documentary

Gay Filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz On His New Documentary About Legendary Producer Allan Carr

LA-based, openly gay filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz, 48, makes documentaries. You might have seen his 2015 film Tab Hunter Confidential (now streaming on Netflix).

Schwarz cut his professional teeth working for legendary doc duo Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (who won Oscars for Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt and The Times of Harvey Milk). I met him years ago when I was in film school and spent a semester interning on The Celluloid Closet (1995). Schwarz had the enviable job of listening to and transcribing celebrity interviews with people like Cher, Susan Sarandon and Tony Curtis (who said some pretty gnarly things about working with Marilyn Monroe on the Billy Wilder classic Some Like It Hot).

I published an initial interview with Schwarz back in September about his new documentary The Fabulous Allan Carr, but below are further excerpts from our phone Q&A.

Carr just completed a national and international film festival run this past weekend and Schwarz told me additional distribution on cable and via streaming is being worked out now

Allan Carr was the flamboyant and legendary entertainment producer responsible for movies like Grease and Can’t Stop the Music, as well as the Broadway smash La Cage Au Folles. Schwarz said he made the film “to celebrate” Carr.

The notorious opening number to the 1989 Oscars he produced basically ended his career. What that homophobia, an excuse to use his gayness against him?

Jeffrey Schwarz: There are a lot of people who didn’t like Allan Carr very much. He was too much, too outrageous, too gay. And the opening number was designed to be over the top, to be camp, to be outrageous and ridiculous. We didn’t talk about this in the movie, but it was inspired by the San Francisco show Beach Blanket Babylon.

The creator of Beach Blanket Babylon was Allan’s creative partner. It’s a gay aesthetic, a gay approach. It’s camp.  

It does smack a bit of homophobia to me that people thought it was just too out there and may be disrespectful to Hollywood. But I don’t see it that way at all. It’s such a celebration and a love of Hollywood. I do think homophobia played a role. But I can’t prove that. But that’s my sense. 

After that he was really persona non grata. When you have a failure like that nobody wants to associate with you. He went into withdrawal for quite some time after that. He never, with the exception of the 20th anniversary re-release of Grease, which was a big success, he never really had another success.

Do you feel like a producer of a “bad” Oscars show today would be punished similarly?

I don’t know. I think we’ve seen some fumbles over the years but we’re still talking about Allan Carr’s Oscars all these years later. I hope this film redeems it in some sense and people will look back at it and say, “Hey, that was actually pretty bold, and pretty ballsy.”

You’ve made a lot of documentaries. Does your body of work have a theme?

“Be true to yourself” is a theme. “Accept who you are and try to leave a legacy.”

I’m really kind of driven to find stories about people or events in the past that have been marginalized or [are] on the verge of being forgotten. Like Vito Russo. Such a dynamic force, he changed our world.

I make these movies to bring these people, drag them out of their graves, and tell their stories and empower people. I think they are all stories of empowerment. 

If you could wave a magic wand and make any project you wanted, it would be?

I would like to do this for the rest of my life. I’d like to make movie after movie after movie. It wouldn’t be one specific project it would just be given the privilege to keep doing what I’m doing.

Who are some of your important influences and why?

Rob Epstein is a major influence. I saw his film The Times of Harvey Milk when I was in college, when I was coming out. And that was one of the first, if not the first documentary I saw about our history. And I am just devastated by it every time I see it. The storytelling, the way the story unfolds, the compassion, the humanity, the anger in the movie is, it’s incredible. And he’s also a trailblazer for being openly gay very early on in his career. He was just always interested in just being true to himself and telling stories about our community. Word is Out is an early film he was involved with and Harvey Milk. So I’d say Rob is probably a real inspiration to me. I got to work for him. My first job was working with him on Celluloid Closet back in the 90s.

Is there any particular message in your film for LGBTQ audiences?

I don’t make the films for the LGBT audience. I make them because I want these stories to be out in the world. But I don’t want them to be limited to an LGBT audience.

All my films have premiered at non-gay festivals. I feel that it’s a way to create empathy and understanding outside our community. Like the Tab Hunter film was a film that talked very explicitly about gay themes to audiences who already loved Tab Hunter. Maybe older people who loved Tab but didn’t know that side of him, so it’s a way for straight audiences to be gently led down this path of understanding. Tab’s story, that was one of the reasons I wanted to do that movie, was to share his story with people of another generation, and younger people who didn’t know his story.

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New Jayne Mansfield Doc Opens In 13 Cities Nationwide

In the new documentary Mansfield 66/67, John Waters, the famously irreverent film director of cult classics Hairspray, Female Trouble, Polyester and Pink Flamingos, says Divine, the character he created with late actor Harris Glenn Milstead was inspired by a mash-up of the long-dead blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield and the post-World War Two B-movie monster Godzilla.

If that’s not enough camp for you, there are plenty of other reasons for LGBTQs young and old(er) to see this new film, which isn’t so much a biopic as an exploration of how and why the doomed Mansfield and her carefully-cultivated image mattered. 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the actress’ death.

Mansfield was a woman who, like the larger-than-life fake lizard from Japan, also made B-movies in the 1950s and 60s. Her best-known roles include The Girl Can't Help It (1956) and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957).

Interview subjects include gender-fluid singer Marilyn, legendary drag queen Peaches Christ, gay experimental filmmaker and author of the seminal tell-all Hollywood Babylon Kenneth Anger, actress Mamie Van Doren, and Hitchcock escapee and animal rights doyenne Tippi Hedren.

Filmmaker Todd Hughes, 54, spoke to me by phone from San Francisco, where Mansfield screened last night at the Alamo Drafthouse, a restored old time movie house in the Mission District. “We had all these young people,” Hughes said, 18-25-year-old students from a

Bay Area film school. Often the audiences have skewed older so it was a nice surprise to see millennials becoming aware of Mansfield’s work.

Hughes and his filmmaking partner and husband P. David Ebersole, 53, live and work in Palm Springs. The film’s website lists them as editors, producers and directors.

Why did they make the film? “We think she’s quite extraordinary,” said Hughes, “an interesting cultural figure.”

He goes on to say how some people now see Mansfield as perhaps “the first reality star.” Like the Kardashians, but maybe less crassly confessional, Mansfield was known for taking charge of her career and making the media work for her – instead of the other way around. According to the Wikipedia page about her life: “She was also known for her well-publicized personal life and publicity stunts, such as wardrobe malfunctions.”

Thanks to a new deal with Gunpowder & Sky, a distribution company “for film buffs,” according to Hughes, Mansfield opens in 13 cities across the US and Canada tonight. Boston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland and Toronto are on the docket. Hughes said if the film does well, it could expand to seven more cities in coming weeks.

The film took the duo four years to make. Interviews were conducted in LA, San Francisco, Provincetown, Palm Springs and, of all places, Leeds, in the north of England.

Why Leeds? Connections. Hughes said the head of the film department at Leeds Beckett University encouraged them to apply for a grant. They got it and from January to August, 2016, Hughes and Ebersole were artists in residence. As a result, the school contributed resources the filmmaking team would not otherwise have received. A number of university departments, such as film, music and animation helped make Mansfield what it is today.

The film’s website cites quotes from major media outlets that have reviewed the film. The Los Angeles Times wrote: “A celebration of the sex-positive, taboo-breaking image she created for herself.” And USA Today said, “Beyond all of the shocking stories, eye-grabbing headlines and secondhand rumors,

Mansfield 66/67 is something incredibly important right now – believe it or not.” (Perhaps a reference to how women have been treated in Hollywood and the sexual harassment allegations so many of us are now becoming aware about.)

On November 10, Mansfield 66/67 can be purchased on demand via Amazon, Hulu and iTunes. Shortly thereafter, Hughes said the doc will also be available on DVD.

Finally, Hughes told me the film was just nominated for best documentary by the Women’s Image Network Awards. The filmmaking duo previously won this award for their doc about Cher’s mom, Dear Mom, Love, Cher.

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New Mexican Documentary Shows Baja California's Fight For Marriage Equality

 Award-Winning documentary "No Dress Code Required" will open theatrically in New York City this coming Friday, November 3 with a national release to follow.

 

Directed by Cristina Herrera Borquez, the film won best documentary at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and was an official selection of both the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and Outfest, LA's annual gay film fest.

The doc follows the story of Victor and Fernando, who run a beauty salon in Baja California, Mexico. For many of their longtime customers they are a lovely gay couple -- until they decided to tie the knot.

Even though the Mexican Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in June 2015, the city of Mexicali actively defies their nation's court order, preventing Victor and Fernando from marrying.

"No Dress Code Required" is a powerful, emotional story of two men in love fighting for what they want, learning how people they've come to know and love actually feel -- and enlightening the community in which they live. #DownWithHomophobia

Running time: 91 minutes / Not Rated / In Spanish (with English subtitles)

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September/October Show

Reviews by Jeff Katz & Gary Kramer

 

Valentine Road (TV)

HBO 

4.5 stars

Five years after the tragic murder of 15-year-old Larry King comes the powerful doc Valentine Road, debuting in October on HBO. Speaking with friends, lawyers, former teachers and family, director Marta Cunningham attempts to explain the whys of both how a young boy who felt different wasn’t protected, and how his classmate could go to such extreme measures when he felt threatened. Cunningham does explore the backstory of what some have dubbed the other victim in this unfortunate incident—King’s killer, Brandon McInerney. His family and friends are interviewed and we learn of his abusive upbringing and, much like King, a difficult childhood. Perfectly timed for National Bully Awareness Month, Valentine Road, in part, brings to light how the school administration failed both boys, with interviews from teachers and staff that are equally heartbreaking as they are infuriating. At times the doc feels as if it’s lacking a bit of call to action, possibly masked behind the in-depth backstory. But it's the contributions from Larry’s friends that will leave viewers with a bit of hope at the end of this sad story, as one boy’s ability to live his all-too-brief life authentically continues to inspire those who knew him. — JK

 

 

 

 

Laurence Anyways (DVD)

Breaking Glass

2 stars

Out filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s ambitious film about the title character (Melvil Poupaud) becoming a woman is overlong—nearly three hours!—and underwhelming. While there is plenty of style on display with Dolan’s fancy camera work, imaginative fantasy sequences, and his penchant for gorgeous clothes and fabulous set design, there is, alas, no heart here. Laurence and his girlfriend, Fred (Suzanne Clément), are shrill, selfish characters who lie and fight. There are points to be made about gender roles and the treatment of and marginalization of trans people, but Laurence Anyways suggests punching men in bars and screaming at insensitive waitresses are effective methods for teaching tolerance. Poupaud is unconvincing as the woman he was not born to be, even when he walks confidently down the street in female dress and attracts stares. Dolan’s uneven film swerves wildly between dramatic and melodramatic crescendos without an ounce of emotion, save frustration. At least Nathalie Baye is terrific as Laurence’s mother. — GK

 

 

 

 

Bashment (DVD)

Ariztical

Bashment is an ambitious, overstuffed, but not ineffective film about a queer, white MC in the UK grappling with the aftermath of a violent incident that leaves his lover brain damaged. Writer/director Rikki Beadle-Blair asks many provocative questions about race and class, as well as masculinity, gender, and sexuality as victims confront their jailed attackers to find the source of the hate and rage. The ideas about forgiveness and bridging the gaps between black and white, gay and straight, even male and female are valid, although viewers will have to get past some wildly unrealistic transformations. Additionally, the characters’ thick accents, plus the film’s plot contrivances and staginess—Bashment is based on a play—can be straining. And while Beadle-Blair may cudgel viewers with loud, angry language, his mission here is to promote a new way of thinking about manners, racism, and homophobia—and for that he should be applauded. — GK

 

 

 

 

Aleksandr’s Price (DVD)

Breaking Glass

1 star

Written, directed, and starring the handsome but talentless Pau Masó, Aleksandr’s Price is a laughably bad drama about an illegal broke young Russian in New York City who turns tricks to support himself. While Aleksandr had a few good experiences initially, he soon experiences a downward spiral of epic proportions. Recounting his story to a therapist (one of the many bad performers in the film), Aleksandr talks about his regrets. Viewers who watch this film all the way through will have some as well. Aleksandr falls for his clients and would-be clients to ease his loneliness and stave off debt; he gets raped, blackmailed by a cop, and into a quasi-S&M-like scene. And just when the film cannot possibly get any worse, he hits absolute rock bottom by sleeping with the wrong man. Aleksandr’s Price is never sexy or stimulating, but the title character has an odd habit of masturbating to ease the tension in his life. Yes, it’s that kind of wrongheaded film. — GK

 

 

Undressing Michael Lucas

Michael Lucas is not exactly what you'd call a "born diplomat." He's opinionated, arrogant, self-absorbed, and, at times, downright obnoxious. (In fact, if this reporter had three weeks to live, he'd spend them with Lucas, because every minute with him seems like a year). But say what you will about Lucas, he's a master of public relations. Somehow, this immigrant from Russia managed to not only become a well-known porn star, producer and director… he's become his own brand. Lucas, who churns out 30 movies a year (that's about one every week and half), has managed to stay relevant in an industry where people's shelf life roughly equals that of a carton of milk. 

His latest project is called Undressing Israel, and contrary to its suggestive title, it's the first movie in which his subjects don't lunge into a 69 position within seconds of meeting each other. Undressing Israel is a documentary about gay life in the Holy Land. And what do you know? It's actually quite good. 

Lucas, doing his best Oprah, interviews everyone from soldiers to drag queens, even an Arab-Israeli journalist. And even though some of his questions are hard to understand, the movie manages to tell a cohesive story. 

Lucas, who's Jewish, shines a light on what it's like to be gay in Israel. The country, which is the size of New Jersey, is one of the most advanced places on earth when it comes to gay issues. A recent survey by American Airlines and GayCities named Tel Aviv the gayest city in the world.

This isn't Lucas' first visit to Israel. In fact, one could argue his porn flick, Men of Israel, had something to do with the spike in gay tourism in Tel Aviv. But this is the first time Lucas is going legit. We spoke about what made him button up and pop his mainstream cherry.

 

 

So, this your first movie where nobody takes their clothes off. Is the porn business going through a slump?
That must be the first time in history that someone has suggested that it’s easier to make money with documentaries than with porn! Actually, it’s only because my adult-film company is doing so well that I have the luxury of working on things like Undressing Israel, or on my current project: a documentary about the LGBT community in Russia and homophobic laws that have recently been introduced there.

This was a rather ambitious project. Was it harder than directing porn? (No pun intended!)
I like to take on ambitious projects. I’m a very ambitious person! And yes, of course, it is much harder then directing porn. Making a documentary takes months of work, whereas you can turn an adult film around in a week. And I don’t actually direct or deal with the production aspects at Lucas Entertainment anymore. We have an excellent in-house team that handles that now.

Why did you decide to do this movie?
I have been frustrated for some time with what I see as a general lack of understanding about gay life in Israel. At the start of the movie, I interview people in Times Square; you can see how little people know about this subject. And no other documentarians, to my knowledge, had done a film like this before. Many people only think of Israel in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that conflict often presents Israel as indifferent to human rights. But in fact, Israel is very liberal and progressive—more than any other country in the region—and its thriving gay community demonstrates that.

You've been an outspoken advocate of Israel. You're also Jewish. Do you think people might think you're biased?
I’m also gay, but you didn’t ask me if that makes me biased in looking at the question of gay rights! Of course gay people have a greater interest in gay issues, and of course Jewish people have a greater interest in Israel. Including me: I’m very proud of what Israel has accomplished. But this documentary is not about my opinions. Everything in it is factual and easily verifiable. When it comes to gay rights, Israel is more progressive then the United States and many European countries. That has nothing to do with my being Jewish or gay; it’s simply true.

What do you want people to take away from your movie?
I hope people see that Israel is a great country to visit. I’ve never met a person who has been there and not wanted to go back.

You've shot a few porn movies in Israel, how was this experience different?
I have had absolute freedom there and have never faced a problem filming either type of movie. Everyone has been encouraging and eager to help. 

Has it been sold anywhere? 
It’s currently making the rounds of film festivals around the world. Hard copies and video-on-demand rentals will be available at the end of July.

Why did you decide to include yourself in the film? Was that a deliberate choice?
I act as a kind of host in the movie, but I don't give my own opinions. Basically, I included myself because I’m well known in the gay community, and that makes it easier to attract audiences. Also, Barbara Walters wasn't available.

Your views have sometimes been called extreme. You've been very vocal about your views on the Arab world. Were you worried people in Israel, especially liberal gays, might not want you representing them?
I do have a problem with aspects of the Muslim world, particularly religious fundamentalism and its effects on human rights. In many Muslim countries, gay people are being persecuted and killed, prisoners are being mutilated and women are suppressed and treated as second-class citizens. But these “problems” stem from the fact that I am passionately liberal when it comes to social issues. Liberals in Israel understand this and had no problem participating in my film.

You shoot porn flicks in a matter of a few days. How long did it take to shoot this movie?
I went to Israel twice, as I was not fully satisfied with the footage I got on my first trip. Then the editing took about three months. The whole thing took about a year from start to finish.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about Israel while shooting this movie?
I have been going to Israel since 2004, so I was not especially surprised by anything in the film. It confirmed what I already knew.

What's next for you?
As I mentioned earlier, I'm preparing a new documentary in Russia, and I hope it will help bring attention to the suffering of gay people there. I was born in Russia and spent half of my life there, so I think I’m the right person to make this; I’m sure there are better filmmakers out there, but they don’t seem to find these topics as urgent as I do, so I took the liberty of doing it myself. Other than that, I have no big plans. At this point I’m happy with what I have, and I’m just enjoying my life. It's important to learn how to do that. 

For more on Undressing Israel, check out the film’s website and Facebook page: www.undressingisrael-themovie.com & www.facebook.com/UndressingIsrael