rummage thorough the debris found in an abandoned house. Their rummaging releases more than they anticipated and takes us the viewer into a memory and landscape that endows a genre film with an intensity of human experience that elevates it from simply a scary tale into an exciting, visual exploration of loss, family and unresolved issues. Peddle, having grown up in the North Carolina, brings a personal insight and integrity to his storytelling often absent from the genre. Southern Gothic horror has never been so sweet nor so subtle. Sunset Edge captures in visual poetry the coming of adolescence age reminiscent of Winter’s Bone.
LOVE IS STRANGE Director Ira Sacks
Not since My Cousin Eileen (1955), Echos of Silence (1963) and Next Stop Greenwich Village (1976) has there been such an authentic narrative film that captures the NOW of Greenwich Village in the way that Ira Sacks and his co-writer Mauricio Zacharias have done in this poignant and hilarious tale of what happens when two men who have lived together longer than anyone can remember (39 years) decide that now that they can, they will get married. Ben is a Catholic school music teacher (Alfred Molina) and George (John Lithgow) a painter. They do and all hell breaks out. What Sacks has done is show that changing the law does not make everything perfect for gay people. Ben is immediately fired when they get back from their honeymoon. The Roman Catholic Church will not have an openly gay teacher no matter how good the teacher is with their impressionable students. Now they can no longer afford their apartment so they give it up and face the reality of Greenwich Village today: finding an affordable place to rent. To the rescue comes their multi-generation circle of friends who agree to put them up until they find a new living space. Not together, but separately. Ben and George suddenly are old waifs at the mercy of their friend’s lifestyes and vice versa. This is where the comedic aspects of the story live. While Hilary may have said it takes a Village, I don’t think she was thinking of this Greenwich Village and the friends who come to Ben and Georges rescue. Kate, a successful writer (Marisa Tomei) and her husband Elliott (Darren Burrows) invite George to share their teenage son’s (Charlie Tahan) room. It has a bunk bed. This is where their good intentions and the reality of disruption become the source of comedy rather than melodrama. Sacks proved in his underrated Hollywood film Married Life (see it) he knows like Robert Altman the humor in life’s ordinary crisis. I would have said that Tomei (who grew up in Greenwich Village) steals the film, but I can’t because fellow Alfred Molina and John Lithgow fearlessly make Ben and George into real, complicated, identifiable, characters, in the same way Sean Penn did in Harvey Milk. So nice to see onscreen gay men over the age of 60 still alive, interesting and in love. Love is Strange is a family movie. Take the kids. They will help some of you understand that marriage is a universal commitment not owned by any one set of people in love. Kudos to Sacks for this follow-up to Keep The Light’s On, that shows gay relationships and love can survived over a lifetime.
SECOND OPINION: Laetrile At Sloan Kettering director Eric Merola
I always wondered what happened to laetrile, the apricot seed based cancer treatment that many people felt offered hope to cancer victims. I remembered the denouncements of quackery, etc. Second Opinion is the shocking tale of the repression of the actual scientific research that the leading cancer treatment hospital in the US did in the early ’70’s; the fate of an honorable whistleblower who tried to tell the truth. Eric Merola lets science maverick and writer Ralph W. Moss, Ph.d tell the story he lived. Moss was hired by Sloan Kettering to be their Communications Director. His job was to spin the news about the work Sloan-Kettering was doing on Cancer research. He became friendly with one of their top researchers and the oldest scientist on-staff Dr. Kanematusi Sugiura a co-inventor of chemotherapy who was conducting a very traditional data backed study of the efficacy of laetrile in cancer treatment.
In a sentence Dr. Suiguira’s studies showed while laetrile was not a cure, laetrile did in fact slow down growth and prevent new cancer tumors
At first, Sloan-Kettering executives were supportive of the study and wanted to tell the medical and scientific community this good news. But politics and profit cut them off as they were about to testify at a federal hearing.
This is the crux of this very absorbing scientific mystery tale. Included in the telling is the role the John Birch Society (the grandfather to today’s Tea Party) played, the pharmaceutical industry’s machinations (laetrile cost $75 and chemotherapy averaged at the time $75,000). How Moss with his left wing 60’s politics hooked up with the Science for the People after he was fired and how a small collective of anonymous scientists (some of who were employed by Sloan Kettering) published a journal called SECOND OPINION which published Dr Sugiura research work. The group has remained anonymous except for one who did speak publicly for the documentary, WestView’s own Alex Pruchnicki M.D., How small a word we live in! Fascinating material that is as relevant today as it was then.
Warning: THE DOG directors Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren. Berg and Keraudren bring their B-move sensibility to what they purport is the true story behind the Al Pacino character in the award winning Dog Day Afternoon. Unfortunately the directors lost control of their film when they succumbed to the self aggrandizement of John Wojtowicz and his mad rantings. Sort of on a par with Berg’s Teen Mother TV series, what could have been an insightful look at a sociopath in lust sinks to a surface portrait of a disturbed family worthy of a reality talk show. Too bad. This was a great subject and a moment in the public awareness of gay life that could have been meaningful. It never goes beyond TMZ sensibility. See Dog Day Afternoon, Pacino’s insight is heads and shoulders above THE DOG.