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Lust, Love, Libidos and Liberation : It’s Boys Life ! (seth green mention)

Robert Urban

Wednesday 22 November 2006, by Webmaster

Boys Life: The Complete CollectionIt’s been more than 10 years since Strand Releasing had the clever idea to pick three gay short films and release them together in theaters. Over the ensuing years they released four more compilations of shorts that provide an intriguing look at how gay movies - and gay and bisexual men - have changed over the past decade.

All in all, the 20 short films that comprise the five-DVD set of Boys Life: The Complete Collection remain true to their motto. They are films of “lust, love, libidos and liberation.” And for the most part it’s sexual - not political - liberation they are referring to. Many of the films deal with gay sexual fantasies or reminiscences of same-sex encounters with straight males. Several of the films don’t even mention the word “gay” in reference to the same-sex content.

Some of the Boys Life films are suitable as a kind of educational, gay-positive, coming-out guide, and some of the scenarios in Boys Life might seem downright corny if they did not ring so true. The environs depicted in these films are often typical of those that may accompany a young or closeted gay man’s first homosexual awakening: gyms, steam rooms, swimming pools, locker rooms, lakes, forests, fields, public restrooms and college dorms.

Most of the Boys Life collection focuses on the primal homoerotic urge within gay men. Many of the films are a reminder that our early same-sex sexual encounters are “homosexual” first, and only later - through the development of our “gay” socio-political consciousness - do they become self-identified as “gay.”

In this sense, they are a lot like Brokeback Mountain. In fact, if Brokeback were a short film, it would fit in perfectly with the Boys Life collection. Overall, Boys Life: The Complete Collection reminds us how important it is for our own gay culture that our “lust, love, libido and liberation” be free and open for all to experience and enjoy.

Here is a look back at each of the five collections.

Boys Life 1: Pool Days by Brian Sloan; A Friend of Dorothy by Raoul O’Connell; The Disco Years by Robert Lee King

The three films that comprise Boys Life 1 are the least sexually graphic, and in a way the most innocent of the entire series. Nevertheless, they do include plenty of hot young guys and suggestive sexual situations. If there’s a theme to Boys Life 1, it’s that homoerotic feelings are OK. Released in the early 1990s, some elements of this first collection appear a bit dated, though humorous. For example, in Pools Days one character exclaims: “Hey! You have cable? Wow!”

Pool Days explores the coming-out of a typical suburban high school teen. Justin has just landed a summer job as a lifeguard at a local health club. In the sexually symbolic environs of the club’s swimming pool and steam room, the camera follows Justin’s sexual awakening. As Justin eyes other male swimmers, it is clear he is seeing them in a new, sexually charged way.

A Friend of Dorothy explores the life of an optimistic but lonely college freshman who has just come out. He is trying to find kindred spirits to bond with on campus. With the help of his trusty fag hag girlfriend, he eventually learns to find a place for his own sexual identity at school. Needless to say, there’s plenty of homoerotic college dorm and roommate scenes.

In The Disco Years, a gay high school teen learns the painful lesson that not all of his sexual partners will turn out to be gay like him. After experiencing rejection and misunderstanding, he learns to find peace and acceptance at his town’s gay disco bar.

Boys Life 2: Must Be the Music by Nickolas Perry; Nunzio’s Second Cousin by Tom DeCerchio; Alkali, Iowa by Mark Christopher; The Dadshuttle by Tom Donaghy

In the second volume of Boys Life, the series takes something of a left turn. The films in this collection explore a darker, grittier side of gay life. Additionally, the acting, directing and camera work here is of higher quality. The thematic emphasis is no longer on coming out, but on acceptance of homosexuality as a simple fact of life.

The freewheeling, cocky superficiality of youthful gay night life and club culture is the subject of the slice-of-life, gay-valley-boy short, Must Be the Music.

In Nunzio’s Second Cousin, viewers are treated to the gay side of a working-class, Sopranos- type urban neighborhood. A gay hate crime gets turned around when the perpetrators don’t realize their victim is actually a local, hard-boiled police detective. This film features top-notch performances by actors Vincent D’Onofrio (Men in Black, Full Metal Jacket) and Eileen Brennan (Private Benjamin). And keep an eye open for a brief walk-on role by future star Seth Green as the young Homophobe No. 3.

In the sensuous yet ghostly Alkali, Iowa, dark secrets abound in the heartland. Down on the farm a secretly gay son learns the truth about his deceased father, and in the process affirms a special, spiritual kinship to his own land and family.

The well-written The Dadshuttle plays like a classic Hemingway short story. Hidden thoughts and feelings become revealed in non sequiturs and evasive small talk. This brilliant little piece is actually just a filmed conversation between two people that takes place entirely in a car, while a father is driving his openly gay son to a train station.

The Dadshuttle exposes the wide gulf that opens up between family members as a result of the AIDS crisis.

Boys Life 3: Inside Out by Jason Gould; Just One Time by Lane Janger; Hitch by Bradley Rust Gray; Majorettes in Space by David Fourier; $30 by Gregory Cooke

In the five short films of Boys Life 3, the series changes again. This time the films seem to explode artistically, with a special emphasis on filmmaking craft and better cinematic quality.

Inside Out - which spoofs Hollywood, celebrities, children of celebrities, Scientology and the paparazzi - is truly a film for our tabloid-ridden era. It features openly gay actor Jason Gould and includes a cameo appearance by Jason’s real-life famous dad, Elliott Gould. Jason plays himself, a self-confessed neurotic, gay nerd. In his own self-deprecating and bumbling way, he struggles to find anyone genuine in the superficial world of ever-sunny, upscale Los Angeles.

Only a few minutes in length, Just One Time functions as a kind of apostrophe for Boys Life 3. It delivers a disarmingly funny take on every gay man’s fantasy: the desire to bed a handsome straight guy. An appealing young gay man’s prayers are answered when his female friend turns the tables on her domineering boyfriend’s request to watch her have sex with another woman.

The refreshingly different Hitch offers viewers a gay punk/gay trailer park aesthetic, as well as some gorgeously inventive cinematography. This sensuously filmed “road movie” captures two young Jack Kerouac types as they trek across the American West in a Volkswagen bus. Perhaps the most politically incorrect film of the entire series, Hitch focuses on the sexual lust smoldering between two hip young longhairs on the road. The camera work is so luscious it could work just as a silent film.

Majorettes in Space (French with English subtitles) offers a Monty Python-esque pastiche of quick visual sequences - each tangentially related to the other - that connect gay existence to the larger world in a kind of absurdist, free-association presentation. The film is a fun, experimental look at moral hypocrisy and intolerance.

The sweet and very touching $30 features Sara Gilbert of Roseanne fame as a wise-beyond-her-years prostitute. As a birthday present, a well-meaning but clueless dad buys his teenage son a session with a hooker. This is one of those wondrous, Zen-like films that, although very short, nonetheless manages to capture all the aspects of a very difficult social topic. The interactions between the frightened gay son, the perceptive hooker and the nervous dad create layer upon layer of conflicting emotions and self-denial. This is one of the best films of the whole series.

Boys Life 4: L.T.R. by Phillip J. Bartell; O Beautiful by Alan Brown; Bumping Heads by Brian Sloan; This Car Up by Eric Mueller

Boys Life 4 is arguably the weakest in the entire series. It’s unclear what happened to the production values of the four films here. Some of them appear to have been shot on videotape instead of film, while others seem enamored with digital editing techniques that were new at the time. The result, unfortunately, is a cheaper, less professional look.

L.T.R. is a mockumentary about a pair of shallow, pretentious, stoned, 20-something gay guys. If the goal of the director was to show that contemporary gay American youth is insufferably self-absorbed, superficial, bored and boring, then he has succeeded.

O Beautiful is the story of a gay hate crime that occurs somewhere out in the American heartland. One of the teens involved in the beating and rape of a young man returns to the scene of the crime and helps out the victim. The ensuing action and dialogue between gay victim and guilt-ridden apologist is so unlikely as to seem unbelievable - or at best, surreal. With all due respect to the seriousness of the subject matter, the combination of bad writing, bad camera work, bad directorial choices and bad acting pretty much sinks the entire production.

Bumping Heads is a New York City tale of unrequited gay love. A shy, older gay man (played by Craig Chester of Adam & Steve fame) strikes up a friendship with a younger, party-boy type. They hang out as friends at first, but when the older man falls in love with the younger, the younger man is not interested. Duh!

Boys Life 5: Dare by Adam Salky and David Brind; Fishbelly White by Michael Burke; Late Summer by David Ottenhouse; Time Off by Eytan Fox

With Boys Life 5, the series somehow recovers itself. Thankfully, the four films here offer a return to the series’ roots, and the focus is once again on the wonder, beauty, mystery and irony of gay sexuality.

Dare is reminiscent of the three films on Boys Life 1. Once again we have a story of two white American suburban high school teens having their first homosexual experience with each other. Once again, a built-in swimming pool is the setting. But Dare is more sexually charged. Like many of the classic tales in the Boys Life, its combination of budding sexual innocence and straight-guy titillation is part gay fantasy, part gay reminiscence.

Fishbelly White is about the expression and ultimate suppression of homosexual urges in rural American farming life. One of the most original, artistic and haunting of the entire Boys Life series, Fishbelly White plays almost like a spooky old Grimms’ fairy tale. It tells of a young simpleton whose backwoods culture offers absolutely no way for him to express his budding homosexuality. Using little dialogue, this evocative, simply told cautionary tale of lost innocence will leave viewers with much to think about.

In Late Summer, an adult gay man reminisces about his formative childhood years, especially about his kind, patient, supportive, straight older brother. Gay children are vulnerable to so many unfair cruelties from the often-hostile straight world around them. Late Summer is about those special exceptions - older heterosexuals who are protective and nonjudgmental. For gays who were lucky enough to have had such a beneficial relationship with an older straight guy in their youth, Late Summer is a very special film. Be prepared to cry.

Time Off is an Israeli film, presented in Hebrew with English subtitles, about being gay in the Israeli military. Within the harsh strictures that Israeli military life dictates, two closeted gay soldiers keep eyeing each other. In very coded and secretive terms, they eventually figure the other is homosexual. Time Off shows just how unsatisfying it can be to be gay in a militarized country like Israel, but the film is honest, gritty, and real in its assessment of the subject.