Gay Times Reviews XIX

Black, Bent & Beautiful Ch5

Is there really any shock value left in seeing a man scantily clad in silky female underwear? I don't think so but you don't really expect more from Channel 5, do you? But I digress. This programme should have been that extremely laudable exposé of homophobia within the black community, but it became hoist by its own petard.

While I applaud the contributors for standing up against an overwhelming surge of verbal antipathy and physical violation, did the producers really think about how they would be perceived? Of course the argument could be used that without the butches and the drag queens, all those 'straight-acting' queers would be stuck at home picking fluff from their cardigans, but I felt it tainted the import to use such stereotypical citizens.

And they were all there: the sheared butch female rapper from Nigeria whose parents disowned her and her evil spirits; the Jamaican drag queen who was regularly heard cries of 'Batty man for dead!'; the post-op TS from Hackney who asked why others are 'so obsessed' about gays (answers please!); and 'Femi', a woman so petrified of retribution from her church that she refused to appear without her face obscured and an electronically adjusted voice.

The narration talked of an 'unrelenting consensus in homophobia' in African and Caribbean countries but my guess is there are many who will be angry that the finger was only pointed at the black community. It is not disputed that white folks are just as iniquitous, but here the blame was being laid firmly on the psyches of fellow indigenes: 'I'm so fed up and disappointed, almost to the point of saying I'm despondent about the black community,' the post-op TS sighed. It's fine to sing Glad to be Gay in Old Compton Street, you just try it in Kingston or Nairobi...

This programme, however badly made (and sorry but it was, low level sound being the least of the worries), charted experiences of localised homophobia spawned from and spurned on by religion, misinformation and ignorance, which forced these lesbians and gay men to run towards the UK to 'escape the hostility of sexuality' and the 'incredibly violent homophobia' they encountered from friends, family and strangers. But for all its faults, as with so many programmes about the experiences of queers of all colours, it's a start. My problem is still having to ask the question: after so many of these faltering starts, stops and restarts (tell me you haven't seen a similarly themed programme before?), when can we move on to the point where the issues aren't just presented as a late night freak show?

Hollyoaks Ch5

I don't keep up with Hollyoaks. It's merely one more soap, and if I tried to keep up with them all, I'd be a delirious weirdo by now. I was unaware of the tale of Luke Morgan (Gary Lucy): I gathered he worked in a restaurant called Deva, and knocked a football about. I did happen to catch a few minutes when three chaps with a beat box invaded the little bistro, snarled at him and kicked a table over. Next thing, poor Luke was frantically wiping pink graffiti - 'Luke Morgan Is A Ponce' - from the wall outside. Ooh, was there more to his growling antagonist than I first thought?

Could Luke be gay? Could he be the victim of homophobia? The answers came by way of a late night 'adults-only' episode, which opened in a shower room. Luke was seemingly alone, but just as I leaned forward in my seat, the scene cut to another of the soap's many couples. It somewhat deflated the tension.

It took me a little while to work that the snarly one is called Mark, and he was a tad narked over a pub quiz embarrassment, an accident involving a leg, and being usurped by Luke in the local football team. So it made a 'sic' kind of sense when Mark threw Luke's 'fancy' toiletries on the floor and pissed on his kit while his two stooges dragged the poor boy into the toilet and dunked his head. If it wasn't for an ineffectual janitor who bumbled in, lord knows what could have happened?

Luke was certainly no wuss. Not only did he break free but he went after the lads in the car park, crushing Mark's leg behind a car door. The ensuing car chase was cut to ribbons by other developments in this 3-for-1 sexualities episode, as a committed straight couple shagged beneath the arches and a pair of straight virgins split condoms while ensconced on a sofa. Caught myself wondering, now where's that Red Triangle?

Still, a car chase that ended in Luke's vehicle getting stuck in a huge pothole meant that he was trapped as Mark and his cronies pulled up. Mark was rather vocal as to why he hated Luke so much: he's a faggot because he's a male model, and because he won't fight back therefore he's not a man. Mark however is a man, and threw Luke over the car bonnet to prove it, yelling how 'the gay little bastard' was 'gonna learn the hard way'.

One peon looked appalled and backed away to a safe distance, but did nothing to stop the rape, seen via a side shot from a dozen yards away. Mark was happy man: Luke 'deserved it' apparently, and was left doubled over, laying on a muddy road by the river bank in the dark and in the rain.

He did what many people do. He showered, he freaked out, he cried, he ran circles around a car park, and smashed through an exit barrier. Once again deadlines beat my brow, but Hollyoaks has been reinstated on my list of watchables... stay tuned.

© Feb 2000 Megan Radclyffe

Tinsel Town  BBC 2

This production has been floating around for some time now. And so keen were BBC Scotland that the series should receive publicity for the ten, forty-three minute episodes that they sent ONE TAPE, one measly first-episode tape. So here's one opinion on that singular tape...

As the opening titles ran I realised we might just be in for a Scottish version of This Life. Well that was almost right. Tinsel Town is touted as a 'unique, uncompromising portrayal of young people living their lives.' In that case, it's like watching those 1950 families with teenage sons who look 35. I must be getting old, I have no idea what 'young' people look like now...

To be honest, hooking up with this gang of ne'er do wells is not my idea of being with 'young people who are not afraid to be positive'. Oh they are... about drugs. But keep in mind I only saw ONE TAPE. And that's all that happens. Drugs. Sex. Music.

We are introduced to boxer and aggressive drug dealer Brady (Steven Duffy), who's well... a boxer who deals drugs, can't say much as he seems to do little else but wander around menacingly. But if he doesn't get you twitching down yonder, there's Coutts (Stuart Sinclair-Blyth) a cocaine-fuelled love machine who copulates with his woo-man (Dawn Steele) at every! possible! opportunity! One-dimensional? No idea, maybe the next nine episodes will reveal a depth of character. Then there's Jack (Paul Thomas Hickey), a morgue assistant who lives with his drunken mother and insists his life has 'no complications'. His friend Sandra (Mandy Matthews) lives in a squalorous flat and likes to party with a capital P-A-R-T-Y! Oh and there's a baby Muriel Gray called Lex (Kate Dickie) who wants to be a DJ. Don't they all nowadays?

Oh and there's even a gay chap who bags, shags and dumps one of these 'young' people. I missed his name because the juvenile shoved his tongue into his mouth too rapidly to catch it. Rumour has it that the youngster is a mere 15 summers old and his intimate is a 30 year-old policeman. Just the slightest shade of Queer As Folk, you think? Again, maybe the other 387 minutes will divulge more than a brief rummage in a hallway after some rib licking.

These international bright young things are the type who can't even be bothered to eat microwave meals and wear clothing that I'm sure would compromise any attempt at breeding (maybe that's not such a bad result though). They are club kids, all drugged up, water bottle welded to their hand, livin' for the moment when the chemicals crest and send them spiralling off towards nirvana.

This apparently 'represents Glasgow as a youthful and vibrant city with a buzzing culture... a forerunner in this scene.' Yes, buzzing on a hit of coke or having popped a pill. Great publicity for Glasgow. The Tourist Board must be overjoyed.

Having said all that, I would be more than happy, after episode 10 is shown, to eat humble pie - as I was forced to with This Life - and admit that Tinsel Town was a worthwhile, inventive and hugely enjoyable series. Meanwhile, I found the direction and camera angles very similar to too many other new dramas of late (when the camera isn't smushed against their faces, it's swaying or being used for cyclical shots from analogous angles) and the club scenes ridiculous (all Eighties video affects - negative film, stop-frame animation etc). Shame that, because most of the music - from the Chemical Brothers to Faithless and back via Placebo and Talvin Singh - is superb. Watch this space.

Witness: Going Straight Ch4

This programme on the work of the 24 year-old Exodus International group drove me equally to anger and resignation. These happy-clappy folk believe that they can 'rescue' lesbians and gays from homosexuality and deliver them to the Lord pure and free of sin, with over 100 affiliated ministries in the US. Witness cast an uncritical eye over this practice by filming at a 'safe house' in Witchita, Kansas, where gay men spend a year in virtually monastic existence battling their demons. Evenings are devoted to prayer, meditation and listening to fine Christian music.

Just how Exodus hope this will 'convert' these men was never really clear. It was obvious however that these men were finding this forced religious litany a little difficult to cope with. 'Lord, give me a break!' cried Brad. 'Tell me what I'm doing wrong!' He'd been expelled for 'persistent sexual misconduct' and his wife talked of 'emotional rape' and of being victimised. Her distress was obvious but just as prominent was the fact that Brad was waging an awkward and painful war of attrition against his base instincts.

And here's the rub: not one of the men here looked like the 'deliverance from the evil of homosexuality' had made him as truly intoxicated with the spirit of the Lord as Exodus had promised. They did not seem happy at all, just mentally battered and physically nebulous. Exodus claim a 30% success rate: even one of their golden boys said he still had ten 'lustful thoughts' a day, and only one third of those were fixed on women. Success? No, looked like a mortal purgatory to me...

Real Life: The Gay Dads Carlton

Unless you've been stuck in a vacuum since last summer, you will have heard the names Barrie Dewitt and Tony Barlow. These two chaps have been thrown into a media maelstrom when it was announced they were to have twins by an American surrogate mother. Real Life - touted as a 'new style' of documentary - followed the story from September 1999, as Barlow and Dewitt flew to the USA, asking whether they were 'a sign of the times or a threat to society'.

Given the nature of this tale ('Surrogate Mother Fertilised with Another Woman's Eggs and "Co-mingled" Sperm from Two Men Shocker!') you might except this to be a finger-wagging exercise on the perils of allowing such arrangements. It was not. It was a very positive, neutral report.

The programme covered every angle and didn't shy away from showing the stress that a citizenship battle placed on them, or Barrie's sporadic annoyance ('I'm sick of being here! I feel like I've got what I came here for, I want to go home!') while stuck in a San Francisco hotel, post-birth. Despite the situation, they were shown as normal [sic] people living normal lives, no different from childless heterosexual couples who go through the same procedure.

Emphasis was given to Barrie and Tony's background (born and raised on Manchester council estates) through failed business ventures and their 12 year relationship, to the spacious house in Danbury, Essex and the stylish flat on Canal Street. Everyone who was involved was interviewed, either during the pregnancy or after the birth of lil' Saffron and lil' Apsen. Grandparents Fran, Fred, Veronica and Barry (all highly positive and very loving towards both men), the two nannies Helen and Debbie, the biological mother Tracie ('I saw the two of them and thought, "They're so cute!"').

Even the 'host mother' Rosalynn, who has been seen recently giving her embittered version of events, was featured - one might say favourably. Of course, the accusation that Dewitt and Barlow 'cut her out' of the babies' lives three days after their birth has been levelled: here, the boys didn't feel it necessary to pander to that, and they were not pushed to either. Nor where they drawn on the cost of it all: nice to see that the producers considered it was no-one's business but theirs.

My feeling is if these chaps wouldn't have been such a success, emotionally and fiscally, this never wouldn't have accrued so many column inches. And I admit that previous to viewing this, the whole situation left me feeling somewhat fidgety, but it was so refreshing to watch an hour of unbiased attention to these men's lives. Best of luck to them, and kudos to Real Life.

Why People Hate... Poofs Radio 4

As with Witness I reached the end of this programme half deaf (a hissy recording with voices deep into the background forced me to blast it from my Pioneer) and not exactly feeling enlightened.

In a civilised [sic] world that claims they 'hate nothing more than hatred' it might seem odd then that hate crimes against gays (and lesbians but who cares about them) are on the rise. This programme really did little more than give a voice to bigots such as Peter Marsh who told us that there is 'three times more pædophilia among homosexuals than heterosexuals' but claims he doesn't hate gays: he just dislikes the 'relentless promiscuity inherent in the condition.' So that's alright then... Ikbar, a Muslim, said gays and straights can never live in peace, and George Harvey, that evangelical pastor whose son committed suicide, said the experience had 'strengthened his faith'. He was the angriest voice, but only because he felt badgered to talk about his son, and was not asked about the 'Ministry' he set up in Anglia to 'cure' gays.

In fact, the only person who was said to hate gays was Mark Simpson. How ironic, eh? What does this prove, that we should embrace our bigoted brothers. squeeze our segregationist sisters? Seems hate is a word few would actually use, but it doesn't stop them spewing out such puerile and damaging rhetoric. And yes, while it was clearly noted that 'not everyone who reads Leviticus or the Koran will go out and kick a queer' but they do have a backup plan: don't say you did it because you hate them.

Burnside ITV

It had to happen eventually: a spinoff from The Bill. And here we are, with newly promoted Burnsie, now a DCI at the NCS – the UK equivalent to the FBI. I know, abbreviations. At least it makes a change from the hackneyed East End language used in abundance here. It's all 'pompous wankers', slags, tossers and tarts, mugs and yet more wankers (this time, a bunch of 'em).

So, as the new boy and desperately keen to make an impression (obviously), Burnsie decides to carry on from where he left off at Sunhill, ignoring orders from on high while bullying and staring everyone out. After all, the subtitle is 'Back With A Vengence' so no need to elaborate. He's on the trail of illegal gun runners in the first of three, two-part vignettes. Later on, he tackles a serial killer and then tries to nail a mobster, and all of this while trying to track down his arch nemesis (played by Paul Nicholas, not so much Dancin' With The Captain as Dodgin' The Copper).

I hear you: what's the interest for you here? Well if you like these gritty police dramas then you're already rejoicing no doubt, but if you don't, here's the gimmick, sorry – reason. Burnsie has two sidekicks – and please, stop me if you've heard this before – a tough Scottish dame called Sam (Zoe Eeles) who guzzles double Tequilas with Red Bull, and a gay chap named Dave (Justin Pierre) who um... well, hasn't say a lot so far. Shades of Taggart I feel, except that Dave enables the producers to cover all those PC bases: he's mixed race too. My guess is that Dave's there to counter Burnside's wisenheimer exterior with his own brand of 'charm and sensitivity'. That makes a change from scripting in a gay character for ratings, doesn't it?

Rhona BBC2

I expected to absolutely loathe this. As the titles rolled (Rhona warbling a song reminiscent of the Bread theme) I was safe in my dislike. I watched as Cameron perform with stilted delivery against Mel Geidroyd's senior comic timing. The most intriguing thing I noticed was the granite iMac in the background. A couple of half-smiles, one laugh (provided by Giedroyd) and an annoyance at the repeating of tag lines until they became irksomely repetitive.

I saw the first two episodes, 'The Rain' (in which Cameron attempts to claim back her ex, Miranda, by running through the rain in a cinematic style, resulting only in an asthma attack) and 'The Tailor' (where she has a tailor made leather jacket that turns out to be too 'boxy' while Geidroyd meets Omar Sharif at a bottle bank). It seemed that this lesbian-based, no – lesbian-detoured, sitcom was heading towards a Gimme Gimme Gimme hell.

Then I watched 'The Rain' again, with a friend. I still thought Rhona gave away all the best lines, but then Victoria Wood consistently does the same. Cameron even allows herself to be continually and farcically chided by her mother (Janet Brown with a broad Scots brogue) and shown in frankly unflattering jumpers.

My cohort thought it was quaintly funny, but suffered from 'cheap' laughs. If you can get past the absence of timing and you don't convince yourself this is the British answer to Ellen (certainly it is not) then you might fair well. Brownie points for Geidroyd for saying 'Whoa Nellie!' (it's a wholly personal chuckle) and I really do hope it goes from strength to strength.

© Aug 2000 Megan Radclyffe

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