Last week, or maybe the week before, I had dinner with Z and his new boyfriend, R. We hadn't seen each other in a while. I missed him. He suggested dinner, the three of us, which I jumped at because I didn't (or thought I didn't) make a good impression when I met R a while back, and I was glad for another chance. So we had dinner, very nice. R is a sweet man, and it made me happy (in a sort of maternal way) to see them hold hands as they walked into the restaurant, to see their affection for each other, to see how much R cares about Z. Happy, as in sad. Because it used to be me holding Z's hand and it used to be me who Z looked at with affection (it's not maternal any more, is it?). Am I entitled to feel wistful about a man I more or less pushed away because I didn't want the attachment? (My opinion about that kind of love is like my opinion about God: It would be nice, but c'mon, really, you can't be serious.)
Over dinner, we talked about aGLIFF -- the gay film festival here, last month. Life in a Box was in it, in 2005. I think they've had a lot of administrative problems, I'm not sure what-all, but the staff has turned over a couple times in the last few years. In my opinion, the programming is uneven and frustrating, but these queer festivals have an impossible mandate -- they have to please such wildly different tastes. They have to program a certain number of silly shirtless boy films (Eating Out, etc.) to please the suburban gay men who actually buy tickets and make donations to the festival while maintaining some artistic credibility for snobs like me who complain about the lowbrow programming.
(I kicked myself plenty of times for not choosing a shirtless boy still from Life in a Box to promote it at the queer festivals. There are plenty of shirtless shots in Life in a Box. It hardly matters what the film is about, if the still in the program shows a shirtless boy, the lines are long. But then you have the problem of an audience expecting something your film is not going to provide. Maybe I'm second-guessing. Maybe all they're expecting is a flash of skin, and they don't care what the rest of the film is about. And maybe it's good that the shirtless promo shots bring the suburban gay male crowd to the theater to see some more serious work. And how condescending was that last sentence?)
Anyway, Z and R said that they'd seen only one film in this year's festival, and they hated it, they thought it was the worst thing they'd ever seen. I asked what it was. It was Poison.
"Poison? Todd Haynes? Prison sex? Spitting?"
"That's the one."
"That's one of my all-time favorite films."
Now, I've already disproved the movie test. And I would not think poorly of someone who doesn't like Poison. Even though I'm a huge admirer of Todd Haynes, I don't always love his films, and Poison is a difficult film. His films are often too cerebral for me, and it's hard to get past the thick layer of style to whatever emotional content is underneath. But still I think he's a real artist. (Though I'm sure it's come out in dribs and drabs here, someday I will put together some working version of my argument that real artists deserve regard whether we like their work or not.) I gave Z and R a little background on Todd Haynes and Poison. I wasn't trying to try to change their minds, but I felt compelled to offer some context for their reaction. I don't think they were looking for context, they just hated the film. Which is fine.
What was jarring though, is that Z said and R agreed that he doesn't like sad films. They don't interest him, he doesn't want to watch them. I live for sad films. And sad books, and sad songs, and sad plays. Sad pictures. Sad people. Sad weather, sad dogs, sad days. I had not really thought of it in such simple terms before that conversation. I feel cheated if there's no sadness in a movie. Happy is fine too, but only because it makes sad sadder.
Regardless of what we know about the movie test, and even though we had a really nice dinner and the conversation about the film was not awkward or uncomfortable, it emphasized to me how separate I am from the two of them, how separate I am now from Z.