Monday, October 20, 2008

SLGFF 2008 #3 - Homo horror and real-life tragedy

I decided to fill my Sunday at the Festival of the Gays with a reality-check list of films... aka documentaries--with an intermission of a stern lecture. Well, not stern at all, but more on that later.

First up was the Canadian doc She's a Boy I Knew (7/8), by filmmaker and subject Gwen Haworth. I have to admit that I was intrigued by the publicity photo on the right, as it was so arty that it looks like a sensitive indie-rock duo's publicity shot. But that is actually Gwen (right) and her ex-wife Malgosia, whom she married when she was still Steven. Steven was a hockey jock who had a fine upbringing, but never felt right in his body. He struggled and fought against these feelings, even getting married (he was, and she IS attracted to women), until he finally confessed to his loved ones his secret in his late 20s, when he decided to begin his steps toward becoming a woman. However, She's a Boy is not really about Steven/Gwen, but about the friends and family that had to deal with this huge decision by someone they thought they knew. Gwen's sisters, best friend (her adorable guy-friend Roari), ex-wife, and (most touchingly) her parents are interviewed, and they are brutally honest. Gwen's father, a man of few words, struggles to open up, and confesses that he feels like he lost his only son. They tell of the hurt and in some cases betrayal they felt about Steven's decision to become Gwen. And lucky for Gwen, these people were supportive and are still in her life. It is an extremely intimate film, and fascinating in its emotional honesty.

Next my co-horts and I scarfed down some tacos and scurried down to the fabulous Central Library to catch author Harry M. Benshoff's lecture Monsters in the Closet (5/8), based on his book “Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film”. There are certainly types of horror movies that are resoundingly queer, like anything with vampires for instance, but Benshoff broke it down with a bunch of funny categories, like "Mad Scientist" and, well, others that I honestly can't remember right now. The fear of the (monstrous) outsider is a common plot in horror films, and Benshoff claims that is easily transferable to society's fear of The Gays. The time period allowed for this lecture was really too brief to get into anything in depth, and it seemed that lots of clips were rushed through without enough supporting explanation (as in, "Um, now WHY is that scene gay?"), but it was interesting and timely enough topic to perhaps spark curiosity in checking out his book.

My last film of the day played to a packed matinee at the lovely Cinerama. For My Wife... (7/8) has resounding local connections, not just politically, but in the city's common memory of horrific events. If you lived in Seattle a couple winters ago, you'd remember this crazy flash-flood of a rain storm that came so fast just around afternoon rush hour, that it created a river with whitecaps down the hilly sidewalks and flooded stores within a matter of minutes. The most talked-about tragedy of the event was the story of audio-book narrator Kate Fleming who literally drowned in her own basement, after getting trapped by water rushing down the stairs. After being briefly revived and rushed to the hospital, Fleming's partner of a decade, Charlene Strong, was denied visitation at her bedside because she was not a legal spouse. She was finally granted permission to be at Kate's bedside in her final minutes after getting permission from Fleming's mother... on the other side of the country.

But this was just the start of Charlene's story. Her side of the tragedy also made the news, and she was asked to testify just six weeks after the death of her partner in Olympia, during the hearings about the Domestic Partnership Registration Bill that has slogged around unpassed in the Capitol for years and years. Her raw, recent personal story made all the difference, and the bill ended up passing by a 2 to 1 vote. This first half or so of For My Wife... is shockingly powerful. I don't think I've ever been riveted by congress people's testimony before (it is amazing the things that some of them said in against the bill, like the standby catchphrases of "bestiality," "necrophilia," etc.). But I discovered there is a Rock Star at our State Capitol, and her name is Rosa Franklin. Married for 57 years herself, her eloquent speech about how she has supported the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) in the past, but was now supporting the Domestic Parter bill left no dry eyes in the house. The second half of For My Wife... almost comes across as an extended "Where are they now?" extra after the climax of the film (the passing of the bill). The rest of the film is fine, but as Strong finds herself mingling with movie stars at the GLADD Awards and chatting with Gloria Steinem, it starts to feel a bit after the fact, like the story is still waiting for its ideal conclusion, which would be the freedom for gays to marry all across the country. That is my only complaint about the film, however. It is a very strong documentary that will hopefully find a wider audience beyond the festival circuit.


Vickie said...

For My Wife... sounds great (in a sad-but-powerful way), but I feel like I'd sob through most of it. Did you cry?

Linda said...

Yes, I did cry. And I think it was Rosa Franklin that put me over the edge!

Jennifer said...

Goodness, I remember when Kate Fleming died. It was just so freakish - never in a million years would you expect that to happen on an ordinary December afternoon. To hear that her partner then went through the added horror of jumping through hoops to be by her side makes it doubly sad. I wonder if people who oppose gay marriage understand that this actually happens to couples, and that this is why it's so important to have the legal right to identify the person who is your spouse as a spouse.