Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tribeca Film Review #2 - The Swimsuit Issue

A friend of mine told me about her friend, Jane, who coached an all-male synchronized swim team in Sweden and that there was a film about them at this year's TFF called "Swimsuit Issue"
I had thought the film would be a documentary about this real team but it turned out to be a comedy based on their story in the vein of The Full Monty. (and in fact, the film-maker cites that film as an influence)
It was very crowd-pleasing and entertaining, and like the previous film, also made a somewhat serious point about men and their emotional boundaries. The guys in the film get the idea for their synchro team after holding a mock synchronized swimming party in drag for one of their friends. Following that, they begin to take themselves more seriously and want to practice, but claim that "reverse gender discrimination" is rampant in the sports world when the local pool denies them access.
The film doesn't stay with such a simple analysis. As the men are about to leave to begin competing for the first time, the female synchronized swimming coach tells one of the men on the team that they've gotten more publicity than she has in her entire career. Also, it becomes clear that homophobia, rather than "reverse sexism" is the reason behind the refusal of most people to take men's "synchro" seriously. If you look at youtube videos, you'll see that the majority of comments on men's synchro impugn the masculinity of the performers, and in the interview with the director linked above he says that men's homophobia (along with cold water) was the biggest challenge of making the film. The process of confronting homophobia among members of the team is one of the most interesting parts of this charming movie.

At the Q&A it became clear that the people involved were serious about promoting men's synchronized swimming - and they are not alone. There is real men's synchronized swimming and it is associated both with both Queer culture and non-athletes. If you look at the Youtube videos of men's synchro world cup competitions you'll see a certain campiness, which makes these swimmers entertaining. You may also notice that the people doing it are not quite as athletic as the women's teams.
However, if men could be accepted as synchronized swimming competitors, that could probably change.
The American male synchronized swimmer, Bill May, really camps it up, but he's very serious about this as a sport. He is currently performing in Las Vegas in a duet with a woman, and, according to the film-makers, is working hard on getting such "mixed doubles" into the Olympic Games. I agree with the mission. It would be great to see a queer-identified sport with openly gay men and queer-friendly decidedly un-macho straight guys reach a wider audience. As one commenter on the Swedish tv clip linked above commented, that really "conspires the objective of sports." (whatever that means).

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