Welcome to Queerly Digital, a monthly column for cinema lovers from across the LGBT spectrum. All titles are available on DVD, Blu Ray, or both. This column will be sure to include titles which honor all LGBT experiences.
“Big Eden” (2000)
Wolfe Video re-releases this charming Queer fable in a brand new edition on DVD and Blu Ray.
“Big Eden” is set in a dreamlike never-never land we all wish we had come from: just click your heels together and whisper: “there’s no place like home.”
For Henry (Arye Gross) home is a small town in Montana where bigotry and intolerance don’t exist. The local country bumpkins know that Henry is gay, and they love him all the more for it. Henry is a successful artist in New York City who returns to the rustic cabin of his youth to care for the ailing grandfather who raised him. Henry struggles with coming out to Grandpa, who already knows.
Henry is also struggling with his attraction to his hot, strapping, recently divorced best friend from childhood, who appears to be waging a battle with his own coming out issues. Henry cannot see what everyone else around him can: that local shopkeeper Pike (Eric Schweig), has been in love with him for years.
If “Big Eden” had been cast with straight characters, it might have been written off as an unremarkable romantic comedy a “chick flick.” With gay characters, the story becomes something entirely different, something special. It’s a gay film which gives us a peek inside the world we all yearn to live in. Everyone in town accepts Henry and Pike for who they are—they accept each other as well. In “Big Eden” there are no judgments. The further removed “Big Eden” feels from the world we actually live in, the more sublime and uplifting the film becomes.
Gross and Schweig are wonderful in their respective roles as two gay men who come to love each other — and to love themselves — in part due to the love and acceptance which surrounds them. The stars receive glorious support from a stellar supporting cast. Oscar winner Louise Fletcher (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) brings some Hollywood star power to this low budget indie as a kindly schoolmarm who mentors Henry. Nan Martin and George Coe, as, respectively, a lovably annoying nosy neighbor and Henry’s kind, gentle grandfather, steal a few scenes apiece in roles that are three dimensional and well written — both of these actors had long and distinguished careers in Hollywood. Coe, who passed on in 2015, and Martin, who left us in 2010, appeared in scores of films and TV productions dating back to the 1960s. It’s a testament to the quality of “Big Eden” that director Thomas Bezucha was able to convince these acclaimed performers to appear in his little movie for what was most likely a much lower pay scale than they were used to.
Wolfe Video, a lesbian owned company, offers a pristine print of “Big Eden” on this recently released disc. Bezucha, Gross, Schweig and Fletcher appear in newly shot interviews in which they recall the making of the film.
“Edge of Seventeen” (1998)
This charmer gets a full scale DVD/Blu Ray re-release from Strand Releasing. Set in Sandusky Ohio, 1984, David Moreton's film has a soundtrack rich with the music of the period. The Eurythmics ("Right By Your Side"), Toni Basil's "Mickey" and the great gay anthem "Smalltown Boy" by Bronski Beat are among the wonderful tunes which grace the soundtrack and add a tinge of excitement to this lovely coming out story.
Eric (a very likable Chris Stafford) takes a summer job at a restaurant as the story begins. As the title suggests, he's 17 years old and coming to terms with his sexuality. Eric has his first fling that summer, and gets badly hurt. He also makes his first gay friend: out lesbian actress Lea DeLaria, currently on view in "Orange in the New Black," is marvelous as Angie, a hard edged, worldly wise but kindhearted butch dyke who mentors Eric and helps him come to terms with who he is.
Along the way Eric sleeps with his straight female best friend (Tina Holmes), and comes to realize too late what a mistake this was – he breaks her heart and destroys the friendship.
"Edge of Seventeen" is another delightful film that many of us will relate to. At one time, we were all Eric.
"Hustler White" (1996)
Bruce La Bruce is considered an icon of "New Queer Cinema," a movement of edgy, maverick and fiercely independent gay filmmakers who proliferated during the 1990s. In this film, the auteur co-stars as a writer researching the worlds of hustling and gay porn production in Southern California. He meets a handsome hustler (Tony Ward) who becomes his muse.
Monti the hustler is trying to keep a low profile as he turns tricks and dabbles in gay porn – a few weeks earlier he ran a fellow hustler (Kevin P. Scott) over with his car, severing the other guy's foot. That poor chap now turns tricks as an amputee, using his footless leg as a penis!
Though not a porn film, "Hustler White" pushes the sexuality envelope. The film is both a satirical look at the gay sex trade and a nod to classic Hollywood cinema – the opening scene is a direct rip-off of Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" (1950), the masterpiece in which former silent film superstar Gloria Swanson played former (fictional) silent film superstar Norma Desmond, who had lapsed into a bizarre fantasy world. La Bruce and co-director Rick Castro wrote a witty screenplay which is filled with over-the-top references to gay sex and to a variety of black-and-white Hollywood films.
"Hustler White" is not for every taste – some of the sex scenes are genuinely disturbing. Keep an open mind – the film is a rich treasure trove of great ideas, and is definitely not your run-of-the-mill movie.