Black, blue & broken
by Gregg Shapiro
The six Black Briefs (Guest House) referred to in the title of this compilation of gay short films are black in that they are all of a dark nature. Hong Khaou's Spring, the first film on the DVD, involves a 20-year-old university student negotiating an intense (S&M, B&D) sexual scene with a slightly older man. There's a noose, a blindfold, commands to bark and fetch like a dog. There's also respect and a sense of release and relief.
In Remission, directed by Greg Ivan Smith, Sam (Michael Fitzpatrick), a gay man in a Maine cabin, waits out the weekend for the Monday results of his biopsy. Accompanied by his Boston terrier, Sam's trip to the country quickly begins to go bad. He is missing his boyfriend's opening-night performance, his cell-phone is dying, and he can't find the charger. Then he begins to hear, see and smell things. Is it just his anxiety, his meds, or is there really a shadowy figure outside the window and lurking in the cellar? Prepare to be horrified.
Model-pretty actor Ryker (Gavyn Michaels) invites his two boyfriends Brian (Hunter Lee Hughes) and Ernesto (Adrian Quinonez) to a theater where they will duke it out for his affections in Winner Takes All . Alec Mapa, as Ryker's assistant/slave Simon, is the best part of Camille Carida's short. Lalo Vasquez's Promise opens the morning of Stu (Korken Alexander) and Chris' (Rick Cornette) gay wedding. It's clouded by the ugly events of the night before, at a bar where they celebrated the last night of their bachelorhood with friends. Joseph (Joshua Blanaru), a one-time threesome partner who developed into something more for Stu, creates friction between the couple, leading to a heated argument back home that escalates into something more serious, leaving the couple (and the viewer) wondering whether or not they will walk down the aisle.
At six minutes, Video Night is the shortest short on the DVD. But you'd be surprised how quickly it has the ability to horrify you. Friends Jim (co-director Jim Hansen), Jesse (Jesse Rice), Jack (co-director Jack Plotnick) and Kali (Kali Rocha) are having fun making a silly home video. But during the editing process, they discover two things. One is that Kali is missing, and the other is that there is terrifying footage of what happened to her. The most exotic short on the DVD, Communication , from Christopher Banks, is set in New Zealand. Recent college grad Jacob (Rudi Vodanovich), an Orthodox Jew, has learned that he has inherited the house that belonged to his gay college prof Andrew (Alexander Campbell). That not only displeases Andrew's boyfriend Charles (Richard Lambeth), but stirs up all sorts of unexplored feelings and emotions in Jacob.
The six shorts compiled on the DVD Blue Briefs (Guest House) are also a mixed bag. The best of the series, Sal Bardo's Requited, comes first, the story of Nicholas (Christopher Schram) and Gregor (Max Rhyser), a couple in New York facing issues of commitment and separation. Nicholas and Gregor are spending their last weekend together before Gregor relocates. Their time is not their own, as the weekend also includes a going-away party for Gregor and the wedding of Nicholas' best friend Aaron (Matthew Watson), with whom he is in love. Good writing and good acting combine to make this required viewing.
Boys Like You, starring and directed by Sal Armando, examines the complicated relationships between gay men and straight men, and the dangers of drinking and flirting. Alain Hain's The In-Between, "based on true stories," takes an unusual approach: voiceovers incorporating interviews with men on the subject of infidelity, while a cheating story is depicted on-screen. Teens relationships figure into half of the shorts, with the best one being Abdi Nazemian's Revolution, about an Iranian teen "working within the system to make incremental change" (per his father's advice) in 1989 Los Angeles.
A non-traditional biopic about the late gay poet Hart Crane, depicted in 12 "voyages," writer/director/star James Franco's film adaptation of Paul Marini's book The Broken Tower (Focus World/eOne) is overly ambitious but admirable. After doing an impressive job portraying another gay poet, Allen Ginsberg, in Howl, Franco turns his attention to Crane. Shooting in black-and-white (with the exception of a scene shot in a church in France), Franco seems to want The Broken Tower to be a visual poem. It is nice to look at, especially the New York scenes involving the Brooklyn Bridge. For a film about someone so conflicted towards his family (Crane kept his homosexuality hidden from his parents), The Broken Tower is a family affair, with Franco's brother Dave playing the younger Crane, and his mother Betsy playing Crane's mother Grace.
Franco is particularly brave in two regards. First, in his frank and sometimes graphic presentation of Crane's gay life, including dalliances with truck drivers and sailors, as well as his relationship with Emile (Michael Shannon). Second, Franco's appreciation for Crane's work, whether the poems are being read aloud in the background of a scene or at poetry readings given by the poet, is obvious. One can only hope that viewers will want to explore Crane's work. As Marini says, we still don't have a clear picture of Crane, but Franco does what he can to illuminate the poet's brief and tragic life. DVD bonus features include Franco's Skype interview with literary scholars.