Sunday, 26 May 2013

HIDDEN TREASURES - BEAUTY, BUTTERFLY KISS, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH


For Screen on Screen's fourth Hidden Treasures post in the series, I'm looking at three under-appreciated films dealing with LGBT issues in an alternative manner. They may be familiar to some of you, but I think that all are deserved of larger audiences than they have received.

BEAUTY (2011) - OLIVER HERMANUS

This under-seen and underrated South African drama (also known as Skoonheid) is a polished but probing examination of homophobia, with a tense, thriller-like edge that had me riveted, and eventually quite moved. Francois is in his 40s, white, Afrikaans-speaker with a wife and daughter and a small business. His contempt for others is topped only by his contempt for himself, and his narrow-mindedness is so copious that he's oblivious to the monumental contradiction in his prejudice: Francois is gay. South Africa is like any other nation with a troubled past still seeping into its present - it has had other problems to deal with before getting around to homophobia, and so Francois is unable to deal with his sexuality in a reasonable way. His lust (wholly justifiable, btw) for his student nephew, Christian, begins to eat into the comfort and complacency of his day-to-day life, and then... I won't divulge how these immediate matters are resolved, but their implications, suggested at in the enigmatic final few scenes, will be far-reaching, particularly for Francois' acceptance and understanding of his homosexuality. Beauty is a beguiling film, opening in simplicity and gradually amassing complexity as it progresses, the lens so often fixed on Deon Lotz's highly expressive visage. A pivotal scene toward the end will leave you shaken, and it's exceptionally well-handled.

Two more films featured after the cut.

BUTTERFLY KISS (1995) - MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM

Butterfly Kiss is not a warm, soft film by any means. The vehicles zoom past the service stations, the people abound, but the desolate loneliness submerges Wendy's life in a drab grey. Her aspirations are none. She meets Eunice, caustic, vibrant and disarmingly cruel. Eunice is sexually attracted to Wendy, in her unique way, and Wendy is simply attracted to Eunice - she may not offer her the comfort she's missing, but she offers her adventure, if more through the twisted space in Eunice's mind than through the lanes and motorways of the British Midlands. The malleable Wendy won't get what she deserves out of their relationship, even if she will get an experience she'll never forget; Eunice, though, ever in control, will get exactly what she wants, but who knows what this curious character deserves? Michael Winterbottom is one of those incredibly prolific directors who maybe ought to devote more time to fewer projects, as his films are frequently good and rarely great, but there are remarkable qualities to this ragged, jagged film, not least of which is Amanda Plummer. Plummer is one of the most idiosyncratic actors in film or any other public medium, and one of the most undervalued, and Eunice is her greatest achievement. You may need to be in a certain mood to get through Butterfly Kiss, but it's a memorable experience if you do. And if anyone tries to sell this to you as a 'dyke-psycho-killer comedy', don't ever associate with that person again.

HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (2001) - JOHN CAMERON MITCHELL

You need only watch the first few frames of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the bright and versatile director John Cameron Mitchell's breakthrough film, to know that it is #everything. With tongue lodged deep in cheek, this adaptation of the alternative stage musical (80s culture-clash drag-rock comedy, I suppose) is the epitome of all that it aims to accomplish. Wry humour pervades near every scene, ever ready to debase the film's melodramatic intentions, the costumes (by longtime costumer for Madonna, Arianne Phillips) are terrifically tacky and the soundtrack is an utter marvel. These are the catchiest musical numbers you might ever hear in cinema, musically sound and lyrically stupendous, and I dare you not to applaud the film's roof-raising rendition of 'Wig in a Box'. Yes, 'Wig in a Box'. Who wouldn't want to see a film with a soundtrack that includes titles such as that, and others such as 'Exquisite Corpse', 'Angry Inch' and 'Sugar Daddy'. Crucially, it's not all sequins and silliness, and Mitchell, whose lead performance as Hedwig is a triumphant, iconic work of genius, knows how to manage drama with the same delicate, precise touch that he manages Hedwig's comedy with. This extremely entertaining film is a total must-see event!