By Mark Bell | March 15, 2010

I managed to make my way to the “Hyperbole in Film Criticism” panel this morning, and while I can’t say I was particularly educated or anything, I did find the people on the panel to be well-spoken and quality examples of film critics working today (Erik Childress, Scott Weinberg, James Rocchi, Jen Yamato, Marjorie Baumgarten and Drew McWeeny). If anything bothered me, it has less to do with anything that was specifically said during the panel, and more to do with a general idea that the new media seems to be all too happy to co-opt and pick up the same shovels that the old media just finished burying themselves with. As discussed on Twitter, I agree that old needs to adapt, and new needs to learn from old, instead of playing “good riddance.” Anyway, those are my general, specific-less thoughts. I wasn’t able to stick around for the full panel, however, as I made my way to the Alamo Ritz for an early afternoon sold-out screening of “The Happy Poet.”

Director/star Paul Gordon’s film is right up my alley, which is to say that I tend to revel in the awkward. I like the type of films that have characters that are so embarrassingly awkward that most normal people can’t watch out of a sympathy for the feelings of the characters… which usually means I’m laughing and enjoying the f**k out of myself at the same expense of said characters. “The Happy Poet” is nothing but awkward, a slice-of-life tale about a weird guy who feels that he should sell organic, mostly vegetarian health food out of a hot dog cart on the outskirts of an Austin, TX park, His severe lack of social skills, coupled with such a random dream of healthy convenience food, make for tons of awkward moments and… I really, truly dug it. I know many people would wince through some of the moments in this film, but I can’t help but enjoy them. “The Happy Poet” is a trainwreck where no one gets hurt, and instead of fire and mayhem, there’s cotton candy and fireworks. I don’t know how to make that sentence make sense to you or anyone else, so I’m not going to pretend to try.

After the screening, one of the producers of the film introduced himself as Chris Ohlson, and mentioned that he thought he and I may’ve attended the same small town high school in NH. Turns out he was right, as I and his younger brother were in the same class, and I found the world continues to get increasingly smaller. I’d be lying if I said I thought that I’d ever run into a fellow high school classmate who was running in the same cinematic circles as me, so this coincidence, random as it was, made a solid impression. You just never know, in life, how things will come back around.

After “The Happy Poet,” I made my way to the convention center where I met up with Film Threat founder Chris Gore. Gore and I spent an inordinate amount of time talking before it was time for me to retire to my condo for a bit of rest prior to dinner and my final film of the day, Malcolm Ingram’s documentary about the homosexual “bear” community, “Bear Nation.”

Straight-up, I am not unbiased when it comes to Malcolm Ingram. As a former writer of Film Threat who went into filmmaking, I’ve always hoped for Malcolm’s projects to be awesome (like rooting for the home team, I guess). In the case of “Drawing Flies,” I wasn’t a huge fan. “Tail Lights Fade” I actually enjoyed, though I don’t think Malcolm believes me when I say as much. His documentary on homosexual life in small towns, “small town gay bar,” is absolutely wonderful, whether I hoped it would be or not; it simply is a solid, quality film. Going into “Bear Nation,” the follow-up to “small town gay bar” and a film that was probably twenty people shy of a sold-out screening, I had high hopes. Malcolm did not disappoint.

As I said to him later in the evening, I don’t know how he could have made a better movie on the subject he chose, so my criticisms come down simply to whether I was informed and entertained, and the honest answer is that the film accomplished both. I knew next to nothing about the homosexual “bear” community except that many “bears” looked like me, and that, for folks who dig “bears,” I was a sexual commodity. This never disturbed me; who doesn’t want to be admired. If anything, going into “Bear Nation,” I wanted to understand the community better. After seeing it, I think I do, though it would be probably too presumptuous to try and explain how. I get to sit down with Malcolm tomorrow to pick his brain about the film in a more formal setting, so expect more on “Bear Nation ” then but, in the meantime, I hope you’ll accept that it is simply a very entertaining, very informative documentary film that is worth your time to check out. I can’t imagine you’d be disappointed.

My evening wasn’t done, though, as Don Lewis and I made our way to the “Bear Nation” after-party… and watched the most amazing DJ set by an (eventually) shirtless Bob Mould. Like… I don’t dig on the techno, but watching Bob Mould hop around and do his thing, you couldn’t help but get caught up. Sure, as Don said, most folks looked like me, and often they’d be caught kissing on the dance floor, or topless on the dance floor, but whatever. People, do your thing, love who you love; it’s all good.

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