Saturday, October 28, 2017

Two Very Special Films YOU MUST SEE

Sometimes you just have to blink, and maybe blink again, and think to yourself Did I really just see that?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the importance of representation: how crucial it is for people to be able to see themselves in the arts ... to know that they aren’t alone.

While there’s been some truly memorable films lately that have worked hard to be inclusive of sexual identity, orientation, gender preference, cultural identity, ethnicity, and neurodiversity we in the kink community have remained unseen and, even worse, humiliated by mainstream cinema.

Until now -- and not just in one film but in two, and not just in limited run arthouse productions but in a pair of productions that are playing in many major multiplexes.

Let’s begin with a hearty and sincere yell: if you are queer, if you are bi, if you are poly, if you are kinky … or if you simply want to see two really magnificent films you have to go see Professor Marston and the Wonder Women and Tom Of Finland.

Ironically, both of these films also deal with the arts.  In the case of Professor Marston and the Wonder Women it’s a fictionalized depiction of William Moulton Marston’s creation of Wonder Woman -- and for Tom Of Finland it’s the life story of the iconic queer artist.

It’s actually hard to write a totally unbiased review of either of these productions, mostly because both of them were seen through a blur of joyous tears.  “I know this, I’ve felt this, I know this … these are my people, this is my life …” kept going through my mind.  

With both, I didn’t have to shoehorn myself into the narrative--to have the emotional pain of having to leave most of my life on the cutting room floor to fit into the worlds being projected onto the screen.

Both films have their faults---in fact both films have the same one: being biographies there is much that has been streamlined, compressed, or even outright changed to make the drama, especially fitting it into a movie’s run-time.  But this is true of any film of this type: it’s just part of the territory.

Accuracy is not important.  What is important is that both films depict, with skill and sensitivity, the pain and joy of being bi, being queer, being poly, being creative … and, especially, being kinky.  

In both we see a hostile and abusive world, punishing with emotional and physical violence those who simply want to love who they want to love.  

In both we see happiness in personal acceptance, in making a home, creating a family ... finding a tribe.  

For Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, the story is about two psychologists, William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) and Elizabeth Holloway Marston (Rebecca Hall) who at first struggle but then come to beautifully accept their mutual love for one of their students, Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote).  

Eventually, they create a beautiful queer/bi/poly/kinky family--and even raise 5 children together.  When faced with hard times, mainly due to William and Elizabeth losing their teaching positions because of the scandal, William pitches the idea of a brand new kind of superhero to a comic book publisher, the Amazon we all know and love: Wonder Woman.

The performances are perfectly nuanced: never once did I feel “kicked out” of the film because of a clumsy moment.  The direction, by Angela Robinson, is simple and smooth.  Reminiscing about the experience of watching it, I can’t remember it as being dramatically--and annoyingly--cinematic but rather as a series of emotionally powerful moments.  

Tom Of Finland, meanwhile directly addresses the institutionalized homophobia that far too many experienced, especially in Europe after the Second World War.

The film is painful to watch, especially through contemporary eyes--but that is its strength.  It is a reminder that for so many, for so long, even being suspected of being homosexual meant loss of job, imprisonment, or even “corrective” therapy.  

For Touko Laaksonen (played beautifully by Pekka Strang) being queer is a terrifying spy drama: where one wrong action, one wrong word, could mean the end of everything.  But instead of succumbing, denying who he is, he finds a way to reach out.

At first his sketches are illicit, done for his own pleasure, but then he makes the decision to try and find a sympathetic audience--which leads to not just his personal liberation but the creation a true artistic icon.

And, for the most part, the leather community itself.  

One of the most striking things about Tom Of FInland is that, even though it does feature English speaking actors and the latter half does take place in America, it is a Finnish production.  The director, Dome Karukoski, has created a perfect capsule of what life was like for Touko, and how he must deal with his queer identity in his suppressive homeland as well as when he discovers that the impact his artwork has had on gay men like himself.

Both of these films are currently in theaters--and you should go out and see both of them as soon as possible: not just because they are both excellently crafted, full of beautiful performances, and directed with consummate skill, but because THEY ARE IMPORTANT.  

We need to be in those seats, to show the people involved in their production that we appreciate their work and thoughtful representation of our own lives.  But we also need to demonstrate to the entertainment industry that films like this can be both be responsibly inclusive of our communities as well as profitable.  

If there’s a single message that both Tom Of Finland and Professor Marston and the Wonder Women embraces it is the one that all of us --queer, bi, poly, kinky, and more--know so well: that all of us should be proud of who and what we are--and that love will always trump hate.

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