Sunday, 5 November 2017

The New Gay

Every once in a while you see a film that parts the sea: a work that's so tender, so beautiful, and so new, that it redefines everything that came before it.

 Timothé Chalamet and Armie Hammer shot by Mario Sorrenti for W Magazine

Call Me By Your Name (2017) is such a film. Directed by Luca Guadagnino of I-Am-Love-with-Tilda-Swinton-fame, this coming-of-age story recounts the meeting of 17-year-old Elio, the twinky prodigial son of a professor, and Oliver, a hunky American doctoral student.

What sets the story apart is its incredibly natural and nuanced depiction of desire and love. The film completely discards the tired and tropey polarities of gay or straight and good or bad, and instead shows a story of love that feels both complex and real. 

Of course it helps that both lead actors are stunning. Or that we get to fetishize the lives of the haute bourgeoisie (one of the director's specialities), or that the music is so good it will likely make you cry. But what ultimately matters is this: here's a work of art that leaves behind the figure of the tragic gay, and opens the door for a newer, better and wiser way. And for that I thank Signore Guadagnino. 

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Fleur du Bien

In a certain capital of Poland, spring tends to drag its feet. And since winter has been long and the last moments of any wait are always the hardest, here a selection of flowers - the eternal bearers of joy, colour and hope.

1 - Robert Mapplethorpe, 1980s (another one from this series in the Raf Simons show)
2 - Edouard Boubat, Stanislas at the window. France, 1973
3 - Bernardo Polo, detail of a still life from between 1650-1685
4 - Anna Wintour's wild garden, 2016. 

Sunday, 12 March 2017

A Good Life: Lessons from Lagerfeld, Valentino and Mapplethorpe

Over the last couple of weeks I saw three films about the lives of three men: MapplethorpeValentino, and Lagerfeld. The films ranged from depressing to inspiring, and it got me thinking about what makes for a happy life when you're gay, creative and mega successful - or not (although this is particularly relevant in regards to the recent article in the Huffington Post, "The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness").

1. "Lagerfeld Confidential" (2007)

To be quite honest, this isn't a great film (although the trailer is fun). The ingratiating director follows Lagerfeld around and asks him questions about his life, ranging from his childhood to his sexuality (although they really do beat around the bush, and the word 'gay' is the greatest pink elephant in the room, especially for someone usually so outspoken. But then the Kaiser probably hate that word, just like all clichés).

The designer has some fascinating views on life, and he is filled to the brim with sharp and quotable observations. But although his need for solitude and his inability to share his life with other people seem genuine, it also shown to be a bit tragic. He admits that he disposes of people fairly easily and that he doesn't want to be real in other people's lives. Why ever not? The result is a man of many talents and - what seems - little warmth. Constant control and rigour must be exhausting. Whatever happened to joie de vivre?

2. Valentino: "The Last Emperor" (2008)

Now here's someone who likes to have a good laugh. Valentino is unapologetically flamboyant, fun and capricious, and this documentary proves it. Following the master couturier while he makes his last collection ever, we see him fully at work and under pressure. And you know what? He goes a little crazy. But he clearly loves what he does. What else? He's got a partner. The same one for 45 years. 

Though apparently their physical relationship ended a long time ago, they have each others' backs. They bicker like schoolgirls, but they know they're in it forever. When Valentino receives the Légion d'Honneur from the French Government, he talks mostly about Giancarlo, who helped him shape who he is. Valentino starts to cry, and so did I when watching this. 

3. "Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures" (2016)

This excellent documentary is both sad and fascinating. According to an army of friends, admirers and lovers, Robert Mapplethorpe lived for his own success, and on the way there he used people as best as he could - emotionally, financially and sexually. 

When his younger brother wanted to become a photographer too, Robert became so jealous he forced his brother to change his name. When he found he'd contracted HIV, and not his lover, he was angry. When he knew he would die, he asked his lawyer whether he'd leave behind more money than Andy Warhol (the answer was 'no'). And yet his fears and ambitions are understandable, deeply rooted in his family's - and society's - rejection of his work and his sexuality. He died in 1989, at the age of 42. His art lives on.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Virtue of a Small Penis

When I first went to Florence, I asked my sister in a museum why all the sculptures of naked men had such small penises. At this, her face screwed up with mischievous delight:
"Yours isn't any bigger!"
She was, of course, totally right. I was eight years old.

Poseidon (or Zeus) at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Bronze, ca. 460 BC.

Two decades and one puberty spurt later, however, things stand a little differently. And while visiting Athens this month, my question from the 90's returned: How come these perfectly formed males sport such relatively modest members? 

Croatian Apoxyomenos, Bronze, 1st or 2nd c. BC.

After a little research, it turns out that the answer is the same as to any question regarding beauty and body cults: it's cultural. The Ancient Greeks quite simply considered small penises better than big ones. Back then, the ideal man possessed authority, intellect and reason. These were all considered unrelated to penis size. Instead, it was believed that a small penis would help a man not to become a victim of his lust (think poor Michael Fassbender in Shame). 

Shepherd pursued by a phallic Pan - Greek vase, Athenian red figure krater

Big penises, on the other hand, were associated with ugliness and foolishness, which is why only animals or half-animals (such as Satyrs) were depicted with them. The fertility god Priapus was cursed with a permanent massive erection. He was associated with donkeys, and so despised by the other gods that he was thrown off Mount Olympus. 

A Greek Terracotta figure of Priapus, ©Christie’s 2015

The playwright Aristophanes summarizes the Greeks' ideal of male beauty in his play Clouds (first performed in 423 BC.) when he says:

If you do these things I tell you, and bend your efforts to them, you will always have a shining breast, a bright skin, big shoulders, a minute tongue, a big rump and a small prick. But if you follow the practices of today, for a start you’ll have a pale skin, small shoulders, a skinny chest, a big tongue, a small rump, a big prick and a long-winded decree.” (Lines 1010 – 1019, emphasis mine)

This male ideal continued to be propagated by sculptors throughout the ages, from the Romans down to the Renaissance. 

Who would have thought? Sometimes there's nothing better than answering your own question. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2017


It may not feel like it, but winter is coming to an end. And this means: (Sun) bathing is nigh. In case you have forgotten what that looks like, here three examples from recent and not so recent history.

1 - Collier Schorr, Schwäbisch Gmünd (2007)
2 - Vintage photograph, anonymous
3 - Michiel Sweerts, Men bathing (1655)

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Mania around Moonlight

I first read about "Moonlight" in its New Yorker review last October. The unbeatably clever Hilton Als was smitten by the poetic story about a gay black teenager, and he evoked the key scenes so lovingly that it made me want to see the film more than any other in a long time. I wrote it down on my "to-see" list and never heard about it again.

Until this January. The streets of Paris were plastered with the poster - a serious and somehow vulnerable face daring anyone to look at it. I was so glad. Since when were double-minority (or triple? black, gay and poor) films in the mainstream? And since when do these kinds of films receive Academy Award nominations for Best Feature? 

So when I finally went to see it last night, the expectations were high. I sat down and held my breath, waiting for the magic. Patiently I let scene by scene pass, but little happened. The pace was slow. A silent traumatized boy passes from childhood to adolescence and adulthood, abused by bullies at school and his drugged mother at home. He finds comfort with a couple who pick him up out of kindness, and experiences a glimpse of love with a boy on the beach.

There are scenes that are beautifully done, and some throw up questions you may have never asked yourself - especially those concerning the fate of homosexuals and black identity in the most disadvantaged parts of America.

But ultimately, in its quest to be artistic, the film ends up being frustrating: The bullied child becomes a lonely drug-dealer who hardly knows who he is, and doesn't make an effort to find out. Ironically, the story becomes a little too much like its main character: silent, underdeveloped, and ultimately unresolved. There is a way to make all these things interesting and deep, but Moonlight doesn't manage that. Instead, it relies excessively on stylizations that make one think of Beyonce's Lemonade, with long self-conscious shots of Southern scenery. I so wish the film could have had the courage to go further, to actually tackle questions it throws up. Failing that, it would have been better to condense the 111 minutes to 30 without losing a gram of its meaning. But since this abridged version doesn't exist, I suggest you save your cinema fare and get the best of the film from Als' fantastic review.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Best Café in the World

Before I went to Bar Luce in Milano's Prada Foundation, I had no idea you could feel so strongly about a place that serves tea. But the longer you sit there and watch the bow-tied waiters move around like graceful Russian ice-skaters, the longer you listen to the jukebox playing Nino Rota, and the longer you bathe in the soothing world of Wes Anderson pastels, the more you realize that Bar Luce is not in fact a bar. It's a fantasy come true.

Nino Rota, Theme for Fellini's Amarcord (1973)

Opened in 2015, it's a place without history, evoking a past that only exists in your dreams. It's a place where you can sit for a whole day and come back first thing next morning. It's a place where even the rubbish bins are perfect. And as if its beauty wasn't enough, the paninis are the best I've ever had in my life, and silly affordable. Here you can always find a table (the tourists have not yet cottoned on) and the people-watching is every bit as superb as you may expect. It's official: this is love.