WOMEN HAVE IT BEST in the eighth annual Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (which runs Friday, Oct. 17- Thursday, Oct. 23, at the Cinerama,


Swinging Both Ways

Thumbs up or thumbs down, there's still plenty to see at this year's queer cinema fest.

WOMEN HAVE IT BEST in the eighth annual Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (which runs Friday, Oct. 17- Thursday, Oct. 23, at the Cinerama, Harvard Exit, and other venues; see www.seattlequeerfilm.com for the full schedule and details; tickets 206-325-6500). This isn't because the programming of films with lesbian content is any stronger (the festival valiantly struggles, in fact, to find quality cinema for gay women), but because lesbians aren't blindly motivated to see a movie just because it has a photo of some half-naked guy in the program guide. A disinclination to sleep with men can save you hours of numbing cinematic misery among the 150-odd titles being screened this year.

Any responsible preview of the fest needs to take into account the salivating dumbness of your average gay male, so let's get that out of the way. Among the many films selling themselves this year with a shirtless stud, eyes will be drawn to Leaving Metropolis and the cagily titled Italian flick Diary of a Male Porn Star. Full of resolutely unlikable characters, Metropolis concerns a blocked, brittle artistwho, conveniently, paints in his underweartrying for inspiration by accepting a job as a waiter. (You read that correctly, even if it makes no sense.) He promptly screws the married, hunky co-owner of the diner, despite concern from his caustic fag-hag best friend and dying transgendered roomie. It's a polished exercise in chilly misanthropy.

If you must, Porn Star is bettera load of dripping wet European hooey that takes itself so seriously it's worth rolling your eyes. Get this: Poufy-haired writer/ director Marco Filiberti casts himself as a nationally beloved, soft-hearted hard-core-gay-porn actor who bonds with his estranged brother and attempts to adopt a little orphaned boy. Amidst a wash of classical piano underscoring, his diary entries read like, "I need to find an element of eternity in what I do." Well, sure, why not? Getting blown by beautiful Roman homos only lasts so long, kids.

THE DOCUMENTARIES, as usual, are the best thing about the festival. Despite some awkward re-enactment scenes, Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin is otherwise exhilaratingly informative. At a time when our current gay community is busy assimilating, it's a lift learning about the indomitable Rustina black, sexually active, Communist queer who refused to pigeonhole himself and helped organize the 1963 March on Washington. Less earth-shattering, but just as engrossing, is Put the Camera on Me, which collects and recalls the "carefree" home movies created when the filmmakers and their pals were '80s California cul-de-sac kidsand when co-director Darren Stein was the dictatorial adolescent auteur subconsciously working toward his homosexual identity (sample short-film title: Gay as a Whistle).

Never neglect the lesbian docs. Though unscreened, I'd put bets this year on No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, which navigates the history of the activist/partners who founded the first public lesbian organization; and Laughing Matters, which will hopefully confirm that lesbians can be funny with profiles of out comedians Kate Clinton, Karen Williams, Suzanne Westenhoefer, and the inimitable Marga Gomez.

GENDER-BENDING is everywhere on the schedule, with mixed results. Avoid Ghostlight unless you don't mind snotting on yourself in disbelief. This serious-yet-inept biopic casts a drag impersonator as Martha Graham in her final years. (Why put Ann Magnuson, Isaac Mizrahi, and Deborah Harry in a film and then decide to play things straight?!) Better, and intentionally funny, is the opening-night howler Die Mommie Die! Adapting his stage comedy, Charles Busch stars as faded songbird Angela Arden, now trapped in a loveless marriage and determined to rid herself of her literally constipated movie-producer husband (Philip Baker Hall). The staging is clunky, but the acting is wonderfully silly: Busch is priceless, with gonzo vocal affectations that rib the untethered late-career work of Bette Davis. (It's difficult to describe the fun he has with a line like, "I. Magnin is having a sale on go-go bootswe could make a day of it.") Plus, Jason Priestlyplayfully going Shatner-esque as a stolid switch-hitting gigolo herewill be making a live appearance at the screening. (Mommie's commercial run begins Oct. 31.)

Finally, grab the chance to catch big-screen revivals of the Katharine-Hepburn-masquerading-as-a-boy comedy Sylvia Scarlett (in which a perplexed Brian Aherne famously tells Hepburn, "I don't know what it is that gives me a queer feeling when I look at you"); Dorothy Arzner's pre-Code Working Girls; and, especially, the breathtaking new print of Singin' in the Rain that will serve as this year's joyful public sing-along at the Cinerama. Sometimes, "gay" really does just mean "happy."


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