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3 Important Documentaries ~ You Can’t Pray the Gay Away ~ Revisiting Yukio Mishima ~ 6 Recent Books ~ Gay Protest Music & Art ~ etc.

Pray Away debuts Tuesday on Netflix, after premiering last year at the severely curtailed Tribeca Film Festival. The film follows the lives of four victims of conversion therapy programs, including John Paulk, the former president of Exodus International, who “now lives in Portland, Oregon, with his male partner.” Reviewing the film for The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney called it a “powerful doc” in which those interviewed “speak out about the damage inflicted on themselves and countless LGBTQ youth.”

The Most Beautiful Boy is now available to watch online, after premiering in January at Sundance. This film tells the sad story of Björn Andrésen, whom Luchino Visconti tapped to play Tadzio in his 1971 adaptation of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. “As the film’s fatal object of desire…, Andrésen became inseparable from the role in the eyes of the world,” writes GAY45 in a recent review. “The interest from Hollywood directors extended no further than his looks, and he was constantly the subject of unwanted attention wherever he went. Five decades later Andresen is living in squalor in a small apartment in Stockholm.”

And Ailey opened Friday in select theaters nationwide, chronicling the life of New York’s gay ballet virtuoso Alvin Ailey and the troupe of dancers that still bears his name. Trudy Ring writes in the Adocate, “the new documentary shows Ailey as a gay Black man who knew racism and homophobia but drew on his rich culture to create dances that still resonate.”

Revisiting the Troubled Life of Yukio Mishima

In an authoritarian era and as the Olympics build to their climax in Tokyo, The New York Review of Books revisits its 1975 review of two biographies of the gay Japanese author Yukio Mishima, whose extensive bibliography includes the classic cruising novels Confessions of a Mask and Forbidden Colors. Mishima was a complex and troubled character who famously had himself photographed as Saint Sebatian, strung up in front of a tree with his wrists bound and his abdomen and armpit pierced by three arrows. In 1967 he joined the Japanese military, and in 1970 he and four colleagues led a doomed attempt at a military coup, which ended when Mishima committed seppuku, “a form of ritual suicide by disembowelment associated with the samurai.”

The 1975 review focuses on John Nathan’s Mishima: A Biography and Henry Scott Stokes’s The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima, two classics of the genre. More recent contributions include the 864-page Persona (2020) by Naoki Inose and (2019) by Andrew Rankin Mishima, Aesthetic Terrorist: An Intellectual Portrait. There is also the recent “photographic, radical work of fiction” Yukio Mishima: The Death of a Man (Rizzoli, 2020). This book assembles never-before-published images by Kishin Sinoyama that Mishima commissioned in the months leading up to his suicide. “In images often suffused with militarism and eroticism,” writes Rizzoli, “a parade of men, including a sailor, a construction worker, a fisherman, and a soldier, are shown meeting grisly, dramatic ends.”

Six other recent titles of interest

Afterparties comprises several short stories by the late gay Cambodian-California writer Anthony Veasna So who died of a drug overdose in December at the age of 28. Edouard Louis writes a long letter to his father in Who Killed My Father, which continues the saga of bleak, working-class poverty that he began in The End of Eddy, his story about growing up gay in a small French industrial town. In Playing the Palace, which the Los Angeles Blade called “a campy, fun rom-com,” Paul Rudnick tells the story of “what happens when a [gay] prince meets a [gay] event planner.” And in The Sweetness of Water, Nathan Harris tells of life in the south after the Civil War, including “a forbidden romance between two Confederate soldiers” and the “resulting chaos” “when their secret is discovered.”

William Blake, "Circle of Thieves", ca. 1825-1827 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

In The Sacred Band: Three Hundred Theban Lovers Fighting to Save Greek Freedom, James Romm tells the history and myth of the famous army in the ancient Greek city of Thebes, which defeated rival Sparta at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC. The army comprised 150 homosexual couples, thus structured on the theory that each lover would fight the stronger so as not to dishonor himself in the eyes of his beloved. And in William Blake vs. the World, John Higgs returns “to a world of riots, revolutions and radicals…from the Levellers of the sixteenth century to the psychedelic counterculture of the 1960s” to help us understand this great English artist (1757-1827). Blake may not have been gay, but he knew how to draw nude men, showing just enough to keep us interested without giving away the entire story.

And in The Spectator, Stuart Jeffries writes a sickening account of how Michel Foucault, “the French philosopher king” who died of AIDS in 1984, was “shielded from scandal by French reverence for intellectuals” while reportedly “throwing money at boys aged eight and inviting them to meet him for nocturnal sex at the local cemetery.”

Gay Protest Music & Art

In The New Yorker, Dimiter Kenarov profiles the queer performance artist Ivo Dimchev, who “has improbably become one of Bulgaria’s most famious singer-songwriters.” “As a performer,” Kenarov writes, Dimchev “slides effortlessly between masculine and feminine modes; his vocal range is equally protean, moving from a low baritone to a soprano embellished with theramin-like vibratos.” Watch his musical video “Pushkin” here, and check out more goodies on his web site.

And In Ghana, where the government has recently announced plans to enact a draconian anti-LGBTQ law, openly trans singer Angel Maxine released the song “Wo Fie” (“Your Home”) as “our colorful contribution to the struggle to be free to just be who we are.” She told Reuters, “The song is to tell [LGBTQ people] that they are not alone, and also to tell others that we are also humans and deserve to exist just like them.” Watch the video here.

Photography by Andy Warhol & Others

Now through September 3, Boys! Boys! Boys! presents Study of Self by the Australian photographer Paul McDonald. The show “explores masculinity, loss and the artist’s lived experience” through male nudes taken outdoors and indoors between 2015 and this year. The American photographer Benjamin Frederickson has created a new series that can only be described as wedgie art. It may or may not be to your taste, but you can view his work on his web site or here. And GAY45 brings us a selection of Andy Warhol’s classic polaroids here. Richard Woodward’s Andy Warhol: Polaroids 1958–1987 brings us another selection from this body of work.

Finally, Lil Nas X Responds to His Critics

After the release of “Industry Baby,” a Twitter user accused Lil Nas X of “marketing the sexual irresponsibility that’s causing young men to die from AIDS,” People reported. Nas responded, “Y’all be silent as hell when n***s dedicate their entire music catalogue to rapping about sleeping with multiple women. But when I do anything remotely sexual I’m “being sexually irresponsible”… Y’all hate gay ppl and don’t hide it.”

And always the master of self-promotion, he did release the “uncensored” version of “Industry Baby.” Except that it turned out not to be uncensored: At the critical moment, the video cuts to a still of a showerhead with an endlessly spinning “loading” wheel as the music continues to play. You log out and back in, restart your browser, try a different web site, only to learn that this is by design.

Art Notes

El Greco, The Vision of Sait John, ca. 1608–1614 (Metropolitan Museum of Art). William Blake, “Circle of Thieves,” ca. 1825–1827 (also Metropolitan Museum of Art) is one of a series of engravings made to illustrate an edition of Dante’s Inferno.

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