Sunday, May 15, 2005


Un condamné à mort s'est échappé

When was it that I first saw Bresson's film ? During my high school years (1961-64) or very shortly thereafter? I expect it most probably was the latter, for by that time I had resolved to be precisely who I was: a free gay man in a prison of a social order. When the key to the door arrived in 1969 with Stonewall and the activism it inspired, I was ready to use it.

Bresson's characteristically idiosyncratic recreation of the real-life adventure of French "Resistance" fighter Andre Devigny from a German-run prison in then-occupied Lyon in 1943 has every physical detail right, but is far from either a "realistic" drama or a documentary of the least conventional sort. For while nominally based on Devigny's fist-person account, as critic/impressario Richard Roud noted in his Cinema: A Critical Dictionary that "In the original one of Devigny's major arguments in persuading Jost to escape is that he will take him to a brothel. Natually, there is nothing like that in Bresson's film -- not only because of Besson's delicacy, but because of the slightly ambiguous nature of Fontaine and Jost's relationship."

"Slightly ambiguous" ? Oh come on Richard, don't be coy. We all know what you'e driving at, and Bresson couldn't be any clearer. It's what overwhelmed me when I first saw the film. Francois Leterrier, arguably the most beautiful of all Bresson's leading men (and that's quite a line-up, including as it does Claude Laydu, Martin Lassalle, Francois LaFarge, Guillaume de Forets and Antoine Monnier), his eyes perpetually peering up towards our own, seems complete in and of himself. That's the way the character he "models" (Bresson's term for actors) has been concieved. Fontaine is an unambiguoulsy good, brave, and most important of all resolute individual. He constantly encourages his fellow prisoners to "resist" -- to fight against the forces that emprison them. And while some of the other prisoners (a Protestant minister in particular) may speak of God and prayer, (clearly as Bresson's way of framing him as an incipeint Saint), Fontaine says nothing of the sort himself. His becoming modesty likewise forestalls any formal mention of his loneliness. It's up to Bresson's imagery to make that clear -- the taps on the walls of his cell to contact others, shy glances over the communal sink -- like a schoolboy trying to flirt while knowing the teacher may be looking. And so, as a reward, one might say the "God" gives him Jost (Charles LaClainche), a young, scruffy deserter from the Franco-German army. "God" gives him a man to love. That it's love is quite clear."Oh Jost!" Fontaine gasps embracing him after they've scaled the final wall. Obviously they were going off into the night to make love.
And I followed their lead.

Le vent souffle ou il veut

Monday, May 02, 2005



Journalist: What do you call that haircut?
George: Arthur.
-- A Hard Day's Night

Sometimes it's as clear and bright as Palm Springs in August. Sometimes it's as cloudy as Malibu at dusk. And sometimes it looks clear enough, but the sound's too low to hear -- like a TV set whose volume knob you can't reach. That's how I keep seeing/hearing Arthur Evans. Or rather Arthur Evans II, as we all ended up calling him. For Arthur Evans I is almost a historical figure by now -- the Gay Liberation movement's most famous firebrand. Loud, brusque, taking no shit from anyone whatsoever, Arthur Evans I was always in the front of every demonstration, or meeting, or press conference, because he belonged there. Arthur Evans II was someone else.

Arthur Evans II was a G.A.A. member as well -- hence the numerical distinction. He went to all the meetings, served on several comittees, and joined in any number of "zaps." But you couldn't mistake him for Arthur I if you tried. Easy to recall this small, soft-bearded, long-haired, figure in floppy clothes standing at the edges of everything, smiling. Arthur always seemed happy. And as far as I know he always was happy -- at least until AIDS took him away like so many others. But that was years ago, back in the 80's when I'd lost track of him. I'm talking about Arthur II I knew. I'm talking about the boy who was born to make love. Making love to Arthur was as comfortable as curling up on a sofa. He'd keep chatting away. Lord only knows about what -- just a constant stream of happy verbosity through all the kisses and caresses. The voice was well above a whisper, but not quite as loud as standard speech. Almost like an interior monologue that had elected to make itself heard.

I remember being up at Arthur's apartment one night. But was it really his or just a "friend's" place he was staying in? Nothing specific about the interior. It's just that it was on the upper West Side -- very high in the New York air. Not the sort of place you'd expect to find Arthur -- a Lower East Side boy to the manner born. A tad more suitable to that other Arthur, Loeb. But he was an East Side man to the manner born. And not an object of either romantic fixation or political note -- just wit. But what I'm trying to remember, and can't, is what Arthur Evans II was saying -- as much to himself as to me -- as we made love. Maybe I can't remember because it wasn't anything "special." The lovemaking certainly was. It was as if he had no body at all. It was as if he were just pure feeling -- a loving embrace producing a kind of tenderness that swiftly eases into sleep. And in that memory of sleep I find myself dreaming wide awake.

And in this dream I remember something else. We danced. We swayed back and forth in a kind of stoner waltz. Most likely it was to something by Buffalo Springfield. Oh yes, I remember it now, it was "Expecting to Fly." But in my waking dream I hear a slightly different refrain:

Soave sia il vento
Tranquilla sia l'onda,
Ed ogni elemento
Benigno risponda
Ai nostri desir

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