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Keep the Lights On(2012)
New York-set drama detailing the tumultuous gay relationship between documentary filmmaker Erik (Thure Lindhardt) and the self-destructive, closeted Paul (Zachary Booth). After a brief sexual encounter, the relationship between the two men develops into an on-off eight-year affair defined by heady highs, suffocating lows and deeply dysfunctional emotional patterns. In love but out of his depth, Erik struggles to deal with Paul's crack cocaine addiction and negotiate his own boundaries while remaining true to himself.
For more about Keep the Lights On and the Keep the Lights On Blu-ray release, see Keep the Lights On Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on January 22, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth
Director: Ira Sachs
» See full cast & crew
Keep the Lights On Blu-ray Review
It's dark in the closet.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, January 22, 2013
It's the day of President Obama's second inaugural address as this review is being written, and the pundit class is atwitter with commentary about the President having mentioned the word "gay" in his speech. The right is perhaps predictably outraged that Mr. Obama had the "temerity" to do so, while the left is just as perhaps predictably delighted that he did. But no matter how you personally may feel about this particular occurrence, it's a kind of sociopolitical milestone marking a new era of recognition (if not outright acceptance) that will either frighten or encourage depending on your personal point of view. The struggle for gay rights is often linked to the ongoing general struggle for civil rights that African Americans, among other ethnic groups, have been engaged in for generations, but if there's one thing that gay activists can perhaps draw a little fortitude from, it's that change seems to be occurring at least incrementally faster than it used to. When I was growing up, it was an absolute anathema for a boy to be called "gay" (although of course in the wild and wooly world of middle and high school, the more common pejorative term started with "f" and ended with "t"), while today there seems to be a more laissez faire attitude among many teens (at least as evidenced by my own sons, who couldn't care less about anyone's sexual preference). That slow but steady sea change in public attitude is hinted at in Keep the Lights On, a film by writer-director Ira Sachs which mines his own past but deals tangentially in a somewhat fictionalized universe where one of the main characters is attempting to create a documentary about a real life long ago gay icon Avery Willard. Willard's name may not be familiar to many of you, whether gay or straight, but he was a "regular" in New York's gay scene for years and was somewhat infamous for his "physique art" photographs. (As a really fascinating documentary included on this Blu-ray as a supplement makes clear, he also photographed a number of really high profile subjects through the years, but never really pursued that aspect of his career, with the negatives for all of these pictures having remained untouched, found by a man going through Willard's effects after his death). Someone like Willard, activist though he may have been, was party to a radically different world than the two gay lovers at the center of Keep the Lights On find themselves, and that little slice of historical change is a very telling subtext in this kind of self-confessional exercise on the part of Sachs.
Ira Sachs has become something of Sundance sensation over the years, garnering rave reviews at the festival for his 1997 film The Delta and then winning the Festival's Grand Prize for both Forty Shades of Blue in 2005. Though he hasn't exclusively dealt with gay issues in his films, Sachs has tended to favor them, no doubt due to his own history, a history which deeply informs Keep the Lights On, as the writer-director makes clear in his almost self-confessional commentary included on this Blu-ray as a supplement. Keep the Lights On documents the more or less ten year relationship history between Erik (Thure Lindhardt), a Danish expat documentary filmmaker living in New York, and Paul (Zachary Booth), a semi-closeted attorney who also has some major substance abuse problems.
As Sachs discusses in his commentary, there are issues of identity with both of these men. A lot of current day gay activists who have been in long term committed relationships are on record as disparaging the frequently repeated assumption that gays somehow drift from meaningless relationship to meaningless relationship, but the fact is Sachs, who is openly gay and has based at least part of this film on his own history, actually delves into the world of "casual encounters" (to use Craigs List parlance), not shirking from the fact that these situations are often not exactly "pretty", and most definitely are usually not romantic. We in fact first meet Erik in his quest for an "instant gratification" hook up, which in the mid-nineties when this film opens, means phone sex. Striking out on that front, he does manage to arrange more or less anonymous sex with a man he meets on the phone, and we are first introduced to one of Erik's repeated "dodges", namely using fake names in these so-called casual encounters.
Erik and Paul eventually enter each other's orbit, but it's hardly a match made in heaven. If Erik is trying to decide what his identity is, Paul has evidently come to the conclusion that either ignoring his identity (by half heartedly having a girlfriend) or in fact obliterating his identity with crack is the way to proceed. We then are given little snippets of their on-again, off-again relationship over the ensuing ten years, with occasional hangers-on like Erik's best friend Claire (a lovely Julianne Nicholson) entering the fray. The film is therefore rather anecdotal, piecing together chronology and character development in individual little spurts of dramatic showdowns.
Keep the Lights On is a rather unflinching look at this particular "gay lifestyle" (I wouldn't even presume to attempt to generalize Erik and Paul's choices as being "typical" in any way). These are both fairly wounded souls who are obviously searching for meaning but finding it often elusive. The film is also unabashedly unflinching when it comes to depicting gay sex, and those who are easily offended by such depictions would be well advised to steer far clear of the film. Perhaps more troubling for those who aren't in the least concerned about such portrayals is the kind of cavalier emotional subtext that crops up in both Erik and Paul at various times. Their co-dependence may be understandable but it's not always easy to take.
Keep the Light On is almost fiercely intimate, up close and personal to the extreme that it's actually uncomfortable at times. It may in fact prove to be a cathartic experience for anyone, gay or straight, who has ever been in a long term relationship where happily ever after keeps slipping out of reach, but the lovers keep grabbing after it, believing it has to be graspable if only they keep trying.
Keep the Lights On Blu-ray, Video Quality
Keep the Lights On is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Music Box Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. A film (and Blu- ray) like Keep the Lights On demonstrates the fine line we reviewers need to walk when we attempt to offer a fair and representational account of how the image looks. Keep the Lights On was filmed in Super 16, and it therefore has a rather soft, grainy appearance that will no doubt grate on some videophiles' eyes. But should we judge the Blu-ray based on some objective "ideal" of how a contemporary film should look, or how well this Blu-ray recreates the original film experience? I tend to favor the second approach, but truth be told I can't completely ignore the first, at least insofar as some flaws in the actual high definition presentation may crop up. The general look of this film is reasonably sharp, which is a decidedly relative term given the source elements. A lot of the footage is indeed pretty fuzzy looking, without any overwhelming amount of fine detail, even in close-ups. Some of the location Manhattan footage exploiting exteriors actually looks quite commendable, with better clarity and sharpness, but overall this is kind of a middling appearing film that obviously is trying to walk a sort of quasi- verité path while remaining true to its more traditional dramatic framework. Contrast is generally pretty good, though some of the filtered scenes and overly dark sequences are notably robbed of both shadow detail and fine detail. This Blu-ray recreates the Super 16 ambience of the film to a tee, but some at least may find that a detriment rather than a selling point. My video score more or less splits the difference between the "ideal" and the reality. Your mileage may obviously vary depending on where on this particular continuum you place yourself.
Keep the Lights On Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Keep the Lights On features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that may seem like a bit of overkill for a film that is this deliberately small in scope. By far the greatest bulk of this film is smaller dialogue moments, and this track certainly more than adequately supports such scenes. There are occasional bursts of surround activity, as in an early scene where Erik and his sister jog through Central Park, and a later sequence at a dance club. But the bulk of this film delivers just fine sounding audio that is nonetheless relegated pretty exclusively to the front channels. Fidelity is just fine, and dynamic range is about what you'd expect it to be for a small scale drama such as this.
Keep the Lights On Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Keep the Lights On Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Keep the Lights On is often quite compelling, but for me personally anyway it never quite connected the way I was hoping it would. There's a certain distance from both of these characters that seems inherent in them both, perhaps due to the fact that they're not always being (to use a bit of Oprah-speak) "authentic". Still, Sachs has fashioned a very well written and for the most part well performed drama here that should be a welcome addition to those who feel gay love stories haven't had their due on the big screen. This Blu-ray represents the film's Super 16 source elements quite well (for better and worse, as discussed above), and the audio, while relatively restrained, also sounds fine. The supplementary package here is quite commendable. This is obviously the very definition of a "niche" title, but for those of you in that niche, Keep the Lights On comes Recommended.
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Keep the Lights On Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Keep the Lights On Blu-ray - November 16, 2012
British distributors Peccadillo Pictures will release on Blu-ray director Ira Sachs's Keep the Lights On (2012), starring Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth and Julianne Nicholson. The release will be available for purchase online and in shops across the United Kingdom ...
• Keep the Lights On Blu-ray - October 12, 2012
Independent distributors Music Box Films have revealed that they are planning to release on Blu-ray director Ira Sachs's Keep the Lights On (2012), starring Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth and Julianne Nicholson. The release will be available for purchase on January ...
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