33rd Frameline Film Festival: Opening Night
Thursday, June 18th, 2009
The Castro Theatre and Terra Gallery
Review and Photos by Evan James
Better than: Perishing in obscurity in the south of France.
Reeling from the shock of being asked well in advance to write about the Opening Night Gala of the 33rd San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival--alias: Frameline-- I suffered a complete collapse brought about by occupational stress, and had to spend almost an entire year soothing my nerves in the French resort town of Cap d'Antibes. I vowed never to write again, and spent my days gazing upon the placid waters of the Côte d'Azur, drooling out of the side of my mouth, weeping out of the sides of my eyes, and bartering with the local fishmongers; I even attended their fishmonger galas. While little is more pleasurable than going down to the Garoupe to see the lights of a summer evening, before long I began to pine for the galas and opening nights of America-- this great country of ours where all people are entitled to the pursuit of a room filled with strangers fighting to get to the open bar for a free plastic cup of Skyy Vodka.
Flush with party-hearty patriotism, I beat a hasty return to San Francisco on my private jet. On the way, I rang up my editor on my private telephone. "You want a gay omelette?" I said. "Well then, let's break a few gay eggs."
Now, I love the movies, especially the "talkies," so I was willing to suffer the slings and errors of press check-in at the Castro Theatre in order to see An Englishman in New York, the Opening Night film about gay writer, bon vivant, and general gadabout Quentin Crisp. After a routine retinal scan and some quick blood work, I was shown to my seat on the balcony. From my privileged perch in the loge I watched the preliminary parade of Frameline mandarins march upon the stage-- a Board of Directors bored of directing and hungry for applause. I lapsed into a kind of clapping frenzy, appreciating every volunteer, executive director, and handmaiden with all the strength of the two hands God gave me. Finally, I finished giving the entire administrative staff of the festival their quarterly review, and the movie began.
An Englishman in New York concerns the autumn years of Quentin Crisp (played by John Hurt, who also played a younger Crisp in 1975's The Naked Civil Servant), who left the United Kingdom to live in Manhattan, bringing fabulous posture, unintentionally offensive public remarks about AIDS, and gender-bending millinery to America. The film touches on Crisp's oft-debated position in gay society at the time: visibility was on the rise, people weren't wearing hats as much anymore, and Quentin Crisp seemed a fast-talking, tea-taking queer relic from a time before shredded blue jeans. Hurt's Crisp charmed us all silly as he swishily navigated the changing cultural landscape, his bon mots whizzing through our heads as we poured out onto the sidewalk with a collective and newfound desire to become celebrated wits in our own time. Inspired by the high-spirited, stately bitchiness of that singular queer icon, I hailed a gypsy cab and sped across town to the gala.
It all happened at the Terra Gallery, a lovely and mysterious event space somewhere between South Beach and the Bermuda Triangle. After walking through the security checkpoint, a team of well-wishing cater-waiters shattered champagne bottles on my hull, and I set sail upon a sea of aimless party-going. Gala slaves wandered the premises with trays of coddled whale blubber and sweetened pablum on toast points. Somebody impersonated Liza Minnelli for thirty seconds. The catering company sacrificed a heterosexual virgin for the occasion and served her blood in goblets at the open bar. Apprehensive, I took a sip and swirled it around my mouth, spitting it out on the floor in the fashion of a true taste-testing viticulturist; it had a surprisingly woodsy bouquet, prosthetic legs, and an aftertaste inspired by the works of modernist writer Virginia Woolf. Meanwhile, guests revolved around one another like animals revolving around their prey, or like planets revolving around the Earth, or maybe just like the television network Animal Planet revolving around the coverage of animals revolving around their prey.
As they say in a 1952 advertisement for mail-order pheasant meat from Fin 'n Feather Farm in the back of Gentry magazine: "In canning our darlings we're lavish with the precious juices. Pour them in around the sweet firm flesh-- to be rich and savory, served hot... or golden aspic, chilled. And see!" And oh, how I did see: lavish with the precious juices, open bar attendants poured them around the sweet firm flesh of the rich and savory homosexual clientele in attendance. After marinating for a couple of hours, we all went home, climbed into our ovens, and baked until tender.
Random Detail: Somebody set their used napkin down on one of the footlights and it caught on fire.
By the way: Visit www.frameline.org for detailed festival programming. Make special note of Thundercrack!, Canyon Cinema's Queer Underground, and It Came from Kuchar.