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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Knight at the Movies: Dracula Untold; film notes
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times
2014-10-15

This article shared 5634 times since Wed Oct 15, 2014
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How differently would audiences respond to Dracula Untold—Universal's latest attempt to reboot its classic monsters franchise—if the actor playing Dracula was openly gay?

Would it diminish their ability to immerse themselves into the filmmakers attempt to explain the origins of vampire lore that is the basis of the film? Would they ascribe some sort of underlying queer symbolism to Vlad III Tepes' ( aka Dracula's ) propensity for impaling his enemies on wooden spikes?

Would it disgust the teenage guys the movie was made for when Vlad gets right in the face of Mehmed II, his nemesis ( and former boyhood best friend, played by Dominic Cooper ) as they snarl threats back and forth at each other, inches apart, because Vlad, the ruler of Romania, doesn't want to force 1,000 Romanian boys into forced indenture in the Turkish army—the way he was? Would it make straight folks feel sick to their stomachs as they watch Vlad disrobe and slip into a hot bath ( displaying his spectacular six-pack abs in the process ) before proceeding to make hot, sweaty love to his wife because they know the actor is gay in real life and is play-acting all that passion?

Further, would people ferret out a gay subtext between Vlad and the ancient sorcerer/granddaddy vampire ( Charles Dance ) when Vlad dares to go to the old guy's cave ( because he's so desperate to fight off the advancing Turks ) and gladly sucks the vampire's blood that fills him with enormous powers and in three days hence will make him a bloodsucker, too? Would dudes cringe in horror when Vlad subsequently is shown to be the baddest badass in all of Romania as he takes out practically the entire Turkish army singlehandedly because this kind of behavior can't be convincing when performed by an actor who likes to get with other guys in his off time?

Would it make people wonder what's really going on when Vlad once again attempts to make sexy times with his wife but this time can't? And what about those impeccable British accents that the Romanian characters and the old, powerful demon sport? Do they talk like that because the lead actor and his fellow thespians are, shall we say, a "little light in the loafers" when the cameras are turned off? How about that weird, Renfield-like character who follows Vlad around the battle field, begging to be his slave, looking at him adoringly and calling him "master?" Is that some kind of twist on a same-sex relationship because the actor playing Vlad is a homo the second he steps off the set? OMG—what if the actor playing Renfield is one of them, too?! What kind of gay shit is this Dracula Untold, anyway?!!!

More questions: Would it have made a difference to moviegoers if the mostly critical drubbing this lavish and rather stylish movie with its sometimes diverting, sometimes silly set pieces ( though the action scenes are not among them ) has gotten if the criticism included the fact that the leading man was played by an openly queer one? Do we look at the myriad of action pictures Rock Hudson made—most of them efficient, by-the-numbers and not particularly memorable ( just like Dracula Untold )—any differently because we know in hindsight that he likes men? If John Travolta really is "that way" and one day decides to come out, will it change how audiences perceive any of his interchangeable action movies ( Broken Arrow, anyone )? How about Tom Cruise and Oblivion? Or Channing Tatum and White House Down? Hugh Jackman and one of those X Men pictures? Or any of the interchangeable movies of any of the action stars that are constantly tagged with gay rumors?

Would the coming-out of an action star have the ability to make these okay, not great big-budget pictures ( like this one ) better? Of course not. So the overriding thought has to be that the kerfuffle that would attend such a revelation would kill the mega movie's box office chances and that's the biggest no-no of all. Let's remember: These are products first, movies second—and commerce always trumps art in Hollywood.

Those are just a few of the things I pondered as I watched Dracula Untold. It's what I have wondered about many times before. But with Luke Evans, who plays Vlad/Dracula, there's a very important difference because here we have an actor who was out ( according to an interview he gave to the Advocate in 2002 ) with a hugely successful London stage career and who apparently has willingly gone back into the closet. Why would Evans agree to this? Was he told that if he wanted to be a big action star in movies there's no way to be out about his sexuality? Are the perks, the fabled riches of celebrity so fantastic? Is the brass ring of movie stardom so tantalizing that going back into the closet seemed like a small price to pay in exchange for its benefits?

We can't know beyond such speculation why Evans has made this choice and certainly, many actors before Evans arrived in movies in 2009 made the same one. Yet, only five years later, it seems there has been a cultural sea change. As resistance to same-sex marriage is crumbling across the nation; as Transparent, the United States' most buzzed-about TV show ( which isn't even on TV ) breaks new ground by centering on a transgender character; and when there are queer stars in music, literature, on stage, in galleries, in every place but at the local Cineplex, isn't it time for this kind of nonsense to just be over already?

Note: There's a reason to be cautiously optimistic that this will soon be a non-issue. In an Oct. 9 interview with Women's Wear Daily publicizing Dracula Untold, Evans tacitly acknowledged his sexuality when he told the interviewer who asked him ( in so many words ) whether he was setting a new precedent as an openly gay action star: "It's good for people to look at me and think this guy is doing his thing and enjoying what he's doing and successful at it and living his life. And that's what I'm doing and I'm very happy."

Film notes:

—After an acclaimed run on the LGBT film-fest circuit ( including a Chicago debut here at 2013's Reeling ) the documentary Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption, from co-directors Nic Arnzen and James Brandon ( who also stars ), is just out on both VOD and DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures. The movie follows a troupe of actors performing Terrence McNally's gay Jesus play Corpus Christi and the controversy that followed the production as it toured around the world for five years. http://bgpics.com/index.php/template-styles/new-releases/item/255-corpus-christi

—Get your scare on: Horror-movie event planner Rusty Nails is back with another edition of The Massacre, the annual 24-hour movie marathon. From noon on Saturday, Oct. 18, through Sunday, Oct. 19, the Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave., will screen a gamut of creepy movies—everything from the rarely screened Vincent Price classic The Haunted Palace to more obscure fare like The Town That Dreaded Sundown and Dario Argento's Tenebrae.

Special guests include Chopping Mall director Jim Wynorski and Deadly Spawn director Doug McKeown. There will be vendor tables, free haunted ghost bus rides from various Chicago haunts ( love that ) and live music by The Marshmallow Ghosts. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Vital Bridges. http://www.theportagetheater.com/event/668779-massacre-24-hours-horror-chicago/

—Alexis is a documentary portrait in the making by and about transgender activist Alexis Martinez. Chopin Theater, 1543 W. Division St., in collaboration with Contexture TV, will present a fundraiser for the documentary on Tuesday, Oct., 7-10 p.m. The evening will be hosted by teacher and visual artist Nic Kay, with Owen Daniel-McCarter, attorney and founder of the Transformative Justice Law Project in Chicago, co-hosting. The event will consist of a reception, concept trailer, 10-minute stage presentation, and words from both Martinez and a representative from Project Fierce Chicago. www.AlexisDoc.splashthat.com

—We're into the second week of the Chicago International Film Festival, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a plethora of screenings at the AMC River East, 322 E. Illinois St. There are three more queer-themed films in the lineup to anticipate, which are: The Third One ( an Argentinian film ) which is a sexually explicit exploration of a gay male three-way that perhaps leads to more ( screening 10/15, 18, 20 ). There are also Futuro Beach ( from Brazil/Germany ), which centers on a heated romance between a lifeguard and an ex-soldier ( screening 10/19, 21 ); and Summer ( from the Netherlands ), in which a small-town girl falls hard for a leather-clad biker chick ( screening 10/19, 21, 22 ). Closing-night feature Wild—from Dallas Buyer's Club director Jean-Marc Valle and which stars Reese Witherspoon—has drawn plenty of awards buzz and is also worthy of attention ( screening 10/23 ). Complete second week titles, times, and advance tickets at www.chicagofilmfestival.com

Now available: The Best of Knight at the Movies: 2004-2014—a compilation book of more than 150 of my film reviews from a queer perspective for Windy City Times—is now available. www.knightatthemovies.com


This article shared 5634 times since Wed Oct 15, 2014
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