31 January 2013

Movie Review: Sasha

The make-up crew did an excellent job of making Sascha Kekez look like a young adult although every so often his age would be revealed by the angle. I continue to be surprised by European cinema's ability not to disappoint with these coming-of-age/coming-out stories.

Sasha (played by Sascha Kekez) is a budding pianist who lives with his Montenegrin parents and brother who run a little Montenegrin pub somewhere in Cologne, Germany. We are invited to get some understanding of how difficult it is to be a Balkan in Western Europe (I think various characters refer to Sasha and his family as Serbian and Macedonian) and the border crossing back into Germany was done well. In any event, Sasha has a huge crush on his piano teacher Gebhard.

When Sasha and his dysfunctional Montenegrin family return from their holiday, Gebhard informs him that he's been offered an appointment in Vienna that just escalates everything. I mean, I identified with Sasha in the feeling tone. Sascha Kekez did such a convincing acting job that it was hard not to feel like that awkward teenager with a crush on someone of the family-decided wrong gender!

Sasha's best friend Jiao who apparently has a crush on Sasha and has been in denial about his gay status is also liked by Sasha's brother. As the pressure builds, it gets more and more intense until it all explodes on that cinematic, synchronistic final day in the narrative.

Sasha's struggle reminds me of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the young Samoan guy who maintained an meaningful emotional and romantic relationship with Manti Te'o apparently through the persona of a non-existent woman. Of course, Sasha does not go to such incredible lengths for what he wants. He definitely struggles with the conflict between his family and community expectations for him (exacerbated by being an ethnic minority in a xenophobic country) and his own true individuality.

I would definitely watch this as a date night movie with your partner. Or as a movie for a date. Or by yourself. The cinematography is excellent and its like a gay coming-of-age version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding without the screwball element.

29 January 2013

Book Review: European Sexualities, 1400-1800

Katherinee Crawford is an American professor of history at Vanderbilt University. This book is a survey of the social and cultural history of sexuality in early modern Europe.

Now I suffered much through Michel Foucault and this book is nothing like that. In fact, you could just pick up at the beginning of any chapter and you wouldn't really be lost or confused because of how accessible the text is.

I learned so many fascinating things about love, desire, the concept of marriage, how people actual related to one another in Europe from 1400-1800. It has a bit of an academic tilt but not too much. Every chapter has pages and pages of bibliography/"further reading" so for those who are really interested in a particular topic, she gives you 20 suggested trails to take off on.

I rarely bookmark pages for the blog reviews I do, but in this one I just had to. The first one that caught my eye was something I expect to hear out the main character of Lexuality's next movie that deals with religion and sex. In one of her discussions of gay sex and homosexuality, in the 1300s, the Spanish Inquisition burned a number of people at the stake for, what one Inquisition record called it, "committing heresy with his body."

I have to admit that not since Norbert Elias's Civlizing Process have I felt that I really have very little knowledge or understanding of the world as I have with this book. It always seem that we have discovered something new only to find out that people thought it up hundreds of years ago and then were burned at the stake before they could contaminate others with their ideas.

Another gem had to do with a certain Dominican: "The Mallorcan Tribunal condemned a Dominican in 1606 for propositioning boys in the confessional. The monk cleverly, but fruitlessly, argued 'He did not think this was any of the Inquisition's business, because of the Edict of Faith spoke only about seducing women in the confessional.'"

A few more nuggets, "A Franciscan monk received a public whipping and a year's confinement for telling the Inquisition, 'fornicating with boys was something holy and just,' while another was accused of saying 'whoever practices sodomy goes to Heaven.'"

Her story gives a lot more context to the The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology, which I have reviewed elsewhere, and a lot more context to how backward and medieval Filipino Catholic beliefs on sexuality really are. On a related topic, the more I learn about the nuances of how marriage was practiced and understood over the last 1,000 years, the more I come to understand why in a secular society, there should be no reason to prohibit same-sex marriage and every reason to encourage it.

The version I read was a 257 paperback published by University of Cambridge (January 29, 2007), ISBN-10:0521548403. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com.

26 January 2013

Movie Review: Bulgarian Lovers

In the cosmopolitan world, ethnicity can become a factor in romantic love and can also be a fetish. In the US, white American men who like Asians are called rice queens. Asian men who like Asian men are called sticky rice, etc.,. Japanese women who like Black men, well there's a name for them, I just can't remember. In France they think the Vietnamese are all smart and hardworking while Arabs and Northern Africans are all dumb and lazy. Xenophobia exists in the cosmopolitan setting in both its negative and positive forms.

This is a movie about a Spanish immigration attorney who gets involved with a low level Bulgarian gangster. I remember this archetypal period in my life and how quickly it ended. What I found interesting about it was how Spanish upper middle class gay life is portrayed. I assume it was portrayed in an understated, matter-of-fact, kind of way and that the romanticism all went into portraying or representing Bulgarian life in Spain and in Bulgaria.

It's a quirky kind of movie and if your interested in European anthropology or anything I just described, you won't regret it. If everything I just said seems wholly uninteresting, then you can skip it. Of course if you enjoy Pedro Almodóvar, it's got those flairs. It's mostly a straight forward screwball comedy except there's a dash of Gondry's Science of Sleep for good measure -- near the end.

24 January 2013

Movie Review: Going Down in LA-LA Land

I had expected this to be another one of those movies that seem to be coming out of Hollywood. But I was pleasantly surprised. The production value was off the charts.

Adam, played by Matthew Ludwinski (pictured above), is young and stunningly beautiful. He's model material. He arrives in Los Angeles and stays with his friend Candy. He arrives with no money and immediately sets out to find work as an actor. He learns quickly that everyone is a struggling actor in Los Angeles and he can't find any work as all the service industry jobs are held by other unemployed actors. Eventually, out of desperation, he finds himself in the porn industry and as a prostitute dating a meth addict porn photographer/director. He is hired to turn a trick with a well known actor who is a recluse and things suddenly get very complicated.

The overall narrative was brilliant. The critique of the Hollywood scene in Los Angeles was spot on. The acting and technical execution were very good. Let me talk a little bit more about the narrative and the context. Of all the fragments of the acting profession, Hollywood, Los Angeles, models, and the American gay community, I felt like I was witnessing those people in my life that have come from there and went there.

This is definitely a must see movie, with your partner, with your friends or by yourself. And yes, Ludwinski is very handsome.

22 January 2013

Movie Review: eCupid

The synopsis of this movie was short: A guy thinks he's bored in his seven year long monogamous relationship with a very affectionate and devoted partner he stumbles upon an "app" that turns his life upside down using the fantasy material he thinks about as the counterweight to his boring life. Suddenly handsome young men of his imagination start popping out everywhere.

This light-hearted, screwball comedy touches on the core issues of intimacy and commitment in a subculture that disfavors intimacy and commitment. This is definitely a date night movie for couples.

21 January 2013

Movie Review: Withered in a Blooming Season

I have watched most of Cui Zi En's films available and have written reviews of Star Appeal and My Fair Son. Because what I watched was at such variance from the synopsis, I feel obligated to make this review about rewriting the synopsis.This is the synopsis I read:
Brotherly love goes too far when Feng gets his twin sister pregnant while both of them are still in high school, creating a problem that's bigger than both of them. Convincing his gay friend Le Le to take the blame seems like the best option. But engineering a relationship between his pregnant sister and a boy who admittedly likes other boys produces some very unexpected results.
This is the synopsis that I would consider to be truthful:
Twins Feng and Wen live together. Feng is either gay or bisexual. But he also has some psycho obsession with his twin sister that looks mostly like control but at some point gets a little weird in the sexualized way. Wen is sort of dating this lounge singer who is also sleeping with Wen and Feng's restaurant owning mother. Feng gets his best friend Le Le who is also gay to be Wen's official boyfriend to control her. That doesn't work. Wen ends up pregnant and she insists its Fengs. In the ending is sweet a little if you deny the the incest thing. 
This movie is described as post-socialist, but there is nothing post-socialist about it. It felt like it was shot in on a handheld digital camera. But there was no narrative focus, little narrative at all. But in the end, I found it interesting for its representation of an adolescent life in China in the last ten years.

19 January 2013

Manti Te'o and the Rain from Manu'a

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I went to university abroad and the crowd I hung with, for a while, was one of the cliques of the school's football team, the Samoan crew, to be exact. It was a fascinating and enjoyable experience for me. I would have otherwise never have worn 'ie lavalava, have drunk kava root drink, or become interested in comparative Austronesian linguistics. Much later, when I started hanging out with the gay crowd at school, among them was an ex-Samoan football player. It's with these experiences that I think about the case of Manti Te'o. If you haven't heard of this story, consider starting at DeadSpin's sports news scoop story. In one way, this may be a variation of the Sextortion at Eisenhower High case which I blogged about before (twice). But it may not.

Manti Te'o

Samoans have a proverb, "O le ua na fua mai Manu'a." I have been told that this proverb, which roughly means "the rain falls from Manu'a," refers to some kind of social change as reflected from the rain that occasionally comes from the east from the Manu'a group of islands.

Another explanation of the proverb refers to the story of the Tui Manu'a who had two daughters, Sina and Aolele. Sina eloped with the chief Lemanunu of the place with the same name in Savai'i. Tui Manu'a sent his other daughter to Lemanunu and ordered that they separate or they would be put to death. Fearing his supernatural powers, they separated but not before Sina told Lemanunu: We must separate but you will again meet me through my tears. I return to Manu'a and weep and my tears shall fall upon you. When it rains in Manunu, people say that Sina is weeping.

Doing some research for this entry, Wikipedia says this proverb means "Spoken of a thing long known beforehand, and yet unprepared for."

The core of the story of Manti Teo, which has been mostly avoided by the American media but is widely discussed in the comments section of these online stories is the so-called spectre or suspicion of homosexuality. As Te'o described it in his statement:

"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her."

But he did not develop an emotional relationship with a woman he met online. It's not a spectre or a suspicion. He developed an "authentic relationship" with another man "by communicating frequently online and on the phone" and "grew to care deeply about" him.

It made him happy and it gave him happiness.

Who was this person who made him happy and gave him happiness?

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo

Meet Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the son of former USC football player and current born-again Christian pastor Titus Tuiasosopo and nephew of Long Angeles Rams football player Navy Tuiasosopo. He is also a cousin of the late Fred Matua, USC and NFL football player. Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, as it turns out, had an online persona Lennay Kekua for a long time. According to family members of Tuiasosopo, he tried to do online dating with several Samoan football players with the persona Lennay Kekua. In fact, Reagan Mauia, a fullback for the Arizona Cardinals, even met someone in America Samoa that stood in for Tuiasosopo in a meet up before he started his online relationship with Te'o. It has also been reported that Shiloah Te'o and Lyle Moevao both of the Oregon State Beavers football team also had some kind of interaction with Kekua.

Tuiasosopo and Teo were "bros" according to their mutual tweets and re-tweets. We will likely not know now, if ever, whether Te'o and Tuiasosopo ever had an authentic relationship without the mediating of Tuiasosopo's female alter-ego Kekua. In 2010, Teo expressed doubt about the reality of Kekua and asked Tessie Tolutau for confirmation. She was unable to provide it yet he went on to develop an authentic, emotional relationship. In my experience of Faasamoa, Samoan culture, entanglement with the faafafine (binabae) by a macho type guy, like a football player, is the same type of behavior that we expect from a young macho guy and a bakla. (In fact, faafafine and binabae are the linguistic double conversions of the nominal for woman converted to a verb converted to a noun.) It's not a big deal, but in American culture, it is a big deal.

So, why do I doubt we will know the real truth now, if ever? First, Teo comes from a devout Mormon, Polynesian family from a Mormon, Polynesian community. His family has groomed him from childhood to become an NFL football star. NFL football stars do not have authentic or emotional relationships with other men or with faafafine. Being an NFL football star conforms to American cultural sensibilities not Samoan and so the standards of conformity and competition follow the American cultural aesthetic, not the Samoan.

Many of the guys I would hang with had encounters with faafafine. They would tease each other about it, in a slightly different way, than the teasing they'd do to each other about having encounters with real women. They would never talk about their encounters with me or their encounters with each other. But that's how it was with the boys and that was a long time ago before blogs, twitter, facebook, etc.,. A few of the guys, actually it was really sad, were unambiguously and unambivalently gay. They were very masculine but they were sensitive so it was never really discussed. They rarely engaged in anything remotely sexual, unlike the rest of the guys, but were so desperate for intimacy. It was intense. And another thing they all shared was that they all had girlfriends elsewhere, in a place far far away. They had girlfriends in Cali or back in Samoa -- one had his high school sweetheart marooned in Auckland. Kia Ora!

Let's look at what else Te'o said in his statement: "To think that I shared with them [his family, friends and Notre Dame fans] my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been."

After my time with the 'boys', I made another friend in a non-football/non-Samoan context, several years later, just before I left that university. This other guy who was an ex-Samoan football player had rejected his football life in favor of majoring in dance. In one of the many conversations we had, he told me about the heartbreaking work his parents made him do to further his way towards the NFL like his 1000 crunches a day regime. Of course, this regime throughout his childhood would have come in handy if he could have continued towards his dream of a BFA in Dance. Instead, his football scholarship was revoked by the university and his parents rejected his homosexuality and his decision to choose a life that didn't involve struggling towards a spot on an NFL team. That's why I call him the ex-Samoan football player and not the Samoan ex-football player. Let that be a lesson to anyone who chooses to take a stand for his inner call from the pressures of the family (aiga in Samoan) and society.

Whether Teo was in on the hoax or not seems much less relevant from my perspective. He is a victim of the cruelty of his family and a society that would put him into such a position. That either he could only form an authentic, emotional relationship with the "love of my life" with the online persona of another young man posing as a woman or that he actually did form an authentic, emotional relationship with the "love of my life" with another young man but when that became known to the rest of the world, he would feel sick and ask others to understand "how trying and confusing this whole experience" is for him.

Whether this is just a case of something long known beforehand and yet unprepared for, or (in my own mind more tragic) a case of the eternal separation of Sina, the daughter of the Tui Manu'a, and the chief Lemanunu, what I see is the unfolding in public view of the evil of the annihilation of the individual by the collective and it is my hope that in its sense of social change, the rain indeed falls from Manu'a, and that Teo can stand up for his authentic self that makes authentic, emotional relationships with others without shame or humiliation. But if it is not possible now, I have faith that Sina will one day return again with the rain from Manu'a, when the time will come when love will reign and the will to power will be in decline.

02 January 2013

Starting Over, A Challenge

Epistemologically, it is not possible to observe, perceive or experience reality without a framework for interpreting the meaning of the raw sensory experience of observation, perception or experience. History is therefore like the geology of the Earth in which our understanding of our experiences is the sedimental foundation for the next layer of sediment. As the weight of history builds, that sediment is compressed until it lithifies into rock. As other processes outside our sedimentary processes continue to occur and move us into different directions, trajectories and locations, the rock fissures and faults and soon the seemingly solid surface of the present is broken in which layers of sediment and rock are now exposed and subjected to weathering in which deeper layers of rock are exposed.

From this perspective, there have been many errors, regrets, missed opportunities -- mostly because of a lack of information, knowledge, understanding or awareness. I don't think a clean slate is possible -- in its literal or metaphorical sense (and addressing nothing to Bergson's paradoxes directly). It is precisely the slow sedimentation process of the ever receding past pushing down on itself that creates the clean slate of the present. In sum, it is the present to which I look to building my future past. Or, in the words of Kubler-Ross, should you shield the canyons from the windstorms, you would never see the beauty of their carvings.