The Cult of JT LeRoy

The Cult of JT LeRoy

My friend and I both laughed out loud when we saw Rufus Wainwright appearing on stage reading from one books by J.T. LeRoy. In the documentary, “The Cult of JT LeRoy” (which we saw last night at the “Antenna Documentary Film Festival” in Sydney) we had already seen Sandra Bernhard, Carrie Fisher, Susan Dey (Patridge Family) and many, many other celebrities extol the virtues of the books written by the young author. “Madonna was really into it too”, my friend whispered in my ear. With the value of hindsight it was just so incredibly/typically “Rufus” that he would have been one of the celebrities who got caught up in the “cult”.

Although I don’t remember it myself, there was a time in the late 90s/early 00s, when JT Leroy enjoyed cult status, thanks to books like “Sarah” and “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things”. That JT was a teenager who was abandoned by his mother, had led a life of drug addiction and prostitution and was HIV positive, added to the story and made the works seem even more remarkable.

But about a decade ago, it was revealed JT was none of the above, and was actually was a middle-aged woman called, Laura Albert. Over several years, she and her partner (and his sister who played the public role of JT) undertook an elaborate and complex hoax. The hoax had multiple layers, bordering on the obsessive, and was perhaps symptomatic of a deeper issue of multiple-personalities. For example, at one stage, Laura pretended to be Swedish and even “invented” a cancer diagnosis for her “character”. The film also reveals Laura (as JT) spoke to a counsellor about the problems “he” had from “his” life. Remarkably, the counsellor continues to speak to Laura (as Laura) who has her own set of “issues”.

Though all of the story above sounds really complicated, the story is told simply, with a compelling narrative all the way throughout. We both enjoyed it very much. Highly recommended.

Fan Popo - New Beijing New Marriage

Stockholm Pride – Chinese Queer Film

Sadly, my “Swedish” is not sophisticated enough to understand the complexities of some of the discussions you might encounter at an event like Stockholm Pride. While it won’t be too much of an issue at events like the Schlagerkväll (the pop music night), I’m still very interested in going to talks and events, especially since Stockholm Pride usually has a very “global” outlook. I remember a few years ago there was a talk given about LGBTQI rights in Australia, for example. So I spent half an hour or so on the weekend scouring the program for events and talks that were likely to be in English.

The first event I came across was not only in English, it was also an issue which I have a really strong personal interest in. The event, “Rainbow in the night: Chinese queer film making” was a forty minute talk by a 30-something film-maker from Beijing called Fan Popo.

He began the event by screening about ten minutes of a documentary film, “New Beijing, New Marriage”, he made about gay and lesbian weddings in Beijing and the public reaction to them. Within twenty seconds, I realised I’d seen the film before, two years ago, as part of the exhibition “Secret Love” at the Östasiatiska museet (East Asian Art Museum) on Skeppsholmen, here in Stockholm. It was lovely to be “taken back” and to remember that wonderful exhibition which I wrote about at the time:

One of the most impressive works for me is a four panel work called “Hello Comrades” which one the surface, purports to show just lots of faces involved involved in similar pursuits including construction, the military, and playing ping-pong. When you look more closely, however, there are obviously homosexual images. The same “hidden” depiction is also found in a series of paper cuts in a dark room which only become apparent when light is shined on them. Most memorably, there’s a video work which depicts a demonstration of and public reaction to same sex couples seeking to be married.

Fan Popo then went on to talk about some of the other documentaries he has made. “Most people like to see documentaries at the moment, because they want stories about real people”, he explained to the audience of maybe 60 people, when asked the question about making documentaries versus fiction.

I was the first person to ask a question. “Having heard so much about your experiences in Beijing, can you explain what it’s like in Shanghai and other places?”, I asked. He explained that because Beijing is the seat of political power, that’s where most of the LGBTQI activist groups are based. “I had a boyfriend in Shanghai so I know a bit about life there too”, he explained, saying the scene in Shanghai is far more “commercial”. He went on to say he hoped Shanghai might become a little more “activist”.

There were also questions about what life was like outside the larger centres, about distributing information via social media, and the degree to which trans people are recognised in China, and portrayed in films.

The talk was really interesting and well appreciated, and he spoke about his life and work with both a passion and a wonderful sense of humour.

Swedish parliament

Fyra år till – Four more years

Having seen Au Pair, Kansas the other day and all of its faux Swedish-ness, it was great to see a real Swedish film, as part of the Mardi Gras Film Festival.

“Fyra år till” (Four More Years) tells the story of two Swedish male politicians with contrasting lives and viewpoints who fall in love. From the right-leaning Folkpartiet, there is David who is thought of as a potential future Swedish Prime Minister. From the left-leaing, Socialdemokraterna there is Martin who also has a bright future ahead of him as Party Chairman. The contrasts between the two are further emphasised by the fact that Martin is completely out as a gay man, while David is a fairly closeted man who is actually married to a woman. She knows he is gay, but doesn’t seem to mind, since they have politics as a common interest.

It’s a classic love story in many ways, as you see the two come together, fall apart, and all the while you’re hoping they’ll end up together by the end of the film.

It was a good film which my friend and I both enjoyed very much, particularly with all of the very specific Swedish cultural references which we both laughed out loud to, but which may have gone slightly over the heads of a few of those attending.

At one point, for example, David asks Martin how many men he has slept with. Although I can’t remember the exact wording of his very funny answer, he replies by equating the figure to the number of seats held by the different political parties in the Swedish parliament. It would be like saying, more than the Greens, but not as much as the National Party (or something like that).

There’s also an ongoing reference to the 1980s/1990s Swedish pop band, Ratata. I guess the closest equivalent would be Savage Garden. Ratata and Mauro (the lead singer) provide the soundtrack to the film, which was enjoyable, as I like their work very much.

One of the really terrific things about the film was the role of David was played by Björn Kjellman. He’s one of Sweden’s best known actors, and who I first became familiar with from his role as a transexual in the film, Livet är en schlager (Life is a pop song), which was a wonderful film about an “ordinary” woman who wins the the Melodifestivalen, the Swedish finals which lead to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Björn has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Melodifestivalen, and was actually a contestant in 2006. I think he and I could become good friends.

A little bit of Sweden (and Norway) at the Mardi Gras Film Festival

Au pair, Kansas
Au pair, Kansas

The opening scenes to “Au pair, Kansas” feature a forty-ish woman and her two teenage sons standing at the airport of a small Mid-West American town holding up a Swedish flag. My friends and I all laughed out loud, because we knew the character they were meeting was actually supposed to be Norwegian. D’oh.

The mother is played by Traci Lords, who everyone these days seems to remember from her teenage porn-star years, and yet I’m more familiar with her role on Melrose Place. The character she plays is a widow. Her husband died recently from skin cancer, and with a bunch of secrets I won’t reveal here, as that would spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it. With a bison farm and two sons, she advertises for male au pair. Deep down, perhaps, she is also looking to find a new partner?

That’s where the character of Oddmund comes in. He’s a soccer-obsessed thirty-something from Norway. She assumes he is gay, because, as a friend tell her “all au pairs are gay”. But he’s not.

The character of Oddmund is played by Håvard Lilleheie. I’ve never heard of him before, though he’s well known in Norway as a comedian and actor. He is on the Norwegian version of the well-known American TV show, “The Man Show”. A bit of googling reveals he often gets his clothes off, which is not necessarily a bad thing :) At times I struggled with this role simply because of his accent. There’s a little bit of the “dumb foreigner” in the role, and even though he’s Norwegian, it sometimes sounded like he was putting on a very bad Norwegian accent.

The film is set in the Mid-West which was heavily settled by the Swedes. Wikipedia reveals during the Swedish imigration to the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries, about 1.3 million Swedes left Sweden for the United States. That would have been maybe 25-30% of the population. The dominance of Swedish culture in the area is evident in a couple of scenes, including a Lucia Ceremony, a Swedish dance, a Dala horse, and even in the local football team being called “The Vikings”. There were quite a few occasions when my friends and I laughed out loud at some of these references, and also in some of the stereotypes which Norwegians and Swedes use to describe each other.

“We shot the film in just eighteen days”, the director told us at the end of tonight’s screening at Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival. In part, that explains why sometimes the acting is a little clunky. “Do you play soccer?”, the Traci Lord character asks her potential boyfriend, to which he replies, “I play soccer like you play neurotic”. Telling.

The actors who play the sons, Spencer Daniels as Atticus (he was in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and Kendall Ryan Sanders as Beau a both very good in their roles, displaying maturity in their very complex roles. There’s a suggestion the younger son, maybe 12 years old, is actually gay, a suggestion confirmed by the director at tonight’s screening, confirming the role is based in some ways on his own life.

Still, “The film’s not gay enough for some festivals”, he told us. “But when it plays in the mid-west, they really understand it”. We “got it” in Sydney, too.

As we left the cinema tonight there was a large crowd lining up to see another little bit of Sweden at this year’s festival. It’s a film called, Fyra år till (Four More Years) which we’re going to see on Tuesday night. It’s about what happens when one of Sweden’s most popular politicians, destined to be a future Prime Minister falls in love with another man.

Scene from Weekend

Long Weekend

Voltaren - The Wonder Drug
Voltaren - The Wonder Drug

I had a long weekend. I took some seriously good drugs and I didn’t go to work. The drugs were, in order, Cephalexin, Panadol and, best of all, Voltaren Rapid. Oh my goodness, that has got to be the best drug ever.

The pain relief was necessary to deal with the sebaceous cyst I have on my back. Well, I’ve had it for several years actually. A white lump of puss or something gross, wrapped up in a little sack is how it’s generally described on the internet.

The advice from doctors throughout the years has always been, “you could get it removed if you want, or not worry about it, unless, of course it becomes infected”. Well, guess what? In the last week or so, it has become infected, and I’ve been in a state of discomfort since about last Wednesday, and in quite serious pain since last Friday.

On Saturday morning I went to my local doctor whose reaction was simple and straightforward. “Shit”, he said, “we’ll have to get you to a surgeon”. It gets complicated, apparently, because it’s close to my spine. He quickly booked me in to see a surgeon on Wednesday for an initial consultation, ahead of surgery. He also prescribed a dose of antibiotics.

I woke this morning still in a fair bit of pain, but decided to head into work anyway. About half way to work I decided I would stop trying to be a martyr, and so went back to the doctor who prescribed some serious pain relief.

I slept most of the day, which is understandable given the standard of daytime television. Oh my goodness, how bad is it? Thank goodness for Joe O’Brien and the team from ABC News 24 who kept me entertained and informed.

By late afternoon the drugs had well and truly kicked in, and so I decided to go ahead with my plan to meet Colin to see the movie, “Weekend” showing at The Chauvel.

Scene from Weekend
Scene from Weekend

In short, it’s a film about two blokes who meet at a club, come home, have sex, and spend a really intimate weekend together. By intimate, I don’t just mean in a sexual manner. I mean they really start to get to know each other, and maybe even fall a little bit in love.

One of them, however, declares emphatically he doesn’t want a relationship (possibly due to a broken heart, though he won’t admit it), while the other probably finds falling in love difficult, because he doesn’t really feel all that comfortable in his skin about being gay. (I’m guy #1).

It’s an English film, so it doesn’t get caught up in the sentimentality you might expect from a film from the United States for example. It’s also genuinely funny in parts and a few of the lines from the film genuinely gave me a few laughs. The two actors who play the lead characters are both believable. They’re also both very cute, with one bearing a resemblance to Marcus Graham. I think I’d like to see it again when it comes out on DVD.

Meanwhile, I’m back at home in a drug-induced haze :)


Absolute Beginners


For several hours I’ve been trying to figure out why I liked, but didn’t love the film “Beginners”.

I first noticed the film a few weeks ago when I was visiting Sweden. The plot-line intrigued me: the story of a relationship between a father and a son, where the father had made the decision to “come out” in his 70s after the death of his wife. In addition, the film had the plot-line of the death of both parents in quick succession, a theme which I also understand very well. And on top of that, it featured Ewan Macgregor who I like very much as an actor, as he always seems to choose interesting, complex films in which to appear.

Further, a few colleagues had told me how much they’d enjoyed seeing the film. In particular, one colleague, incidentally a lesbian, who had told me she was expecting some kind of “coming out film” but that it was more than that. “Almost an art film”, she went on to say, describing the non-linear way in which the story was told.

“On paper, I should have really liked the film”, I’ve thought to myself several times in the hours since seeing it, but for some reason it just didn’t “work” for me.

That said, there were moments in the film when I was genuinely moved. There were times when I felt genuinely sad, and even cried, as I watched the film. The sadness tended to revolve around particular scenes and themes around relationships and death.

I thought the performance by Christopher Plummer was brilliant. He was completely believable. I also thought the role of the mother was an interesting one. Although somewhat of a character on the periphery to the plot in some ways, and almost a cliche at points in the film, I genuinely had the sense of her as a rounded, complex human being.

Sadly, I think the problem was with Ewan. The conclusion I’ve come to about why I liked, but didn’t love the film, was a feeling that he was holding back. Although I totally understand that he was portraying someone in the midst of deep grief, trying to make sense of his life, and trying to find a way forward, I just didn’t believe him.

Further, I didn’t quite understand why he was the central character in the film, as I thought both the father and the mother had more interesting stories to be told and understood. As a character, I thought his reaction to the death of his mother, the coming out story of his father, and the death of his father, was sadly, rather somewhat intellectual. Although he cried at one point during the film, I just didn’t quite “believe” his reactions.

The film explored some complex issues. In particular, the differences (and similarities) between love and relationships between the parents and the son which were interesting. There’s a wonderful line about how the parents just got on with life, whereas he had time to “indulge himself” in sadness. But at the end of the day, I was left feeling “get over it, Ewan”.

I’d like to see the film made again from the perspective of the relationship between the mother and the father. I think theirs was a more interesting story to tell and to be understood. In particular, how they went into a relationship and a marriage knowing the husband was gay, and yet managed to stay married for 44 years. I think it’s a far more complex story than a simple “marriage of convenience” or a “marriage of the 50s”.

That it was, instead, the response of the son to the story, a character who I didn’t really care much about, was probably the reason why I liked, but didn’t love the film. “Stop being so selfishly indulgent”, I kept thinking to myself of the character played by Ewan.