Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Mudge Boy -- little film from Strand and Showtime has a lot to teach

The Mudge Boy is a little film, made back in 2003, that offers a couple of lessons in technique and thought for filmmakers with GLBT materials.

On the DVD, the director Michael Burke talks about the “catch 22” in small film: you have to have the cast to get money, and you have to get money to get a cast. Emile Hirsch and Tom Guiry, from opposite coasts, were willing to rehearse critical scenes on their own dime, and that helped. The film was developed for Showtime, and had a brief theatrical release from Strand Releasing. Films with compact, original stories and short-story-like dramatic confrontations and situations have the best chance of attracting investors.

The other interesting point about this film is that it tells gay men, particularly, how to get into the minds of their parents, especially fathers, and the emotions that parents of GLBT people face. In the movie, Richard Jenkins plays the father Edgar, left to raise his only “different” son when his wife suddenly dies of a heart attack (her sudden death while biking opens the film). He wants his son Duncan Mudge (Hirsch) to take over the chores now and be able to take over the farm some day. The events of the film – Duncan’s cross dressing with his mother’s clothes, his behavior with animals – especially chickens (“Chicken Man!”), his unusual approach to relating to more conventional other boys – force the father eventually to accept his son as different. And this is a blow to him. He will probably not have a biological lineage, he will go his own way in life. If the boy eventually inherits the farm, he will probably sell it to a large agribusiness corporation, take the money and go his own way with his own pursuits, likely in the arts.

People like Duncan’s father perceive the nuclear biological family as a social, physical and psychological safety net. Besides the Church, with the idea of salvation by Grace, it is the one institution that guarantees that people who otherwise would accomplish little from the global view of the outside world still have meaning. In the father's view, at least when the film starts, the moral justification of what the son will get in the world (relative to what people in other families get) depends on the son's loyalty to his own blood, and the son is obligated to maintain the saftey net. This is net is being poked with holes, allowing some people to fall through into an abyss, while others excel. Eventually, however, in this story, Edgar will learn to live with himself in a world with very different rules.

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