Monday, June 28, 2010

Frameline 34 (SF Intl. LGBT Film Festival) -Closing Night: HOWL, Party and Awards!

This year’s internationally renowned showcase for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) cinema runs June 17-27, with San Francisco screenings at the historic Castro Theatre (429 Castro Street), Roxie Theater (3117 16th Street) and the Victoria Theatre (2961 16th Street), and in Berkeley at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood (2966 College Avenue).Tickets for Frameline34 are on sale  through

Frameline 34 came to a close in somewhat the same manner that it opened: a biopic and a party at the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. K.C. Price and Jennifer Morris were on hand to do the festival acknowledgments, which included a surprisingly well made "trailer" from Yahoo!, which was specifically targeted at LGBT film audiences. (Unfortunately, I can not seem to find it online.) After introducing the entire staff of Frameline, both the permanent and temporary festival staffs, and receiving a brief thank you from Frameline Board President, Thom Matson (who I find increasingly annoying - he's just so... PERKY!!), the pair moved on to introducing the directors and star of the closing night film.

HOWL (dirs. Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, USA, 2010, 90 Mins.) stars James Franco as Allen Ginsberg, specifically during the two year period when he introduced his epic poem HOWL in 1955, through the obscenity trial the publisher (San Francisco's Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Books) faced in 1957.  What Epstein and Friedman have done is a bit complicated, however.

Within their vision, they surround HOWL with three distinct films: Ginsberg's reading of the poem at a club, which is accompanied by animation based upon Eric Drooker's illustrations; the obscenity trial in San Francisco; and a taped interview with Ginsberg.  The success of the film rests upon how well these three plots are edited together, which is at times awkward, or at least a bit unsatisfying. Since Ginsberg does not appear in the trial, those scenes and the near ridiculous arguments presented by the Plaintiff, serve almost as comic relief to the heady experiences of the poem and Ginsberg's recollection of his life.  This splits the focus a bit too widely and the pieces do not fit together as neatly as might be hoped. I would love to see the extreme and exhilarating visuals of the animation without interruption for the entirety of the piece. Or perhaps see and hear Franco deliver the poem uninterrupted, also.  During his interview, scenes of his life are played in background to his narration, instead of played out front as dramatic scenes between characters.  I would have welcomed a traditional bio-drama where scenes are played out between Ginsberg and his succession of (exceptionally handsome) boyfriends, including Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac and his long-time companion, Peter Orlovsky (played here by Jon Prescott, Todd Rotondi and Aaron Tveit, respectively).

Ginsberg becomes isolated in the film, as his voice is not really reacted to in real time, but mutely in the accompanying visuals.  It is only in the trial, where he does not appear, that we hear from others. These performances seem rushed or under rehearsed, surprisingly from John Hamm and David Strathairn.  The witnesses, which are a parade of independent film stars, tend to deliver their testimony in obvious, one day shoots. However, Bob Balaban portrays the judge in the case with solid gravity and delivers the verdict with such authority as to nearly single handedly save the sequence.

Not surprisingly, the film was warmly received, but not thunderously so. The Q&A was the typical "what a beautiful and brilliant experience" line of questioning, as any real discussion would prove to be too deep for the confines of a closing night experience.  James Franco was extremely shy but affable when remarking about his research (or what almost sounded like lack of?) into Ginsberg's life.

The crowd then hit the streets for a near cross town journey to Golden Gate Park and the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society where the party and award announcements would be held. As is the tradition, Skyy Vodka was at the door with cocktails before even putting your ticket stub away! I love that! About an hour into the party, K.C. Price and Jennifer Morris announced the awards:

Juried Awards:
Frameline Documentary Award:  Dzi Croquettes (Honorable Mention: A Postcard to My Dad)
First Feature Director Award: Undertow

Audience Awards:
Short Subject: Remember Me in Red
Documentary: The Topp Twins
Feature: The String (Le Fil)

When it was announced that THE STRING won Audience Feature, there was an audible gasp of "The String?" as it not only screened at the Victoria (thereby a smaller audience), but was merely warmly received, compared to some of the standing ovations that other programs received.

My personal favorites:
Short Subject: T4-2
Documentary: WE WERE HERE; but since it was NOT eligible, I'd choose BEAR NATION
Feature: I KILLED MY MOTHER; special mention to FIT, since it doesn't really fit any of these categories.

Maxxxxx says re Skyy Vodka: "Wooooo!"

You can contact Maxxxxx or myself here: JayCBird@AOL.COM

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