“Ukeire”: gay melodrama set in Appalachia takes religious homophobia to a precipice

Ukeire” (2015), is a disturbing small “real indie” film about religiously driven homophobia by J. J. O’Hearn based on his own short story, which might seem set up and contrived.  But the message of this film, which is somewhat stilted in acting and excruciating at times to watch, does indeed unfold in some light sheets or layers.  The title means “acceptance” in Japanese.  I would wonder if Reid Ewing, with his interest in Japan and Danganronpa and Japanese culture, has watched this.

A teenager, Brennan Akitsuki O’Dorcay (Pate Faulkner) has taken the bus from California back to his old hometown of Corbin, Kentucky, in the mountains near Cumberland Gap (which I visited in 2016, my photo above). We’re he lost family members to a house fire and then a murder in San Francisco and later Fresno.  Child Protective Services escorts him to his single dad’s (Brady, played by David Bingham) home, which seems rather nicely furnished physically. Brady somewhat reluctantly takes him in.   Brennan apparently has partly Japanese ancestry, although that’s not really obvious from his looks.

Then Brennan is enrolled in the local high school.  It seems sparsely staffed (is this really how it is, or a matter of the film’s budget) – teachers double up as assistant principals.   He quickly meets a best friend  Aidan (Austin Call) who seems like an intellectually and socially secure person in a poor environment – maybe even gifted. But the other kids seem tribal and lethargic, and homophobic, as we find out.  Two girls beat up Brennan for dressing and looking like a “fag” (or maybe a “gook” even).

The young male English teacher Mr. James Wilson (James Lanham) assigns the small class an assignment of rewriting a scene from either “Romeo and Juliet” or “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in modern context (with FinalDraft?) and acting it in class.  (Why not try, “The Tempest“?  Saw it on an arena stage in Dallas in the 80s and the young male sirens were appropriately polished.)  Brennan gets paired with Aidan, who is trying to help him adjust. Lanham’s voice and delivery reminds me of math teacher and whiz Deven Ware from AOPS at UCLA (on YouTube). I wondered if Deven could have been cast for this role!

After the beating, Brennan tells both Wilson and Aidan that he is gay.  The staff seems mildly supportive but not willing to do much to stop other students from bullying. Aidan is more supportive, and seems genuinely, maybe profoundly gifted and ready to go onto great things himself. Brennan decides to tell dad that he is gay, and slips it in to a dinner conversation. The father explodes, beats up Brennan, who runs out into the woods. Later Aiden finds him having slashed his wrists. It’s too late to save his life at the hospital.

Maybe the film means a parallel to a Shakespeare as a tragedy, although it’s not really a fit.  Brennan appears as a ghost from heaven a few times, as if it were a real place for the next life. Personally, I think the afterlife is a lot more fragmentary than that, but I won’t get into the Monroe Institute theories here. The dad explodes at the funeral again with rhetoric that sounds like the Westboro Baptist Church (“GHF”), complete with burning in hell.  But when he meets his son’s ghost near the coffin, he realizes how wrong he is and become profusely apologetic, as his whole concept of what is in the Bible must turn on its head.

There are other ways to interpret the suicide issue.  It could be seen as the person’s desire to punish those who taunted him, to say that the world is unworthy of being lived in.  So it might be seen as arrogant or even cowardly. Indeed many Christians believe that suicide means forfeiture of heaven and damnation instead. But what if gross harm is inflicted by a criminal or a foreign enemy.  What if someone is exposed to radiation by a terrorist or nuclear blast and decides to jump off a building to avoid dying of radiation sickness?  Or to avoid survival in a world, however changed by force by an enemy, in which he no longer fits in?

We could imagine a film whether the father commits suicide instead.  The father may be in the position of Job, so to speak. Much of his family has been taken away from him by disaster or violence perpetrated by others. Now his only son informs him, effectively, that he will never have any more lineage.

One, for comparison, could read the New Yorker article by Ian Parker, “The Story of a Suicide”, about 18 year old violinist and Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi, in September 2010, three months before my own mother’s natural passing.

The film stays within PG-13 territory and has no explicit scenes.

The photography and lighting look sharp.  The music score seems trite and repetitious, however.

This might be a good film for Reel Affirmations (DC) to look at for an HRC showing. It would be nice if an innovative distributor like A24 took an interest in this film.

Corbin, KY photo (wiki).

Name:  “Ukeire
Director, writer:  J. J. O’Hearne
Released:  2015
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  YouTube free, 2018/1/6
Length:  82
Rating:  NA (seems PG-13)
Companies:  self-distributed as far as I know, Emerald Shamrock Studios
Link:  imdb

(Posted: Monday, January 8, 2018 at 1:30 PM EST)

NY Philharmonic presents Johnathan Biss and Timo Andres in Part 2 of the Beethoven Concerto cycle

The New York Philharmonic and pianist Johnathan Biss presented one of the segments of Biss’s project of commissioning contemporary composers to invent new piano concerti inspired by the five Beethoven piano concerti. The concert was conducted by Courtney Lewis.

The concert presented Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #2 in B-flat, Op. 19, which was apparently the first composed and started at a young age. The starting point of inspiration was the more contrapuntal and even sometimes dissonant cadenza that Beethoven composed twenty years later.  Otherwise, the work is “not one of Beethoven’s best”.

The Beethoven opened the second half of the concert.  Biss, to my ear, seemed in accelerate his tempi during certain phrases in the first movement, an odd effect.

The inspired (I won’t say derivative) contemporary piece (performed first, before the intermission) is the 23-minute Piano Concerto #3 in B-flat by Timo Andres (B. 1985). The subtitle is “The Blind Banister”, a curious metaphor, of a stairway railing looking into an abyss, across a gulf, without light – danger for elderly people alone. The gulf was, though, what the decades-spanning special dissonances in the cadenza inspire.

I ought to do more guest posting myself (or invite it), but Biss explains his own understanding of the piece here, and this leads naturally do a discussion of how composers get works commissioned today, what audiences will pay to hear (and sponsor), and it’s all potentially sensitive.

The work comprises three movements: “Sliding Scale” (slow), “Ringing Weights”, leading to a cadenza, and then a “Coda: Teneramente”. The opening emphasizes descending scales in drop-rolls in the piano, somewhat lushly harmonized, even sounding familiar to me. The middle section becomes more Parisian to my ears, in fact reminding me of the day I spent in Lourdes, France on May Day 2001, as young males danced a healing ritual. The work slows down and will finally end loudly (unusual for Andres, who considers quiet endings a usually necessary courtesy for listeners).

The NY Philharmonic program notes for the new work are here.

I had the mistaken impression that the work had been called “The Blind Barrister”, which would be a curious idea indeed, given Brexit. (Oops?  England?)

The concert had opened with excerpts from Hector Berlioz’s Dramatic Symphony, Romeo and Juliet, Op. 17, after Shakespeare’s Tragedy. The excerpts (14 min) seem to contain the love theme that starts the slow movement, and the Queen Mab Scherzo. The very ending was a loud chord and one soft grace note (like the Dvorak New World, which I have always found very curious).  I’m not a fan of excepting from works purporting to be sonata-like “symphonies” In fact, I had heard the Montreal Symphony play the complete work (with chorus) in Minneapolis around 2002 when I got a comp ticket while working for the Minnesota Orchestra.  I remember the happy ending, as the feuding families reconcile.  Not so in the two movies (especially Ziffereli’s) that I have seen , one while working as a substitute teacher. In fact, when the play is taught in high school, teachers have to explain that it was legal (even expected) for women to fall in love and marry much younger than it is today.

The concert concluded with the 20-minute tone poem “In the South (Alassio)”, Op. 50, by Sir Edward Elgar.  That refers to the Italian Riviera. There is some nice octave work in the brass with some dissonance in the development. I have a Chandos recording of this with Thomson.

James Oestereich reviews the concert for the New York Times here.

(Posted: Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 11:45 PM)

Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by a community theater

Saturday, I attended a performance of William Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by the McClean Community Players (Virginia, Fairfax County).

The performance was held in the ballroom at the Vinson Hall Retirement Center.  I thought a facility in an retirement was an interesting community venue.

The performance by the McClean Players was directed by Rosemary Hoffman, produced by Bunny Bones and Jean Matich, and choreographed by Victoria Bloom.  It ran 150 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

The stage was wide, and set up with broken Greek pillars, over which trappings other settings, like outdoor forests, could be simulated.

The five acts are compressed into two, comprising eight scenes (with an intermission after five) .  But the 5-act structure of Shakespeare’s plays follow the Hauge screenplay structure reasonably well.

The plot centers around the wedding of Theseus, the Duke of Athens to the Amazon Queen, Hippolyta.  (I once got a musical composition mailed to me on a huge cardboard postcard from a high school friend, a heterosexual cis-male who would marry “normally” and have a family, who nevertheless signed the card as Hippolyta, and unfortunately I’ve lost it; it comprised some Irish folk songs, maybe like those in Stanford symphonies.)  Around this event there are various other love rectangles, all manipulated by wood fairies (or maybe the “wood spirits” of “Twin Peaks” from David Lynch), and a particular gremlin named Puck. The most important of these starts with the insistence by Egeus that his daughter Hermia accept an arranged marriage to Demetrius, when she loves Lysander.  The penalty for refusal would be either death of life in an convent as a nun, barren without children (Shakespeare’s language makes a lot of this).

Puck is the star of the show.  He has forfeited bipedalism, and gimps on all fours like most other primates. Unfortunately, he seems to have surrendered chest hair to tattoos.  He puts magic potions on people’s eyelids, which makes them fall in love with the next person they see.  This is a way to influence the outcomes of all these love triangles, arranged as in a 50s situation comedy.  It’s like the idea that you glance at someone whose trappings stimulate your fantasies, until someone else comes along.  (Remember the idea of the “catch of the month” of bab boy Shane Lyons in “Judas Kiss”?)

Critics have often noted that the play hints of feminism, gender ambiguity, and loss of individualism.  There are a few homoerotic moments involving Puck and one moment between rivals Demetrius and Lysander (who is much more “masculine” in a conventional sense). And a few times Lysander “gets it”. Lysander is forced to wear some awkward-looking leg garters; stage  actors go through a lot, every night.

The cast includes Catherine Gilbert as Hermia, Will MacLeod as Lysander, Mytheos Holt as Demetrius, Ilyan Rose-Davlia as Helena, Eleanor Tapscott as Oberon, and Gary Bernard DiNardo as Puck.

The background music included some of Grieg’s Peer Gynt as well as some typical Renaissance.  I didn’t hear the Mendelssohn.

The arranged marriage idea reminds me of the 1954 Sigmund Romberg musical and MGM film, “The Student Prince“. I also recall that the 1954 Fox spectacle “Demetrius and the Gladiators” was a sequel to “The Robe” and was maybe the second CinemaScope picture.  Finally, in noting movies based on earlier English literature, I wanted to note the curious and moving 1944 film “A Canterbury Tale” by Powell and Pressburger.

Wikipedia description of play.

(Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2017 at 4:30 PM EDT)