Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Directed by director Doug Langway, Bear City is a sweet portrayal of romance and friendship in the "bear" subculture of New York's gay community. Described by one of its writers as a "chick flick without chicks," it's the story of a group of friends dealing with relationship issues, body acceptance issues, sexual identity issues, social acceptance, and the standard movie fare of love and sex. While that might sound like a dry mouthful, it's not only frequently funny and occasional touching and quite moving, it's also full of heart. There's ribald and risque nudity, albeit tamed and not full frontal. I've seen a fair number of would-be commercial gay independent films, and this was the first time I felt more than a passing identification with the film's subjects and characters. While of course this is a fantasized movie not a realistic documentary of bear culture, it manages to depict the bear world successfully straddling realism and idealism. While any movie like this is by definition filled with cliches, it avoids being cloying or over-idealized. And crucially for me, the bear heroes of the film, including ones shown in varying stages of undress, range from svelte to plus size and from young to old.
For the uninitiated, "bears" are big and/or hairy gay men. In the super-objectified sexually-charged urban gay culture, identification with big, lumbering, furry animals was a way of disarming a dominant culture that seemed to value only skinny, hairless boyishness. Copping a certain exaggerated hyper-masculinity from the gay leather culture, the bear community grew into a recognized subculture in the early 1990s. It has spawned sub-subcultures like muscle bears, daddy bears, chubby bears, and bear admirers, or chasers.
Full disclosure: I am a bear!
I've always been a big guy, and when I found the developing bear culture my experience of the gay community around me changed qualitatively. I found myself no longer shunned but desired. It was great for my sex life, great for my love life, and it was a great community to become part of and make friends in. It was liberating to find an accepting home outside of the world of body-fascist pretty boys. Over time calling oneself a "bear" has peaked and valleyed as a social trend, and there are plenty of gay men who call themselves bears without embracing its openness and warmheartedness. Some of today's bears, for instance, deny the place of fat guys at the foundation of the community. But two of the things I really appreciated about Bear City are that one of its sympathetic characters is a middle-aged fat guy--with a super hot smaller man as his lover--and that the revisionist exclusivity of "muscle bears" is portrayed as a kind of "mean girl" snobbishness.
Among the actors in the film are Gerald McCullouch, Brian Keane, the Big Gay Sketch Show's Stephen Guarino, Gregory Gunter, and Joe Conti. There's even a quick cameo from Randy Jones of the legendary Village People disco group. It's a great cast. And I won't be giving away the ending to say this is a lovely gay movie that ends happily: there's no tragically self-destructive main character and no drawn-out deathbed plea for sympathy.
I saw the movie last weekend with my boyfriend; I can be a grouch about movies and I was really blown away by how much fun this one was. The director, the producer, the cowriter and many of the movie's stars appeared for a Q&A afterwards. The audience at the packed theater was pretty much all bear. Woof!
Bear City is currently on a very limited run in New York City at the Quad Cinemas. The DVD will be released by TLA Releasing in November. Check out the film's trailer here.