HUGS AND THUGS

 

"The Celluloid Closet" (18) Light House, Dublin.

"Jeffrey" (members and guests only) IFC, Dublin.

A consummate documentary from the team of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman - who received an Oscar for their previous film, the deeply moving Common Threads: Stories From The Quilt, The Celluloid Closet chronicles and analyses the depiction of gay and lesbian characters on screen throughout the century of cinema, from a 1895 Edison film of two men waltzing while a third plays the fiddle to the 1995 Boys On The Side, featuring Whoopi Goldberg as a lesbian character.

Goldberg is one of many actors and film-makers interviewed in the documentary, with the sharpest contributions coming from film historian Richard Dyer on the creation of Hollywood's first stock gay character, the sissy writer Armistead Maupin on the subject of his friend, Rock Hudson (who, ironically, played a man pretending to be gay in order to get Doris Day into bed in Pillow Talk); Susan Sarandon on portraying close relationships between women in Tile Hunger and Thelma & Louise; Quentin Crisp on why women in drag are more acceptable than men in drag; Tony Curtis on being in drag in Some Like It Hot and co-starring with Laurence Olivier in the once-suppressed snails-and-oysters sequence in Spartacus, writer Stewart Stern on the gay characteristics of Sal Mineo's character Plato, in Rebel Without a Cause, and especially, Gore Vidal who hilariously recounts slipping gay references into Ben-Hur without telling its deeply conservative star Charlton Heston.

This illuminating and incisive documentary explores the difficulties of portraying gay characters while the self-censoring Hays Code was in operation - it didn't erase gay characters," observes writer Jay Presson Allen, "it just made them harder to find" - and how, in the 195Os, lesbians were suggested by "tough bulldykes" or troublesome neurotics.

It goes on to celebrate the pioneering pictures of more recent vintage. Oddly enough it ignores the adventurous undergound movies of Andy Warhol and Kennethe Anger presumably because they were outside the makers' stated rem it of dealing with mainstream Hollywood cinema; nevertheless, the documentary acknowledges such recent non-Hollywood independent pictures as Swoon, Poison and The Crying Game. One other quibble is the picture's soft take on the overrated Philadelphia, whose high profile star, Tom Hanks, is interviewed for the documentary.

The film's narration, written by Armistead Maupin and spoken by Lily Tomlin, is based on the late Vitto Russo's illuminating book. The Celluloid Closet, with which Russo toured on the lecture circuit, memorably Dublin in the 1980s. This impeccably researched film assembles over 100 well-chosen and aptly used film clips and is graced by a gorgeous original score by Carter Burwell.

Paul Rudnick, the playwright and screenwriter who, in The Celluloid Closet, discusses the prevelance of gay characters in the light heterosexual comedies of the 195Os and 196Os, is the writer of the US independent production, Jeffrey, which is based on Rudnick's off-Broadway play of the same name. In this scenario, boy meets boy. One such, the winsome Jeffrey (Steven Weber), a resting actor working as a waiter, has sworn himself to celibacy because he finds safe sex too restrictive in the age of AIDS; the other, a gym instructor (Michael T. Weiss) is HIV- positive.

Rudnick and first-time director Christopher Ashley spend the whole movie bringing them together in this bitty, shrill and grating effort which is peppered with American theatre and television references unlikely to travel far outside Greenwich Village. Even the gay-priest (Nathan Lane from The Birdcage) who gropes Jeffrey in church has a confessional festooned with pictures and posters from Broadway musicals.

Structured more like a cabaret revue than as a lineal narrative, Jeffrey makes a singularly unsuccessful transition from stage to screen, and Ashley's attempts to open out the material founder most glaringly in an awkwardly edited sequence which would have us believe that some of the central characters are at a big gay pride celebration. Sigourney Weaver has a cameo as a post-modern evangelist who is the guru of the self-help organisation, Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, and Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation) features as a swishing, camp interior designer.

"The Cable Guy" (15) Savoy,

Virgin, Omniplex, UCIs, Dublin.

"Kingpin" (IS) Savoy, Virgin,

Omniplex, UCIs, Dublin.

The elastic-faced comic Jim Carrey set a new Hollywood record last year when he became the first actor to get a huge investment pays off for the film's producers remains to be seen. Certainly, the unexpected and unrelenting darkness of tone which permeates The Cable Guy may well distance the Carrey fans who guffawed in their millions at his more conventional comedies, the Ace Ventura movies and Dumb and Dumber.

Carrey delivers his most out-sized and wide-eyed performance to date, more desperately eager to impress than ever before, in The Cable Guy, a vanity vehicle for him in which his character is rather unwisely, given completely free rein to dominate the picture.

He plays a manic, insecure, lisping and TV-obsessed cable television technician who makes life hell for a customer he's determined to befriend.

The hapless customer is a wimpy young architect whose girlfriend has left him. He is played by Matthew Broderick, a versatile actor who himself is well capable of playing brash, single-minded characters, as he showed in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, but Broderick cannot hope to compete in the shadow of Carrey's hyperactive performance.

The film is directed by Ben Stiller, who made Reality Bites and has a cameo here in a very witty running gag which sharply parodies the television coverage of the Menendez brothers' trial. Some of the more elaborate comedy sequences - as when Carrey causes havoc on a basketball court - are cleverly played and staged, but too often they register as individual sketches in isolation from the thinly scripted central narrative.

The movie is suffused with film and television references, most explicitly and pertinently to Play Misty For Me, and while it makes a convincing case that too-much television is ultimately brain-rotting, it does so with an unjustifiable smugness.

The profusion of movie references in this week's releases continues with Kingpin which, at its funniest, offers spot-on parodies of Saturday Night Fever, Witness and Indecent Proposal. It is the second film from brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly, who enjoyed a huge success with their debut Dumb and Dumber. The central role of Roy Munson in Kingpin would appear to have been tailor-made for Jim Carrey, but clearly fell short of Carrey's ambitions to extend himself as a serious comic.

Instead, the role is played by Woody Harrelson, an actor whose considerable limitations actually benefit his performance here as a wasted, dim-witted would-be bowling champion whose career ended when his involvement in a bowling scam led to one of his hands being cut off. The true star of the movie is Bill Murray, who features in the early and closing stages and lifts the picture each time as a rude and ruthless bowler whose absurdly exaggerated movements in the climactic bowling championships are very funny.

Most of the humour running through Kingpin is crude and smutty, and designed to offend. In one scene, for example, Roy Munson has been passing himself off as an Amish (for reasons I won't begin to go into here). The Amish call him to church one morning and they notice his upper lip is covered in what seems like milk. When he explains that he was milking the cow, one of the Amish tells him that that was not cow but a bull. Get the picture?

Small Faces (15) Screen at D'Olier Street, Dublin.

The only one of today's five new releases not to be fixated on film and television references is the only European production among them, Small Faces, which finds Scottish director Gillies MacKinnon back on form after his disappointing American foray for A Simple Twist of Fate.

MacKinnon returned to his native Glasgow for Small Faces, which he wrote with his brother, Billy, the film's producer.

Set in 1968, the film centres on the MacLean family, the widowed Lorna (Clare Higgins) and her three teenage sons - Bobby (J.S. Duffy) who has joined a violent gang; the sensitive Alan (Joseph McFadden) who wants to escape his surroundings and go to art school; and the impish and inquisitive 13-year-old Lex (lain Robertson). When Lex accidentally shoots a psychopathic gang leader (Kevin McKidd from Trainspotting) with an air pistol, he triggers off a running battle leading to repercussions all round.

Small Faces is an affectionate and affecting coming-of-age film made with a distinctive feel for its period and a strong visual sense, and along the way it quite judiciously cuts from moments of abrupt violence to offbeat humour. MacKinnon elicits vivid performances from his mostly unfamiliar cast, with Claire Higgins outstanding as the much-suffering and ever patient mother of the McLean boys.