What almost completely redeemed the blue-form suggestion process is getting a yes on the rather obscure collection of dance films by DV8 Physical Theatre.

I don’t know how everything lined up to make this happen, but one evening last century I awoke from a nap to find Jay Scott on TVO introducing some kind of movie. He was always doing that sort of thing before he had the bad taste to get the AIDS and die.

“Some kind of movie” here was Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men.

If you’re old you might admit to knowing nothing about dance but really liking La La La Human Steps whenever you see them on TV. Then you realize this is all from a previous lifetime and you should be using the past tense.

DV8 and (La)³ gave you the viewer a showy, raucous, unplodding kind of dance that, like a postmodern building, is easy to like. And easy to understand – or at least you walk away not feeling stupid or uncultured for having failed to understand it.

These two companies and a single quote from Morrissey have basically ruined my ability to enjoy a show like So You Think You Can Dance.

(With singers facing the audience) you see every emotion; this appeals to me… “This is the song, this is the voice, and this is the communication.” This appealed to me more than anything else.

I watch the usually screamingly gay kids on So You Think You Can Dance and I think, “What is the communication?”

The communication in Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men is ostensibly linked in some way to the true-crime saga of a British serial killer. (I later read the book about him.) But saying that is like saying Inglorious Bastards is about Nazi-hunters – partly true but irrelevant and deceptive if you keep repeating it.

This film gives a pessimistic view of the arc of the life of any urban gay man of the era. That era will die when we do, and “queers” not only are happy about that but are hastening our demise. But in the 1990s the life experience Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men presents was a real thing.

  • You start out in the bar. Again you could link back to Morrissey.

    Two men lean, elbows on wall, facing the same direction, with another man blurred in foreground

    Find me a better gay-bar sequence than this one here, with stunning music and a dance presentation so easy to understand you just feel good about yourself. That’s not gonna last.

    Four men, one just in underwear and shoes, dance in synchronization
  • This is dance theatre, so you shouldn’t be surprised to hear dialogue or just be talked to, but you will be.

    Man in underwear sits on pedestal smoking a cigarette, while another man seems crammed into a closet-like illuminated space well behind him
  • We endlessly let each other down.

    Man hangs by one hand frmo overhead pipe
    Man in underwear looks apprehensively up at another man perched far overhead by a wall
  • And then, in the dark view of this film, we inevitably destroy each other and wind up as sad eldergays in bedsits listening to olde-tymey crooners on the Victrola. (Not pictured.)

I somehow remembered DV8 existed and somehow found two DVD compilations still in print and somehow TPL ordered two copies of one of them. I could say a measly two copies.

DV8 package

Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men is on the disc and confirms that the sole master recording of this film is in fact a standard-definition PAL videotape. Don’t expect much in the way of picture quality.

You’ll also easily understand and enjoy another film on the disc, Enter Achilles. I have a bang-up CBC interview with Lloyd Newson of DV8, in which he asks the remote camera crew some of the same question he’s asked, but that’s on an old videotape.

The third film in the collection, Strange Fish, was as unwatchable to me as Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men will be to most. DV8 cannot really do heterosexuality.

Bumping into Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men on TV led me to spend good money on admission tickets to the now-defunct Moving Pictures festival of dance films. I think you would also like the film by La La La Human Steps that I saw there, Velázquez’s Little Museum.

But gays, arts films on TV, and dance-film festivals are all artifacts from the past. Good thing we’ve got libraries.


Trying to pull a Soundscapes with Queen Video

Back in the day I tried to get Howard Levman, the owner of Queen Video, interested in becoming a kind of Soundscapes for indie-video selections at TPL. For a few years now, the library has run the Make Some Noise/Take Some Noise project, which involves in-library concerts (the former half of the title) and curated local CDs (the latter). Soundscapes did the curating, and I can attest that they knew what they were doing. My suggestion was that Queen Video do something similar with videos.

No answer. This is a tad disappointing, as fully a third of the video suggestions I eventually turn into blue forms come from having held a video case in my hand at the Bloor St. store. It’s a gold mine.

Perhaps we could try this with Suspect Video.

Batshit conspiracy documentaries at TPL

The library should, can, and does stock krazy konspiracy documentaries. What have we got already?

  • Several 9/11 features, including the central conspiracy documentary Loose Change; 9/11 in Plane Site; 9/11: Blueprint for Truth/The Architecture of Destruction.

    (11′09″01 is down to one circulating copy and the Naudets’ 9/11 down to two, which I think is an issue)

  • The End of America by Naomi Wolf

  • The truly baffling Zeitgeist and Zeitgeist Addendum (the latter positing that world monetary policy amounts to slavery; a friend of mine on the Inside who is black agreed with that proposition)

I say again: The library should stock krazy konspiracy documentaries. You the library user must – must! – have access to the widest feasible range of facts and opinions. In case you disagree with my statement here, ask yourself whether or not Fahrenheit 9/11 constitutes a conspiracy documentary or if it is somehow different because somebody rich and famous directed it and you’ve heard of it before and possibly even seen it, perhaps on mainstream TV channels. The equalizing power of the library puts famous documentarians on an equal footing with obscure ones whether or not their films are true, factually correct, plausible, respectable, or not.

I don’t have a clue how to find new or recent documentaries of this genre as they come out, nor would I expend the limited capital of blue suggestion forms on them. But here’s a fun one I thought of that isn’t in the collection: Kurt & Courtney.

Filling in the gaps of lesbian and gay films

This has been a lengthy and unpleasant odyssey, but I have been filing blue suggestion forms for lacunæ in the library’s collection of gay and lesbian films. Why?

A library carries, among other things, foundational literature, because we accept that the canon is important for cultural transmission and education. Plus these things actually circulate. Those young kids down in Parkdale who “don’t like labels” and barely consider themselves gay will at some point realize they are deluding themselves. At that stage in their lives, they will wish to begin to understand their own culture. For that, we will stock books by Rechy, Merlis, White, but we will also stock foundational cinema.

If TPL can buy endless micropress volumes of lesbo cop erotica and gay poetry, it can bloody well buy important gay movies. Indeed, if it can and does stock a bunch of crapola from Wolfe Video and Strand Releasing, it can buy what I suggest.

My attitude can be summed up as “A library isn’t a library without Paris Is Burning.”

What the system already has

Some of these I suggested.

  1. Gregg Araki (various; a couple of suggestions refused categorically)

  2. Another Country

  3. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

  4. Broken Sky

  5. The Closet

  6. Death in Venice

  7. Dog Day Afternoon

  8. Edge of Seventeen

  9. The Hours and Times

  10. Derek Jarman (various, but not enough)

  11. Kiss of the Spider Woman

  12. Looking for Langston

  13. Love and Human Remains

  14. Not the Midnight trilogy: Midnight Cowboy, ⁓ Express, ⁓ in the Garden of Good and Evil

  15. My Beautiful Laundrette (in cold light of day, terrible)

  16. My Own Private Idaho

  17. Orlando

  18. Our Lady of the Assassins

  19. Philadelphia

  20. Relax… It’s Just Sex!

  21. Rock Hudson’s Home Movies

  22. Small Town Gay Bar

  23. The Talented Mr. Ripley

  24. Taxi zum Klo (one copy!)

  25. Tongues Untied

  26. Urbania

  27. Valley of the Dolls

  28. Wilde

Plus important recent movies like Weekend and the best documentary of the 21st century, How to Survive a Plague. (And atrocities like Keep the Lights On and Laurence Anyways. But every time I mention the latter, I get a handful of angry Twits from Xavier Dolan. I love him anyway.)

What seems to be commercially unavailable

The library has to be able to buy a certain quantity of brand-new DVDs in one fell swoop. Historically TPL has been unwilling to buy from second-tier vendors, preferring, to the point of absurdity, to buy straight from an original distributor or, more often, Amazon. (And they take one look at Amazon and try to bounce a blue form because Amazon says only one or two copies are available. That’s why I always include proof – sometimes ignored – that a title is commercially available.)

Nonetheless, the library managed to get its hands on two documentaries that seemingly really were commercially unavailable – Paragraph 175 (not orderable) and Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride (too expensive). This hasn’t been explained to me and I know it’s pointless to ask.

Anyway, these items seem to be genuinely unavailable from a first-run distributor:

  1. Apartment Zero

  2. Bear Cub

  3. Being at Home with Claude

  4. Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (!)

  5. Cruising

  6. An Early Frost

  7. Flawless

  8. The Hanging Garden (a crying shame)

  9. In & Out

  10. J’ai tué ma mère (rights locked up by the dodgy Here TV)

  11. Lost Language of Cranes

  12. Love! Valour! Compassion!

  13. Metrosexuality

  14. Party Monster (documentary)

  15. Prick Up Your Ears

  16. The Sum of Us

There are a couple of cases in limbo.

  • My blue form for Head On came back with neither a yes nor a no, and a followup mail went unanswered, as nearly all of them do.

  • What about Paris Is Burning? Jennie Livingston answered my inquiry and told me she owns Canadian rights and could, in principle, burn copies for TPL directly. And – this one’s arguably even more important – the only source for a DVD-quality DVD of the seminal Canadian English-language feature, Winter Kept Us Warm, is from its director, David Secter. I don’t know the status of either of those and, again, it borders on useless to ask.

These should be coming in

I have filed blue forms for these, and expect a yes on all of them.

  1. Beautiful Thing

  2. Beefcake

  3. Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss

  4. Chuck & Buck

  5. The Night Listener

  6. The Object of My Affection

  7. Party Monster

  8. Plata quemada

  9. Wonder Boys

I’ve got a longlist of about 30 more, many of which are marginal at best.

DVDs with audio description at Toronto Public Library

If you’re blind or visually impaired, or if you’re just keen or these sorts of things, you can watch DVDs with audio description – additional narration that talks you through the movie, telling you whatever’s happening that you can’t figure out from the the main soundtrack.

I could go on a big diversion here about what a total nightmare it has been over the last decade just to make sure the description track from the first-run theatrical release actually makes it to home video. I could also describe how I actually maintained the master list of DVDs with audio description for years until I realized that threatened to become a lifelong unpaid (and unappreciated) task.

Anyway. TPL has a couple of hundred DVDs with audio description. The problem is they are really hard to look up in the catalogue. You have to use exactly this subject heading:

Video recordings for people with visual disabilities

You must also know to search by subject. A seemingly simple step like that is actually way beyond the capacity of most users, nor should it be their problem, nor does the new catalogue make subject searches easy.

Yes, there’s a link to that search on an accessibility page. But had you ever heard of that page? Did you know TPL had DVDs with description? Did you know how to find them?

That’s a lot of problems. But one of them has been solved.

Easy ways to tell people how to find described DVDs

At my suggestion, the crack TPL Web team (that is not an ironic statement) added a bunch of shortcuts. They’ve been set up so you can tell people how to search for DVDs when you’re just talking to them, or are running a radio show, or are using something other than an online medium where somebody can click a link.

It’s real simple. Just tell your friends to go to any of these:

  • TPL.ca/describeddvds

  • TPL.ca/audiodescription

  • TPL.ca/descriptivevideo

  • TPL.ca/moviesfortheblind

Nice easy-to-remember phrases. Tell all your friends.

(If you want to write out TorontoPublicLibrary.CA instead, you can.)

A week later, TPL says the same thing

…on the little-known TPL accessibility blog.