A naïve, painfully sincere aspiring
poet finds violence where he least expects it – in the upscale bosom of a
middleclass relationship – and tender nurturing where he could hardly expect
it, from a remarkably together rent boy, in Scott Boswell’s poetic, time
tripping debut feature The Stranger in Us.
When Anthony (Raphael Barker/Shortbus)
hits town he soon discovers that life as a twenty-something “kept boy” of a
mood swing prone lifestyle consultant has its distinct drawbacks.
Thinking he has permission to work
minimum wage jobs to support his muse while Stephen makes the big bucks
reassuring his Botox challenged clients, Anthony soon discovers that almost
anything he does is the wrong thing to have done. Forgetting his house keys,
Anthony is greeted with a sarcastic, verbal undressing in front of one of
“Where are you from Anthony?”
“Not D.C., Virginia.”
“It’s the D.C. area.”
“Virginia is where we met though.
We met at this kitschy bar called Freddie’s – it was “cowboy night,” how
cliché, right, anyway Anthony chased me to the West Coast.”
“He’s been living with me since
“He’s my kept boy.”
“I say work it sister!”
Boswell’s script and talented
ensemble dance nimbly across the unspoken borders where the new boy in town
becomes the newly battered boy and then perhaps an accidental rent boy or
embarrassed client. Fueled by a psychologically astute turn from Scott Cox as
Stephen, the volatile boyfriend from hell, Anthony and Stephen’s domestic life
becomes a roller coaster of abuse and contrition.
Just when things at home slip slide
from irritating to borderline psychotic, Anthony hits Polk Gulch and finds an
odd ally in the form of a rail thin, suburban California raised hustler named
Adam (the seductively charming Adam Perze).
Resisting Adam’s lure to be a john,
Anthony finds a most peculiar soul mate as the young men amuse themselves doing
drugs, finding ingenious ways to avoid paying for pizzas and even stooping to
ripping off first time clients. With the best peek at life in san Francisco’s
queer combat zone since Cyrus Amini’s Twenty-Five Cent Preview, Boswell
finds original and witty ways to assess the price of life on the streets for
each nano- generation that seeks out our little psychotic Disneyland.
Born and raised just outside the
corn fields in Normal, Illinois, educated at the University of Wisconsin in
liberal Madison, Scott Boswell arrived in San Francisco in 1997, almost on a
whim and discovered for himself the perils of life on street, existing
check-to-jowl with gay middleclass life. Working out of the Film Department at
San Francisco State (where’s he’s both an instructor and production
coordinator) Boswell admits to nurturing a desire to get capture life on the
city’s still dangerous, still significantly queer combat zone. Boswell sat down
with me back on June 25, 2010, with the applause of the audience from an encore
Frameline showing of The Stranger in Us still ringing in his ears.
“There are some really lovely
people in the Tenderloin and some really lost souls – you can’t spend time
there without running into people who are mentally or emotionally imbalanced or
both, and/or drug addicted, and/or comes from places of abuse and violence and
part of what fascinates me about the Tenderloin in San Francisco is all the
different kinds of people it brings into this one location, because of who they
are. When I first arrive in this city I was absolutely fascinate by what I saw
on Polk Street: drag queens on crack, tranny hookers and rent boys all in the
same block, and also yuppies all walking to whatever bar they were going to.
I’m really fascinated by this grittier slice of gay life than is found in the
Castro and what brings people to a neighborhood like this.”
David Lamble: You really capture the inner workings
of three San Francisco gay men: an uptight, controlling lover, a “kept boy,”
who’s past the age where that term can be considered polite and a street
hustler who the kept boy/wannabe writer, Anthony, bonds with Gavin (Adam
Perez). It’s not really a triangle – because they only share one scene together
– describe where this story comes from.
Scott Boswell: I don’t think it’s any secret that the
story itself is somewhat autobiographical – the leads, other than the
protagonist, Anthony, are based on the men I met and knew – the trajectory of
the story itself is fairly close to my own experience, but anyone who creates
fiction that’s based on their own experience knows that things become more and
more fictionalized and characters take on their own unique voices. I wouldn’t
claim its my own story but it reflects how I came to San Francisco, the people
I became involved with and ultimately lost.
Lamble: The film reflects the paradox that sex, that
great binding force that often brings people together, can’t be relied on to
keep them together.
Boswell: The relationship between Anthony and Stephen
initially based on some strong sexual attraction and some kind of psychological
attraction that cause them to feel that they should be together. The flip side
(for Anthony) is Gavin – the film explores the fact that there is some tension
between them which they never actually consummate – Gavin and Anthony work out
something that is beyond a sexual relationship. I debated whether those
characters should have sex – it never felt right. I wanted them to not have to
deal with that issue – it wasn’t about being brought together by sex and then
broken up because the sex wasn’t working.
Lamble: There’s a lot more heavy lifting involved in
creating that relationship then isn’t there?
Boswell: They just kind of keep running into each
other – they’re both in the same neighborhood and they’re both frankly lost –
they’re both sincere and there is a chemistry between them that supersedes sex;
and that’s what we had to find with the actors. We made them audition a lot: we
made them do chemistry tests twice! In a low budget film you’re relying on
chemistry and performance.
Lamble: Describe what Raphael and Adam bring to the
Boswell: What I love about Raphael is that he’s
completely natural – he has no training – he just finds an emotional space for
the character which is a kin to method acting, I guess. He was the perfect
package: not only had he had some recognition in the film world (from John
Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus) and he was definitely the best person we
Adam has a natural sensibility – I
was impressed with him from the start and felt he was bringing a particular
attitude to Gavin, which I always wanted, which is despite the fact he’s in
this completely precarious situation he still becomes the guide and caretaker
for Anthony. Their styles of acting worked well together – I was thrilled – I
wouldn’t have moved forward without the right cast.
Lamble: Adam’s Gavin is based on somebody you knew
about a decade a go in the city?
Boswell: Gavin’s storyline is the one most true to my
own experience – my goal was to capture the spirit of the person I knew because
of the unique role he played in my life. What’s different is that I actually
don’t know what happened to him. Many of the scenes are based on real
interactions, even real letters and e-mails from him. We were friends for about
a year, but ultimately he disappeared and I never heard from him again.
Lamble: The idea you run with about his fate is quite
good and I hadn’t seen it done that way before.
Boswell: I think he had run out of options – he felt
like he had no choice: he had been on the streets too long and had decided that
it was just (too) stressful a life. There were other more dramatic choices
which I didn’t care for due to my aesthetic tastes. We did shoot two endings,
one involving Gavin’s mother. Ultimately I discovered the film was ultimately
about loss rather than not knowing. So him discovering that Gavin wasn’t going
to be in his life, to me, fit the theme of loss.
Lamble: A brave ending since it’s clear at the end
that Anthony is really alone.
Boswell: True – there are indications that he’s moved
on with his life, that he’s writing, that he may stay in the city, but not that
he’s returning to Stephen.
Lamble: You make some witty additions to the urban
legends of life on the street: the great pizza rip-off or Gavin suggesting that
Anthony turn hustler and “goof” on his first client.
Boswell: Audiences have responded well to these
moments. Those scenes are largely fiction. I never tried to
rip-off a john. But the real Gavin told he did get into cars and rip clients
off. And it shocked me at first – because to me he was such a kind, trustworthy
person. In the film I infuse stories he related to me into the narrative even
though I may not have witnessed them.