Killer dykes, suicidal trannies, arch sissies, and "sad young men" (think Dorian Gray) were some of the stereotypical queer characters in mainstream film until the early 1990s, when the New Queer Cinema radically expanded the canvas. The San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival -- the largest, longest, highest-profile event of its kind in the world -- was a key player in launching that movement, and each year it continues to innovate by making the queer bit player into the star, spotlighting the humor (without sacrificing the edge) in homo culture.
Such morphing takes some surprising turns this year, enlisting all manner of formerly taboo folks into the ranks, from a pair of unrepentantly incestuous brothers to '70s revolutionary gay boys to Adolf Hitler. Even the most broad-minded in the community probably won't roll out the welcome mat to the latter, but Hidden Fuhrer makes a compelling case for his membership in the proverbial choir. The film argues that Hitler was a closet case, and blames the closet for at least some of the nightmare he created. The portrait of a young Adolf desperately avoiding hetero relationships, getting busted for public gay sex, etc., is a striking one (and contested by many mainstream scholars).
The fest has never been shy about controversy -- some viewers may recall, for example, the audience stampede that followed a screening of Todd Verow's sex-and-death grossfest Frisk in '95. Christopher Munch's Harry and Max explores similarly troubling territory, but is a model of artful romance by comparison. Harry's 23, straight, a drifter on the downslope of success as a boy-band member; his brother, Max, is 16, gay, and a rising teen idol. They find in each other what they fail to get from family, friends, and lovers, and what reads like an episode of the Jerry Springer show becomes an intense, probing look at the far fringes of love, distinguished by finely honed dialogue and nuanced acting.
Admission is $9-90
Another "bad boy" returning this year is Bruce LaBruce, aka the Evil Canadian. Bruce's prior films, like Hustler White and Super 8 1/2, mixed hard-core sex with occasionally crude social satire. With The Raspberry Reich, he polishes the crude and, if anything, ratchets up the hard-core to hilarious effect. This "Reich," unlike Hitler's, is a miniband of 1970s radicals -- a German dominatrix/fag hag and her supposedly straight male minions, whom she forces into gay sex "for the revolution!" (It's part of the movie's charm that her "boys" take to homo sex with ease.) Bruce's barrage of on-screen text from famous Communists, a screamingly funny post-dubbing that makes all the characters sound like idiots, and the radicals' instant preference for gay sex over revolution make it a fest must-see.
The sad young man is smiling.