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Theatre, Music, etc.


March 28, 2008

Queer as a three-movie bill

Charles Nelson Reilly opens Cinematheque gay trio

Cleveland--What do you get when you mix the theater, a Washington, D.C. murder mystery and a dark comedy about mutant genitalia?

The Cleveland Institute of Arts Cinematheque’s latest schedule, featuring a trio of films of interest to the LGBT community.

The first is The Life of Reilly, the filmed version of gay actor Charles Nelson Reilly’s one-man show.

While best known now as a fixture on The Match Game, which featured celebrities trying to come up with the same answers as the contestants, Reilly enjoyed a long career on the stage and television prior to his death in 2007.

During his 76 years, he won a Tony Award and a New York Drama Critics’ Award, was nominated for two more Tonys and three Emmys.

He also had the fortune to prove a naysayer wrong. When told in the 1950s by the then-president of NBC Entertainment that they “didn’t put queers on television,” the voice in his head told him that was incorrect.

Within 15 years, he parlayed what was supposed to be an eight-minute scene on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir into a supporting role throughout the two seasons the show was on the air.

Reilly would pick up a TV Guide and see how many times he was appearing that week.

“I was told they wouldn’t let queers on television, and now I want to know who you have to fuck to get off!” he exclaims in the film.

He deals candidly with his crazy family and the people who helped him get his career started. The one drawback to the movie, however, lies in fitting 76 years into less than an hour and a half.

There are, as expected, moments of hilarity, pathos, triumph, tragedy and tears, both joyful and sad. He never gives in to the ego-stroking that mars many autobiographical shows, and the audiences benefits from this.

The Life of Reilly plays on Sunday, March 30 at 7 pm.

The next film up on the schedule is The Walker, writer-director Paul Schrader’s tale of a Washington, D.C. escort (the non-sexual kind) who gets caught up in a murder mystery.

Carter Page III is the son of a prominent attorney, in whose posthumous shadow he has lived for years. To fill his time, since he inherited his family’s fortune, he accompanies politicians’ wives to social events, every inch the proper Southern gentleman and gay wit.

He’s played by Woody Harrelson, a bit of odd-ball casting that works after an initial bit of incredulity on the part of the viewer.

He drives one of his friends (Kristin Scott Thomas) to her lover’s apartment, only to have her come running out moments later. He’s been murdered, rather brutally.

Hiding her involvement in the matter, Carter takes the lead, making himself the target of the investigation into the killing. Meanwhile, he pumps his other society ladies (Lily Tomlin and Lauren Bacall among them) for information, investigating the case with his photographer boyfriend.

When the clues start pointing to the vice president, however, even Carter might be in too deep.

The Walker plays on Saturday and Sunday, April 5 and 6 at 9:35 pm and 6:45 pm respectively.

The final film is an odd one, and controversial at that.

Mitchell Lichtenstein is the son of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, and most famous for starring in the gay culture-clash film The Wedding Banquet. He has now turned his eye towards directing, and the result is Teeth, a film which takes the archetypal male fear of castration and turns it into the tale of a young woman taking control of her sexuality.

Dawn is a member of “The Promise,” an abstinence-only group that wears a red ring to remind themselves not to put out until it’s replaced with the gold ring.

However, when she meets fellow Promise member Tobey, the feelings he inspires in her leave her conflicted.

When the two go swimming together, the seemingly nice Tobey forces himself on her, only for them both to discover that she has (cue dramatic music) a vagina dentate, the mythical pudenda with pearly whites.

She goes to a gynecologist to see what’s wrong with her, if she has some sort of mutation. He gets a little . . . inappropriate, and after losing four fingers, learns the truth.

However, in a more relaxed, supportive atmosphere, she and long-suffering classmate Ryan share an intimate moment or two, and Dawn comes to a realization--the teeth protect her, and the teeth can serve her.

It’s a bloody little movie, and very darkly humorous. In examining the vagina dentata myth from the perspective of female empowerment instead of the male fear of castration, this film is at least two-thirds of the way to being a feminist manifesto.

Had it been directed by a woman instead of a man, even a gay man, it would defuse accusations of misogyny, almost all of which are unfounded. Dawn is not the victim, despite the efforts of men to turn her into one, nor is she a remorseless monster. She is an innocent naïf defending herself, at first instinctively, then consciously.

Teeth has showings on Thursday, April 10 at 7 pm and Saturday, April 12 at 9:50 pm.

All films are shown at the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque, 11141 East Boulevard in University Circle. Tickets are $8, $6 for Cinematheque members and CIA students and staff. For more information, call 216-4217450.


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