THE SPECIAL SHELF: Ask Any Buddy / Benjamin

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Director Evan Purchell has done something amazing. His film Ask Any Buddy takes extracts from a hundred and twenty-six gentleman films from the ‘70s and ‘80s and crafts a perceptive and often moving documentary about the history of gay life that’s been peeking around the action in porn for decades. There’s work here from all the greats (Gage, Bressan, Deveau, De Rome, Sterling, DeSimone, and many more), all springing from the truism that pornography can be a utopian queer space. Kitchen table conversations, political gatherings, dungeons, clubs, industrial rendezvous, and infinite varieties of moustache all combine like a pointillist collage; horniness is a neutral state of being, and it’s the common denominator for all of these fascinating moments. In this world, gay sex is like a bus pass- it’s a secret realm of magic and mystery, but it’s also a way through a boring, normal world. Not always sultry- sometimes even goofy. In the world of Ask Any Buddy, there’s a Narnia behind every button fly.

Purchell is a master of construction, building echoing narratives alongside an impressionist throughline; emotional resonance builds in a way that we just don’t get from gentleman cinema. Moreso, there’s so much personality in the outfits (to paraphrase Peter Rauhofer’s Club 69 project, gay fashion is an ongoing debate with a beginning, a middle, and no end), living spaces, and people that you can’t help but lament the depersonalized, faceless nature of so much of today’s McMansion porn.

Ask Any Buddy is essential viewing for anyone who has an interest in gay social history, pornography, or the evolution of horny narratives. It will shock the unshockable and delight the free, but there’s not been a moment of more emotional resonance so far this year at the movies than when Janis Ian’s “Hymn” comes up amid a montage of the satisfied emerging into the daylight world. Sheer transcendence.

Benjamin movie posterBritish comedian Simon Amstell’s new film Benjamin has finally arrived in the U.S., and it’s a disarmingly effective queer romantic comedy equally versed in wry, open-hearted humor and harsh truths that cut so very deep. Set in an all-too-modern London amongst a multicultural group of folk who don’t “define things or be specific about words that mean things,” we watch, with bemusement and discreet horror as the deeply neurotic filmmaker Benjamin (Colin Morgan), who just likes guys who are “well-lit and weak,” tries to find some love with French musician/dream twink Noah (Phénix Brossard) as his new film stumbles into theatres. “What’s your film about?” Benjamin is asked, and without hesitating, he answers “my inability to love.”

So this milieu is hyperverbal and casually sexual, with lots of talented and creative people treading water in a sea of doubt and helplessness. To some, it could feel like so many other gay films that traverse the festival circuit and then sometimes turn up streaming. But there’s an edge to Benjamin’s perspective, and it’s not afraid to specifically dissect the elaborate situations that some gay men continually cast themselves in on a daily basis. It has hope in its heart, which is nice, and certainly appreciated in the current world. But if you delight in being sophisticated in syntax and using your words as a bulwark to taking a chance on love, this film will tell you about yourself.

Ask Any Buddy is currently playing the virtual film festival circuit; latest viewing opportunities can be found at www.askanybuddy.com

Benjamin is currently streaming On Demand via Artsploitation Films, Kino Lorber, and Amazon.

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