Tuesday, 19 May 2020

What I'm reading: Bosch and Ballard - the new A-team

Michael Connelly: THE NIGHT FIRE

Harry Bosch is now an ex-detective, pushing 70 and nursing a new knee. But you can’t keep a good man down, and Harry is helping his half-brother Micky Haller, the ‘Lincoln Lawyer’, unravel a wrongful-conviction case. He also assists RenĂ©e Ballard, of the LAPD night watch, on what seems to be a random crime, the burning to death of a homeless man in his tent under the freeway. And the widow of an old friend gives him a file that reopens an old 'cold' case. Of course, these three investigations will crisscross and eventually intersect. Not for the first time, Bosch and Ballard find themselves looking down a gun barrel.

Michael Connelly’s cops solve crimes by stakeouts and wiretaps and dogged persistence. Every now and then this author produces an outstanding thriller – The Narrows and Echo Park are two of his greatest: chase them up if you’ve missed them. The Night Fire is not outstanding, but it‘s very, very good.

Friday, 8 May 2020

What I'm streaming: Rock Hudson, the pioneer of gay liberation


This is up there - for me - with Grace & Frankie in the "Best of Netflix". It starts well in a splendid recreation of 1940s Hollywood with a far-from-fictitious LA gas station, run by Ernie West (Dylan McDermott, clearly enjoying himself in an off-character role) with a sideline in pimping his hunky attendants as gigolos and rent-boys. The hunkiest of the gigolos is Jack Castello (David Corenswet), a wannabe filmstar who can’t even get hired as an extra until he screws Avis Amberg, a studio head’s neglected wife (Patti LuPone, outstanding in a cast of fine actors). Another of the gas station boys is Archie (Jeremy Pope), a cute black guy whose first ‘client’ is Roy, another struggling actor who will come to be superstar famous when his name is changed to Rock Hudson (Jake Picking, a very good look-alike).

David Corenswet and Dylan McDermott, a gigolo and his pimp

When Avis takes over the running of her ailing husband’s studio she ‘greenlights’ a movie about Peg Entwistle, the actress who jumped off the Hollywood sign in the 1930s. The movie is scripted by Rock’s new boyfriend Archie and directed by another newcomer Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss, who played Gianni Versace’s serial killer stalker a couple of years back).

There never was a movie about poor Peg, and this take on her story goes somewhat off the rails when the decision is made to change Peg to Meg and give an opportunity to Raymond’s gorgeous black girlfriend Camille (Laura Harrier). So, the two big twists on the ‘real’ history of Tinseltown are the breakthrough for black actors on screen being brought forward by several decades, and Rock Hudson becoming a pioneer of gay rights also many years before any major player risked coming out of the closet.

Jack Picking as Rock Hudson: "Fill it up, and while you're about it ..."

Gays everywhere knew that Rock was a ‘fag’ but it was kept a secret from his female fanbase until just before his death from Aids in 1985. Even today, when privacy is harder to come by and a number of high-profile stars are Glad to be known to be Gay, there are several who aren’t (naming no names).

Other real-life people are woven into this story – Vivien Leigh, Cole Porter, Anna May Wong, Hattie McDaniel (Queen Latifah, always a joy to watch) – which adds to the glamour as well as the authenticity. The making of the Peg/Meg movie becomes a bit tiresome – I wish they’d thought up a grander project for the era of Mildred Pierce and The Best Years of Our Lives – but the gas station brothel contributes plenty of juice to the story (and it’s true) and I relished the fantasy that Gay Liberation was kick-started by Rock Hudson in the 1940s. He could be canonized!

The real Peg, who jumped off the big H in 1932

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

What I'm reading: Gays just wanna have fu-un


This is a tough read. James Wharton writes about the world – an “Underworld” – of gay and bisexual Londoners who hook up on Grindr and party in each other’s homes for long nights and whole weekends, off their heads on psycho-active drugs. The drug of choice is “G”, also known as “Gina” (GBL, liquid Ecstasy), which is fast-acting and gives a terrific high, but there’s also crystal meth (“Tina”) and mephedrone (“Meow Meow”). G is mostly swallowed in very small amounts, but some users “slam” (inject) it. An overdose will knock you unconscious. Wharton woke up from one overdose to find himself being raped. The serial killer Stephen Port subdued his victims with G. In London somebody dies from an overdose of G every twelve days. 

Why do gay guys take these risks, only three decades after the peak of Aids? Lots of people, gay and straight, settle for promiscuous sex to ease the pain of a failed relationship or the failure to find a loving partner. But for many, Wharton says, it’s just hedonism, the pursuit of fun. Pre-Aids it was amphetamines and poppers that were used to give sex an extra boost. Back during the “Summer of Love”, the mid-1960s, it was pot and “acid” (LSD). Aldous Huxley was experimenting with mescaline in the 1950s (and took LSD to hasten his death from cancer in the week of Kennedy’s assassination). In Queen Victoria’s time opium was widely used by both the upper and lower classes.

James Wharton quite rightly extols individuals and groups that offer support to those severely affected by addiction and those struggling to detox themselves. And he urges the rest of us not to be judg-mental, an appeal that will fall on many a deaf ear in Europe as well as in Bible Belt America. People of my generation (78 next week) came up (and came out) through the Sixties and quite a lot of us will have experi-mented with "recreational" drugs, so let us not now, amid the comforts (or discomforts!) of old age, throw stones at the younger folk who fall for the more dangerous temptations currently on offer. If we believe – which I hope we do - in Freedom and the Pursuit of Happiness for everybody, then I guess that includes the freedom to ingest substances which enhance sexual pleasure, even at the risk of an overdose that may expose the user to victimhood and death.

In the early years of Aids, reviewing for LAM in Shepherds Bush, I read The Plague Years, one of the first books about the “new” epidemic carving a swathe through the back rooms and bathhouses of New York and San Francisco. Later came Randy Shilts’s encyclo-pedic And The Band Played On, which was made into an all-star movie.  Something for the Weekend is a similarly grim book, full of grim statistics, but if society can offer support rather than condemnation, the gay community will weather the Chemsex crisis as it has weathered HIV. It has to. But it’s gonna be an uphill climb.