St. Louis International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival

A schedule and capsule reviews of the fest's offerings

9:15 p.m.: The Velocity of Gary* (*Not His Real Name). Dan Ireland. U.S., 1998, 102 min. Ireland's impressive debut feature, The Whole Wide World, died quietly at the box office despite making many a critic's 10-best list for 1996. His follow-up, The Velocity of Gary, may suffer the same fate, given its modest budget and a storyline focused on male bisexuality. That would be a shame, because the film has much to recommend it despite a sometimes stagy air traceable to its origins as a solo theater piece. Vincent D'Onofrio plays Valentino, a charismatic porn star who presides over a motley miscellany of beautiful losers — girlfriend Mary Carmen (Salma Hayek), boyfriend Gary (Thomas Jane) and various drag queens and porn-star parasites. When Valentino becomes ill with AIDS, these already shaky alliances shift considerably before stabilizing into a semblance of family. A believably bittersweet mood and strong acting drive the film; particularly notable are Hayek, who exudes passion while deftly dodging the "hot Latina" stereotype, and D'Onofrio, who's both powerful and poignant as the world-weary stud. (GM)

11:30 p.m.: Beefcake. Thom Fitzgerald. Canada, 1999, 93 min. A meditation on the golden age of softcore male erotica. With Luc Felt's "Piglet" (Germany, 1998, 3 min.). NR.

Saturday, Sept. 11

12:45 p.m.: The Trio (Das Trio). Hermine Huntgeburth. Germany, 1997, 97 min., in German with English subtitles. One of the more complex and original films of the festival, this German film captures an intriguing portrait of bisexuality. As the film begins, a con artist, his male partner and the con artist's daughter are out making their rather lucrative way pickpocketing. When the partner is injured, a young drifter joins the twosome, with both father and daughter strongly attracted to their new teammate. The ensuing action is both funny and stark, and the film ultimately asks some compelling questions about the conflict between age, family and desire. There is a clarity, intelligence and cheerfulness to the film that never lets it get ridiculous, and the performances are all sharp. Of all the seven films I previewed, The Trio was clearly the most confident and competent. (MI)

2:45 p.m.: After Stonewall. John Scagliotti. U.S., 1999, 88 min. The sequel to the equally well-assembled Before Stonewall, After Stonewall documents the past 30 years of lesbian and gay history — from the infamous Village riot that sparked the movement through Ellen and Anne. Narrated by Melissa Etheridge, After Stonewall takes an appreciative and evenhanded look at each of the following: early gay-civil-rights organizations; disco; San Francisco in the '60s and '70s; gay bathhouses; women's-music festivals; racism and classism within the gay-civil-rights movement; the changing position of lesbians and gays in religion, politics and sports; AIDS; ACT UP; Queer Nation; and lesbian chic. Along the way, we're treated to interviews with lesbian and gay luminaries such as Elizabeth Birch, Larry Kramer, Harry Hay, Jewel Gomez, Barney Frank and Barbara Smith (among many others). Footage of Audre Lorde and Harvey Milk — and even, God help us, some very young Clintons — is truly uplifting. (ML)

4:45 p.m.: Miguel/Michelle. Gil Portes. Philippines, 1998, 110 min., in Filipino with English subtitles. The title of this film gives away its central conceit — boy becomes girl — but that's no matter, because the film is concerned not with the sex change itself but with its emotional effects. When we first meet Miguel (Romnick Sarmenta), he's a young Filipino man headed for America. A few minutes later, seven years have passed, and he returns to his native shores as Michelle, having kept his sex change from his family. They're shocked and ashamed; Michelle is patient, kind and very clear about what she wants — acceptance. The film follows her efforts to obtain it, from her family, friends and native community. Miguel/Michelle is not a particularly complex film, and it's compromised by sentimental music and rocky emotional transitions, but it's a sweet and moving modernization of some age-old conflicts: child/parent, new/old, West/East, boy/girl, etc. It seems that, in these universal matters, the universal emotions prevail. (ML)

7 p.m.: Better Than Chocolate. Anne Wheeler. Canada, 1999, 101 min. Romantic comedy of the most soufflé-light sort is in the offing with this attractive Canadian production about a bookstore clerk named Maggie (Karyn Dwyer), whose affair with a traveling sketch artist (Christina Cox) is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Maggie's flighty, emotionally needy mother (Wendy Crewson). The real interest, however, devolves from a subplot involving a male-to-female transsexual lesbian (Peter Outerbridge). And that's not to mention the musical numbers. Lesbians looking for featherweight fun are sure to enjoy this production, directed by Wheeler from a screenplay by Peggy Thompson. Others may long for something slightly more substantial. But it's hard to find too much fault with a film whose high point is a musical number entitled "I'm Not a Fucking Drag Queen." (DE)

9:15 p.m.: Defying Gravity. John Keitel. U.S., 1997, 92 min. Two frat boys sit on a cliff, gazing wistfully over a mountaintop. After moments of agonizing silence, Frat Boy One says, "So, are you in, like, love with him, dude?" At this delicious moment, Defying Gravity becomes a camp classic, a film future generations of gay men will host dinner parties for and howl with laughter over. The story of a frat boy sleeping with a brother but flirting with Muffy, the film feels like the mutant fusion of an Abercrombie & Fitch ad and an episode of Starsky and Hutch. There's mystery, pathos and a hospital reconciliation that makes one yearn for a film adaptation of Medical Center. Primary to all camp, the more sincere it gets, the more you giggle. As Griff, the popular frat boy desperate to wear heels, Daniel Chilson is sublime in his ignorance of sexuality and acting. For all the wrong reasons, this one is not to be missed. (MI)

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