Friday, April 24, 2015

Age Ain't Nothing But A Number

The shadow of Skin looms large over Bruce La Bruce's Gerontophilia - I don't mean Skin Flick, his 1999 skinhead porno, and I don't just mean "skin" as in his previous general air of all-around porniness. I'm talking about Mysterious Skin, the movie that turned BLB's queer punk compatriot Gregg Araki straight (so to speak) - the kindler gentler older movie that Araki made that made everybody sit up and say hey-what-now. 

"Kindler" and "Gentler" in both dude's cases need to be in air-quotes because Mysterious Skin is indeed a movie about space aliens and pedophilia, while Gerontophilia is indeed a movie about the titular fetish for old folks. So this is what kind and gentle means from their blessedly off-mainstream sideways visions. But kinder and gentler they both are, and they both signal a previously-unexplored maturity in the place of all that fun and gratuitous eye-poking they were doing before.

That's not to say BLB's never known seriousness before - there's a pervasive sadness that washes over his 2008 gay zombie porn drama Otto, or Up With Dead People along with all the gore and semen. But Gerontophilia is clearly marking something different, a swerve, and I was honestly surprised by how well it works, and how touching it ends up being in the end.

I don't want to make it a pissing match (although Bruce would probably appreciate that) between Mysterious Skin and Bruce's film, because ultimately Araki's film is the sturdier object - it just has better actors giving more natural performances. Although the pretty young things Pier-Gabriel Lajoie and Katie Boland both get markedly better as the film goes on - even earning their tears towards the end - they're not going to go on to have Joseph Gordon Levitt or Brady Corbet's careers. (Let is be said that Lajoie is, as a psychical specimen, pretty remarkable though.)

But the film is blessed from on high with the presence of Walter Borden as the self-professed "old queen" Mr. Peabody who sets fire to his young nurse's new-found fetish, and who is entirely remarkable and one-of-a-kind on-screen. Naturally funny (he's clearly spent his eighty or so years refining his masterfully languid way around a punchline) Borden - along with Bruce's simple script that knows enough to get out of its own way because clearly, clearly, we have never seen this story told this way before - owns every frame, and makes what we came in expecting to find strange and probably off-putting (this degradation of the flesh, looking our own mortality under a microscope... and a sexy microscope, at that) an entirely comprehensible situation. We fall for Mr. Peabody too.

And from there, it's a whole new world, with whole new eyes. Bruce makes a running joke of his long obsessed over and self-professed "revolutionary" proclivities here, but as one character notes - this really is a small revolution here. Making us see the world differently than we came to it eighty-two minutes earlier. There's even a birthday cake celebrating that number - eighty-two - in the film (in a terrific comic showcase of a scene; perhaps the film's high-point), and while that's probably coincidental what the hell, you know? Seize the...  day? Day... is that what I mean? Well I know it starts with a "D" anyway.

Gerontophilia screened last night as part of MoMA's retrospective of the film-maker, which is running through May 2nd. You should go to one if you're in town! You can see a picture I took of the film-maker during the Q&A after the screening over on Instagram.

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