When May Met December... :: Daniel Allen Cox on 'Gerontophilia'
Novelist Daniel Allen Cox has waded into daring stylistic and thematic territory before with titles like the Lambda Literary Award-nominated "Shuck," the similarly nominated "Krakow Melt," and the hallucinatory, critically acclaimed "Basement of Wolves," not to mention his Expozine Alternative Press Award-nominated novella "Tattoo This Madness In," which sees gay Jehovah Witnesses resorting to skin ink and Smurfs to bite back against the constraints of religion.
But all that was a matter of working with the printed page. For his next trick, Cox makes the leap from page to stage -- or rather, screen -- with "Gerontophilia," the new film from Cox's fellow Canadian, director and co-writer Bruce LaBruce. The film premiers Aug. 28 at the Venice Film Festival, and is slated to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9.
Judging from the title alone -- its root words combine to mean "A love of the elderly" -- LaBruce's newest project might seem somewhat clinical, and the setting of some early scenes at a rest home might underscore that sense. But don't be lulled: The man behind electrically transgressive films like "Super 8½," "The Raspberry Reich," and "Otto" hasn't lost his ability to shock and galvanize.
With "Gerontophilia," the talents of both cutting-edge artists merge. In the film. a young man named Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie) can't stop thinking about older men. He's straight -- at least, he thinks he is -- but he has a fascination with the thought that time transmutes the flesh, turning youths like himself into elderly men with all the character, vulnerability, wisdom, and frailty that age entails. Does his fascination have a sexual edge? When he meets an elderly man named Mr. Peabody (Walter Borden), Lake has the chance to find out.
Aside from "Harold and Maude," there's little enough out there about erotically charged love between people separated by more than a couple of decades. Even "Harold and Maude" recognized that the idea of a young person pairing up intimately with a much older lover is foreign, even repellant, to many people, and pointedly made fun of that revulsion. But how will a film ostensibly directed at a gay audience handle the issue? After all, if the gay world is anything, it's youth-oriented; it's hard enough to be noticed after age thirty, let alone age seventy or so.
But even as mainstream heteronormative culture begins to come to grips with the issue of elders having sexual feelings (and having sex), the LGBT community -- or, as Cox prefers to refer to it, the queer community -- is also going to have to start thinking outside the youth-centric box. A recent Bloomberg article about how a Riverdale, New York elder care facility called Hebrew Home took the lead with a daring policy, first set forth in 1995, that recognizes that the elderly are not sexless, and not children; they, like adults in any other age bracket, feel a need for consensual, pleasurable sexual contact. Indeed, such essential human contact does them good.
And it's not as though this particular genie is going to be stuffed back into the bottle: As the Bloomberg article noted, "By 2030, people 65 and over are expected to number more than 72 million, up from 40 million today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Baby Boomers, who started moving into that group in 2011, are sexually freer, living longer and using drugs such as Viagra."
As Cox noted in a pre-interview conversation, "Sex among the elderly is topical at the moment, although queer voices seem to be shut out of the conversation."
"Gerontophilia" may be a starting place for that conversation between LGBT elders and their families, friends, and care providers.
EDGE: Sexual activity among older people is sort of frowned on, even if no younger partner is involved. What's up with that -- is there some notion that sex is too dangerous for the elderly?
Daniel Allen Cox: Yes. The elderly are infantilized to the point of being robbed of all sexual agency, under the pretext of it being for their own good. This happens regardless of their condition.
And yet, 'for their own good,' they are subjected to all manner of institutional abuse in care facilities: Drugged against their will, neglected, the works. Also, old folks are expected to be 'respectable,' which often means no sex, even though they get horny like everybody else. Some people working in senior care understand this.
Beyond that, stigma remains especially strong for those who desire the elderly. In the current push to assimilate queer culture into dominant culture, there is less room to be kinky. In Lake's case, he has a fetish that is outside the mainstream, and I don't believe has much representation in cinema. These ideas have to be confronted sooner or later, especially in places with aging populations.
EDGE: Was it quite a learning curve to write your first screenplay? Would you say it's quite a different task to write for the screen as opposed to writing a novel?
Daniel Allen Cox: Film is a completely different medium than books, so much so, that I had to temporarily "kill the novelist" in me, to stop writing in words and start writing in images. It sounds drastic, but it's true. It's a different way of thinking. It's not easy to trust that a page of silence can convey more than a page of dialogue. A look can say it all. I learned that the immediate audience of a film script is the cast and crew -- you are writing something to inspire people to make a movie. With this sort of thing, less is more.
But this was not my first screenplay project. I wrote a few feature-length scripts fifteen years ago and tried to sell them by hitting up production houses door-to-door. That didn't go very far, but now I'm thinking of resurrecting a few of the ideas."
EDGE: How did you end up partnering with Bruce LaBruce to co-script "Gerontophilia?"
Daniel Allen Cox: I don't even know! It just kind of happened. We were in a Toronto strip club and I was going through a round of Jack and Cokes when Bruce popped the question.
"Gerontophilia" was well underway. He had already been working on it for a few years, having written the story and a few drafts of the script. Maybe it was the subsequent round of gin and tonics, but we started writing together, in what turned into a beautiful collaboration of two years and many drafts. I still have no idea why he asked me that night at the club. Maybe I'll ask him one day.
EDGE: What was it like to work with Mr. LaBruce, whose films are so wild both in subject matter and in execution?
Daniel Allen Cox: I was a fan long before we met, so it was a dream to get to work with him. I don't have any education in film, but I can say I've been to the School of Bruce LaBruce. He attacks the art with such thoroughness and research. There was always homework.
It was neat for me to work on "Gerontophilia" as someone who knows Bruce's body of work, and to see this as a continuation of that subversiveness, and to work in an atmosphere of fearlessness, which is so freeing for an artist. I learned the value of subtlety. Bruce handles difficult subject matter with the complexity it requires. I'm lucky that my first writing collaboration was such a good one. And I'm grateful to have worked with producers Nicolas Comeau, Leonard Farlinger and Jennifer Jonas -- I'm in awe of the work they do to make a film come to life. This is definitely the biggest development in my writing career.
EDGE: What's it like to see your words made flesh, as it were, by the camera and the cast???
Daniel Allen Cox: The cast and crew asked me that a number of times. My answer was always, "It's unreal." During production, the script takes a new life and becomes a very different animal. In editing, as well. Watching the beauty of this evolution, and recognizing the script through these changes, is emotional for me.
EDGE: Did you have a lot of participation in the day-to-day process of filming the movie???
Daniel Allen Cox: No. I visited the set a few times and tried to stay out of the way. It's a union picture. Wasn't easy to find a piece of unused floor on the set, but I found that if I stayed statue still, I was invisible. LOL!
EDGE: We were talking earlier about how, while there is a push now for some nursing homes to be more "sex positive," the conversation around this seems to focus on heterosexual couples. Do you have a sense that there's still a lot of homophobia in the elder care industry?
Daniel Allen Cox: In my limited experience with it, and what I've read about, yes. It's a horror to think that putting someone into a care facility could mean putting them into a closet. A particular horror if they had already been out for part or much of their lives. We need to make sure this doesn't happen.
But that said, "Gerontophilia" isn't about gay desire per se. The focus is on age. For example, on the texture of skin that would look good on anyone of advanced years, regardless of their gender identity or gender expression, or that of the person who desires them.
EDGE: Describe, if you don't mind, your ideal partner when you reach the age of, say, 82?
Daniel Allen Cox: Well, if I'm lucky and privileged to make it to 82, I hope to meet people for whom the word "old" will not be a completely desexualized, bad word.
EDGE: Are you thinking you'll do some more work in film?
Daniel Allen Cox: Absolutely. Earlier this year, my short film script "One Shut Night" was read onstage with a director and actors at the NYC PictureStart Film Festival. I'm now talking to some US producers about it. We'll see what happens. I'm also working on a new feature film script. And I'm looking to collaborate a lot more.
EDGE: You must be thrilled with the movie premiering at such
prestigious film festivals!
Daniel Allen Cox: I'm super excited about TIFF, and I can't wait for Venice too! I find it significant that Venice is the world's oldest film festival. I mean, it's a fitting place for a "Gerontophilia" premiere.