Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Indirect Director

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Indirect Director

Article excerpt

With his feature debut, Urbania, writer-director Jon Shear defends his vision of sexual ambiguity

Back when he was working as an actor, director Jon Shear used the name Jon Matthews. And he reserves the right to change names again. "I'd like to use a different alias for every film project," he says. "I don't like people to come to my work with preconceptions." His baroque attitude is an asset for his directorial debut feature, Urbania. The film starts out as a disconcerting puzzle of a movie--part thriller, part psychological drama--and then before our very eyes becomes a tale of true love and inestimable grief. The characters in Urbania are raw and provocative, from the dude tending bar who gets a beer for our protagonist, Charlie (Dan Futterman), to the tattooed predator Dean, whom Charlie is tracking down. And the figure of Charlie is a carefully constructed enigma for much of the film.

In presenting its hero ambiguously, Urbania is clearly a response to a lot of recent queer moviemaking. "There's nothing wrong with Trick or Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss," Shear insists, "but many of my friends actually feel disenfranchised by those movies because of their expectation that if you are gay, there's a certain way that you act in the world. That can become a very defining thing."

Shear isn't the best poster boy for queer movies. In an extended interview he makes it clear that he dislikes labels and fixed sexual identities and wishes Urbania could be seen as something other than a gay movie--all this after he won the jury award and $10,000 prize money at the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. But wait--minutes later he's searching for a metaphor for the film's satisfyingly complex structure: "It's just like a Sondheim musical!" And it becomes clear that Jon Shear is one very complicated guy.

"I was fired twice as an actor," explains the 36-year-old Shear, discussing the years before he traded in acting for directing. "Once for being gay and once for not being gay." The stories are instructive. The first occurred when he was a mere 19, red-haired and freckle-faced, freshly cast as Huck Finn for a public-television drama--until the gay pride parade, when an assistant producer on the sidelines saw him march by, holding hands with a well-known theater figure. The next day he was informed by telephone that he no longer had the role.

The second time was more recent: It was during the 1990 Los Angeles work in-progress production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America: Millennium Approaches. …

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