Hollywood movies tend to traduce gay characters. Their dramatic, or comic, depictions use gays as fantasy figures or as political effigies. So documentaries about gay life like Rebels on Pointe (about the legendary theatrical troupe Les Trockerdo de Monte Carlo) and Dream Boat (about the gay pleasure cruise phenomenon) help correct Hollywood’s failings.
Moviegoers can choose for themselves which approach they prefer to pay for, consume and ratify—either the fictional fantasy that exploits. or the fact-based doc that records, informs and reveals. But that choice gets taken away when new movies are superficially celebrated (usually by the mainstream media) as “defining” gay experience even though those films have little to do with viewers’ actual life experience or their social and historical awareness.
In Dream Boat, by German filmmaker Tristan Ferland Milewski, an all-male pleasure cruise is surveyed with eerie yet compelling distance. On a passenger ship sailing from Lisbon to the Canary Island, 2,000-plus men gather to party, dress-up, eat and have sex. Milewski turns it into a personal and sociological observation, focusing on five international patrons: Marek from Poland, Dipankar from Indian, Ramzi from Palestine, Phillipe from France and Martin from Belgian.
Each guy being a different physical type on the gay hotness scale-- young, old, short, tall, plump, muscular--their personal desires (butch or femme) are sexualized. Yet Milewski observes their search for pleasure through frustration and lonely isolation in a crowd. Rather than simply celebrate queer highlife, this abstract view (coordinating the blue sky, sea, tanned bodies and aerial perspectives) dares us to reflect and intellectualize. It’s an art-movie route towards queer compassion and vastly different from a hit movie romance that becomes a gay crutch.
Rebels on Pointe, directed by Bobbi Jo Hart, tries to balance p.c. uplift with personal reporting. Hart surveys the history of The Trocks, the pioneering comic ballet troupe performing since 1974, but her focus on the personal stories of individual dancers—all cute, compelling—traps the film between trendy identity politics and giving queer cultural innovation the honor it deserves.
Emphasis on “diversity” and “safe space” for gays looking for artistic outlets and social acceptance replaces a detailed look at what makes The Trocks an important part of that post-Stonewall liberation movement when gay folk claimed their position in world culture. Their triumph was to improve culture--The Trocks brought modernism to ballet, instructing audiences about dance as well as about masculinity, femininity and especially queering androgyny as a concept for creative expression—the realpolitik of dancing.
More than comical, The Trocks’ code (“You don’t have to fit-in, but be able to function”) demanded skill and artistry, achievement that supports identity. The travesty of men parodying ballerinas (a Swan Lake parody that seriously comments on life) depends on talent, discipline and dedication, qualities that Hollywood gay romantic fiction overlooks.
Arlene Croce’s critique on the troupe’s “immaculately deadpan rendering of what a ballerina actually does and at the same time a critical comment on what she should do” speaks to the way queer artists not only assert their sexual prerogative but how they also comprehend life. Because of this, the individual personal stories Hart scans (even skimping artistic director Tory Dobrin’s history with the group) are more affecting than the Madonna dance tour doc Strike a Pose.
When dancer Robert Carter’s mother confesses “Sometimes your desires are not meant for you but for a future generation,” it is not a crutch. Her sacrifice and wisdom defines gay tradition as purely and beautifully as the line-up in La Sylphide.