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Knight at the Movies: Weekend; !Women Art Revolution
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times
2011-09-28

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Gay writer-director Andrew Haigh's Weekend—opening Sept. 30 at the Music Box Theatre—is a stunningly simple, nearly perfect example of a romance movie whose burgeoning couple just happens to be gay.

It's being tagged "a gay Before Sunrise" and in its emotional complexity and compelling performances, that fits. However, the reality of the characters, their lives and Haigh's presentation of them is far away from the gorgeous cinematography and gorgeous lighting which wrapped the love affair of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, those two gorgeous specimens in a golden halo. Russell (Tom Cullen) and hook-up Glen (Chris New) are anything but tragic beauties in a world that certainly isn't filled with dappled sunsets and rosy dawns. They're just two regular Joes whose lives unexpectedly intersect.

After attending a party given by friends, Russell stops at a gay club on the way home and ends up bringing Glen back to his flat. (The movie takes place in a large city in Britain but the locale isn't noted.) Cut to the next morning. After indiscriminate sex comes potential embarrassment: getting to know one another. Glen pulls out a tape recorder and challenges Russell to talk about what happened the night before, saying it's part of an art project. ("Oh great," I thought, "A talker.") Gamely, Russell jumps in and as he describes the physical intimacies that he liked and didn't like; Glen joins in and soon the potentially icky discomfort of the morning after is dissolved.

Next comes the exchange of numbers and the possibility of getting together again. In this case, things have gone well enough that both guys want that to happen—Russell especially. However, as the weekend progresses the emotional balance shifts back and forth between the two young men. Glen, the more defiantly out of the duo, is artistic and cocky, excited about an upcoming trip to the United States and definitely not looking for a boyfriend. Russell, who we gather isn't completely out to all his friends (and possibly family), is cautious and quieter (working as a lifeguard at an indoor community pool) and aching for that special someone.

Haigh enlarges the surface impressions of the two as the guys spend the next few days and nights together bar-hopping, having more sex, drinking and taking drugs. All of it is interspersed with talk: talk about other encounters, intimate revelations, cultural and political insights, wants, desires—you name it. It slowly becomes clear to both that they've gone way beyond the standard bar pick-up. This knowledge is frightening, exhilarating and confounding to Russell and Glen. "Now what?" they both seem to ask at the same time.

Haigh involves his audience in the outcome by going the gritty reality route (Cassavetes would have loved this movie). He has hired actors who are handsome but not physically perfect, and his improvised sounding dialogue helps Cullen and New totally embody their gay guy next door characters (the actors also lived together during the shoot which obviously helped). He also shot in sequence using hand-held cameras, available light, no soundtrack score (we hear only the music that the characters hear) and choppy cutting to convincingly achieve this intimacy. It's the antithesis of Tom Ford's sleek and startling beautiful A Single Man but Haigh's movie is just as perfectly controlled and it, too, is a triumphant movie—a gay triumph.

The director has been saying in interviews that his very personal movie is for everyone. That's fine and dandy. However, first and foremost Weekend is a gay movie—just as Circumstance, I Love You Phillip Morris, A Single Man, The Kids Are All Right and Brokeback Mountain are gay movies. If mainstream audiences want to support Weekend and laud it critically and commercially, that's great. And if our beloved straight brethren want to go a little bit further and not only embrace the film's universal aspects but its unembarrassed queer physicality, too—that's even better. That certainly wouldn't be a bad payback for the support we've given straight romance movies for more than 100 years and for once, we don't have to do any mental gender switching. This time, they do.

Ostensibly, Lynn Hershman Leeson's !Women Art Revolution—a personal documentary centered on the feminist women's art movement in the early '70s (opening Sept. 30 at the Gene Siskel Film Center)—is for mainstream audiences, too. Hershman Leeson succeeds in her goal to expose and pique the interest of the viewer to the radical feminist artists who used activist tactics to get their work shown, demanding parity with their male counterparts.

The director's cache of 42 years of archival interviews and footage of the artists and their works guarantees the exposure part and the result is, indeed like seeing a secret history revealed (the subtitle of the film) while much of the artwork displayed and the passion for it by the women is eye-opening.

However, by the time queer film historian B. Ruby Rich starts talking about how the lesbian artists didn't want to identify as artists because that label was considered bourgeois by their female counterparts, the movie has taken on an exclusionary air of its own—just like those "womyn only" coffeehouses that existed "back in the day." Also, though the film closely examines the controversy that surrounded sculptor Judy Chicago's triumphant piece "The Dinner Party," it doesn't bother to examine in detail the sensational piece itself, omitting the names of the 39 prominent women the artwork glorifies—including Georgia O'Keeffe's.

So, while the film undercuts some of its own arguments by veering too strongly into the very separatist direction it decries—and annoyingly overlooks the artists feminist forebears (like O'Keeffe, Nevelson and Kahlo, for example)—!Women Art Revolution does offer plenty of food for thought for everyone.

Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitymediagroup.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter website.


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