2-time Oscar winner Rob Epstein is the gay documentary filmmaker — and he’s fine with that
Angelika Film Center,
5321 E. Mockingbird Lane.
April 6 at 7 p.m. Free.
If you need a gay documentary made, Rob Epstein must be the man to call. Epstein is responsible for the major tentpoles in LGBT history with his roster of films: The Times of Harvey Milk, Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (both of which won him Oscars) and now, his feature film debut, Howl, about poet Allen Ginsberg.
But instead of looking back on his career, Epstein prefers to look ahead.
"I don’t take the time to think about that," he says. "In this business, you’re always focused on work in front of you and ahead of you. It’s rare that I ever look back."
But he’s looking forward and backward this week in Dallas as he speaks at a Media and Human Rights in America Symposium Tuesday. He’ll not only reminisce about his past work but be the subject of a retrospective tribute and conversation.
"This is a treat for me, to be honored and to be asked to stand behind this body of work," he says. "The work we’ve done as individuals and as a community all started with the notion of people taking responsibility for their own lives — that was a radical and necessary thing to do. Society wasn’t going to identify us, so we did it ourselves."
Epstein’s first doc, Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives, put a face on gay America through some 26 different interviews. Recently remastered and reissued, the film finds a whole new place in the LGBT documentary canon.
With Howl, Epstein tells the story of the iconic beat poet’s trial for obscenity for including drug use and homosexuality in his major poem Howl. James Franco stars as Ginsberg who also costarred in Milk, which included clips of Epstein’s documentary.
"I met James on the set of Milk — that’s how he came to read the screenplay for Howl," Epstein relates. "There was a lot of synergy and overlap. When I first met James at a dinner before we brought up Howl, he was asking for material on [playing Scott Smith]. For me, I think that was good starting point."
Epstein sees lots of potential for the future of LGBT filmmaking — and he won’t rule out his own role in that future just yet.
"It’s an interesting time," he says. "Hollywood is more interested in queer content. And there are even more specialized, microsections of films out there. All of that’s healthy. Everything is possible right now on the smallest and the biggest level. I fall somewhere in between."
Men in skirts — in 3-Diety!
The original 1981 stop-motion kid fantasy film Clash of the Titans was an almost instant camp classic, with luminaries like Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith in a faux sand-and-sandal epic opposite pretty-boy no-names. It was all laughable fun.
The new remake, in a quickly-tacked-on 3-D version, has some grander ambitions (it pays lip service to themes of human arrogance, and includes scenes of rape and fantastical violence), it’s mostly happy being both mythical and silly. It doesn’t want to be compared to The Lord of the Rings trilogy or even Gladiator — Troy is good enough.
A holdover from the original are the "legit" actors (Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes) giving credence to the nonsense while bathed in ’70s-era Koo Stark porn lighting. But also holding over are scantily dressed hot guys (especially Avatar star Sam Worthington, pictured) holding their own amid some fairly enjoyable visual effects. It’s wonderful bubblegum entertainment.
Rating: Three stars
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 2, 2010.