FRAMELINE 2013: Five docs about five great gay men -- plus more at the massive LGBT Film Fest, opening this week
A different kind of tragedy is chronicled in Clare Beaven and Nic Stacey's British Codebreaker, about Alan Turing — perhaps the most brilliant mathematician of his era, who basically came up with the essential concept of the modern-day computer (in 1936!) He played a huge role in breaking the Nazi's secret Enigma code, thus aiding an Allied victory. But instead of being treated as a national hero, he was convicted of "gross indecency" (i.e. gay sex) in 1952 and hounded by police until he committed suicide two years later. Half conventional documentary and half reenactment drama (with Ed Stoppard, playwright Tom's son, as Turing), Codebreaker illustrates the cruel price even an upper-class genius could pay for his or her sexuality in the days before Gay Lib.
Two literary lions are remembered in the last of these historical bio-docs. Daniel Young's Swiss Paul Bowles: The Cage Door is Always Open recalls the curious life of a successful American composer turned famous expat novelist. He and wife Jane Bowles moved to post-World War II Tangiers, where they entertained a parade of visiting artists — and, by all accounts, a succession of same-sex lovers. Clips from Bernardo Bertolucci's underrated adaptation of Bowles' literary masterwork The Sheltering Sky (1990) are here alongside input from acquaintances and observers including John Waters and Gore Vidal.
The latter is the whole focus in Nicholas Wrathall's Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, and what could be better than that? Perhaps undervalued as a frequently very fine novelist because he was so prolific (and popular), he's considered here primarily as a public intellectual — a term that seems positively antiquated in our climate of pundits and ranters — and fierce lifelong critic of American hypocrisy in all its forms, especially the political. He was a scold (or a "correctionist," as he put it), albeit of the wittiest, most clear-headed and informed type. Among myriad highlights here are seeing him on TV reduce friend-rival Norman Mailer to sputtering fury, shred the insufferable right-wing toady William F. Buckley, and make poor Jerry Brown squirm under his effortless tongue-lashing.
Endlessly quotable ("We've had bad Presidents in the past but we've never had a goddam fool," he said of George W. Bush), obstinately "out" from an early age if never very PC in his views ("Sex destroys relationships ... I'm devoted to promiscuity"), Vidal is aptly appreciated here as "a thorn in the American Establishment, of which by birth he is a charter member." There will never be anyone quite like him — but we sure could use some who are at least in the general ballpark. *
June 20-30, various venues