film review: Love is the Drug

Quests for intimacy

Despite the unevenness and a bias toward formally conventional, English-language shorts, Peccadillo Pictures’ Boys on Film series of DVDs has provided for many years a valuable if abbreviated survey of underseen gay cinema. The vast majority of these shorts would have rarely been seen otherwise, outside of film festivals.

It’s too bad therefore, for U.S. customers anyway, that most of the 17-odd compilations are only available through Amazon UK or through U.K.-based Peccadillo’s own website, linked above. As in so many other cases in which the “free” market conspires to limit what films we can see, bittorrent takes up the slack. I’ll leave you to explore that on your own.

For my part, I’m grateful for our unofficial distribution channels. I have them, and of course Peccadillo, to thank for allowing me to discover Lucky Blue, Dare, Blokes, and David, just to name a handful of my favorites. Not only are these four among the best gay film shorts I’ve seen, but they’re among my favorite films in general, particularly David.

The latest installment of the series, with Love is the Drug as the tagline, is particularly strong, leading off with Nicholas Colia’s very funny, Crayola-colored Alex and the Handyman, in which a rich, neglected, weird little gay boy with a love for pastels and costume-jewelry accents, and whose favorite movie is First Wives’ Club, develops a serious crush on handyman Jared, a college-aged, stoned, failed performance artist and slacker.

Besides the mostly superb comic timing, reinforced by some savage cuts and which reminded me of Barry Sonnenfeld, what I most appreciate about the short is its perversity, and the embodiment of such in a unique, perfectly realized and plausibly almost-evil character. I wonder if actor Keaton Nigel Cooke ever gets told how brave he was to play him; he’s brilliant at it. Just listen to and watch his reactions to Jared as the latter is drinking whiskey and expounding on his performance art which “concerns the marginalization of Brazilian women in regards to sexual health:”

“Right! OK, cool. So, are you fan of comedy?”

Earlier he watches in open-mouthed awe as Jared eats some assorted meats and cheeses.

Watch the trailer below, which unfortunately really doesn’t give us much of a hint of how well all the short’s elements hang together.

 

Although I’ve watched Alex and the Handyman three times so far, and it’s made me laugh out loud every time, the closest film to a masterpiece in this collection is Eyal Resh’s Boys, in which cinematographer Darrell Brett’s nimble, dancing camera and the young boys’ partially improvised performances perfectly convey the spontaneity and random nature of surprise sexual awakenings.

The opening shots, with their screen-filling lens flares; entomological explorations of suburban lawns; bare, wet, teen-boy skin; and the attacks of a garden hose and sprinkler, more keenly invoke summer and summer-friendships in two just-before-sundown minutes than in all two hours of Luca Guadagnino’s still estimable Call Me By Your Name.

Or at least, that’s how it all felt when I watched it.

 

But what’s even more remarkable to me is how the easy naturalism of the boys’ performances, again in contrast to the stylized and somewhat stiff formalism of those in Guadagnino’s feature, were counter-intuitively produced by rigourous rehearsal in dance workshops! The boys’ rapport in the penultimate sleepover/sexual awakening scene germinated as a dance routine, according to director Resh in an interview with Just Celebrity Mag and elsewhere:

I turned it into a dance. I made it about physicality. We had counts and movements.

Resh and his team devised a method to approximate the starts and stops, the sudden bursts and turnings of mood, the flickering, exploratory intelligences of prepubescent boys, and their often odd laughs and interjections. In the same interview, Resh also seems to contradictorily state that in the sleepover scene, “a lot was improvised, even the camera work.” Getting that mixture of grounded spontaneity just about perfect required some planning, though; it just doesn’t seem that way when we watch.

The other highly recommended short on Love is the Drug is Martin Edralin’s Hole. The short’s depiction of a differently-abled man’s quest to get something he really needs struck me as bold, yes, but also reductive and objectifying. The suggested homonym in the film’s title (hole/whole) outright irritated me. In other words, [spoiler alert] getting one’s dick sucked through a hole in the wall makes one whole.

No matter how much room we’re given to decide whether the man is a victim of gay-male sexual norms, or whether he absolutely deserves to use glory holes just like everybody else, (and there’s no reason why both can’t be true) we’re still left with: an orgasm, or rather this particular method of getting one, fulfills the requirements for being…what? Human? Gay? A man?

I’m a big fan of glory holes myself, or at least I used to be, but there are borders to that kind of intimacy. I suppose that’s why Billy’s caretaker looked anguished when he held his client up to get sucked.

Of course, even as I write all that I have objections to my own argument, and that’s a strength coming from the film’s narrative and performative austerity which I have to acknowledge.

Make up your own mind here:

 

None of the other films are nearly as good, but none are bad, either. I particularly appreciated the cross-generational attraction in the awkwardly titled, Mr. Sugar Daddy. You’ll no doubt have your own favorite. If so, let me know in the comments.

 

Boys On Film 17: Love Is A Drug – NSFW Redband Trailer – Watch At Home from December 15

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