Little Ashes is a fascinating study of serendipity and zeitgeist, a moment in time when fate, luck, coincidence, etc. brings together a group of people that change the world. In this case, the people are the great painter Salvador Dali; the great movie director Luis Bunuel; and the great playwright and poet Frederico Garcia Lorca and the world they changed is the world of art. The structure of the story is the love triangle—Bunuel discovers Dali and has a bromance with him, but it’s Garcia Lorca who wins Dali’s heart (though Dali’s heart tends to resemble one of those melted watches that later appeared in his painting). The result is that Bunuel throws a hissy fit and tries to get a man to suck his dick (it sounds silly, but it works). But when Dali can’t bring himself to take it up the ass, he and Bunuel run off to Paris together and make the movie Un chien andalou, which the writer and director (Phillippa Goslett and Paul Morrison respectively) make a convincing case that it was meant to ridicule Garcia Lorca. Dali then has a mental breakdown and gets married (as so often happens, of course). It’s a lovely, lyrical film just to look at with exquisite period detail (very reminiscent of the opening scenes of Brideshead Revisited). The acting, especially that of Matthew McNulty as Bunuel and Javier Beltran as Garcia Lorca, is excellent. But the movie eventually loses some steam. Dali and Garcia Lorca’s chaste love affair grows as annoying as the ones in Another Country and Maurice (it’s one of these odd gay films in which the only real sex is between a man and woman—what’s up with that?). And when Dali has his breakdown, neither Goslett or Morrison seem to know what to do with him. It’s a good film, but in the end, it might actually have worked better as a television mini-series.
I saw the New Twenty at the Outfest Film Festival in 2008. I saw it right after I saw the film Antarctica, the Israeli film by Yari Hochner. Both are ensembles films and as much as I appreciate that Ishmael Chawla, who co-wrote it, and Chris Mason Johnson, who co-wrote and directed it, poured their hearts and souls into it, I have to be honest and say that all I could really think is how fascinating it is that one filmmaker can get it so right (Antarctica) and one filmmaker can get it so wrong (The New Twenty). The New Twenty is about a group of friends from college who for some reason that is never quite convincing, are still friends seven years later. Not only is it hard to buy that they’d still be hanging out together, the fact that they still are actually made me think much, much less of them (“get a life” was the phrase I kept wanting to yell at them). The group is so insular that one character has a bachelor party in which the only people who attend are members of the group. The most unbelievable character is Colin Fickes, a rolly polly gay man with an inferiority complex. Not only is it hard to believe he’s still included in the group, it’s impossible to believe he would have been part of it in college. There’s also a romance between an HIV negative and HIV positive man that seems twenty years out of date and which consists mainly of the two staring at each other through clinched teeth (I give them a month at the most). It’s heartfelt and sincere, and though I didn’t care for it, there’s nothing to suggest that Chawla and Johnson lack talent. It’s more that the whole project seems so far behind what other writers and directors are doing at the moment.