Wednesday, June 12, 2019

ACT UP on 'Pose' - revisiting a pivotal day

As one of the 111 ACT UP members arrested in the Stop the Church action of December 1989, it was wonderful to see the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power included in the Season 2 premiere episode of the FX series Pose. The groundbreaking series focuses on the New York City ball communities of color, and transgender women struggling to make ends meet by building  chosen families.

I particularly loved seeing nurse Judy Kubrak (Sandra Bernhard) almost dragging a reluctant Pray Tell (Billy Porter) to his first meeting. Bernhard discusses ACT UP, and many other contemporary topics, in an expansive wonderful new interview for The Daily Beast.

The depiction of the group meeting was a bit simplistic, but served its purpose. It would be impossible to share the months of preparation that went into the Stop the Church protest, and the divisions within our ranks at the time over the action.

Other critiques and comments on the episode are included in a deft account by writer/editor Mathew Rodriguez for TheBody.com.
"Northrop did have some slight criticisms of the short depiction of the action in Pose -- mainly that it didn't capture just how big the demonstration really was. While there were hundreds of protesters inside, there were thousands outside protesting quite loudly. The protest included some of ACT UP's most well-known iconography, including artist and ACT UP member Ray Navarro dressed as Jesus and the poster of John Cardinal O'Connor next to an unrolled condom that said, "Know Your Scumbags."
Anachronisms aside (it took place on December 10, 1989, not in 1990). The episode is set in winter, a few weeks or months later, so that's a small quibble. I saw it as a choreographic version of Pray Tell’s participation and empowerment.

ACT UP meeting in 'Pose'
Laying down in the aisles was just one of many aspects of the protest, and I was among those, in an affinity group called The Order of the Carmelites, who reenacted laying prostrate in the aisle as the historic nuns did. A larger affinity group called The Marys did the same. Unlike the Pose version, it was not an inspired spontaneous action, but a carefully orchestrated series of movements.

Of course the most 'scandalous' moment in the action (not included in the TV show), and covered by media as 'an outrage,' was that of former altar boy Tom Keane breaking a sacrament wafer at the altar.

The other shots in the Pose episode portrayed the screaming and arrests, which were not as lengthy inside as shown, except for the then-irascible Michael Petrelis, who instead of following the silent die-in theme, chose to stand atop a pew seat and repeatedly shout "Stop Killing Us!"

But these critiques are minor when one considers the gift of including this momentous event through an artistic lens in a hit TV show.

My own fictionalized account in my 2007 third novel, Cyclizen, included all that, but most specifically, being carried off on a stretcher by NYPD (in basic caps; the riot gear and helmets were worn by police outside, not as depicted in Pose). Like the show, my own depiction is personalized and literary, not documentary-style.

One overhead shot of Pray Tell being carried out with others on a stretcher echoed my own experience, a sort of epiphany, that what we were doing was not only right, but a Christian thing to do, like Jesus chasing the money-changers out of the temple.

The episode could have included a few shots of historic news footage of the thousands outside the cathedral, which ended up having a larger impact over time. ACT UP leader Maxine Wolfe says as much in a documentary about the action. But the Pose script took on a more personal version, that of Billy Porter's and others' characters finding a way to fight back.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Still Standing: Elton John's living legacy, and other music lost and found

Fans and critics are raving about the creative and mesmerizing Elton John biopic Rocketman, and comparisons to other rock star movies have led some to say it's what Bohemian Rhapsody could have been. Seeing the film with a musician pal and an appreciative audience at the historic Castro Theatre in San Francisco led me to recall how Elton John's music shaped my piano-playing as a teen, almost as much as the music of Queen. Freddie Mercury and his band's music took precedent as an inspiration for my sixth novel, Now I'm Here. But now I regret not giving Elton enough devotion.

As John, cutie Taron Egerton takes us on a wild journey through John's childhood, early starts in playing for other musicians, and his eventual rise to superstardom.

Rocketman's dreamy Troubadour scene
Among the best scenes are the dramatic and fantasy-styled moment when John's American debut at LA's Troubadour nightclub wowed new fans almost overnight. 

The floating magic moment when it all clicked for the singer-composer is only one of many dreamlike fantasy musical numbers that recall the rock and pop music-filled films Across the Universe and Moulin Rouge.

John's LA debut at The Troubadour is recounted in this sweet article in the LA Times.
Variety compares box office and the PG versus R ratings of the two rock biopics. 
 And the GQ review takes the film to task, yet admits its success in comparison to the Queen biopic:

"In the same way that Bohemian Rhapsody presented the superficial, sanitized version of Freddie Mercury—the one that the living members of Queen wanted the public to see—the Elton John we get in Rocketman seems cleaned up and doctored to be a movie subject."
  
I'm not sure how 'cleaned up' it is, with a musical orgy and the coke-snorting addiction depicted in Rocketman. For a wonderful account of more real events in John's life compared to the film, read the Time Magazine feature.


Rocketman vs Bohemian Rhapsody
I've Seen That Movie Too
Like Bohemian Rhapsody, we see a gay man face his inner conflicts and the ups and downs of the closet. Both have seemingly obligatory orgy scenes, with BoRhap's limited to a murky leather bar. Rocketman's dance club "sexy" nightclub scene approaches a camp level of the Canadian cult classic The Apple.

In this Daily Mail feature, Elton John and director Dexter Fletcher (who filled in for Bohemian Rhapsody when Brian Singer flaked) discuss the 'realness' of the story amid all the wonderful musical numbers choreographed by Adam Murray.

Unlike the story of Mercury, whose sexual exploits are kept mostly off-screen by the prudish script of Bohemian Rhapsody, John's fantasy biopic gets a passionate and realistic yet brief love scene amid all the dreamy music numbers, which are intentionally out of order. Time magazine recounts the anachronisms and inspirations.

John's dilemma is more about his addictions and eventual recovery. Mercury's biopic leads up to his anachronistic HIV diagnosis, while John's strangely doesn't even mention AIDS (despite his later generous philanthropy with his AIDS/HIV foundation). Still, he survived, which probably had more of an effect on his cinematic story's depiction of his life.

Elton John at Outside Lands 2015
Song for Guy
But what if (gods forbid) John had also died of AIDS, a cocaine-fueled heart attack or via the party pool attempted drowning scene depicted in the film? Would we listen to his music differently, as we do with Mercury, Price, David Bowie and so many other lost artists?

The New York Times recently focused on classical composers lost to AIDS. A score may survive, but one can't imagine the symphonies lost when gay artists die too young.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Everyone Dies: Games of Thrones, fan disappointment and delusions in fiction and fantasy

On this rainy Saturday, while I'm looking forward to this evening's plans, I feel, like many others, a sense of dread and worried anticipation for the series finale of Games of Thrones tomorrow night. Fan outrage over the last episode has reached such a tumult that nearly 700,000 people have signed a petition demanding a re-shoot of their favorite TV show. 

It sounds completely absurd to non-fans, but there's a reason for it. I'll explain, and of course tie in concerns about the comparatively tiny yet related themes in my novels.

First off: massive spoiler alert. If you're at all aware of pop culture and entertainment, you know that the last episode featured 'Mother of Dragons' Danerys Targaryen taking a 'mad' turn by ignoring the tower bells that signaled the surrender of the army at King's Landing. In a seemingly abrupt move, Dany foists her fire-spewing dragon over the city, killing soldiers and citizens alike in a violent spectacle of destruction. Several characters die dramatically or disappointingly. Arya witnesses the destruction and mass deaths on ground level, and Dany and her dragon are removed from close focus to become a flyover horror.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Self on a Shelf: Interabled Relationships, Queen movie's censorship, and other not-yet-abandoned topics in my novels

Bohemian Rhapsody in China = NoHomo
How long after an artist has fully explored a topic that they care about should it be abandoned, or put on a shelf? 

Granted, my novels will always be about gay men and the depiction of their humanity. But the specific themes and interests have to be stored and cherished, then put on a mental (and actual) side shelf to make way for new exploration, unless you're the kind of artist who continually explores the same themes; not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just not my style.

Allow me to touch on some of my recent novels' themes. I'm going against all the author tips for discussing one's art while trying to lure in a few sales. "Write short quick blogs! Tweet funny memes!" Nope, a few long rambling essays a month or so is where I'm at.


Flick of the Wrist
While finishing Now I'm Here, my sixth novel, I immersed myself in Queen's music, even made a chapter-by-chapter playlist. As the recent awards season proved, the film Bohemian Rhapsody was a crowd-pleaser, despite having warped the life of Freddie Mercury into a truncated and myopic tale.

Nevertheless, I piggybacked on the film's release and success as a tie-in for the novel, which includes the main characters Joshua and David attending a Queen concert, and a lead character who gains fame with his solo versions of "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Fight Back Club: how Star Trek: Discovery's Hugh Culver helps us remember the future

"If Memory Serves," the eighth episode in Season 2 of the amazing Star Trek: Discovery, not only recalls the earliest of days of the show's legacy, but along with a thrilling multi-layered story, reminds us of how LGBT people recover after the 'death' of violence.

While viewing the episode, I had an epiphany, which I'll explain. But first let me go back, or forward, if you will.

I have an enemy. I will confront him again.
Perhaps you do, too, that one most evil soul who assaulted you, or betrayed you beyond explanation. A gay-basher, an abusive partner, a violent authority figure with weapons and power who dragged you off at a protest, or for no reason other than being Black, or gay, or transgender, or poor; a former employer who sabotaged you, a judge who disdained and sentenced you in one way or another.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Patricia Nell Warren, author, mentor, shero and the Mother of Gay Fiction


Patricia Nell Warren's The Front Runner remains one of the prime inspirations for me to write fiction. News of her death today has reached beyond mutual friends to her many fans. I recall many conversations we had during her visits to literary conferences, and events in San Francisco. 

Her writing and advice were a true inspiration in literature and the global LGBT sports community. I still have the worn 1979 (fifth edition) paperback from my first purchase of a gay novel in 1979, which she signed, along with others over the years. If you haven't done so, you owe it to yourself to read more of her work. Farewell, dear woman.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Disagreeing on Disagreement: the Upside Down of 'Them'

Three examples of online arguments vexed me enough to further explore them. The first was being scolded for calling Starbucks coffee drinkers dumb, the second for getting rightwing hatred in a rock music group, the third being outright rabid hatred for ads with my new book trailer. They're each strangely connected, and worth comparing.

First off, reviews are good, so it's not about my books, although they could certainly use some new ones! That's one thing I can take, a critical book review that focuses on the storytelling. 

Of course, if more people were buying it, I wouldn't feel compelled to spend a few bucks to promote the very nice trailer for my book. I'd uploaded it to YouTube and Instagram, hoping to promote them both, but had to re-upload it on Facebook to try to get it on Instagram, which failed. So I simply paid about $30 to get the trailer show up as a sponsored ad on Facebook. I chose three categories; people in the U.S., who like the band Queen and, when searching for Gay Interest, chose "Gay Life." Okay.

A day later, I got a notification about two comments on the shorter book trailer. Yay!

But they were abrupt virulently bible-hatred of 'the gay.' A day later, another one 'Heck no' was less offensive. Each of these people happened upon my ad, whose thumbnail shows the two cover models in the back of a truck being affectionate.
  These are Diane Mcallister Nichols' comments. I could show you her anti-Muslim, anti-everything not her posts, but I'll spare you.