After a long successful run on the film festival circuit, out writer-director Matthew Mishory's feature debut, Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean, is finally coming to Chicago for three screenings.
Mishory's film, which was an honorable mention on my 2012 best LGBT movie list, is playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., Friday, June 7; Saturday, June 8; and again on Tuesday, June 11. Thanks to its eye-catching, gorgeous black-and-white cinematography (punctuated with flickers of Kodachrome color), moody performances, narrative and music score, not to mention its parade of spectacular beefcake, Mishory's movie is a lyrical, fever dream that casts a potent, homoerotic spell.
Mishory's filmwhich artfully blends fact and fancytakes place in the period before James Dean's stratospheric rise to fame. He's played by heartthrob James Preston, who bears a striking resemblance to the late actor and captures Dean's fabled sullen, sexy insolence. After being immortalized in three bona fide classics (Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden and Giant) and dying at the age of 24 in a high-speed car crash, Dean has forever after been the personification of the motto "Live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse." Aside from his physical beauty, Dean's mumbled acting style and disaffected auraboth hallmarks of the Methodhave from the first provided inspiration for the disenfranchised.
Bubbling right under the surface of Dean's persona and performances is the blurring of his sexual identity. Like Brando and Clift, Dean's innate queerness and equal appeal to both straight and gay audiences was and is undeniable. Although this reading might seem fanciful to certain members of Dean's acolytes, it provides inspiration for Mishory, whose movie follows Dean in-between hanging out with friends and lovers while taking acting classes (led by out actor David Pevsner, star of last year's Scrooge & Marley).
But mostly, we follow Dean through a series of imagined sexual encountersmost of them gaywith a bit of rough trade (who takes him from behind before the duo can even make it up the stairs); finally bedding his shy, elegant roommate who nurses a crush on him; and playing S&M games with a has-been starlet who pimps for a predatory agent (yet another partner) whose pool is filled with hunky conquests. By the time the sexed-up Dean tricks with a big-time Hollywood producer (played by Queer As Folk's Robert Gant), he's fully aware of the value of his looks and is ready to make them pay off.
The movie's languorous, cynical tone (there's more than a whiff of film noir here) in which these beautiful specimens loll about, ruminating on the intersection of physical beauty and commerce in Hollywood, is underscored by the film's aforementioned smashing cinematography; use of period, lush romantic standards; and trance-like music score (by Arban Ornelas and Steven Severin, which calls to mind Angelo Badalamenti's scores for David Lynch).
Mishory's film walks the same forlorn street as that of Bruce Weber's 1988 Chet Baker documentary, Let's Get Lost, and shares its palpable fascination for an iconic individual cursed by both beauty and artistic geniusand an equal will to destroy both. For gay audiences, Mishory's movie offers us a delicious differenceBaker was a confirmed heterosexual and gay fantasies about himwhich Weber's movie dangled in front of its audienceremained just that. But Joshua Tree, 1951 lyrically reclaims James Dean as one of our own. www.siskelfilmcenter.org
This just in: James Preston, star of the film, will be present for the Tuesday, June 11, screening. He will sign autographs as well as participate in a post-screening Q&A conducted by yours truly.
Of related interest: For those who can't make one of the three Siskel screenings, Wolfe Video is also releasing the film, with the title switched to A Portrait of James Dean: Joshua Tree, 1951 on DVD. The disc includes Mishory's debut short, an homage to the late queer film auteur Derek Jarman.
Geoffrey S. Fletcher, who was the first Black writer to receive the Oscar for Screenplay Adaptation (for Precious in 2009) has now written and directed his own movie. The picture, a black comedy, is called Violet & Daisy and follows two teenage assassins, besties who revel in their deep friendship and who chatter their squealing enthusiasm for a Katy Perry like singer named Barbie Sunday as they carry out their latest hit (dressed as nuns delivering pizzas).
In order to buy a dress from the singer's new collection for $300, they agree to do one final job. But the target, whose name is Michaelplayed by James Gandolfini in a world-weary, compassionate manneris not their usual criminal target; rather, he's a guy who offers them home-baked cookies and not only listens to their problems but seems to understand them.
As the gals veer back and forth about whether or not to carry out the job of killing Michael, Fletcher gives us the background on all three characters. We learn why Violet (played with expert tartness by Alexis Bledel) is such a toughie; why Daisy (played with her usual sunny sweetness by Saoirse Ronan), who has such an innocent outlook, would resort to becoming a hired killer in the first place; and why Michael doesn't seem particularly bothered about his imminent demise. As the girls and their intended victim talk and talk and talk some more, Fletcher's sorta provocative premisea movie focused on a duo of seemingly innocent, baby-faced teens murdering thugs with their automatic weapons between taking licks on their joint lollypopswears awfully thin and fritters away long before those suckers are finished. Violet & Daisy plays exclusively in Chicago at AMC 600 N. Michigan beginning on Friday, June 7. www.violetanddaisyfilm.com
After a decade of programming the popular lesbian-themed Dyke Delicious series at Chicago Filmmakers, Sharon Zurek of Black Cat Productions is moving on. Her tenure concludes with the Chicago premiere of Lesbiana, A Parallel Revolution, Canadian filmmaker Myriam Fougere's empowering documentary examination of the rise of worldwide rise of lesbian culture throughout the 1980s. A 6 p.m. social hour precedes the 7 p.m. screening at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark St., on Saturday, June 8. http://chicagofilmmakers.org/cf/genre/17
Celebrating Diversitythe free LGBT film series the Chicago Public Library and the Queer Film Society are co-sponsoringcontinues Wed., June 12, at the Humboldt Park branch, 1605 N. Troy St., with a 6 p.m. screening of 2012's lesbian coming-of-age romance Mosquita y Mari. A complimentary drawing for several copies of the film, just out on DVD (courtesy of Wolfe Video), will be held. As president of the QFS, I'll be conducting the post-screening Q&A. www.queerfilmsociety.org