Monday, March 02, 2015

"The Dark Side of Love", the latest feature from Jorge Ameer, again shows the director as capable of compelling LGBT storytelling

Guerrilla filmmaker Jorge Ameer has his own, interesting approach to storytelling, especially with gay men as characters.  He likes to bring straight men and women together with gay men and set up interpersonal interactions that, at first, sound unlikely or problematic, and then make the viewer wonder, where is he going with this?  He sets up is own variety of linear suspense, constructing  somewhat dark plots out of back stories and incidents experienced by his characters, stringing them together somewhat “randomly”.  He often starts with an introduction with some sort of crisis that then comes back later in the movie.  His narrative style actually reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock’s.  For example, “Veritgo” is set up this way. Ameer also says that he pays attention to how much each character knows relative to what the audience knows at any point.  The director, who is black himself, typically makes at least one gay male adult character a perfect fantasy in the “European white” world.
The Dark Side of Love” (2012) took its sweet time coming to DVD, but it is now available from Netflix.  It sets up what seems like an improbable but compelling confrontation over the death of the mother of the main gay character, Julian (Carlos Salas), a most appealing slender young man who works long hours as a bell hop and who was helping support his indigent and ailing mother.  That along brings up the hidden topic of filial responsibility laws, which California has (I talk about that on my Retirement blog, especially in July 2007).  He has a brother Michael (Jason Susag), whose life has descended into drug abuse (especially crack).  But Michael has a (mixed) girl friend Chanel (Raquel Rosser), whom Julian callsl Chanel didn’t even know that Michael had a brother.
All of this only gives a hint of the personal complexity of Ameer’s 80-minute story.  The movie actually starts from Chanel’s perspective (Ameer likes to weave into his narratives starting with supporting characters). Chanel waits in a motel room, and soon has an encounter with a man who we later learn in Michael.  This opening sequence is sexually very explicit, and the non-rated film would definitely go into the NC-17 category – which works very well with a strong, character-driven story.  But the gratuitous nature of some isolated scenes in this film put everything else into a certain perspective.

But the most intriguing setup of all (and I don’t mean a “cordial”) comes after the opening credits, where a self-made millionaire Steven (Harsha First) holds an auction.  Julian wins it, and as a result, through some bizarre manipulation, gets Steven to stay with him.  Steven is straight, but it becomes apparent that men fit into his life sometimes (perhaps to charge his batteries with a Maslow-like “peak experience”), so call him bisexual.  This is more common than the public realizes, and that is one of Ameer’s main ideas.
The film's conclusion also invokes another Ameer theme: end of life might be reversible, or in some sense reality might be.  Fantasy and action become interchangeable, and ambiguous.

Another interesting point is that, when the mother dies, she instructs her sons she does not want a public funeral.  That idea has been explored in the soap opera "Days of our Lives" (see TV blog, Oct. 16, 2014). 
The camera work in the film is a little uneven.  Ameer uses more natural color in the scenes centered on Julian; the scenes around Michael seem to use a darker hue.  The landscapes in the outdoor scenes (north of San Diego) are effective, but sometimes the background detail is a little off.  And sometimes close-ups of the characters don’t have enough detail.

Ameer’s genre is a bit related to  Blue Seraph’s, like “Judas Kiss” (June 4, 2011) and “The Dark Place” (Dec. 2, 2014), although I think that these two other films are better technically, and Ameer’s concepts are even more “Lego-like”.   (Actually, Ameer’s “The House of Adam” [2006] is one of my favorite LGBT films. March 12, 2012). I think I build some of my own fiction in a similar way, especially the two stories in my DADT-3 book.  I explain how these two stories could be combined for a two-part film (to be called “Two Road Trips”) as suggested on my Wordpress blog here.  Okay, it could make two films.  But this material is definitely in Ameer’s ballpark, and has straight men being tested by gay men in unexpected situations. 

The official site for the film is here 
The production company is Hollywood Independents (no connection to Hollywood Pictures, which Disney owns), and the distributor is Ariztical.  The company evolved from Phoenix Distributors, which helps explain the spelling (tricky for dyslexics).  I just noticed that I had mislabeled a few other films here  (as “Aritzical” (sic)), and have deleted that label and replaced it with the correct spelling in all occurrences that I could find.  I do apologize to the company for the typo. 
It would be nice to see these enterprising storytellers of LGBT suspense collaborate more.  Don’t forget Carter Smith (“Bugcrush”), either. 
Picture: Pacific Coast, near Camp Pendleton CA, my trip, May 2012.  

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