Composing “Divertissement in the Snow”

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“You should compose a piece for the family to play at Christmas”, my husband Ed said to me a few weeks ago (actually it was November 10, I have documented evidence, I’ll get to that later, not that it really matters).

Well, it may not have been those very words, more like words to that effect.  The “should” may have been a “could” or a “how about”.  The “should” may be what my brain did to myself.

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 2.07.28 PMEd may just have been thinking about something fun for the family to do together in the holiday spirit, in addition to the traditional caroling sing-a-longs and 1000 piece puzzles.  Or he may have also been thinking about the fact that the last piece I composed was the viola piano duet for his birthday, and the last piece before that was the previous year’s piano viola duet.  It might not be such a bad idea to compose something, anything, again.

What kind of piece would I write for the family that we would be able to play together, or even get the family to get together and play together?  I furrowed my brow and started asking Ed all sorts of logistical questions possibly designed to derail this idea before it set root, but in actuality painting myself in a corner in which I would answer the questions myself and the conclusion would be foregone.

Would this piece just be for the usual instrumentalists in the family, or would it attempt to rope in everyone?  The latter solution would be more logistically complex, but surely more inclusive and fun.

My mother will be joining us in Wisconsin for the holidays.  My mother is an opera singer – retired officially but just when she thinks she’s out they pull her back in.  Ed’s mother is also an experienced enthusiastic soprano.  Hmmm…

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 10.09.05 AMEd and I were at a play when he raised the question.  Before we were back in the subway on the way home I had scribbled some notes for a seasonally angelic, perhaps corny, but still pretty vocal theme for sopranos.  There they are in the page from that day’s NYTimes, because I always take along the Saturday crossword puzzle for Ed and me to do together on the subway.

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 2.19.32 PMA simple tune with plenty of internal repetition for easy instant sight singing (chord modulations in the accompaniment will add extra variety).  In traditionally kitschy but still pretty parallel thirds; what the Germans like to call “Schweineterzen” – pig’s thirds – not sure why exactly “pig” but I like the comical way the phrase denotes harmonies that are generically fatty and juicy and common and popular and, let’s face it, just plain good.  And relatively easy to sing instantly.

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Hot Mess – Torch Song – Call Me By Your Name – Cabaret – Speakeasy

Hot Mess 3

By a quirk of timing I wound up seeing two days in a row the two stage plays currently playing in New York (Off Broadway) that deal at any length with male bisexuality.  And as I wrack my brain about all the gay themed plays I’ve seen in New York over the past 30 odd years (and I have seen very many) it is possible I have just seen the only two Broadway or Off Broadway plays that deal with male bisexuality at any length with any depth.  And this has made me feel conflicted and peevish; and so here I am writing yet one more blog piece on bisexuality, specifically male bisexuality on stage and screen.

“Hot Mess”, currently in previews, is the “labor of love, and completely true story” Dan Rothenberg co-wrote with his wife Colleen Crabtree.  Now performed by a cast of three, the comedy romance about a bisexual man not telling the woman he is dating about his history of sleeping with men was originally performed by Dan and Colleen as a two person show called “Regretosexual” in LA.  (That bit of info about the writers being husband and wife now probably gives away the ending, doesn’t it?  High time I forewarn that particular spoilers will abound for all plays and movies I discuss here today.)

Hot Mess 1The playwrights’ bios already clued me into the strong likelihood that a message of love and acceptance and inclusivity would conclude this charming play very much designed for a mainstream audience.  But the original title also telegraphed ambivalence or worse about the lead character Max’s homosexual history.  And so it was.  I experienced much of the first 3/4 of the play feeling mildly aggrieved while the hero keeps postponing telling his girlfriend about his gay experiences, revealing a conflicted uncomfortableness with his sexual past.  This culminates in a brutal freezing out of a friend and former fuck buddy when he accidentally runs into him while on a date with the girlfriend.  The worst stereotypes about bisexual male secrecy, inconstancy, and untrustworthiness were looking to be fully justified, thank you very much.

“Hot Mess” to be continued, but let me skip on over to the next day watching the excellent production of “Torch Song”, reviving an edited version of Harvey Fierstein’s classic 1981 play “Torch Song Trilogy”.  I’d not seen the original production but I do know the movie version.  The depiction of Ed, who leaves the Harvey Fierstein stand-in Arnold for a woman (before returning to him in Act 3), to some extent plays very neatly to 1970s/1980s gay male stereotypes about bisexual men really just being gay men who aren’t honest with themselves.  Torch 1Ed may be somewhat more forthcoming about his sexual history with both Arnold and his future wife Laurel than Max is during most of “Hot Mess”, but that doesn’t make Ed’s true feelings easy to pin down since he seems so slippery about them even to himself.  And then the play stacks the sexual deck against Ed’s heterosexuality so much – Ed comes to orgasm with Laurel only when he kisses her neck and thinks of Arnold; Ed almost acts on fantasies of suicide because he is so fearful of coming out; Ed ‘s desire for a family and pleasing his parents are more forcefully stated reasons to marry Laurel than his love for her – that he comes across more like a deeply conflicted, self-deluding homosexual than a true bisexual.  But then again, wasn’t (or isn’t that still?) the belief of most gay men of that era (and still?) – there is no such thing as truly bisexual men?  Just gay men not being honest with themselves?

By the intermission I was fuming with indignant rage.  Why must Ed’s bisexuality be so vilified, to the point of being denied as even being real?  Where are the plays that affirm and celebrate and go to the ramparts for male bisexuality in the brilliant way “Torch Song Trilogy” did for male homosexuality in its day*?  It’s 2017 and I can not think of any play since 1982 that even deals at length with male bisexuality except for the one I just happened to see the day before.

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LGBT is Thrown Around All the Time, But Where is the “B”?

Notes from the “BiView: Bisexual Representation in Media Panel” at NewFest2017

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Eliel Cruz, Denairii Grace, Taylor Behnke, Alexandra Bolles

David J. Cork

David J. Cork

October 21st I attended the panel discussion on Bisexuality in the Media, the first of its kind at a NewFest/Outfest film festival.  Moderated by bisexual activist and journalist Eliel Cruz, the panel was filled out by writer/singer Denarii Grace, filmmaker David J. Cork, GLAAD Digital Director Taylor Behnke and GLAAD Associate Director of Campaigns, Alexandra Bolles.  I managed to take that snapshot above of 4/5 of the panel as they posed for the official NewFest photographer in front of the festival’s rainbow lit scrim.  They jokingly called me a paparazzi.  What follows are some of the highlights of the panel discussion, based on my notes:

During the opening remarks Denarii Grace described bisexual as being both a personal and political label, seeing queer as a political label.  “When I first came out I thought of a world of men and women.  Now I understand that my attraction is a lot more fluid, more nuanced.”  Alexandra Bolles also embraced “queer” as a political label, adding “I really like the word bisexual, because for a long time I ran away from it and now I am really excited to own it.”  David J. Cork likes the alliteration in black and bi, saying “Bisexual means to me both a sexual and emotional attraction to men and women.”  Taylor Behnke on embracing the word bisexual: “It took me a while to accept that label because I grew into that through experiences with people over time.”

bi DC centerEliel Cruz raised the question if there is even a need for labels: “I find that people who are monosexuals push for a world where labels aren’t necessary.”  Which had David reminiscing about another festival where “everybody identified as queer or fluid or pansexual or ominisexual…” but apparently not bisexual (I can relate).  Denarii then started discussion on the label/hashtag “biplus” as a term many in the community use to identity themselves, and which established itself as the most favored idiom on the panel, a term that can incorporate fluid gender identity in oneself as well as in those one is attracted to.  As Denarii related, “I am concerned about splintering, because of the label wars.  But labels are important.  All labels, feminine, disabled, fat, cisgender…  Many speak to how we identify to others and how we see ourselves and our bodies, and help us find our community.”

bi erasureRegarding the necessity of labels, Alexandra said “short answer: yes. Long answer: sometimes.  The needs of the bi community can’t be met if we aren’t counted.”  Taylor added “I accept the decision not to use any label – but they are helpful.  It’s a pretty common experience within the biplus community that it takes a while for people to figure themselves out.”

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ILLUMINATING LGBTQ LIVES – Documentaries at NewFest 2017


A Womb of Their Own

Features: 100 Men – My Wonderful West Berlin – A Womb of Their Own

Shorts: Bayard and Me – Umbrella – DES!RE – The Son I Never Had – Resist – House of JXN


“We have gay people.  Hey, Gay People, come out!” – Kathy Najimy

I heard Kathy Najimy utter that quip about 15 times at NewFest, NYC.  It’s a clip from the movie “Dating My Mother” that had been edited with other clips into the NewFest 2017 preamble short that played before every screening at the LGBTQ movie festival.  By my third screening I started mouthing along with Kathy.  I can still hear her say it in my head, weeks later.  Such are the side effects of film festival overconsumption.  The movies may differ widely from screening to screening.  The promos ahead of them are always the same, the same, the same, the same…

The benefits this year however of festival deep diving were enjoying films that were consistently worthy, good and excellent, long and short form, many of which I already discussed here, here and here.  Now it’s time for the documentaries.  I caught up with lots of rich gay history and fascinating transgender complexities.

100 MenThree very different docs successfully blended the Gay Micro with the Gay Macro, by which I mean (get your head out of the gutter) that deeply personal, specific slice of life details were illuminatingly integrated into narratives that comprehensively spanned decades of gay history.  In 100 Men director Paul Oremland lists and tracks down a hundred men he had sex with over the last 40 years of his adult life.  Everything from random hook ups to longterm relationships.  This is initially as cheekily irreverent and titillatingly provocative as one might expect, but through Oremland’s journeys through New Zealand, The United States, England and Poland, interviews with and remembrances of a variety of people and experiences, covering decades of gay sexual, social, and political revolutions and struggles, “100 Men” becomes an invaluable document of modern gay male experience.  As well as a stealth love story.

MyWonderfulWestBerlinSimilarly, Jochen Hick’s My Wonderful West Berlin covers 40 years of gay history in the historically uniquely situated city of West-Berlin, the liberal Western oasis that was surrounded by the walls of the Iron Curtain; a place like no other in its time (and my childhood home during much of the time Hick’s covers).  Many individuals’ personal narratives regularly enrich the complex broader picture of the quiet 1950s, the clandestine 1960s, the revolutionary 1970s, and the devastating 1980s that marked gay life in the divided city, which before German Unification was like a unicorn among the cities of the world: a geopolitical all-time original, a beacon, an outlier, a refuge, a renegade, a subsidized experiment; an unusual condition that contributed greatly to its uniquely evolving queer culture.  I was too young at the time to take part in any significant way in any of the varied gay history Hick’s excavates.  Still I was deeply drawn by nostalgia to the movie’s depiction of my childhood hometown, brought back in such vivid detail.  And many of the film’s featured seminal LGBTQ personalities and locations and events – the Pariser Bar, queer film director Rosa von Praunheim, the Deutsche Oper, intersex Drag Star Romy Haag, gay movie classic “Taxi zum Klo”, the squatters movement, to name a few – made an impression on me too even as just a child mostly consciously unaware of his own burgeoning bisexuality.

Bayard and meThe third example of the gay micro/macro history doc I saw is the short Bayard & Me, which lovingly recounts Walter Naegle’s love story with the civil rights leader Bayard Rustin.  Personal touches are threaded with illuminating historical details, like how Rustin’s Quaker background helped inform the non-violent civil disobedience tactics espoused by Martin Luther King, or how the couple pioneered gay adult adoption as a way to ensure the younger Naegle would be able to inherit and continue to live in Rustin’s apartment in a time long before gay marriage was considered even a distant possibility.  When the short concluded during the middle of the “Boys Shorts” compilation screening in which it played, the audience rose in the still darkened theater for a standing ovation .

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CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, SAM, and then Play It Again


I took a Swoon Dive this weekend.  I read André Aciman’s “Call Me By Your Name” while playing Sam Smith on endless shuffle.  It was almost irresponsibly intoxicating.

Say It First – Sam Smith

CMBYNmovieposterI first heard about the Gay Romance “Call Me By Your Name” when the film version premiered at Sundance last January.  The early rapturous reviews of the movie (starring Timothée Chalomet and Armie Hammer, directed by Italian sensualist Luca Guadagnino, screenplay by “Room with a View” / “Maurice” / “Howard’s End” legend James Ivory) poured into the Internet movie sites I habitually read.  I looked up from my laptop to my husband Ed and said “Guess what we will be seeing at the movies in about 11 months…”.  A romantic, sexually frank gay love story with that cast and that pedigree in writing and directing?  Even without the glowing advance word, it would be a must see.  But 11 long months, that is how long I would have to wait until I could expect to see “Call Me By Your Name” released in the local theaters.

Lately that long wait has become its own kind of exquisite torture as more reports from the fall film festivals and the U.K. release of the movie attest to its embrace by a wide audience (not “just” the gay male cinema crowd) as a cinematic masterpiece, a sensual experience, a paean to love.  Last weekend, even though my chance to finally see “Call Me By Your Name” was only three or four weeks away, I couldn’t bare it any longer and I took myself to the Park Slope Community Book Store to treat myself to the book.  Initially I hadn’t yet wanted to read the book before seeing the movie, as it was the movie version that had been calling to me all these months; so I’d thought to myself, see the movie first, and then later, maybe read the book that inspired it. (Later, maybe…sigh; if you’ve read the book you understand the reference.  I can only wonder how prominently those words figure in the film; probably not as weightily as in the book.)  But like an impatient overstimulated teenager (much like the story’s protagonist, as I would soon find out) I just couldn’t wait any longer, and if I couldn’t have the movie yet, I would take the book.

Lay Me Down – Sam Smith

CMBYNbookI wished to read it all from start to finish, with no interruptions, just as one would engage with a movie.  But that would not be practical, as reading the book would take me many many more hours than watching the movie.  Still, experiencing it parceled out over three days, with interruptions like social engagements and spending time with my husband, and sleeping, was more concentrated and quicker than the relatively slow reader I am usually can manage.

And as Sam Smith’s new album finally came out last week I decided that his songs of deep melismatic male longing would be the perfect aural accompaniment to this homophile literary couch cocooning.  It’s not just that Smith is openly gay, many pop singers are (and I have many of their albums), his songs are so richly drenched in romantic and sexual longing, his voice so shamefully shamelessly expressive of yearning, oscillating between emotional (and vocal) highs and lows, and his personal experience so redolent of the passions and callowness of a young gay man’s experience of longing, heartache, “drama”, I intuited it would fit rather neatly with the burgeoning male sexual desire of “Call Me By Your Name”.  I would be all too right.

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NewFest 2017 Feature Length Dramas:

After Louie – God’s Own Country – Against the Law –  My Son is Gay – Discreet – The City of the Future – Professor Marston and the Wonder Women


God’s Own Country

Last year I saw only feature length dramas at the NewFest LGBT film festival, 13 specifically, while including in my blog posts two more LGBT themed instant classics (“Moonlight” and “The Handmaiden”) then concurrently playing in regular theaters.  15 movies.  Only feature length narrative dramas.  That’s usually what I gravitate towards at the festival.  So I surprised myself when this year’s personal NewFest itinerary ended up with six short film compilation screenings plus several documentaries and a panel discussion, leaving “merely” five screenings for narrative features.  Luckily two films I didn’t find time for in the festival (“God’s Own Country” and “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women”) are now playing in theaters.  I quickly caught up with them this past weekend and can add them to this look at lucky seven queerific NewFest screen gems.

So although too many of this year’s NewFest feature length dramas are missing from this round-up, I still provide a diverse and potent selection of the high profile and the unheralded, American and foreign.  Taking us from New York to Texas to the UK, India and Brazil.  From the 1920s to the 1950s to today.  From ecstasy to violence, anger to love, repression to redemption.

afterlouieThe NewFest 2017 New York Centerpiece screening was After Louie, a cinematic gift to all who feel it’s about time Alan Cumming, ubiquitous on stage, TV and film that he is, finally is given the central sole lead role in a movie (if it has happened before, I am unaware of it; surely it should happen more often).  And he is very good as Sam, an artist at the crossroads, a veteran of the early AIDS years and ACT UP dealing with survivor’s guilt, whose psychological cages are rattled by a tricky relationship with a younger gay man, Braeden (Zachary Booth from “Keep the Lights On”).  Director Vincent Gagliostro (“How to Survive a Plague”) co-wrote the richly layered screenplay with Anthony Johnston (who also plays Braeden’s lover); many themes and contentious issues engaging and dividing older and younger generations of gay men, as well as the yawning absence of a generation of men erased by AIDS, are smartly woven into an entertaining and provocative narrative.


Men in bath tubs – or a curious bit of synergy in current gay themed movie publicity shots 😉

Incisive supporting roles for ally Sarita Choudhury, veteran out actors like Wilson Cruz and Patrick Breen, and a trio of Queer Icons, Everett Quinton, David Drake and Justin Vivian Bond, enrich the ensemble and storytelling.  But if nothing else, as Bond quipped during the Q & A, “After Louie” should be famous for giving us the future meme of Alan Cumming telling Justin Vivian Bond to “choke to death on a bag of dicks”.  Or was it bag of cocks?  Just one more reason (out of many) to see “After Louie” again.  This film deserves to make a big cinematic splash when it is released next year.

gods-own-country-1108x0-c-default_trans_NvBQzQNjv4Bqfp92onrxCPHoA1vgDHQjmV28A-gkIo8OHL4NbqJ56a0Already having made a splash at Sundance, where it won the World Cinema Directing Award, and over many weeks in the U.K. box office, God’s Own Country is starting off strongly in limited release stateside.  It also just received 11 BIFA – British Independent Film Award – nominations, incl. for picture, director and both lead actors .  It might be a bit glib if understandable to refer to this love story between young Yorkshire farmer Johnny (Josh O’Connor) and Rumanian migrant Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) as Northern England’s answer to “Brokeback Mountain”.  Except the expected societal obstacles to homosexuality turn out not to be the problem and instead Johnny’s own emotional barriers and arrested maturity are the main antagonists to love.  Writer/director Francis Lee was able to shoot the film’s stark yet meticulous scenes in chronological order, adding greatly to a sense of realism and subtle dramatic shifts.  The lead actors each both lived and worked on farms for a month before filming commenced, leading to a movie that captures farm life and animal husbandry with startling grittiness and brutal beauty, an aesthetic that also informs the depiction of the two men’s sexual and emotional relationship.  Both leads play their roles excellently.  (Is it shallow of me to add that Alec Secareanu is absolutely dreamy?)


Brokeback Mountain

On a side note, as much as “God’s Own Country” really is its own starkly beautiful movie, I can’t help but detect one or two small, perhaps unwitting, loving nods to “Brokeback Mountain”, including a scene where Johnny assiduously avoids glancing over at Gheorghe when he washes himself naked, framed almost exactly like a similar scene between Gyllenhaal and Ledger; plus there’s the mournful fetishizing of a missed partner’s article of clothing, though here it is a sweater instead of a shirt. (Don’t let that last sentence steer you wrong though; “God’s Own Country”, unlike “Brokeback Mountain”, is not a tragedy.)  And on a really silly side note: Professor Quirrell and Madam Pomfrey from Hogwarts happen to play Johnny’s father and grandmother respectively.  (And that’s what makes me a blogger, an enthusiast, and not a critic.  Really don’t want to be mistaken for a critic…)

professormarston_thewonderwomen_02Based on box office receipts in the USA sadly only a mere 1/3 of 1% of the the audience that flocked to the wonderful “Wonder Woman” have turned up to check out the marvelous Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, the true story of a man, his wife, the lie detector machine they invented, the female student they bedded, bonded and everything but officially wedded, and how all this ecstatic entanglement inspired that most famous female cartoon superhero: Wonder Woman.  I have a sneaking suspicion this film will find many eventual devotees on dvd, as the whole history is just too incredibly delicious, the performers too appealing, and the movie itself just too damn good.  ProfessorIt is too easy to highlight apparently sensational details:  Bisexuality!  Threesomes!  Polyamory!  Bondage and Dominance!  Sexual Role Play!  Comic Book Superheroes!  Feminism!  Non-traditional Family Structures!  Love!  Devotion!  (O.K. maybe the last four are less sensationalistic but they’re important too.)  But more pertinent to point out is how without slick sensationalism but rather with what intelligent sensuality, compassion, and feeling director/writer Angela Robinson dramatizes her themes and the lives of William and Elizabeth Marston and Olivia Byrne.  And as played by Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote… well, boy, to paraphrase Professor Marston’s own theories on emotions, they dominate the screen, induce great enjoyment in the viewer, inviting submission to all three and total compliance with the movie’s enthralling points of view.

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QUEER SHORTS – The Fab and the Furious

Highlights from “Boys Shorts”, “Beyond the Binary”, “Drawn This Way – Animated”

& “Faith and Fury” film shorts programs at

Newfest – New York’s LGBT Film Festival



Something New

It probably plays to the stereotype of the typical NewFest attendee that the “Boys Shorts” screening of queer film shorts was filled to capacity, but the “Faith and Fury” queer shorts screening the same day was attended mostly by the filmmakers themselves watching each others shorts.  That’s a shame, as I would declare the “Faith and Fury” program the most successful as a holistic shorts program, where each individual short was not only worthy (which was the case with most of the shorts I had the pleasure to see throughout the festival) but where the flow from short to short and the adherence to an overriding theme cohered beautifully.

Now, I might be said to be conforming to the typical male NewFest attendee myself by confessing that I took in the “Boys Shorts” screening, but missed his “Girls Shorts” sibling.  In my defense, it really was mostly a matter of screening times and availability – luckily plenty of female centric shorts made it into the other screenings, including those in my previous post.

Before I extol the “Faith and Fury” program in full, here are some more highlights from the rest of the queer shorts screenings (I’ll be holding discussion of documentary shorts for a later post):


Mrs. McCutcheon

Writer/Actor Ben Baur confessed “All I wanted to be in the world is America’s Gay Sweetheart”, when explaining why Something New (see picture at top) has such distinctive ’90s romantic comedy vibe, quipping “I always wanted to be Meg Ryan”; which prompted co-star Johnny Sibilly to add “I always wanted to be Tom Hanks”.  They succeeded.  For future distribution info, Ben advises to look him up on Twitter.  Speaking of classic Hollywood tropes, a likeable gay John Hughes revival vibe informs both Beard, where a gay college student forces his best friend to masquerade as his girlfriend, as well as Mrs. McCutcheon, the chosen name by Australian 10 year old Tony, who wears a dress to school and must find a date for the school dance.  Think “Pretty in Pink” meets “Murial’s Wedding” for the tweener set to get a sense of this short’s tone and enjoyability factor.

Gema_Still-7If you have HBO, you will be able to catch Gema in February, 2018.  It’s an affecting 13 minute modern riff on “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, which director/writer Kendrick Prince hopes to make the basis of an ongoing web series.  “Gema” is full of intriguing layers that unpeel themselves gradually, but whether you sense them all from the start or are surprised by the reveals, the complex, sensitive portrayal of a couple nervously anticipating the arrival of one partner’s parents engages throughout.

Walf for meWalk For Me is Elegance Bratton’s clear-eyed and loving tribute to the Ballroom Scene, which Bratton likens to “a miniature Hollywood”.  When Elegance was 16, his/her mother kicked him/her out of the house, and Elegance found family and mothering in this still flourishing subculture (popularized decades ago by “Paris is Burning” and Madonna’s “Vogue”), an experience that is echoed in “Walk For Me” with a hopeful open-ended ending for the young lead and their biological mother.  In addition to international distribution “Walk For Me” is being prepared to be made available to schools with dedicated lesson plans.


Time is the Longest Distance also, if very differently, grapples with a child and a parent struggling with the truth of the child’s queer identity.  In this case, a thirtysomething gay man is visiting his aged father in the hospital.  The son’s homosexuality, known but not much acknowledged over the past years, looms as a newly burning fuse, now that the father’s memory is compromised by Alzheimers and he may be having “one of his bad days”.  Director Bryan Powers and his cast navigate this tricky situation with sensitivity and more than a few unexpected twists and turns.


Dealing with a problematic older relative is turned on its head in Dinner with Jeffrey where newly out and awkward Oliver is discomforted by his rather too enthusiastic gay uncle Jeffrey, played note perfect by Tony winner Reed Birney.  I wonder whether naming the uncle “Jeffrey” is a conscious nod to Paul Rudnick’s gay classic play and film “Jeffrey”.  Look for this short on the Revry App.

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QUEER SHORTS – The Young and the Resistance

Highlights from “Young, Queer and Woke” and “The Queer Resistance” film shorts programs at

Newfest – New York’s LGBT Film Festival


Another fall in New York City.  Another NewFest festival of LGBTQ films.  Last year I stuffed a dozen festival films plus Moonlight into a long queer movie weekend (and included The Handmaiden into my three posts about the festival movies).  This year I’ve upped the NewFest challenge to 14 screenings, plus a panel discussion on Bisexual Representation in Media.

I started with two screenings of short films, collected under the umbrellas “Young, Queer and Woke” and “The Queer Resistance”.  I included six short film programs in my schedule.  Turns out there are a whopping ten altogether this year at NewFest.  A festival curator explained they received so many high quality submissions this year that they greatly expanded the short film programs (in addition to the many shorts played before feature film screenings).  On the basis of the first two shorts compilation screenings I attended they were right to.

Now an old fashioned film fogey like me is most likely to see short films almost exclusively within a festival setting, but it is my understanding that short films are becoming ever more easy to discover and ever more popular on-line and on cable streaming services.  So my guess is that most of the short films presented at NewFest will eventually find themselves easily accessed from the comfort of your home.

I’ll share the first set of highlights now.

DAREANDTRUTH_6Dare and Truth‘s pithy blurb “an afterschool game of Truth and Dare quickly spirals out of control” captures the events of this handsomely shot black and white short, but not how richly complicated the interactions are between the seven teenagers in this taught, fraught morality play.  Writer/director Thomas Rivera Montes developed the dialog in part through extensive improvisations with the cast, and the result is utterly believable conversations and naturalistic performances from the young actors.  The scenario is full of little surprises and reveals, including an only gradual understanding who the two “leads” of this story actually are.

1_FTR_ACE_image_04Ace opens up a potential tinder box of mysterious possibilities between two teenage girls, when the “popular blond rich girl” invites a black “baby butch” into her house.  The film ends on a surprise reveal that puts everything we just saw into fresh perspective, a perfectly satisfying ending that still opens up a whole new world of possibilities of what happens next.  Several audience members in the Q & A were full of desire to be told, and the director Morgan Kahn Nichols volunteered that he was as curious as the rest of us. “Ace” would go on to win the NewFest Jury Award for Best New York Short.



Teenagers also figure in the arty french Gabber Lover, about teenage girls wrestling with attraction and alienation in rural France, as well as the affecting Imago, based on an email a Texan teen wrote to sever the relationship with a bullying father.  And the young college students of Intersection “dissect the different segments of their identities on an intimate road trip” (blurb word for word) with winning dialog, characterizations, and a politically topical gut punch of an ending.



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bi 1

I reposted links to my blog piece on “The Nearly Invisible Bisexual Male” on Facebook (and Twitter) for National Coming Out Day.  Which led to the following exchange in the Facebook comment section which I think may serve as a querysome, quarrelsome footnote or addendum or just simply some food for thought on the question of invisi-BI-lity and its discontents and privileges:

(Oh, for sake of context, it might help to know that “P” is a 50something gay male, but this post it not really about him, but about the questions and concerns I felt and needed to express, for which his comments were a catalyst.)

P: I think their invisibility is what is irritating though – they can live perfectly happy lives in a heterosexual relationship without being constantly othered.

Me:  And do you direct the same amount of irritation towards bisexuals in homosexual relationships who don’t claim their bisexuality in order to not have to put up with biphobic nonsense from the Gay community?

This kind of invisibility privilege does go both ways. And does one first and foremost get irritated at the bisexual individual or at the society – straight and queer society – that resorts to a monosexual default? How about being irritated at those (or the society) that would “constantly other” anybody rather than at those who would need to announce their bisexuality at a daily basis in order to not have it be invisible by default.


Anna Paquin with husband Stephen Moyer

Mind you, I dearly wish there were more like Anna Paquin (who while married to a man went public with her bisexuality), but she is also helped by being famous. One big announcement takes care of it for life. Not quite so easy for a regular bi-Joe. Yet the import of your statement – showing more irritation at the bisexual for being invisible rather than at the circumstances that make him invisible – only contributes to why so many bisexuals feel there is little support for them out there from all sides of society.

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I came upon a plaque on the church wall in the cemetery at the edge of the Austrian ski resort town of Kitzbühel that profoundly disturbed me.  The chiseled marble commemorates a soldier who died in World War II.  There are abbreviations that render at least one line unintelligible to me, but the part that is troubling is quite unmistakeable.  The plaque reads as follows, translated into English:

In memory

of our dear, unforgettable

Son Brother and Nephew

Customs Assistant

Johann Brunner

(these abbreviations are incomprehensible to me, they might refer to his military rank)

who in 10/1/1942 in the Caucasus

in faithful fulfilling of duty to the

benefit of his over all beloved

Homeland in the age of 29 years

found the hero’s death


I read this and see what begins as the heartbreak of a family; and then moves on to a certain officiousness of detail (most gravestones in this cemetery don’t bother with noting the deceased’s occupation, let alone whatever those abbreviations under his name refer to); but finally devolves into undeniable Nazi propaganda.  “In treuer Pflichterfüllung seiner über alles geliebten Heimat” is a particularly flowery bit of patriotic language I would only expect from a most confirmed proponent of the Third Reich war effort.  But the capper is the reference to the “Heldentod”: hero’s death.  That might as well come with a signpost screaming “NAZI IDIOM” in blazing letters.

The plaque is affixed onto the church wall, not a grave’s tombstone.  Perhaps Johann Brunner’s body was never returned, and thus a plaque on the wall replaces a proper burial.  But even so, I would assume that 75 years later somebody is still paying for this plaque to remain affixed, just like every grave in the church yard remains only as long as the descendants pay for its upkeep.   Do Johann Brunner’s descendants still approve of the language?  Does the church?  Do they consider it for what it is?  Maybe it only bothers me.

Kc-2I looked about the cemetery to see if there were other examples of graves or plaques commemorating local sons fallen in World War II.  I found the “farmer’s sons Alois and Andreas Erber” (right) who “died for the Homeland on the Western and Eastern Front”, a turn of phrase somewhat uncomfortably tied to the poisonous propaganda of its time, but followed by neutral specifics of location and age, and finally a bible quote and a plea for Jesus’ mercy.





Devout prayers are encouraged for Ferdinand Weiser (left) who succumbed to typhoid in service for the Fatherland in Poland.  “In service for the Fatherland” is surely also a Nazi co-opted phrase, but it doesn’t strike me with the same incendiary branding as “Heldentod”.

Below the names of soldiers Josef and Oswald Obernauer are engraved on a family grave stone that includes family members interned in 1988 and 2006.  Josef is listed as having fallen in Macedonia, and Oswald is listed simply as “missing”, designations that succinctly explain the circumstances of their loss in WW2 without the militaristic or patriotic language of yesteryear.  But then, this grave marker was most likely first engraved in 1988 (then added to in 2006).


Kc-6So, families can revise grave stones in the cemetery as time moves on, and as future burials add to family plots.  Maybe the questionable aspects of grave markers with Nazi propaganda can be explained by them being plaques on church walls.  Some of these plaques go back even further in time, like this one on the right, a World War I plaque for the “brave warrior” who went missing as a prisoner of war in Serbia.  Perhaps I am wrong to assume families still pay for the preservation of the plaques.  Does the church choose to keep them affixed to its walls for their historical significance regardless of descendants’ involvement?  Is the language on these plaques considered for what it represents?  At what point have we crossed from historical curiosity to something much more problematic, unconscionable even.

I personally am made uncomfortable at references of dying for the “Vaterland”.  “Faithful fulfilling of duty to the benefit of his over all beloved Homeland” turns my stomach.  “Heldentod” is absolutely unacceptable to me.  There might as well be a swastika etched into the plaque to boot.

As the significance of memorials to the Confederacy has currently roiled the USA, including debate on how to deal with such markers in cemeteries, perhaps it is past time similar questions regarding a particular German and Austrian historical evil are not left to rest quietly in Tirolian graveyards either.

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In which Ed and I become Monarch Butterfly Paparazzi


Ed and I returned from the gym to find a flock of Monarch butterflies flapping about outside our window.  It appears that a particular vine wrapped around our garden fence was offering the migrating fliers a very welcome source of nutrition as they passed through Brooklyn on their way south.  So we grabbed the camera and took some shots to share.


Coro a bocca chiusa – Giacomo Puccini – Madame Butterfly 

What better “Butterfly” music to grace this post than the Humming Chorus from Madame Butterfly, don’t you agree?

(OK, now, all you Mariah Carey, Jason Mraz, Sarah Vaughn, Weezer, Christina Perri and Crazy Town fans, please don’t get mad….)


From Wikipedia:

“The eastern North American monarch population is notable for its annual southward late-summer/autumn migration from the northern and central United States and southern Canada to Florida and Mexico. During the fall migration, monarchs cover thousands of miles, with a corresponding multi-generational return north.”


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Seeing BATTLE OF THE SEXES with the Next Generation

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Ed’s and my thorough enjoyment of the movie “Battle of the Sexes” was both enhanced and tempered by the group of preteen girls the theater’s reserved seating placed to my right.  Tempered because of the above average distractions I have come to expect from underage movie patrons (especially when in groups, especially in movies for grown-ups), but also enhanced because of what these distractions communicated about how this film with adult takes on sexism and sexuality might be resonating with young girls.

For a perfect review of “Battle of the Sexes” go no further than Manohola Dargis’ in the NYTimes, whose opening line (“Every so often an exceptionally capable woman has to prove her worth by competing against a clown.”) juicily encapsulates not only the plot of the movie’s take on Billie Jean King and Bobby Rigg’s epic 1973 tennis exhibition match, but also the unwelcome additional weight and resonance recent electoral history has monstrously bestowed on “Battle of the Sexes” in a way the filmmakers could not have anticipated (and I presume would not have wished for) during the long years of writing, and preparing before shooting the movie in 2016.

I went in expecting and getting an enjoyable and smart comedy/drama with some great actors (Yeah! Emma Stone, Steve Carrell, Andrea Riseborough), but was happily surprised by just how many other great actors doing great acting filled out the ensemble.  Hello, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, and (Yeah!) Alan Cumming!  Surprise, Fred Armisen! Elisabeth Shue, I didn’t recognize you!  Nice to be introduced to you, Austin Stowell, perfectly cast as Billie Jean’s husband Larry.  Oh look, that guy playing Steve Carrell’s son looks like he could be Bill Pullman’s son; oh, it is Bill Pullman’s son Lewis!  I also was very taken with how Linus Sandgren’s cinematography perfectly evoked a 1970s movie look; and appreciated the strong use of music, not just Nicholas Britell’s (Moonlight) fine score, but the highly effective use of 1970’s pop classics like Apollo 100’s “Joy” and (most sizzlingly, seductively) Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover”.

Joy – Apollo 100

An old man, fuddy duddy notion of “what are 9 or 10 year old girls doing in a movie with themes of sexuality and lesbianism” did hypocritically enter my mind before I reminded myself that this was not even an R rated but a PG-13 rated movie (surely an adult chaperone was seated somewhere down the row, I didn’t crane my neck to see); and I myself had seen even more eyebrow-raisingly adult movies at that or near their age.  And I turned out just … well, I turned out fine enough.


But I had reason to be concerned about how the movie’s subtle, grown up depiction of lesbianism would go over with my young seat-neighbors (mild spoilers ensue from here on).  The scene where Billie Jean first meets and is given a hair cut by her future lover Marilyn Barnett crackles with sexual tension, as filmed with sensual close-ups and discombobulating editing.  The adults in the audience all held their breaths, spellbound. But the kids to my right kept merrily crackling their popcorn and rustling their candies, the rich import of the scene apparently going over their heads.

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THE COW BELL CANTATA – and a Splatterrific Intermezzo

Wild Emperors, Coxcombs and Horny Mountains in Tirol

Plus Heidi-centric Encores!




registrato da maestro Daniello Ashkenasi

1. Movimento – Allegro con Forte Subito



The Kitzbühel Horn mountain

K4Encountered some musical cows on the slopes of the mountains of Kitzbühel, Austria.  And so, with the help of three short video clips, the first just above, I present the Cow Bell Cantata, the first dramatic movement featuring a shockingly loud outburst in the brass section.

The other clips of the three movement cantata follow below, interspersed with pictures of the Tirolian splendors around Kitzbühel.

Plus an Intermezzo of a Splat Concert (I’ll explain).


The Wilde Kaiser (Wild Emperor) Mountain Range rises grandly behind the Lebenberg Hill on the outskirts of Kitzbühel.


On top the Hahnenkamm (Coxcomb) mountain




Second movements in classical music tend to be the slower, quieter sections.  No different here.  That doesn’t mean there will be no sudden (subito) surprises, as in a wasp fly-by:

2. Movimento – Pianissimo con Vespa Sorpresa


The Bischoff mountain, which I fittingly hiked with my erstwhile drama teacher Mr. Bishop years after graduating high school.


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AIDS Memorial, Greenwich Village, NYC



Breaths – The Flirtations






Jesus to a Child – George Michael




Smalltown Boy – Bronski Beat






Boy Blue – Cyndi Lauper



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SECRET GARDEN SONGS or The View From My Lawn Chair


Secret Garden Song #1


The other day I was lying in my lawn chair under the Japanese maple tree in my little back yard in Brooklyn and I got intrigued by the variety of colors and shapes and shades catching my eye merely by turning my head from its laid back position.  So I grabbed my phone and took some pictures zooming in on some of these details of geometry and light as they presented themselves.  Including this shot to the right intended to verify my lawn-chaired perspective – like I said, all I did for all these pictures is swivel my head around right where I was leisurely outstretched on the lawn chair for a couple of minutes, zooming in a little, framing the images and clicking the camera phone. Perhaps this makes all this no more than a goofy premise for a variety of out door shots. Or maybe you’ll join me in finding a certain near abstract dynamism and beauty in many of these odd photographic compositions.

And as is becoming a burgeoning tradition here on Notes from a Composer, I will season this post with garden themed songs, but keep their identities secret, for those who like musical guessing games.  All the hints you’ll need to identify song title and artist will be available in the list of tags below this post, which should help narrow down the options and verify your guesses.  But right off I will have to disappoint all those who are hoping for a track from any iteration of “The Secret Garden”, musical or movie or otherwise; because that would be, well, just too … obvious.


Secret Garden Song #2




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The Total Eclipse of August 21, 2017

As Seen from the Magnificent Painted Hills, Oregon

With Eclipstastic Music!


We left Redmond, Oregon, at 7:15am.  Madras, just north of Redmond, would be smack in the path of totality, but we decided to experience the total eclipse further east at Painted Hills, Oregon.  Because it promised to be an extra special staging ground for the magnificent event.  In the 90 minutes it took us to drive to Painted Hills, I entertained my eclipse companions with all the eclipse themed music I could find on my Ipod, the highlights of which I will include here too, starting with the obvious and undeniable:

Total Eclipse of the Heart – Bonnie Tyler


Everywhere along the side of the road, people were setting up camp to watch the coming celestial event.


Eventually we got to Painted Hills…


Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden

Black Hole Sun – Lea DeLaria

(Did you know Lesbian comic/actress Lea DeLaria recorded a jazz album of 90s alternative rock songs called “Double Standards”?  She also recorded a jazz album of David Bowie songs called “House of David”.)  


Thousands were already parking on the side of the access road to the park.  We still found a spot in the official parking lot.


The Sun Always Shines On TV – A-Ha

Ed and I making our way to the Painted Hills, joined by many other eclipse enthusiasts, some with especially made t-shirts.



Shortly after 9am, the moon started making its way in front of the sun.


Moonshadow – Cat Stevens


Everyone has their cameras trained at the sun.  But there’s the spectacular vista of the Painted Hills all around for the picture taking too.



Moonage Daydream – David Bowie


We decided we would watch the main event from that hill up high:



The view from up there:


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