The Gay '90s

From closet cases to party monsters: A critical guide to the 22nd International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival

-- Gary Morris

Plays Saturday, June 20, 11:30 a.m. at the Castro.

Fun in Girls' Shorts
The middle-class dyke in crisis seems to be the subject of most of these short films, which like all shorts programs vary wildly in quality. In Paula Goldberg's cliche-compromised Traveling Companion (1998), lines like "What I miss most is grabbing her hand during a particularly brilliant sunset" are supposed to endear us to the dreary, widowed lead. On the other hand, Laurie Schmidt's Sleep Come Free Me (1998) is a witty, authoritative picture of a woman whose lurid sexual fantasies constantly impinge on her boring job. Best of all, it reclaims tearoom sex -- once considered the exclusive province of men -- for its red-hot lesbian couple. Isabel Hegner's Peppermills (1997), a slick tale of an obsessive-compulsive klepto, is a little too subtle for its own good, but Jamie Babbit's Sleeping Beauties (1998), starring High Art's Radha Mitchell, scores with its candy-coated fantasy of mortuaries, makeup, dead rock stars, and secret lesbian kisses.

-- Gary Morris

Plays Saturday, June 20, 2 p.m. at the Castro. Also Wednesday, June 24, 4 p.m. at the Castro.

High Art
The "art fag" of modern cinema is a familiar enough character (think Alexis Arquette), but rarely do we see his female counterpart, the "art dyke." In writer/director Lisa Cholodenko's impressive first feature, Ally Sheedy plays just such a character, a burned-out photographer in perpetual crisis who channels her nervous artistic energy into catering to her junkie ex-actress girlfriend Greta (Patricia Clarkson) and cultivating a wide-eyed magazine editor neighbor (Radha Mitchell). This well-written, beautifully photographed film is also an actor's dream -- lots of verbal and psychological violence, hot lesbian sex, coke and heroin overdoses -- and Cholodenko gives an almost verite feel to the events by letting her skilled actors' complex, thwarted emotions saturate the screen.

-- Gary Morris

Plays opening night Thursday, June 18, 8 p.m. at the Castro.

Looney Lezzies
This collection of comic shorts is short on comedy and fairly slow going, at least on the evidence of the preview tape, which included only half the films on the bill. There's a guffaw to be found in Beverly Seckinger's Mommie Queerest, as a woman whose mother sends her an ugly dress for her birthday fantasizes about having Mom sew her a Simplicity S/M outfit. Allyson Mitchell's Bad Brownies, a Canadian documentarylike short, began with a potentially hilarious premise -- adults recall their experiences in the girlie institution of Brownie-hood -- but the interviews are juxtaposed with clips of two child actresses portraying a good Brownie and a bad Brownie, which is painfully unfunny and not at all necessary. Better are the confessions of adult former Brownies cheating on their merit badges and giving classmates sadistic makeovers, but this 20-minute work is disappointingly stagnant overall. Lezzie highlights include I Love Mornings, Myriam Varela's warm and breezy short short of one couple's magical pancake breakfast, and Pom, Mocha Jean Herrup's very amusing video pseudo-doc of punk dyke Joanna Ingalls trying out for the University of Texas cheerleading squad. "I can rah-rah-rah the ass off those girls!" Ingalls exclaims in her living room, between swigs of JD and a hacking smoker's cough. Plays with local comic Maureen Brownsey's The Joke and Melissa Levin's Lisa Lisa, a collection of 22 interviews with women who have and have not dated women named Lisa. Also screening: Ewjenia Tsanan's Up High and In Color, Kazuko Uchida's Skip, Eliza Barrios and Reanne Estrada's Holiday, and Thirza Jean Cuthand's Bisexual Wannabe.

-- Heather Wisner

Plays Saturday, June 20, 5 p.m. at the Victoria.

Love Story
Celebrating a lesbian love affair in Nazi Germany sounds almost too improbable to imagine; when one of the women is a Nazi "supermom," honored nationally for her "production" of "four fine Aryan sons," and the other is a member of the Jewish underground working to defeat Hitler, the odds would seem to be narrow to nil. But Catrine Clay's 1997 documentary describes in complex, affecting detail the real-life relationship between supermom Lilly Wurst and activist Felice Schragenheim. Interviewees include friends and relatives of the couple and Wurst herself, whose passion for her lover continues to resonate half a century later. Among the surprises the film reveals is a charming wedding contract the two drew up, after Lilly ditched her husband, in which Felice says, "I promise not to look at another pretty girl." Screens with Joyce Warshow and Janet Bans' Some Ground to Stand On.

-- Gary Morris

Plays Tuesday, June 23, 7 p.m. at the Victoria.

Party Monster
As one scenester testifies, Michael Alig arrived on Manhattan's East Village party scene like "a baby Godzilla stomping through Clubland." It's a fitting description: Alig, a small-town Indiana kid with entrepreneurial ambitions and a fondness for schlocky horror films, became New York's most famous party promoter in the mid-'80s. He threw the first of his druggy, outrageously costumed debauches, "Disco 2000," at the Limelight after aligning himself with owner Peter Gatien, but when that thrill evaporated, he instigated a series of "outlaw parties" in unsanctioned places like doughnut shops and subway stations, where cop-baiting became part of the entertainment. In Alig's underground realm, ruled by what one partygoer describes as a "perverted sex clown aesthetic," social outcasts were welcome, and freakishness was celebrated ("If you have a hunchback, throw a little glitter on it!") rather than reviled. But it wasn't all glamour and kisses; the quest among this superficially inclusive social set for bigger thrills and higher highs led to heavy ketamine ("Special K") and heroin consumption, and a subsequently looser grip on reality. Party themes like "Bloodfeast" and "The Wheel of Hepatitis" got nastier, and Alig's behavior grew bizarre. Documentary filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato make effective use of interviews and party footage to set the stage for Alig's vicious murder of Angel Melendez, a drug dealer Alig dismissed disdainfully as a Club Kid wannabe. Three months before his arrest, and just after Melendez's legless torso washed up in a box on the beach, Alig actually went on camera to say, "He was a copycat. He was one of those kids we hated, so we killed him." Alig confessed his crime to friends and family at the time, but none of them called the police. Monster is a horrifying but fascinating portrait of a chemical, costumed fantasyland brought grimly to a halt. With David Ottenhouse's Close To, a short starring Alexis Arquette.

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