Friday, June 04, 2004

SSONET - Proteus, a gay-themed historical SA epic that features botany

In Proteus, gay Canadian director John Greyson and South African activist Jack Lewis tell an interracial gay love story set in South Africa and Amsterdam in the early 18th century. Rijkhaart Jacobsz, a white Dutch sailor, and Claas Blank, a Hottentot servant, were imprisoned on Cape Town’s Robben Island between 1718 and 1735.

Jack Lewis stumbled upon the original transcript of Jacobsz and Blank’s trial for sodomy and knew he had a little-known true story with contemporary ramifications. The story also revolves around the quest by closeted Scottish botanist Virgil Niven who, whilst working for famous Swedish botanist Linnaeus, tried to name and cultivate all the sub-species of the South African plant once known as sugarbush and now identified as Protea.

Read more about it

Directed by: Jack Lewis, John Greyson
With: Neil Sandilands, Rouxnet Brown, Shaun Smyth
Country: Canada, South Africa
Year of Production: 2003
Running Time: 97 minutes

22 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Drama. Starring Rouxnet Brown, Neil Sandilands and Shaun Smyth. Written and directed by John Greyson and Jack Lewis. (Not rated. 97 minutes. In English, Afrikaans and Nama, with subtitles. At the Castro.).

"Proteus" takes its name from the king protea, the national flower of South Africa. The stunning, artichoke-like shrub may be fragrant, but the movie's pretty much a stinker.

Like a weak "Masterpiece Theatre" program spiced up with a few sex scenes, this Canadian/South African production tells the story of illicit love among men imprisoned off the coast of South Africa in the early 18th century. Two of the men -- a Dutch sailor and an African herder -- have a sexual relationship that they try to keep secret. Meanwhile, the botanist in charge of the prison garden takes an interest in the herder. Though married, the botanist is happiest when he's with the prisoner, lecturing him about the finer points of flowers. One doesn't have to have a green thumb to get the sneaking suspicion that all the dialogue about pistils and stamens and plants that bloom at night could be alluding to more than flora.

The transcript of a 1735 sodomy trial, found by co-director Jack Lewis, inspired him to make the film. It's not as if the basic story line couldn't have produced a rewarding movie that deals seriously and subtly with issues of race, sexuality, jealousy and oppression. But "Proteus" wants so desperately to be instructive and heart-wrenching that it makes one long to break free of its shackles. Overreaching actors routinely share "meaningful" glances, cheesy flashbacks are employed, and clumsy love scenes carry all the passion of an attempt at a new subgenre: soft-core colonial-prison porn.

It doesn't help that the film was shot on the cheap on video, not the best format for a historical feature and one that gives the film a made-for-TV look. The directors seem to have acknowledged this in introducing modern, wannabe-Brechtian details, including an automobile, plastic bags and women in 1950s garb. Such anachronistic details only make the movie more precious, not poignant.

-- Advisory: This film contains sex scenes and adult language. - John McMurtrie

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