Tuesday, March 25, 2014

BFI Flare: Another Time, Another Place

To be filed under back in the day, two features focused on gay men offer up competing visions of sexual mores and practices.

Continental, Malcolm Ingram's doc on New York's legendary Continental Baths, casts the mind back to a time between 1968 and 1974, when gay men didn't need to worry about safe sex and could frolic and bareback to their hearts' content. As long as the police and Mafia were paid off, since gay sex was illegal. But, if you didn't mind that intrusion, it was possible to meet hot guys and take in a show by Bette Midler and have a swim in the same venue. (Even Hitch dropped in!) Proprietor Steve Ostrow takes centre-stage, and his story threatens to overwhelm the Baths', as the doc shuffles along, creaking to a stop in present-day Sydney, where Steve has finally achieved his lifelong dream of a career in music.

Moving into 1980s San Francisco, Chris Mason Johnson's Test takes us into the world of modern dance, as young Frankie comes to terms with the realities of being a sexually active gay man unsure of the risks of his behaviour and trying to decide whether to take the new HIV test. I found the frequent dance sequences interrupted the unfolding drama, and waited impatiently to see whether Frankie and his hirsute colleague Todd would get together. The film picks up quite a bit in the last 15 minutes and there is a delightful nightclub scene in which Frankie and Todd shed their professional demeanour to have a good ol' knees up.

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