GAY FILM REVIEWS BY MICHAEL D. KLEMM
Green Plaid Shirt
Wolfe Video, 1997
Unrated, 87 minutes
And Time Enough
Unrated, 90 minutes
From A Marriage
A longtime gay relationship is, for the most part, no different from a straight marriage except when one factors in the dynamics of both partners being the same gender. Specific issues sometimes include one partner being out of the closet while the other isn't. Interaction with each other's families can be problematic. The question of traditional roles, not to mention monogamy vs. an open relationship, frequently consumes the marriage. Finally, some couples have to deal with gay friends who are jealous and will do anything to belittle their union.
This month's titles are both independent films which deal with the everyday complexities of such relationships, including how one partner deals with his lover having AIDS. For these men, being together is natural, but that still doesn't mean that it isn't hard work.
Writer/director Richard Natale's Green Plaid Shirt (1996) takes its title from an early scene where two lovers, named Philip and Guy, meet at a garage sale when each tries to buy the same shirt. As the film spans their ten years together, one or the other is seen wearing that same green plaid shirt in almost every scene and it becomes a symbol for their union.
Philip and Guy are two attractive young men who fall very believably in love. One only has to look in their eyes to see the genuine electricity between them. Guy tells Philip that he wants nothing more than to wake up every morning with him. Their early scenes together depict wedded bliss. A highlight is a hilarious breakfast scene where they each anticipate each other's needs and their movements are so in synch that they seemed choreographed by Jerome Robbins. But the initial fire dies down and eventually they drift apart. They also discover that agreeing to an open relationship only creates jealousy and hurt. Support from their friends is almost non-existent as Philip's two best friends, Jerry and Devon, are self-centered and obnoxious party boys who are prone to saying things like "If you guys really are still doing it, please have the decency to keep it to yourselves." Philip and Guy finally manage to resolve their personal differences and reconcile... and then Guy comes down with AIDS.
"Beginnings, middles, ends have always been in collision for me" Philip tells the audience, setting in motion a film that is both episodic and non-linear in form. As the film opens, Guy has died and Philip is sorting out his thoughts. Like a stage play with a narrator, the action shifts back and forth in time from 1978 to 1988 and the individual scenes gain dramatic power through their juxtaposition with others. The viewer catches glimpses of their relationship, like in Bergman's Scenes From A Marriage, and each of these glimpses add up to a whole as the film progresses. Echoes of Harold Pinter's Betrayal are also evident in the way the audience often witnesses the aftermath of a situation before seeing the events which precede it.
This reviewer was really sucked into the dynamics of this film and felt emotionally drained by its conclusion. There is much dramatic tension and conflict, but you leave the film on an up-note with the memory of Philip and Guy's reconciliation just before AIDS turned their lives upside down. Much of the film is very funny too, with its humor rising naturally from situations which are authentic and not contrived. And Philip's obnoxious friends are good for many great bitchy one-liners before they get sick.
Green Plaid Shirt achieves striking realism in the simplest of situations. The always bitchy Jerry and Devon contract AIDS and gossip about others who they have seen with "the look." When the eternal party boy Devon commits suicide, the survivors craft a quilt in his honor. Guy's estranged father visits as he lies dying and they have nothing to say to each other. Philip calls his elderly mother one night and asks her if she knows what it is like to watch all your friends die, and she answers sadly that she knows very well.
Perhaps Green Plaid Shirt's only flaw is a saccharine background score during Philip and Guy's most tender moments but this small quibble isn't enough to detract from the film as a whole. Its non-linear structure is beautifully composed. A second viewing was even richer than the first as all its subtleties rose to the surface. Green Plaid Shirt boasts a well written script, artistically composed cinematography, and terrific acting from all the leads. Gregory Phelan and Kevin Spirtas are so relaxed and natural in the roles of Philip and Guy that they don't even appear to be acting. This one is essential viewing.
Writer/Director Eric Mueller's World and Time Enough (1994) is a charming little film about two young men, one of them HIV+, who have lived together for three years in a small midwestern town. Out to "save the world," Mark is a politicized sculptor/performance artist who creates "temporary installations." In an early scene, he erects a sign which reads: "Defend Your Privacy. Information Is Power. Destroy Data Today For a Better Tomorrow." He then sets fire to a pile of telephone books and photographs it. "My work has to be temporary, fleeting, because life is," he tells an interviewer.
His lover, Joey, is a garbage collector in parks and along highways. He likes to bring home little pieces of junk which he arranges into his own art in a corner of the living room. The story is narrated by their best friend, David. His monologues are bitchy-funny but become intrusive and tiresome as the film proceeds.
Mark is filled with anger but never takes it out on his lover. The baggage he carries stems back to an unhappy childhood and now, even though he is still healthy, he has contracted a terminal disease. And so he covers a fence along a highway with hundreds of different colored pieces of cloth and erects a sign which indicates that each cloth represents thousands who have died, or who have been infected with AIDS. He skips from one temp job to another so that he doesn't have to get close to any of his co-workers. When a sexist boss annoys him at a data company, he erases the hard drive on his computer before going home. He deals with homophobes by knocking them out with one punch.
Joey, on the other hand, is a simple soul who just enjoys life. Still, he carries some of his own baggage too. For one thing, he feels guilty because of his negative status. Estranged from his adoptive father over his sexuality, he suddenly becomes obsessed with finding his biological parents. He is also afraid of the day when Mark will no longer be around. Together, they find solace and joy in each other. Until the film takes a bizarre turn in the middle.
Their relationship is a bit offbeat, but it is also very touching. Every morning they reaffirm their love by mentioning some detail that they find cute about each other. Nothing and everything happens when they are together, and they remain faithful and supportive to each other. Joey resists the advances of a handsome African American co-worker even when their relationship develops problems. Both men haven't spoken to their fathers in years and so, as is often the case in real life, they create their own family with each other.
Themes include love, fidelity, family relationships, mortality and obsession. World and Time Enough begins with Mark trying to call his father and leaving a message on the answering machine which sits a few feet from his father's dead body. Mark's father has spent the last two decades building models of cathedrals ever since his wife was crushed by a heavy cross which fell off the wall in their church. When Mark finds his deceased father, he snaps, abandons his anarchist art, and sets out to build a full-sized cathedral by himself in the woods. Feeling alone, Joey intensifies his search for his birthparents. Tragedy is followed by self-discovery and then a touching reunion. The ending, for these two men, couldn't be more perfect or more in character.
Despite a few heavy themes, most of this film is performed with tongue planted firmly in cheek. It is when the film indulges its offbeat humor that it is most successful. On first viewing this film last year, my strongest impressions were Mark's goofy, but passionate sculptures. Stripped of its initial spontaneity, the film didn't seem as polished on a second viewing but it was still enjoyable. The acting by the leads, Matt Guidry as Mark and Gregory G. Giles as Joey, is very good, but a few supporting castmembers play their parts so broadly that they almost become cartoons. Given the film's low budget, some of this can be excused but not all of it. Still, the characters of Mark and Joey are quirky and unique, and World And Time Enough is an entertaining and touching film.
Both films gets into some heavy issues which they handle with different degrees of success. Each details human behavior at its ugliest and at its most beautiful. Ultimately, they stand as testaments to the power of love and forgiveness. And they're both pretty romantic too, especially Green Plaid Shirt. Both movies are unrated so their availability at Blockbuster is doubtful. I rented both videos at Rainbow Pride located inside Buddies at 31 Johnson Park.
Reviewer's note, 2007: There is much to admire in both these films, but I was being very kind when I reviewed these films seven years ago. Each one has a lot of flaws, but there are also riches to be savored if you can sit through the less polished moments. I still admire Green Plaid Shirt a lot, but I have to admit that it was incoherent the first time I watched it. And for some reason, the sound is inaudible on the DVD and I don't remember it being that bad on the VHS tape. Still, these are still both worthwhile titles from that great period of queer film experimentation, the 90s.