Lifestyles? Films reviewed: My Wonderful West Berlin, The Lavender Scare, Baywatch

Posted in Berlin, Breasts, comedy, documentary, LGBT, Protest by CulturalMining.com on May 26, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Inside Out is Toronto’s LGBT film festival showing dramas, comedies, documentaries and short films from around the world. There are events, free screenings and a chance to talk to the filmmakers and stars at most screenings.

This week I’m looking at two historical Inside Out documentaries about gay life and repression in two cities, Washington, D.C. and Berlin; and an action/comedy about straight life on a California beach.

My Wonderful West Berlin (Mein wunderbares West-Berlin)

Wri/Dir: Jochen Hick

After WWII, a defeated Germany was divided into East and West, its bombed-out former capital, Berlin, into Soviet and Western zones. But the pre-war laws still applied. Paragraph 175 — an anti-gay section of the German criminal code passed by the Nazis in 1935 — made many homosexual acts illegal. But gays and lesbians flocked there – Berlin represented freedom, counterculture and revolution.  And when the Berlin wall went up in the early 1969s Berlin served as a beacon located entirely within East Germany.

The districts of Shöneberg (and later Kreutzberg) became the centres of a queer counterculture. The movie follows the changing city from the 1950s to the 1990s. There’s the well-known drag shows and sex clubs, but also a vibrant theatre scene, and a city filled with gay artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers (including Fassbinder and Rosa von Praunheim). There were gay squatters who set up home inside abandoned buildings. In the 1960s groups of men formed “Male Communes”, living spaces where pairing-off into heterosexual-style marriages was considered bourgeois. Cooking, cleaning and sex were all shared. But could Marxist thought coexist with gay sex?

The movie covers the subculture of the 1950s, the leftist counterculture of the 60s, through the punk movement, the AIDS crisis, and the end of the cold war. Filmmakers played a crucial war in establishing gay culture. The Berlin Film Festival, (where this film recently premiered), is the first major film festival to have a gay film prize, the Teddy awards. My Wonderful West Berlin is a fantastic guide to Berlin’s history, illustrated with contemporary and historical interviews with the people who lived through it. It also includes eye-popping photos and footage of everything from safe-sex porn to Taxi Zum Klo. An excellent look at a complex city.

The Lavender Scare

Dir: Josh Howard

In the 1930s Washington, D.C. attracted educated people from across America to follow their ambitions and live openly gay or lesbian lives. WWII brought together men and women across the country with a new same-sex comradery. And the Kinsey Report (1948) estimated that close to a quarter of all men have had some same-sex experience. This all came to a sudden halt in the early 1950s. Politicians (like Senator Joe McCarthy) claimed communists were lurking in every dark alley. Party members, fellow travellers, socialists and liberals were purged en masse from government jobs and blacklisted for a decade. This Red Scares was followed by the lesser known “Lavender Scare”, an anti-gay purge that started in the 1950s but that lasted for 40 years. Civil servants were spied on by police and J Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Anyone seen in “suspect” bars, observed as having habits different from the mainstream or even “gay” patterns of speech, was interrogated and forced to name names. Each person accused of being gay, lesbian or bi had to name five other suspects, who were also arrested. The excuse was that LGBT people were vulnerable to blackmail — since homosexual acts were illegal, and therefore prone to act as spies for the Soviet Union. But in fact, there was not a single proven incident of LGBT government employees blackmailed into becoming traitors. Instead, thousands of people lost their jobs, had passports revoked, with many driven to suicide.

The movie follows mainly white, middle-class, educated, professionals in Washington — navy brass, diplomats, post office workers — both men and women, and how the Lavender Scare changed their lives. The film takes a mainstream, middle-of-the-road look at LGBT politics. It covers an early gay and lesbian advocacy group known as the Mattachine Society, and the founder of its DC branch Frank Kameny. At protests, he ordered men to wear suits and ties and women dresses, to demonstrate that they were just like “ordinary” people. (Trans not welcome here.) The Lavender Scare is a mainstream, suitable-for-television look at US government persecution of gays and lesbians and the effect it had on their lives. It’s lavishly illustrated with snapshots and period footage.

Baywatch

Dir: Seth Gordon

Mitch (played by wrestler-turned-actor The Rock) is a huge, egotistical lifeguard adored by everyone on the beach. Along with two women, CJ and Stephanie (Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera), the Baywatch team save lives on a daily basis. They also function as an unofficial police force, patrolling the waves for drug pushers and petty thieves. Today’s the day they choose three new rookies out of the hundreds who apply. This year’s choice? Summer (Alexandra Daddario), an athletic young woman, Ronnie (Jon Bass), an out-of-shape computer geek, and Brody. Brody (Zac Efron) is a former olympic swimmer with pop-idol good looks, who rides a vintage motorcycle. He’s also impulsive, brash and selfish, and prone to excess drinking.

Brody and Mitch do not get along.

Then bad things start happening. Dead bodies wash up on shore along with packets of a designer drug. And there’s a new dog in town, Victoria, a rich and ruthless villain (Priyanka Chopra). Is she somehow connected to these crimes? Can the lifeguards stop corruption at City Hall? And can the Baywatch team just learn to get along?

Baywatch is an action/comedy based on the hit 90s TV show. There are a few inside references to the original version, along with chase scenes, rescues and shootouts. But let’s be real; this movie is really about boobs and dicks on the beach. Virtually every scene involves close ups of unzipped one-piece swim suits. And the penis jokes never end. I’m not exaggerating. There’s one scene involving Ronnie’s erection stuck in a wooden lounge chair that lasted for 5-10 minutes.

Is Baywatch funny? Not very. Is it exciting? Not really. Is it surprising. Not at all. Men get all the punchlines, while women provide the scenery. But did I hate it? No. How could I? It’s just like sitting on a beach, watching all the people walk past.

Baywatch opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Lavender Scare and My Wonderful West Berlin are playing at the Inside Out Film Festival. Go to insideout.ca for tickets and showtimes.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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