Ariztical Entertainment // 1997 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // October 18th, 2002
Swish in. March out.
(To properly review this film, a word needs to be used to sufficiently describe the action and activity of the characters. That word, which could either be a man's proper name, or a part of the male anatomy, will not be employed. Instead, the more audience friendly word "chair" (and/or "chairs") will be substituted.)
Matt Grabowski is a gay man living in Chicago. Matt is obsessed with chairs. He loves and craves chairs, but he hasn't had a chair near his butt in over three years. All of his gay friends tell him that he needs to grow up, find a chair that suits him, and sit down on it immediately. More than once and nightly, if possible. But the lack of a big, strong chair for his hindquarters is the least of Matt's problems. His career is in limbo and his last roommate ran out on the rent, taking his chair with him. Sick of the world kicking him in the chair, Matt decides to attend Butch Camp, a homosexual support group run by a dyke chair-tator named Sam Rottweilier. She helps insecure queers deal with the aggressive "hetero whores" of the outside world: those straight people who want to oppress and bash gays for their love of chairs. During one of his "homework" assignments at a sports bar, David runs into Rod and his girlfriend Janet. All Janet wants in life is lots and lots of chairs. All makes. All models. She wants them whenever and wherever. She thinks Matt is sexy, and seduces him in a hot tub. Matt is amazed that, even though he is homosexual and not interested in women, he still had a stiff chair to offer Janet. Eventually, Janet discovers that Matt is gay. But it turns out that ex-boyfriend Rod likes chairs as well, and he wants to join Matt in a nice long sit down.
You have to feel bad for Butch Camp. You sense it did not want to be some over the top trash classic about gabby gay gadflies cruising for fun in Chi-town. You can just make out the important themes and simple romantic/comic love story between two men as the film progresses. You can imagine the script being stripped of its stupid outrageousness, given an intelligent and masterful re-write, and turned into the kind of sensitive cinema that critics climb over each other to praise and awards programs feel obligated to recognize. But that is not the version of Butch Camp you get here. Dignity and tolerance are as hidden as a muscle queen's Adam's apple in this unfunny failure. Sadly, this psychotic claptrap seems like the work of people who are as closeted as the cases they want to champion. This film hides its thesis of loneliness within a society, which tends to bash first and deny acceptance later, inside a faux frenetic farce. A training program for homosexual men to discover their inner "hetero" is a promising comic premise. A great deal could be done with it. But aside from dressing Judy Tenuta like Madonna's Teutonic cousin from a drag version of Judgment at Nuremberg, it is a completely tedious cinematic reality. Tenuta has some funny lines (she is a gifted comedian, after all), but no other aspect of the camp, from its other members to the group goals or handbooks, is even remotely hilarious. While this sequence is only a small part of the film (odd to name the whole movie after it), whenever it arrives on screen, the story being told is brought to a screeching halt for Fraulein Fassbinder and her patented gay Gestapo shtick.
But this is really being too kind to the film. To blame its breakdown on a lame self-help principle is unfair. From the acting to the direction, Butch Camp is distraught and incoherent. As the lead, Paul Denniston is a Kyle McLaughlin action figure infused with the kind of unfunny angst that would turn off Woody Allen and a motor mouth that would irritate John Moschitta. No wonder Matt's friends want him to swallow a little..."chair" once in a while. It would shut him up. As the stud of his dreams, Jason Teresi is given nothing to do except de-closet and exude hunky, handsome sensitivity. He is not successful at either. But by far the worst, most worn performance comes from Jordan Roberts as the hormonally driven, chair challenged Janet. Resembling a melted Kewpie Doll smeared with too much lip-gloss, her presence in any scene guarantees an amateur experience not unlike "open mic" night at the Barbazon Modeling School. All of this awfulness is laid directly on the dingy doorstep of writer/director Alessandro De Gaetano. His dialogue smacks of the idiotic internal monologues people have with themselves while choosing a brand of hemorrhoid cream. Instead of getting to the point, his words beat around the bush and balls of each and every situation. But he saves his most proletarian notions for the camera. It's never in the right place and when he does try to compose something artistic, the bad writing and hack actors defeat his paltry purpose. Butch Camp may be a brave attempt at a low budget independent film revolving around a taboo subject that no major studio would touch. But that's no excuse for this "homos go Webelos" stupidity.
But the low rent trappings do explain the reasons for the less than stellar DVD package from Culture Q Connection. The Photoshop chop-job cover is a dead giveaway. The image is widescreen, faded, compressed and not anamorphic. What a pity: those of you with enhanced televisions will not be able to see Ms. Tenuta's ill-fitting costume in all its 16x9 glory. The sound is quite good but there is no indication if it is Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0 or OS-10. There is no Butch Camp trailer (wouldn't you love to see how they tried to sell this to middle America...), but Culture Q Connection does offer a horrifying peak at another terrible title (Hit And Runway, anyone?). Someone (or something) called Pussy Tourette is featured in a music video. There are indeed outtakes, but they are nothing more than 10 minutes of the two male leads tongue, testicle, and tush wrestling (again, a Midwestern must-see). Finally, Judy Tenuta is interviewed (if you want to call it that) for another 10 minute feature. She does bits of her act. She whirls like she has fire ants in her panty shields, and...oh yes, for about 23 seconds, she addresses appearing in the film ("I can't wait to see it," she extols). Well, Judy, we hate to tell you this, but we have seen it and you, my dear, cannot save it. Frankly, nothing could save something as misguided as Butch Camp. It does the one thing that, for so long, Hollywood and Nathan Lane thought impossible. It makes being gay somber and boring.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Ariztical Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Music Video
* Interview with Judy Tenuta