4 min

What’s up, Doc?

Real life is rascally rich

HOT SELECTION. There's lots of queer content, in fact. Credit: Xtra files

The Insider, The Hurricane and Boys Don’t Cry – Hollywood is littered with films based on true stories. But the documentaries that expose these and other stories in all their detail remain banished from the local movieplexes. Luckily in Toronto we have plenty of festivals. The richest of these festivals for true-life stories is next week’s Hot Docs.

Here are some of the best samples of queer works.

Two Brides & A Scalpel

Fabulous title; fabulous film.

Billed as the first and only lesbian couple legally married in Canada, Linda and Georgina circumvented the law by exchanging nuptials while Georgie was still considered by law a man. Although having lived as a woman for years, Georgie didn’t go under the knife until a few months after the wedding.

The film, composed from years of home videos (some of inconsistent quality), wins you over as the two women strip away layer after layer with such utter honesty that you perceive the heart and the complexity of both the characters.

Linda, the lesbian biological woman of the couple, appears irritatingly quirky at first. She refers to her stuffed animals as her babies, as if they are alive.

Later in the film she reveals her manic depressive mood disorder and her fear of being abandoned. Both her father and then her mother rejected Linda. “I don’t have a family,” she says, explaining why they won’t be at her wedding. “I really don’t care anymore. Caring hurts too much. Fuck ’em.” Witnessing such wounded vulnerability, we understand the depth of her love for Georgie.

Georgie talks about her 25 years working as a trucker in a large pulp and paper company. Deep in hard-hat country, she tells of how difficult her time has been at work and we follow her through a human rights tribunal battle.

She explains to us the complexity of her decision in a society defined by gender: “We want to fit into our society so much that we change our bodies so we conform. If we grew up in a society where this wasn’t necessary, would we change our bodies? I can’t answer that question.”

As she leaves the hospital in Seattle, with her new genitalia, Georgie explains with a near spiritual calm, “It means so many things and yet it means nothing at all.” (Shown at 2pm on Sun, May 7 at the Carlton; 20 Carlton St.)

Original Schtick

“I tell people I’m a famous artist and they totally believe it,” says brash US artist Bob Fischer. “They ask for my autograph. People are so easily manipulated.”

Part Andy Warhol, part PT Barnum, part con artist, Bob is loose in Australia and free from the anchors of reality. He implicates many into his whirlwind, razzle dazzle: a handful of collaborating artists, several perspective gallery owners, a beleaguered personal assistant, his rich boyfriend and one very uncertain documentary film crew.

How shallow is Bob? Explaining his attraction to his new rich benefactor and boyfriend, he offers this motivation: “I don’t want to get a job at McDonald’s.” Hardly love.

Original Schtick is a entertaining movie about a unlikable man – and yet Bob remains somehow mesmerizing throughout. As we watch him mistreat and belittle everyone around and instruct an apprentice to complete his work, we begin to wonder what genuine talent lies beneath the hoopla. (At 3pm on Sat, May 6 at the Royal; 608 College St.)

Night Waltz

An interesting companion piece to the stunning 1998 biography film Let It Come Down by Canadian Jennifer Baichwal, Night Waltz, like the music of Paul Bowles, is essentially lightweight.

As the doc states up front, Bowles’ music, whilst charming and capable, would never be receiving this attention if he had not been famous as a writer and bohemian.

But this is a delightfully paced piece in which discussions with Bowles are interspersed with meditative music videos of his classical compositions. Black and white still photographs of period Manhattan, dreamily shifting light in his adopted home of Tangiers or impressionistic images of industrial life illustrate his compositions.

Remembering a stern teacher who didn’t care for his loose writing style, Bowles recounts her telling him: “‘You are not James Joyce. And you are not Gertrude Stein. I want you to write proper English.’ This was the first I’d ever heard of these people. So I got interested in them. If we’re not Gertrude Stein, who are we?”

As with Let It Come Down, the gems come in Bowles’ wisdom, having lived the life of a great nomadic artist. He knew the likes of Stein, Allen Ginsberg and Aaron Copland.

In summing up his total lack of ambition, he muses, “I only cared to do what I wanted to do. Which is natural enough – unless you’re thinking of yourself as embarking on a career. That’s a word that never occurred to me at all. Having a career is being on your way somewhere. I never thought of myself as on my way.

“I was just where I was at any given moment. I was not going somewhere else.”

(At 9:15pm Sat, May 6 at the Carlton.)

Sadness / Laugh In The Dark

Two more different films on the same subject matter would be hard to imagine.

Sadness is an unrelenting, single note performance piece, delivered in total deadpan seriousness by renowned Australian photographer William Yang. Imagine someone reciting: “Many of my friends have died. I am sad. I am sad,” over and over again.

(Shown at 7pm on Tue, May 2 at the Royal.)

Laugh In The Dark is as different as its title suggests. An award-winning piece by local filmmaker Justine Pimlott, Laugh follows a motley crew of queers as they attempt to revive Crystal Beach, Ontario, into a “Provincetown of the north.” As one in their chosen family starts to fall ill, Laugh changes gears from a campy, lighthearted piece to one that explores grief as a communal experience.

(Shown at 2pm on Sun, May 7 at the Carlton; with Two Brides.)