Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.
The Diva Duel Part I: Sunset Blvd.
This weekend here at Screen Gems, we thought we’d offer something a little different. Back in 1950, two actresses gave two of the Greatest Performances in History and ended up competing against each other for the Academy Award. We suggest it’s time to revisit their two respective films, and again face the question: who did it better?
Sunset Blvd. lands on every list of the Greatest of All Movies, and for good reason–it doesn’t get much better. The story follows a starving writer, Joe (William Holden). Pursued by bill collectors, he ends up in the driveway of former silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a 50-something recluse who hasn’t worked since the coming of sound. Holed up with her creepy butler Max (Erich von Stroheim), Norma has begun working on a script for her triumphant return. Sensing a payday, Joe offers to help her with the screenplay. Over time, Norma begins to obsess over Joe, whose profession begins to look less like a writer than a gigolo.
William Holden gives a fantastic performance as the cynical, self-deprecating Joe, though history will forever record Sunset Blvd. as belonging to Norma Desmond and Gloria Swanson. As a former silent star herself, Swanson brings a unique style to her performance, walking the line between pathos and camp, madness and sanity. Norma also behaves like a monstrosity much of the film, but thanks to Swanson, we can’t help but feel sorry for her, even root for her at times. Sunset Blvd. also has one of the wickedest senses of humor on record, often embodied by the sexual kink of Max. We’ll not give away too much here, other than to say that his servant-master relationship with Norma has many levels to it. The movie also leaves open the debate as to just who is the master of whom?
Shot in rich black and white, loaded with magnificent performances and some of the most quotable dialogue of all time, movies don’t get better than Sunset Blvd. Watch it, fall under its spell, and let the debate begin: if Gloria Swanson gives one of the greatest performances of all time, could anyone be better in the same year?
“Move back to your hometown two years earlier so you can spend more time with Mom before she passes away,” said David Reyes. “Get out of your long-term ‘relationships’ early. Neither are good for you. They’re hot, but it ends there,” before adding one final thought: “It’s ok to leave the party early.”
Gavin Tideswell warned against impatience: “Just wait. Don’t rush into every relationship, you’ll do yourself more harm than good. You will meet more people who think the world of you and you will be happy. It’ll take time but you’ll be so much happier if you wait.”
“You will always intimidate people with your authenticity. Lean into that,” said Jerod Lengacher. “There are ways of moving like water flows around stone, and only you decide who is worthy of your grace. Stay sharp.”
“You will get to where you need to be by just being you,” said William Dominic. “The people who truly love you will be there always, hold onto them. The other people that come and go, hold onto them while they’re around because they’re the lessons that help you grow.”
“Don’t stop being yourself just to please other people,” cautioned Indrajeet Sinh Chauhan. “Don’t let the words of insecure people hurt you.”
“Never try and live your life for others,” offered Sam West. “You live your life how you see fit. And never live in fear or shame. Don’t hideaway. And something my dear old Nanna used to say: This isn’t a rehearsal, you only get one shot at it. I so wish I’d followed all of this in my younger days. All them wasted years, missing out.”
“Invest in Love. It starts with yourself and reverberates in how you treat others, and the universe does reward that. Love is energy and one of the only things you can control from which you give; so be mindful,” said Mason Williams.
‘Trust your gut’
“Never settle. You’re worth more than people know,” offered Roy Nairn.
“Trust your gut, try not to compare yourself to others, have more confidence and less hang-ups,” stated Dave Mallinson.
Many of the most-liked answers explored the benefits of living an authentic life and striving to be yourself, even when it feels hard. For anyone still in the closet, Steven Cowlishaw had simple advice to his younger self: “Don’t be afraid to come out sooner. You’ll feel much better in yourself for it.”
And some were a little more lighthearted.
“Always get a good haircut from a professional,” said Sara Mitchell. “Umm same goes for highlights. I have photographic evidence.” (she’s not wrong).
(Reuters) – Life expectancy in the United States fell by a year and a half in 2020 to 77.3 years, the lowest level since 2003, primarily due to the deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a U.S. health agency said on Wednesday.
It is the biggest one-year decline since World War Two, when life expectancy fell 2.9 years between 1942 and 1943, and is six months shorter than its February 2021 estimate, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.
“Life expectancy has been increasing gradually every year for the past several decades,” Elizabeth Arias, a CDC researcher who worked on the report, told Reuters. “The decline between 2019 and 2020 was so large that it took us back to the levels we were in 2003. Sort of like we lost a decade.”
Deaths from COVID-19 contributed to nearly three-fourths, or 74%, of the decline and drug overdoses were also a major contributor, the CDC said.
The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) last week released interim data showing that U.S. drug overdose deaths rose nearly 30% in 2020.
The latest CDC report is based on provisional mortality data for January through December of 2020.
Racial, gender and ethnic disparities worsened during the period, the report said. Life expectancy for Black people fell by 2.9 years to 71.8 in 2020, the lowest level since 2000. Life expectancy for Hispanic males dropped 3.7 years to 75.3, the largest decline of any group.
Disparity in life expectancy between men and women also widened in 2020, with women now expected to live 80.2 years, or 5.7 years longer than men – six months more than foreseen in 2019.
The data represents early estimates based on death certificates received, processed, and coded but not finalized by the NCHS.
(Reporting by Dania Nadeem; Additional reporting by Trisha Roy in Bengaluru; editing by Caroline Humer and Steve Orlofsky)
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Finally, after months of anticipation, rumor, gossip and innuendo, it has happened: Joe Bell arrives in theatres July 23.
The movie originally premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, where it earned praise for its leading performances by Mark Wahlberg, Connie Britton and–in particular–Reid Miller. Based on a true story, Joe Bell follows the titular grieving father (Wahlberg) on a walking trip across the United States to awareness of bullying. With him is his son Jadin (Miller), by turns giving him words of encouragement and ridicule. Flashbacks provide context to their contentious relationship: Jadin came out as gay in high school, which became a source of embarrassment for Joe and Jadin’s mother, Lola. A tragedy shatters the family and prompts Joe to walk across the country to redeem himself in the eyes of Jadin. Redemption, however, does not come easy.
Joe Bell marks the second feature of director Renaldo Marcus Green. He first arrived on the film scene in 2018 with his film Monsters and Men, which won the Best First Feature prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Originally hailing from Staten Island, New York, he earned wide praise in both Monsters and Men as well as Joe Bell for his exploration of masculine identity, and for humanizing stories overblown in media blitz.
Joe Bell underwent a title change and shuffling of distributors following TIFF 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We caught up with director Green at the festival, and are delighted to finally share our interview with him just ahead of the movie’s long-awaited release. Joe Bell arrives in theatres July 23.
What’s your festival experience been like with all this virtual craziness?
Unfortunately this year many of us were unable to attend the festival. Toronto has an incredible reach. They’ve done a great job giving folks every opportunity to see films online and in drive-in theatres. They’re getting innovative as they possibly could. I’ve heard positive things from the folks that were able to see films in theatres. So it’s been great from afar.
This is your second feature. How do you go from a gritty urban drama to a story of a guy walking across the country?
It felt gritty to me. I’ve always wanted to take a lot of road trips, so a road trip movie? Look, I got an email that said “Script by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana.” So, like a kid in a candy store, as a filmmaker, you rip those packages open. So I did. I read it. I had an emotional reaction. I didn’t know what the process was or where they were, but Mark Wahlberg was already attached. Part of the process was getting the room with Mark.
I was living in Italy at the time, and I flew from Italy to Boston. It was a crazy trip. It was a one-hour meeting. I met Mark in some dark room somewhere, and by the end of the conversation, he told his assistant to give me his number. I was like wait, did I get the job?
I didn’t know. It unlocked this whole new chapter in Hollywood. In that conversation with Mark, as any director, you’re looking for the truth. He felt truly invested in the role and the complexities of the character. Whatever drew him to the story was real. He was going to give the devotion to it. It was amazing to hear as a young director how passionate he was about the story. So to hear that from your lead actor—it’s not always that common that you’ll have three or four months rehearsal with someone. It’s very rare.
Mark was like, we ain’t putting fake beards on me. We’re growing it out. I’m losing weight. It was clearly something he was taking very seriously. I think Joe’s character—Mark really responded to him, and he didn’t want to shy away from some of the things he does in the film. He wanted to embrace and amplify them. [We both felt it was] important not to sugarcoat. We wanted it real. So that was an amazing meeting for me: to look in my lead actor’s eyes and know I would have a collaborator and someone to give their heart to the story. When you start from a place of love, in my mind, you can only do right. So that was a great starting point.
Few names among writers tower in Hollywood, but Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana do. What kind of communication did you have with Larry and Diana?
To be completely honest, I didn’t have much contact with them. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to, it just didn’t come about. The script had been around for a few years. Cary Fukunaga, who is a producer on the film, had developed the script with Larry and Diana. I think it was three or four years of development.
They had collectively interviewed everyone in the family and all their friends. They had done a tremendous amount of research before I got it. When I received the script, Cary had gone on to do [No Time to Die]. So I was coming in to help shape it a bit. It was a great script, but it was long. We needed to shave it down to make it, otherwise we’d never be able to shoot or budget it. So it was really cutting a lot of the tapestry—landscapes and things we’d never be able to shoot. If I’d have had seven months to shoot Into the Wild like Sean Penn, I could do those scenes. So it was painful to cut anything from a Larry & Diana script, but hopefully, we cut the beauty shots. We didn’t want to make a travelogue, but we wanted to go on the journey. And it was full steam ahead when I came on the project.
I have to ask, is it intimidating to work from a script from such respected writers?
A little bit, yes. The absolute thought was do I really want to come from behind a movie like Brokeback Mountain, which is perfect? That’s a recipe for disaster.
But then, why not? My whole life has been facing fears. So I felt like I was tackling my own fear in that way. Going back to my younger years, I was a semi-professional athlete, a pitcher. And it’s the most nerve-wracking position, and to win the game, you can’t go out there and be nervous. So I kind of conditioned myself to take on difficult challenges like the challenge of this movie. I also wanted to say it’s not Brokeback Mountain. It’s my movie. That movie is a masterpiece, but we’re making our own film which will hopefully touch hearts in minds in our own way.
There is a specific scene I want to ask you about, one of the most delicate in the film. Jaiden calls his best friend just prior to his trip to the park. It’s a cry for help. Reid Miller is excellent in conveying that desperation. How do you go about directing an actor that young to get to that kind of emotional bottom?
You know, sometimes there are magic moments that happen on a film set. If you remember in that scene, he’s standing in an alleyway. And the light was incredible. It was as if it was writing it with us. The light dictated the scene that day. Reid is an incredible actor, so he had that vulnerability. Sometimes it’s on the first take, sometimes it’s take six. And this was take six: one of those times I knew there was more in the tank. So when I didn’t call cut, he knew he had to dig deeper. And a good actor knows that.
Those are real tears. I don’t know what he’s thinking about, but he’s tapping into something. He’s become Jadin. And it’s not the tears per se; it’s the release. And Reid smashed the movie. That scene was incredible to see him let go. It was beautiful to watch. It’s heartbreaking.
He is wonderful, and I would add: I know a lot of queer people who have had that moment, especially a lot of young gay boys. It’s powerful to watch.
Joe, on the other hand, is such a frustrating character. He desperately loves his family, including his son Jadin, but doesn’t know how to communicate that. Do you see that as a flaw specific to his character, or is that part of a larger issue with his view of masculinity?
I think it’s a combination of both. It’s definitely his character, and it was something we embraced. Joe had a hard time articulating his feelings. What he wanted for his son may not have been what Jaiden needed. We all need somebody to open our eyes sometime. I hope Joe’s point of view helps other people see that in themselves. In society, there are a lot of people who are complicit and don’t know it—they don’t know they are part of the problem. A lot of folks want to do good, they just don’t know how to do it.
There are a lot of Joe Bells in the world that can relate to this, a lot of families. I think the more we can get ahead of the situation, the more we can avoid tragedies. I hope the film positions itself that way, to be part of the solution.
Well said. When you’re dealing with a character like that who is potentially so alienating, and who does not know how to show vulnerability, how do you open him up in a way so he’s accessible to an audience?
I think Mark is naturally relatable. That’s part of who he is. I think the casting of Mark is a really strong choice because he relates to the Joe Bells of America, and that’s a lot of who his audience is. I think what’s important is that we don’t take that for granted in the film. We don’t let him off the hook. We show complexity. We show anger. We show love. We show the levels of a human being, which makes Mark’s performance so much more important. I think we have to understand that part of the story to move forward, and who better than Mark Wahlberg to get us there? I think he did an incredible job, and Larry & Diana set him up in such a way that they don’t let him off the hook. That gives audiences a way in, and in some ways, a way out.
You’ve said that becoming a dad yourself offered you a way into the material. How does becoming a father change your approach to the material? The kinds of projects you’re attracted to?
That’s a good question. I’ve always been attracted to universal, human stories my whole career. I hope my body of work speaks that way. It’s not new, but [being a dad] makes it all the more important. I want my kids to be proud of all the things dad has worked on in his life. I don’t want them to say “Why did he do that movie? He must have needed to pay off a student loan…”
I don’t want it to ever feel like that. I want it to be my truth and experience. This story came to me for a reason. I don’t know why. And I don’t question that too much. When I got the email, I knew I could walk away, or I could embrace a story that is so heartbreaking and heartwarming in some ways. It broke my heart, but I knew it could help the Jaiden’s of the world. That was the feeling. And that was enough for me to say yes, and something that, as a father, I can be proud of 10, 15, 20, years from now. If I’m still kicking around, I’ll be proud of the movie.
I have to confess I’ve not seen Monsters and Men, but from what I can tell, it’s another story about men deeply conflicted over societal constructs and attitudes, their own feelings, and how to make the correct choice. What attracts you to stories and characters like that?
Well, Monsters and Men was a very personal story. I grew up in Staten Island. My father worked for the Department of Investigations. What you see in the movie is a lot of what I was grappling with. It was set in my backyard, so to speak. But again, it is a film that deals in gray. It’s complicated. It tries not to point fingers, but it tries to understand. It asks questions. And I think in asking questions, it allows us to take action. The films have similar themes in that way: they are trying to get people to understand and have empathy and take action. Film has the power to do that, so I’m using my platform to bring those stories to life. Hopefully, I’ve done that with my first two.
A bisexual British man has just been handed a lengthy prison sentence after being found guilty of leading a neo-Nazi terrorist group that aimed to purge the planet of all LGBTQ people.
Last month, Andrew Dymock was convicted of five counts of encouraging terrorism, four of disseminating terrorist publications, two of terrorist fundraising, one of possessing material useful to a terrorist, one of possessing racially inflammatory material, one of stirring up racial hatred, and one of stirring up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.
At his sentencing this week, Judge Mark Dennis said Dymock was “driven by an extremist mindset” and had taken a path of “total hatred and bigotry,” which included calling for Jewish people to be exterminated and LGBTQ people to be “purged” from society.
Dymock also authored several manifestos, including one titled “Homosexuality: the Eternal Social Menace.” The article declares that queer people “are simply degenerate and must be purged from society for the greater good.”
Because of all that, he’ll spend the next seven years behind bars, plus another three years on probation.
“It is clear you were a leader and not a follower,” Judge Dennis told Dymock this week, adding that the 24-year-old is an “intelligent, well-read” person but also “wholly misguided.”
During his trial, jurors heard recordings of a police interview with Dymock, in which he said, “I am bisexual but lean towards being homosexual.” Also of note: Dymock wore a pride flag pin on his lapel in court.
“Despite all the advantages of a good education and family upbringing you chose, at the age of 20, to take the path of dreadful bigotry, intolerance and hatred towards other members of our society solely on the basis of their race, creed, or sexual orientation,” Dennis continued during Dymock’s sentencing.
“In setting up and running the website and Twitter account for your extremist cause, you were prepared to inflame such vile prejudices in others and to promote and encourage hatred and violence towards other human beings in furtherance of your distorted and wicked cause.”
Dymock’s parents had asked the judge for leniency ahead of the sentencing, saying they were “extremely worried” about the negative impact prison could have on their son.
Graham Gremore is the Features Editor and a Staff Writer at Queerty. Follow him on Twitter @grahamgremore.
Welcome to the Weekend Binge. Every week, we’ll suggest a binge-able title designed to keep you from getting too stir crazy. Check back throughout the weekend for even more gloriously queer entertainment.
The Horror Show: Dr. Death
A reader tipped us off to this new, Peacock limited series thanks to the excellent work of openly gay actor Dominic Burgess, hereto best known for his standout work as Victor Buono in Feud. The recommendation piqued our interest enough to check out Burgess’ latest outing in Dr. Death. In short, we were not prepared.
Dr. Death tells the true story of Christoper Duntsch (Joshua Jackson, yes, from Dawson’s Creek), a Texas-based neurosurgeon whose patients had a nasty history of surgical complications. Another pair of surgeons, the brooding Robert Henderson (Alec Baldwin) and eccentric Randall Kirby (Christian Slater) notice Duntsch’s patients end up paralyzed, in chronic pain, or dead, and come to question his credentials. The more malpractice the pair uncover, the more they begin to wonder: is Duntsch actually hurting his patients on purpose?
Dr. Death toys with that question over the course of its eight episodes to the point it becomes a taut, suspense-thriller. We’re never sure if Duntsch is a psychopath, a drugged-out nutjob, a con man, or all of the above. The show also indicts the Texas medical system for stripping patients of their rights, and for capping medical malpractice suits. Former Gov. Rick Perry’s name comes up more than once, which is ironic, given his own history of spinal injury.
Of course, it also helps that Dr. Death showcases actors at their finest, beginning with Joshua Jackson. Jackson, in short, has never been better. He plays Duntsch as a man awash in self-delusion and unable to understand the concept of responsibility…at least where his own responsibilities are concerned (parallels to a certain former President are also ever-present, though the series doesn’t comment on them). Slater excels here as well, giving an energized performance as a character both noble-minded and maddeningly arrogant.
Yet the most pivotal performance falls to Burgess, as Duntsch’s longtime bestie Jerry. Burgess has arguably the most difficult role in the series, in that Jerry needs to believe in Duntsch as a kind of medical superhero, despite being close enough to see all of his nasty behavior. If Burgess had been any less emphatic or convincing, the plot twists in Dr. Death would be almost impossible to swallow. Jackson makes Duntsch into a monster; Burgess’ Jerry makes him real, particularly in the show’s finale. He’s absolutely heartbreaking.
Part true-crime chronicle, part horror movie, Dr. Death left us horrified, infuriated, and mesmerized. We chalk that up to compelling subject matter, and to the outstanding performances of its cast. This is not a story for the faint of heart.
His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman has made it very clear that he is “anti-transphobia“, while also condemning online abuse of JK Rowling. This week, Rowling shared a death threat she had received on Twitter, before describing the “hundreds” more she has received. The discussion led to a…