From 1985 to 2007, Will Allen was part of the Buddhafield—an initially Los Angeles-based “spiritual community” led by one Jaime Gomez aka James Gomez aka Michel Rostand aka Andreas aka Reyji (aka Dirk, the name he used in the porn he shot for Falcon in the ‘70s). Mostly, though, he was referred to as “the Teacher.” The Teacher preached abstinence and transcendence through meditation and other spiritual exercises. His 100+ followers lived together and spent years blissed out on communal joy and engaged by the promise of a state of enlightenment the Teacher referred to as “the knowing.” One former Buddhafield member says that they used to joke that if this was a cult, “at least it was a good cult.”
An extraordinary thing fell into the laps of filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg as they documented Anthony Weiner’s 2013 bid for New York City mayor: Weiner’s dick. For about six weeks, Kriegman and Steinberg filmed Weiner’s promising attempt at public redemption after his 2011 sexting scandal caused him to resign from Congress—and then a second wave of sexting allegations emerged.
“I love a red carpet,” 26-year-old Star giggled excitedly in Chelsea’s Bowtie Cinema last Saturday night. She was wearing a shiny, yellow A-line dress with flowers printed on it, and high-heeled gladiator sandals. In her D.C. accent, she drew out the next sentence so as to luxuriate in it. “I love to be seeeeeeeeeeen.”
We know the world is becoming a more accepting place for queer people, despite visible disparity and virulent backlash. But until we achieve equality for all, how do we reconcile the surviving traditionalist mindset with that of today’s progressive youth? Cecilia Aldarondo’s documentary Memories of a Penitent Heart suggests, if not an answer, then a method for telling stories along our way.
In the 1991 movie Madonna: Truth or Dare, the titular superstar plays the role of her lifetime: herself. Filmed during her 1990 Blond Ambition tour when the then-31-year-old pop star was at her commercial peak, the Alek Keshishian-directed concert film/backstage documentary finds Madonna reveling in the cult of her personality. “She doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk,” her then-boyfriend Warren Beatty remarks in one scene, delivering a perfect capsule review. Seemingly baring all, at least in terms of her personality’s facets, she is unafraid to come off as a demanding asshole, just as often as she promotes the idea that she’s the nurturing mother in the “family” of employees that support her.
When my former colleague Jason Parham reviewed Stanley Nelson’s documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution last September, much of its retrospective content (dating back to the ‘60s) was uncannily relevant, given the growing amplification of dissatisfaction over racial inequality in this country, including but not limited to the routine police killings of unarmed black people. Parham wrote:
Former Congressman Barney Frank visited the Gawker office last week to discuss Compared To What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank, the documentary about his life that’s now running on Showtime (and on demand). In front of a crowd, Frank and I discussed his doc, the closet on Capitol Hill, and his own coming out (which happened way back in 1987).
In June 2005, the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Warren Jeffs, was charged with sexual assault of a minor. Jeffs went on the run, and over a year later, he was finally caught with one of his wives, one of his brothers, four computers, 16 cell phones, three wigs, and 12 pairs of sunglasses. This was the first that most Americans had ever heard of Jeffs, but his reign and influence had been far-reaching within his community for the past two decades.
Before traveling to Kiev, Ukraine in late October to attend the Molodist International Film Festival with my documentary Mala Mala, which focuses on transgender cultures in Puerto Rico and their fight for civil rights, several close friends and family members pleaded with me not to go. "So, you have a death wish?" a friend asked me. "You know, there's a war over there," another said.
According to the Center for Disease Control, blacks account for almost 50 percent of all new HIV infections among adults and children in the U.S. It is a staggering statistic when you consider blacks represent less than 13 percent of the entire population. Globally, living with HIV and AIDS is a debilitating reality for 35 million people, and an everyday existence for someone you possibly know and love. But the face of the disease today—predominantly black men and women, and "men who like to have sex with men"—has become a matter discussed with less frequency. With that in mind, director Hannelore Williams set out to present a fuller, more vibrant picture of the epidemic thirty years since the virus was first identified.
A few years ago, OWN's Our America with Lisa Ling profiled ex-gays and the gay-conversion industry. Ex-gays tend to arouse the ire of gays and their allies because of what their life path implies: that homosexuality is changeable if one tries hard enough. Thus by not putting effort into being straight, one is choosing to be gay.
Frederick Wiseman has been making his brand of long, implicitly narrative documentaries about institutions for almost 50 years, and I’ll be damned if his most recent, National Gallery, isn’t among his very finest. The movie, which opens today at New York’s Film Forum, examines the London art museum after which it is named from inside out—we see scenes of its patrons looking at art, its guides explaining the art, its administration discussing how to properly share the art with the public, its restorers showing how they preserve the museum’s priceless pieces. It is a calmly brilliant, regularly fascinating three-hour look at what constitutes art and how to best share it.
Trailblazer Joan Rivers is dead, and over the next few days, you should expect to see various takes on what her life and career meant. These takes will probably fall on one of two sides: "Joan Rivers was fearless!" vs. "Joan Rivers was bigoted!" Supporting evidence abounds for both, which is to say that the truth is more complicated than what an outsider's summation of a person's life work can provide.
The great service of Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo's film Rich Hill is that it makes accessible stories that are so often willfully ignored. The documentary winner of Sundance's Grand Jury Prize profiles three boys: Andrew, 13, Harley, 15, and Appachey, 12, who live in Rich Hill, Missouri, a town of 1,393 on the brink of economic collapse. All three deal with poverty on some level, but that's far from their only issue. With a stunning frankness (and while chain-smoking), Appachey describes his father's abandonment; Harley discusses being sexually assaulted by his mother's boyfriend. Rich Hill is modest in its slice-of-life approach to the stories of town's boys, but extraordinary in its effect.
Last night, HBO premiered Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr., a 45-minute documentary about the father of Robert De Niro. De Niro, Sr., was an abstract impressionist painter who struggled with his lack of recognition for most of his career. He was also gay. De Niro, Jr., appeared throughout the documentary, discussed his parents' split and his dad's sexuality candidly, albeit tersely.
Tom Mitchell so loves his penis that he calls it "Elmo" and wants to donate it—not for science, exactly, but for mass admiration. Coming in somewhere between a real, live Christopher Guest character and someone who'd be profiled on a TLC reality show, Mitchell is the clear star of directors Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math's The Final Member, a documentary about the Iceland Phallological Museum that opens Friday in select cities.