Friday, September 3, 2021

Billy Taylor | Silver Road || Mark Christopher | Heartland || Tyler Reeves | It's Still Your Bed


 In the vast list of gay films these volumes explore there are relatively few that take place or even refer to gay life on the farm—as opposed to small town life or lakeside or seaside isolation or, yet another lonely world, that of the roaming American cowboy. Yet the farm, particularly in the US and in various manifestations internationally, used to be perceived as the very definition of the common man. And it seems important, consequently, that if you wish to truly discover the heart of LGBTQ life, films might need to return to those very most isolated outposts, the farm dominated by the hardworking, determinedly heterosexual father and his wife of true grit. For a young person growing up in this world, or even a late-coming out elder, that battleground that serves the very definition of homeland seems to be an important one.

     Yet I can only name a handful of films that engage with these issues, although I am certain, now that I have perceived this even as a sort of LGBTQ genre, that I shall certainly discover others; but to date I can only think of the examples of A. P. Gonzalez’s memorable Clay Farmers (1988), Mark Christopher’s truly revelatory short Alkali, Iowa (1995), Michael Burke’s strange and visually beautiful Fishbelly White (1998), and British director Francis Lee’s masterwork God’s Country (2017). As I suggested I am certain other’s will gradually show up from my vast list of works waiting to be seen; but for now I’m adding three more works to this small developing genre: Canadian director Bill Taylor’s Silver Road (2006), another film by the US director Mark Christopher Heartland (2007), and Tyler Reeve’s It’s Still Your Bed (2019).


Billy Taylor (screenwriter and director) Silver Road / 2006 [13 minutes]

Taylor’s film is about as simple as a coming out tale can get. As in most works of this genre, there is usually an incident which triggers the sudden enactment of long-restrained homosexual action, and in this case it is a common one. A young man Danny (Andrew Hachey) is going away soon to college and has just returned from his summer “camp.” His first visit upon returning home  evidently is the neighbor’s farm where his good friend Mark (Jonathan Keltz) lives and works. And already before the credits we know that they truly enjoy one another’s company just by the smile that lights up on Mark’s face as he sees his friend coming.

      Mark eulogizes his summer work on the farm with his dad, who claims it’s been the best season ever, Mark being able to save enough cash to buy the pickup. He enjoys farming and is planning on staying on at the farm hoping to make enough money to get on while his friend is soon moving away and on.

       Their deep friendship, accordingly, is colored with regret and sadness, both emanating from what they know will soon be a kind of end of their relationship which doesn’t truly need to be defined and within which they easily share their still virgin sexual status with one another. These boys obviously feel completely free and comfortable around the other in a way they might not feel with other acquaintances and family.      

     They’re also good looking and affable, and if you’ve seen even 2 or 3 LGBTQ "coming out" shorts you know what that means. Yet, like all close friends, it’s also clear that if they have any internal desires they’re so used to keeping them hidden that it seems nearly impossible, given their friendship, they will ever be expressed. And in this sense, this Canadian film also shares with the sub-genre of coming out films which I discuss in my essay “How to Lose Your Best Friend.”

        Mark admits he’s never done it with his girlfriend Marianne because “She found Jesus,” to which Danny replies, “That guy’s no fun.” But we also know that there’s something far more complex and inexpressible that delays their full sexual maturation.

        Silence reigns over much of the rest of this movie as, when the sunsets, the friends venture out in Mark’s pickup for a ride through the country—one of the major activities of lonely farm boys who live in such a vast space that there’s often nowhere particular to go except for in town which allows for no privacy and proffers numerous other dangers created by their already outside status—outsiders for the town folk who simply don’t comprehend the structures and strictures of their lives. The activity is defined by Mark who, when Danny asks, “Where we going?” answers, “Well we’re just driving around,” sentences which also sum up both of their future perspectives.

       Driving down the already dark country roads, Mark is shocked when Danny suddenly reaches over and switches off the pickup headlights. He demands to know what Danny’s doing and is afraid of “busting up his truck,” but his friend declares he should relax, he knows the road. But it’s clear he actually doesn’t, a least the road he intends to take. After they reach a stop-light, move forward a half-mile or so further and Danny admits that he’s going to miss Mark, who repeats the sentiment, he suddenly lunges over and attempts to kiss his friend, Mark pushing him away and driving off into a cornfield where the pickup is now stuck in the wet earth.

      Danny leaps from the vehicle rushing off to hide among the dry stalks, with Mark pounding the dashboard shouting “fuck, fuck!” His profanity clearly is not directed at the fact that his belove pickup is now caught, but against the fact that their deep friendship has now suddenly come to a stop, an admission of love coming forth that he was not able to respond to, and his frustration for not having been able to accept the feelings which may also share.

      Standing atop the truck he calls out Danny’s name again and again, but the boy is too embarrassed and afraid to answer, to show himself. “Danny get the hell out of there!”

      A long pause. “Come on, Danny.” Still no response.

      The film loops the earlier scene of the red and yellow blinking stop-lights at the corner they passed a while back. And eventually, of course, Danny appears, his face covered with mud. He helps Mark push the truck out of the rut, and they are back on the road as silent as they were before, but this time intentionally so. Finally, Danny announces as they come to a stop, “I’m going to go,” making the move to leave his friend perhaps forever.

        “You got some dirt on your face,” Mark finally speaks.

        After another pause, he continues, “I just thought you were a pussy.”  Another pause. “I won’t tell anyone.”

        “Thanks.” Another pause. “Okay, I guess I’ll see you.”

        “Hey, there are some good guys in Toronto.”

        Danny manages a smile. “Even the nastiest girls love Jesus.”

        “I’ll see you at Thanksgiving.” Mark turns his head away.

        “Yeh.” He gets out.

         Both boys look dreadfully sad. Obviously something has ended, even as their lives move on.

        If nothing else they now know where they both stand: Danny moving away into a new world in more ways than one, and Mark remaining where he is, possibly happy, perhaps trapped. If this film is a simple story, its significance has been eloquently expressed, helped along by Jonathan Goldsmith’s lovely musical score.

Los Angeles, September 3, 2021


lucky strike

Mark Christopher (screenwriter and director) Heartland / 2007 [12 minutes]

Heartland moves in a pattern that stands at the opposite end from Silver Road. HG Gudmanson (Corey Sorenson) is a cultural anthropological student at Columbia University and having “the time of his life.” Indeed the opening credits show him partying in what appears to be several rather wild sex parties in New York City with a “kid in glasses” named Martin who the narrator describes as some kind of Kennedy—which kind he hasn’t told me because I wouldn’t believe it, just as I haven’t told him where I’m from either “because he wouldn’t believe it.” He reports, however, that his father was having business problems so he took weeks off and returned to another world.

    That other world, it turns out, is Goldfield, Iowa where he grew up on farm homesteaded by his great-great grandfather, a fact that his father, Thor Gudmanson (Martin Naftal) will never let him forget.

     Almost immediately we meet the hired hand, Kevin McGonagle (Tyler Tooley), who, as HG tells us, was “kinda white trash from town. My dad hired out of pity though. McGonagle was minus two parents plus a bunch of little siblings. Don and I used to joke that the littlest one was his own kid. He must of hooked up with a hundred girls since junior high.”  At least we know that the now citified HG hasn’t lost his small town gossip meanness.

      It turns out that HG’s father is an alcoholic, and when the next morning he doesn’t show up for chores, the two boys talks a little about town affairs. The only one from school who HG evidently keeps in touch is a girl named Dawn, with whom evidently Kevin has now hooked up. He asks HG whether he minds. Kevin’s own friends think he’s a loser for working on the farm, but he’s still proud that he’s taking care of his family. The boys take off their shirts before they get to work in the hot sun, both taking furtive looks at one another’s physique.

      He tells us briefly about his high school sweetheart Dawn Olson (Taylor Gwinn), whom he describes in terms of an utter contradiction, an intelligent evangelical. They went out, last night, to the local bar Mary’s where he had a beer and she a coke; he had another beer and she another coke. The dating game came up, and he came out to her, he tells us, but she did not take it well. “In fact, she screamed, ‘You can’t be gay!’” And we know now that soon the whole town will be talking.

      HG’s narrative returns for a moment to Martin. “When Martin came out he was 11. In fact his mother made him a party. ...He cannot understand this strange tribe I come from.”

      Meanwhile, the narrator’s worst fears come true as the whole talk is talking about him and his father has grabbed and bottle of whisky and retired to bed. “That was three days ago.” The last time he did it was after his mother left; “it lasted a year, and we almost went broke.” Tyler assures him that at least he will be there.

      Finally sexually frustrated, HG visits the Lucky Strike, “the middle of nowhere in the middle of nowhere,” what appears to be an empty road where he waits in his car in the dark, strumming a song about going home, by which he obviously means New York City.

       Working hard, he reads the finances again and again without, as he tells Kevin, seeing “a way out.” Kevin answers rather profoundly, “Maybe that’s the problem.” “What?” “Maybe it’s about finding a way into it.”

        HD asks Tyler how it feels to take care of his family, the latter asking, “who was that Greek guy pushing that rock up the hill?” “Sisyphus?” “It always feels like the rock I’m pushing is gonna win.”

        He then turns and asks the question that our so-called hero has not wanted to hear: “What are you gonna do if he doesn’t get out of bed?”

       There is no answer, and its apparent that HD has been visiting home now for more than two weeks. Ryan’s brother is arrested for driving a car across a football field—during a game, HD’s voice tells us. And his father is still in bed. So he has missed his bus to the airport and his long trip home to New York.

       He cites a report by cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead about a tribe where every spring the adolescent boys who have come of age are asked to make a sacrifice for the survival of the tribe. “Last night I accepted the fact that I was a member of that tribe.”

        “So, here I am,” he reports, “at the Lucky Strike.” And time, delayed after the earlier scene, picks up once more to where the film left off, in the middle of nowhere. There he meets Tyler, who joins him in his automobile, the two discussing their predicaments, Tyler afraid that social services may take his brothers and sisters away from him. For the first time HD offers his help, suggesting that if Tyler needs anything, he’s there for him.

         Ryan, taking a swig, makes a jump into what we now recognize is a  possible future. “It’s not so bad here. When you got friends.” HD looks at him with a wide smile. They toast with their beer bottles.

    Slowly they gaze at each other, unsure, terrified, but suddenly moving toward one another embracing in a in a deep kiss. We can now be certain that they will be there for one another in more ways than just putting in hard hours on feeding the cattle, plowing the land, and harvesting the corn and hay. 

Los Angeles, September 3, 2021



how to keep the boy down on the farm

Tyler Reeves (screenwriter and director) It’s Still Your Bed / 2019 [17 minutes]

Imagine his surprise when college boy David (Damian Joseph Quinn) returns home to the family farm to find that his hard-working father has taken on a hired hand, Brent (Cooper Stone) who now sleeps in his old bedroom. David will have to sleep a futon next to his old bed, while the farm hand sleeps nearby.

     It’s clearly okay with David until he actually a glimpse of the friendly hunk, who even offers to switch beds: hence the title. But David wouldn’t think of it, and indeed can’t think about much of anything except that he has to resist the temptation to leap into bed with his new roommate, who parades about half-dressed, masturbates (under the covers) late one night, and even is willing to play a duo video game with the former farm boy while grabbing for popcorn out of the bowl that sits on David’s lap. The game gets out of hand as the two young men begin to wrestle with one another and, for one long moment, both contemplating to consummate that which they desire, but since neither is sure of the other’s sexual orientation, they both resist.

      Brent seems to be working out fine as a farmer, and David’s father is impressed with his abilities, but David can only attempt to distract himself from their shared dinner conversations by calling up his college friend and, apparently, former “best friend” Steven who is now dating a girl he’s taken off to Phoenix, planning to show up to visit David on his farm in another day or so.

      Even David’s old girlfriend Emily, when she spots Brent at work, knowing David is gay teases her friend about actually being able to sleep in the same room with such a “hot” beauty. David resists explaining to her that it only results in sleepless nights of frustration. Even the Kleenex in which Brent has wiped up his middle-of-the-night cum is missing in the morning from the spot on the floor where he threw it. David might possibly have enjoyed just the smell of it, an opportunity which I gather in the original cut he had, since I’ve just seen a trailer for the movie which shows him doing precisely that.

      When Steven does finally decide to show up, it’s with his girlfriend Vanessa, and he announces it will be only a few hours. His greatest excitement seems to be his ability to share some new “weed” they’ve acquired. Even more frustrated than usual, David invites Brent along to the isolated spot where he probably hid out with friends in high school.

      The talk between the three is superficial, consisting mostly of a discussion of how big the fish were in a local pond where evidently David and Steven once swam and got scarred off. When David describes the fish being as big as a microwave. Brent, who evidently is from a state bordering the Mississippi river, is not impressed, showing them a picture of a paddlefish on his cellphone which they pass around mightily impressed. When it finally reaches David, he attempts to enlarge the view only to accidentally click on a picture of a young man in red shorts for an instant, obviously an image from Grindr or some other gay site.

        While Vanessa and Steven talk on, deciding they’d like to possibly get something to eat, David gently begins to stroke the back of Brent’s hand. When the visitors ask if they’d like to join them, both bow out with a headache and an early rising the next morning as their excuses. They head off back to the farmhouse, quietly entering to find David’s father asleep on the couch. They tiptoe back to the bedroom and once inside they grab hold of one another stripping off each other’s clothes in pure lust. 

        This is not a very profound film, and we suspect that their relationship may end up as the “how I spent my summer” variety. Yet we’d like to imagine that, like HD in Mark Christopher’s Heartland, Brent may have found a way to keep the boy down on the farm after he’s seen gay Paree. 

Los Angeles, September 3, 2021

Reprinted from World Cinema Review (September 2021).

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