THE GAY kiss was once considered radical, but nowadays it's going to take more than that to push boundaries. How about gay dead zombie sex?
Most of the films shown at Outfest, the gay and lesbian film festival that's been ticking on for 26 years now, are traditional -- features with linear narrative structures and talking-head-style documentaries. The festival even has its fair share of, gasp, romantic comedies.
But for films such as Canadian provocateur Bruce LaBruce's zombie movie, "Otto; or, Up With Dead People," the festival has the Platinum showcase, designed 10 years ago for films that formally experiment, testing the limits beyond the screen kiss.
For this year's festival, running through July 21, the series is stepping out on the red carpet with a showcase screening of "Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell," a documentary about the avant-garde disco musician and producer, at the hoity-toity Directors Guild of America. Before you accuse the series of going all Westside, though, keep in mind that the after-party will be at Wildness, a DJ night at Silver Platter, a dive in MacArthur Park. (Series screenings also take place at downtown L.A.'s perennially edgy REDCAT and the Regency Fairfax.)
Other films in the showcase, which features nine presentations, include "Tearoom," William E. Jones' found footage of a men's public restroom in 1962, and "Squeezebox," a documentary about the New York City performance-art club where John Cameron Mitchell first workshopped "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."
"The Platinum program is not just about the content, it's about form," Kimberly Yutani, director of programming, says from her office in West Hollywood. "The filmmakers are not just concerning themselves with the themes, it's about creating new standards for what we look at as LGBT films and art in general."
Whether it's a sign of progress or complacency, interim Executive Director Kristin Schaffer has noticed a trend in the last decade at Outfest toward traditional filmmaking. "After the festival, those films live most of their lives through distribution, but the Platinum films live a different life. It connects us with more of an art community. These films play in museums and galleries."
Some of the programs will weave in other media forms. "The Monsters in Our Closets: The Secret Gay Archive Exposed," curated by Nao Bustamante and Jose Munoz, will feature performance, archival video footage and some wild-card elements, all dedicated to failure -- spectacular or otherwise -- that not even the programmers know yet.
In "Tearoom," the viewer sees the comings and goings taped by a police surveillance camera in a Midwestern public restroom. "You don't see anything explicit," Yutani says, "but you see people go in stalls together, coming out. It's not graphic, and that's one of the most interesting things about it. . . . It is overtly covert."
So while the content and form of Platinum films are cutting-edge, they're not meant to alienate.
"I leave the screenings really inspired," Schaffer says. "It's like going to a gallery and seeing a big, huge painting. . . . From watching these films, I feel like my reality's been altered slightly, and that's a fun feeling."
WHAT: Bruce LaBruce tribute, REDCAT, 5 p.m. Sun.; "Wild Combination," Directors Guild of America, 7 p.m. Tue.; see website for full schedule.