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Memoirs of a Gay-sha

January 27, 2006

Kids, the gay movie of the year is not the Brokeback Mountain. Not even Capote, and certainly not Transamerica. It is Memoirs of a Geisha. Over the top melodrama about forbidden love, Gong Li chewing scenery like Divine on crack, a dance scene straight out of a drag show, I don’t think any film since, oh, the last John Waters film has been more dead on on the gay aesthetic (if there is such a thing). And I didn’t even know (for sure) that Rob Marshall is gay until recently. Hitting on the idea has made me rethink my previous loathing for Geisha. Rather than retreading worn stereotypes, Marshall turned the story into a personal film, speaking to his culture as much, if not moreso, than attempting to show “Japanese culture” (though according to my wife, he did a decent job of the latter).

This could be an important signpost for filmmakers of marginalized cultures and backgrounds. Black filmmakers in the post-Spike indie wave of the 90’s spent all their time laboring in the streets telling hood tales and spending untold dollars on splatter packs. What they should have been doing, perhaps, is finding stories that spoke to their issues and telling them with passion, rather than trying to jump on the hood bandwagon. Maybe people like Matty Rich would still be working, and Cheryl Dunne wouldn’t be doing crap like My Baby’s Daddy.

Of course, some stories are dying to be told. The Hughes Brother’s Menace II Society, Daughters in the Dust, the myriad of South African flicks (none made by people of color, actually), X, Eve’s Bayou, and many more, enriched the culture of film by their presence. American cinema had to have those films. However, what do you do when you keep telling the same thing over and over? No one listens anymore. You start doing “big” movies if you’re Singleton, or live of the vapors of your past if you’re Spike, or vanish into the dustbin of history.

History may not be kind to Rob Marshall, though Oscar may be. Geisha’s not a particularly enthralling piece, though it is a marvel of technical filmmaking. It’s also a very personal statement gussied up in some very expensive kimonos.

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