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Jlewis

A Very Natural Thing

4 posts in this topic

On two other threads, I had mentioned Christopher Larkin's June 1974 release, featuring scenes shot at a Pride march of the previous year (and also dated 1973 on the DVD cover), but need to say a bit more in depth here. As usual, I wound up getting too deep here and spoil the storyline when all I should do is just ask if anybody else watched it.

Although it deviates from the boy-meets-girl situation we have seen in 95% of all Hollywood movies, this one isn't too different than so many others like the earlier Love Story (referenced in the dialogue here) and the contemporary-in-release American Graffiti and The Way We Were. Again, I think it is a perfect film for TCM showing, unlikely to shock too many since even the fleeting nudity is shot so conservatively. No more objectionable dialogue on the soundtrack than your standard PG-rated fare.

There is a key throwaway shot of the main character David, played by Robert Joel, teaching English lit to high school students. It is a very dull scene with him just talking to the students and the students are not behaving any differently than you would expect in the classroom. Both times I viewed this scene, I instantly remembered Anita Bryant who, just three years later, was part of a mass Save Our Children campaign and she was not alone in her phobias.

Politics and religion only appear as minor background fodder here. There is a documentary you-are-there sequence three quarters in showing the Pride march in New York, but David tells his second future boyfriend Jason (Bo White) that he is not “politically active” and has no desire to join any rallies. Likewise he seems to be at peace with his own religious beliefs even though we open this movie at the monastery he leaves when he realizes that the monk's way of life is not for him and God is not going to help him suppress his desires as much as he wants. Despite telling his first boyfriend Mark (Curt Gareth) that he had stopped attending church, he still gets him to attend one for the wedding of his former heterosexual room-mate and is pretty immersed in the proceedings.

This movie is really all about relationships, not Fighting The Fight, a very natural thing as its title indicates.

Boyfriend #1 Mark is ultimately incompatible with David in the end because he needs a variety of stimulation that David can't provide as he tends the apartment flat flower beds. A trip to a Fire Island group “fun” session is not David's bag and he cuts out too early. However Mark still retains strong feelings for David and the two do reunite at an amusement park after several months apart. Mark is OK starting anew, but David refuses because he doesn't want to just be a temporary “need” of the other simply because he momentarily feels lonely or his physical mojo needs satisfaction.

Boyfriend #2 Jason (Bo White) is a better match but he has to explain to David that he is wasting his life away searching for Mister Right. He should just take in the experience one day at a time. Jason had already been married to a woman and has a son he shares custody with. A key scene with her is interesting because you can sense, like David's Mark, that she is not “over” him yet.

In-between the two relationships, David's best friend Alan (Jay Pierce) talks him into going to a bath house, just to get some “release” so to speak and not be so judgmental of others. (Even though he isn't that way in spoken words, you get the sense that David is too critical of everybody and everything, being quite stubborn and proud in his belief system.) This ominous trip is a good experience for him but it is presented in a downright bizarre fashion: all is dark inside with dead silence on the soundtrack (what... no Bette Midler songs?). After a steam room scene with David under-the-influence, we cut to him fully clothed on the subway in some sort of trance.

I think Larkin and co-writer Joseph Coencas get a bit heavy handed in certain scenes like this, since they both want to criticize their cake and eat it too. They do share much of the same cynicism that Larry Kramer supposedly displays later in a polarizing novel that I haven't read yet and can't be mentioned here in title, a feeling of emptiness in a get-it-while-you-can pre-AIDS era. However David, who doesn't want to be “cruising” his life away, can't exactly have the same option his ex-roomate gets in a church either. American society still has many, many decades to get used to that idea.

The flaws in this film are pretty obvious. On a technical level, this is a low budget movie that has a stronger 16mm “feel” than a 35mm one, although likely multiple cameras and film stock were used. The daytime scenes are expertly filmed but nighttime scenes are very murky and grainy. Of course, there has been far less preservation effort made with films of this type (you know, the “alternate lifestyles” kind) so it is unlikely we will see any Blu-ray upgrade anytime soon.

Speaking of dark scenes... despite its cheerful happy ending, there is a dark side to all of this. In real life, Bo White is the only primary actor who is still living today. Many others, including brief cameo Vito Russo, are long gone. The director, from what I gathered, ultimately committed suicide when he too was suffering during the The Great Plague that hit in the eighties and nineties.

I especially like how Bo White's Jason is constantly behind his camera shooting pictures of David and all of the surroundings, as if capturing the happiest times of his life for future use. There are no theme songs played here as in so many other relationship movies, but I think an ol' Simon & Garfunkel ditty recorded five years before this film was shot might be adequate...

A time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They're all that's left you

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These screencaps are interesting. The second shot is earlier in the movie storyline when you notice Mark distancing himself. The first shot is when they are briefly reunited late at the amusement park and David looks at Mark directly and sees him for who he is.

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