Archive for the ‘Independent Film’ Category

No Straight Lines

February 1, 2023

Outstanding documentary No Straight Lines from PBS’s Independent Lens profiles the past 40 years of Queer Comics from underground to mainstream. Directed by out lesbian filmmaker Vivian Kleinman and based on the book by producer/writer/professor Justin Hall. From PBS,

When Alison Bechdel received a coveted MacArthur Award for her best-selling graphic memoir Fun Home, it heralded the acceptance of LGBTQ+ comics in American culture. From DIY underground comix scene to mainstream acceptance, meet five smart and funny queer comic book artists whose uncensored commentary left no topic untouched and explored art as a tool for social change. Featuring Alison Bechdel, Jennifer Camper, Howard Cruse, Rupert Kinnard, Mary Wings, and other queer comics artists.

The Filmmakers
Vivian Kleiman
Director/Producer Vivian Kleiman is a Peabody Award-winning filmmaker and a Fleishhacker Eureka Fellowship artist. She was the story editor for Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men, and her work with landmark filmmaker Marlon Riggs includes Tongues Untied, among others. She taught at Stanford University’s Graduate Program in Documentary Film.

Justin Hall
Producer Justin Hall edited the Lambda Award-winning, Eisner-nominated No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics and created the comics True Travel Tales, Hard to Swallow. Hall is chair of the MFA in Comics Program at California College of the Arts, the first Fulbright Scholar of comics, and has curated international exhibitions of comics art.

Really worth watching. When you worry that we haven’t made progress over the past 50 years, this puts it all into perspective. Yes, we’re facing book bans and all the horror of “Don’t Say Gay” in Florida and other ignorant states, but we will not be shoved back in the closet. These artists remind us all to use the tools at our disposal to fight back and demand a place at the table. Hey DeSantis – Joe McCarthy died over 60 years ago. Your hatred and bigotry are the last gasps of the patriarchy. Watch No Straight Lines and feel the power. 5 out of 5.

No Straight Lines currently streams on PBS.
Listen to Vivian Kleinman interview on Brad Shreve’s Queer We Are podcast.


January 29, 2023

Caught the gritty, gay indie Urbania from filmmakers Jon Matthews and Philippe Denham about a man who loses his boyfriend to a hate crime and seeks revenge. Based on the play, Urban Folk Tales by Daniel Reitz, the film takes its shape from all sorts of people telling urban legend stories throughout the piece as the protagonist Charlie reveals more and more about that fateful night.  The couple’s played by Dan Futterman and Matt Keeslar. In 2000, gay parts were still being given to straight actors. They both do a good job. It’s just unfortunate that actor’s like Alan Cumming had to be relegated to a tiny part. The first half of the film drags in parts. I remembered loving it 20+ years ago when it was released. In 2023, it meandered a bit until the last act. It’s a good ending from an ok film. I was still so hungry for gay indies even back in 2000, I am sure I rated this higher. Looking at it today, it’s a 3.5. Definitely worth consideration. Hard to believe 2000 looks so long ago especially the fashion and the scenes of NYC.

Neptune Frost

October 19, 2022

I so wanted to adore Neptune Frost, billed as an afrofuturist, science fiction, romantic, musical film. There were some glorious elements to the film. The singing felt indiginous to Rwanda. Make-up and costumes popped seemingly out of nowhere and definitely brought a sci-fi aspect to the film. But the story confused and eventually bored me. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. It felt experimental in places and narrative in others. I wished it had picked a genre. Still I always applaud filmmakers who take risks and look forward to future projects from co-directors Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman. Damn I really wanted to love this one. 2 out of 5.

Neptune Frost currently steams on Kanopy, and is available on disk from your local public library.

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood

October 15, 2022

Based on the 2012 tinsel town tell-all, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (2018) follows Scotty Bowers in his later years (90+) as he reminisces on his post-WWII life acting as a sort of sweet pimp to the stars. The book and documentary have a polarizing effect on the public. There are people who laugh at the absurdity of Scotty telling tales after all these stars are dead and gone. And there are other reasonable people who feel like it has to be true, simply because of the pressure the studio system put on its stars from the 40’s and beyond – they had to have some way of blowing off steam so to speak. Told with frankness and kindness, Scotty comes off as sort of a Mother Teresa of the Hollywood underground sex scene in the second half of the 20th Century. At first, I dismissed Scotty. Then I finally sat down and watched the documentary. There are so many threads of truth – Rock Hudson, Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, I can’t help but think a lot of this must be true, even if it might also be embellished. The oddest part of the reveal was not the Hollywood name dropping. It was the idea that in his 60’s Scotty would marry a woman who had no idea of his past. He never told her about his past. And then when he publishes the book, she wants no part of it. She’s also obviously homophobic in one scene. Why would a man who is gay or fluid or bisexual marry someone who’s not accepting of LGBTQ folk? And why would Scotty keep that part of his life from her, if he indeed celebrated sexuality his entire adult life? He seems so gleeful about sex and his part in helping others, even as he remembers the best times of his life well into his 90’s. In some ways I suppose Scotty embraced the modern definition of the word queer long before this new generation. Whatever you believe or don’t believe, Scotty’s tale is a salacious, saucy story. Lots of fun. None of the sex stories made me cringe. His hoarding in multiple homes really made me cringe. But the truth to his sexcapades whether they are true, false, or what I believe – somewhere gloriously in-between do make you wonder about the rigidity of the Hollywood system, and the people who bought into it to work and become stars. Whatever you believe, there was a lot of hormones pinging. 3.5 out of 5.

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood currently streams on Hulu, Amazon Prime, Vudu, Plex, PlutoTV, Tubi, and The Roku Channel.

Reel Charlie Speaks – Episode 2: HIV AIDS Films

July 25, 2022

It took two months instead of one, but I am publishing the second Reel Charlie Speaks podcast. In Reel Charlie Speaks, I focus on a classic piece of work and discuss what it meant to me when I first discovered it and how it has stood the test of time. Today I reflect upon six HIV AIDS films from my list of the best HIV AIDS Films I’ve compiled over the years.

Read Reel Charlie film reviews on each of the titles discussed in this episode:
Adventures of Felix (currently not streaming in the U.S.)
Before I Forget (currently not streaming in the U.S.)
Blue (streaming on Kanopy)
How to Survive a Plague (streaming on Amazon Prime and SlingTV)
Parting Glances (streaming on Plex, Amazon Prime, and Philo)
Zero Patience (streaming on The Criterion Channel)

See the full list of Reel Charlie’s HIV AIDS films.

Philip Bahr marching in ACT-UP demo. Kennebunkport, Maine. September 1, 1991. Screen grab from the film How to Survive a Plague

Coming up:
August 2022: Coming Out
September 2022: Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City


Christmas in July 2022

July 5, 2022

Here we go. Summer’s blazing in the Northern Hemisphere. Time to crank up the a/c and watch some dreamy holiday movies and television episodes. In 2021, Reel Charlie added two new queer Christmas rom-coms to my list of favorites:

Happiest of Season (lesbian, Hulu)
Single All The Way (gay, Amazon Prime, Hulu)

Check out openly gay, classic film YouTuber Steve Hayes 10 Year Christmas Retrospective (2010-2019). Steve’s shares the best and brightest classic holiday films.

Or peruse Reel Charlie’s classic list of perennial holiday favorites. Click on the links below for Reel Charlie’s favorite holiday reviews:
La Bûche (The Yule Log)
Christmas in Connecticut
Un conte de Noël (A Christmas Tale)
Hollywood, je t’aime (just one scene, but it’s a doozy)
Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas)
Love, Actually
Make the Yuletide Gay
Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special
White Christmas

And don’t forget your favorite television episodes. Reel Charlie favorites include:

The Partridge FamilyDon’t Bring Your Guns to Town, Santa. 17 December 1971. Season 2, Episode 13.
Queer as FolkPreponderance of Death. 30 May 2004. Season 4, Episode 7
Downton AbbeyChristmas at Downton Abbey. 19 February 2012. Season 2, Episode 9.
The West WingNoël. 20 December 2000. Season 2, Episode 10

I cry over nearly every one. Especially The Partridge Family and Queer as Folk.

The Austin Chronicle and Bustle give you a full list of all the Downton Abbey and The West Wing holiday episodes.

Whatever you watch this season, have a little fun with your selections.


Juneteenth 2022

June 19, 2022

Sunday, June 19, 2022 we celebrate Juneteenth. From Britannica,

In 1863, during the American Civil War, Pres. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared more than three million slaves living in the Confederate states to be free. More than two years would pass, however, before the news reached African Americans living in Texas. It was not until Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, that the state’s residents finally learned that slavery had been abolished. The former slaves immediately began to celebrate with prayer, feasting, song, and dance.

Reel Charlie suggests the following feature films and documentaries to commemorate African-American freedom from slavery.

12 Years A Slave
Brother to Brother
Eve’s Bayou
I Am Not Your Negro
Just Mercy
Lackawanna Blues
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Summer of Soul
Tongues Untied
The Watermelon Woman
When They See Us

Fire Island

June 16, 2022

Don’t need to say much about the indie darling Summer 2022 rom-com Fire Island other than WATCH IT! It exceeded all of my expectations. I was hoping it was fun. Check. Sweet. Check. But then it just kept getting better. And better. It’s silly in places, stupid in a few as a nod to the Rom-Com genre. It’s also inclusive and poignant and romantic and full of hope. Writer star Joel Kim Booster hit it out of the park with this delightful distraction from our collapsing democracy. And boy do we need some breaks from that train wreck. Fire Island joins a very small list of sweet, happy, sexy, silly, romantic, hopeful gay male films who dared to take on the Rom-Com genre and turn it out. Simply amazing. 5 out of 5.

Fire Island currently streams on Hulu.

Places to Find Films for Pride 2022

June 3, 2022

Lots of places to discover new as well as classic LGBTQ films this Pride Month.
Here’s just a sampling,

34th Annual Connecticut LGBTQ Film Festival (in-person and virtual) (14 new feature films, 7 new docs)

NewFest Pride: LGBTQ Film and Media (NYC)

Quad Cinema (NYC) Pride Rewind: Queer Cinematic Landmarks & Breakthroughs – an incredible line-up of classic queer films featuring many Reel Charlie favorites.


Rock Hudson’s Home Movies

May 17, 2022

Mark Rappaport’s 1992 documentary, Rock Hudson’s Home Movies combines actor Eric Farr playing a fictionalized version of Hudson who died of AIDS seven years prior to the creation of this film, along with grainy VHS clips from Hudson’s film. The entire project focuses on the gay undertones to most of Rock’s roles. It’s a brilliant, experimental, and easily digestible indie film from the New Queer Cinema movement coming in at at a scant 63 minutes. You won’t quite think of Hudson’s films in the same way after watching Rappaport’s documentary. Criterion remastered the film and released it in 2019 as part of the extras in Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows. Sirk and Hudson collaborated on nine films together. Rappaport wrote on this very subject for Criterion in 2009 in an article titled, The Sirk-Hudson Connection. The film deserves to stand arm-in-arm with Vito Russo’s The Celluloid Closet and the more recent trans visibility release, Disclosure. I wish someone would do a lesbian documentary about lesbian characters in cinema to add to this treasure trove of docs on queer history. Meanwhile, 5 out of 5 for this essential and timeless documentary.

My own History of LBGTQ Film and Television presentation which begins with Vito’s material can be found on YouTube, recorded in 2020 for Triangle Community Center (Norwalk, CT).

Rock Hudson’s Home Movies is available streaming or on disk from Kino Lorber, or from your local public library.

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