Saturday, 25 May 2013

THE CLOSEST THING TO HEAVEN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Inside Out LGBT Film Festival

The Closest Thing To Heaven (2013) ****
Dir. Ryan Bruce Levey

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Love is the great equalizer. It's the root to all humanity. With it, we flower, we blossom, we reach for the light in the sky and the elusive wonder and mystery of the Heavens. With love, we are all one. Without love, all that exists is emptiness, and a spirit bereft of love is one that yields hatred. Thankfully, all the arts, literature, cinema and within the boundless cornucopia of cultural expression, music, are those things which can reflect, inform and solidify in all of us the the infinite and limitless nature of love.

A new documentary premiering at Toronto's Inside Out LGBT Film Festival 2013 utilizes the principles of good old-fashioned storytelling to explore love. I was, while watching the film, reminded of the great speech yielded by Orsino in Shakespeare's "The Twelfth Night" and the oft-quoted line: "If music be the food of love, play on." Orsino is, of course, referring to his frustrating attempts to court the love of his life and that he requires an almost gluttonous infusion of music to soothe his passionate breast and quell his aching heart. The subjects of this film, however, discover love - a love that grows and deepens across a lifetime, one that is heightened by a love for music and where that music - like the spirit of those who are in love, traverse the heavens - is music that fills the heart, not as a substitute for love (as in Orsino's case), but as love itself and the power of love proves to be truly eternal.

In nine minutes, filmmaker Ryan Bruce Levey delivers his deeply moving film The Closest Thing To Heaven and though the running time is short, the impact is as profound and layered as a lifetime. In spite of the title, Levey moves beyond the notion of being close to Heaven. His film, his subjects and most importantly, his audience are given a great gift - in nine minutes we rise ever-so sweetly, we soar with humour, elation and love, until Levey continues to work the magic of cinema, hitting all the thrust controls, allowing us to be jettisoned to a place that feels like Heaven itself. If the film does anything (and frankly, it does a lot), it simply and beautifully allows one man to spin a tale of love that delights and finally, moves us to tears.

They're not tears of sadness, however, but of elation, happiness and the warmth of feeling that only love and the expressions of love can bring.

Levey is a young man, yet he is a veteran of independent cinema in Canada. He has worked tirelessly as a distributor, promoter and publicist for movies that fall outside of the mainstream. He has specialized in Queer Cinema, but has done so within the forward-thinking and visionary manner which the great theatre auteur Sky Gilbert brought to bear during his longtime tenure as the Artistic Director of "Buddies in Bad Times" theatre. Gilbert promoted Queer Culture as that which transcended the boundaries of the mainstream (in terms of sexuality and/OR aesthetic form) and in his own way, this is something Levey has done over the years with cinema. If it ain't straight (sexually OR otherwise), it's product needs a home for those who crave ALL that is Queer.

Here, he takes a logical and, to my mind, very successful step ahead in his distinguished career. He's made this simple, glorious and beautiful film as a director. And yes, I place an accent on simple in the best sense of the word. As a filmmaker, an artist, Levey understands that the best cinema is that which is simple and that it's this assured, no-frills approach that yields so many layers of tenderness on both narrative and thematic levels.

Using the hoariest of cliches, allow me to say that The Closest Thing To Heaven is a film that makes you laugh and makes you cry. Tried and true, yes, but truth is what great filmmakers always try to expose. And that, is a lofty goal indeed. As lofty as love itself.

Inside Out has a number of genuinely great pictures on display in the 2013 edition. Here's a few I loved:

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

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Steve Ostrow created the Cadillac of gay steam baths in New York, 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).


Valentine Road (2013) ****
Dir. Marta Cunningham

Review By Greg Klymkiw

One boy is flamboyantly gay, the other is a potentially burgeoning white supremacist. One is now dead, the other is spending 21 years in prison where, given his age and good looks, is no doubt "enjoying the benefits" of sexual abuse and eventually seeking the protection of being another con's "bitch." And these, are just the surface facts. Director Marta Cunningham draws us into the true story by painting a portrait - an extremely graphic and horrifying one at that - of a young gay man's flirtatious action leading to his murder before shocked classmates and teacher while at school.


Interior. Leather Bar. (2013) ****
Dir. James Franco, Travis Mathews
Starring: James Franco, Val Lauren, Travis Mathews

Review By Greg Klymkiw

James Franco, one of the great actors of the 21st century, teamed up with acclaimed queer filmmaker Travis Mathews to co-direct this exploration of gay male sexuality within the context of re-imagining 40 minutes of excised lost footage from Cruising, William Friedkin's MPAA-butchered masterpiece from 1980. A lack of time and money, however, forced the filmmakers of Interior. Leather Bar. to re-imagine their re-imagining, so what we're treated to is a documentary about the making of a re-imagining as re-imagined by Franco and Mathews before, during and after they re-imagine it. Fine by me.