Monday, August 28, 2006

Interview: Craig Chester

Is it still possible to put the words 'good' and 'film' together when it comes to contemporary gay cinema, or at least the films that get filed under the label anyway? In all honesty, a quick look at the world's main gay-themed film festivals and the occasional theatrical release and we are stared back by a tawdry collection of cheesy films about hustlers, fag hags and dykes in tight T-shirts trying to look edgy and sexy like that Trinity from the Matrix series.

'Some people seem to think that just because it's gay, therefore it's interesting', says actor, film writer and now also director Craig Chester (pictured), whose film Adam & Steve is a welcome break from the tacky norm described above. And that's no mean feat for a film that could be best described as a 'comedy about relationships', an indication that themes are irrelevant when the dressing is right and the director treats the material intelligently, without underestimating the targeted audience.

Adam & Steve gets off to a very funny start during a fateful night in a club in 1987. A couple of young goths, Adam (Chester himself, looking like a cross between The Cure's Robert Smith and Visage's Steve Strange) and Rhonda (the wonderful Parker Posey in a fat suit and a helmet hair cut), realise with disgust that the club they walked in is more 80s pop than 80s indie, a realisation clearly confirmed by a cheesy lycra-clad and baby-oiled dance troupe performing on stage. But still, when the lead dancer, Steve (played by Malcolm Gets) gives some attention – and drugs – to the clumsy, nervy goth after the show, Adam takes him back home and ends up having one of the most embarrassing situations of his life (let's just say it involves incontinence). Cut, or better, fade to a grey 2004 and the two older, more neatly dressed men cross each other's paths again, blissfully oblivious of their first encounter seventeen years before. Romance blooms, friends get distressed and jealous, but when one day a casual conversation hauls back the forgotten incident to the lit-up side Steve's memory, he freaks out and the couple battle it out in a line-dancing saloon. Yes, things do get deliciously silly and referential in Adam and Steve, but underneath the veneer of artifice, there is a real heart pulsing.

The 1980s, I say to Craig, seem to have had a strong impact on the imagination of queer filmmakers. Greg Araki, for instance, also used the eighties in his Mysterious Skin (2004). Is it because of all the gay sensitivity expressed by pop music during that period or because filmmakers in activity now were teenagers then and it's only natural that they hark back to that phase in their lives? "The 1980s were the last moment of individuality before the uniformity of the 1990s. Back then there was a real sense of rebellion. I moved to New York in 1985 and I remember how everything was more political," says Chester, who was born in California 41 years ago.

The film carries a pro-relationship message without being preachy. Why did he decide to tackle the topic? "I had been an actor in a lot of queer films during the 1990s. I had travelled with those movies and I saw a lot of gay couples in the audiences. I started to think, 'When are they going to make films about us? I've had boyfriends and relationships and I think these couples are not there on the screen," he says.

And why did he choose to make a comedy? "I love John Waters and Woody Allen and a certain type of comedy that somewhere along the line stopped being made. Comedies are great because they are anarchic and you can get away with a lot more. Besides, I didn't want to make the film too precious."

How about directing and acting in the same film? "The hardest part really was doing the musical numbers. But the stamina element of acting and directing was also difficult. At the end of the shooting everyone would go home and I had to stay back, rewriting scenes. I guess I didn't get more than three hours' sleep during the shooting, which lasted 22 days." But then Craig was working with a good friend (Posey), which must be nice... "Yes, we are really good friends, almost family. Our friendship goes back 15 years, like in Adam & Steve. She's a great source of inspiration, we're always exchanging ideas and we understand each other really well." Which is what the characters in Adam & Steve do: they understand, and accept, each other really, really well.

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