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Tranny-Spotting 

The best bets at this year's International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival include several documentaries on transgenders

Wednesday, Jun 12 2002
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The parade of banal coming-out stories, sitcomish gender-bender comedies, and maudlin AIDS dramas in movies and on TV has given many a homo -- and simpatico straight -- reason to frown. How to celebrate cinematic deviance without appearing to endorse the insular and the mediocre? Take a gander at the 26th annual San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival -- it has enough material to satisfy those with a taste for something more challenging than Will & Grace.

When in doubt, look to the docs. Trannies are particularly well represented this year. The fabled Georgina Beyer -- New Zealand's first transsexual Parliament member -- is all but deified in Georgie Girl. Scenes of her wittily excoriating the other MPs are not to be missed. Even Benestad's All About My Father offers a penetrating portrait of his tumultuous life with his doctor father, an unapologetic middle-aged cross-dresser in a small Norwegian town. American Paul Hill's Myth of Father treads the same dicey territory with an equally powerful and unbending tranny dad. A must-see is Ruthie & Connie: Every Room in the House, spotlighting two 60-ish Jewish women who left their husbands and families for each other. Their insistence on living authentically bristles with humor and pathos. After their first secret kiss, Ruthie scolds her true love: "Can't you do better than that?"

Another worthy doc is The Truth About Gay Sex, a hilarious homo primer with mock-clinical discussions (and appropriate visualizations) of such timeless topics as public-toilet cruising and the use of ice in blow jobs. And Keeping It Real: The Adventures of Greg Walloch features one of the best lines in the fest. Gay comedian Walloch, born with cerebral palsy, insists that he wants to become America's "most beloved disabled performer": "I am going to kick that Christopher Reeve's ass!"

The features, at least in the screened samples, don't fare as well. P.S. Your Cat Is Dead, based on the '70s cult comedy about a straight guy who turns the tables on a gay burglar, has its moments, but sitting through 92 minutes of Steve Guttenberg may be too much to ask of anyone. The Politics of Fur, a loose remake of Fassbinder's brilliant Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, is a middling tribute to the master at best. The AIDS drama is represented to fair effect by France's The Man I Love, an improbable romance between a hunky swimmer and a pesky AIDS patient. The subject matter of opening night's Lan Yu -- a romance between a closety businessman and his too-devoted young lover -- was deemed racy enough in China to require shooting in secret. As in all Stanley Kwan's films, there's solid acting but the story lacks punch.

There are treasures, however, most notably Lawrence Ah Mon's Spacked Out, which deserves this year's Over-the-Top Award for its crushingly realistic portrait of vicious middle-class teen girls running riot through Japanese society. Gruesome scenes of bad trips and abortions may send some viewers scurrying to the exits. Those who sit still will get their reward.

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Gary Morris

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