Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Southern Baptist Sissies": Dogme-style film of a stage play clashes evangelical Christianity with gay identity

Southern Baptist Sissies” is making the LGBT festival circuit (I don’t see it on schedule for the DC area yet).  It’s pretty easy to guess the subject matter from the title
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First, the format of the film, directed by Del Shores, is noteworthy.  It is filmed right off a stage (the Marka Theater in West Hollywood), with the story set in Dallas, TX.  (I’m surprised they didn’t stay in Texas to film it, perhaps in Austin.) There are references to streets (Cedar Springs) and bars (Moby Dick) in Dallas --- meaningful to me because I lived there from 1979-1988 (although some of the clubs have moved around and switched names in recent years).  The stage sets rotate among a “Calvary Baptist Church”, which gets turned into a dance club, a dinner theater, and various other gatherings as the stagecraft possesses. 
  
The technique is the same as what Lars Van Trier used for “Dogville” a few years back, and the shooting style is called Dogme, although some of the rules are broken (for example, here the aspect is a full 2.35:1).  The scenes seem to be shot in long continuous takes, without much editing, as is common with Dogme.
   
Apparently, there is an original stage play of the same name, and I think it was written by Del Shores.  I don’t know where it played.  The Cathedral of Hope in Dallas could have provided a venue for the Buckle of the Bible Belt. 
  


The script, broken into two “Acts” (and long – the film runs almost 140 minutes) creates counterpoint between the charismatic young hero Mark (film producer Emerson Collins, 29,  who is incredibly satisfying to the eye – lean, strong and smooth-chested), the fundamentalist pastor (Newell Alexander), the older “fag” Peanut (Leslie Jordan, who reminds me of Toby Jones or even the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), the would-be reluctant boyfriend TJ (Luke Stratt-McClure) and the tragic Andrew (Matthew Scott Montgomery).  Collins very much dominates the whole play and film with his presence, sort of the way Tom Welling dominates Smallville. 
  
There’s plenty of theology spinkled throughout.  One idea is that missionaries are necessary to get people on other parts of the world saved.  Another comes from Andrew’s mother, who noticed that he wasn’t interested in girls and wasn’t going to get grandchildren through him.  That sort of says it all.
  
Mark has some great lines, like “I’m so interdependent that when I die, someone else’s life will flash before my eyes”.  Yet, the whole modern moral issue seems to be about balancing independence with interdependence.
  
  
The word “sissy”, of course a pejorative, almost like (as George Gilder once wrote) “dilettante”, suggests a man who doesn’t carry his share of the common burdens of protecting the community or guaranteeing its future.  (The “f” word occurs sometimes in the play.)   In the days that we had a male-only military draft (long before the formal “don’t ask, don’t tell”) we thought of physical cowardice when we contemplated the word.  That concept is less important in an individualistic society than it used to be, but that’s how things are seen in less democratic parts of the world (like Russia and much of Africa).  Of course politicians abuse it.  There’s something inconsistent about this idea in Christianity, though, in another sense:  early Christians expected the “End” soon, and would not have worried about their future with procreation.  In fact, people expecting the Rapture or tribulations could think the same way.  The people “left behind” would have no future anyway.  It was Paul who said “It is better to marry than to burn.” 

There are a lot hymns in the soundtrack by Joe Patrick Ward, including “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling”, near the climax of the film. That hymn had been used to great effect in “The Trip to Bountiful” by Ben Masterson, with Geraldine Paige, set in south Texas, which I saw at the Inwood in Dallas in 1985 (Island and Embassy Picture).  It’s being remade now.
  
The official Facebook (for “Sissie”) is here. I reviewed from a private Vimeo Screener.  I believe that the distribution will come from Breaking Glass Pictures. 

When I lived in Dallas, and my parents came, my father wanted to visit the First Baptist Church (my picture above from 2011, call it the First Southern Baptist Church) on Ervay on downtown Dallas.  Wally Amos Criswell would give 45-minute sermons.  One Sunday night in 1980 he gave a sermon on homosexuality, which he found "bewildering." 

Hope Reel Affirmations picks up and shows this in DC.  It is a “West End” kind of film.  Sorry, I don’t know the little indie theaters in NYC as well as I should. 

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