Festival season is in full swing in the summer, so we naturally wind up with a plethora of film reviews from various festivals around the country, even after the festivals are long over. We've chosen to dole them out to you individually, and we're especially proud to run Nate Abernethy's review of Mr. Angel, a moving documentary on Buck Angel, a fascinating transgender advocate who Nate also spoke to in an interview that you can read here. Nate saw this film at this year's SXSW Film festival, which Nick Hanover and Dylan Garsee reported on daily.
The ongoing Prop 8 Supreme Court case and the recent passing of same-sex marriage in New Zealand has reminded me what a historically significant time it is right now. It is a long time coming, but slowly and surely, oh the times they are a-changin’. However while progress is being made on the gay and lesbian front, there is another oft-overlooked sexual revolution happening on behalf of transgender individuals. Who is at the helm of this revolution? An unlikely hero: a former porn star known as “the man with a pussy,” Buck Angel.
I consider myself a fairly open person who his pretty comfortable with his sexuality, especially considering I’m a straight dude who grew up in Bible Belt, Texas, Population: bigot. I can easily wrap my head around the concept of homosexuality– I’ve seen Ryan Gosling movies after all– and the world is gradually becoming a place that can too (all the more reason this can’t happen). However, due in large part to abysmal sex education, there is still a lot of progress to be made concerning transgender issues. It’s something that even I struggle to comprehend, not out of maliciousness or fear, but just an inability to understand.
Whether you like dicks, chicks, chicks with dicks, or all of the above…I really don’t care. I’d just like everyone to be happy. Which is where my main hesitation always stemmed from. Through my admittedly limited reading and knowledge, I feel a large majority of transgender persons wind up unhappy and unsatisfied after bottom surgery. This is where I get hung up, and sadly it’s where many transgender folks do too. Buck is here to change that. He’s a man. He’s got a vagina. And he doesn’t care what you think.
Mr. Angel started off as a documentary about Buck’s porn career and blossomed into a document of the rise of a pioneer. Filmed over a period of 6 years, director Dan Hunt does a wonderful job building a bond of trust with his subject, capturing an intimate glimpse into the life of someone who has found himself the unlikely poster boy for the transgender community. Alternating between footage from Buck’s female childhood as a tomboy, his sex-transition to a modern day man, and deeply moving interviews with his family, Hunt gives a broad and comprehensive portrait that still leaves you wanting more. However with all due credit to Hunt, what makes Mr. Angel truly succeed on every level is its titular star.
My biggest fear heading into Mr. Angel is that it would wind up being a full length, “hey, look at that guy with a vagina” movie, thankfully Buck is such an intensely compelling individual that his anatomy remains almost completely irrelevant to this character centered documentary. He’s incredibly bold, entirely unapologetic, and above all else charming as hell. Buck is willing to share all aspects of his life as he affectionately reminisces on his childhood, bares his dark and confusing adolescence, and proudly displays his incredibly normal and fulfilling life with his wife Elayne. Central to Buck’s life and the film is his relationship with his father, as we witness Buck’s endearing early emulation of his ultra-macho dad and his father’s struggle to fully accept Buck’s identity. Mr. Angel radiates in these moments as the interviews with his father serve as a therapy of sorts, and according to Buck himself, forever changed their relationship.
Despite Mr. Angel’s primary focus on Buck’s personal life the film also captures Buck’s widespread impact upon the trans community and even beyond. From starting a trans-dating site to speaking at Ivy League schools, Buck is determined to use his spotlight to change things. Buck’s existence itself is a giant fuck you to gender construct, and his incredible comfort with his body is inspiring. He’s genuinely happy and for a lot of young confused kids that’s enough to listen to what he has to say. Despite being told by everyone from a porn producer to his own father that society will never fully accept him Buck refuses to believe that. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter if Buck changes things on a grand scale, the fact that he won’t stop trying has changed the lives of many.
While some have said Mr. Angel isn’t for everybody, I respectfully and vehemently disagree. Buck’s message of self-acceptance is meant for all, and no matter your gender, sexuality, or pre-notions this film will move you. A film that in lesser hands could have easily slipped into spectacle gawking trash or a bore of preachy politics instead soars as a powerful and emotional portrayal of an incredibly interesting man.
Nate Abernethy is a magical sprite we captured and forced to do film reviews. He somehow also wound up with a twitter account @NateAbernethy