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BahmanG Written by BahmanG
Aug. 5, 2011 | 4:57 PM





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GUN HILL ROAD

The two promises of gay cinema have been to tell gay stories in universal, recognizable forms, and to show familiar stories through gay perspectives. Both promises have been fulfilled in Rashad Ernesto Greene’s rich Gun Hill Road, the opening night film at Outfest, the annual Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian film festival.


Gun Hill Road is a kaleidoscope of stories. Look at it from any angle and a new story emerges. From one angle, it is a coming of age story. Michael is slowly emerging through adolescence as Vanessa. Superficially, this may seem like a story for and of a specific audience. But Greene renders Michael’s trepidations and transitions so gently that it quietly achieves unanimous sympathy and recognition. From another angle, the film is a father-son story as well. Enrique, violently masculine, can’t grasp his son, gentle Michael, secretly becoming a woman. And from a different angle, Gun Hill Road is about Enrique, just released from prison, struggling to find his place in his home and in the world, struggling to initiate a relationship with his son.


This kaleidoscope feel of the film helps us appreciate the complexity as well as the similarity of the father and the son. These, in turn, prompt us to reflect on the nature of their actions—and then to ponder our own reaction to those actions. Whose action is more likely to go unnoticed? Is the son’s gender change or the father’s violence more likely to captivate us? Which aspect of the film are you more likely to hold as its main storyline and why?  In this way, Gun Hill Road encourages self-reflection.


Yet I have two criticisms. The first is that Gun Hill Road relies too heavily on the characters’ acts of law-breaking to emphasize the extent of their outsider status. A more powerful approach would have focused instead on the daily, banal comments that constantly remind the father and the son of their place in society.  My second criticism is that the mother, the one who has kept the family together, clearly a crucial character, is neglected in the film. Perhaps it’s her absence that leaves one with an almost after taste that something’s missing in the story.


Otherwise, Gun Hill Road is a remarkable film: its story is told with intimate knowledge; its depiction of the Bronx feels authentic and alerting to the senses; overall, it’s expertly filmed. There has been a noticeable improvement in the quality of films shown at Outfest. Gun Hill Road is such an example. Gun Hill Road is an independent film that shows all the passions and story innovations of that genre without being limited by its budge restriction. For all these reasons, Gun Hill Road deserves our attention and respect.


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