Name:  Rebirth

Director, writer:          Karl Mueller

Released:         2016

Format:            2.35:1

When and how viewed:          2016/7/22 Netflix instant play

Length 100

Rating R

Companies:     Campfire, Heretic Films, Netflix

Rebirth (2016), directed and written by Karl Mueller, is one of those “road” movies where an appealing young adult man goes on a little trip to get initiated into something maybe dangerous (think Bugcrush).  Structurally, it’s a little like the short story “The Ocelot the Way He Is” that closes my “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book.

In fact, protagonist Kyle  (Fran Kranz) and his former best friend had authored a little paper “Manifesto” years earlier.  If someone associated with the concept of this film knows me, it could be relevant that my 1997 DADT-1 book was called “The Manifesto” before “Manifesto” had become a bad word (although the Unabomber had almost made the word bad in 1995).  But this fictitious manifesto is supposed to be uplifting, about living “real life”.

Kyle works for his dad in a bank, in what looks like modern day LA (although there is a freeway scene with cars going the wrong way – was this film shot in Australia?) One day, that best friend, a rather disheveled and tattooed Zack (Adam Goldberg) shows up at his office (I wouldn’t do that to a friend) and inveigles Kyle to go to a weekend self-help experience with what sounds like an elaborate run cult, “Rebirth”.  I hope I don’t risk litigation by wondering if there is some allusion to scientology.

It needs to be said that Kyle is made to look as close as possible to the desirable, perfect young male, with a tender face and a slender, muscular hairy body, all ready for exploration, at least in fantasy.

The experience starts with innocent steps, like a hotel night, then a bus ride, and then an orientation at what looks like a gay dirty disco dance, for straight men. (Oh, yes, Kyle is married with wife and kids and big house, probably underwater.)  There are some “rules”, like secrecy, but the most important rule is “no spectators”.  After all, “spectators judge and criticize.”  Kyle has to surrender his cell phone for a while, which, you guessed it, opens him up to identity theft and bank account drains.

All of this reminds me of how things go in discos today.  In fact, if you gawk, people (not your type) wil challenge you to dance with them.  The phone surrender reminds me of the Black Party that used to be held by the Saint in New York;  I think no phones are allowed.  (I wish they would release a DVD indie film of footage from the parties – but I could recommend the 2000 film “Circuit” by Jake Shafer, set in Palm Springs).

What happens, besides all the double talk of sales manipulation in the script (rather cleverly written), is a series of encounters (rather like Rosenfels-ian “gay talk groups” for straight people) in various decrepit rooms.  Finally, there is a sexual encounter (straight), where Kyle “gets it” although the disrobing scene could have done more with this.  Kyle’s character then will be tested, and whether he can contain an animal urge for violence is also on the block.

It’s too much of a spoiler to say the ending, but maybe this explains how some commercial cult-like self-help and motivational movements succeed.  I can recall going to an impromptu “feeling good about yourself” session at a hotel in Helena, Montana, of all places in 1981.  I’ve been to sessions like Est, Understanding, Lama, various encounters that the American west has to offer. In 1985, a friend in Dallas was “flown” to Waco for a day to interview for a job selling motivational tapes.  He didn’t quite get it.

An alternatice tag-phrase for 'no spectators' would be Taleb's 'skin in the game'.

(Originally posted: Friday, July 22, 2016 at 10:3 PM EDT)