Two best friends – one straight, one bisexual/gay – hook up just before
the straight guy gets married. It’s the start of a decade long affair
where the guys meet for one night a year to have sex, catch up and let
loose. However what should be a secret but simple bit of fun soon
becomes something more complicated for both of them.
That’s the set-up for writer/director Mark Bessenger’s The Last Straight
Man, which shows us five of the mens’trysts over a 12-year period. With
the film coming to DVD (it’s out this week in both the US and UK), we
took the opportunity to chat to Bessenger about his movie, how the
actors dealt with the sex and nudity, and whether gay people have a
double standard about ‘straight’ men having same sex affairs.
What is your favorite quote from the film? And why?
Caleb was worried of Ave’s might being replaced with higher version.
Nathan said that Caleb should feel sad for himself instead because “One
day the AIs gonna looking back on us, the same way we look at fossil
skeletons in the plains of Africa. An upright ape, living in dust, with
crude language and tools, all set for extinction. ” (65min)
The vital purpose for a species is to live, to reproduce no matter for
apes or human beings. Civilization comes after living. The development
of technology is irreversible. If one day AI can replace us like we
replace apes, we really should not feel sad for our enemy today. AI is
like a marching train; it is already too late to catch it when you hear
the steam whistle. Once AIs can learn and exchange information and form
a culture, the day us being replaced can be expected soon.
Is the future all robot and computers or is it just a lot of sci-fi
The future will full of robots. The trend of human development is to get
rid of our planet and get endless resources from stars. The phase “space
nomads” has been created to describe this plan. It doesn’t mean that
human civilization will die out once people can get rid of gene. In the
movie Lucy, the main character starred by Scarlet Johnson became a
machine looks like a flash disk that stored all forms of human culture.
Sometimes when I read good science fictions like The Three-body Problem,
the winner of 2015 Hugo Awards for the best novel, I couldn’t help to
think are the writers prophets because I believe what they write will
really happen one day.
When Sydney Pollack was making “Out of Africa” in 1985, he considered
the problem of how to film Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in love
scenes that were not explicit, yet were erotic. “When I have Streep and
Redford together,” he told me, “I don’t want to see them strip naked and
writhe around in bed together. The challenge was to find love scenes
that would have emotion and passion and yet not violate a certain place
where we want to see them. There are two really sensual love scenes. One
of them is the undressing scene. I always like scenes like that. I think
they’re sexy. I tried to make a sort of passionate dance out of them
undressing each other. The second scene consists of three absolutely
terrific lines I took out of a screenplay that was written in 1973 when
Nicholas Roeg was going to direct this project. It’s only three lines,
but what lines: “Don’t move. I want to move. Don’t move.”
Where did the idea for The Last Straight Man come from?
I wish I could say it was autobiographical, but it actually sprang from
the budget. I knew my next feature would have to keep costs down, so I
began to wonder if I could set a movie in one location and keep it
interesting for ninety minutes. From there, it just built itself up: a
hotel suite…one night every year afforded the opportunity to let
characters grow…two men…best friends…one straight and one gay would
provide the drama…unrequited love and sexual curiosity would provide the
conflict…and there it was.
- Share with me your favorite scene in the film and why?
When Ava got out of her room and killed Nathan and locked Caleb, she
went into the living room. She opened her arms in front of the stairs
like the stairs lead to the outside of trueman’s world. Then she turned
around with a big smile. She felt happy that moment not only because she
is out and free but also because she finally got out of Marie’s black
and white room. She could see actual colors finally. Ava saw and felt
and smiled, which all indicates that she is artificial intelligent and
has human emotions.
His instincts were correct. We don’t want to see Streep and Redford in a
conventional sex scene. That would break the film’s romantic spell, and
reduce it to sexual choreography. In most movie sex scenes, the director
chooses lighting, camera placement, music, and the tempo at which he
decides intercourse should take place. The actors perform not as they
might in life, but as they think their characters would. I have never
seen a “sex scene” that was particularly erotic. The center of feeling
is primarily, by necessity, off screen.
Have you ever fallen for a straight friend yourself?
I’ve had some pretty hard crushes on some of my straight guy friends,
but yes, there was one that I was on the verge of falling in love with.
Thank goodness it never happened. He was married with kids and it would
have been a disaster. But, if he had been gay, it would have been
glorious. We got along so well.
a) The film makes significant references to sexuality. List at least
three examples in the movie and in what scene, what is said or done that
is sexual in nature? How do these examples you think serve to enhance
Ava first put on clothes and hair when she stared to operate her
escaping plan. She used her appearance (which is exactly the favourite
type of Caleb) and femaleness to attract Caleb. There was a scene
showing Ava taking off her socks after Caleb left.
Nathan has many boxes with different versions of AIs inside. They are
all pretty women with good shapes. They and Kyoto look alike, which
shows Nathan’s taste for women.
After Ava put on clothes, skin and hair in the end of the film, she
gathered hair on the shoulder to the back with a slight shake of head,
which is a really feminine action. There was a research shown that men
like women doing that because this can unveil the neck, which is kind of
sexy. Not only did Ava gain artificial intelligence, but also
Swept by waves of joy: Marianne and Johan in “Silent Light”
How did the main actors, Mark Cirillo and Scott Sell, get involved?
Scott was the first actor cast. When I was writing the script, I
happened to see Scott in an episode of a local web show from Detroit,
Michigan. It was a horror series, and Scott was great and had the
perfect look for the Cooper character. I contacted him on Facebook,
struck up a conversation and when the script was completed, I sent it to
him to see if there was any interest. He wanted to try out, and I video
auditioned him. He did a great job, and that was that.
b) What could or would a strong feminist say about these sexuality
Actually, I don’t see much male chauvinism in this movie and I don’t
think this movie is against feminism. The maker of the AIs is a man and
he is straight. Like Nathan said in the movie, human or animal cannot
exist without a sexual dimension. And people are programmed to be
heterosexual or homosexual. It is genetic. If I were Nathan, I will make
a handsome and sexy Adam as well. However, Kyoto in the movie may show
something that will catch feminists’ attention. Kyoto is designed to be
not smart and very obedient. She meets almost all sexual and
entertainment needs of Nathan. When she was staring at Pollock’s
painting on the wall, Caleb entered and held Kyoto’s shoulders. Kyoto
mistook that as a signal for sex and started unbuttoning her blouse. She
is just a sex slave, an inflatable doll with sexual response. Some
people may argue that women in this film are objectified or materialized
and are in a low class and men are like creators, like gods. At last,
Ava played both men and get out of the room. People may say that women
are evil or bad. However, I think the director of this film was aiming
to show that AIs can perform a gender and AIs are machine radically that
have no human’s social gender.
I say that having just seen three films back to back that contain
powerfully erotic passages. Maybe you will not agree. Maybe you’ve
become accustomed to writhing and thrashing about and frantic aerobic
breathing and the sounds people don’t make when something exciting ends,
as it always must, in trembling silence. And then, unless there is an
immediate fade, the directors face one of their most difficult
challenges: What do the characters do then? I would not much want to see
Redford and Streep writhing and thrashing, or Newman and Taylor, or Brad
and Angelina, or Juno and Paulie. It would be a violation of
Another actor had initially been cast as Lewis, the gay guy, but a month
before the start of production, he backed out—a director’s nightmare.
Several other good actors were contacted, including some who had
originally auditioned for the part, but they turned it down, mostly
because of the nudity and sex. One turned it down because of the “dirty
bottom” joke! Producer Benjamin Lutz suggested I auditioned Mark
Cirillo. They were friends because they had both been in another movie
together (The Men Next Door), and Mark had done comedy and nudity in
that film. So we brought Mark in, and he was great, so the two leads
a) Who are the protagonist and the antagonist in film? Why?
b) In the film, it is not uncommon for a viewer to at different points
in the film believe one character is the villain. Write a log with at
least 6 entries as to in what parts you think certain characters are
villains and why?
c) Why is the villain at the end such a “bad character?” What human
qualities is the character missing?
The three films are “Silent Light,” “Everlasting Moments” and “Medicine
for Melancholy.” Reviews will follow in a few days or a week. Here I’ll
discuss what the Brits might call the “nasty bits,” although in these
films the scenes are solemn and transcendent. People who are deeply in
love, especially at the beginning or even before the beginning, treat
one another with a kind of reverence, a holiness. They are weaving a
spell. They are starting a story not yet told. They are facing
Is it true that you initially thought about having different actors
playing the two main characters at each of their meetings? Why was that
Yes. Originally, I thought it would be fun to have different actors play
the same characters every time they met. Maybe even actors of diverse
races. It would give me the opportunity to work with more good people
and add an interesting spin to the film, but the producers discussed it
with me, and we ultimately decided it was too gimmicky an idea. The
audience would have to get acquainted with the characters anew each time
which would make it harder to build upon their story arcs. Plus, each
concurrent set of actors would have to work within ever-tightening
parameters, as they could only perform within the boundaries set by the
preceding actors, which wouldn’t be as much fun. So we scrapped the
It is hard to divide the four main characters into good and bad or vital
and less important. Understanding this film and the characters by
defining their personality will belittle this film and be childish. If
have to choose, Caleb is the protagonist because of his kindness and
sympathy. Ava played Caleb and Nathan so she can be seen as the
After watching the final choose of Ava, I looked back at some details of
the conversations between her and Caleb. I found she had a perfect plan
to get out by using Caleb but I won’t say she is a villain. Everyone in
that situation will think about escape not to mention that Ava doesn’t
identify herself as a human. We cannot ask her to be grateful to who has
helped because some of us, human beings, cannot do that as well. Ava
triggered the power off on day 2 and made Caleb started to doubt Nathan.
She put on dress and hair and flirted with Caleb on day 3. Ava told the
truth about power off to Caleb to gain his trust on day 4. On day 5, Ava
tested Caleb. The questions showed that Ava knows about humanity very
well. On day 7, the escaping day, Ava talked to Kyoto before she
attacked Nathan. There should be massive information exchanging between
two robots. The film didn’t show what they talked. But we can guess that
Ava told Kyoto to stab Nathan.
There was one second I thought what if Caleb is the final version of AI
and he was coming here to get tested by Ava. Caleb also doubted himself
by cutting himself. However, Caleb will never be a robot like Ava. He
has too much sympathy, too many human emotions. He worried about Ava and
even planned to take her out. Ava has none of his personality, which
makes her the ‘villain’ in the film. While there is no civilization or
moral ethics if to live is still a problem, no matter for human beings
or robots. Ava’s choice should be understandable.
That destiny may not include happiness. In fact, in all three films, the
future is very much in doubt. Falling in love may not mean living
happily ever after. It may mean being still in love, but unhappy ever
after. Such a risk charges the relationship with real risk. They are
holding each other precariously on the brink of a great fall.
Due to the setup of showing us some of the men’s yearly meeting, there’s
a fair amount of nudity and sexual situations. Was that difficult to
handle on set? Were the actors concerned about it at first?
Mark Cirillo had done nudity in previous films so it wasn’t a big deal
to him (although now that the movie is done, he has told me he’s amazed
at how much skin and sex there is in it), and when we were recording the
audio commentary for the DVD, Scott revealed that ‘those’ scenes had
almost prevented him from accepting the role. Both actors were very
brave, but I have to give special props to Scott, who basically flew
across the country to meet a group of people he didn’t know and get
comfortable enough around us to take off his clothes and show butt and
A warmth is growing: Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins
in “Medicine for Melancholy”
We rehearsed the scenes (clothed) extensively before we began filming,
so the actors were relaxed and familiar with each other’s bodies, so I
think that made it easier for them. And while we shot with a small crew,
it was still difficult to get people to work on the film, due to the
fact that it was GAY sex and MALE nudity. Even the women on the shoot
were, I was told, uncomfortable. But I am always about challenging
boundaries, so I take that as a badge of honor. And everyone behaved
professionally. Even the telling of dirty jokes on set was practically
“Silent Light,” directed by Carlos Reygadas, seems to involve unlikely
characters. They are all members of a Mennonite community in
Mexico–although the word “Mennonite” is not said by anyone, the
characters speak in a German dialect, and you must play close attention
to conclude they are in Mexico. Reygadas is not interested in
superficialities. He considers characters who are profoundly committed
to their faith, are rigorously honest, and would rather not be in this
situation at all. There is a married couple, 40ish, with six children.
And a local woman. We learn next to nothing about her personal life.
How much of a challenge was writing the script? You want us to get to
know these men, but you are seeing them in quite limited periods. Was it
difficult to keep it natural but still fully flesh out the characters?
Not at all. It was probably one of the easiest scripts I’ve ever
written. Once I knew who these two guys were, and what I wanted each
annual reunion to be about, the creation of the script just flew. I
believe once the outline was done, I wrote it in a week. There was a
very minimal rewrite after I let a few friends read it.
The man and his wife love one another. But the film, which is stately
and beautiful, shows a great silence at the breakfast table, and we feel
sorrow that is not explained. They say they love one another, and we
believe it. Later the man walks out onto a hilltop in the fields and the
other woman is standing there waiting for him. They smile as if not
believing how happy they are to see each other. Fingers caress faces.
They kiss. They kiss deeply, sincerely, for a long time, and it is not a
preliminary to tearing off each other’s clothes. They are hungry for
each other’s lips. They kiss in passion, but even more to comfort and
The film deals with the complexities of sexuality. It can often be a
tangled thing with many people having different ideas about how peoples’
sexuality works and how/whether it can change. As the movie deals with
people whose sexuality is being challenged or changing (at least in
their own minds), how did you ensure that felt real?
I think a person’s sexuality is pretty much set at a young age with
fuzzy borders. When I was a kid, I knew I didn’t feel the same way about
girls as I did about boys, but I still thought I would get married to a
woman some day and have kids. This was the ‘Barbie Dream House’ fantasy,
and I didn’t realize it was really a gay fantasy. In high school and
college, I became convinced I was bisexual and even bedded several women
in an attempt to prove it to myself, but it was never as satisfying as
it was when I had sex with men. Finally, I decided to just admit the
truth to myself and came out as gay. So, did my sexuality change? No.
Just my own interpretation (or frantic attempt at labelings) of what I
thought I was, not what I really was.
It is their doom to have fallen in love. The man seeks counsel from his
father and a friend. He conceals nothing. His wife knows. Everyone
believes he is a good man. We see that both women are good women.
Everyone agrees that what is happening is wrong. This film does not
presume that the man should leave his wife and be with this other woman.
When he and the woman finally go to bed with one another, there are no
gymnastics, no wild cries, no displays. They are making love. They mean
it. Don’t move. I want to move. Don’t move.
And I believe this is true for a lot of people. One ‘straight’ male
friend and fuck buddy told me that he considered himself totally
heterosexual…he just liked to suck dick once in a while. To me, that is
not straight, but to HIM, it absolutely is. So was his sexuality
changing? I don’t think so. I think he was bisexual with a preference
for women, but if he had come to this realization, his sexuality
wouldn’t change, just his interpretation of it. And I found this
fascinating and tried to incorporate this into Cooper’s character to
help give him that authenticity.
“This IS a one-night stand.”
I was also interested in how the guys’ meetings are supposed to be about
escape and fun for both of them, but it quickly becomes apparent that
there’s more to it than that. Do you think people can have ‘friends with
benefits’ relationships that don’t get more complicated?
I really don’t. Sex, even if it’s originally just for fun, implies a
certain amount of intimacy between the people involved. Now, I’m talking
about ongoing sexual relationship, not going to a bathhouse or a sex
club. When we have sex, we are revealing ourselves to another person in
many ways. We are exposing our bodies, our pleasures, our fetishes, our
psyches…everything that makes us who we are. I don’t think you can
expose those aspects of ourselves to each other and not have it
emotionally take hold somewhere.
“Medicine for Melancholy,” by Barry Jenkins, is about two 20-something
African-Americans in San Francisco. They have a one-night stand and wake
up hung over and regretful. I will leave out the plot details. At the
end of a long and good day together, each has each started to suspect
the other is someone special. They make love properly. We see no
explicit nudity. We see their faces. They don’t remember what they did
last night, but they will remember what they are doing now. They are
gentle with one another. There is a shot of bare flesh. It shows her
fingernail lightly running along his spine. The shot is held only as
long as that would take. It is incredibly erotic. There is a fade after
they finish, and then she is standing by the window and saying she is
hungry. Do they go to a restaurant? No, they go grocery shopping. When
two new lovers go grocery shopping together, they are playing house, and
they both know it.
It’s often difficult to get gay-themed films made. How did you go about
getting financing the film?
I wish I could say I sold my body for a night to an Arabian prince and
raised the entire budget by morning, but in actuality, we approached
distributors, friends and investors but no one wanted to bite. Even a
couple of porn companies. My biggest surprise was how many ‘out and
proud’ homosexual men were actually afraid to put money into a gay
production because their families and friends might disapprove. We tried
an IndieGoGo campaign that failed miserably. Ultimately, a production
company came through for us after reading the script and thinking it was
great. Who was I to disagree?
“Everlasting Moments” is a great work by the Swedish master Jan Troell.
The lovers here never even quite touch. The woman is married to a dock
worker who is kind when sober and monstrous when drunk, and does
back-breaking labor to support them, which she appreciates. To raise
money for food, she tries to pawn a camera. The older man who owns the
camera shop agrees to buy it but says she must hold it for him, and take
photographs. In taking these pictures, she learns to think of herself in
an entirely new way, and her life is enriched. The man clearly has
fallen in love with her, and she with him, but they never say so, and
they never need to say so. Their lives are better just for knowing one
another. The tension between them, as her fingers almost touch his face,
is more sexual than you can imagine.
I’m often intrigued when watching movies in which married men have an
affair with another guy, whether the ‘cheating’ character would seem as
sympathetic if he was having an affair with a woman. Do you think that’s
true and that perhaps gay-themed cinema has a bit of a double-standard
on that issue?
It is a double-standard, because cheating on a committed partner IS
cheating. But I think we are more apt to forgive a married man sleeping
with a gay man because men cheat to fulfill something they’re not
getting in their normal relationships. If he’s having hetero sex at home
and seeks out other hetero sex, it’s harder to forgive, because he’s
looking for more of what he’s already getting. But if a married man is
seeking out gay sex, we believe (or often WANT to believe) that it’s
because he’s searching for something more than just sex. He’s looking to
fulfill some part of his makeup that his wife, or any woman for that
matter, isn’t satisfying. And so he finds it with other men. For a lot
of gay men, we understand that search, since so many of us have
experienced it ourselves, and so, we’re more willing to forgive that
transgression. But if we were to see a movie about a married gay couple
in a committed relationship and one of them cheats on his spouse with
another gay man, I don’t think it would be as well-received.
These films are reminders that sex is important. It has meaning. I have
no moral rules to lay down here, and when I was unmarried certainly my
own genitals sometimes went cheerfully–even sincerely–astray. What
people do is up to them. But these three titles are reminders that sex
has become perfunctory in so many movies. It is plugged in like a chase
scene, a fight, a gag line, a tear-jerking moment, a sunset. All part of
The film seems to have had a great reaction at film festivals. Are you
pleased with how audiences have reacted to the movie?
Yes. I was surprised at how few GLBT festivals in the U.S. wouldn’t take
the film. When you’re rejected, you don’t get an explanation. But I was
always told that it could be for any reason: too long of a running time,
not funny enough, a festival programmer was feeling particularly
unattractive that day and didn’t want to book a film where someone else
found love…anything. But I always had a feeling the sexual frankness of
the film scared some of them off. Even GLBT fests in the Bible Belt can
be pretty conservative.
There once was a time when movies approached eroticism with some awe.
Now too often it is trivialized. How did it happen that exhibitionism
became confused with sexiness? When did intercourse become something to
be rushed through? The editing pace of many movies allows no time for
caressing or foreplay; the lovers are so overcome they rip off clothes
passionately and commence against the nearest wall or on top of the
closest surface. A proper regard for the importance of human intimacy is
the enemy of the 1.5-second ASL (average shot length) modern
entertainment. Meet-and-screw is the best friend.
Are you a fan of gay-themed cinema yourself? What are some of your
Yes, I love gay cinema. I love movies in general, but gay cinema feels
like it speaks more to me than other genres (except horror, but that’s
an essay in itself) because it’s easier to see myself on the screen. I
could name several films, but I’m going to restrict myself to two, both
by the same director: Joseph Graham. This guy is such a good filmmaker,
it hurts. His first film, Strapped, is a character study of people
living in an apartment building as they encounter a male escort who has
just had a client and cannot find the exit. After working his way
through the literal and figurative maze-like hallways, he learns
something about himself. It’s a beautiful piece of work. Now, Joe has a
new film coming out called Beautiful Something. He’s putting the
finishing touches on it right now. He graciously asked me to watch
it…and it’s simply brilliant. It’s about our relationship with art and
how that effects all aspects of our lives. It’s gorgeous, sexy,
amazingly directed and the acting is devastatingly wonderful. Keep an
eye out for that one. It’s flat-out my favorite gay film to date.
Not…quite…touching: Mikael and Maria in “Everlasting Moments”
Are you working on anything new. Is there anything you can tell us about
Oh yes, things have been very busy at the Bessenger film factory.
Currently, an older feature I directed and was thought lost has been
rediscovered. It’s called Rhapsody and is available for streaming and
download on amazon.com, or for purchase on Blu-ray on eBay. It was my
first gay feature, shot in Chicago in 1994. When it was found, we
remastered the footage, re-scored the music and re-edited the picture.
There were a LOT of montages. A LOT, lol. Anyway, it’s recently been
In society at large, bold and energetic displays of sexuality have
become confused with sensuality. Strippers and Chippendale men objectify
their bodies as trashy displays. I have seen more than one striptease in
my life. The best I have ever seen was by Tempest Storm, in 1968. She
performed slowly, almost sedately, as if in her boudoir. I interviewed
her after the show. “I actually put on more clothes than I take off,”
she said. “There’s some psychology in this. A performer who can
communicate a feeling of modesty is sexier than one who just strips.”
That’s what the movies are losing. Modesty. The feeling that the
characters consider their bodies of importance, and that sharing them
with another has meaning.
The very first feature film I ever directed, a
horror/comedy/action/martial arts film called Ninja Zombie may be
finally seeing the light of day next year. I was told it was too
‘mean-spirited’ by a distributor and so let it collect dust in my garage
until recently someone came calling for it. Look for that one early in
In “Out of Africa,” could Pollack have found a way to allow Streep and
Redford make love? Probably, but I think he made the right choice. He
evoked the nature of their feelings, and used cinematic strategies to
photograph in a romantic style. He didn’t record, he heightened. Streep
and Redford are fine actors, and have certainly made love in the movies,
but star power can be a distraction. After a love scene progresses
beyond a certain point, no matter how gifted the actors, how brilliant
the director, we are only human and must think, good lord! Meryl Streep
and Robert Redford! The spell is broken.
The actors in the films I have mentioned are all completely unknown to
most moviegoers, although two have done a fair amount of TV. They are
beautiful people, but in a plausible way, if you see what I mean. There
is nothing like love in your eyes to make your face glow. There are no
conventional movie star looks here. They are free to play these kinds of
characters. And how inspired they must have been to appear in love
scenes that grew organically out of their characters, were necessary,
were critical in the telling of the stories. Don’t move. I want to move.
And currently, I am in the middle of production on a new project called
Confession. It’s a 16-scene anthology made up of gay male monologues in
which each character confesses a secret to someone; sometimes a friend,
sometimes directly to us. Each piece differs from the rest in tone or
genre. One is a comedy, one is horror, one is romantic, one is
disturbing, a few are erotic, there is a concert film, dancing and
puppets; some are dark, some are light…I hope all are entertaining. And
yes, there’s sex and nudity, lol.
We should finish post by the end of April and will be making the film
festival circuit this year while seeking distribution.
I hope these films will appeal to ‘our’ audience, and that your readers
will seek them out and enjoy them!