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Thirty years later, Vincent Gagliostro still wants to provoke

After Louie confronts a generational shift on AIDS activism and gay identity

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After Louie explores the contradictions of modern gay life and history through Sam, a man desperate to understand how he and his community got to where they are today.

Filmmaker Vincent Gagliostro is a relative newcomer when it comes to making movies. He is, however, no stranger to activism nor the many questions about identity he deftly grapples with in his film After Louie.

After building a career as one of the most sought-after art directors in the New York fashion world of the seventies and eighties, he became enraged (like so many other gay men and their allies) at the indifference with which his city and country were meeting the AIDS crisis – so he put his impressive skill set to work for ACT UP, creating for them a host of now-iconic graphics as well as actively organizing and participating in demonstrations. He was, in New York, Art Director of Los Angeles Blade Publisher and Editor Troy Masters’ QW Magazine, the nation’s first glossy LGBT news magazine.

Subsequently, his career in commercial art continued to expand and evolve, and after moving to Paris in 2005 (with his partner, Richard Nahem) he experienced a sort of artistic rebirth which has yielded several installations at Galerie NEC and the blossoming of an interest in filmmaking.

The memories of his experiences on the front lines of protests have never left him, though, and now, three decades later, they lie at the heart of his latest movie project: “After Louie,” which premiered earlier this year at London’s BFI Flame Film Festival with three sold-out screenings.

Directed and co-written by Gagliostro, “After Louie” tells the story of a fifty-something former AIDS activist, Sam, who is struggling to make a film which expresses his still-potent feelings of outrage to a world that no longer seems to care.

Vincent Gagliostro’s first film, “After Louie,” will make it’s Hollywood debut at OutFest this July. (Photo courtesy Vincent Gagliostro)

“After Louie” confronts the lingering pain left by the AIDS epidemic among its survivors. Why this subject, and why now?

Two self-imposed questions sparked the making of my film. What happened to us/me? And, how does one generation connect to the next? There is a tense generational tension in the gay male community today.

A divide, so to speak, between two generations of gay men coming to this so-called “post AIDS” society from opposite ends who just aren’t getting each other—those of us who lived through the eye of the storm of the 1980s and early 90s and those who entered into a sexual life with HIV no longer a death sentence..

The film the character of “Sam” is making, at first glance, situates the AIDS crisis in the past; he is paying homage to those whom he has lost (specifically one of his activist comrades in arms, William Wilson); but- and a BIG BUT- is he looking for closure or looking to reactivate the activism of the past into the future? He is struggling with the past, mourning, and closure, but not-as his friends suggest he do– trying to get over it, to move on. Move on to what? That’s where we meet Sam. It’s like he says to his gallerist, “Rhona” as she looks for new paintings, he is “trying to get back to doing something important again.” Jean-Luc Godard once remarked, “It is not a matter of making political films, but rather making films politically.” This freed the telling of the narrative for me.

At one point in the process of writing I found myself, along with much of my immediate community, reeling from the death of our friend Spencer Cox, it hit us all like a brick. Peter Staley put it so eloquently in his eulogy, titled, Grief is a Sword— “While many of us, through luck or circumstance, have landed on our feet, all of us in some way have unprocessed grief, or guilt, or an overwhelming sense of abandonment from a community that turned its back on us, and increasingly stigmatized us, all in an attempt to pretend that AIDS wasn’t its problem anymore. That is Spencer’s call to action, and we should take it on.”

It was time to start talking to each other again, time to tell the truth. And for myself, the only way to do this was to keep it personal. Many of my friends thought I was making a documentary. That seemed limiting. Selective memory seemed a more potent way to get at the truth.

The central character, Sam, has a biographical background that parallels your own in many ways. How much of what we see in the film is autobiographical?

I have to laugh a bit here. Talk about a generation gap- sitting with my co-writer Anthony Johnston, he commented on how so much of this film is “so meta”, I excused myself to the toilet, to look up what that meant on my phone. When I returned I enthusiastically agreed.

Well, Sam’s visit with his gallerist, Rhona, is lifted from my visit with my gallerist. Surprisingly it turned out to be one of the hardest scenes to write. Who knows?

Sam’s circle of friends Jeffrey, Maggie, William are very much spooled from mine. I was always telling Anthony, wait till you meet the real “Jeffrey.”

 The scene you mentioned, with Rhona, actually sparked my next question. Sam is also making a movie about AIDS, and is met with resistance from those around him. Does this reflect your own experience in making the movie, and did such feedback have an influence over the ultimate direction it took?

To some extent, yes. When one sets out to tell a story around/about a friend with mutual friends, in this case, my friend William Wilson and his short story, “After Louie,” ownership issues surface. I was scolded by a very close mutual friend for “using” William. This had a big influence on the direction I ultimately took. There is an explosion that occurs over Chinese take out at the apartment of Jeffrey and his husband Mateo, along with Maggie and her husband Mark. Jeffrey, egged on by Mateo finally tells Sam how he feels about his “using Sam”. This leads to an emotional indictment of Sam, his white-male privilege, and a questioning of what good his art does.

“Who needs another AIDS movie?” Braeden [a much-younger man with whom Sam becomes involved] asks later on in the film.

So, yes, the resistance I was met with handed me a big hand mirror to reflect in. I hope I have done so responsibly and truthfully.

The film explores the “gay generation gap” you mentioned earlier as a sort of secondary theme. Did you make a conscious effort to bring a younger perspective to the issues you were portraying?

This prompted my desire to find a co-writer half my age, which I found in the crazy genius of Anthony Johnston.

What began to happen as Anthony and I wrote together is that I was able to create a distance between myself and “my story” and the film really took it’s shape through the story of Anthony and myself, a generation apart, navigating THAT terrain.

What do you hope the film will accomplish, in terms of its effect on LGBTQI culture?

Accomplish? Inspire perhaps. Even better, provoke. I have had many conversations with young kids, who often express what they think they have missed. It’s not what they’ve missed, it’s what I fear they will never experience the benefits of — the great gay sexual revolution, the wit and spirit of gay life back then that I often reply.

Without asking you to define the film’s “message,” what do you want the audience to take away from “After Louie?”

Actually what I would like them to take away is to be like the generation before that could not be put down, to get that one cannot be put down. I think today kids are looking for some kind of protection, and the bad news is that nothing will protect: not marriage equality, not LGBTQ organizations, certainly, especially today NOT Trump and his swamp government. We forget too often that our sexuality can topple governments. Jeez, I sound like “Sam”, quelle surprise!

I am a dreamer, always was and always will be. I hope as one leaves the film, those of my generation are inspired to dream again, and that the next generation is inspired to simply dream.

“After Louie” stars Alan Cumming and Zachary Booth, as well as co-writer Anthony Johnston, Justin Vivian Bond, Patrick Breen, Sarita Choudhury, Wilson Cruz, David Drake, Everett Quinton, and the legendary Joey Arias. It will be screened at numerous international film festivals throughout 2017.

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Belinda Carlisle brings a heavenly Christmas Bash December 16th

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects Belinda’s evolving life

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Courtesy of Belinda Carlise

HOLLYWOOD – On December 16th, 7pm, the city of West Hollywood transforms into a piece of “Heaven on Earth.” An angelic supernatural deity from the sky won’t be delivering this gift, but rather an angel from iconic pop paradise.

That night, Belinda Carlisle makes a grand entrance and gives an eager audience the presence of a queen of pop, the most recent inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with her group, The Go-Gos.

It will be on that night that Belinda Carlisle hosts THE party event of the season with co-host, drag superstar, Trixie Mattel. One sings, one throws comedic shade, and a packed room at the Abbey will be losing their collective minds.  Not that the party itself isn’t all the reason you would need to get it on your calendar, the evening benefits a fantastic charity, The Animal People Alliance (APA), that intertwines the love for animals with the salve to human suffering.

Courtesy of Trixie Mattel

APA’s charter reads: “To provide high quality and compassionate care, of the highest standards, to neglected street animals in India and Thailand. We train and employ vulnerable people from the community, and pay living wages that help them improve their standard of living.”   The organization, by employing people who would otherwise be stateless and/or in poverty, has treated over 16000 street animals since 2014. Their programs for animals include rabies vaccinations, sterilizations and other emergency health aid.

Belinda sat down with me this week on the podcast RATED LGBT RADIO to talk about her life, her amazing career, her party and the strength she has achieved in standing up to both inner and outer demons.

She survives. She fearlessly opens herself up, and if anyone scrutinizes her past… she will lead the way.  She happily tells of being a member of the most successful all-women pop bands in history.  They sang and wrote their own songs, they played their own instruments. They did it on their terms. No men were needed or required. She candidly shares about her struggles with eating disorders and drug addiction. 

Belinda shows profound compassion for those struggling with addiction and darkness, “Addiction is a sickness…it is a disease of perception, you can’t see your effect on other people… It is a trap you feel you can’t get out of. Every addict has a heart and a humanity that is obscured by addiction. It is a horrible, horrible thing for anyone to go through. It is hard to remember that there is a heart under all that, there is something divine under all that darkness.”

Her interest focuses more on what came after she embarked on recovery  “My life is much more exciting since sobriety, even more exciting than the hey day with the Go-Gos. For anyone out there who is worried about aging, or life being over at a certain point—it’s not. Life is just the most amazing miracle and privilege.”

Her significance for the LGBTQ community, impacts many of the most vulnerable.  She is the mom of a gay man, activist and writer, James Duke Mason. His birth made her examine the trajectory of fame, drugs, and rock & roll in which she was on, careening threateningly close to disaster and death.

She had settled comfortably into maternal nurturement when Duke came out to her at the age of 14. Belinda had been impressed with Duke’s ability to explain the situation to her. She found out that he had been online with PFLAG for weeks learning about how to present his news to her, information to give and educated about key talking points. 

Appreciating their real life help of a young person in need, Belinda vehemently supported PFLAG, the Trevor Project and others ever since. “I am so glad I have a gay son, I can’t even tell you,” she says.

Artistically, she also continues to thrive.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally inducted the Go-Gos this year.  It was an honor 15 years in the making.  It should have been an obvious choice to put them there.

As the first all-female group making it big, they sang, wrote every note and played every instruments. The Go-Go’s, a 2020 American/Irish/Canadian documentary film directed and produced by Alison Ellwood, cast attention on the Hall of Fame oversight, and essentially made the case for how special the group actually was.

Belinda also recently released a new single Get Together a cover of the 1967 Youngbloods hit. The Youngbloods sang it at Woodstock in 1969 to make a statement about the divisions of the Viet Nam era in America.

Belinda sings it now, her voice pure, mature and as an anthem making a plea, if not a motherly order, to reconsider the divisions we are experiencing today.  She says, “We live in this age of outrage.  This song is ‘ok people, CHILL OUT’. All this divisiveness is not going to get us anywhere. It’s timely.”

Beyond Get Together, Belinda works on more new music including singles and a new album.  She continues to produce with the top song creators of the industry including award winning song writer Diane Warren and Go-Gos dates at the end of the year.

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects the channeling of Belinda’s evolving life.  When she lived in France, she released a French collection.

As she delved into spirituality and the culture of Thailand, she released the powerful Wilder Shores, which blended a spiritual mantra into pop hooks. “Chanting is a science, it has a super power. It is not airy fairy,” she states.

The fact is, Belinda Carlisle continues arriving and thrilling.  She does not need to prove herself to anyone.  She has defined the next thirty years of her life as philanthropy.  

“I just wing it as I go along. I learned what it is like to work from the heart. Work in a way where you don’t care about any kind of outcome. That is how I am working now. I am just having fun, and doing just what I want. I am really lucky that way,” she declares.

Her party on December 16th at the Abbey appears right on track to bear that out.

Love, humanity, care of animals and a major splash of fabulousness enveloping an enthused audience.

In other words, pure Belinda.

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Listen to the full interview:

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Andy Grammer partners with Trans Chorus of Los Angeles

Celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are

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Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (Screenshot via YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – In honor of Transgender Awareness Week, Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (America’s first Trans Chorus, embracing all members of the trans, non-binary and intersex communities) for a special live performance of “Damn It Feels Good To Be Me” – celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are. What a special moment. In conjunction with the partnership a donation has been made by Andy to the TCLA.

A note from TCLA: “The Chorus really enjoyed the song and especially performing it with Andy around the piano. It was upbeat and expressed how important it is to live your life and your authenticity and to feel good about who you are. That is the thrust of our Chorus philosophy of moving from victim to victorious.”

Connect with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles:https://transchorusla.org/

Andy Grammer – Damn It Feels Good To Be Me (featuring Trans Chorus of Los Angeles)

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Michael Kearns, the Godfather of LGBTQ+ authenticity

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level

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Michael Kearns by Keida Mascaro

HOLLYWOOD – The arc of LGBTQ+ history over the past 50 years has been one of constant upheaval and evolvement. From a period when it was both illegal and insane to be gay, through the achievement of being able to serve openly in the military, to marriage equality and the ability to create families to today’s fight against the tyranny against Trans people, the movement has not stopped to take a breath.

Michael Kearns, the first recognized “out” actor on the Hollywood landscape, has been a visible presence through it all. More importantly, he has always” been visible on the gay scene. In the seventies he epitomized the free love and erotic freedom that many gay men lived. He was featured in classic gay porn movies and did a PR stint as the face of the “happy hustler.”  

“That was my introduction to a lot of people,” Michael told me when we sat down for a chat on Rated LGBT Radio. “I kind of captured the zeitgeist of the times, the freewheeling seventies. We forget that there was that period of time when sexuality was joyful and exciting and thrilling.”

In the eighties he was visible in mainstream media as a gay man playing gay men characters. In 1983, Michael was cast in a minor role on the Cheers Emmy winning episode “the Boys in the Bar.”  He was instantly recognized for his gay sexual iconic status by LGBTQ audiences, even though the population at large did not know who he was. The casting director who fought for his casting was Stephen Kolzak, who would himself become a prominent AIDS activist before he died at 37 in 1990. Stephen casted Michael to make a statement. He wanted to signal to the LGBTQ community that Cheers had our backs. “He was one of the only ones that had the guts,” Michael remembers.

“There were a lot of stereotypes in television regarding gay portrayals. I was pegged and cast in some of those roles. I did play the stereotype, but rather than a straight guy playing those roles, I brought authenticity. I was real. Straight guys playing gay would always spoof the role. They were always ‘winking’ and signaling to the camera ‘I am not really that way.’  So, the performances are by in large horrible, even with some academy award winners. The actors were constantly saying that it was not who they were—if they weren’t making that clear on the talk shows, they were doing it in the performance itself.’ Michael says.

Michael soon morphed into an HIV positive man playing HIV positive characters, while off camera becoming a visible and vocal AIDS activist. “It was a new kind of cliché. They had to always make me look horrible. The ghastlier the better. They could not have an HIV character who looked normal—as I did when I arrived at the set. Finally, I had enough and refused to do that anymore.” Michael then immersed himself in theater where he found greater character honesty and truth.

 As gay men captured their identities in the 90s as husbands and fathers, Michael was there too—becoming one of the first gay men to adopt a child.  It is that role, as a father, that Michael has said is his greatest.

Today, Michael has been a driving force behind QueerWise, a multigenerational writing collective and performance group. Through QueerWise, Michael gives poetic voice to talent that would otherwise be voiceless. Its members include published poets, writers of fiction and non-fiction, playwrights, singers, musicians, social activists, dancers, actors artists and teachers. 

This weekend, on Sunday October 17th, QueerWise launches its latest work, The Ache for Home. 

“The Ache for Home is a video presentation of heartfelt stories from formerly homeless/unhoused individuals in and around West Hollywood. It was developed through a mentorship program facilitated by QueerWise members. The production represents citizens-turned-writers who share their inspirational stories from those glamorous streets and sidewalks, ranging from soaring self-acceptance to narratives of truth-telling defeats,” states Michael. The production can be seen on QueerWise’s YouTube Channel starting 5pm October 17.

The Ache for Home features a young cis male with a passion for music and art, who finds joy “when I can put a smile on someone’s face and give back”, a retired mixed race bisexual government worker who is a voracious reader and literacy advocate, two trans males share their experiences of living on the street, and a former resident playwright who was homeless for 44 days and nights in the city. “I am thrilled at our inclusion of transmen in this work,” Michael says. “It is a poorly represented community within a poorly represented community.”

On current controversies with media and transgender targeting, particularly the Dave Chappelle issue, Michael remarks, “I am glad it is generating passion. It is bringing up conversation on the plights of black trans women who are victimized at an alarming rate, we should not say victimized… we should say murdered. I am glad we are shedding light on that.”

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level. The Ache for Home takes its inspiration from the Maya Angelou quote, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Michael Kearns work has always encouraged us to go, and live, “as we are.” He is the amalgamation of eroticism, grief, healing, and appreciating the richness of life itself.

He is the godfather of LGBT+ authenticity. In earlier days, he may have represented sex, he may have walked us through a period of darkness and death into the arms of the creation of the new family. He has now brought us home, and when we look at him, we see a new quality.

Wisdom.

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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