Bamboozled wins Tropfest by turning gay sex into dumb joke

The decision to give comedy Bamboozled the top award at Tropfest on Sunday has sparked claims it is homophobic. In this cross-posting from The Conversation film lecturer Greg Dolgopolov explains why it matters.

It would have been hard to avoid the news that the best-picture award at Sunday’s Tropfest short-film festival in Sydney was given to filmmaker Matt Hardie for Bamboozled – and even harder to ignore the huge online response to the film’s perceived homophobia.

Greg Dolgopolov

Greg Dolgopolov

The #tropfest Twitter hashtag has seen an almost unending stream of discontent about the film’s supposed homophobia and transphobia, in addition to commentary on the relative absence of women from this year’s finalists.

Writing for the pop-culture website Junkee.com, Alasdair Duncan damned the film as “homophobic, transphobic, offensive and not very good,“ adding:

people are very, very angry at the short film festival for glorifying homophobia, transphobia, rape, and all-around ickiness.

 

Outrage on the #tropfest on Twitter

Outrage on the #tropfest on Twitter

 

The film has a savage punchline and, as I sat there in the audience, I heard the disgusted and titillated groan from the audience.

It was only the second film of the night and when it had finished I could sense its impact on all the subsequent finalists. Would anything else match it in terms of ironic gross-out comedy?

On first appearance it is a light, chatty comedy of manners, a bromance.

On his way home, a tousled-haired wannabe hipster, Peter, is accosted by someone who clearly recognises him – but he fails to recognise his old friend.

Bamboozled, this year’s Tropfest winner.

“Harry” is not surprised as he had a sex change. He used to be Helen and, 11 years ago, Helen and Peter dated for a couple of years. Peter is initially suspicious as Harry looks nothing like Helen – but he agrees to go out for a drink to catch up.

After quite a few beers, tequila shots, urinal comparisons and the mandatory kebabs, they end up in bed together. The next morning they awake to find that the whole night was an elaborate charade, a hidden-camera television show hoax with gay sex as the degrading punchline orchestrated as a way to “get back at your ex” replete with scornful camera crew and goading compere.

What’s wrong with Bamboozled?

The film implies gay sex is disgusting. It treats homosexuality as a nasty punchline and mocks the possibility of love that transcends external appearances.

It ridicules gender reassignment surgery – characterising it as a whimsical spur-of-the-moment decision coupled with racialised plastic surgery to go for a “general Mediterranean wash … I really wanted the nose”.

Hardie doesn’t seem to see how his film has bamboozled a large and vocal part of the audience. On ABC radio he insisted the film’s narrative masks a deeper critique of homophobia:

The punchline really is a comment on media and how the world may have homophobia, but the lead character, and what I was saying, he was completely willing to go with either gender, he was in love with the person.

The problem is that the punchline denigrates gay love and slams it as something shameful.

Why Tropfest matters

Two other Tropfest finalists combined comedy and homosexuality.

Sorry Baby was about gun-wielding lesbians and Truth Is … dealt with gay bikies. The thing is, neither of these films won the prestigious best film award – which comprises not just publicity but A$10,000, a new car and a trip to Los Angeles to meet with Hollywood executives.

Tropfest 2013 finalist Sorry Baby.

Tropfest has long featured films that ridicule and belittle their subjects – as well as redeem and uplift. In the 1990s the festival was often accused of favouring gag films with ready punchlines over more serious fare.

Certainly it was a good weekend at Tropfest for Hardie – who won not only the best-film award but also the Best Male Actor award (AU$3,000 in cash, donated by Nicole Kidman).

Hardie’s earlier short Let it Rain (2013) contains some of the same cast and crew as Bamboozled – along with the same carefree approach to casual racism and depiction of women as killjoys for laddish antics.

It won an award at the February 2013 Tropfest – the DSLR award given to films shot on a DSLR camera.

Tropfest is now a growing global brand with iterations in New York, South East Asia, Arabia, Paris, India, China, New Zealand and Israel. It’s now the world’s largest short film festival.

This is why the outcry about Bamboozled is significant. Tropfest is no ordinary film festival – it’s one of the most prestigious awards available to up-and-coming short filmmakers.

And on Sunday it was awarded to a gross-out film that has offended and alienated many in its target audience.

Comments


  1. Fillumstine
    10 Dec 13
    9:37 am

  2. Hardie’s “reality TV” defence is flawed because the reality TV is never set-up. It’s just a horrible and horribly cheap gag ending.

    If “Bamboozled” was really about reality TV, we might have the Darren Gilshenan character as the protagonist – the film’s POV – and we’d see the extreme lengths to which he was prepared to go in the name of reality TV.

    Or we might have Pete and/or Helen/Henry as a contestant/s on a reality TV show and we’d see the extreme lengths to which they were prepared to go.

    The problem is: we don’t see any of that. What we see is, well, we’ve all seen the film by now.

    Nothing riles audiences more than having the rug pulled out from under them. Why? Because the filmmakers haven’t “earned” the ending.

    Watching “Bamboozled” last night I groaned at the lazy, glib transgender op set-up. But rolled with it because, well, to be honest, it’s Tropfest. So yeah. Okay. Then I bought into Pete and Henry reconnecting after eleven years.

    But that ending. Oh, Matt. Along with everything else, it just wasn’t “earned.”

    One hopes that Hardie’s greatest crime is terrible screenwriting. Was he really taking a satirical stab at reality TV? Perhaps.

    But from his interview after winning Tropfest, I’m not sure if his ambition was anything more than to make a seven minute sketch:

    “I was going for a walk, I knew I wanted to make a Tropfest film and sex change popped into my head.”

  3. Viewer
    10 Dec 13
    10:25 am

  4. Leaving aside the homophobia for a sec, the problem with the film is that it just isn’t very good. It’s something you might expect from high school kids in a media class but not from an international event like Tropfest. How ‘Bamboozled’ managed to get into the Top 16 let alone win it, reflects poorly on the state of Australian film making. Embarrassing.

  5. Billy C
    10 Dec 13
    10:43 am

  6. Almost no one who wins tropfest seems to go on to any great success. Or even become a working professional. Sure there was Wilfred as a finalist but what else?
    There is a theory that they choose bad films so filmmakers think they have a shot and keep entering and giving away their intellectual property which is then sold without payment. If there was any career boost involved in might be worth it but there doesn’t seem to be. It is disappointing that Bamboozled won. I wonder if Adam Elliot chose it or if he was outvoted. Tropfest is now rather pointless, we have youtube and vimeo year round.

  7. Brass Monkey
    10 Dec 13
    11:41 am

  8. Sorry, but this is a beat-up. It’s funny, and about the only film the crowd enjoyed. Wasn’t surprised when the subject-matter caused an inevitable kerfuffle, but art does imitate life. Get over it.

  9. ben
    10 Dec 13
    4:08 pm

  10. I think commenting on the state of Aussie film is very harsh. The overall standard was very high. People going toTropfest expect to be entertained with wine and crackers in a big field, the guys jumping up and down behind the presenters clearly weren’t there to find the next best director.

    I do think there were better films on the night and its a shame that TF’s reputation might be taking a hit. I blame the judges,did they have criteria?

  11. Dave
    11 Dec 13
    2:34 pm

  12. i just watched it.

    It’s hilarious!

    And I’m gay. Get over it people and lighted up.

    Sheesh…. soon enough we will be banned from laughing at the special Olympics…..

  13. Anonymous
    11 Dec 13
    3:41 pm

  14. In a short film, it’s probably quite hard to deal with such subjects in a deep n meaning ful way. However, the film is just really bad, in fact, all the films I watched were terrible. What was the animated one? The gallery security guard jumping into a painting and fooling a would-be burglar. It was so terrible, my 13 month old could write a better story (& animate it better). The whole event was a damp squib and John Paulson needs to look at how to get back to the tropfest roots that we hear so so so much about at the beginning of every effing tropfest.

  15. DF
    11 Dec 13
    3:42 pm

  16. Isn’t the irony here that it’s using tacky, exploitative media to actually attack tacky, exploitative media?

  17. Anonymous
    11 Dec 13
    4:29 pm

  18. Such a disappointingly poor film on a number of levels. If Hardie really did think that we would look at this piece of filmography and think that he is highlighting the stereotypes of social commentary and how the world views these issues, and that the film is highlighting this to oppose those issues, then he’s lost his mind.

    It really does make a mockery of sex change issues, “I woke up one day & thought – stuff it – I’ll get a sex change…popped a few hormone pills and job done”. What a load of shit.

    “A general Mediterranean wash”???? WTF. If this wasn’t part of an arts show, it would be highlighted in the media as being damn right racist. Imagine if this rubbish was on hey hey it’s Saturday…

    When people like Dave say ‘get over it people and lighted (sic) up’ it’s pretty effing ignorant and they aren’t really thinking of people that would be affected by this.

  19. As a thought….
    11 Dec 13
    6:28 pm

  20. Yet, it’s all fair game in the gay and lesbian community (and fair play to them, may I add.) They’re constantly parodying and mocking women, priests and nuns, politicians, religions, working class people etc (and again, I appreciate it’s largely harmless – and often important – satire.) But when given a little razzing themselves they fast cry foul. I’m not religious but some members of my family are Catholic and they find the idea of gay, bearded men dressed as nuns hugely insulting and repugnant. And I can respect that – having one’s religion mocked like that is, for most, unacceptable. Maybe the sensitive ones need to lighten up a bit here. After all – we’re all in this together!

  21. Joe
    12 Dec 13
    7:06 am

  22. I didn’t think the film was funny, but that’s mostly a matter of taste (disclosure: I am a white, gay male).

    Unfortunately, and what really bothers me, is that the humour in this film is no different from the casual racism and casual misogyny that Australians engage in more often that they’re willing to accept. I am usually horrified at the “jokes” that are laughed about on morning television, on the radio, at the pub, at a dinner table. And what’s really scary is that such banter is the norm.

    Before someone jumps in and says that Australians aren’t racist / homophobic / mysoginist, or no more than anyone else, I’d like to suggest that that’s not true. What is mainstream humour in Australia would never be accepted in a New York pub, or on a London radio station. I know this, having lived in all of these places. Disagree? Hmmm…Would this film have made it through any film festival in either of those two places? Would a bunch of black-faced dudes get past the executive producers of a Saturday night variety show? Would any candidate for the nation’s leadership be able to stand behind a sign that says “Ditch The Witch” – and then actually win?

    Not a chance.

    Instead of yelling at poor Matt Hardie, who won an award he probably didn’t expect, how about asking the judges to tell us what they thought was funny about it? Or asking why it is that marginalised communities remain the butt of everyone’s jokes?

  23. Unoffended
    18 Dec 13
    6:13 pm

  24. Wow, furore over nothing. The filmmaker must be loving the exposure. My viewing of the film was that we get to the point where the characters have consumated their relationship and guess what? No ridicule, no shame or slapstick. It’s the point after this that the film crew bursts in and makes fun of the main character that is the point of the film. Nothing wrong with what they have done, it’s the media making fun of him that’s wrong. Gotta say, not a great film, but certainly not a homophobic one either. Pick your targets people, this is not a film that makes fun of gay relationships, it’s making fun of people that try to profit from demonising gay relationships.