The Tops of Tribeca

By Lawrence Ferber

Originally published on Advocate.com August 01 2009 12:00 AM ET

The Tribeca Film
Festival crept north of its namesake downtown Manhattan
neighborhood this past edition, clogging Union Square and
the Village with badge-wearing attendees. But one
thing the youthful fest didn’t get away from
was its status as desired launching pad for a handful of
LGBT titles.

This year, two
locally significant documentaries took center stage: one
on pop artist Keith Haring, and one honoring the late, great
Squeezebox. From the mid-90s to 2001, Squeezebox was
New York’s premiere queer rock club, where drag
queens not only abandoned the lip synch but had live
guitars grinding behind them. Numerous established acts
played the weekly event, while new ones, including
goth-glam rockers Psychotica and a German transsexual
named Hedwig, first graced its stage. In Zach Shaffer
and Steve Saporito’s Squeezebox! documentary,
extensive archival footage and interviews are framed by TV
clips of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose nightlife-quashing
''quality of life'' campaign was a constant threat.
It’s a fitting tribute and valentine -- with middle
finger raised, thank you. Off-screen, a raucous party saw
many of the party’s familiar faces reunite,
including Mistress Formika, John Cameron Mitchell and
Debbie Harry.

Director
Christina Clausen’s The Universe of Keith
Haring
mines the pop artist’s life via an
impressive collection of footage and voices.
It’s not always flattering, especially
Haring’s laughably pretentious, early School of
Visual Arts video performance pieces (in one, a tribute
to his father, he speaks in morse code), while many of
Haring’s surviving friends and family members
expound upon his brief yet prolific existence and
work, including Bill T. Jones, Kenny Scharf, and Fab 5
Freddy. It’s fascinating, and a compulsory
viewing, but Clausen’s attempts to steer clear
of PBS style, through flashy sound effects that punctuate
the talking heads, make it irritatingly MTV-style
instead. And, sadly, while Haring’s close
friend Madonna appears in archival materials -- including
priceless footage of her first public appearance, wearing a
Haring-painted outfit to boot -- no new interview is
included.

There was modern
day Madonna at Tribeca nonetheless, and as with the
music charts, she went head to head with Mariah Carey on the
film lineup. Madge swung by in the flesh (to many a
paparazzi popping) with her Malawi documentary, I
Am Because We All Are
, while Carey played a singer
in the drama, Tennessee.

As with this
year’s Shelter, gay surfers ride the waves of
sexual awakening in the Australia-set
Newcastle. First time feature director Dan
Castle (once of gay film distribution company, Jour De Fete)
peppers Miramax-like drama -- family conflict! coming of
age! a past tragedy that taints the present! - with
more pulchritudinous young male nudity than Mel
Roberts could fever dream. A young man’s sexual
awakening also informed writer/director Christopher
Weekes’ ensemble piece, Bitter &
Twisted.
And queer supporting characters appeared in
foreign titles 57,000 Miles, and Whatever Lola Wants.

Tom
Kalin’s eagerly awaited Savage Grace, in which
Julianne Moore one-ups Pink Flamingos
Dawn Davenport in expressing love for her son,
screened. But one of the year’s most under-the-radar
titles in regard to queer content or read was Swedish
import, Let the Right One In. Winner of the
festival’s Founders Award for Best Narrative
Feature, director Tomas Alfredson’s arthouse horror
flick imagines a love story between preteen Oskar, a
little bullied boy, and Eli, a little girl who is not
only a vampire, but likely not even a girl. The film (and
John Ajvide Lindqvist’s source novel) alludes
to the possibility Eli is actually male, and when Eli
informs Oskar of this detail, it makes no difference
to the lovestruck boy (according to hearsay, the possibility
of casting a boy as Eli was bandied about by the
filmmakers). That’s progress for you!