Sunday, June 17, 2012

Just in time for Gay Pride week, Joseph Mantegna's PTOWN DIARIES comes to DVD

For those who already know and love Provincetown, Massachusetts -- that tiny community on the tip of Cape Cod, unlike any other that TrustMovies is aware of -- this odd documentary will probably be a must-see. For those who want to learn something about one of America's earliest outposts for Native Americans, fisher-men, Portuguese immigrants, artists and finally the GLBT community, this film is probably as good a place an any to begin. It's chock full of past history, along with more-or-less present day activities (the release date on the DVD says 2009, but the film looks somewhat older than that), and filled with talking heads, most of them relatively interesting.

Narrated by Alan Cumming but as often as not using author and Ptown resident Michael Cunningham (The Hours, A Home at the End of the World) as our guide, with occasional remarks from the late Norman Mailer (a longtime Ptown resident and booster), the film was written and directed by Joseph Mantegna (not to be confused with actor Joe Mantegna) and seems to delight in being all over the place, almost all of the time. It hops from early history to present residents and back again, gets into the fights over the use of the area's very limited land resources between "land developers" and Ptown's villagers and artists, then goes back for more history, interspersed with scenes of artists at work and more often the GLBT community at play.

The film seems to have a divided purpose -- part serious documentary and part a commercial for GLBT tourism. We see and hear from a whole lot of residents and people of interest, including a bartender (the attractive, funny and seemingly intelligent blond, above) and a cute twinkie (below, left) who has come to the town to seek his fame and fortune. We follow the latter now and again, quite haphazardly, but he never manages to sustain much interest (from either the director or us in the audience).

Ptown has long been known for its art and artists, and some of the more fascinating observations include mention of the amazing light and clear, true colors that Provincetown offers artists. One of these, Anne Packard, below, has some very interesting things to say on the subject of practicing her art.

A section on the town as a refuge for families with gay parents is well done, and then we get an overlong lesbian strip-tease; the interplay and AIDS and politics in the community is worth our while, and then we watch gay men disco dancing for what seems like an unconscionable length of time. As I say, this is part tourism booster, so bear with us, folk!

Alcohol and over-imbibing have long gone hand in hand in Ptown, and one of the film's sharpest lines is told us by Mr Cumming, as he lists the many great writers the town has hosted over the decades, particularly back to the time of playwrights Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams and writers and journalists like Mailer and John Reed. As we see photographs now 60 to 80 years old of a famous old tavern in the town, our narrator observes, "Every one of those bar stools has had one of these famous men fall off it."

One of the most entertaining of the talking heads belongs to comic Lea DeLaria, above, whose few words are among the movie's funniest. Oddly, after all the partying and "fun" we've witnessed, the movie ends with a stern warning for young people to behave themselves and indulge in safe sex, please. Well, of course!

The film -- from Cinema Libre Studio and 89 minutes long -- is available now on DVD for sale, and perhaps, eventually, for rental or streaming. (I note that Netflix seems not to have it available. But maybe, with some prodding, they will.... )

The photos above are all from the movie itself, 
with the exception of the shot of Joseph Mantegna, 
which is by Andy Kropa, courtesy of Getty Images.

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