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While Strand’s gay-shorts series took a tentative step toward maturity with 2000’s Boys Life 3, this fourth anthology represents a full-blown regression. TV increasingly adopts the condescending, market-driven mantra of I Can See Queerly Now, but gay indie films seem an ever more irrelevant niche, not least because the last thing these flicks can claim is a clear eye—for anything. Executive producer Brian Sloan can presumably take the blame for director Brian Sloan’s stupendously inept Bumping Heads, a blabbering, concussed cringefest of unrequited lust. Phillip J. Bartell’s mockumentary L.T.R. tracks the fleeting, lovey-dovey prime and petulant, drawn-out dissolution of a young relationship. A clutter of serendipitous diagramming and editing-software trickery, Eric Mueller’s This Car Up splits the screen into quadrants—the lower half juxtaposes two attracted opposites, while slot-machine-style panels above act as thought bubbles.
Alan Brown, who won plaudits for his novel, Audrey Hepburn’s Neck, contributes the token serious entry, but his O Beautiful, which probably imagines itself a redemptive Matthew Shepard elegy, is alternately banal and facetious, situated in dangerous psychic terrain somewhere between martyr complex and rape fantasy. A high school kid is beaten and abandoned in a cornfield, and a fanciful what-if takes shape when an attacker returns. The power play between gaybasher and gaybashee unfolds in split-screen (Final Cut Pro: more curse than blessing—discuss). As the boys lob stilted avowals (“Gay isn’t a productive thing.” “Gay isn’t an extracurricular activity.”), lies are told, secrets uncovered, and roles reversed—all of it sealed with a kiss more problematic than the film is inclined to acknowledge.