Matters of Identity and Individuality


"Queer Shorts," a lively and accomplished program of gay and lesbian films ranging from six to 28 minutes in length, screens tonight at 7:30 at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theater.

Among the traditional narratives is Phillip J. Bartell's sensitively yet amusingly observed "Crush." Spending the summer helping out--more or less--in his grandmother's small-town dry goods store is daydreaming 16-year-old Robbie (Brett Chukerman), who attracts precocious 12-year-old Tina (Ena A. Tuennerman). A friendship develops when Robbie agrees to accompany Tina when she practices on her clarinet; not surprisingly, Tina develops a crush on this "older man" who would rather spend time with her than play sports. Eventually, Tina discovers that Robbie is gay, and what makes this film so effective is its persuasive depiction of how this 12-year-old copes with it.

"Crush" is as gentle and touching as Andrea Mann's "XXXY" is stunning in its consciousness-raising. This documentary deals forthrightly with the plight of individuals born with ambiguous genitalia.

Tomboyish Kristi and bodybuilder Howard describe hellish childhoods as a result of doctors arbitrarily assigning gender. This practice can lead to years of endless surgery, often resulting in such individuals developing the feeling that as they mature they have been assigned the wrong gender.

Kristi and Howard argue forcefully for allowing intersexed individuals time to mature and to discover for themselves whether they are comfortable as they are, or whether they identify with one gender strongly enough to want to undergo surgery and further treatment in order to feel wholly male or female. Mann makes a strong case that this can be an urgent issue for parents, since an estimated 1 of every 2,000 babies is born with ambiguous genitalia.

Lea Morement and Samantha Bakhurst's "4 p.m." is a dryly witty tale of the perils of a pickup. An elegant brunet, who turns out to be a public figure, picks up a pretty young blond and takes her back to her posh apartment, guessing correctly that she's in for the perfect one-night stand. But what if, the next morning, the blond turns out to be too groggy to comprehend her overnight host's hurried statement as to the location of the key that will let her out of the apartment . . . ?

John Daschbach's gritty, insightful "Bedtime Stories" is composed of three vignettes in which three couples, both straight and gay, in bed and pondering their relationships, all happen to be living in the same apartment building. Very well-acted, "Bedtime Stories" has the impact of the painfully real.

Also set in an apartment building, Carla Drago's scabrous, surreal "Above the Dust Level" charts the bizarre collision of an intensely allergic woman, a man with AIDS and a cross-dressing drug addict who may or may not be stealing the man's underwear from a rooftop clothesline.

Serving aptly as the program's curtain-raiser, Wayne Yung's "Field Guide to Western Wildflowers" offers a jaunty, kaleidoscopic six minutes of men kissing in front of gigantic blowups of flowers, with each couple accompanied by a subtitle--e.g., Pride, Nostalgia, Co-Dependency, etc.--suggesting just about every emotion or quality a relationship could foster. Also screening but not available for preview is "Boychick," about a gay, Jewish, pop-star-loving teenager, directed by Glenn Gaylord, who will be present along with Bartell to discuss their films after the screenings. (323) 466-FILM.


Tonight at 7:30, the UCLA Film Archive screens "The Petrified Forest" (1936), in which, at Leslie Howard's insistence, Humphrey Bogart re-created his stage role as Duke Mantee, a gangster terrorizing the proprietors and customers of a desert roadside diner. Howard plays a British tourist with an intellectual bent, and Bette Davis, prettier than even she remembered she had ever been, is the dreamy young woman yearning to escape this bump on the road. At last Bogart was able to establish a memorable tough-guy image that would sustain him for the next two decades. Directed by Archie Mayo; based on the Robert Sherwood play. In Melnitz Hall's James Bridges Theater. (310) 206-FILM.


The Laemmle Theaters' Documentary Days continues Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Sunset 5 with another outstanding offering, Irene Langemann's "Russia's Wonder Children," which is about a lot more than four endearing piano prodigies, ages 8 to 18, at Moscow's hallowed Central School of Music.

It's about how, since 1932, the school has been a refuge for the gifted through chronic hard times--where talented musicians, unable to support themselves concertizing during the long Iron Curtain period, devoted themselves to teaching; how, when the Kirov and the Bolshoi have had their well-publicized ups and downs and when the USSR's greatest filmmakers were constantly dogged by censorship and worse, the Central School of Music could combine discipline and dedication yet emphasize the primary importance of individuality and personality to generations of celebrated musical artists.

The most important of the four students Langemann has singled out is Lena Kolesnichenko, not because she's necessarily the most talented but because, as the oldest of the four at 18 and on the eve of graduation, she is at a crossroads. She dreams of going to the College of Hanover in Germany to study with Russian-born Vladimir Rainev, whom she regards as a second father, but her concert manager, the acerbic Alec Band, declares bluntly that he will no longer represent her if she does not agree to a more drastic musical "change of scenery."

Lena, who played before the pope at age 9 and has performed all over Europe and America, realizes that she has outgrown the prodigy category and burns with the ambition for international success but cannot imagine studying with a stranger. Yet Band believes that for her to be truly world-class she must get away from all that "Russian bashing and banging." Time will tell who is right. While "Russia's Wonder Children" does not shy away from all the risks, pressures and sacrifices demanded by a life dedicated to music, it celebrates such a choice. As one of Central's teachers (for 33 years) and herself a graduate says, "I cannot live without this work or this school."

"Russia's Wonder Children" also screens March 24 and 25 at 11 a.m. at the Monica 4-Plex. Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd.: (323) 848-3500; Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica: (310) 394-9741.


For more than 15 years, Germany's Monika Treut has been celebrating sexuality's infinite variety in a series of venturesome documentaries and features. At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Treut will present "Gendernauts" and a 20-minute compilation from her documentary-in-progress, "The Angel of Rio." In "Gendernauts" Treut focuses on a group of people who have changed or are changing their genders, primarily female-to-male transsexuals, and invites us to look beyond stereotypical notions of gender. (323) 857-6177.

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