Saturday, October 01, 2005


My third film at the New York Film Festival was Manderlay. This ia a film, not a movie, if you get the distinction. Even before it began the producer warned us that we would not "enjoy" it. At the end, a couple of people actually booed. A lot more walked out in the middle.

It certainly is weird. But I should not have been surprised, given that is a Danish/Swedish/French exploration of race relations set on an Alabama cotton plantation worked by slaves who were freed by a passing gangster's daughter in 1934.

It is the second film of a trilogy by the Danish director-screenwriter Lars von Trier. The first film was Dogville, which I hadn't heard of, let alone seen. But I had seen von Trier's strange Breaking the Waves, which should have been warning enough.

Is it good? Is it bad? There's quite a bit of both, though for a 139 minute film it did hold my attention pretty well. The performances were excellent, especially Bryce Dallas Howard as Grace, the gangster's daughter, and Danny Glover as the house slave/butler. But the plot does take a leap in logic now and then--for instance, why didn't someone tell Grace what would happen if they cut down the trees?

My advice, though: unless you are really interested in this kind of film, don't bother.

Friday, September 30, 2005


Last night I went to the 10th Anniversary Reception of GenderPAC down at the Jeht Foundation offices in SoHo.

The evening actually started out with a conference call meeting of the New York State GENDA Coalition Steering Committee. I would put in a link to the Coalition's website, but it isn't up yet. My job today is to contact the person on charge of it and see what's going on--it was supposed to be running months ago. The Coalition is dedicated to the adoption of the Gender Non-Discrimination Act by New York State, which would extend to the entire state the protections achieved here in New York City in 2002.

Getting back to the reception, GenderPAC, the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, "works to end discrimination and violence caused by gender stereotypes by changing public attitudes, educating elected officials and expanding human rights," or so it says on its website. That's its current goal, but it wasn't always. Originally it was dedicated to transgender rights. But five or six years ago it abruptly changed direction. It was very controversial, and most of its transgender board members quit.

I still support GenderPAC, if for no other reason than it helps foster good relations between the transgender community and the straights and gays that are the current major supporters. They have sharpened up the focus of their activities in the last couple years, and I think their efforts at providing parents with materials to help combat gender stereotyping will prove most useful.

But I think that too often they shoot themselves in the foot with little things like the invitation to this reception. It said the "Suggested Minimum Donation" was $75, but if you went to the webpage to get a ticket, the $75 minimum was not suggested, it was required. After I sent an e-mail to complain about this, they said they had a few "slots" for people who couldn't afford $75, and offered me one. I told them to save the slot for someone who really needed it.

Back to the reception itself, there were about 50 people there. Even before I arrived I spotted Mariette Pathy Allen, the Lammy-winning photographer of transgender people. My cab passed her as she was getting out of a car, and I waited at the street entrance to say hello. State Sen. Tom Duane, the Senate's first openly-gay and first openly HIV-positive member, showed up for a little while. But the guest of honor was Doug Wright, the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of I Am My Own Wife. (Wright was a much better choice than Brini Maxwell, whom GenderPAC presented at one of its earlier fundraisers. Maxwell's portrayal of the typical 50's housewife is at least a borderline gender stereotype--another shot in the foot.)

Anyhow, when I arrived I was immediately ushered into a photo with Wright. I guess the photographer liked me.

After a bit of mingling, wine and hors d'oeuvres, a short program began. There were a couple of speeches by the president of the host Jeht Foundation, and GenderPAC Executive Riki Wilchens. Then it was Doug Wright's turn. He made a nice speech, trying to relate the work of GenderPAC to an "outtake" of his conversations with Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, the subject of his play. She was a German transvestite who survived the Nazi regime and its replacement in East Germany, the Soviet-dominated Communist dictatorship. I'm not sure the two things had much in common, but the story was interesting.

They also showed a short film, GenderPAC at 10: A New Vision for Human Rights. It was very well done, though it was hardly as it was described on the little printed program they handed out: "A documentary film chronicling GenderPAC's first 10 years of work and growth." While it did an excellent job of showing its current efforts, not much of the past was covered. There was certainly no mention of GenderPAC'a naissance as a transgender rights group. (I don't think it's found anywhere on their website either.) I'm not sure, but I think there may have been one small error. It went by very fast, but I thought I saw a picture of Gwen Araujo captioned as Amanda somebody. I'm going to e-mail them to ask them to double check that.

The program ended with a solicitation for more donations. They had already gotten $9100 from the evening, and wanted to reach $15,000, half the cost of an additional staff-person that they wanted. They said that the person who donated the most would get a trip to Starbucks with Doug Wright following the reception. They did achieve their goal.

There was some more mingling afterwards. I had a nice talk with Michelle Miles, an old friend from Crossdressers International, who is now the treasurer of GenderPAC. Then I went off to Lips for the rest of my dinner and to see Jesse Volt's "Dining With the Divas" show. She portrayed Nancy Sinatra this week, while Ginger did Britney Spears (Who told Britney Spears that "I Love Rock & Roll" needed her interpretation?), and Spanky did a make-up-smeared Courtney Love. Bartender Frankie Cocktail did her usual Dolly Parton.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


This week I departed from my usual Wednesday Crossdressers International open house for a couple of other events. First was the Public Service Awards Reception of the New York County Lawyers' Association. The Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues, of which I have been a member three or four years (the first TG one), received the award for the best committee report of the past year. It was for Making Progress: How New York’s Top Twenty-Five Law Firms Address Issues of Concern to the LGBT Community. I worked on the Report subcommittee, concentrating on the TG areas, of course. I suggested most of the questions concerning TG's, and wrote most of that part of the summary.

The award was accepted by the current and immediate past Committee chairs, the immediate past one also being the head of the Report subcommittee. The current chair was surprised to hear that the award was actually $500. The Committee has always operated on a zero budget, so now we have to figure out how to spend it.

I would have liked to go to the reception as Caprice--I always like to show the TG flag at events like this--but I was meeting my wife afterwards, and I respected her desire that I present as a man.

After the ceremony there was a very nice refreshment spread, and I had just enough time for a light dinner. Then I hopped on the subway uptown, for Verdi's Requiem Mass, the opening night concert of Lincoln Center's Great Performers series.

It was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, under the baton of Sir Colin Davis, with soloists soprano Anne Schwanewilms, mezzo-soprano Ildiko Komlosi, tenor Stuart Neill, and bass Orlin Anastassov (in his New York debut).

It was my second opening night event at Avery Fisher Hall in the last week, with another gala dinner occupying most of the upstairs lobby, but unlike last time there was no red carpet. And while there were a fair amount of nicely dressed people, it wasn't black tie. Since there wasn't an intermission, I really didn't get a good chance to see exactly what people were wearing, but my business suit fit right in.

As luck would have it I was sitting next to a couple of musicians of some sort. If I overheard correctly, the man two seats away was an orchestra conductor, though I certainly didn't recognize him. One or two others in the audience did, though, and came over to talk.
The concert was very good. Verdi was primarily an opera composer, and this Requiem was certainly on the "operatic" end of the scale. The orchestra was there to accompany the vocalists--and except for the work's signature phrase (repeated three times at various points), you really don't notice it. Sir Colin, three days past his 78th birthday, was in total control. He had performed the Verdi Requiem with the LSO in July, as a memorial to the victims of the London bombings, in St. Paul's Cathedral. Everyone was well prepared.

The chorus was superb--large enough to easily sing over the full orchestra, but nimble enough to sing quietly when required. The sopranos were not at all shrill even at their highest notes, a frequent problem with large choruses. The lower voices balanced the higher ones completely--there seemed to be an equal number of men and women, often not the case, at least with U.S. choruses.

Three of the four soloists were excellent--though tenor Stuart Neill could easily drop a hundred pounds and still not look thin. Bass Orlin Anastassov looked scrawny standing next to him, and it was a bit disconcerting hearing the high notes from the bigger man and the lower ones from the smaller.

As for the women, mezzo Ildiko Komlosi sang with a strong, rich tone at even her lowest notes, yet never wavered at the high end. Only soprano Anne Schwanewilms disappointed. Everything seemed to be a little bit off. A couple of times the pitch of her high notes was a tiny bit off for just a fraction of a second--eliciting groans from the musician sitting next to me. She just didn't have a pretty sound to my ears, unlike the other three soloists.

At least everyone was properly dressed. The men, including Sir Colin, were in white tie and tails, and the women wore nice, appropriate gowns that did not distract. No Viet Cong outfits or busboy jackets here.


The second film of the New York Film Festival for me was Capote, which has been getting almost as much hype as Good Night, and Good Luck. This time the screening was in Alice Tully Hall, a much better venue for films than the larger Avery Fisher.

I don't know if there was actually a red carpet on this gauntlet of paparazzi that the celebrities had to survive, because this time there was a separate entrance for us common folks. Even being in the third row wasn't a deterrent--after a couple minutes I had completely forgotten about my proximity to the screen.

I was really looking forward to this one, because I think there is no finer actor than Philip Seymour Hoffman these days. I knew that if anyone could pull off the portrayal of Truman Capote, both in the physical/voice and the psychological spheres, it would be Hoffman. Beyond being a pivotal figure in American literary history, Capote was a well-known celebrity, with repeated appearances on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. Everyone knew what he looked like, and what he sounded like.

I wasn't disappointed. The Oscars can print up Hoffman's nomination for best actor right now. I'm sure there are plenty of impressionists who could have done a little closer rendition of Capote's signature high-pitched lisp, but Hoffman's was more than sufficient. As he explained in the Q&A following the showing of the film, his aim was to show Capote as a "fish out of water"--a gay New Yorker plopped down in a small western Kansas town to write on the murders of a farm family. The film is the story of the creation of Capote's resulting book, "In Cold Blood," the "non-fiction novel" that suddenly made it OK for serious writers to do non-fiction. The film concentrates on the conflicted relationship of a journalist and his murderer subject.

Only towards the end did the film drag even slightly, as we wait, as did Capote, for the murderers to exhaust their appeals. Hoffman was great, as was Clifton Collins, Jr., who portrayed the murderer Perry Smith. In fact, they can probably print up his nomination for best supporting actor right now also.

It's opening this weekend. See it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Final count for yesterday, 69 spam messages, 1 of which made it to my inbox.

Monday, September 26, 2005


The spammers have started working overtime. I got 73 of them at my main e-mail address yesterday, mostly touting penny stocks that are part of the homeland security boom. But none of them made it to my inbox. My home-made filters caught every single one of them.

So far today I'm 35 of 35. Oops, another one just arrived. Make that 36 of 36.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Last night we watched Mar adentro (The Sea Inside), which won the 2005 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It's the true story of Ramón Sampedro, the Spanish quadiplegic who fought for 30 years for the right to die. It's strangely uplifting, more about his effect on those around him than Sampedro himself.

Javier Bardem's portrayal of Sampedro was amazing, as he could use nothing but his head and his voice to evoke the character. So too was the make-up job they did on him, as he was only 35 at the time. The flashback to his accident showed his true age. In fact the make-up garnered an Oscar nomination also.

Highly recommended.


Friday we went to the opening night of the New York Film Festival, to see the much-touted Good Night, and Good Luck. This is the story of CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow's 1953 challenge of the U.S. Air Force's dismissal of an officer who refused to denounce his allegedly communist father and sister--without any sort of trial, merely on the basis of a sealed envelope of "evidence." This quickly escalates into a challenge to the previously untouchable Sen. Joseph McCarthy's tactics in his witchhunt of alleged communists and communist sympathizers in the government.

The film uses actual footage of McCarthy, and is highly evocative of the time. It is shot in black and white, just like television of the day. Actual 1953 commercials are seen. Everyone smokes, office attire is rather formal (particularly for the women), and unthinking sexism is ubiquitous even among the most thoughtful.

The whole thing is riveting, even though we know exactly how it comes out. The performances are superb. David Strathairn is Murrow--the voice is perfect. George Clooney, who also directed and co-wrote the 93-minute film, portrays Fred Friendly, Murrow's co-producer (and later president of CBS News). Frank Langella plays William Paley, chairman of the board of CBS. They, and the rest of the cast, are excellent--helped by the fact that a few of the people actually involved were still around to advise them. Clooney and Grant Heslov, who plays Don Hewitt, (later the executive producer of 60 Minutes) as well as being co-writer, both spoke before the screening. The rest trooped across the stage, and everyone took a bow from a first-tier box at the conclusion.

The cinematography and filmscore were first rate. The only things I can really complain about are the opening and closing scenes, which were a 1958 tribute dinner for Murrow, making the real action all a flashback. The 1953 story was enough.

As I said at the beginning, this was the opening film of the festival (not counting a 6-minute short that preceded it). We hadn't gone to opening night before, so we were not prepared for what awaited us at Avery Fisher Hall--a red carpet, complete with photographers and screaming fans. When we got out of the cab I looked for another way in, but when I showed our tickets we were immediately directed down the carpet by security. Meanwhile the photographers were concentrating on the formally attired celebrities, as we marched by in our sports clothes. It was a bit surreal.

We were early, and the lobby was full of people in tuxedos and beautiful dresses. We waited by the ticket-takers with a few others of the hoi polloi. The red carpet was directly outside, though the celebrities turned away from us to pose for the photographers. I think I saw Edie Falco's back. Eventually they started admitting people, and we climbed to our seats. They were in the rear of the third tier. In 31 years of going to Avery Fisher Hall I don't think I've ever been in the third tier before.

It's not that bad for a movie, though, at least visually. The apparent size of the screen is still sufficient, even at that distance. But the sound was another matter. We had trouble hearing some of the dialogue, and someone in the row in front of us said the same thing: we'll have to see it again to get everything. Fortunately that's the only film in the festival being shown in Avery Fisher Hall.

The next film for us will be Tuesday: Capote, with the wonderful Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role.