May 24, 2017

L'inconnu du lac / Stranger by the Lake

A film that should make people, who think there is such a thing as the 'gay community', think again. Stranger by the Lake is more a docu-drama than a fiction film, for its setting, feel, action, and atmosphere are ultra-realistic.
One hundred per cent filmed outdoors, with a cast which needed no wardrobe, it had the air of a nature documentary in which David Attenborough stumbles across a pair of gay men getting it on in the bushes, but instead of suavely narrating off-screen, being firmly told by the subjects of his voyeurism to go jerk off elsewhere, like the on-looking wanker was.
The story line is thrillingly Hitchcockian, complete with a shocking murder scene filmed in one take and from a far distance, but without a happy ending or release. But the real story is one of complete callousness and solipsism of all men involved, who have no regard or respect for the murder victim and blithely carry on as nothing had happened. As the main character said: "Life goes on."
Eros and thanatos, sex and death, are closely linked in this film, and not just from the amount of unsafe sex that went on. Having a psychopathic killer who thinks nothing of getting rid of a clinging 'boyfriend' by casually drowning him is one thing, but one that thinks he can get away with multiple murders without any consequences due to the inability and unwillingness of the 'community' present at the lakeside to intervene or co-operate to solve the crimes, is an indictment.
No names are known or mentioned until halfway through the movie, a familiar occurrence when you frequent gay cruising places or venues. I always thought how easy it would be for a murder to be committed at such sites without anyone, even witnesses, knowing anyone's name or business.
The policeman in the film, incidentally the only person fully clothed, had the unenviable task of piecing it all together, and, even more importantly, he is also the Greek chorus commenting on the aspects of cruising culture that many gay men willfully ignore. Being held a mirror to your own culture can be shockingly revealing.
Highly recommended viewing, watch it here: part 1 part 2

February 19, 2017

Alternative Ulster

In 1981, I went to Belfast on holiday. It was a dark November weekend and before boarding the ferry in Stranraer, I was questioned by non-uniform security personnel as to what my motives were to visit there out-of-season, only a month after the hunger strike in the Maze Prison was called off (Bobby Sands had died 6 months earlier). Not an auspicious time to go sightseeing, but I persevered. The atmosphere in the city was as depressing as the season. Checkpoints everywhere and body searches every time you wanted to enter the city centre. The highlight was the local anarchist club in a non-sectarian part of the city, where young people fed up with divisions could enjoy a stress-free night out away from the troubles. I remember feeling relieved to be in a welcoming place of kindness. This Guardian article brought back some great memories.

May 03, 2016

Groundhog Day

Written for my other blog, Fullerswatch.

The golden weather after 18 months of improvements in services on the Waiheke ferry has come to an abrupt end when Explore Ferries decided to pull the plug on its sailings from 8 May. It cited lack of patronage which would not enable them to get through the Winter.
But this simple reason masks a multitude of systemic failures in the Auckland ferry scene, and if they are not remedied we will unlikely see any competing service ever again. This might suit Fullers' shareholders and cashflow very much, but it is an unsatisfactory state of affairs for passengers who can now only look forward to the resumption of the old service attitudes and upped fares. The public transport regulator, AT, is happy to look the other way because it cannot afford to offend Fullers, lest they would need to fund a ferry service themselves and that is the last thing they want to happen.

This blatant favoritism of AT for the incumbent was obvious from the start:
- Explore was forced to dock at Pier 3 - while Pier 2 and Pier 4 were upgraded in no time (for the exclusive use of Fullers).
- At all times AT inspectors were present at Pier 3 to see whether Explore staff made any mistakes. Any passenger reaction and complaints about the conditions Explore had to work under was immediately used as a stick to beat Explore with.
- The ticket booth was miles away from Pier 3 and at Matiatia better hidden than the toilets.
- The exempt service let Fullers double its sailings at short notice and even when they could not meet their own timetable, nothing was or could be done to hold them accountable.
- The extension of the supergold card loot was delayed for over a year, and when Explore offered passage for free in the meantime, nothing was done to make payment retroactive, i.e. make Fullers hand over part of the cash as they did not transport all pensioners as claimed between Auckland and Waiheke.
- Preventing Explore from running a bus service on Waiheke, or even specifying in the Waiheke Bus contract all buses on Waiheke should meet all services, resulting in a useless service to and from Explore sailings (Fullers causing chaos for its own bus services after introducing a half hour service was left unexamined or cared about).

It is now up to politicians at all levels to remedy this market failure and tackle this private monopoly head on with some urgency. The Local Board needs to lobby all players involved to ensure a satisfying outcome for islanders and visitors alike. City Councillors need to seriously look at the dysfunction, incompetence and obvious favouritism at Auckland Transport. National politicians need to abolish the 'exempt status' of Fullers and bring it under the umbrella of the PTOM system, so services can be regulated, in case it remains a monopoly, or tendered for, in case there are other companies interested in providing the service.

August 24, 2015

No sex, but plenty of violence

Mad Max - Fury Road review:
It was strange that in the midst of an environmental disaster and resource wars everybody drives these gas guzzling vehicles. Oil was obviously not in short supply. I suppose the pyrotechnics would have been limited if everybody was on push bikes. Also, there were no non-whites in the cast, as far as I could see under the dusty and pasty faces. Was there any reason for this, apart from appealing to adolescent white males who are into heavy metal culture? And there was no sex, no nudity, no kissing. Just violence. The would-be censors might have to revise the "sex & violence" meme. Plenty of body fluids though - blood, spit, breast milk - but strangely enough, no semen. There was a caesarian birth but the actual scene was not shown - I guess some things were a step too far for its target audience! (The umbilical cord twirling doctor was the obviously token gay character in the film).

October 21, 2013

Sex in the news

Another juicy Australian 'sex scandal' involving their armed forces:

"21-year-old Daniel McDonald, has been linked to another sex scandal. He is expected to face disciplinary measures as the founding member of The Love of my Life, an AFDA football group that made new members perform sexual acts on one another as part of a hazing ritual."

But why that should not be a scandal, let alone an offence, is made clear:

"[...] while McDonald was a founding member of the group, no criminal offence had been committed by the participating males."

The earlier case refers to him showing off to his mates in a heterosexual Skype show:

"Daniel McDonald, now 21, and Dylan Deblaquiere, 20, faced the ACT Supreme Court on Monday for a sentencing hearing over the 2011 sex scandal at Canberra's Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA).
McDonald had sex with a fellow female military recruit in March 2011 and broadcast it live on Skype to Deblaquiere's room where other male cadets watched.
In August, both were found guilty of using a carriage service in an offensive manner and McDonald was also found guilty of committing an act of indecency."

August 10, 2013

An Artful Dodger's musing

First commissioned essay for New Zealand's gay newspaper express.

Do we look at the world – and art – differently because of our sexual orientation?
Imagine, if you will, wandering into an art gallery or museum, not knowing what to expect or see, perhaps enticed by a specially curated exhibition of art you are rather unfamiliar with. It’s something that may occur frequently, especially on travels when you want to see what the locals have made or collected. It happened to me last year when visiting the Auckland Art Gallery’s exhibition of work owned by the National Galleries of Scotland; the appealingly human-scaled Berlin art museums; and the renaissance treasure troves of the Low Countries.
I’m not a huge art connoisseur – I like to be surprised, appalled or seduced by each painting and sculpture that crosses my path through an exhibit, even to the point of ignoring who the artist is or what the work is called. I regard wandering through an art gallery akin to an adventure trail with no set path, signs or finish. A complete open-mindedness when approaching a piece of work has, in my experience, always stood me in good stead and allowed me to be able to enjoy the art – even the disappointments. Contemplating a painting that draws you in, screws your brain and leaves you pleasantly exhausted is almost as good as having mind-blowing sex.
I would like to think that the way art speaks to people is somehow related to their sexuality and sensibility. I love hearing a lesbian’s assessment of a Tom of Finland drawing or a straight man’s eulogy of the female nude in Western painting, then trying to relate those criticisms to my own. On a related but different level, I would hypothesize that many collections around the globe might have contained very different pieces if their investors/collectors had not been gay men or lesbians. And does this mean that my distinct lack of enjoyment of the aforementioned Scottish exhibition, despite its critical acclaim in the local media, is due to my gay sensibility second-rating many of the works? One often knows more about the artist’s inclinations than the critic’s.
For those lucky enough not to have studied for a fine arts degree, like me, there are some excellent art historians and critics around who have produced sterling guiding work for television. Sister Wendy’s roaringly funny and touching reflections on art, particularly religious art, and Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation have both given me the confidence to look at art with all my senses and judging faculties, and being unafraid of going against the received wisdom of the art canon.
On BBC World News, Andrew Graham-Dixon is a leading light when it comes to letting you see art in an unexpected sociological and national historical setting. He did a series on Russian and German art and his take on art in the Low Countries is on the Arts Channel. His previous work included a riveting piece on Caravaggio’s relationship between the artist’s biography and his art, which was especially appealing to a gay guy like me after Derek Jarman’s earlier magisterial and idiosyncratic treatment of Caravaggio’s life. And nothing, of course, beats standing in front of “Christ Expulses the Money Changers Out of the Temple” or “Triumphant Eros” at the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin.

Simon Schama has produced an intensely personal take on artists as varied as Rembrandt, David and Rothko in his Power of Art series on BBC Knowledge, which smacks you round the head with its erudition and often far-fetched theorising. He nevertheless remains enjoyable because the show allows you to talk back afterwards, if you’re keen enough to delve into the subject’s art yourself.
None of those television personalities, as far as I know, are gay. So I am again intrigued whether critics of a different sexual orientation would approach Bernini, Friedrich or Hirst differently.
Re-interpreting imagery, storylines, characters and quotations is what we are really good at. Whole pre-gay liberation movements have devoted their waking hours to appropriating actresses, films and operas, resulting in whole swags of cultural icons and artefacts now being recognised as ‘gay culture’ which every aspiring queen needs to master. The beauty is that this gay subcultural conquest is on-going, even though it is becoming less easy to find material since show business and other visual arts are now actively niche-marketed to us instead of invented by us.
We just like to dance to our own tune and dream the world as we want.