Showing posts with label The Arts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Arts. Show all posts

March 18, 2017

Bracing for A Scorched Land as Trump Takes the Money Away from the Arts for More Nukes

National Public Radio could lose federal funding under proposed Trump budget © AFP Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) 20 Save MARCH 16, 2017 by: Shannon Bond in New York President Donald Trump’s proposal to eliminate federal funding for public media and the arts has public broadcasters, local radio and television stations, and arts groups bracing to fight for their lives.

 Sample the FT’s top stories for a week You select the topic, we deliver the news. Select topic Enter email addressInvalid email Sign up By signing up you confirm that you have read and agree to the terms and conditions, cookie policy and privacy policy. The prospective cuts would bring on “the collapse of the public media system itself”, warned Patricia Harrison, president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funnels federal dollars to nearly 1,500 TV and radio stations across the country as well as NPR and PBS, the non-profit broadcasters. 

 Salman Rushdie, Jasper Johns and Rosanne Cash added their names to a PEN America petition to protect funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which support artists, writers, musicians, academics, museums, libraries and non-profit organisations. “Eliminating these vital agencies would lessen America’s stature as a haven for free thinkers and a global leader in humanity’s shared quest for knowledge,” the petition states. Federal support for media and culture has long been a target of conservatives, and these organizations have faced defunding threats before. 

Ronald Reagan intended to eliminate the NEA in 1981 but ultimately scrapped his plan. Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the House, tried to abolish both the NEA and NEH in the mid-1990s but settled for a compromise with Bill Clinton for steep cuts to their budgets. Related article Trump’s budget slashes EPA and state department spending The scale of what Mr Trump aims to do, as part of a sweeping re-evaluation of spending across the federal government, is different, said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, the writers association. “In the past it’s been caught up in the culture wars. It was a debate about what was art and what art deserved taxpayer dollars,” she said.  

“This is much more of a scorched earth strategy . . . So many functions of the state are in jeopardy now and arts and humanities are one of them,” she added. PEN and other advocates argue that the US already spends very little on arts and culture compared to other countries. In 2016, the NEA and the NEH each received $148m and the CPB received $445m from the government — adding up to less than one-tenth of one per cent of the annual federal budget. In the UK, the BBC is funded by £3.7bn in annual television licensing fees. Countries such as China, Russia and Qatar have recently expanded state-backed media outlets China Central Television, RT and Al Jazeera in a bid to extend their influence through soft power.

 As Mr Trump’s budget plans were unveiled on Thursday, US public media and arts organisations were ready with data and lobbying plans to push back. “The cost of public broadcasting is small, only $1.35 per citizen per year, and the benefits are tangible: increasing school readiness for kids ages 2-8, support for teachers and homeschoolers, life-long learning, public safety communications and civil discourse,” chided Paula Kerger, president of PBS, the public TV broadcaster. 

 PEN America is opening its first office in Washington to support its lobbying efforts, which will focus on working with local organisations around the country to urge their representatives to protect their federal funding. Advocates argue that public support is most critical for the community theatres, local library programmes and rural broadcasters that the NEA, NEH and CPB support. “The idea in the past that these were elite institutions in service of other elite institutions is not the case this time around,” Ms Nossel said. Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017

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January 27, 2017

What Impact a Trump Carefree of Culture Will Have for the Arts?

A week into Trump’s presidency, arts and music policy advocates are still largely at a loss for what to expect from his administration.

“The general feeling is that we are moving into unknown territory,” says Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, an organization that coordinates with local and statewide agencies to increase accessibility to the arts, during an interview in late November. “It’s changing before our eyes, so we don’t really know. We are in a mode of either assessing opportunity or assessing danger.”
In a recent statement, Lynch referred to last week’s report that Trump’s administration is considering proposing legislation that eliminates the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities “disturbing but not unexpected”.

Part of the difficulty of predicting Trump’s political relationship to the arts is the president’s general disinterest in the arts himself. Despite his deep ties to the entertainment and television industry through franchises like The Apprentice and Miss Universe, he has exhibited little interest in cultural events over the years apart from occasionally attending musicals on Broadway. 
“Trump doesn’t care much about culture,” says Marla Stone, a professor at Occidental College who has studied the role of arts and culture in 20th century European authoritarian regimes. “Culture is interesting to Trump to the extent that it reflects his status as a rich man: the Louis XIV furniture, the gold door, the gilded house. In his mind, his garish architectural style represents money and power and palaces and masculinity, which are all elements of authoritarian culture.”
Despite Donald Trump’s repeated chastising of assorted cultural institutions and figures over the past few months, from the cast of Hamilton, to Saturday Night Liveto Meryl Streep, arts and cultural policy advocates remain hopeful that when it comes to actual policy, they may be able to find common ground with the president on issues like the economy and trade. 
“What we’re hearing right now from the upcoming administration is infrastructure and job creation, and the arts are a very big part of that,” says Lynch, who notes that arts and cultural production contribute roughly $700bn – or 4% of the GDP – to the nation’s economy annually. “We need to make sure that the people who are filling those jobs in the federal government know that.”  
While promoters of the arts all stress the importance of state and local politics in arts funding and policy, they also acknowledge the role – symbolic, political, and financial – that the federal government plays in framing the context and support for the arts in the US through institutions like the NEA, founded in 1965 during Lyndon B Johnson’s administration. In the past 50 years, the NEA’s funding, set by Congress, has seen positive and negative fluctuations under both Democratic and Republican presidents.

But with both the House and Senate to be controlled by Republicans next year, the larger community of arts professionals shares a widespread sense of fear and pessimism about the next four years. During a November webinar hosted by Americans for the Arts, webinar attendees were polled at one point on whether or not they “feel optimistic about a Trump presidency and its impact on the arts”. Of the 79 attendees who responded to the question, three felt optimistic. 
“We can’t pretend like we’re simply going to go about business as usual or ignore the way this campaign cycle contributed to a shocking rise in hate crimes,” says Kevin Erickson, the national organizing director at the Future of Music Coalition, a non-partisan, DC-based organization that advocates for musician’s rights. “We will stand against any attempts to crack down on cultural dissent or inhibit freedom of creative expression. We know that artists and musicians worldwide are often among the first to be targeted when authoritarian leaders seek to consolidate their power.”
Indeed, the music and arts world have been erupting in organized protest and resistance over the past month, between a proposed call among art institutions to shut down in a “culture strike” on inauguration, to charity projects like Our First 100 Days, which has teamed with artists such as Bon Iver to release a song per day during the first 100 days of the new administration. 
As for specific policy issues, Donald Trump’s positions on the arts have remained almost entirely opaque and unclear, having granted a single interview on the topic with the Washington Post in March of 2016. During the interview, Trump expressed general support for the arts while conceding that he would be deferring all specific arts policy issues to Congress. “Supporting and advocating for appreciation of the arts is important to an informed and aware society,” Trump said nearly a year ago. “As president I would take on that role.”
For Erickson, Lynch and other arts advocates, there are a number of policy issues that are already emerging as clear causes for concern. One issue at the top of most arts advocates’ lists is one of Trump’s proposed amendments to the tax code that would cap the amount of tax-deductible individual charitable giving to $200,000 per couple. The cap on tax deductions would likely have a dramatic negative impact on the nation’s arts industry, which, according to recent data from Americans for the Arts, receives roughly 30% of its funding from private donations from individuals, foundations and corporations. 
“It’s not the only reason people give,” says Lynch, “but the tax incentive is what leverages the biggest chunk of the contributed dollars to the arts.”
Primary concerns for the Future of Music Coalition include an impending repeal of Obamacare, a program that’s proved to be a huge asset to independent, working musicians, 53% of whom were uninsured before the Affordable Care Act, according to a 2013 study. Although there are no publicly available statistics that reflect the ACA’s effect on insuring musicians, “Obamacare, because it’s specifically designed to assist self-employed, low-income individuals and their families, has allowed countless musicians to obtain coverage for the first time in their careers,” says Erickson. 
Another critical issue for the Future of Music Coalition is Net Neutrality, a principle critical to the basic livelihood of independent musicians of which Trump has expressed skepticism. Ajit Pai, a critic of net neutrality, has recently been named as the FCC chairman.
“Both the healthcare and net neutrality issues are fundamentally about who gets to be a musician and whose creativity we choose to value,” says Erickson. “Whose voices do we miss out on hearing if music, increasingly, becomes the domain of the privileged and powerful?” 
Others, like Mike Blakeslee, the executive director of the National Association for Music Education, remain optimistic that the upcoming administration may be friendlier to the arts, policy-wise, than what many are preparing for. In the world of music education, the crucial issue has been Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos as the secretary of education. DeVos, he says, has “shown herself to be a supporter of the arts”, having sat on the board of the Kennedy Center and donated millions of dollars to the arts over the years through her family foundation. 
Advocates like Blakeslee and Lynch see more to gain in emphasizing potential areas of cooperation rather than immediately establishing an antagonistic relationship with the upcoming administration. “I don’t know if optimism orpessimism is the right way right now. Realism is what we all need,” says Blakeslee. 
“We have folks who won the election, and we need to work with them and try to support arts education and the arts in general that serve the American public, and we need to keep that as close to the top of everybody’s agendas as we can.”

November 3, 2014

Graffiti Exhibition Breaks Tabus in Egypt

One of the artists and her work at the exhibition.
Muna Abdurrahman, one of the artists, with her work ‘Untitled’ at the exhibition.
It is a central theme in plenty of Egyptian movies. Egyptian singers have been ranting on about it for decades. Yet in general, speaking about the topic comes less naturally: love and, more specifically, intimacy. Therefore the informative website ‘Love Matters Arabic‘ (‘الحب ثقافة’) was launched in March 2014. From 23 October to 3 November 2014, the project is also visible offline with an exhibition in Cairo featuring pieces of Egyptian graffiti artists, dubbed ‘Without Barriers’ (‘بلا حواجز’).
With more than 3.700.000 views on YouTube, the Egyptian branch of ‘Love Matters’ is doing extremely well. The Arabic website is part of an award winning global project that is also represented in Kenya, Venezuela, China, Mexico, and India. It provides comprehensive, appropriate information on sex and sexuality, as well as personal stories and research articles targeting young adults in areas where this information is censored or unavailable. Ruth Vandewalle, ‘Love Matters’ representative in Egypt, explains: “It talks about love, relationships, and sex in all honesty and respect, and without barriers. Nobody accessing the website has to feel the need to be ashamed.”
‘Untitled’ by The Mozza
‘Love Matters Arabic’ is the first website of its kind in the Middle East. Although initially launched in Egypt, the online platform also reaches Arabic reading internet users beyond Egyptian borders. On 23 October, the Egyptian team stepped away from their computer screens to open the doors of the Contemporary Art and Culture Center Darb 1718 for the graffiti exhibition ‘Without Barriers’ (‘بلا حواجز’).
It is their first offline event. “With this exhibition, we want to bring out the discussion into the open and talk with one another about the barriers that are prevalent,” Ruth Vandewalle describes its goal. A group of thirteen Egyptian graffiti artists explores the sensitive topics addressed on the website through their art pieces. It is their visual response to themes such as intimacy and relationships.
‘Untitled’ by Basant Elbayoumy
Stating that almost every single piece showcased is well executed wouldn’t be an exaggeration. The material used ranges from ink and cardboard to acrylic and wood, and paper. The central role throughout most of the art works is taken by women, either alone or with a man. Strikingly, a man by himself is the subject in none of the paintings presented. Religious symbols such as the fruit of good and evil are recurrent in some of the works.
Present at the opening whilst live painting are Mohammed Khaled and his brother. They have been working together as graffitists since the 2011 revolution began. Ever recurrent in their showcased pieces are pyramid shapes: “The shapes we use have a certain meaning. The pyramid shapes you can see in our work stand for the split minds of people. We also used fig leaves to talk about the way our society looks at women. The woman in the painting has one on her face, symbolizing the way society tries to control her.”
The two siblings, Mohammed Khaled and Ali Khaled, pose next to their piece titled ‘Fig Leaf’
The two brothers were already contemplating making a piece about this sensitive topic before they were asked for the exhibition: “These are things we see in our society. Women in Egypt face a lot of problems and get no support from society, which stands against her freedom in the first place.” According to Mohammed Khaled, there is something missing in the education children get in Egypt: “There is no sexual education whatsoever for young boys and girls. They have some ideas about it, but there’s no dialog. Because of this some people grow up not even knowing what sex encompasses, especially in the provinces and small villages.”
‘Untitled’ by Hala El Sharouny
“Because we can’t make pieces like this on the streets, I saw this exhibition as an opportunity. It addresses exactly what we were thinking about,” he continues. Mohammed Khaled is not afraid their message will not shine through because Darb 1718 is a rather rarely visited spot with a very specific audience: “I am sure the message will be perceived due to social media. The message wouldn’t arrive if we would add a piece like this on a street wall anyhow. People would, stuck in their own point of view, think that we are ill-mannered people who paint things like these to get attention in a bad way.”
Lamis Solyman, a female graffiti artist, and her piece ‘Nowhere… but here’
Lamis Solyman, a female graffiti artist also known from Women On Walls, attaches several symbolic meanings to her art piece: “With my painting, I decided to focus on love instead of boundaries. People think that love is merely sex, but love is more than that. Love is in your heart. My painting tells that love won’t come to me through the way you are treating me sexually.”
“Love to us was about a rose in the mouth of a man, who found a key to a woman’s heart. All of that is gone now”, she describes the evolution she sees. “There are several categories of love, but we don’t talk about it in general. So when we actually talk about love, we say that love is wrong. But love is there, and it is never wrong.”
Lamis Solyman uses the wall as a mirror that forces us to face taboos. “When someone speaks about love, people call him ill-mannered. But we all are the result of a sexual relationship between a man and a woman. So why do we always hush up these matters?”
‘The Forbidden Things’ by Adham Saqr
‘There’s no shame’ by Nour Shoukry
The graffitists who worked on the exhibition are Muna Abdurrahman, Basant Elbayoumy, Amr Hamid, Mohammed Abdel Monem, The Mozza, Hala El Sharouny, Azza Ezzat, Maghraffiti, Nour Shoukry, Mohammed Khaled, Eman Salah Eldin, Lamis Solyman, and Adham Saqr.

May 27, 2014

UK: Council bans painting for showing naked gay couple having sex

Another of Ursula Burke's pieces

A council has banned a painting by a top artist – because it features a naked gay couple having sex.
The Ursula Burke piece was supposed to go on show at the FE McWilliam Gallery in Banbridge, Co Down.
A council spokesman said the decision was made as the image was considered inappropriate for display to minors in a public gallery, which is funded by the council.
But Visual Artists Ireland, which describe Burke as “one of the important artists of her generation in Northern Ireland”, said the move shows the council only wants show art exhibiting values “more at home in Victorian Britain than in a modern forward-looking Northern Ireland”.
VAI, which was speaking on Ms Burke’s behalf yesterday, compared the move to Newtownabbey Council’s controversial decision to try and ban the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Bible play.
It added: “These actions make a laughing stock of the supports for culture in Northern Ireland and are to be condemned.”
The group, which is as a representative body for artists in Ireland, said what they called the “trend by councils to interfere with the curatorial and artistic autonomy of their funded spaces is a direct attack on the freedom of artistic expression”.

More from Ursula Burke
They said the action by Banbridge District Council “would appear to indicate a complete lack of understanding of the role of visual art to challenge, question, and reflect”. VAI added: “Exhibitions can be clearly marked as to having content that parents may wish to control their children’s access to.
“Cases in point are the recent Kara Walker exhibition in The MAC which contained scenes of sexual intercourse in Walker’s shadow puppetry style, and the current exhibition by Alan Phelan in Golden Thread Gallery which contains scenes of extreme sexual practice in found video footage.
“Both exhibitions were open to the public with clear warnings to parents about these works.”
In a statement Banbridge District Council confirmed: “Following a review by Banbridge District Council’s Director of Leisure and Development, it has been agreed that the artwork entitled ‘After Frans Van Bloeman – Arcadian Landscape’ by artist Ursula Burke would not be included in the forthcoming exhibition, The Past is Unpredictable, which is due to open on 31 May 2014.
“This decision has been taken on the basis that the artwork in question depicted a scene of a sexual nature which was deemed inappropriate for display to minors in a public gallery.
“The FE McWilliam Gallery and Studio prides itself as a family friendly facility and encourages visitors of all ages to visit and view the exhibitions in a welcoming and comfortable environment.”

January 29, 2014

Russian Broadway Shut Down

Billerico } BrokeBack Mountain Opera

 Earlier this month we told you about an operatic adaptation of Annie Proulx's short story Brokeback Mountain being prepared at the Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain. Well tonight is opening night, and we've got photos and video to give all of us who can't hop the pond for the premiere a taste of what we're missing.
But first, a little extra context: as media interest in the opera mounted, Proulx, who wrote the libretto, and composer Charles Wuorinen sat down for an interview with the Associated Press to talk about the production and about how the medium of opera gave them both more room to flesh the classic love story out:
Ahead of its world premiere Tuesday in Madrid, author Annie Proulx told The Associated Press that opera presented an chance to explore the complexities of the tale in a way that neither her own story nor the movie by director Ang Lee were able to do.
Proulx said she "rejoiced" when composer Charles Wuorinen approached her to write the libretto, because she understood that an opera "would give room, which the short story did not, and which the film was not particularly interested in doing," to open up the characters involved in the doomed love affair.
Wuorinen said he tried to give the menacing nature of the rugged Wyoming landscape a greater presence in the opera than in the previous versions. "It is very beautiful, as the film shows," Wuorinen told the AP, "but it is definitely not sentimental. It is not a romantic landscape. It's a deadly one -- it's dangerous."
This forbidding natural backdrop is represented by Wuorinen's sometimes atonal style -- one that presented the singers with a steep learning curve. "The music is very challenging, there's no question about that," said Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch, who appears as one of the cowboys, Ennis Del Mar.
Love scenes between Del Mar and fellow cowboy Jack Twist, performed by American tenor Tom Randle -- which caused a stir when the movie was first aired -- are depicted discreetly on the opera's minimalist stage. Wuorinen's score makes use of a wide range of percussion instruments that convey sounds like the wind and rain on Brokeback Mountain.
Photos and video from Teatro Real's Brokeback Mountain opera are after the jump.
John M. Becker

PHOTOS: 'Brokeback' Opera Premieres Tonight


November 6, 2013

Opera Explores Gay Theme { Desire Before Identity}

Paul Appleby as Brian in Two Boys.
Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Met Opera
It is increasingly uncouth, in mainstream criticism, to assign any special meaning to a gay storyline, impolitic to suggest that because a narrative happens to include a gay sensibility, relationship, or characters, it might warrant a different kind of evaluation. That creators of clearly gay-themed work nonetheless resist being labeled as “gay artists” and that critics comply by noting gayness matter-of-factly (if at all) is, I guess, another triumph for the “we’re just like you” school of the gay rights movement. But in the rush to tear down the walls of the much-maligned gay-art ghetto, could we be sacrificing the richness of understanding that’s only possible when difference is celebrated and investigated rather than downplayed or dismissed as irrelevant?
J. Bryan LowderJ. BRYAN LOWDER
J. Bryan Lowder is the assistant editor of Outward,Slate’s LGBTQ section, and the editorial assistant for culture.
I offer, as a case study, composer Nico Muhly and librettist Craig Lucas’ highly anticipated and moderately well-receivedopera, Two Boys, which is currently in the middle of its American premiere run at the Metropolitan Opera. Briefly, the two-act work—based on true events in Britain—uses the structure of a police procedural and the language of the early 21st-century chat-room Internet to examine how a precocious 13-year-old boy, Jake, created a diverse and Catfish-like cast of online personas (most important, a pretty girl called Rebecca) in the service of seducing a 16-year-old, Brian, into having sex with and then killing him. You’d think that with a title that transparent and a plot that soaked with homoeroticism, critics would feel invited to at least consider how the gay experience might be of service in unpacking the opera; and yet, for all the feverish chattersurrounding the fever-dreamy production, serious discussion of its gayness has been curiously, frustratingly absent.
To be fair, you could argue that no one in Two Boys is technically gay, at least in terms of the paradigm of “being out.” Jake, the young manipulator, seems fairly aware of his emerging sexuality—posing as Rebecca, he initially asks Brian if he is gay and then quickly drops the subject—but treats it more as a theory in need of testing than an internalized identity. And though Brian is clearly (if uncomfortably) aroused by the attentions of Jake, he is ostensibly straight, explaining his decision to "let" Jake fellate him as an act of pity (a classic closet-case move).
That said, I’m actually not overly concerned with applying labels like “gay” or “closeted” here; rather, I’m interested in how impressively and arrestingly Two Boys illuminates the psychic space where they honestly don’t (quite yet) apply. We live in a moment in which it is harder and harder to inhabit that space, one that is not exactly the closet—which implies a certain level of self-knowledge and acceptance that has yet to be made public for some reason—but is instead somewhere behind it. To strain the metaphor, the mental place I’m describing is something like a Narnia behind the wardrobe, a hazy landscape filled with half-articulated, yet-to-be named desires and aesthetic/erotic obsessions still free of the weight of politics or ideology. It’s all the stuff that is retroactively explained by “gay” once you’re out, but is something else while you still don’t quite realize that you’re in.
It is hard to explain this state of pre-gayness, the experience of living in this limbo before language has explained body and mind to themselves, to those who have not lived it. It is filled with flickers of attraction and flashes of yearning, hints that sometimes even coalesce into clear fantasies of connection that have as much to do with sensibility as sex. However, due to circumstances that range from regional diversity to religious repression and beyond, this flurry of activity can avoid accumulating to the level of “Ah, I’m that” identity for a surprisingly long and not necessarily wasted period of time. For my part, despite copious, glittering, hindsight-highlighted evidence to the contrary, I did not connect gay with me until my first sexual experience with a man during freshman year of college. That moment continues to represent a kind of rupture in my internal timeline; after that night exists the solidly gay, perhaps better-adjusted me, but before it was someone else—someone who, though I have difficulty accessing him now, I am pretty sure was erotically richer for lacking a demarcated love-object, psychologically interesting in ways that could not withstand the blinding, all-encompassing light of gay identity.
I know I am not alone in this experience, but I do get the impression that it is increasingly rare. As countless trend stories attest, kids are “coming out” (i.e., understanding themselves to be gay, with all the cultural and political baggage that entails) earlier and earlier, no doubt thanks to increasingly unavoidable media representation, wider cultural discussion and acceptance, and, of course, capitalism’s interest in creating niche markets. To be clear, this is not necessarily a negative situation, but merely a change from the way things were before—a change about which I remain comfortably ambivalent.
But if this hazy, heady pre-gay experience is on the decline, a veteran can’t help but hope for some kind of keepsake for posterity—and that’s exactly what Two Boysprovides. Here, again, we have a landscape of flickers and flashes, chat windows offering different flavors of non-binding connection, and pixelated images summoning flushed cheeks and locked bedroom doors. Fantasy, transposed into the more audible range of web slang, is the language of the realm, electric screens the means by which Jake and Brian sing it to one another, sustaining the reverie. This opera has all the magnetism of a status bar with its familiar mix of impatience and excitement: identity formation in progress, desire definition download not yet complete.
Read the many reviews and think-pieces on the show, however, and you could get the impression that it is, rather drably, about Internet culture at a particular moment in the past. The chorus sings complicated (and quite gorgeous) layers of A/S/L chat lingo, antique message boards are shown on giant screens, and faces glow in the light of fat laptops and grand projected representations of the networks that connect us all. And yet, the web is only as intriguing as the millions of people who get caught in it. As one of the show’s designers told The Atlantic, “It’s about letters appearing on a screen, but yet from out of that, it’s as much about imagination as it is about anything else.”
A real-time crisscrossing of imaginations, a networking of extra-cranial psychic extensions—these are what the Internet, in a certain sense, actually is. So to speak ofTwo Boys as if it is simply about communication and technology is as strange as describing Muhly’s scoring as “novel combinations of vibrating materials”—music amounts, of course, to more than the objects and actions that produce it. Likewise, in the opera, the early Internet happens to be the means by which two minds—each stumbling through the wild, misty pre-gay landscape I’ve described—connect and become, in this case, dangerously entangled. (They could just as easily have met for lunch or sex, but that’s not operatic.) So when we say that Muhly’s opera feels dated, we are talking as much about the version of sexuality on display as we are the operating system facilitating its exploration.
Which, it should be clear, is not a criticism on my part. Though he seems relatively uninterested in foregrounding the gayness in Two Boys in interviews, Muhly has nevertheless produced a valuable record of what it was like, not to “struggle with,” but to have the luxury of being awash in one’s yet-to-be-solidified sexuality. As that possibility, for better or for worse, is foreclosed (with a great deal of help, ironically, from the Internet), I am glad we have at least this one way of hitting the back button, even if just for the length of an aria. 
J. Bryan Lowder is the assistant editor of OutwardSlate’s LGBTQ section, and the editorial assistant for culture.

September 7, 2013

Putting the Sex in Homosexuality } Lincoln Center

NewFest of Gay Films Opens at Lincoln Center

Wolfe Releasing
Playing at NewFest: Images from films in NewFest 2013, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, featuring films on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues.
 Amid the euphoria following the Supreme Court’s striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, allowing married gay and lesbian couples to enjoy federal benefits granted to wedded heterosexuals, one word that remains seldom heard is “sex.” Sex, as sexual orientation? Yes. Sexual, as in sexual equality? Yes. But the thing itself, the primal catalyst? Not much. 
In public discourse, sex acts that not so long ago were widely criminalized have gone largely unmentioned amid the torrent of high-minded rhetoric about equality. The face of gay liberation in 2013 is a sanitized image of polite, smiling gay and lesbian couples parading hand in hand and exchanging chaste kisses at city halls in states where gay marriage has been legalized.
But if there’s a theme to the 25th annual NewFest, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender film festival that opens on Friday at the Walter Reade Theater, it is that gay liberation is fundamentally about sex. The Supreme Court decision may further validate the rights of gays and lesbians, but their practices in the bedroom are still repugnant to a lot of people. Recent attacks in New York City indicate that a change in the law doesn’t automatically erase prejudice.
This year the number of festival selections that include explicit sex is a provocative reminder that even in these relatively liberated times, for many people — gay as well as straight — homosexual behavior and gender fluidity are still synonymous with the Other. Some gay activists lament the fading away of the eroticized outlaw mystique of homosexuality.
NewFest, which runs through Wednesday and includes 15 narrative features, 4 documentaries and 31 shorts and other special events, offers many acute reminders that history doesn’t suddenly disappear into the mist because laws have changed. For gay men of a certain age, the worst days of the AIDS epidemic, when they lost countless friends and loved ones, are still painfully present.
One of the strongest entries in this year’s festival is Chris Mason Johnson’s film “Test.” Set in San Francisco in 1985, “Test” remembers that fraught time when AIDS patients were dying in droves, treatment was in its infancy, and an H.I.V. test had just been developed. Frankie (Scott Marlowe), a young dancer who has led an erotically free life, worries that he may have contracted the virus. He minutely inspects himself for symptoms and debates with trepidation whether to take the test.
Frankie belongs to a dance company whose male members are mostly gay. The personal stakes escalate when he begins a tentative relationship with the company’s promiscuous and macho bad boy (Matthew Risch). The movie offers a detailed look at the inner working of a small dance company, and Sidra Bell’s choreography illustrates the theme of eroticized danger without going overboard.
“Test” has already been compared to Bill Sherwood’s 1986 film, “Parting Glances,” set during the AIDS crisis and starring Steve Buscemi. Today that film is widely regarded as a landmark of gay cinema.
The concept of sexual transgression runs through the festival. The protagonist of Stacie Passon’s “Concussion,” the opening-night film, is a woman whose longtime relationship with her female partner has lost its spark. After a head injury, she embarks on a secret life as an escort, offering her services to women for $800 a session. The movie received a mixed response at the Sundance Film Festival this year.
“Concussion” has pride of place in NewFest, indicating the dearth of lesbian movies in the marketplace. The year’s most anticipated such film, Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, is graphically explicit in a way “Concussion,” which keeps most of the lovemaking beneath the sheets, is not. “Blue” will be shown next month at the New York Film Festival.
Explicit images of sexual arousal are found in “Interior. Leather Bar.,” directed by Travis Mathews and James Franco, which reimagines the 40 minutes of footage cut from the 1980 gay slasher movie, “Cruising,” from a contemporary perspective. That film arrived at a moment in the gay liberation movement when urban centers like New York and San Francisco were gripped by a kind of erotic delirium in which men pursued a hypermasculine ideal and promiscuity was rampant.
“Interior. Leather Bar.” captures some of that heady ambience of sweaty disco and extreme sex in all-night gay S&M clubs. But the action in the movie doesn’t compare in intensity to the crazed heat in “Cruising.” And that may be the point. Intentionally or not, “Interior. Leather Bar.” implies that the era of unbridled license was a moment in gay cultural history that has largely passed. It’s dangerous to generalize, but the frenzied activity epitomized by the slogan “so many men, so little time” seems to have abated.
Within gay and lesbian culture, a more contemporary, pragmatic attitude is expressed in Christina Voros’s documentary “Kink,” a coolheaded, cheerful examination of the pornography industry from the viewpoint of, a San Francisco studio specializing in films about bondage, discipline and S&M. The movie teems with images of men and women filmed while being bound and flogged, and there are quasi-medical discussions of the physiology of S&M and pleasure.
The one outright dud among the explicit films that fancy themselves transgressive is Yann Gonzalez’s “You and the Night,” a ludicrously arty French trifle in which a transvestite maid arranges a solemn pansexual orgy, though not much really happens. At Cannes last spring, it reportedly emptied the theater.
Of the several fraught love stories in this year’s NewFest, Stephen Lacant’s “Free Fall” is one of the strongest. A German police officer, engaged to his pregnant girlfriend, falls in love with his training partner, and the two conduct a heated clandestine affair. Its stars, Hanno Koffler and Max Riemelt, are handsome, their sex is hot, and the impact on the fiancée (Katharina Schüttler) and on the engaged couple’s families is devastating. “Free Fall” is an upsetting and believable study of the disruptive power of unleashed desire.
Among the festival’s documentaries, one of the most powerful is Marta Cunningham’s “Valentine Road,” which explores the aftermath of a 2008 classroom shooting. Lawrence King, a 15-year-old transgendered student in junior high school, was shot in the back of the head at point-blank range by a 14-year-old fellow student, Brandon McInerney, in Oxnard, Calif. Two days later Lawrence, who had asked Brandon to be his valentine, died. Three years later Mr. McInerney was sentenced as an adult to 21 years in prison.
After examining the case from every angle, “Valentine Road” implies that irrational fear and loathing of the Other is built into us, and that despite the law, acceptance comes slowly, one victory at a time.
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