Closet Monster

This Canadian film tells the story of a young, conflicted boy discovering his sexuality and trying to survive the fall out of his parents’ split.  His talking hamster helps him through and, although that sounds like a ‘cute’ device, it actually works well in this case.

Oscar witnessed a homophobic beating when he was young.  Years later, as an eighteen year old who is about to graduate he notices a new fellow employee at his weekend place of work. Wilder seems to be worldly-wise and a hit with everyone he meets and Oscar is attracted to him but traumatised by the childhood memories.

Oscar is artistic and dreams of enrolling on a make up course in New York City.  His best friend helps him out by modelling for him and their closeness leads Oscar’s father to believe they are in a relationship.  Things become uncertain when his plans fall apart and Wilder announces his imminent departure.

Set in St.John’s, Newfoundland the film and directed by Stephen Dunn, it is an excellent exploration of the confusion felt by some youngsters when they search for their place in the world. Themes of separation, homophobia and misplaced loyalties thread through the film yet it is ultimately a joyous celebration of youth and coming through difficult times.

‘Closet Monster’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

The League of Gentlemen

This film from 1960 was a favourite of mine when I was growing up.  I must have seen it many times over the years, always on television and never minding that it was in black and white as the original film was.  Growing up in the 60s, one of the big differences between cinema and television was that the ‘pictures’ were always in colour while television was black and white. The films they showed on television back then were nearly all black and white so we didn’t miss out!

This film starred the great Jack Hawkins as a former army officer who hatches a plan to rob a bank.  He enlists other former officers, all in difficult circumstances who use their skills to gain entry to an army base in Dorset where they acquire weapons and supplies.

The film is a caper.  It was directed by Basil Deardon whose cast included Richard Attenborough, Nigel Patrick, David Lodge, Bryan Forbes and Roger Livesey.  Bryan Forbes also wrote the screenplay.

Such is the fun of the film that I wanted the thieves to get away with it.  However, the police are on to them and the ending, when it comes, is very clever.  The telephone ringing in the penultimate scene is highly effective.

Carry on Teacher

The final scene of this film moved me when I was a child.  It all seems a little sentimental now but the moment when Ted Ray stepped out to face his pupils who had wrecked his chance of promotion to prevent him from leaving them is one of my all time favourite film moments.

I was a fan of the early Carry On films.  This 1959 film was the third in the series that eventually totalled thirty-one.  I saw it on British television in the 60s since it was released in cinemas before I was born!  The black and white story of an ambitious headteacher who sees the arrival of inspectors as his opportunity to snatch the headship of a brand new school is a good one.

Two of his pupils overhear him telling a teacher that, should he get the job, there will be opportunities for others.  They decide that the only way to keep their headteacher is to ensure the inspection is a disaster and they enlist their friends to make sure it is.  The comedy comes from the thwarted efforts of the head to impress and the inability of the teachers to cope with the breakdown of order.

In the current British education system the inspectorate is a malign growth and there is little to amuse there but this is from a kinder age and the story leads to the final scene which I loved as a boy.

The ‘Carry On’ films continued into the 60s and 70s and I loved most of them until the bawdy humour became distasteful.  Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques and Charles Hawtry were favourites of mine but, in this film, Ted Ray was the star. It was his only ‘Carry on’ role.

‘Carry On Teacher’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Undressing Israel

This slight film from Michael Lucas is an exploration of what it means to be gay in modern Israel.  Despite being slightly arch in its central conceit that the audience will be shocked by the idea that Israel is a modern country, welcoming to gay people, there are some interesting moments and the people featured come across as well adjusted individuals.

The two men getting married, surrounded by their family, were my favourites but there was also the couple parenting two boys, an Arab- Israeli journalist, and a host of talking heads all explaining that it was a wonderful country in which to be gay.  The film director Eytam Fox was interviewed and he is always worth listening to.  Most attention is given to Tel Aviv and there are many questions left unanswered by this film such as what is it like to be gay in a rural community or far away from the vibrant party scene?

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An openly gay MP hosted a Pride event in the parliament near the start of the film and talked about the progress already made but the steps still needed.  The film provides an entirely positive look at gay life in Israel which is no bad thing when most films in this arena have issues to face.

 

The Man Who Knew Infinity

This film, while not destined for classic status, reminded me of the Merchant Ivory films of the 80s when historical settings showed Britain as a good-looking country at the same time as reminding us that the views and standards of the time are best left in the past.  In this case, the story from the early part of the Twentieth Century is based on the real case of an Indian man whose genius with number leads him from his home to Cambridge where he studies with the famous G.H Hardy.

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Srinivasa Ramanujan was born into a poor family in Madras, India.  He performed menial tasks to earn a living but found beauty in mathematics.  His employers realised he had exceptional skills and used him for accounting purposes until they decided his personal journals on number should reach a wider public.  This led to Britain, Cambridge and Professor Hardy at Trinity College.

The stuffy and hierarchical nature of Cambridge is well portrayed along with the stereo-type that academics are not quite part of the real world.  Real enough, though, is the racism Ramanujan faces in pre- First World War Britain.  Not only are the dons suspicious of his ability but they also see him as an upstart for moving into their world without moving through the proper channels.

There is a sub-plot set against the First World War showing how academics split in terms of their support for the war.  Key figures from that time took different paths: Bertrand Russell to pacifism (and consequently to prison) and John Edensor Littlewood to the army (to help with ballistics).

Dev Patel played Ramanujan and Jeremy Irons played Hardy, the significant difference in their ages not reflected in the real story!  It works as a film, though, because it shows that some people will fight against racism and pursue their ambitions despite it.  It also shows that academic endeavour is worth the years of struggle.  For Ramanujan, the return to India, while in triumph as an accepted academic, was personally difficult and he did not have a long life.

Jeremy Irons is always worth watching and so, it seems, is Dev Patel.  This film is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

The Little Traitor

I loved the novella by Amos Oz called ‘Panther in the Basement’.  This film is based on that book and, even though the title is a touch too ‘cute’ for my taste, it is an interesting transposition of the story to film.  The wonderful Alfred Molina is terrific as Sergeant Stephen Crabtree, the British soldier posted to Palestine during the British Mandate.  He is a man fascinated by this land of the Bible and delighted to meet a young boy who looks able to help him understand the language. They strike up a friendship which is odd since the boy, Proffy to his friends, is brought up to hate the British and declares himself a sworn enemy.

The political is personal, though, and soon Proffy is conflicted by the difference between what he has been told about the British and what he likes about Sergeant Crabtree.  The two spend time together, usually at the British mess, and Proffy helps the sergeant with Hebrew while Crabtree teaches Proffy English.

Proffy’s friendship with two friends of the same age as him is based on their sense of fighting back against the British Mandate.  They plot ways of attacking the enemy as young boys do, oblivious to the dangers involved.  Proffy sees an opportunity to use Crabtree as a source of military information to further their freedom fighting cause but things do not turn out that way and when he is followed by his friends his secret visits to the British mess are misinterpreted.

The resulting interrogation of Proffy by a Jewish group was confusing to me: who were they and on what authority did Proffy’s parents subject their son to such treatment?  A sub-plot showing their involvement in the Haganah might explain this.  In any case, Proffy is branded a traitor in his community and he questions the nature of friendship; learning  too late that Sergeant Stephen Crabtree was more of a friend than he realised at the time.  The final scene is worth waiting for since it brings a resolution not found in the book.

On balance, the book is far better than the film, even with the presence of Alfred Molina, but the location filming adds a dimension that I could not see in my mind’s eye when reading.  The sense of Jerusalem in the 1940s is brought to life.  For this reason, the film is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?

The Invisible Men

This documentary by film- maker Yariv Mozer is a sad portrait of the lives of three gay men adrift in Israel. The Palestinians are there because their lives are in danger if they stay at home.  The danger comes, mostly, from their own families.  In some cases the men came out to family members but it is also the case that exposure came from perceptions about their personalities or because they were caught with boyfriends.

BlogInvisibleMenThere is a sadness to this story of men living under the radar in Tel Aviv, a city chosen because it is the most accepting of their lifestyles.  Louie is an illegal, though, and he is regularly deported back to the border even though this places him in great danger each time.  Fares enters the film when Louie is asked to help him.  His family is actively searching for him, possibly to kill him, and it falls to other gay men to rescue him.

The third person in this film is Abdou, an out and proud Arab who believes his future lies in Europe where he may be better accepted.  The gay rights group supporting the men believe this is the best route for young gay men who are not given permission to stay in Israel.

The film follows two of the three to Europe where they, individually, hope to build new lives but they can’t escape the idea that this is not the homeland they would have chosen. The rejection from their families still stings and probably always will.  One of the saddest parts of the film was when Louie looked over the valley to his home village before departing for Europe.  He dared not visit and he longed to return.

‘The Invisible Men’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?