BFI Flare festival – films 6-8

Monday saw me take a half day off work so I could go and see ALL the films…well, 3 films in quick succession.

Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures The first I heard of the work of Robert Mapplethorpe was around ’86 when there was some controversy over the Black Males exhibition and subsequent publication of the Black Book. I wasn’t particularly aware of the politics at the time, just remember being impressed by the sculptural and almost architectural beauty of the black and white pictures.  A few years later of course there as the giant Jessie Helms led controvery around Mapplethorpe’s Perfect Moment exhibition and tour and whether public funds should be used to fund the kind of art Mapplethorpe produced.  (Which is insane when you consider that the controversial images were around 10% of the exhibition, the rest being the better known portraits and stunning flower pictures etc).

Other than the headline grabbing stuff I never knew much about Mapplethorpe but I did like a lot of his work. So the documentary which pitched itself as “an unflinching and sometimes graphic account of the life, art and legacy of the legendary photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, with rich testimony from those who knew and worked with him” was a must see.

It was absolutely brilliant. Packed with searingly honest, humourous, touching and sometimes heart-rending interviews with family members, tutors, contemporaries, colleagues, models and lovers, I came out feeling I’d caught a real glimpse of the man behind the lens. Whilst recognising the amazing talent the documentary didn’t shy away from the fact that Mapplethorpe was a ferociously ambitious, driven, charming and self-centred individual. Definitely worth catching if you have the chance.

Seed Money: The Chuck Homes Story, was another documentary – this one about San Francisco pornographer turned philanthropist Chuck Holmes. Holmes helped shaped and create gay identity in the years after Stonewall, and later became a major contributor to gay advocacy groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the LGBT Victory Fund, only to find later in life that while his money was welcome in philanthropic circles, he sometimes wasn’t. Alas it was the diametric opposite of the Mapplethorpe documentary. Considering the subject matter you wouldn’t have thought it possible to make a boring film, but oh my goodness this was so slooow and drab and the end couldn’t come fast enough for me.

The final film of the night was another delightful drama Théo and Hugo (may be listed as Paris 05:59). It has one of the most unusual opening sequences of any film I’ve seen with the first 20 minutes or so a virtual wordless series of scenes in a french bathhouse.  Esstentially it’s a reverse love story. Théo and Hugo meet in the bathhouse and then over the course of the rest of the night perhaps begin to fall in love. Geoffrey Couët as Théo and François Nambot as Hugo give a couple of brilliant performances.  The film was made without the usual government funding so they could depict the reality of the bathhouse for the opening sequence and much of it was shot on the fly on the night time streets of Paris. But it seems to have paid off as the film looks like it will get a release in the UK, France and Germany and hopefully will also reach a wider audience. Another one I’d defintely recommend.

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