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Knight at the Movies: Burning Blue; Exposed; notes
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times

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Burning Blue and Exposed could not be more different for a myriad of reasons ( to begin with, the first is a well-made narrative drama while the second is a shockumentary ) but fans of LGBT cinema should make plans to see both of these excellent films when they open this Friday in the Chicagoland area. Together, this disparate duo offers proof that queer cinema is vibrantly alive and covers a lot of creative turf.

At the outset of Burning Blue, the friendship between elite Navy pilots Daniel ( Trent Ford ) and William ( Morgan Spector ) is such a close one that Daniel takes the blame for an aircraft crash that happened due to William's poor eyesight. But the friendship is strained when a pilot is killed in a subsequent mission under William's watch. A government agent is brought aboard the aircraft carrier of the two pilots to investigate. Not surprisingly, he finds one and all stonewalling him.

But when a sailor innocently reports he has seen Daniel cavorting with another fighter pilot—the headstrong, muscle-bound Matthew ( Rob Mayes ), in a gay club—the investigator senses blood in the water. He then immediately puts Daniel's life under the microscope and the lives of everyone involved are abruptly caught up in a modern-day witch hunt. The meaning of friendship and honor are pushed to the breaking point as Daniel slowly comes to realize that he truly does love Matthew—and vice versa.

DMW Greer adapts his 1995 play ( co-written with Helen Kvale ) making an impressive directorial debut with what is essentially, underneath the flashy setting, a tender gay love story. The movie is slickly photographed and dressed ( Greer and his team have made a studio sized picture on an indie budget ) and the actors—many with extensive theatrical backgrounds—bring authority to their roles. ( The cast includes the Emmy-winning Tammy Blanchard as William's wife. ) It doesn't hurt that Ford and Mayes are also quite the dreamy pair and describing Burning Blue as a gay variation on Top Gun with heart and soul ( and one with more than a dash of Brokeback Mountain thrown in for good measure ) just about sums up its appeal perfectly. The film opens Friday, June 6, exclusively in the Chicago area at the AMC Streets of Woodfield Theatre and will also be available on iTunes.

At the other end—way other end—of the spectrum is Exposed, a documentary from artist and filmmaker Beth B that explores the boundaries of modern-age burlesque. The filmmaker profiles a host of performers who run the gamut sexually and who challenge their underground audiences to expand their preconceived notions of traditional gender lines by fusing together good old-fashioned strip tease with modern day performance art. Gypsy Rose Lee would hardly recognize the goings on Dirty Martini, Rose Wood, World Famous Bob, Matt Fraser, Bambi the Mermaid, Bunny Love and others engage onstage but she might find its shock value just as fun and entertaining as a large portion of the audience will.

The movie includes perceptive and wickedly funny interviews with its subjects and plenty of highlights from their outrageous, envelope-pushing, sexually provocative performances. Who knew there were so many artistic uses for female and male genitalia or that so many things could be stuffed into ( and rather creatively removed ) from the various orifices displayed in this movie?

Taboo titillation factor aside—and if ever a film flirted with taboos, it's this one—Exposed, while admittedly not for the easily offended, gets into some fascinating areas that once encountered can't be so easily dismissed ( with gender boundaries the largest ). By the time Fraser—a British performer with malformed arms due to a birth defect—comments, "I become more normal by highlighting my difference," you might not only understand that insight but agree with it. Exposed plays Friday, June 6; Saturday, June 7; and Monday, June 9, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.

Film notes:

TCM is celebrating gay pride this year by honoring Rock Hudson as its star of the month for June. Nearly 30 years after his death from AIDS in 1985, Hudson remains a seminal cultural figure.

Throughout his career as a top Hollywood headliner, Hudson carefully hid his homosexuality, going so far as briefly marrying his secretary at one point to throw off gossip columnists. As his movie career faded, Hudson starred in a hit television show ( McMillan & Wife ) and several TV miniseries; however, by the time Hudson had a co-starring arc on Dynasty in 1984, it was evident from his emaciated appearance that something was terribly wrong with him. Before his death the following year, Hudson released a statement to the press announcing that he was suffering from AIDS.

This lit a media firestorm that, as TCM host Robert Osborne notes in a very insightful profile of the late actor, has ever since overshadowed Hudson's movie career. Hudson rose to prominence—no surprise—based on his dreamboat looks and beefcake physicality. But director Douglas Sirk saw something in the young actor and expertly brought it out in 1954's Magnificent Obsession. Hudson proceeded to give an Oscar nominated performance in 1956's Giant, spoofed his image in 1959's Pillow Talk and a series of follow-up comedies in the early '60s and took creative risks with his image in 1966's Seconds. TCM is showing all those films and more throughout June and this overview of Hudson's career reminds us that although Elizabeth Taylor ( Hudson's devoted friend whose AIDS charity work began with his death ) was the last studio manufactured female star, Hudson was the last male—a not-insignificant legacy that should be celebrated.

There are several recent notable LGBT themed DVD/VOD releases of note. They include:

—A restored version of Wakefield Poole's gay art porn, 1971's Boys in the Sand. The DVD includes the remastered film and features four short early films from Poole.

—Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton focuses on another iconic queer filmmaker, noted for his experimental works, his poetry and espousing of sexual freedom in all its forms.

—Valentine Road is the shattering, heartbreaking documentary about the murder of a budding transgendered teen by a classmate.

—Birthday Cake, which played at last year's Reeling Film Festival, is a mockumentary about a gay couple celebrating the first birthday of their adopted child. Chad Darnell, who wrote and directs, also stars in this hilarious and at times thought-provoking movie. Hunky Rib Hillis, Helen Shaver ( Desert Hearts ) and Lee Meriwether ( a former Cat Woman ) co-star.

—Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley, another film presented at Reeling last fall, is the comedic actress's loving portrait of the African American stand-up comic. The documentary includes a section on Mabley's lesbian identity and a bit about her series of girlfriends.

—Stranger By the Lake, the erotic mystery thriller ( one of last year's most compelling films and certainly one of the sexiest queer-themed movies ever ) is now available VOD through Vimeo.

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