Tea and Comedy

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Tea and Comedy

Sometimes the most interesting part of going to a movie isn't the movie.

After many years reviewing many movies, gay, straight, undeclared, foreign and domestic, for the Bay Area Reporter, I'm rarely in a hurry to see a film that isn't starring Eva Green, Isabelle Huppert, possibly Catherine Deneuve and of course Meryl Streep's reliable, or a classic I have or haven't seen. And by classic I mean masterpieces like the romantic comedy The Awful Truth (1937) or the documentary Battle of Algiers (1966).

The Awful Truth stars the sublime Irene Dunne and Cary Grant.

Sitting at the bar in the Kabuki cineplex in San Francisco's Japantown during the Asian-American Film Festival, a Japanese-American film-lover asked me to name my favorite film and we both knew that was impossible but The Battle of Algiers came to mind since I didn't think she'd be familiar with The Awful Truth. Turned out she hadn't heard of the anti-colonialist, filmed-on-a-dime, tense, taut, fictionalized reenactment of the French attempt to tame Arab terrorism via torture in the last outpost of their empire, which the Pentagon screened during the lead-up to the Iraq invasion. (Read two short New Yorker pieces about it here and here.) She said she'd try to remember to watch the dvd.

You can watch the whole Battle of Algiers on YouTube.

She'd just seen a fascinating documentary about Patsy Mink, prime mover behind Title IX, federal legislation that gave women equal access to collegiate sports and academic activities in 1972. My interlocutrix, from Patsy's own state, Hawaii, had taken the first Asian-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress for granted, unaware of all the obstacles she'd pioneered her way past.

Gliding conversationally from Mink to Milk, she asked what I'd thought of Sean Penn's performance. I said I'd like to see the tragic version of Dan White's inability to stomach his gay rival's political triumph. I'd like a filmmaker to focus in tight and hold on the irrational aggressions we as queers suffer from personally and politically every day of our lives. Maybe director Kimberly Peirce already sort of did that with Boys Don't Cry.

This was a fun conversation.

Which I wouldn't have had, had Iyemon Cha bottled Japanese green tea not launched their U.S. campaign in San Francisco, causing their New York representative to invite me to a reception for the director and actors of White on Rice, a Japanese-American comedy directed by a young white guy. I like events. I like looking at and talking to people at events. And sometimes the food's good, too.

cha.jpeg
Corporate support for the arts is a good thing.

I lucked out. There was a steaming tray full of brownie-sized chunks of meat I was told were short ribs, which I cut with a fork. Apologies to vegetarians and cows. I missed out on the crab cakes but exploited the bruschetta, which was addictive.

And the tea? Served in wine glasses as befits a luxury item, both the sencha and hojicha were full-bodied and smooth. I could drink it all day, only not at $2.75 per 12.2-ounce bottle.

The movie? Sold-out. A funny but sloppily plotted character sketch written and directed by Dave Boyle, starring a charismatic deadpan goof, Hiroshi Watanabe. The topic? A guy who's divorced, a dreamer, looking for a girlfriend, chasing an unresponsive love object: an existential situation I have too much insight into, filmed from the heterosexist point of view. I was surrounded by straight people, it felt like. A strange sensation in San Francisco.

After the movie and another fab chat with another Japanese-American dish who sat beside me clutching a gold Coach bag, I made my way to the ladies' room. Approaching the door marked "Women" I suddenly regretted my buzz-cut-plus-tie-plus-man's-jacket. I steeled myself to argue my right to piss green tea in a stall but none of the Japanese-American dolls half my height said a word.



Comments [52]

Steph H's picture

"like all french, reisists

"like all french, reisists translation".

Ain't that the truth! That's what makes it such an alluring language, I think.

lmz's picture

thanks Erin i found this

thanks Erin

i found this definition

ineffable : especially literary or formal 1 unable to be described or expressed in words, especially because of size, magnificence, etc • the ineffable love of God. 2 not supposed or not allowed to be said, especially because of being perceived as too sacred. ineffability or ineffableness noun. ineffably adverb.
ETYMOLOGY: 15c: French, from Latin ineffabilis.

in Chambers 21st century dictionnary

shiva's picture

if you guys need a

if you guys need a photographer for this, please let me know

Erin Blackwell's picture

waitaminute waitaminute

waitaminute waitaminute waitaminute

Grace Moon's picture

oh dear... you're hired.

oh dear...

you're hired.

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Erin Blackwell's picture

ah, the ineffable sweetness

ah, the ineffable sweetness of women!

ah, the inexpressable/unspeakable/irreducible-to-mere-words charm of women!

like all french, resists translation

ah, l'ineffable douceur du français!

shiva's picture

do you mind translating this?

do you mind translating this?

lmz's picture

off topic some photos from

off topic

some photos from *Texas*

http://www.boxedlight.com/

lmz's picture

ah, l'ineffabe douceur des

ah, l'ineffabe douceur des femmes !

Erin Blackwell's picture

"communities" or

"communities" or "demographics" of minorities (or in the case of women, majorities treated as minorities) be they ethnic, race, religion-based, constitute lobbies in the usa. france doesn't work this way: people are simply french. us populace is fragmented into "interest groups". until harvey milk, queers hadn't mobilized as a political force. he was a pioneer who hasn't spawned a successor. but we do have a gay movement, however ineffective & disorganized it is.

Erin Blackwell's picture

jewish? i'm not sure i got

jewish? i'm not sure i got that. i got "fruity". he didn't even use any yiddish, did he? which anyone who's ever lived in nyc uses. which he apparently did.

shiva's picture

There is no reply button

There is no reply button below your below comment, so I will respond here.

Funny, but I left out the judgement - I suspect you have inserted it yourself.

And it was no movie...

lmz's picture

to shiva below just two

to shiva below

just two questions :

was it paradise ? is your world the way you describe it : christian zealots and stupid bourgeois on one side and marvelous queers on the other side ?

where were the ladies (there's no woman in that movie, sorry there is just ONE woman) ?

peacekitty's picture

"maybe you like i do your

"maybe you like i do your provoking for you?"

I think you're on to something Erin. Wink

"Fight Prime Time. Read a Book"

shiva's picture

I'm wondering if it is

I'm wondering if it is peculiar to you because you are not familiar with the Castro neighborhood. Compared to life as we knew it in the rest of the country, life in the Castro was upside down. In the rest of America, heterosexuals dominated every community, and their representatives furthered their agendas: making things nice for churches and schools, closing down drug paraphanelia shops, preventing porno-flick business and sex-toy businesses from opening, keeping bars in out-of-the way locations, harassing "queers" and feminists so that they would leave town.

In the Castro, it was 180 degrees different. The bars were where the churches might have been. Sex toys and films were available everywhere. Men could spend their Saturdays at the Baths, located on the main street, having countless sexual partners instead of spending Saturday at Lowe's buying tomato plants to grow. (Actually, there was no Lowe's then.) People could walk in the middle of the street instead of being relegated to an orderly sidewalk. Instead of the street being quiet at 8 pm, it was just getting going then. And partying would continue until dawn. Gays were in the majority. If Milk had not furthered gay issues, he would not have represented his community.

mysticsmb's picture

I hope I don't offend anyone,

I hope I don't offend anyone, but I found Penn's portrayal to be more culturally Jewish than swisher....

lmz's picture

i'm not American and it's

i'm not American and it's very difficult for me to understand this *community* way of being a political activist. I don't only speak about Milk and gays. Each city counsellor appears only as the representant of a particular lobby and the town as the sad sum of separate communities. But i may be wrong, just a feeling.
i think GVS was interested in this confrontation between Harvey Milk's single life and history of the US in the seventies. Anyway, things were changing .. even R. Reagan disapproved Prop 6.
i love the movie and i felt so sad : what a curse being a queer.

Erin Blackwell's picture

you're right. he's not a

you're right. he's not a flamer... funny, i think GVS is totally interested in gay rights & gave over huge chunk of his biopic to Anita Bryant footage to prove these rightwing zealots are the *same* rightwing zealots we dealt with 30 years ago. that was the documentary part i found interesting but out-of-place.

lmz's picture

i don't agree whit you. Penn

i don't agree whit you. Penn doesn't portray Milk as a "grande folle". He doesn't talk as a woman, walk as a woman, act as a woman. He is a man. But it's true the movie is not a documentary. I think Van Sant is not really interested in Milk's fight for gay rights. I saw the movie as the portrait of a not ordinary man who was gay in SF in the seventies. A man with a past and very deep wounds.

Erin Blackwell's picture

i always wonder what's going

i always wonder what's going to make them realize i'm not a man. at what point does it sink in. some people stick with their first impression!

Erin Blackwell's picture

read that first new yorker

read that first new yorker article i cite. very interesting. the pentagon as you might know was *not* gungho on invading iraq. i think this film, a testament to french (colonial) failure, from a very persuasive, matter-of-fact standpoint, is the best argument for *not* invading, occupying, or trying to "tame" an arab country. not only does it demonstrate *intelligence* at the pentagon but i'd say the kind of realism utterly lacking from everything else neocon.

shiva's picture

my assumption was that they

my assumption was that they were using it for tips because you said that they viewed it before the invasion. Those guys don't sit around viewing stuff for the purpose of world peace and understanding...

shiva's picture

Oh, I hadn't even thought

Oh, I hadn't even thought about the possibility of it being the actor's personal overcompensation...wow....eewwww!

shiva's picture

OK!

OK!

Tex's picture

I'll volunteer to titter your

I'll volunteer to titter your twitter......or is that twitter your titter?

Twitter Time @kdhales

Erin Blackwell's picture

i'm always amazed you're

i'm always amazed you're still "speaking to me" PK. i always think you think i'm too provocative. :twisted: but maybe you like i do your provoking for you?

Erin Blackwell's picture

well, okay, is someone gonna

well, okay, is someone gonna step up & teach me how or just all stand back & titter?

Erin Blackwell's picture

i've certainly done my bit,

i've certainly done my bit, reigning in *my* femininity!

yeah, wtf were those pursed lips of Penn's? that's why i say in my review, maybe Robert Downey: he woulda played it *straight*. but then i started looking at Sean's lips and *they are* pursed... hmmm... but yeah, he made him a swisher. i think that reassures "straight" people. and his wife, too, maybe.

Erin Blackwell's picture

thanks for commenting on

thanks for commenting on content...

yeah, B&W rocks! i agree, wtf went into making that film! as for the pentagon, i'm sure some army types were persuaded of the impossibility of the task from watching it. but i hadn't really imagined its being used as "instrucitonal" -- color me naïve -- i started rewatching it on youtube & it's just the saddest movie ever made. that lead actor is phenomenal.

if you can get "awful truth" on dvd, obviously, picture quality will be better. *that* photography ain't bad, either!

Grace Moon's picture

oh she does have a weakness

oh she does have a weakness for being unable to stick 'em in correctly.

tweet tweet @gracemoon

shiva's picture

I have only seen clips of

I have only seen clips of Milk. I was troubled by Penn's exageration of Milk's femininity. Harvey Milk was not as feminine as Penn portrays him. Was Penn racheting up the ick factor so as to keep the audience staring?

Many of the gay men of the 80's reigned-in their femininity and applied it to their art and maybe to hidden love-fests. And at the risk of inciting a riot here, as is my calling in life, I really think it was a better way to go. By reigning in their femininity, they also reigned in their bitchiness and masogyny. Gender expression can go too far. We are not our gender. I loved guys like Milk in the 80s.

shiva's picture

Erin, the clip from Battle of

Erin, the clip from Battle of Algiers is stunning. As a destitute black and white photographer, I really appreciate the work that went into creating that film. Deep black shadow surrounding victims of "irrational aggression." Their desperate eyes caught by shocks of light with painfully delicate highlights. It is hard to watch. As a lesbian, I have felt hunted down by others, sometimes even by other lesbians and gay men, sadly.

On another note, I lived in the DC area for years and cringe at the idea of a bunch of ball-scratchin' Pentagoners attempting to gain instruction from this film so that they can fulfill their own goals of irrational aggression.

Thanks so much for the clips; I'm having trouble downloading the other because of my wireless connection but will eventually see it.

Steph H's picture

*Absolutely!*

*Absolutely!*

Steph H's picture

Feel free to *jump* in

Feel free to *jump* in anytime......

Steph H's picture

I have a friend who uses

I have a friend who uses really small font on email when she is talking about sensitive issues - "small font issues" we like to call them....

Tex's picture

I think so, *Lovey*!

I think so, *Lovey*!

Twitter Time @kdhales

peacekitty's picture

I'm always amazed at the

I'm always amazed at the thoughts you think. Wink At least the ones you share.

"Fight Prime Time. Read a Book"

lmz's picture

Erin does it mean that *word*

Erin
does it mean that *word* is very important ?

(Tex
the emphasizing use of the asterisks is the only meaning i can imagine in the question above :Don't *you* think ?)

Julia Watson's picture

I sometimes think in

I sometimes think in strikethrough.

Tex's picture

Forgive the jump in here, my

Forgive the jump in here, my lovely Steph, but those asterisks keep me hopping when it comes to Erin.....cause I tend to be a literal thinker I question the meanings of her asterisks - you know, when she uses them around a word is she meaning an omission, a reference, unattested, repetition, emphasis......the only thing I haven't found is them meaning multiply. But hey, I could be wrong.....

Twitter Time @kdhales

Tex's picture

Finally.....finally......I

Finally.....finally......I knew if we gave you enough time you would reveal your weakness......cuz i didn't learn how to stick 'em back in Wink

Enlightened,

Tex

Twitter Time @kdhales

Erin Blackwell's picture

don't *you*?

don't *you*?

Erin Blackwell's picture

omg what an idiot! yes, as i

omg what an idiot! yes, as i state in the next paragraph. actually, it shows what a non-doc yet "factual" account can do with a real event. what "milk" refused to do: suck you into the action by being realer than real.

i can't go in and fix it cuz all the fffing videos will fall out. and mooooooon will never forgive me. cuz i didn't learn how to stick 'em back in.

Steph H's picture

Do you think with asterisks??

Do you think with asterisks??

Zara Thustra's picture

battle of algiers isn't a

battle of algiers isn't a doc, is it? more like a faux documentary, if i'm remembering it correctly. i had to watch it for a stupid po-co class. ugh.

Erin Blackwell's picture

dig the green tea ads!

dig the green tea ads!

Erin Blackwell's picture

you'd be *amazed* by the

you'd be *amazed* by the thoughts i think

Grace Moon's picture

I was, i guess, in grade

I was, i guess, in grade school in honolulu when Patsy Mink was my congress woman -- too young to realize that she crafted title IX, and too young to realize what a feminist crusader she was. that was enlightening to say the least.

tweet tweet @gracemoon

lmz's picture

a woman and she got so

a woman
and she got so confused when she saw my face, mumbling poor apologies
a funny incident after all.

Xanadu's picture

How rude! Was it a man or a

How rude! Was it a man or a woman?

I would probably bark back "I don't need directions, thanks" ... the nerve of some people ...