Gay Times Reviews XVIII

The Sound of Music Children  Carlton

Officially it's the world's most popular film: over 1 billion people have seen it at least once, except in Austria where it only ran for 3 days before locals complained about Hollywood's portrayal of its fair country. Still, 36 years on it was time for a reunion and what better way than to pack the seven screen siblings off to Salzburg.

Narrated by Matthew Kelly, the children - now aged between 44 and 57 - romped around the statues and skipped through the tulips. They reminisced and ruminated. Nicholas Hammond (Frederich) recalled how make-up poured neat bleach on his hair, resulting in a blistered scalp. Note to movie buffs: it's why he's wearing a hat in the 'Do Re Mi' scene. Charmain Carr (Liesl) remembered how she fell through a plate glass window in the gazebo during '16 Going on 17'. Kym Karath (little Gretel) recollected how she nearly drowned filming the boat scene. Louisa's (Heather Menzies) engram was how Gretel had ingested so much water that she threw up all over her 'sister'. Brigitta (Angela Cartwright) detailed her 'dental dilemma' when her milk teeth dropped out. Duane Chase (Kurt) and Debbie Turner (Marta) didn't say much to be honest. Chase seems to avoid mention of his early career in film (he's now a geologist and software engineer who does a bit of mountaineering) and Turner is happy to be a mother of four who runs a floral design business.

In addition to all the backstage morsels, there was some lovely footage taken by the mothers and crew. The stuff that buffs are made of: all shots you'd recognise from the film but from a disparate angle, slightly grainy and jerky. And over all this, the von Trapp actors revealed the secrets of movie making while taking a Sound of Music Tour on a coach. Did you know they used a cable to pull the boat along, as Kurt and Fred 'couldn't possibly row that fast'? Or that they hired four more children to round out the sound? Or that Kurt's high note in 'So Long Farewell' was actually sung by Liesl's sister, Darlene?

Of course it begs those questions about 'celebrity' that we always ask and never really answer, but I refuse to be cynical about this. Watching them hop and run up and down the steps ('Don't they seem small to you?') in a 2001 version of 'Do Re Mi' was the most sublime TV. Equally, for a moment, it was the worst too: trite, lavishly glorifying and overly sentimental. The inclusion of the tale of how they were stuffed fiscally just made it... more wrenching somehow: whether it's the gut or the heart being wrenched, I'm not sure.

The South Bank Show ITV

One of the first gay authors I heard about when I started to come out was Edmund White – copies of Boy's Own Story were all over the place – but I've never read his work. The South Bank Show started a reading with his last book The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris as White wandering through the streets in what was, I suppose, a reenactment of his wayfaring the 'melancholy delights of the haunted city of his imagination.'

For most of it though, White was plonked down on a rather opulent red chaise lounge with gold passement, while Bragg flitted across what seemed to be the gayest mien of White's career and life.

Son of a psychologist mother who encouraged cultural educations and a father who was a 'tyrant, really a monster', White began reading French literature aged 7 in Cincinnati, Ohio. A disturbed childhood made White feel like he was drowning: only in writing did he manage to halt the rising tides. I'm not sure if the slightly grainy colour home movies that formed a backdrop were of White, a little chap resplendent in sailor boy blue and bright red braces – I do wish they would say!– but I digress.

Bragg focused on the 'trilogy' of White's work that is, to all intents and purposes, his autobiography: Boys Own Story, States of Desire, and The Married Man – the latter – along with White's 17 years in the French capital – occupied a large chunk.

He admitted that, while something of 'an exhibitionist as a writer', he was 'not daring in speech': where as 'most writers are misanthropic' he is not. For those times his own talent failed him, fellow scribes Alan Hollinghurst and Colm Toigin where on hand to wax lyrical.

There was an aptly meandering feel to the programme, echoing the mood of the flaneur – an itinerate loiterer. White was escorted through his tales of his 'visible universe, the business of sensation, of how a life is lived, full of strange details and texture' by Piers Faccini's rather wistful violin.

White's gentle and brilliant demeanour, as well as the readings, persuaded me, after 18 years, to seek his work out. For me, that was the beauty of this South Bank Show and something that rarely happens when I view programmes: it made me want to read again.

Lara Croft: Lethal and Loaded   Ch5

I first saw Lara Croft across a darkened living room in 1996 and acquired a bruise on my head where I fell head over heels. Friends haven't always understood my attraction to this well-educated, well-endowed action hero. I did wonder if Lara Croft: Lethal and Loaded might give me some insight, for I could never quite comprehend it myself...

Finding out that the release of a Prodigy CD was delayed due to the producer fingering buttons to make Lara move, and I never took a whole week sick from work to watch her leap and run around a 3D world... compared to this, I'm just infatuated.

After all, this woman is quite unfeasible. She is a thief of ancient antiquities. She trespasses in archaic structures. She gleefully murders all those who cross her path, whether they be human, feline or prehistoric. She is overly agile. And as for her chest... my god! Mummy!

I'm sorry. Like many of the contributors here, Lara has rather a bizarre effect on me. Certainly, I'm not a Liverpool goalkeeper and therefore unlikely to let in four goals after playing with her all night. Nor do I yearn to have Croft tattooed on my body. But I have I admit wasted... no, savoured... many hours in her company. I know she is just a bunch of rather attractively arranged pixels with an voice over artist who makes those delicious little 'Uh!' noises when Lara clambers up rocks.

I'm not so enamoured that I dress up at Lara to go clubbing (anyone who knows me probably just lost their lunch at the very thought) even though, as this Lara lookalike says, 'Some women of a certain persuasion find her as attractive as the men do.' Nor am I so taken with her that I search out patches, apparently available on the Internet, which strip her clothes off.

I can't explain it, and this programme did little to ease any disquiet I feel about drooling over this pixilated creature. Still, it was another very, very diverting hour spent with my dream girl, she grinned foolishly...

© Sept 2001 Megan Radclyffe

Escape To The Sun BBC1

It might come as no surprise to you that 60,000 Britons have upped sticks and moved to Benidorm, Spain's No.1 tourist trap. Partners Gary Brown and Michael Beddow are no different from thousands of others who are swayed by the potential goldmine of a bar in Benidorm. Along with a Chubby Brown impersonator, an aspiring TV presenter, the owner of The Benidorm Palace, a mid-aged couple and a smattering of other such 'characters', we too, through the marvellous medium of television, can share the highs and lows of picking sand out of yer arse and yelling at the Spanish. Excuse me while I yawn.

Gary and Michael's 'grand ambitions' lay in a basement club called The Pulse – '400 square yards of dark and dinghy basement' – which they purchase for the price of an executive car, and rename 'The Rich Bitch'. Yes it's another drag bar, just what Benidorm needs... The idea was to make it 'all Jackie Collins' – leopard print, cream walls and gold fiddly bits – which will no doubt have them rolling in.

I'm sorry but I was bored stiff with the repeated stock footage and the continual reminders. I got thoroughly weary very quickly. So what, there were cockroaches in the shower stall, a succession of crappy microphones, shopping for suitable [sic] fabric, trying to 'charm' the local boys and tourists, three fags whomping around a tiny stage in stilettos with Gary yelling 'Teeth and tits! Stiffer arms!' at his Lady Boys.

It all gave the impression of a disparate, and desperate, British community sweating away on the Costa Blanca: is this the measure of our success in Europe? Or is it all about the 'opportunity' of having an English fry-up when it's 90°? Either way, it's a bloody waste of time: I'd rather watch repeats of Eldorado...

attachments BBC2

So we've had This Life for homosexuals in Queer As Folk (Ch4) and This Life in Scotland with Tinsel Town (BBC2): now we have This Life for Geeks, in the form of attachments (BBC1). This one was even devised by the chap who did something on This Life!... And it starts with a nude, skateboarding nerd who's having major traumas over a screen freeze. And so we enter the teeny office of (yes this URL exists) – a hipper than thou website set to scale the heights of cyber stardom. A rag-tag crew of motley web whizzes includes Amanda Ryan as Sophie, the 'outspoken' lesbian-who-occasionally-sleeps-with-men (duh no, she's bisexual then) content-manager. She spends the first episode freaking about malicious spam mail, and the second preparing for a weekend in Amsterdam (where else?) as the company flails around in a fiscally challenged way. She also proclaims herself a 'genius' for submitting copy such as: "The Queen Mum is a national treasure, unlike you, you cancerous bile-ridden whore." Ah, the cutting edge of e-journalism, eh? Oddly, the comment doesn't appear on the actual website, and if you think the site looks humdrum on screen, try the real one...

We see internal office politics galore, skullduggery in the appointment of a sales manager, a right royal shafting by an e-investor who then suffers an embolism in the WC, and the mood plummets in episode two. Soph feels disgruntled with a "boysie site who wheeled me in to up the chick factor" but I was far more cheesed off with them wheeling out a so-called lesbian to up the ratings. If you think I'm being cynical – and why wouldn't you? – I present the closing titles for Episode 2: Soph and a mystery woman, no soundtrack, hands down pants, and a full on lip massage. This may not seem odd until you remember that the closure for Episode 1 just had scenes from the next programme.

All said and done, it's not half bad. Like the site itself, it's aimed at that ABC1 base of 18-35 year-olds, who are 'all about attitude and no apologetic'. With six episodes left, what are the odds these techno bods will conquer the cyber world? Pretty unequivocal, I'd say...

Faking It Ch4

An interesting concept, this. Find a country chap who is studying chemistry at Oxford, take him away from the leafy lanes of Devon and dump him in Hackney to train him as a nightclub bouncer. The extra spice in this pudding is that the guinea pig, Alex Geikie, is gay. His heritage was obvious as the cab drove him into the East End. "Look!" he wailed, pointing in horror. "There's a mattress! A mattress on the pavement!" His fear was just as palpable as he approached his home from home, a 15th floor council flat on a extensive, frayed estate. His hosts, Charlie Beer and Tony Agastini – head of London's largest security firm and world kick-boxing champ respectively – towered over this frail little fag. "Evah bin 'it?" they asked. Alex, paled then reddened. "Not properly, no."

Having been schooled in the culture of the East End ("The word 'fuck' is desperately important to all Londoners") Alex is thrown to the lions... well, Agastini's girlfriend, who managed to loose our boy his pride and all feeling in his bollocks with one swift kick. "I was this close to crying," Alex admitted. Still lacking the moves, the voice, the haircut, the clothes and the attitude, it seemed a long haul to make this gay toff into an East End yob in one month.

First up was a skinhead complete with the mandatory Nike relief and an artily shaved eyebrow. To take care of turning Alex's plummy 'down's into 'dahn's, a leading light at RADA, William Konneker, was drafted in, and set Alex on the aural treadmill of learning the pukka way to say 'Fuck'. By day twelve, Alex fessed up that "each day is a ritual of pain" which included a bloodied nose to add to his mashed sacs. If being pasted in the ring wasn't ignominy enough, the boys treat him to a lad's night out: black suited n' booted, loadsa lager, caterwauling karaoke and largin' it over lap dancers. Alex sat, a slightly uncomfortable gent, squirting a lithe blond with a water pistol, looking for all the world as if he'd really rather be elsewhere in the world. "I didn't feel a thing," he said, probably the first time in a fortnight that Charlie and Tony's drilling didn't cause him pain.

Despite having found a 'common bond in slobbiness', Tony and Alex's relationship was not explored. Neither Tone or Chas were flummoxed by the young lad's sexuality: it appears that a gay bouncer "is not unique". My thought was that his cover story, that of a Tottenham-born Gunner (an Arsenal supporter for those unacquainted with the glorious Highbury boys), is more outlandish, but I digress. One Konneker said, "Yer accent's sorted!" and the press-on dragon tattoo had been applied, it was time for Alex to impress at the Hippodrome. And he did, he fooled the 'expert' bouncer to the extent where a real life bouncer was fingered as an impostor. "Really?" the 'expert' blurted. "Oh ya got me there. Honestly. Bloody hell!" A pause. "Really?" Yes. The gay guy triumphs! As for Alex's reaction? "I'm not gonna cry cos I'm an 'ard doorman." Aw, bless...

A Very British Murder Ch4

Two slow moving documentaries in this series featured gay-related content: the first, Killing Christine, barely solved the 1985 murder of a lesbian sadomasochistic prostitute Christine Offord; the second - Dressed To Kill - hid more than it revealed of Wales' first serial killer, Peter Moore. And to be honest, I felt both of them fell short. The stylistic content stayed within habitual TV edicts: while Killing Christine felt distinctly seedy with its lingering night shots of cars and houses, Dressed To Kill was conspicuously bleak. The narration, the misplaced torpid tones of Daniella Nardini, drifted over the pans of vehicles driving back and forth (dark and rain-drenched conditions for the prostitute, and a tacit 'bridge to hell' for Moore). Kith and kin (Christine's exceptionally well-adjusted children), locals (Moore's rather bewildered neighbours) and lovers (including Offord's trifle Lindi St Clair) were wheeled out. The investigative trail was skewed or dashed over, and the use of a first-person view in reconstructions was just a tad too voyeuristic for my liking.

So I am left wondering what it taught us. Get involved in prostitution and you'll end up face down in the bath, your hands tied, ironically, with your own BDSM gear? Pick up a whip and show the dominant side of your psyche and you too could end up stabbing someone over 50 times? Oh, I hope not! Was it then to show just how strange the British can be? Were we just poking fingers? Or merely convincing ourselves that it's just a 'normal' part of our culture to murder gay people? I am at a loss to explain it, and the lack of an intensive psychological inquisition here meant the viewers were no further on in the comprehension, let alone the prevention, of these types of crimes. It could be worse though: it could have been part of Channel 5's continual slew of crime programmes.

Due to the increasingly diminishing size of this column, I really don't have space to argue the toss about the use of phrases such as 'anal funnelling - a possible sign of homosexual activity' quickly followed by a lingering shot of a gnarled truncheon. Either way, I found both programmes lacking in content and answers. It did provide one of the eeriest moments I've ever witnessed on television: what seemed to be a static picture of Moore became animated and I swear, I went cold. Not the kind of sensation I appreciate, thank you.

© Nov 2000 Megan Radclyffe

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