Whistler Film Fest after dark

Explicit sex, alcoholism, and politics make for grown-up subject matter

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      The Whistler Film Festival always offers the chance to catch a few highly touted films before they hit the multiplex, with Mary Queen of Scots (starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie) and If Beale Street Could Talk (from Moonlight director Barry Jenkins) among this year’s big-ticket items. But it’s the under-the-radar product that WFF does best. Here are three recommendations to get your chilled-out festival started. The Whistler Film Festival runs from Wednesday to Sunday (November 28 to December 2).

      Never Be Done: The Richard Glen Lett Story


      Local standup comedian Richard Lett lost an upwardly mobile career to alcoholism and drug abuse, which this doc captures in gruesome detail, rock bottom included. By the time filmmaker Roy Tighe began pointing his camera at Lett in 2009, he’d been banned from every club in the city except one.

      Lett’s infamous bit “The Ballad of Bobby Pickton” is perhaps the stress test here for the curious. As an expression of all the rage and disgust that Lett would habitually turn on himself and everyone else, it’s painfully true, if you have the stomach for it. Homelessness and psychosis would follow as the abuse wore on and the gigs dried up, but this is a redemption story, and a particularly poignant one for Vancouverites familiar with some of Lett’s local contemporaries who line up to either praise or condemn the man. (The Straight’s Guy MacPherson sticks to the facts.)

      With comedians imploding all over the place right now, Lett’s postrecovery insights about a business that seems to thrive on the self-loathing of its participants feel especially relevant. November 29 and 30

      Hugh Hefner’s After Dark: Speaking Out in America


      The recently deceased Playboy honcho produced two dazzlingly great TV series in the late ’50s and late ’60s, Playboy’s Penthouse and Playboy After Dark, catching America in key moments of postwar upheaval. Whatever your opinion of the reptilian creature who finally shed his mortal smoking jacket just over a year ago, Hef in his prime was really something, appealing to Americans yearning for sophistication and playing sincerely engaged host to guests—many of them black—who couldn’t otherwise get air time.

      From our vantage point here in the Age of Stupid, the level of discourse for syndicated television is phenomenal, with people like Joan Baez, actor David Hemmings, Boston Celtics centre Bill Russell, Woodstock director Michael Wadleigh, and virtually everyone else demonstrating an eloquence and political savvy that’d give Jimmy Kimmel a stroke.

      Inevitably, a clip job like this is circumscribed by access and the filmmakers’ own tastes. Lengthy detours on Country Joe and the Fish and Steppenwolf are considerably less bracing than footage of Sarah Vaughan, Taj Mahal, Nina Simone, or Jerry Garcia, not to mention the remarkable sight of Moms Mabley reducing Sammy Davis Jr. to tears with “Abraham, Martin and John”.

      Furthermore, the film squanders the chance to examine how all this beautiful, blooming social consciousness collapsed into the feeble liberalism of today. Instead, we get the loathsome Bill Maher and not-much-better Whoopi Goldberg flapping their gums about freedom of the press. And a brief contemporary interview with Miss Sweden 1964, Sivi Aberg, assuring us that she really didn’t mind being Hef’s mute arm decoration, is no way to address the hard-circuited sexism on display. Still, big reservations aside, this is well worth your time. November 30 and December 2

      The Naturally Wanton Pleasure of Skin


      Kudos to WFF for consistently programming provocative numbers like this one, in which a middle-aged scientist-academic-mom pursues a variety of (fairly explicit) sexual encounters while researching the physiological effects of desire. Actually, put aside that contrivance and you still have a film that takes worthwhile risks with some dangerous subject matter.

      As played by a fine Brigitte Poupart, Marie-Claire sees her open marriage hit the rocks when a sexual harassment suit takes down a university work colleague. The professor in question happens to be one of her regular lovers. The accuser’s boyfriend is also boning Marie-Claire on the side, but while writer-director Renée Beaulieu abandons that promising angle, she makes hay with what’s left, giving no compact answers for the pathological behaviour of her heroine or anybody else in the film.

      It seems that no one comes out of all this rutting on top, as it were, including Marie-Claire’s promiscuous 14-year-old daughter. And yet Beaulieu musters sympathy for all of these characters, except, notably, the student making the accusations. Confused? Counterrevolutionary? Honest? Take your pick! But the overall Pleasures here can’t be dismissed. December 1 and 2.

      The Whistler Film Festival takes place from next Wednesday (November 28) to the following Sunday (December 2). For more information, visit the website.