Half Nelson: A Review Tuesday, Apr 3 2007 

This past weekend PJ and I finally saw Half Nelson, starring Ryan Gosling as an inner-city junior high school teacher with a bit of a drug habit. If I had the time and inclination, I would go back and revise my list of my favorite films of 2006, because this movie is now one of them. Gosling is mesmerizing, and the film is generally excellent.

The film is about Gosling’s character, Dan, and his struggle to make a difference in his students’ lives. As he says at one point, if he can just change one of their lives for the better, his job will be worth it. He soon singles out one particular student, Drey, played by Shareeka Epps. She’s clearly special, and she’s very much at risk: her single mom works long hours as an EMT to make ends meet, her brother is serving time for a drug conviction, and her brother’s former “employer” is trying to get her to start selling in her brother’s place.

One of the major obstacles standing in his way, of course, is his addiction. I like that the film depicts Dan as someone who is out of control, suffers consequences for his actions, and yet still manages to show up most days to teach his classes and coach the junior high girls basketball team. He’s a functioning addict who hangs perilously close to total destruction. In a lesser film, Dan would totter over the edge, but this film has other interests. It’s not a study in how drugs are bad. They are, and the film lets us see this, but the point lies elsewhere.

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Gay Sex in the 70s: A Review Monday, Apr 2 2007 

Today in class I showed the documentary Gay Sex in the 70s. It’s a great, if pretty graphic, documentary about gay male sex in New York City in the 1970s. It combines images from the 1970s — private photos, clips from films (porn and non-porn), etc — and interviews with men (and one woman) who lived through the gay 70s NYC scene. Here’s a clip/trailer:

I really like this documentary. What I love most about it is its putting a face to the 70s. While I lived through them, I was a just a babe then, and none of my students were even born in that decade, so we need a human face, a mediator, to explain what it was like to be there. A short film that I sometimes show my class is about a gay guy in the 90s who is magically transported back to the 70s every time he puts on a pair of shoes handed down to him from a friend (his uncle?) who died of AIDS. These shoes allow him to come out of his shell and “get to know” the guy he has a crush on. For me, this short gets to my generation’s complex feelings about the 70s. Some of us are jealous of the “free love” and liberation of that time period, but we’re also conflicted about it since we know what comes afterwards. “We” yearn for the sense of community that this period aspired to, but we also know that this community was ultimately forged through great suffering and death.

Gay Sex in the 70s captures the joy and brotherhood of the gay community in the 70s as well as the coming pain and death of the 80s. It shows us the idealism, the naiveté, and the downsides of this culture. And I like that it sets my class up for reading Larry Kramer’s Faggots, one of my favorite books to teach.

Gay Sex in the 70sEvery time I see this documentary, I’m also reminded just how sexy the 70s were! To the left is a picture from the documentary’s press packet. The 70s look is just hot.The short shorts. The tight bodies that aren’t overly worked out at the gym, but rather have a more natural muscularity. The jeans. The mustaches. Crew socks. Shaggy hair. Maybe I just have some sort of irrational affection for the 70s look left over from my budding gay childhood or something, but I definitely think it’s THE hottest look. This documentary is, of course, full of images of 70s men — what’s not to love?!

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Playing it Straight Sunday, Apr 1 2007 

PJ and I have been watching a marathon of Fox’s Playing it Straight on t.v. today. This reality series puts a young woman named Jackie on a ranch with 14 men. She initially thinks it’s a straight up (pun intended) dating show like The Bachelor (this year’s bachelor is totally HOT, but I won’t watch that show regardless), but she soon learns that some of the men are gay. If she ends up with a gay guy at the end of the series, he gets $1 million; if she selects a straight guy, they split the million.

These kinds of reality shows (Gay, Straight, or Taken is another one) really anger me. While many of the gay contestants who are on these shows claim that they’re doing it to prove that gay people are everywhere and you can’t always tell who’s gay and who’s straight, it’s nevertheless bad for gay people, in my opinion.

First, it’s the gay men who are depicted as playing the game just to get the money. We’re the greedy ones. Of course the straight men are also playing for money, but they’re consistently discussed as in it for the potential relationship and not just the cash. (PJ just told me that one of the straight men just confessed that he’s in it for the cash, but I still don’t think that’s how the show depicts the straight men overall.)

Furthermore, it’s the gay men playing straight that are the liars and deceivers; they’re the ones who have to apologize when they’re kicked off for hurting the woman by lying to her, for just wanting the cash.

And finally, it really bugs me that these shows force gay men back into the closet, even if just temporarily. The guy who got kicked off the episode of Playing it Straight that was just on had a departure confessional in which he explains that he’s glad he got kicked off because he didn’t like lying to Jackie’s face and he has a boyfriend with whom he’s in love. It bothers me that these shows force the gay men to deny their partners/boyfriends just like society at large has forced these denials for so long. At least pick single gay men to be on the dating reality show. (One of the gay guys just made the comparison to being in the closet and how uncomfortable he was going back in for the show. But just because the contestants see my complaints too doesn’t mean that the complaints aren’t legitimate.)

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