NewFest 2014: Rubber, Leather, Hookers, and Cupcakes

If you still have an affinity for books, there can be few more choice summer reads than Edmund White's 2005 autobiography, My Lives. Divided into nonlinear sections devoted to his relationships with his parents, his hustlers, and his female entanglements, there's also a chapter entitled "My Europe." Herein White notes how while in the Paris of the 1980s, he became aware that petite green beans are tastier than their larger cousins. He also recounts how the social theorist Michel Foucault, a pal of his, noted that while "'gay philosophy' and 'gay paintings' were meaningless notions...writing gay fiction was legitimate since it enabled us to imagine how gay men should live together."

Foucault apparently "felt that relationships between gay men were tenuous, undefined, still to be invented, and that gay fiction was the place where a vision of association could be worked out in concrete detail."

The same could be said of LGBT cinema, and there's no better place to observe this phenomenon than at Lincoln Center where right now the 26th edition of NewFest (July 24-29), Manhattan's annual showcase of the best of current non-heteronormative cinema, is unfolding. Held in conjunction with the Film Society of Lincoln Center, NewFest is screening 21 features plus a truckload of shorts that delve into the worlds of lesbian hustlers, retired porn directors, British rubber and leather fetishists, teen romances, extreme gay parenting, and post-World War II Dutch drag performers.

Adam Baran's highly entertaining music video for Holopaw's "Dirty Boots (He Don't)," a paean of sorts to Kenneth Anger, is a fine example of something you might not have ever seen before unless you watch True Blood or any other series on cable. In this five-or-so-minute, astutely shot short [photo above], a multi-ethnic gang of attractive Brooklyn bikers sleep together, wake up, urinate in the shower, get high, throw grapes at each other, and then have an orgy at a local sex club. Accompanying the intriguing visuals is the at-times almost indecipherable narration by porn legend Peter Berlin that bookends the at-times almost indecipherable lyrics by Holopaw. ("If I could be anything in this world that shines, I would be a switchblade pressed tightly against your side.") But you won't care about the clarity if you hang around for what I believe is a new sex act. Apparently while rubbing against the lead biker, a transgender "male" places the palm of one of his hands over his partner's mouth while sticking two fingers up the partner's nostrils, holding them there until the biker orgasms. Maybe everyone is doing this today, but it's a first for me. (Writing that sentence, I realized pronouns are heading to extinction.)

Nothing less than superb is Giuseppe Bucci's short short, "Luigi and Vincenzo." Moving in its simplicity and craftsmanship, the entire action takes place on an escalator. Two well-dressed, grey-haired gents are on the upside of the ride, one behind the other. But when a group of young folks celebrating gay pride pass them by on the downside of the escalator, the pair, inspired, get on the same step, hold hands, and then kiss to the cheers of onlookers.

Also worthy of some plaudits is writer/director Stewart Thorndike's stylish Lyle, a lesbian takeoff on Rosemary's Baby with Gaby Hoffmann as the pregnant housewife whose fetus might just be payback for her girlfriend's sudden success. Hoffman is never less than convincing as the skittish mom, and aided by cinematographer Grant Greenberg's visual mastery, she has you on the edge of your seat as her paranoia grows in leaps and bounds, especially as you watch her run through the streets, scamper down staircases, and Skype. Sadly, the acting of Kim Allen (Army Wives) and Michael Che (The Daily Show) in rather minor roles is almost more frightening than Leah's plight. And clocking in at just 65 minutes, this is one of the few features that would have benefited from an extra 10 to 15 minutes to clarify a few hazy moments.

Perfect though, from beginning to end, and unabashedly outrageous, is Madeleine Olnek's The Foxy Merkins, a comic tribute to East Coast women's-studies majors who have to earn their daily bread by becoming lesbian hookers. Anyone familiar with Ms. Olnek's previous cult favorite, Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, which was one of the top comic offerings of 2011, should not be surprised that her latest is one of the top five thigh-slapping, zany flicks of 2014.

The film stars Lisa Haas as Margaret, a blatantly incompetent, amply proportioned, would-be prostitute with asthma and an allergy to Pledge. Consequently, she has trouble performing cunnilingus in extremely clean homes and those where incense is burned. Right away her customer base is severely circumscribed. Luckily, she runs into Jo (the delicious Jackie Monahan), an experienced working girl from a rich home who becomes her mentor.

Soon the passive/aggressive pair are sleeping in a public bathroom, "motorboating" for closeted conventioneers, scissoring with Republicans, and buying merkins in a cemetery from Girls' Alex Karpovsky. (Merkins, by the way, are artificial coverings of hair or fur for the pubic area that courtesans apparently used in centuries past to cover up their syphilitic sores.)

Part John Waters, with a dash of Paul Morrisey and a whole lot of Sappho, this delirious comedy is the must see girl-on-girl comedy of the new millennium. (Please send a copy to Melissa McCarthy pronto for some badly needed inspiration.

From Israel's Eytan Fox, the director of such world-class offerings as Walk on Water, The Bubble, and Yossi & Jagger, comes his slightest confection, Cupcakes. Here six neighbors (one lesbian, one homosexual, and four straight gals) get together to watch Unisong, a takeoff on the international songfest competition Eurovision. In the middle of the broadcast, Anat (Anat Waxman), a baker, admits her husband has left her. To cheer her up, the rest of the gang compose a song.  The next day, Ofer (Ofer Schecter), who sometimes teaches his kindergarten class in drag, jokingly submits the smart-phone-shot tape he made of the group's performance to the Israeli selection committee of Unisong for next year's contest. Their song gets selected, and all six wind up performing in France and having all of their personal problems resolved by the end credits. Even Ofer's boyfriend, whose family owns the largest hummus company in the country, comes out of the closet. The whole schmear is predictable, the dialogue is uninspired, and the direction slapdash, yet you wind up feeling cheery the way only silly films with happy endings can make you feel. You can't kvetch about that. - Brandon Judell

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Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Theatre into Film" and "The Arts in New York City" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice,indieWire.com, the New York Daily NewsSoho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.

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