Friday, April 30, 2021

Welby Ings | Boy


by Douglas Messerli

Welby Ings (scenario, text, and director) Boy / 2004, 2005 USA

One of the most innovative and visually stunning short films of the early 2000s, New Zealand director Welby Ings’ Boy (2004) is a work without dialogue that tells its story through its arresting images and words printed on those images. The printed word has great significance for professional art designer Ings, who himself didn’t learn to read until age 15.

     The short textual matter imbues the film with a poetic quality while also representing the voices of the town’s citizens like a chorus who shout out derogatory words to the film’s young hero, such as “pussyboy,” “fag,” “rent boy,” “prostitute,” “slut,” etc.

     Ings describes the work’s “language” as representing:

“Written words as thoughts, comment on or interrupt developments in the film as fragmented or poetic text. The language in this text is either poetic or references the little known New Zealand bog cruising sub-cultural language of bogspeak or parley.” 

     The words, although crucial to the inner feelings of the characters, are themselves not as important, however, as the photographic-like frames of the film, reminding one of the photography of Diane Arbus and harkening back to the doll obsessions of artist and photographer Hans Bellmer. The former Arbus-like images catch the odd strangeness of the seemingly “normal” figures of Ings’ small New Zealand town in which the “story” takes place; while the latter Bellmer obsessions, broken dolls uncovered in an old factory, restored, and outfitted (sometimes like the villages residents) as angels—visions of the villagers’ inner beings—along with one horrifying redeeming angel with black wings, all artifices created by the young hero of the piece, Sam (Jesse Lee).

      The narrative is basically a one-line incident, a man (Bryan Bevege) driving the empty roads outside of a small New Zealand town, distracted by his cellphone, accidentally strikes a young female walking alongside the highway. He stops the car to check on the body, discovering that the girl is dead; but instead of calling the police, he drives off, turning the accident into a case of hit and run. 

      Meanwhile, the local male rent boy, the peroxide-haired high school student who lives with his grandmother is visiting the town’s public restroom where he picks up most of his tricks. When someone enters the cubicle next to his, he peeps through the glory hole only to glimpse the driver, a local man he recognizes, washing off his hands in the toilet having taken off his blood-stained suit jacket and wrapped it around the base of the toilet bowl. To get a better look at these strange goings-on, Sam crawls up to peer over the top of the cubicle wall, his stare returned by the driver, who quickly exits, leaving behind his suit jacket.

      The moment he leaves, the boy rushes in to scoop up the coat in the pocket of which is a bloody piece of the girl’s garment and several of the driver’s credit cards.

       The body is found by the police, the local newspaper reporting the event as a hit-and-run by someone who perhaps doesn’t even live in the town. But others suspect foul play from someone in their midst, including the driver’s wife (Amanda Macek) who reports to the local police chief that she has found blood on her husband’s shirt.

       Although he is now possibly a suspect, the driver is still not arrested, and follows Sam, bicycling with a little cart hooked behind the bike as the boy makes his way through town—the upright citizens of this scuzzy village all observing him with distrust and disdain—to the shut-down factory, the driver entering while Sam hides, the man shouting out that if he ever finds him he’ll kill him.

       At school several fellow classmates, male and female, mock him and when Sam goes to his school locker he discovers it has been spray-painted pink.

        In another such instance when the boys suit up for gym practice the driver’s son (Luke Thompson) and other boys attack and beat Sam. All, obviously, are veiled threats aimed at assuring the fact that he will never talk about what he has witnessed, the father perhaps having encouraged his son’s homophobia with revealing the reason behind it.

      Sam has long grown used to it all, and witnesses most of the townies’ stares of hatred by recognizing some of them in his head as his regular customers which the narrative reveals by suddenly showing them in pink tutus and bras—a stereotype which I wish Ings might have avoided, but which obviously represents their hypocrisy.

    Yet Sam has also clearly been hurt by the small-town bigotry, the film twice showing him encountering his younger self to reassure him as Ings introduces the film’s major vocal musical number, “Anchor Me,” the 1994 song recorded by the New Zealand rock musical group The Mutton Birds:

                     Full fathom five

                     Someday I'll lie

                     Singing songs that come

                     From dead men's tongues

                     Anchor me, anchor me


                     As the compass turns

                     And the glass it falls

                     Where the storm clouds roll

                     And the gulls they call

                     Anchor me, anchor me, anchor me       

     The first time Sam is clearly reassuring the uncertainty in himself in his meeting with the child.

     But soon after we witnesses the local hotel bar woman being raped by several of the town locals. She is the resident heterosexual prostitute and their brutal treatment of her is so similar to the abuse they heap upon him that he pulls out his avenging angel with black wings, and in his imagination meets up once again with his younger self who this time passes the coat he has given him back to the elder self who takes the evidence directly to the police, credit cards still in the pocket to identify the roadside murderer.

     Ings’ 15-minute short was shown internationally in LGBTQ festivals, winning awards. Since then he has made two further short films Munted (2011) and Sparrow (2016), and in 2020 released his first feature film, Punch, not yet available in the US.

Los Angeles, April 30, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (2021).

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Russel Vincent | That Tender Touch

even lesbians cry

by Douglas Messerli

Russel Vincent (screenwriter and director) That Tender Touch / 1969

The problem with the 1969 film about lesbian lovers, That Tender Touch, is not its dreadful script—

                              Terry: It had to happen some day, this thing that we have

                                         for each other that neither of us could explain

                                         had to come to an end sooner or later.

                             Marsha: Are you trying to tell me that’s all over now? —

nor the film’s performer’s inability to act (as Marsha Prentis, Bee Thompkins demonstrates the suffering she is going through over the breakup of her relationship with Terry Manning mostly by flopping her body across and bed, grimacing, and contorting her face to look like she was Joan Crawford horrified for the fact that she was about to vomit), nor even the atrocity of the movie sets (dark paneled rooms featuring brown Naugahyde chairs and bar stools shoved up against a shelf so narrow that it can barely serve as a shrine to a pot of coffee and suburban houses decked out  with kitsch hotel lobby furniture sunk into layers of puce shag rugs), nor even the pointless camera tracking that seemingly has a fetish about the “no vacancy” sign of the Darla Arms Furnished Apartments, to say nothing about David Saxon’s and Han Haller’s hard to listen to arpeggios of the movie’s theme song.

     No, the real problem is that it was written and directed by a male, Russel Vincent, who could not decide whether to make a “Dykesploitation” film, a campy tribute to Mark Robson’s Valley of the Dolls (1967) sans the desperate divas and their drugs (although keeping the alcohol), a homophobic warning to women who dare to fall love with members of their own sex, or a suburban soap opera exploring why so many women these days turn out to be dykes with the presumption that they had simply hooked up with the wrong guys.

    Fortunately, he clearly didn’t have enough financial backing to make any of these films, teasing us with just enough of each genre that it might seem he had a method to this mad effort to entertain us, whoever us might be—men who are intrigued by women who are bi-curious, guys who are disgusted with the idea that gals lick pussy, or gay boys and giggling sapphics who see the whole thing as simply a lark. Oddly enough, because of its total inability to comprehend who lesbians really are, Vincent brushed up on the edges of some interesting ideas about same-sex love in 1969 before it was even safe to say the L-word let alone to think about what it might have meant.

       Predictably, Marsha, previously married, meets Terry (Sue Bernard, of Russ Meyer’s 1965 exploititive flick Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!) quite by accident at the airport on the day, so the plot suggests, when her parents were killed in a plane accident. Taking a liking to the poor confused and now abandoned kid, Marsha takes her home and cares for her like she would a younger sister. Over time as she arranges her life around the adoptee, comforts her when she gets raped on her first two heterosexual dates, and arranges for her to work in the hair salon where she is employed, she discovers, inexplicably of course, that she’s fallen in love with her charge, not only spiritually but physically, surely a result of that tender touch she’s provided after Terry’s brutal encounters with manhandling. Without even thinking Marsha has grown into the role of the matron of the little prison house of love she’s created for her “friend.”

       Yet all’s well in their bicycling and balloon holding picnics until the camera hugging Ken-doll, Ken Manning (Rick Cooper) sees Terry as his perfect Barbie. Since he’s into playing with dolls himself, he dresses her up like animals and shoots her like a pole dancer on the Santa Monica Pier merry-go-round.  

     Matron  Marsha doesn’t like that one little bit, and before she knows it the two have having the discussion I quote above.  

     All of their past is revealed in flashbacks, while the true “action” of the film takes place in the plush suburban development of the Roxbury Estates to where Ken and Terry had hoped to escape from Marsha’s loving clutches. But Marsha in full business suit regalia reappears during the midst of a lovely heterosexual bash at which, without really trying, Terry’s former squeeze bewitches the Manning’s maid, a neighbor lady, and her pubescent daughter, all ready to jump into bed with Marsha at the first wink.

      But Marsha is having none of that. She still loves Terry and has come to claim her prize, despite the younger girl’s protests that despite the love she still holds for her, and the longing for Marsha’s tender touch she still feels in Ken’s loving arms, she’s now a happy hetero. As she puts it straight out: “I love you Marsha, but it's wrong!"  A little earlier she declared, “I just want to be normal.”

      It still doesn’t sink through the bouffant atop Marsha’s libidinous head, as she almost tries to rape her former bedmate while the woman’s husband, just as the insistent postman, rings twice before taking out his keys to carry in the grocery sacks. But eventually Terry, finally having come to terms with the fact that she and Marsha have actually been lesbian lovers, sets her right, insisting that although she’ll never forget her tender touches a little manhandling never hurts, particularly when it comes from the gentle Ken, who’s been so very patient in letting her make up her mind about the whole mess.

     If there was ever a perfect example of Vito Russo’s argument that in most films that portrayed LGBTQ characters the queer had to die, it’s this film: taking up the lipstick tube to the guestroom mirror, Marsha, in perfect Palmer Method cursive penmanship writes: “I love you Terry. You are now free,” before jumping into the Manning’s swimming pool to drown.

     What, strangely, this mess of a movie does reveal even though its Kabuki-like figures do not very subtly reveal it, is that lesbians also have deep feelings of love and pain upon losing their companions. They too have beating hearts that can be broken, their skin scratched even by a tender touch. 

Los Angeles, April 20, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (April 2021).


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Francis Boggs ? | The Pasha's Daughter

behind the veil

by Douglas Messerli

Lloyd Longergan ? (screenplay), Francis Boggs ? (director) The Pasha’s Daughter / 1911

We do not know the director of the Thanhouser Company’s production of the 13.49-minute film from 1911, The Pasha’s Daughter. The internet film site Fandor attributes the work to Francis Boggs (director of the 1908 film version of The Count of Monte Cristo), whereas other sources suggest it probably is the work of Barry O'Neil or Lucius J. Henderson. The most likely scenarist of the film is Lloyd Lonergan, a long time newspaper reporter who may have written about the real event upon which this short was based. The male leads are played by William Garwood and William Russell, presumably Garwood acting as the American traveler Jack and Russell performing as the Turkish Pasha.

      Jack is touring Turkey by train when he encounters the Pasha who, seated in his train car, suddenly finds himself without his billfold to pay for his ticket; Jack quickly comes to the rescue, paying for the older man’s fare.

      In appreciation of his kindness the Pasha invites him to his home for the night. While the Pasha enjoys his hookah, Jack follows the servant to his designated room, returning soon after to enjoy the company of the Pasha.

      Suddenly and quite inexplicably soldiers arrive to denounce the Pasha as being a conspirator against the government, and soon after they arrest Jack as well.

      In prison at one point Jack overpowers a guard and attempts to escape, but is immediately caught by another guard and returned to the cell. Soon after, seeing a blanket laying on his bed, it gets the idea of how to escape. Applying his pocketknife to the molding of cell window, he is able to pry loose one bar, and, having tied up the parts of the blanket into a long rope, slips through the window and drops to freedom.

       He is quickly met by another guard but is able to overpower him before climbing another wall to drop into the courtyard of the Pasha’s palace.

       A few minutes earlier we observed the Pasha’s daughter and other women of the harem waiting in the garden to meet with the Pasha, who evidently has been freed of the conspiracy charges. Now Jack encounters the daughter alone, explaining to her his situation and begging for help.

      The daughter, Murana, calls her servant and insists that he prepare Jack for escape. Meanwhile other guards enter the courtyard quizzing both the daughter and her manservant if they have seen the young American. Her face hidden behind her veil, she shakes her head “no” as does her servant.

      Insisting that Jack smoke the hookah, he tells him the only way to escape is to dress like one of the harem women, providing him with a costume. Presumably, he is convinced that the only way he can get the young Jack into female custom is to drug him, but after a few puffs of the hookhah, Jack laughingly accepts the challenge, dressing in a gown and hiding his face behind the traditional veil. (With its concerns about a young American being arrested and imprisoned in Turkey along with his smoking drugs, one might almost imagine this was the precursor to Midnight Express of 1978).

      Murana reappears to check on him, he thanking her for her help. When he pleads to see her face he is stunned by her beauty and begs her to escape with him so that they might marry, an odd marriage proposal given that he is dressed in female garb.

       The daughter tells him she cannot join him but perhaps will meet him some time in the future, presenting him with a flower, he, in turn, gifting her with his calling card on which is printed his address so that if she ever reaches the US she know where to find him. They kiss and he escapes.

        A year later Jack and his mother, back in the US, are standing in the living room when the Pasha’s daughter, now dressed in western clothing, is ushered in, she telling him that since she has now arrived in the new world, she is ready to marry.

        He is intrigued, but doesn’t quite recognize the beauty, and she turns as if to leave, looking back toward him for a moment as holds up the lace overlay of her dress to mask the lower part of her face. Suddenly he realizes it is Murana and rushes to embrace her, introducing her to his mother who apparently has heard a great deal about the young woman he met in Turkey.

       At least to this “reader” of the film, his inability to recognize her, despite the fact that she previously revealed her face, suggests that he is more interested in the erotic allure of the woman than the actual flesh and bones being. It appears that the veil that once saved him is what attracted the young Jack to the Pasha’s daughter as well. If you read this as a coded message—and I don’t believe it was intended to be one—you might argue that Jack appears to prefer things that hidden to what is openly revealed.

      This film survives in the archives of The Museum of Modern Art in New York city.

Los Angeles, April 28, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (April 2021).

Constantine Giannaris | Caught Looking

windows shopping

by Douglas Messerli

Paul Hallam (screenwriter), Constantine Giannaris Caught Looking / 1991

What Francis Savel did at the beginning of the 1980s for the generations before him, deconstructing images of gay desire in his Équation à un inconnu (Equation to an Unknown) (1980), so Greek-born Constantine Giannaris accomplishes anew in the 35-minute short Caught Looking (1991), but this time with an even greater sense of historicism.

     Giannaris’ brilliant introduction, before the existence of computer “chat rooms” and Grindr, to a computer game, “Caught Looking,” allows his character to stroll down the strange memory lane of gay porn genres to see if from the past that he might be able to discover a man of his dreams with whom—in what even describes as an a quaintly “old fashioned” idea—he might fall in love. After all, isn’t that really what porn is truly about, not just a series of images that provide sexual release but figures  in a suitable landscape that meet up with the fantasies of the viewer / voyeur?

       That is, at least, how the central character of Giannaris’ clever and quite breathtakingly filmed work named the Voyeur whose name is Stephen Hunter (Louis Selwyn) sees it. The game is not about finding someone to have sex with and doing it, but to find through fantasy a true imaginary love. In a strange way, Giannaris’ view of porn brings it closer to role played by romantic novels for generations of young girls and adult mothers.

      And, particularly for an active gay male, knowing the genres and having even participated in the sexual milieu of the games’ fantasy heroes is important in the same way that an adult heterosexual male applies his high school memories of the sport in playing Fantasy Football.  

       In the process, with his self-mocking commentary, Stephen takes us also through a simulacrum of gay filmmaking from Victorian fantasies, Jean Genet-like bordellos of the late 50s and 1960s, innocent musclemen physique works of the mid 50s-60s, and the gritty toilet (or in Britain “cottage”) scene of the 1970s-80s, to contemporary times, planting us down into the pay-for-sex loneliness of the 1990s and the early years of the Millennium.

       In that sense Caught Looking is perhaps a bit too programmatic. Although presented slightly out of chronological order, one almost knows—if one has been at all active in the gay sexual world over the past several decades—what is coming next and how those sexual figures will engage. Had Alfred Kinsey had such a film available, it might have saved him years of research time and energy.

      Once we have gotten the game’s rules out of the way, the film plops us down immediately on the streets of British imagination—and this work is very much from the viewpoint of the English— US, German, French, South American, and Asian viewpoints would have taken us in several different directions; leather, western, and S & M genres are primarily ignored, for example—where two sailors (Grant Cottrell and Johnny Johnny) have just arrived in town. Immediately, the besuited surrogate for the viewer, looking at bit as Stephen comments like Dirk Bogarde in Death in Venice, enters the screen to follow them to a harbor bordello where he pays for the sailors’ overnight room.

       There are also encounters with other Genet-like figures, the “dirty” street boy, “exotic” blacks, a tattooed trade figure, and a “pretty boy in tears” writing a letter (“to whom?” the narrator inquires: “His lover, his mother?”), the latter being the closest we get to a “coming out” story. A couple of men (Paul Spencer Dobson and Anthony Melon) are already in bed engaged in sex, enticing presumably those who like threesomes, which our Voyeur apparently doesn’t. A young black kid, Michel Compton (Michael Cox), catches his eye. Clicking on a key that evidently provides a brief interactive biography of the selected figure, the Voyeur discovers that the kid is 20 going on 17, a “chicken” too young and dangerous for his delectation.

        Besides he’s on the prowl or what gay men describe as “cruising” before making “decisions, decisions.” The next “room” is a toilet or a British “cottage” where the action is nonetheless universal, filled as it always is with “city boys, casual laborers, truckers (a nod the narrator says to US porno), Disco Dollies, boys on the dole, and one young college kid who reminds the Voyeur  too much of youthful self. Although intrigued by and slightly nostalgic about the pissoir action, he finds the mustachioed tough too quick to action, unable to savor the slow seduction of the college kid he entices. Of course, he might have noted the hurry of such places is partly imposed by the regular surveillance of the police, who he suggests have closed down most, but not all, cottage action. And later, when Stephen returns to the toilet to watch the surrogate besuited businessman catch the action through the viewpoint of a tiny glory peep-hole, we hear the pounding feet of the local copper doing his closet inspections.

     The third room represents a trip back in the time to the 1950s physique magazine shoot, the ridiculously refined cinematographer desperately attempting to edify the humps of the perfect symmetry of  rectangular curves packed up in posing straps with the knowledge of the Greeks and Romans. As the Voyeur perceives, it was an absurd exercise in frustration for those queens who loved the boys without daring to touch, necessitated, he admits, by the recreational hazards of blackmail and possible imprisonment. So despite his disgust of the Drama Queen’s tears when his two models suddenly pull off their straps and jump upon one another’s bodies, he is somewhat sympathetic. After all, he too is fascinated by one curly haired Greco boy and interviews him only to discover that he’s a surly rebel when it comes to love (“Love’s dead.”)

      After the brief return to the cottage and a swing back to the bordello where his surrogate takes out a camera and films the two sailor boys having sex, after which one of them, grabbing up the wad of cash gently kisses him on the lips, the closest Stephen gets in this film to sex.

      A sudden visit to a Victorian fantasy skit dominated by a transvestite Madame (Ivan Cartwright) is where the Voyeur finds himself attracted to a pretty Tunisian boy named Karim (Sofiene Levert). Our narrator finally determines its time to choose someone with whom he might interact. He pushes the necessary button, but too late; he is “caught looking” without anything to show for it unless he pays for a higher level of virtual interaction next time he visits.

       It’s a sad tale, in the end, demonstrating the isolating reality of porno images and videos. But in its gentle and probing satiric exploration of images of gay desire Caught Looking is also a lovingly filmed summary of where LGBTQ cinema lovers have been and where they may be headed. Fortunately, filmmakers throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s began immediately to search for other images and surrogates of themselves.

Los Angeles, April 28, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (April 2021)







Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Eadweard Muybridge | "various male athletes"

muybridge male nudes

by Douglas Messerli

Eadweard Muybridge (cinematographer) “various male athletes” / 1887

Andrew Toovey (composer and editor) Dutch Dykes (with Eadweard Muybridge moving video) / 2002

In his 1887 collection notebooks, photo albums, and films about 300 male nudes appear, most of these, like his images of women, animals, and nature concerned with locomotion and muscular movement.

     None of these are truly erotic, although some of the male figures are kind handsome and virile and may be perceived as some viewers as homoerotic images, particularly the ones that involve the motion of the male penis.

      I certainly don’t perceive them that way, although among the wrestlers, walkers, sprinters, jumpers, pole vaulters, discus throwers, and others such as the muscular, bald-headed man who climbs and descends stairs who appears to have a rather erect penis; one commentator comments that that model’s name was Bill Bailey. And there is male-to-male skin contact as one handsome young man puts his hands to the back of another as he leaps over him.

     But generally these short “moving pictures” cannot truly be categorized as early LGBTQ movies, but are nonetheless important simply because they represent some of the first portraits of the male nude in motion. 

      Most of these figures are represented in books and in series of photographic images. But the best collation of the films I have seen, which repeat certain images, slow down others, and frame backwards at moments is gathered in British composer Andrew Toovey’s 6 minute short from 2002, Dutch Dykes (with Eadweard Muybridge moving video) named for his orchestral composition that accompanies the images. By presenting the images in this manner, we can more fully perceive just what the cinematographer was attempting to discern, how the body in motion truly looks. And yes, at moments this collation does slightly eroticize the short clips, allowing us, moreover, more carefully to pursue their faces and other body parts.

      If nothing else, the orchestral accompaniment provides the images a sense of comic intensity as we hear in the mostly brass and percussion stutters of sound the more awkward stopping and clumsy motions of the rest of us who cannot match the graceful gestures of the sportsmen depicted.


Los Angeles, April 27, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (April 2021).

Jean-Paul Civeyrac | La vie selon Luc (Life According to Luc)

without rational explanations

by Douglas Messerli

Jean-Paul Civeyrac and Pierre Guillaume (screenwriters), Jean-Paul Civeyrac (director) La vie selon Luc (Life According to Luc) / 1991

Something happened to LGBTQ cinema in the last few years of the 1980s that coalesced into a much more racially and culturally diverse and far darker vision in the early 1990s that came to be described as the New Queer Cinema. A great deal of the shift, quite obviously, had to do with the recognition of how AIDS was killing gay people as early as the mid- and late-1980s movies such as Buddies, No Sad Songs, and An Early Frost of 1985, Parting Glances (1986), and Longtime Companion (1989), all films that established the AIDS genre which would continue as a major cinematic concern throughout the following decade beginning with the grand theatrical summaria, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America  of 1991-1993 (not filmed until 2003).

      But alongside those dark chronicles of the times—and juxtaposed to what we might describe as an intermediate mode of the second wave of what I describe as the C-2 version of “coming out” films (works such as Whitnail & I, Friends Forever, The Two of Us, and What If I’m Gay? of 1987, Clay Farmers, 1988, and Fun Down There, 1989)—were a group of quirky new films revealing a  far more perverted, violent, and awkward representation of LGBTQ relationships. These films might themselves be characterized as the advance guard of the 1990s New Queer Cinema works: Prick Up Your Ears (1987); Apartment Zero, We Think the World of You, (1988); The Comfort of Strangers (1990); and Poison, My Own Private Idaho, and The Adjustor (1991). Beyond AIDS—drugs, prostitution, violence, sickness, and death had embedded themselves into the LGBTQ lexicon in other ways that heralded a shift in gay filmmaking which permanently matured the queer cinema scene.

      One of these early precursors of the films by Cheryl Dunne, Tom Kalin, Gregg Araki, Marlon T. Riggs, and others who would define the new LGBTQ trends was French director Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s 1991 short La vie selon Luc (Life According to Luc).

      In a work of just 14 minutes Civeyrac crowds so many significant possibilities that the film becomes enigmatic, as if a long novel had been shaved down into a story of just of few pages. We can read all the signs but it is nearly impossible to definitively interpret them.

       Perhaps we should begin with what he do know. A young man Luc (Jean Descanvelle) is a good-looking, surly male prostitute, willing to participate in nearly any sexual act including kissing, sucking, fucking. and being fucked and perhaps, for enough money, other things. He hangs out, evidently, mostly at the urban stadium swimming pool and in a dark dance bar, picking up his customers carefully and participating in sex without any protection, about which the first partner we encounter warns him. Luc apparently doesn’t care. Certainly, he doesn’t have much of a life outside of tricking. He sleeps in what appears to be a temporary room in his sister and her husband’s derelict apartment, next door to a squalling newborn. And even that squatter’s-like room appears to be in question, since the first time in the film when he returns to count his money, his sister (Sabine Friess) reports that Ivan, likely her husband, wants his key back.

          From that same visit we also glean that his mother is in the hospital and that the sister and her husband are about to visit her; he refuses to join them, responding to the invitation with “You must be kidding!” He is resentful that he sister seems to be spying on him and has caught him with his precious money box wherein he carefully lines up the French banknotes with which he gets paid.

       We also gather from a man called Serge (Thomas Badek) who demands he paid back for a loan, that Luc has evidently borrowed 10,000. We also know from the scene in which his sister caught him counting this money that he has now earned that amount. But we have no idea why he has borrowed the money  or even if he has any intention of paying it back, although Serge appears to be a terrifying beast who threatens to kill him  if he fails to pay off the debt.

      And there is another wrinkle in the story. It appears that Luc has previously had sex with a customer, Bernard (Alain Payen) who has befriended and possibly fallen in love with the boy. Evidently he has been a regular customer of Luc’s because the prostitute is teased by his peers who  describe Bernard as the boy’s sugar daddy or his “old man.” Clearly, Luc no longer wants anything to do with Bernard, the man nonetheless trying to track him down.

      When he finally meets up with Luc, Bernard tries to tell him he has arranged for a job to permit him to quit his job as a whore, but Luc is still disinterested and attempts to rush away. When Bernard finally pays him, as he would for a sexual encounter, just so that he’ll listen, he finally is able to explain that he has arranged for employment. But Luc argues that it won’t be enough; he can make more in prostitution. What amount do you need, Bernard asks? When Luc names the 10,000 amount his friend tells him to meet him at the Stadium at 11:00 that night. 

      It appears that Bernard is trying to find a way to release Luc from the burden of his sexual activities. But what kind of work might begin at an 11:00 meeting at the Stadium that might pay that kind of money? We can only wonder whether this job involves an even more dangerous activity such as robbery or something worse.

       In any event, Luc has no intention of keeping that appointment and, in fact, when approached again by Serge for payment offers up Bernard as the solution: “You want your money. Bernard’s there. Mess him up and help yourself!”

       After another sexual connection in a room behind the small dance hall, where we gather that the boy is about to be rather brutally fucked, we soon after observe Luc leaving the place, again meeting up with Serge who tells him, “You’ll never recognize your old man now.”

       Luc walks slowly away in a manner which he might imagine represents some sense of sorrow over his betrayal. But frankly, we don’t really know how he feels having so readily sold out the only person who appears to genuinely care about him.

       Luc returns to his room, adds in his new bills, and slowly turns all the banknotes in the proper direction, tapping them carefully together before he closes the tin in which he keeps them and, instead of putting it back into the drawer, hides it under his bed. We now perceive that he must have more in that box than 10,000 and that he will be able to keep it all since Serge has been paid through robbing Bernard of the money he had meant for Luc.

      Luc sits on the bed in the darkening light, finally laying down seemingly pondering the situation. The screen goes black.

       What does he plan to do with the money? We might imagine that he intends to make his escape from the life in which he has imprisoned himself. But we have no evidence that he has made any such decision or that he even wants to escape.

        As for the reason he has borrowed the money in the first place, any answer we might come up with tells us more about ourselves than about Luc. I have concocted a little imaginary plot involving the work’s title, “Life According to Luc,” which resonates for me with the Biblical text of The Gospel According to Luke. The apostle Luke, if you recall, was a physician as well as an artist, which was why the Apostle Luke is the patron saint of doctors and artists. The film’s Luc is certainly no doctor and has no interest in art as far as we can tell. But his mother is ill, in the hospital, and perhaps he has used the borrowed 10,000 to help pay for her medical bills, attempting to repay the loan through prostitution, the only way he might imagine in his poor working-class world to make that kind of money fast.

        But even if that were true, how to reconcile his seeming disdain of his mother and his unnecessary betrayal of Bernard remains an enigma. Luc is not a “good boy at heart” but a desperate man willing to do anything to get what he wants, including selling his own body. And unlike many male prostitutes who often insist that they are not gay and will not engage in kissing, in the few moments in which we observe his sexual activities he seems to enjoy them, quite ready to participate in the passion of the moment. It appears he is not at all suffering from his chosen (or even necessary) profession. Perhaps he has simply been seduced through his own previously innocent involvement in making love to unknown men. But that is 11 possibilities away from any evidence. And we have no logical end or solution to this Luc’s gospel. In a sense we know about as much about this Luc as we do about the gentile, possibly Jewish writer of the Book of Acts and his encounters with Christ, a man who was born possibly in Antioch and lived possibly in Troas near the remains of the ancient Troy.

      About this Luc we know only that he is a male prostitute who has a bit more than 10,000 in banknotes and intends to keep them. Luc is no homosexual hero even if we might imagine him as not being a total villain.   

       As I began this short essay, in this movie something is very different from most previous LGBTQ films we have previously seen. Rational explanations for apparently irrational behavior have disappeared.

Los Angeles, April 26, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (April 2021).