Apparently, Lady Gaga doesn't own the last word on homosexuality in pop culture. The selections in the fifth annual Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival represent a broad range of subjects—from the history of gay activism in Los Angeles to coming out in India to body-image issues—but there is a particular focus this year on artists (and the children of artists) whose lives and work represent several facets of the gay experience in America and abroad. Here are four of the must-sees.
Arias With a Twist
85 Vocally gifted master of flamboyance Johnny Arias proves that performance art can, in fact, be bearable. He's playful where others are pretentious, and Arias argues that his decades-spanning career has reached a new high thanks to his collaboration with puppeteer Basil Twist. These two represent the redheaded stepchildren of theater, embracing oversexed spectacle and adding only a little substance. Together, the two craft a world that allows a Bettie Page-esque Arias to belt Zeppelin while strapped down under the watchful gaze of discombobulated extraterrestrials. Arias and Twist's winking sense of humor carries not only their resulting marionette-bedecked burlesque, but Arias itself. Director Bobby Sheehan competently gives us the back story on the art and craft of Arias; it is Arias and Twist whose mutually gushing passion for performance makes the film a success. (SS) 7 pm Thursday, June 2. Joey Arias attending.
The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye
74 Anyone who's ever laid eyes on Genesis P-Orridge already knows he doesn't just question gender roles; he obliterates the notion of gender itself. P-Orridge is a founding member of Throbbing Gristle, the band credited with inventing industrial music, and his life is an ongoing art project that peaked when he met a pretty blond dominatrix named Lady Jaye. Director Marie Losier followed the couple for five years as they consummated their relationship by undergoing a series of plastic surgery operations to transform themselves into a single "pandrogynous" entity. These being performance artists, there's plenty of interstitial nonsense to endure, but at the core of the film is a genuine (and ultimately tragic) love story that's not as bizarre as it might sound. (MS) 9:30 pm Friday, June 3.
The Advocate for Fagdom
78 "Gay outlaw," "the pornographic Brecht" and "the greatest provocateur Canada ever produced" are a few of the ways cult director Bruce LaBruce is described in Angélique Bosio's The Advocate for Fagdom. As you might guess, LaBruce is a fascinating figure, an art-punk terrorist looking to assault the conservativism of gay and straight cultures alike, but the movie isn't really about him as much as his work. An entertaining cast of talking heads, including John Waters, Harmony Korine and Gus Van Sant, mostly discuss whether his films, which feature a lot of hard-core sex—excerpted by Bosio without much editing—qualify as pornography, independent cinema or something else entirely. "Coming on Mein Kampf is a little different than a regular porn movie," says Waters. True that. (MS) 9 pm Saturday, June 4.
80 You can't choose your parents, but if you could, appointing gay icon Cher your materfamilias seems like a safe bet if you happen to be transgendered. Chaz (born Chastity) Bono is here to challenge that assumption in front of what appear to be reality TV crews. As Chaz undergoes profound hormonal and physical changes, Cher finds time only to grace David Letterman with her half-hearted thoughts of acceptance for her erstwhile daughter. So we can thank Cher for the star power driving this film, because while Becoming Chaz relies too heavily on family photos of a girlish Chastity to elicit the audience's disbelief about the female-to-male transition, Chaz's bare-chested honesty and openness about his relationship with partner Jennifer communicate foremost how necessary—if graphic—the endeavor can be. (SS) 7 pm Sunday, June 5.
SEE IT: The Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival runs Thursday-Sunday, June 2-5, at the Clinton Street Theater. Full schedule and information available at queerdocfest.org.