It all started with a Filipino hustler.
In 1989, Marcus Hu was working part time at San Francisco movie theater The Strand when he called queer Filipino director Lino Brocka to ask if they could screen Macho Dancer, his scandalous drama about a young gay man working at a go-go bar full of male prostitutes. Eager to show it uncut in the U.S.—it was heavily censored in the Philippines, mostly due to the depiction of corrupt authorities—Brocka agreed. Hu went on to book the film in more than 40 additional cities, and Macho Dancer eventually became part of MoMA’s permanent collection.
So began Strand Releasing, the boutique arthouse distribution company Hu founded with Jon Gerrans (they previously worked together at the now-defunct Vestron Pictures), which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Having released—and in a few cases helped produce—over 500 titles, Strand has introduced audiences to some of queer cinema’s most daring, trailblazing international filmmakers, including Gregg Araki (The Doom Generation), Ira Sachs (The Delta), François Ozon (Criminal Lovers), Tom Kalin (Swoon), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), Todd Verow (Frisk), Eytan Fox (The Bubble), Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey (Party Monster), Bruce LaBruce (Hustler White), and Terence Davies (The Neon Bible), while its recent titles include the 2018 hustler drama Sauvage/Wild and Italian lesbian drama Mom+Mom, which was just released on DVD/VOD.
To commemorate this anniversary, a group of filmmakers—including John Waters, The Farewell’s Lulu Wang, and Cindy Sherman—have created more than 30 short films for 30/30 Vision: 3 Decades of Strand Releasing, which will screen November 25 at NYC’s MoMA, December 5 at San Francisco’s MoMA, and December 13 at L.A.’s Hammer Museum.
Hu recently sat down with NewNowNext to discuss some of his favorite Strand releases—including the one in which a young Daniel Craig got completely naked.
The Living End (1992)
A pair of enraged HIV-positive men (Mike Dytri, Craig Gilmore) with high libidos and loaded firearms go on a rampage in Gregg Araki’s audacious, controversial feature.
Marcus Hu: “I guess you could say The Living End is the one that put us on the map. It was also one of the few production collaborations we did. Gregg did a lot to introduce Jon and me to the Sundance Institute, and the first four or five years of our company we were based out of Sundance’s offices. The Living End was one of the touchstones of the New Queer Cinema movement, which was coined at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival by [scholar] B. Ruby Rich, and it was a really important film dealing with the AIDS crisis. It had a sense of urgency, and it defined the energy and taste of the company.”
Wild Reeds (1994)
A high school student (Gaël Morel) comes of age, and to grips with his sexuality, in 1962 France.
Hu: “André Téchiné’s best film. It talks about friendships, relationships, how complex they can be at that age, and coming out—all in such a beautiful way. It’s really nuanced, and the performances are so natural. Gaël, Elodie Bouchez, Stéphane Rideau—that trio is spectacular. Elodie later came to America and appeared in American indie movies, and Gaël’s career as a filmmaker took off: His early films, like Full Speed, were reminiscent of Téchiné’s work, and he cast Stéphane in a few of them.”
Stranger by the Lake (2013)
At a remote lake where gay men cruise and sunbathe nude, a 30-something man (Pierre Deladonchamps) becomes fixated on a mustachioed, murderous hunk (Christophe Paou). A sexually explicit, Hitchcockian, subtly comic slow-burn thriller.
Hu: “It was shot with very few resources, but it doesn’t feel low-budget. It’s tense—the whole movie has you on the edge of your seat—and as a thriller it’s outstanding and so precise. I love the fact it’s very explicit yet doesn’t ever feel exploitative. We weren’t able to get on some digital platforms, but you know who had the courage to put it up because of its critical accolades? Netflix! That may have been a different time for the company, but they carried that movie without any hesitation.”
Love Is the Devil (1998)
Daniel Craig plays a thief who becomes the lover of acidic Irish painter Francis Bacon (Derek Jacobi)—and gets totally naked in a now-famous bathtub scene—in U.K. filmmaker John Maybury’s artful, unconventional biopic.
Hu: “Daniel Craig came to promote the film, and he was lovely, a gentleman. He was very engaged and had no qualms about promoting that movie at all. We did make an aggressive buy for it. I remember we bought it at a private screening before it went to Cannes as an official selection. That was amazing.”
A young gay man (Frederick Weller) new to NYC falls in with a take-no-shit drag queen (Guillermo Díaz) and a crowd of gay rights activists, leading to the 1969 Stonewall riots in British director Nigel Finch’s adaptation of Martin Duberman’s book. Finch died from AIDS-related complications during the film’s post-production.
Hu: “It was so sad. Nigel passed away by the time distribution happened, so I dealt with [writer] Rikki Beadle-Blair, and I have a very close relationship with [producer] Christine Vachon. I remember my mom making Guillermo dinner during the San Francisco tour. This Stonewall is infinitely better than the one Roland Emmerich did.”
Hu produced director Todd Verow’s adaptation of Dennis Cooper’s 1991 novel, in which a possible serial killer relays his masochistic sexual adventures and horrific crimes—or are they fantasies?—in a string of letters. The film, which co-starred Parker Posey, left audiences at San Francisco’s Frameline film festival furious because of its dark themes.
Hu: “I had gone out and optioned the book from Dennis Cooper, and it was an experience doing a no-budget film like that. We had the big premiere at closing night of Frameline, on Pride weekend, where I also got a lifetime achievement award, and it was met with such a bad reaction. People were outraged and upset, and I get it. They came in a festive mood expecting a martini, and as Billy Wilder said, I gave them a shot of vinegar. It was definitely not a great idea to program it right after the Pride parade!”
Office Killer (1997)
Photographer Cindy Sherman dipped a toe into feature filmmaking with this satire about a homicidal magazine employee (Carol Kane), which came to life with an Avengers-like team of superstar indie filmmakers, including screenwriters Todd Haynes and Tom Kalin and producer Christine Vachon.
Hu: “We ended up getting two titles that originally were from the Weinsteins because of disputes with the producers and filmmakers. The Neon Bible—that was originally a Miramax title—and Office Killer. It was a really fun project. It’s a really smart art-horror film, with great performances from Molly Ringwald and Carol Kane, and it afforded me the opportunity to work with Cindy, who I’m a huge fan of and keep in touch with today.”
Of Time and the City (2008)
Best known for his autobiographical works, Terence Davies crafted a poetic documentary about his hometown of Liverpool, a place he recalls with pain and warmth (it is where he first struggled with his sexuality).
Hu: “It’s a personal diary movie. It was a tough sell, but not to the audience that loves Terence Davies. It’s very much him, and he has so many fans. It may have been small, but it plays very well to people who wanted to know more about his life. I definitely would like to see him do another memoir piece.”
Anthony Hopkins wrote, directed, starred in, and composed the music for this trippy, satire-tinged tale of a screenwriter who may be inhabiting his own stories.
Hu: “Anthony was fun. I traveled across the country with him, and he was really lovely. There was a funny moment when we were at MoMA and they brought out lamb tartare on crisps. He politely declined.”
Main image: The Living End.