Review: Doc 'The Needle' Is Affecting Portrait of Gay Underground Clinic Owner

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by Vanessa Martinez
June 29, 2013 9:00 AM
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Directed by Carmen Oquendo-Villar and Jose Correa Vigier, the documentary The Needle is a portrait of Jose Quinones, - a charismatic middle-aged, homosexual and transvestite man – who has opened his home to people of all walks of life, especially to those deemed outcasts by society, and those who struggle with their self-esteem.

Quinones administers injections of biopolymers, hormones and other substances to cosmetically enhance the various “problem areas” of his clients in order to “beautify” them. The universal quest to be beautiful – however superficial – is undeniable. However, there is more to the underground “doctor’s” contentment in making his clients – gay, bisexual, straight and heterosexual - happy with their bodies.

In the process of providing his services, Quinones basks in the feeling of being wanted and needed by them. He proudly admits that most are addicted to their visits to his “clinic," based in his home in Puerto Rico. He has become irreplaceable to those seeking his services. These clients take comfort in Quinones’ nurturing and non-judgmental ways. They also long to fulfill their emotional needs and voids, much like Quinones’ very own.

The documentary peeks into Quinones daily routine. He has formed a quasi family with some of his clientele, like Kelly and Maybelline, two transvestites who make a living moonlighting in the dangerous streets of the Caribbean island. He has become a mother figure to them, worrying for their safety and providing them shelter in his home, which he also shares with his cat, dog and pet turtles.

Although seemingly content with his current lifestyle, since childhood – like the unfortunate case of many in the LGBT community – Quinones has yearned for his family’s unconditional love. Although his late mother embraced him, Quinones‘ brothers shunned him. It was only in recent years that his family became open to accepting him. In a touching sequence, Quinones goes to visit his brother Edin and other family members during Christmas time. At the end of the joyful visit, Quinones and his brother embrace and cry while saying their goodbyes.

However, Quinones knows that he still isn’t fully accepted by them. He invites his family and eagerly anticipates their attendance to his party, in which he dresses in drag and performs with Kelly – whom he considers a daughter - for a crowd of clients, friends and neighbors. After the party is nearly over and Quinones’ family is a no-show, The Needle veers into melancholy, which had been quietly permeating throughout. Loneliness and despair become main characters.

The score is kept to a minimum; it isn’t heavy-handed and it doesn’t force feed one into feeling a certain way. Yet, there seems to be an underlying metaphor to the needle; the physical pain from its pricks and pinches that drowns the cries deep within the soul. The needle may serve as a way to numb emotional pain, and hence provide a sort of catharsis, at least momentarily.

The Needle, produced by Felipe Tewes (Film Acquisitions Executive, HBO), was an official selection of the 2012 New York Documentary Festival (DocNYC), and premiered at the 2013 L.E.S. Festival (Independent Features and Shorts Made for Less) this past week.

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