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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Gay > A Very Natural Thing (Water Bearer DVD)

A Very Natural Thing


Picture: C†††† Sound: C†††† Extras: D†††† Film: B+



Thirty years ago, the openly Gay writer/director Christopher Larkin created a film that broke new ground.It was the first feature film about Gay men to get any kind of wide release.A Very Natural Thing (1973) is a landmark film that showed this lifestyle in a realistic way, pre-AIDS era.Despite that, it holds up remarkably well, working like a barometer of how Gay Rights succeeded, failed, how AIDS changed this community forever, and how many bad and trivializing films have been made about this subject since.


The film is bookended with footage from Pride and protests events, but the rest of the film is a dramatic work.David (Robert Joel) tries to become a priest, but his sexual calling gets in the way, so he leaves and tries to assimilate into Gay life in New York.He also takes the job of schoolteacher, then meets an ad executive (Joe Piscopo look-alike Curt Gareth), and they become closely involved.However, the relationship goes well for a while, but David is more emotionally involved.Eventually, they try things to make their relationship more exciting, which include going off with other men or being in orgy situations.


In the process, David meets Jason (Bo White), and also finds himself in the Bathhouse scene.With Jason, things seem and feel different, but David has to figure out what the next smart move into a better future should be and with whom.


The acting is not bad, but how far can a film from 1973 go?Very!This is not hardcore, but it is still on the graphic side, but this is never violent or pretentious.It is obviously Gay, but the film is also very early 1970s and even a touch Naked Gun (no pun intended) in the times when it is unintentionally funny.The poorest scenes have to do with group conversations between the leads and other Gay friends, which date most poorly.The best parts are the cinematic, even silent moments that go beyond sexuality in asking what it takes to find true happiness.The dialogue is usually part of that, while the screenplay by Larkin and Joseph Coencas sticks with the heart of the matter.


The full screen, color picture was originally in Technicolor, the three-strip kind.This is not a great print, but evidence of that process can be made out, though some of the footage is not in as good a shape as others.Cinematographer C. H. Douglass handles the sex scenes with the same intimacy as non-sex scenes where these men get close, which plays against an endless list of stereotypes that retains its power to this day.Editor Terry Manning should also get credit for some exceptional montage work.The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono shows the filmís age, but is not from the soundmaster, if that still exists.There are no extras.


In total, this film is still ahead of its time, and it is obvious most of the Gay New Wave filmmakers either did not see this film, or did and did not get it.Like John Schlesingerís Midnight Cowboy (1969), this is serious about its subject matter, not letting a political agenda or hack filmmaking get in the way.Rarely do films about this subject get made this well.As a matter of fact, heterosexuality rarely gets treated with this much dignity on the big screen.


As impressive as most of the film still is, the finale is the most amazing of all.Without giving it away, out of nowhere, the film suddenly becomes purely cinematic.The choice of visuals and music is nothing short of brilliant.After the journey the lead character takes, it is a quiet, proud, powerful triumph of individuality, self-discovery, and self-respect that transcends genre preference.To call it Kubrickian would not be a stretch, though the optimism would be atypical of the director most responsible for his breakthroughs in human sexuality in cinema.If you follow the film closely and invest seriously in the people, the payoff is nothing short of one of cinemaís greatest moments.The end is just the beginning.



-†† Nicholas Sheffo


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