Sunday, 28 April 2013

CONTINENTAL - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Klymkiw HOT DOCS 2013 HOT PICKS

Continental (2013) ****
Dir. Malcolm Ingram
Starring: Steve Ostrow, Sarah Dash, Holly Woodlawn, Edmund White, Frankie Knuckles

Review By Greg Klymkiw

You're a businessman. You're looking for a business. Something new. Something exciting. Something challenging. Something needed. Really needed. Now, if you're a great Big Apple businessman like Steve Ostrow was in 1968, you identify the hole and you fill it.

The hole Ostrow identified was deep, dank and dirty. It not only required filling, but demanded to be packed good and hard.

Ostrow was not only a great businessman, he was a flamboyant, forward-thinking visionary - an artist, if you will - so much so, that his true passion was not necessarily the free and open marketplace, but opera. More specifically, Ostrow was a gifted singer and he desperately wanted to project his gorgeous voice on an international stage - to sing in the great opera houses of the world. This, sadly, just wasn't in the cards. He was a husband, a father and he had mouths to feed and bills to pay. In those days - in fact, in most days - a mensch, a real mensch did not shirk away from his responsibilities.

At this time, the free and open marketplace was not quite free and open for his grand idea - especially not for the prospective clientele since their place in the world was not a matter of choice, but hardwired into their very being. In spite of this, homosexuality was illegal and a whole generation of men were ostracized, vilified and hunted down like common criminals for just being who they were - gay.

Many of these men were in the closet. Coming out at that time meant risking everything, so they stayed burrowed in their secret society and surreptitiously sought places off the well-trodden paths to exercise their God-Given right to be who they really were. This forced them into clandestine bars and clubs, but the risk here was even too great, so instead they sought anonymity and sexual solace in steambaths.

Ostrow changed everything. He wanted to run a steambath that wasn't some horrific, unkempt and dingy hovel - he wanted a clean class act for gay men to frolic in.

And so he bore - at least up to that point in his life, his true masterpiece - the Cadillac of gay steambaths, the immortal Continental. Here his clientele were treated as human beings, with respect. Ostrow gave them a class act to pursue their sexual expression. Once he erected his glistening Crown Jewel of steambaths, he didn't rest on his laurels and merely count his shekels - Steve Ostrow always kept several steps forward of the game and his game.

In so doing, The Continental Baths became more than a mere bathhouse - Ostrow created one of the major landmarks in Gay Rights and one of the hottest, most cutting edge launch pads for a myriad of performing artists. Yes, live entertainment, ladies and gentleman. If the action got too steamy in the baths and you sought more, shall we say, restful heat, you could wrap a towel over your genitals, retire to the performing space and watch the likes of Bette Midler (backed up on piano by Barry Manilow, no less).

For a steam bath, the Continental was red-hot and COOL - double your pleasure and double your fun!

It's a great story made even greater by Malcolm Ingram's first-rate feature documentary Continental.

This is one terrific picture. Ingram pulls out all the stops to tell a story that's brash, bold, funny, inspiring and ultimately deeply moving. He does so in such a way that the movie is full of surprises (many happy ones) and always, much like Ostrow's life, a rollercoaster - with all the requisite ups and downs. (Mostly "ups" - "downs" are downers, but they're necessary for those "ups" to be higher and harder.)

Ingram has always been a take-no-prisoners filmmaker and someone I've admired from the beginning of his career. He wanted to make movies - in Canada. Did he initially go knocking on the doors of government agencies. No. He knew his brand of filmmaking would have doors slammed upon it. He made his first film, the insanely odball Drawing Flies which made a virtue of its no-dough status - ON FILM YOU WHINING FILM BRATS!!! ON FILM!!! He made it initially with chicken scratchings and then, with a huge helping hand from Kevin Smith and his View Askew productions, Ingram delivered the picture which, in my humble opinion, has some of the funniest, weirdest writing in Canadian cinema - and that, my friends, is saying something. Smith, of course, was the original graduate of the If-You-Want-To-Make-a-Movie-Quit-Fucking-Whining-About-It-And-Just-Make-The-Fucking-Thing School. Ingram comes from the same stock and by any means necessary, he kept making movies including the all-star cast youth comedy Tail Lights Fade in which he partnered with Canadian Über Producer Christine Haebler and then he went to ground zero and cobbled together enough dough to make two of the best and seminal gay-themed docs of the new century - Small Town Gay Bar and (my personal favourite) Bear Nation.

Well, he's blown all of them away. With Continental, Ingram has hit the stratosphere and delivered Ostrow's tale with clarity, a wonderful sense of celebration and good old fashioned solid filmmaking. He delivers a sense of time, place and history and by the end of the film, he generates a work that is chock-full of elation and yes, one that is genuinely, deeply and profoundly moving.

Ingram aimed for the stratosphere with this one and damned if he doesn't blast right through the celestial fucker.

"Continental" is playing at the Hot Docs 2013 Film Festival. For showtimes and ticket info, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.