Friday, September 21, 2012

"Keep the Lights On": a gay documentary filmmaker tests his dedication in "real life"

This morning, I attended the official commercial opening of the Angelika Mosaic Cinema and Café in Merrifield VA (near Gallows Road and Lee Highway, behind the Target) and saw a small gay Danish-American film by Ira Sachs, “Keep the Lights On”.

A gay Danish filmmaker, Erik (Thurle Lindhardt) has been working forever on a documentary about the work of filmmaker Avery Willard.  There actually is a short film “In Search of Avery Willard” which I have not seen (descriptive link, as part of "Queerer than Fiction")  for Outfest here.)

Already in his early 30s, he plays the hustler scene but has a girl friend  Claire (Julianne Nicholson) who wants to have a child by him before her biological clock runs out (a taste of “demographic winter”?) 
Living in New York now but traveling a lot, he faces criticism from those who struggle with “real jobs” (it’s not clear what he lives on -- although he says that for documentary film you don't write a script, you just start raising money at the outset).  He meets an attractive, smooth-skinned young lawyer Paul (Zachary Booth – when you want Zac Efron!), falls in love, but soon finds himself dealing with Paul’s drug and alcohol problem.

The film then traces their relationship for eight years (it starts in 1998), and actually tries to show the subtle progression of age with facial lines.  Erik finds his capacity to love really challenged by Paul’s mindless exploitation – yet by convention it is Paul who should have been the more stable.  Erik and  Claire arrange interventions, at least twice, with Paul going through Twelve Steps at Hazelden in Minneapolis.  

Yet, Erik keeps his organic, earthy intensity all the time.  He is not just a head (even though we see him editing his movie in Final Cut Pro on a Mac). But when Paul is away, he does meet other people.  One of the best people is Igor (a handsome Miguel del Toro), who I wished would lose his cigarette.  There’s a passionate scene in a bar (is the bar “Therapy” in Hell’s Kitchen?)  where the mutual unbuttoning is about to occur, when suddenly Erik throws up.  I’ve never seen this happen in a "real" dirty dancing disco scene.  Yet Erik’s intensity continues.

The film seems episodic, with the introduction of intimacy often telescoped. It's curious that, even with the sideplot about the girl friend, the gay world in this film seems closed, like it was on another planet: personal growth is for its own sake, regardless of how it could depend on the outside world.  On the other hand, the relationship between Erik and Paul sounds like it came right out of Rosenfels (book reviews, April 12, 2006); it would have been easy to imagine a well-polarized pair like this in one of the talk groups at the Ninth Street Center back in the 70s or 80s.    

The film was an official selection at Berlin and Sundance (even though the scenery invokes Tribeca). The official site from Music Box Films is here

Will Music Box put the short film about Avery Willard on the eventual DVD?  It has apparently been funded through Kickstarter/ 

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