GAY FILM REVIEWS BY MICHAEL D. KLEMM
The Boy With The Sun In His Eyes
Unrated, 95 minutes
Verow's European Vacation
I've written before, flippantly, that I have a love-hate relationship with the films of Todd Verow - in much the same way that I once did with the early films of Gregg Araki. Verow is the very definition of a guerrilla filmmaker who makes edgy and personal films with no thought towards mainstream commercial success. In a manifesto that he penned for the 2009 Berlin Film Festival Teddy Awards, reprinted on his Facebook page, Verow wrote that, to him, "experimental or underground film and queer film [are] synonymous" and implored filmmakers to make their visions and not sell out to commercialism. "Life is gritty, dirty, full of shit and blood and semen. It is sticky and messy... Shoot with whatever means you have available, don't go chasing... the most expensive, state of the art camera, we are not technicians we are artists. Get your hands dirty. Make ugly beautiful and vice versa... Get passionate. Feel something. Then go tell your audience." (Click here, or at the bottom of this page, to read the manifesto in its entirety.)
|His first film was an adaptation of Dennis Cooper's controversial novel, Frisk, and it polarized gay audiences in 1996 with its decidedly un-PC approach to an S&M enthusiast who might also be a serial killer. 2004's Anonymous was an erotic and harrowing portrait of a sex addict. 2006's Bulldog in the Whitehouse was the clumsiest film that this reviewer has ever sat through but was also one of the best attacks on the Bush administration ever filmed. Last year's Between Something & Nothing was a rambling but evocative tale about an art student who moonlights as a hustler that featured some of the funniest and most honest art school classes that this former art student has ever seen.|
His latest film is The Boy With The Sun In His Eyes, an adaptation of the novel by his longtime collaborator, James Derek Dwyer. Tim Swain, who starred in Between Something & Nothing, portrays John, a young man whose terminally ill best friend, Kevin, just committed suicide under mysterious circumstances. John's life is about to take a wild left turn at Albuquerque when, following the funeral, he finally meets Kevin's legendary and enigmatic friend, Solange (Mahogany Reynolds). Solange is a one-hit wonder diva whose fifteen minutes of fame was a club hit in Europe called "Robots Are Unamerican." She is a also a B actress who played in a string of low budget Italian horror films.
|The Boy With The Sun In His Eyes opens with a flashback between John and Kevin (Josh Ubaldi). Kevin, as is his wont, is being vague about the time he spends with Solange. John complains that he never tells him the end of his stories and that "it's always a headlong punge into drama." Kevin asks John to promise him that he will get tested for AIDS, quit smoking, learn to drive, and quit his dead-end cubicle job and get out and see the world. Solange is filming a guerrilla-styled pilot, a food and nightlife television magazine entitled The Un-Tourist Guide, and she offers John an opportunity to fulfill his friend's wishes. Suddenly he is quitting his job and flying to Paris to be Solange's personal and production assistant.|
|John is swept away by this new booze and drug-fueled la dolce vita that takes him from Paris to Milan to Berlin and back to Paris again. With video camera in tow, he follows Solange on an endless party. In Paris he enters into a passionate affair with a new wave performance artist named Alain (Valentin Plessy) that is abruptly cut short when a rival makes an attempt on Solange's life in a crowded dance club. While fleeing to Italy, John reluctantly finds himself accepting another role as father confessor to the increasingly unstable and needy diva. Before long, a series of bizarre events leads John to believe that Solange is keeping secrets from him and that the hip circles in which they travel are hiding more dangers than he can imagine.|
|Most of the film is a wild roller coaster ride across art happenings, trendy restaurants and "Now's the time on Sprockets when ve dance!" - style nightclubs. Now and then, the action slows down long enough to take a breath. It is during these breaks when some of the dialogue really sparkles. Despite the larger than life presense of Solange, the emphasis is on John, a fish out of water who is enjoying his newfound freedom but is, ultimately, completely out of his element. A man who manages models seduces John in Milan by telling him that he has "a very marketable smile" and that "a good smile sells food, furniture... Not every model is on the runway for Gucci or Prada." John smiles, disappointed, and says "It's the typical story for me. I can be in a glamorous profession like modeling but I would be hawking ravioli and desks."|
|There are frequent flashbacks to the relationship between John and Kevin. There is a touching moment where Kevin asks John to buzz off his hair before it begins to fall out on his own. Many of these scenes, some presented as dreams, serve to sober the drug induced tornado that propels our protagonists across the cities of Europe. Solange tells John that Kevin liked to keep his friends in different boxes and John asks, "Which box was I in? The boring childhood friends box?" She smiles and tells him that it was more like "the safety deposit box." A demented but ultimately touching third act twist will reveal the mystery surrounding the sick man's death.|
|Mahogany Reynolds as Solange is an exotic creature who, at times, reminded me of David Bowie's supermodel wife, Iman. Tim Swain, as John, is major league cute, and hot, and I would be a liar if I didn't admit that some of the pleasures that I derive from Verow's films are prurient. Verow has a talent for filming and editing hot and artsy sexual interludes that are far more satisfying than watching porn. He finds the proper rhythms within electric and rapid-fire montages of passionate kisses, intertwining limbs and textural landscapes of facial stubble and chest hair. The best scene is a hot sexual tryst between John and Alain that is intercut with Alain's Devo-esque dance club performance. Their exuberant smiles indicate two young man who are undeniably hot for each other and the music propels the scene into another dimension. I also liked the "art terrorists" who cut off John's shirt with scissors and then duct taped him and Alain together. Although John will enjoy more hot sex in other cities, he remains in love with the French performance artist. Later, when the international intrigue plot engulfs the storyline, Alain calls John to warn him that he is danger. Will these young lovers get to reunite and live happily ever after?|
|The first act of The Boy With The Sun In His Eyes is a fun guilty pleasure but I have to admit that its second half gets a little silly. I could suspend belief and accept Solange as a jet-setting Mata Hari but Joe was too cute and innocent looking to be believable in a climactic scene where he is brandishing a gun. Even so, I had a good time with most of Verow's latest homemade film. It is often gleefully incoherent and stuffed with moments calculated for maximum shock value. Filmed on location throughout Europe, The Boy With The Sun In His Eyes is an exotic and sensual travelogue.|
Is this a tale of innocence lost? Is Solange's character meant to spoof a half century of James Bond femme fatales? Without the autobiographical nature that propelled many of Verow's previous films, The Boy With The Sun In His Eyes may lack the same visceral power that bubbled beneath the surface of his other works but, as always, he lives up to his credo to jetison all concessions to accepted commercial cinema. It is loud, it is flashy, the soundtrack is a killer, and the visuals feel decidely European. The story pushes credibility at times but it's a manic and original ride that I found wildly entertaining. And what does the title mean? I don't have a clue.
Swain also appears in: