Frameline Reviews: 'I am Divine,' Sedaris Adaptation 'C.O.G.,' Franco-on-Friedkin Highlight LGBT Film Festival

Festivals
by Ryan Lattanzio
June 20, 2013 3:48 PM
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Travis Mathews and James Franco in 'Interior. Leather Bar.'

Frameline celebrates its 37th birthday this year with the annual summer San Francisco film festival (June 20-30) highlighting American and international independent LGBT cinema. While gay representation in mainstream film still leaves something to be desired, we have festivals like this and LA's own OutFest (which kicks off with "C.O.G." July 11) to thank for meeting that need. Frameline begins Thursday with lesbian drama "Concussion," followed by the premiere screening of "White Night." 

A first round of highlights is below.

"White Night" (Dir. Hee-il Leesong)

South Korean director Hee-il Leesong's "White Night" recalls the frenzied passion of Wong Kar-wai's 1997 doomed gay romance "Happy Together." Like that film, "Night" moves at a lugubrious pace, as sinuous and velvety as its protagonists' incessant cigarette smoke. This hypnotic film is as fleeting as the many encounters Won-gyu has over the course of one noir-tinged night in Seoul. A kind of episodic travelogue, full of emotional upheavals amid the serenity of the cityscape, the brooding "White Night" is slow-paced, yet deliciously romantic. Which is odd, considering romance in this film is mostly comprised of one-night-stands in anonymous toilets.

"I am Divine" (Dir. Jeffrey Schwarz)

"I am Divine," the largely crowd-funded documentary directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, chronicles the life of none other than the Divine, John Waters' muse who defined a generation of proto-punk films like "Pink Flamingos" and "Female Trouble." Beneath the fierce -- in the true sense of the word -- makeup and drag he was Harris Glenn Milstead. Divine was just a day job, he insisted, but he ended up getting pegged for that throughout his career until his death at age 42. The documentary covers his struggle to be taken seriously as an actor outside the larger-than-life Divine persona, meeting John Waters and other gay folks in Baltimore and, of course, his love of drugs and partying. 

For Waters loyalists and Divine devotees, "I am Divine"will be pure pleasure start to finish. The talking heads-style doc features illuminating interviews with Waters, "Hairspray" co-star Ricki Lake (with whom Divine shared a rivalry on and offscreen), Mink Stole, Tab Hunter -- about whom director Schwarz is making his next documentary feature -- and several heartbreaking conversations with Divine's once-estranged mother.

"Interior. Leather Bar." (Dirs. James Franco and Travis Mathews)

When William Friedkin's "Cruising" hit theaters in 1980, the gay community was up in arms over this drama about an undercover cop (Al Pacino) who penetrates the lower depths of the S&M scene in New York to catch a killer. With Stonewall a decade behind, the gay liberation had achieved many of its goals -- with still many yet ahead -- and its members saw the film as regressive and unproductive to gay rights.

More a rough draft of a good idea, "Interior. Leather Bar" is James Franco's imagined un-censoring of 40 minutes of leather bar footage slashed from "Cruising" by the MPAA. But rather than a re-staging of these scenes per se -- allegedly quite graphic, the negatives were eventually lost by United Artists -- this is a concept art film about what such a project might look like. Its central premise of unexpurgated artistic expression is tired, torn from a Queer Theory 101 syllabus. But provocative nonetheless.

Much like Franco's own personal brand -- now founded on his weird array of side projects and pursuits -- "Interior" lacks a cohesive whole in spite of being a brave and admirable undertaking. It does brush up against heterosexual, masculine discomfort via the Pacino stand-in Val Lauren, who is straight and has a girlfriend. But Franco and co-director Mathews (who made the 2011 porny "I Want Your Love") prefer to hover around vague half-cooked ideas of what happens when you lift the chains off artistic output.

"C.O.G." (Dir. Kyle Patrick Alvarez)

'C.O.G.'
David Sedaris fans rejoice (kinda). This is the first time the witty humorist and self-deprecating scribe of books "Me Talk Pretty One Day" and "Naked" has allowed one of his essays to be adapted for the screen. Kyle Patrick Alvarez's "C.O.G." -- which stands for "child of god" -- is torn from the pages of the latter book. Broadway actor Jonathan Groff plays young David, whose youthful dreams of manifest destiny lead him away from home and to Oregon, where he takes a job at an apple orchard to escape his life back east. He travels under the pseudonym "Samuel" and doesn't speak a lick of Spanish, which doesn't make things easier among the heavily Mexican workforce on the farm.

Along the way, he encounters plenty of peculiar characters played by the likes of Denis O'Hare as an evangelical, a rapey Corey Stoll, and Dean Stockwell. "C.O.G." has a tone that feels funny, icky and sad all at once. But that's part of its charm as it navigates the pitiful pratfalls of life as a closeted drifter. It is not a perfect Sedaris adaptation -- it lacks the author's tight brevity and pacing -- but it is a sweet, small movie with Groff's likable performance at its center.

Trailers after the jump.

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