DVD/Video Reviews by Michael D. Klemm

The Show Must Go On

(IFC, 2003)

Camp (IFC films) 2003 Screenplay/Director: Todd Graff

Starring: Faniel Letterle, Joana Chilcoat, Robin DeJesus

Rated PG-13, 114 minutes
The L Word

Starring: Jennifer Beals, Laurel Holloman, Mia Kirschner, Eric Mabius, Karina Lombard, Katherine Moennig, Erin Daniels, Leisha Hailey, Pam Grier

One of the problems with the movie Fame was the near absence of anybody gay attending the performing arts school. This ommision is rectified in Camp, a heart-warming film which celebrates all the “freaks” that get picked on in high school and gives them their moment in the spotlight.

This is driven immediately when we meet Michael, who is wearing a dress to his prom. He is denied admission and beaten up by jocks. It is only in a place like Camp Ovation where a gay teen like him can fit in.

Camp is a comedy-drama about teens, some gay some straight, who attend a summer camp to hone their musical and thespian skills. The cast includes Vlad, a cute straight boy (and self-professed “attention junkie”) who romances a plain girl named Ellen. He befriends Michael who, of course, has a huge crush on him.

We also meet Jenna, a black girl whose jaw has been wired shut by her father so she can lose weight. Histrionics are provided by Jill, a bitchy prima donna who uses the adoring Fritzi as a servant. An alcoholic teacher who is a washed-up Broadway composer rounds out the main cast. Stephen Sondheim makes a cameo to attend the camp’s benefit performance.

The highlights for many viewers will be the musical performances and these kids are a talented lot. Their stories are, for the most part, charming and there are many moments that keep Camp from becoming formulaic. An online DVD commentary called Camp an “Afterschool Special” and the obviously straight reviewer just didn’t get the point. How can anyone hate a movie where teens perform songs like “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Sondheim’s Company? And how about seeing two black kids complain about how ridiculous they look as rabbis in Fiddler on the Roof? My favorite scene was when Vlad auditions by playing his guitar and singing The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” and the faculty immediately identifies him as straight. Make sure you watch the credits or you’ll miss a hilarious bit from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

My only real criticism would be that too much time is spent on the straight romance but I suppose this was to make it more appealing to a mainstream audience. Other than that, the kids are all naturals onscreen, and man can some of them sing! The score by Stephen Trask pales next to his music from Hedwig, but it sets the proper mood.

One thing that Showtime knows how to do right is gay drama. The first three seasons of Queer as Folk were groundbreaking, as was their film about Private Barry Winchell’s murder, Soldier’s Girl. Now, Showtime has one for the ladies. It’s called The L Word and it is terrific.

The L Word features a group of lesbian friends and the camaraderie between them. Belle and Tina, together for seven years, are expecting a baby. Their friends are the flirtatious Shane, a closeted tennis player named Dana, a bisexual journalist named Alice, Bette’s half-sister Kit, and Marina, who runs the coffee shop they frequent each morning. Jenny and Tim are the straight couple who live next door to Belle and Tina. Jenny is a gifted writer, hungry for experience, and she connects, on a literary level, with the glamorous Marina and then has an affair with her.

Some storylines may be familiar to longtime gay filmgoers but The L Word is, like QAF, compelling television with great characters and sustained story arcs. While nowhere near as explicit and over-the-top as QAF can get, it is still very sexy and daring. A great stable of talent has been assembled, including noted lesbian director Rose Troche (Go Fish and Bedrooms and Hallways). She is one of the producers and she has directed, and written, several episodes. Laurel Holloman, who plays Tina, appeared in the excellent The Incredible True Story of Two Girls in Love. Jennifer Beals and Pam Grier are the two biggest “names” to appear.

Yes, all of the women are beautiful and they have great careers, but that criticism rarely gets thrown at Sex and the City. As with QAF, straight viewers get a glimpse of the other side and maybe become more enlightened in the process. The pregnancy, starting with the search for a sperm donor, has been well handled so far. Belle is a career woman who is finding it hard to balance her job with the pre-natal needs of her partner. Dana has embarked on a wonderful relationship only to have to hide it at the orders of her agent because she is not a “superstar like Martina” yet on the tennis courts. And, of course, we have Jenny who is torn between her fiance Tim and the exotic lesbian who she has far more in common with.

At press time, we were at the midpoint of the first season and so far the show has not disappointed. And - two weeks ago - there was a coincidental and very timely plot development. Reminiscent of Britney Speers’ recent shenanigans, viewers were treated to Tim and Jenny’s rushed wedding in an all-night chapel only to see Tim walk out a few hours later. Here is yet another example of how we gay people are not the ones who are making a mockery of “the sacred institution of marriage.” I hope all of America was watching.— by Michael D. Klemm


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