| Like a real-life Hedwig and the Angry Inch -- comparisons to the 2001 film and off-Broadway hit musical are inevitable -- Venus of Mars is an introspective, entertaining, all-access documentary about the everyday life of a transgender punk rocker. Artist, experimental filmmaker, and lead singer of Minneapolis' glam-fetish band All The Pretty Horses, Venus performs wild shows in vinyl corsets, leather thigh-highs, and nothing but pasties over her hormone-enhanced breasts -- sometimes in front of less than welcoming crowds in Minnesota heavy metal bars. But at home, while just as androgynous, he (pronouns are exchanged liberally) is known as Steve to his English-professor wife Lynette, who has been his sweetheart since eighth grade. Filmmaker Emily Goldberg leaves no stone unturned in getting Venus' whole story on film, from capturing his/her spirit with dozens of Pretty Horses songs to documenting the history of his/her sexual identity issues (through high school photos, home movies, and interviews with parents and bandmates) to talking openly with Venus and Lynette about the shock to their marriage, why they stayed married, and how they make it work. Meanwhile, the film also follows the band to New York, London, throughout the Midwest and onto unsuspecting morning TV talk shows, exploring acceptance, incredulity, bigotry, and serving up good humor along the way. ("Damn! I ran my stockings!" complains the baritone-voiced also transgender drummer while lifting a heavy amplifier.) A great rock 'n' roll documentary, as well as an unbiased look at the transgender world, Venus of Mars is highly recommended.
| By DENNIS HARVEY |
The sort of inherently colorful wedlock that might tempt "Jerry Springer"-type tabloid exploitation is granted respectful, insightful treatment in Emily Goldberg's "Venus of Mars." ... docu about a punk couple approaching their 20th anniversary -- she an English professor, he now a rock-band-fronting transgender person -- sees love and mutual compromise triumph over dramatic conflict.
"Venus" nee Steve Grandell and wife Lynette have a life that's one part home-owning Midwestern conventionality, one part anything-but. They met in 8th grade, married at 23, endured depression and financial dependency as his artistic endeavors proved less than lucrative. Real crisis, however, followed his decision to begin cross-dressing, grow breasts (via hormone treatment) and live as "Venus" full-time -- a bit more than the articulate Lynette bargained for. Glam/punk/metal unit All the Pretty Horses (whose drummer is also transgender) are shown in flamboyant perfs ... Subjects are ingratiating, and the package, including excerpts from Venus' animation and experimental films, lively.
Camera (color, DV), Matt Ehling; music, Venus. Reviewed at San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, June 25, 2004.
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| By Tricia Olszewski |
In another context, it might be a classic there-goes-the-neighborhood moment: a 6-foot-tall stunner, all black clothes, flowing hair, and heavy eyeliner, riding a stand-up lawn mower somewhere in small-town Minnesota. The mower's operator, transgendered All the Pretty Horses singer Venus (né Steve Grandell), isn't on a drunken joyride but simply taking care of some chores around the home she shares with her wife of 21 years, English professor Lynette Reini-Grandell. Venus of Mars covers the "dark glam" band as it performs in venues both welcoming—mostly in new York—and scary as hell, particularly a bar in Hilltop, Minn., of which drummer Jendeen remarks, "Maybe this is an enlightened group of metalheads." (Audience comments such as "I can't stand queers" unsurprisingly reveal otherwise.) But Emily Goldberg's documentary is mostly Venus' somewhat incredible story of the love and acceptance she's found from friends and family, particularly from Lynette and from Venus' tiny, gray-haired mother, who warmly hosts the band and smiles when she says, "This is the baby that I had!" Goldberg occasionally goes Behind the Music - overboard in shaping the narrative, whose many touching, insightful moments—such as when a black highway patrolman cheerfully helps the band when its van breaks down, saying, "Twenty years ago, I was an oddity"—need no embellishment.
| PRETTY PEEK |
Will transgender showboat Venus, centerpiece of the Minneapolis band All the Pretty Horses, go gray before filmmaker Emily Goldberg gives her rockumentary "Venus of Mars" a local screening? Could be, but you can see some revealing excerpts Wednesday at a fundraiser in the First Avenue VIP Room to send the band and film to a New Zealand festival. The band will perform on the main stage (see www.prettyhorses.net for details). Goldberg said she's pushing her doc on the international film circuit before having a hometown premiere so it won't be seen as provincial. Little chance of that: The trailer promises a mix of onstage antics and thoughtful behind-the-makeup glimpses that make the four-year project much more than a rock romp. (K.T.)
| Amsterdam 2003 |
Exploring Queer Culture
by Annette Willis
IDFA, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, has a long tradition of presenting documentaries which explore a variety of cultural, political and social interpretations of reality. This year, 230 films were programmed in the Festival and many of the major themes explored conflict, religion and the search for meaning. This year three feature length documentaries and two short documentaries made for a younger audience had significant queer content.
Venus of Mars (USA, 2002)
Director: Emily Goldberg
"Venus of Mars" had its World Premiere at IDFA and was selected in the Reflecting Images section of the Festival.
"Venus of Mars" tracks the life of Steven Grandell of Duluth, Minnesota who, despite marrying his high school sweetheart, decides to transgender into a he/she, not a man, nor a woman, but a 'something in between' called Venus.
This is Goldberg's first feature length documentary, she has previously directed three one hour features for PBS. "Venus of Mars" uses extensive archival footage as well as the artwork and animated films shot by Venus to document his/her own non-conformist life style. Venus is also lead guitarist in a glamrock transgender band called "All the Pretty Horses" who regularly perform in Minnesota and in the UK.
"Venus of Mars" is another film about transgender, there always seems to be one in every festival, that successfully transcends the story of one person to examine the struggle that transgendered people face in being true to themselves.
| Twin Cities documentarians seek national exposure in New York |
by Rob Nelson
A sort of Midwest documentary version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (complete with trippy animated interludes), [Emily] Goldberg's film gives the transgendered, vinyl-corset-clad lead singer of the local glam-rock outfit All the Pretty Horses his/her 15 minutes. Actually, in deference to the divided attention of industry audiences at an event that showcases more than 300 indie efforts each year, Goldberg's velvet goldmine currently runs no longer than the extended remix of Bowie's "Changes"--although the filmmaker fully intends to finish it as a feature. In this, she's encouraged by the positive reaction to her promo reel from those among the 30 or so film-biz players who caught its afternoon market screening. Indeed, one of them stood up and exclaimed, "It should be on HBO right now!"
"A lot of making this movie has involved being holed up with my computer for hours on end," says Goldberg, whose long association with KTCA-TV led to a job directing a Jane Goodall bio-doc for PBS in 1999. "Seeing [ Venus ] on the big screen, with people responding in all the right places, reminds me that there really is an audience for this."
That Goldberg considers Venus of Mars "a pronoun-challenging documentary" reflects her subject's own self-described state of being "in between genders": taking female hormones, but not planning to have surgery. Likewise, as kindred transgressors, both filmmaker and front(wo)man consider it their mission to reach straight--and even homophobic--spectators. "I don't care if they have tits, they have dicks, they have hair--they fuckin' rock ," raves one young convert featured in the film. As for Goldberg, her own crossover bid appears flamboyant as well by virtue of the fact that nearly the film's entire budget--not counting a relatively small $15,000 grant from the Jerome Foundation--is being held on her credit card.
"Venus [a.k.a. Steven Grandell] exposes herself because she thinks that [transgender identity] is something people need to know about," says Goldberg. "I know I've learned that, as hard as things get in this business, you've got to believe in yourself."