pornographic yet chaste, distanced yet mesmerizing, reticent yet moving
"God alone is great." So began the humbling eulogy for Louis XIV, delivered by Jean-Baptiste Massillon. Nearly three centuries later, this statement still haunts a pair of films by William Jones: the first, about a town in the grasp of religious fundamentalism; the second, about a man who mistook himself for a messiah.
(16mm, color, 70 minutes, 1991)
The filmmaker of Massillon knows "you can't go home again," and yet he does. He photographs beautiful scenery and makes political commentary; he recounts childhood betrayals and discusses the etymology of the word "sodomy" - all this and more in an unconventional début.
Massillon was included in the 1993 Whitney Biennial Exhibition, and was also shown at Los Angeles Filmforum, Pacific Film Archive, New York's Artists Space, and Toronto's Pleasure Dome.
"The best of the documentaries screened [at the Ninth Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival] is William Jones' Massillon, a three-part effort that moves from the personal to the historical. Part One, Ohio, features views of the rusty Ohio industrial town where Jones was raised, accompanied on the soundtrack by reminiscences of his youth and dawning sexuality. The film moves into a brief second chapter, The Law, in which shots of various state capitols and Washington monuments support his discussion of the laws restricting sexual activity. Part three, California, is the kicker. Filmed around the half-built planned community of Santa Clarita, the sequence contrasts the benignly neutral landscapes of playgrounds and aqueducts with Jones' narration of the history of sexual persecution and legal regulation. Gradually the film throws into sharp relief how the manmade constructions of living space now bear the mark of authoritarian moral architects." - Henry Sheehan, L. A. Weekly
"Massillon is a remarkably sensual film. The film's gentle editing is complemented by the reassuring intonation of Jones' voice-over. His prose is literary, his images painterly, his humor dry. Jones crafts a film exceptional for its coherent utilization of the unique capacities of the medium." - Jenni Olson, Bay Area Reporter
"William Jones' Massillon is that rarity that eluded the queer new wave, a homo road movie in which gay icons are nowhere to be seen. Massillon uses the quiet landscapes of the American Midwest to look at a history disfigured by myths of the family, patriotism, and religion." - Lawrence Chua, Artforum
"The film's payoff is its seamless coitus of the personal with the political." - Edward Ball, Village Voice
(16mm, color, 75 minutes, 1997)
Finished is a detective story and a love story, a film noir bathed in sunlight. It's a film of contradictions: pornographic yet chaste, distanced yet mesmerizing, reticent yet moving. It reminds us that life in the movies is not like life at the movies. - Filmforum program notes
Finished premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It has also been shown at the Rotterdam Film Festival, at Portland's Northwest Film Center, and at Filmforum and the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles.
"In the future, everyone's 15 minutes will be capped by a documentary that seeks to explain or simply justify their lives. The best of these works will likely take some of their cues from such groundbreaking works as Superstar, Todd Haynes' brilliant sketch of Karen Carpenter's life, or Rock Hudson's Home Movies, Mark Rappaport's sly and subversive reading of Hudson's filmography; they'll be darkly humorous, rigorously intellectual, and achieve a universal poetry that transcends the specifics of the life examined. William E. Jones' Finished is such a film. A few years ago, Jones saw an ad for a phone-sex hot line and clipped the photo of the model, Alan Lambert. The seeds of a mild obsession had been planted. A year later, though, the 25-year-old Lambert committed suicide in a park of his native Quebec. Finishe d, admittedly initiated by Jones' lust, tries to answer a host of questions surrounding the unanswerable 'why' of Lambert's final act. A man who listened to Mozart while he turned tricks in his apartment and had bookshelves filled with Marx, Lambert reportedly once told a porn-film co-star that he was superior to most human beings. He espoused radical but confusing political theories, eagerly anticipated the fall of capitalism, and was obsessed with the apocalypse. Most of the revelations paint him as insufferably pretentious. But the film goes beyond Lambert's life. It offers pungent critiques of society's definitions of masculinity and gender. It challenges the aesthetics of porn, even as Jones admits their power. But Finished delivers its most devastating blows in showing how politics, commerce, sexuality and the individual are engaged in a deadening if not deadly dance. With its lingering shots of crashing ocean waves, billowing clouds, and busy L. A. freeways, the film certainly won't satisfy anyone's prurient interests. But by the last frame, Finished has proved itself a powerful, disturbing meditation." - Ernest Hardy, L. A. Weekly
Ball, Edward. "Candid Cameras." Village Voice, 29 December 1992, p. 72.
Chua, Lawrence. "Unusually Moving Pictures." Artforum, May 1993, p. 17.
Hardy, Ernest. "Finished." L. A. Weekly, 14 February 1997, p. 72.
Jones, William. "My Hustler." The Ultimate Guide to Lesbian and Gay Film and Video. Edited by Jenni Olson. (London: Serpent's Tail, 1996), pp. 167-69.
McHugh, Kathleen. "Irony and Dissembling: Queer Tactics for Experimental Documentary." Between the Sheets, In the Streets. Queer, Lesbian, Gay Documentary. Edited by Chris Holmlund and Cynthia Fuchs. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), pp. 224-240.
Murray, Raymond. "Massillon." Images in the Dark: An Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Film and Video. (Philadelphia: TLA Publications, 1994), pp. 418-19.
Olson, Jenni. "My Own Private Ohio." The Advocate, 5 May 1992, p. 74-75. Reynaud, Bérénice. "Independence Sundance." Cahiers du Cinéma, no. 511 (March 1997), pp. 10-11.
Satuloff, Bob. "Amber Waves of Brain." New York Native, 17 January 1992, p. 36.
Sheehan, Henry. "Mind Your Language." L. A. Weekly, 12 July 1991, p. 43-44.
Thomas, Kevin. "Life, Death in Provocative Finished." Los Angeles Times, 10 April 1997, p. 16.
Willis, Holly. "The Silent Treatment." Filmmaker, Winter 1997, p. 56.
Massillon is available for 16mm rentals from Canyon Cinema (415) 626-2255. (link?) Massillon is also available for home video sales from Videoactive Releasing (800) 666-2627.
Finished is available for 16mm rentals from Strand Releasing (310) 395-5002.