GAY FILM REVIEWS BY MICHAEL D. KLEMM
Wolfe Video, 2002
Not rated, 89 minutes
Portrait of the Artist
Out Canadian playwright Brad Fraser's plays are known for pushing the envelope. His plays explore lies, alienation, and the search for love in the modern world. He joined the writing staff on Showtime's Queer as Folk last year and his trademark edginess has permeated their plotlines as well. BUA audiences, here in Buffalo, should remember their stage production of Fraser's Poor Super Man (with Richard Lambert, Anne Hartley Pfohl, Caitlin Coleman and Dave Butler) about ten years ago, and they might be interested to know that Fraser has just adapted, and directed, it for the screen. The film is called Leaving Metropolis and, even though it went straight to video here in the States, it is definitely worth seeing.
Troy Ruptash plays David, a renowned gay artist who has lost his muse. Fade in as David angrily throws an unfinished canvas across the room. His roommate, Shannon, enters and delivers one of the film's best lines: "Did I miss the part where you cut off your ear?" Feeling a need to "re-connect" with people in order to find inspiration again, David decides to take a part time job as a waiter.
His best friends are Shannon and Kryla. Shannon is a pre-op transsexual who desperately wants to become a woman. He also has AIDS, and he is frustrated that his doctors don't want to risk the final phase of his gender re-assignment surgery. Kryla is a caustic newspaper columnist who is looking for Mr. Goodbar on the internet. Intensely jealous of David, she can also be a manipulative bitch.
David lands a job at a diner run by Matt and Violet, a young married couple. Matt once drew comic books and David encourages him to pick up a pencil again. It is plain that David is drawn to Matt, and it is also plain that Matt may have just found his muse in David. Matt confesses that he once loved his best friend in high school, (but never acted on it), and then has a moment of gay panic and leaves. David, inspired by his new friend, begins to paint again. He invites Matt over to see his work and unveils a striking canvas of Matt in the nude. Matt is overwhelmed by the portrait and easily gives in to David's blatant seduction. They become lovers - even though Matt insists that he isn't gay.
Weaving throughout the narrative is a discussion of the latest Superman comic book where Lois Lane marries Clark Kent. They joke about whether "mixed marriages" work, and debate about Superman being dishonest to his wife because he keeps his secret identity from her. Thematically, these stories relate to the many lies spoken by the principals, the secrets they all keep, and how none of them really knows each other.
One thing you can say about Fraser's characters is that they are not formulaic or one-dimensional. On the one hand, David can be a self-centered jerk. He thinks nothing of seducing a married man, while on the other hand he looks after a sick friend. David is a man who is conflicted and beaten down by grief. Many of his friends have died of AIDS and he keeps all their names written on the wall of his studio. He feels helpless as his friends die while the survivors implode emotionally. Shannon says it best when he remarks that David is discovering that he "can't leap tall buildings in a single bound."
Adaptations from stage to screen are often stiff and overly talky but the action here moves at a good clip. The dialogue is sharp and Fraser isn't afraid to tackle explosive subject matter. It's a pity he had to lose his original title but that was for copyright reasons. The film version, of course, eliminates the projected words used onstage to embellish the comic book theme, yet his original vision remains intact. Fraser's artistic training has given him an eye for the cinematic image and he does a nice job with his first turn in the director's chair. A camera pan through David's studio establishes, without words, numerous character facets. During a sexual interlude, Matt's partner changes from Violet to David in the same unbroken camera shot. A climactic scene where David sits in a steam bath, and all of his dead friends appear in the fog, is chilling.
The acting, for the most part, is fine. The standout performance comes from Thom Allison as the transsexual Shannon. His third act illness is traumatic without resorting to melodrama. A few quibbles: some of the incidental music choices are weak, and a couple scenes seem a bit rushed, but its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. My guess (based on the published text) is that this was far more visceral onstage - Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love lost some of its raw power when Denys Arcand (Barbarian Invasions) directed the film version, Love and Human Remains. Still, this was a welcome change from some of the banal gay films I've had the misfortune to screen lately.
The extras weren't ready yet on the screener DVD I viewed, but the finished disc will included a commentary from Fraser that - judging from the interview I conducted with the man in our last issue - should be a fascinating listen.
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