Saturday, October 20, 2012
Friday, August 03, 2012
Like many of my peers who came of age as a queer in the mid ‘80s I lost numerous friends and colleagues to AIDS. In addition to our activism and anger, the community also developed creative formats and rituals to work through our grief. With the Names Project Quilt on one end of the spectrum and the Ashes Action (dumping the cremated remains of deceased PWAs on the White House lawn) at the other — we found ways to grieve and engage in pushing our social-political agenda.
This month as we recognize the 75th anniversary of the first known Golden Gate Bridge suicide (WWI veteran Harold Wobber who died on August 7th, 1937 just ten weeks after the Bridge first opened) I find myself thinking of the ACT UP activists who so forcefully impacted public policy and our national healthcare infrastructure — to save the lives of the people who were dying — by harnessing their anger and creativity into meaningful, effective activism.
In 1995 my friend Mark Finch died of suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge. A friend recently shared this phrasing with me and I think it is the first time I’ve had the right words to express what really happened to Mark. In the same way that people die of cancer, or of a heart attack or of some other disease — Mark died of suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge. The contributing factors: depression and being in the midst of a transition off of Effexor (a pharmaceutical known to cause suicidal ideation in withdrawal from the drug). And unobstructed access to a four and a half foot, easily-surmountable railing on the number one suicide landmark in the world.
Mark died of suicide. He also died of organizational indifference, agency bureaucracy, public policy that fails to protect public health and safety, and, public heartlessness.
On May 27th this year while the City was celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the opening of the Bridge I got in touch with my anger (and my creativity) and crafted the idea of a memorial and public health activism project called A Yizkor for the Fallen.
Please join me at 7pm on Tuesday August 7th at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav (290 Dolores St. at 16th St.) for "A Yizkor for the Fallen" — a memorial and public health activism project in memory of the 1,558 people known to have lost their lives to suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge. This special evening event will be co-presented by myself and SF Suicide Prevention ED Eve Meyer. The service is free and open to the public. Congregation Sha’ar Zahav (which means “Golden Gate” in Hebrew) welcomes people of all faiths to this special service and especially extends welcome and condolences to the many friends and family who have lost loved ones to suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge. Click thru to RSVP to the Facebook event page and get more details.
Also, here are some links to the press coverage the service has gotten so you can read more about it.
J Weekly [cover story]
Saturday, May 26, 2012
I had a chance last week to skim through this very powerful new book by John Bateson which takes an in-depth look at the history of suicide and the Golden Gate Bridge. It is an excellent overview and it's wonderful to see it published to coincide with the 75th Anniversary of the Bridge.
I was also very pleased that he mentions my film, The Joy of Life several times.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
The truth is, it was a book that saved my life. A book about film. Vito Russo’s pioneering examination of homosexuality in Hollywood cinema (The Celluloid Closet) was what facilitated my own coming out and launched me on my career as a film programmer and film historian. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s documentary of the book is pretty awesome in its own right. I have not yet seen Jeffrey Schwarz’s new documentary Vito (which I have a brief appearance in) but I’m sure it will save a few lives in its account of one of the most important American gay activists in our history.Jenni Olson's top ten films that saved your life:
SHERMAN’S MARCH. ROSS MCELWEE
TONGUES UNTIED. MARLON RIGGS
GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM. SU FRIEDRICH
MASSILLON. WILLIAM E. JONES RESERVAAT. CLARA VAN GOOL
LA JETÉE. CHRIS MARKER
GOD’S COUNTRY. LOUIS MALLE
FLAMING EARS. A. HANS SCHEIRL
MY DINNER WITH ANDRE. LOUIS MALLE
STRANGER THAN PARADISE. JIM JARMUSCH
Note: That's a picture of Vito and I in front of the Cedar Theatre in Minneapolis in about 1986 or so.
Monday, May 21, 2012
Amsterdam Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (December 1991)
Robin Vachal, Shelley Mars, Alix Umen, Sadie Benning, Su Friedrich, Me
With Su Friedrich
San Francisco City Hall (February 2004)
With Julie — Getting Married
Vancouver International Film Festival (November 2005)
With Julie — Getting Married Again
With Bruce LaBruce
With Jennie Livingston & Guinevere Turner
With Rose Troche
With Shari Frilot
With Daniela Sea
With Guinevere Turner
NCLR Gala 2006
With Guinevere Turner
With Jason Plourde
With Jamie Babbitt
Dyke March 2007
575 Castro St. Despite my rigorous attempt to get the photographer to spell my name right she listed me as Jenni Olsen (with an E) so that none of my official 2009 Sundance Film Festival photos get surfaced on my imdb page. :-( But they can be accessed at the WireImage site HERE.
I asked [Jenni Olson] about the process of selecting the first small batch of tapes for preservation. “Sifting through the Frameline collection — more than 5,000 LGBT videotapes amassed over the festival's 35 years of existence — was an emotional roller-coaster experience for me each and every day. I would find myself tearing up as I handled tapes of films by filmmakers we had lost in the AIDS crisis — including early and obscure works by people like Derek Jarman, Stuart Marshall, Marlon Riggs. And then five minutes later, I would have the joyfully thrilling experience of coming across exhibition tapes of works where it was evident this would very likely be the only surviving (or accessible) high-quality master — a great example of this is the  Jane Dornacker short, Anita Sperm."Read the rest of Sarolta's super-interesting post HERE. And then click thru to find out more about the Hormel Center's Frameline Video Archive Project!
Wednesday, May 02, 2012
Friday, April 27, 2012
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
"The fact that the Union Theatre audience was only the third to have experienced “We Who Are Sexy” therefore became significant, as did Olson’s role as a cataloger of the rare. Were it not for her vast knowledge on the subject, as well as her strident efforts to possess many works of art that are either out-of-print or lost to time, the wealth of information contained within them may realistically have never come to light. And for that, as well as her invigorating and informative program, she deserves all the credit in the world."Read the full review HERE.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Super interesting and beautifully made documentary about urban planning and design by Gary Hustwit (director of Helvetica). Enjoy!
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Something Cloudy, Something Clear
by Tennessee Williams (New Directions, $19.95)
Reviewed by Jenni Olson
I've been waiting for this Tennessee Williams play ever since my (pre-coming out) sophomore year in college when my (obviously gay) Humanities professor wanted to publish my mid-quarter analysis of the gay content in A Streetcar Named Desire. Of course the paper wasn't really that great—it was a desperate grasp at a few gay straws. But hasn't that always been one of our favorite occupations: searching for gay meaning, subtext, hints, or codes in the works of all those old queer artists? This gay cultural agenda has been long disdained by our heterosexual colleagues—dismissed as irrelevant, prurient, and unnecessary. But in 1981 those same straight pundits were apparently floored by Something Cloudy, Something Clear, a Williams work so bursting with overt gay content (boy-watching, butt-fucking, and joy rags) they just did not know what to with it.
Something Cloudy, Something Clear was first produced at the Jean Cocteau Repertory in New York City in August, 1981. This beautiful hardcover edition of the play, just published by New Directions, features a thoughtful introduction by Eve Adamson, director of the Cocteau Repertory, who was also Williams' friend. Panned by the critics, this late work (written three years before the author's death in 1983) has languished in obscurity until now.
In this bittersweet, and clearly autobiographical, reflection on his first love affair (and his early career as a writer), Williams shifts easily and continually between his younger and older selves (the play is set in 1940 and 1980). Something Cloudy is a startling portrait of the artist as a pathetic, horny, self-loathing, alcoholic homosexual — as both a young and an old man. Mixing thinly-disguised fictional characters with figures from his own life (longtime companion Frank Merlo, childhood sweetheart Hazel, actress Tallulah Bankhead, and Kip Kiernan, his first lover) Williams renders a sad vision (at the same time a tender apologia) of himself and his relationships.
This human tragedy of mutual exploitation revolves around a dramatically crippled trio on a windy Provincetown beach — August, a young homosexual playwright; Clare, a terminally-ill chippy; and Kip, the innocent, doomed dancer they both adore.
While Clare struggles with her homophobic, gangster pimp, August fights off last night's foul-mouthed, drunken trick. At the center stands Kip, whom August lovingly describes as, "Doomed! How goddamn stupid it is to look at them with envy, the perfect ones, the ones that appear to be completely, completely flawless, the—perfect—with eyes like startled flowers…"
August, phenomenally pathetic at thirty, pursues the perfect Kip, pausing to reflect, "was I that terrifying forty years ago."
After a rough start with a lot of irritating interrupted dialogue ("Perhaps he—" "You said you—" ) Williams give us some great moments of dry humor ("Go swim, go drown, I hope a shark eats you!") and wonderfully classic Tennessee dialogue ("Don't be too lonely tonight, spend it with somebody lovely. Goodbye. I mean au revoir. We'll make it together — we have to!") It's not necessarily up there with Streetcar or Glass Menagerie, but I guess hearing August pick up a sailor (SEAMAN: "Tonight I'm too drunk to fuck you, kid." AUGUST: "I wouldn't dream of disputing the matter with you, Spud." SEAMAN: "So you can fuck me for another fin and a drink.") is some consolation for the preceding lineage of closet cases, pederasts, and subtle innuendos (Cat On a Hot Tin Roof's Brick and Skipper, Suddenly Last Summer's Sebastian, Night of the Iguana's Miss Fellowes, etc.)
The characters of Something Cloudy, with their sad understanding of what Williams calls, "the exigencies of desperation," in the end have as much vivid depth, soul, and pathetic dignity as Blanche DuBois. They play out their moments of cruelty and tenderness, spite and forgiveness — finally redeemed by human kindness, the clear overcoming the cloudy.
Sunday, February 05, 2012
I'm involved in several exciting events this month:
3) February 18 | 6:15PM—7:30PM Namaste Hall,
California Institute of Integral Studies Main Building (1453 Mission Street @ 10th)
Witnessing: History and the Individual Voice—A conversation between prize-winning novelist/poet Elizabeth Rosner, author of The Speed of Light and Blue Nude; and filmmaker/author/curator Jenni Olson, director of The Joy of Life. Preceded by open mike by MFA students, 5:30PM—6:00PM.