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Reviews and commentary on programs, shows and items and occurrences of interest to the alternative/Gay communites and their supporters. [This page will be updated periodically.]

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OUT OF SYNC. Lance Bass (with Marc Eliot). A pleasant, fast-paced autobiography by the former member of boy band ‘NSYNC. While a bit on the superficial side – Bass has hardly been around that long – the book does provide some insight into being a rock star and living in the closet during emerging fame and all the publicity and adoration that comes with it. A lot of space is devoted to Bass’ aborted attempts to be an astronaut and go on a Russian space flight (all filmed for a projected TV show) and a few pages to steady boyfriends who didn’t work out for one reason or another. Bass is to be congratulated for not going the trendy route and declaring himself a bisexual, which he isn’t. What emerges from this slender if entertaining volume is a portrait of a likable young man who found self-acceptance despite his religious background and who has a good head on his shoulders. Focused on his career for now, one hopes he finds genuine love and passion in his future. Don't expect much about gay politics in this.

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NOTES ON A SCANDAL (2006). Directed by Richard Eyre. Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) is the new, young teacher at school while Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) is the "old battleaxe" who’s taught there for years and has lost all of her idealism. Barbara is lonely and wants a companion, and sets her sights on Sheba, who is married to a much older man and has two children. Barbara discovers that Sheba is having an affair with a fifteen-year-old male student and tells her that she must call it off immediately. Sheba tries but is unable to do so, and Barbara is furious when she finds out, letting news of the relationship slip out to another member of the faculty. All hell breaks loose, of course, when word of the affair gets back to the boy’s parents.

Notes on a Scandal holds the attention, certainly has fascinating aspects, and features two terrific lead performances from Blanchett and Dench, who practically seem to be living their roles instead of merely emoting. What the film lacks is a strong examination of their sexuality and their reasons for doing the things they do. The film is both coy and as subtle as a sledgehammer when it comes to the subject of lesbianism. It becomes apparent that Barbara is unreasonable to the point of being unbalanced (she expects Sheba, who is terrified that she’ll report her to the authorities, to accompany her to pick up the remains of her dead dog instead of attending a show in which her son, who has Down’s syndrome, will appear.) Barbara is clearly cut from the "nasty old dyke" cloth but her problem is not that she’s a lesbian but that she can’t accept it. Which is why she pursues inappropriate (presumably) heterosexual women for companions and reacts as if she doesn’t know what her sister is talking about when the latter makes a kindly reference to the last woman she was "involved" with. Barbara’s tragedy is that she could have found the lifetime partner she was looking for had she accepted her lesbianism in a healthy way. [What makes it worse is that – setting aside the fact that she’s a borderline psycho – Barbara is erudite, cultured, sophisticated, and intelligent (which makes her self-loathing over being gay inexplicable but not improbable).]

But it may be giving the makers of Notes on a Scandal too much credit to suggest that this is what they had in mind, even implicitly. There are no healthy gay presences – no gay presence at all – in the film, and the word "gay" is never even mentioned. The film definitely seems like a throwback to those not-so-happy pre-Stonewall days of shame, misery and denial. Sadly, there are still a few male and female "Barbara Covetts" around, but any film that employs them should at least examine their plight with less sensationalism, more understanding, and present out and proud alternatives for some modern-day contrast if nothing else. The movie is entertaining and brilliantly acted – the supporting cast is also excellent – but it is also repellantly old school and regressively negative. Perhaps this is one collection of "notes" we could have done without.

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GAY, STRAIGHT OR TAKEN. Lifetime. In this interesting if somewhat obnoxious reality show, a woman has to choose among three male suitors and decide which is gay, which is straight and available, and which is straight and has a girlfriend [“taken”] If she picks the right guy, she goes off on a trip with him; if not, either the gay guy and his boyfriend, or the straight guy and his girlfriend, go off on the same trip instead. While the show may do some good at shattering a few stereotypes, there's something a bit disturbing about having a gay guy going back into the closet for a whole day or more of filming. The women come up [presumably with the producers' help] with dumb contests to determine how macho [or “straight”] the men are, which is simply out of date and even offensive. Meanwhile the other guys – who sometimes turn out to be the “straight” ones – taunt the man being tested with his possible “gayness.” This is not always nasty but, again, it's still disturbing. Most of the time the women pick the wrong guy, and they almost always think the gay guy is straight and one of the “straight” guys is gay. Generally the women have very stereotypical notions of gay men [one wants to see what cocktails the men will order as she actually believes all gay men prefer drinks with cherries!] Listening to the dumb, out-dated notions of the presumably straight gals can be depressing. In virtually every episode the woman goes on and on about how she just can't believe one of the guys is gay, as if every single gay man is a stereotype and exactly the same as every other gay man. [Hopefully some of the smarter gals will learn something from this but probably not all.] Even worse, she always turns and apologizes to the “straight” man she thought was gay. But if there's nothing wrong with being gay, why apologize, airhead! One point that the show completely misses is that -- given the stigma still attached to homosexuality -- in some cases all three of the guys are probably gay, their girlfriends notwithstanding. The show may be well-intentioned, but despite its “modern” slant, seems a bit regressive in this and other aspects. Watch at your own risk. You may love it or really hate it.

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THE NIGHT LISTENER (2006). Directed by Patrick Stettner. Robin Williams plays a gay radio talk show host whose younger HIV-positive lover (Bobby Cannavale) moves out on him when he realizes he isn't going to die. Lonely and confused, Williams distracts himself with a manuscript given to him by a publisher friend, supposedly written by a 15 year old boy who was exploited and abused by his parents and is seriously ill with AIDS. Williams bonds platonically with the boy, almost coming to think of him as the son he always wanted, although he never actually meets him. But Williams' former lover comments that the voice of the boy on the answering machine doesn't sound much different from that of the female social worker who has adopted him (Toni Colette). Williams is disbelieving at first, appalled that he may be victim of a scam, and undertakes a journey to finally get at the truth. This is certainly an absorbing and well-acted film – and it's great that a suspense film has a gay hero whose orientation is almost incidental – but one senses that Armistad Maupin's novel, upon which this was based, was not really a good bet for filming. Much of the story and emotions are strictly internal, and the story never really comes to a strong resolution. Despite all the many good points, it may not, sadly, add up to enough.

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THE PRODUCERS (2006). Directed by Susan Stroman. Written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan. Picture This. The openly gay actor Nathan Lane, cast as the vulgar straight producer Max Bialystock, faces an outrageously effeminate “queen” who lisps out a sentence that, naturally, ends in “s”. The hiss of this particular lisp seems to last about two minutes as Lane and his co-star Matthew Broderick exchange nervous glances and wait for it to finally end. Gays who lisp for two whole minutes! In a movie produced in the sixth year of the 21st century! Wow! Is this what decades of Gay Liberation have finally led to?

The Producers is a bad movie on many levels, but first let's approach its level of homophobia. Sure, Mel Brooks, director Stroman, and certainly the gay cast members will say that it's all in fun, it's so outrageous and offensive that it becomes inoffensive, that we all have to have a sense of humor, and, hell, the presence of Nathan Lane makes it all just campy gay humor after all. Unfortunately, this and the whole “Keep it Gay” production number and gay characters seem less good-natured than mean-spirited, especially when one remembers that a goodly part of the audience may actually believe that these stereotypes are only slightly exaggerated. [Many gay and gay-friendly people have reported how uncomfortable they felt watching straight people laughing uproariously at old-fashioned mincing gay stereotypes during either the Broadway production or the film. They also reported that these same straight people accepted the stereotypes at face value and "didn't seem to be in on the joke" as Lane and company supposedly were. It's the same situation as if African-American theater-goers had to watch white people laughing hysterically at some over-the-top grotesque black caricatures crying out "massuh! massuh!' The only difference may be that hopefully most people will recognize those as black stereotypes while there are still some poor, naive fools who think gays actually are as they are depicted in The Producers -- if perhaps slightly scaled back in reality.] I keep imagining some poor gay teen who wants to come out sitting through this and feeling a certain embarrassment and shame as his buddies point at the screen and yell “look at the faggots” or indeed any gay person who has to overhear an unkind straight reaction to the movie's “repellent queen” portraitures.

There's a worse problem with the movie, however. Many years have gone by since the original non-musical film The Producers and this film version of the Broadway musical that was based on that film. We now know that Nazis persecuted and murdered not only Jewish people but homosexuals as well. To be fair, Mel Brooks tried to address this fact [in his usual clumsy fashion] in his remake of To Be or Not to Be but he completely ignores it in the musical version of The Producers. He would argue that he was making a light-hearted farce, not a profound drama, but even farces can have deeper meanings and help educate the audience. The very notion that gay men would participate in the production of a musical extolling the virtues of both Jewish and Gay oppressor and exterminator Adolph Hitler is undeniably odious, going far beyond the notion of "bad taste." [Since it takes place in the past The Producers can conveniently ignore the fact that a play's having a so-called "gay" ambiance is not exactly death in the theater anymore.] A young person could sit through The Producers and A.) not know what a Nazi or The Holocaust is; B.) have no true understanding of anti-semitism; and C.) no understanding of Gay People or homophobia. Brooks would argue that he's Jewish and has no problem with the Jewish stereotyping [which never approaches the viciousness of the negative gay portrayals] or the fact that the kiddies will leave the theater without understanding the horrors of anti-semitism. Nathan Lane would probably say that how can the project be homophobic when he, an openly gay man, is the star.

Except it's well-known fact that most show business types think only of surface matters – how big is my part and will the project make money – and rarely explore with any depth anything other than their number of lines in the script. In short, Lane is no activist, and how he privately feels about being gay isn't known, although one could guess. When some of his fans were disappointed that he played a straight opera singer in his first sitcom –and admittedly he certainly has the right to play hetero roles – he reportedly called them “nasty queens.” Of course he played a gay role in his second sitcom, but neither series – while both were very funny and well-acted – succeeded, mostly because of a lack of support on the network level. Now we have Lane screeching at a gay character that he's a “lousy fruit” while the gay refers to him as “an ungrateful breeder,” a term that was hardly in use during the time period of the movie, but which Brooks may have felt would somehow be a sop to angry gays.

Gary Beach, who is openly gay, and Roger Bart [last seen on Desperate Housewives as the psychotic pharmacist] are so horrendous that they can hardly be described as “good” in their roles. Nathan Lane and Broderick are undeniably effective, however, as is a nearly overwhelmed Uma Thurman. The production numbers go on too long, Stroman's direction is heavy-handed, and the score contains a couple of okay tunes and some funny lyrics but nothing else. I like Nathan Lane – until now at least – and very much wanted to like this movie, but even if I didn't find the gay material offensive, the rest of it is mildly amusing, kind of hokey and out of date, and eventually quite tiresome. NOTE: Apparently even Mel Brooks will bow to political correctness on some occasions, as he removed an offensive black stereotype from the film [the DVD contains this deleted sequence]. Maybe he felt a black boycott would be more effective than a gay one, or more likely believes that old canard that all gays are musical comedy fans and will not be able to keep away no matter what.

The Producers, in a word, is a disgrace.

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THE GROOMSMEN (2006). Written and directed by Edward Burns. The friends-get-together-for-a wedding theme has been done to death, and Edward Burns doesn't really add anything new to the idea in this nice, pleasant if minor-league movie, but it does have its interesting aspects. Burns' movies are usually steeped in lower middle-class culture and heterosexuality, but here he adds a gay twist when one of the friends (John Leguizamo) reveals that he stayed away for eight years because he was afraid his buddies wouldn't accept his homosexuality. Of course the old-friend-comes-out bit is almost a cliché by now but it was admirable of Burns to include this sympathetically drawn gay character in the film. The groom's brother (Donal Logue) is upset because he's learned that he can't have children – insisting to Leguizamo, whom he does not yet know is gay, that the ability to have children is the measure of a man. [it would have been interesting if Leguizamo's character had had a child, and/or if the brother's somewhat homophobic suggestion had been explored a bit more.] Burns' previous films have proven that as a screenwriter he is competent if mediocre, but if the performances in this film are any judge, he's a great director of actors. Burns himself turns in a good performance as the groom, whose uncertain girlfriend has become pregnant. The other actors, which also include Matthew Lillard, Jay Mohr, and Heather Burns, are uniformly excellent and provide all of the film's power much more than the script. It is disappointing that we don't learn as much about the Leguizamo character's life as we do the others but the movie is definitely gay-friendly, perhaps too much so. For instance, it's unrealistic that all of Leguizamo's old buddies would be so instantly accepting of him, but perhaps Burns wanted to spare us more cliched scenes of gay-straight misunderstanding and angst. [An excellent scene has Leguizamo telling Mohr how he felt having to hear the latter saying “faggot this and faggot that” all through high school.] But the film shows signs that many scenes were either never written or filmed which is probably why the whole business with Mohr and his ex-girlfriend [when she won't take him back he urinates in her convertible] seems thrown in for good measure. Scenes between Burns and his parents, including John Mahoney as his father, were eliminated from the final cut, although these and other deleted scenes are “extras” on the DVD. William Schoell.

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BOB AND ROSE. 2001 British six-part television series shown on LOGO USA in 2006

Why on earth is the Gay and Lesbian network LOGO resuscitating this corpse? Possibly because it was written by openly gay Queer as Folk creator Russell Davies and because people are bound to be curious about it. Basically, it's about an unhappy gay man named Bob who falls in love with a heterosexual woman named Rose (and vice versa). It has often been said that Gay writers and Gay activists do not always have the same agendas, and for proof all one need do is look at Bob and Rose. To try to stem the inevitable criticism from the Gay Community, Davies asserted that he was trying to explore prejudice in all its forms [“heterophobia” perhaps?] and based the series on a real-life couple he knows, a man who is resolutely, irrepressibly “gay” [yet who married a woman – go figure!] and a heterosexual female. He suggested that gays who strenuously objected to his tale were perhaps misogynous or narrow-minded. This was a failed preemptive strike that reeked of desperation.

Now we all know that there are plenty of gay men who are married, in the closet, and who have fathered children – Jim McGreevey was only one of tens if not hundreds of thousands of such men. But most of these men, while homosexual, are not “gay” -- that is, living proud, openly gay lives without fear or shame. Some marry for political or career reasons, while others just never attain the level of courage or self-acceptance that they require to live as Gay Men. In Bob and Rose, of course, the rather inexplicable [and implausible?] twist is that Bob never claims to be straight, let alone bisexual. The real-life Bob may be a very different story from the fictional Bob, he may be an essentially Gay man who for one reason or another found his soul-mate in a straight woman [although this sounds more like a loving friendship than a real romance, even if it leads into marriage and children].

The “Bob” of Bob and Rose, however, does not seem comfortable being gay. For instance, in the final episode he sits in a bar with another lady friend and spots a young man that he “always thought was a pouf.” [Gay men who suffer from self-hatred often use pejorative terms to describe themselves and other homosexuals.] The lady friend suggests he do something to help this younger man come out and his response makes it clear that Bob doesn't think “coming out” [or indeed being Gay] is anything to crow about. Yet we're asked to accept that when he goes off with Rose at the end it's because he genuinely loves her and not because he can't accept his own sexuality. He may love Rose in his way, but one suspects that's not her chief appeal to him. A facade of “normalcy,” and “respectability” may be more on the mark.

It's this essential dishonesty that makes Bob and Rose so irritating and repellent, and despite its window-dressing of Gay Lib and Gay-Friendliness -- Davies wanting to have his cake and eat it, too --  downright homophobic. The show got some positive reaction but I suspect it probably appealed the most to women who had the misfortune to fall for Gay/Bi men and who could relate to Rose and Bob's other close female friend (who also loves him), or for Gay Men whose occasional attraction to women makes them hopefully label themselves bisexual or even straight. When asked if he worried that people might think the message of Bob and Rose was that all a gay man needed to go straight was the “right woman” he replied that only “stupid” people would think so. But what about young gay men who are suffering a sexual identity crisis, who feel that their occasional heterosexual episode means they can't possibly be gay? What about people who are not “stupid” but simply naive, unsophisticated and inexperienced?

Some authors and TV people have complained that Gay Activists with their agendas can strip the art right out of an artistic endeavor, but it's because of ill-considered, addle-pated projects like Bob and Rose that those activists are needed to show the creative types just when they're going ludicrously awry. Davies true rationale for doing Bob and Rose was to get another series on the air, make some money, and deal with gay content in a way that wouldn't be too objectionable to the straights, given that the allegedly “gay” male protagonist winds up with a wife and baby and presumably far away from the temptations of male flesh. One can agree with Davies that, sure, if a Gay Guy wants to marry a woman and raise babies and he doesn't mind that she's a woman and she doesn't mind that he's Gay, who cares, it's their business. But Davies has admitted that Bob and Rose doesn't really present this real-life couple (assuming they actually exist) the way they actually are. There's just no getting around the fact that the “Bob” of the series not only has sexual identity issues but doesn't realize [and perhaps neither does Davies] that his previous relationships with other men didn't last because of these issues and his failure to confront them.

In other words, Bob and Rose might have been a much better series if it had been written by someone other than Russell Davies, someone with a stronger sense of Gay Pride [and yes even out of the closet Media-Gays can have inner unresolved conflicts]. It's the silliest “gay” project since the awful A Different Story, which years ago presented a love affair between a Gay Man and a Lesbian! 

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WEDDING WARS (A & E) December 2006. Written by Stephen Mazur. Directed by Jim Fall. John Stamos plays a party planner who is hired by his brother (Eric Dane) and fiancee to organize their wedding but goes on strike when he discovers his brother's future father-in-law (James Brolin) is against gay marriage. He is especially upset that his own brother wrote the anti-gay marriage speech for Brolin. Before long news of his strike gets around and gay people throughout the city go on strike from their own jobs to show their support – an interesting aspect of the story. This is a well-meaning but rather patronizing and stupid comedy that comes from the same network as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and is filtered, unfortunately, through the same sensibility; it's like an extended Will and Grace episode. It never occurs to Stamos to contact Gay Rights organizations so he pickets in front of Brolin's estate all by himself, making him seem silly and ludicrous instead of justifiably angry. One might wonder if a sitcom-style TV movie is the right forum to examine the gay community's struggle for equality in the first place. Stamos doesn't camp it up too much and the movie gets better as it goes along, but it ends with Stamos new gay pals redecorating for the wedding in spite of the fact that the groom wrote an anti-gay speech! True, gay people may be more tolerant of straight people than the other way around – or so some believe – but this is carrying things a little too far!

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Liam Neeson as Kinsey, married homosexual

KINSEY (2004). Written and Directed by Bill Condon. Alfred Kinsey, a sexual pioneer who told the world that homosexuality was far more prevalent than people realized, was certainly a fascinating figure, but this movie fails to bring him to life as much as one might have hoped, although Liam Neeson gives a fine performance in the title role. Kinsey and his researchers interviewed thousands of people about their sexual habits and he eventually came up with “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” and a follow-up volume on female sexuality. In real life, Kinsey fell in love with at least two men, including research assistant Clyde Martin, but the label of “bisexual” persists when in all likelihood he was really a married homosexual. This possibility goes unexplored in the movie, which is irritating, considering he probably loved – and made love to – far more men than women. [There is one brief scene showing him about to have sex with Martin, discussing before they kiss where exactly they fall on the Kinsey scale.] Laura Linney does a good job as his wife, who also has an affair with Martin. Other critics have noted that the one and only scene in the film that really rings true and is human is when a woman (expertly played by Lynn Redgrave) tells Kinsey how reading his book enabled her to accept that she was a lesbian and to have a joyous relationship with the woman she had long been in love with. This is certainly an absorbing movie, but its failure to address the gay vs. bisexual business (and its downplaying of gay matters in general, especially Kinsey's romantic passion for men), as well as other problems, make it much less memorable and important than it could and should have been.

CHECK OUT THE HOT NEW BLOG J.A.T.G.A.B. [Jewish Author Tough Gay Activist Bear] which is updated weekly.

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Entire contents copyrighted 2004 - 2005 by William Schoell and Lawrence J. Quirk, except for items written by other authors, in which case said authors retain the copyright of their work . Opinions expressed by individual authors and reviewers are not necessarily the opinions of High and Low NY.