Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Venice Film Festival Diaries
Day 4

by Howard Feinstein

Sunday, September 1

Cannes is easy to categorize: it's hooplah, red carpets, rushing around, huge screens, black-tie parties. I've been trying to figure out what makes Venice distinctive. Suddenly, it clicked: nothing has any relation to the real world off this Lido island. The film retrospective this year is "The Beat Goes On," movies by and about the beatnik generation. That's weird enough. Even stranger is the fact that New York sculptor-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel, who directed "Basquiat", is speaking to journalists from a chaise lounge at the Hotel des Bains pool in a beach robe. One would never see this kind of salon in New York's Soho, yet Schnabel treats this relaxed place as if he owned it.

My pal Helen von Layers was horrified when she saw this extremely heavy director in a khaki shirt with the sleeves cut completely off. One Dutch critic called him "Pasha." And all this for a pretentious film that has been so overrated in some quarters.

Actually, some currents here do connect strongly to the world outside--maybe too strongly. At this time of international concern about sexual abuse of children, several films touch on adult-child lust. I missed Volker Schlondorff's "The Ogre" (Germany), with John Malkovich as a pederast, and Antonio Capuano's "Pianese Nunzio, 14 in May" (Italy) has not yet been shown, but opening-night movie "Sleepers" (U.S.), directed by Barry Levinson, touched the subject like a ten-ton truck.

Levinson shows us the smooth upper torsos and bodies in wet underwear of four young teens from New York's rough Hell's Kitchen. Once they are sent to reform school for nearly killing a man (accidentally) with a hot-dog vendor's cart, Levinson shifts from those innocent images to shocking, loaded ones of the boys being sexually abused by their guards. The main guard, played by Kevin Bacon, is a two-dimensional incarnation of evil. When the boys are molested, the thundering soundtrack and visual cliches from scary thrillers signal to us the terror they endure. It all feels like a cheat.

Fifteen years later, two of the abused boys, now small-time criminals, recognize Bacon in a bar. They kill him. The neighborhood gang reunites: a third boy has grown into Brad Pitt, and he is the prosecuting attorney when the two fellows are put on trial for murder. The fourth, who narrates the movie, becomes Jason Patric and is a reporter for the Daily News. He manipulates a string of events that should not only free his childhood friends, but punish the other guards who participated in the sexual violation.

What a time to explore this topic! This movie is not only unconsciously homophobic, it also plays into the hands of the family values people and their worst fears. The public and critics here seemed unanimous in their rejection of the movie.

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