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River Cruise

The Delta
Making Waves: Shayne Gray struggles to understand his desires in 'The Delta.'



'The Delta' swims in a moral gray zone

By Richard von Busack

THE SMALL, REMARKABLE new film The Delta goes against the grain of gay cinema. Rather than finding liberation through his sexuality, an uncertain young man discovers only confusion and duplicity. The whole film takes place in a moral gray zone. For once, the fuzziness of blown-up 16mm actually seems to harmonize with the intent of the director. Memphis is the setting, but The Delta is filmed in a landmark-free area of pool halls, suburbs and strip malls. The river is the most beautiful thing in town, and it's the setting for a deft pastiche of a part of Huckleberry Finn--an intelligent reprise of an old theme in a modern composition.

The 17-year-old Lincoln Bloom (Shayne Gray) has been sneaking off for casual tricks, leaving the summer round of pot and beer parties to go alone to the foggy park where men hang out alone, bored and waiting. Meanwhile, he hangs on--diffidently--to a girlfriend (Rachel Zan Huss). One night, Lincoln cruises at an adult-film arcade, where he encounters someone he'd picked up once but since put out of his mind: Mihn (Thang Chan), who is half Vietnamese and half black and has too strong a need for love. Minh's whole life has been a series of abandonings and rejections, and Lincoln is too inexperienced to know that you have to avoid the ones who come on too strong. But the two borrow a boat and go for a ride down the Mississippi, the idyll in the center of a ciné-vérité production.

The Delta isn't about young love persecuted by a cruel society. Society is cruel, but it's not as cruel as the things we do when we're too young to know better. Lincoln's rejection of what his instincts make him do is evidence of his own youthful confusion--confusion that he may never master. An act of (inexplicit) violence at the end fits the story. It's not just the cinematic equivalent of a punctuation mark--so unlike the last no-budget gay film to be exhibited here, Latin Boys Go to Hell.

The Delta was certainly a difficult film to make. Director/writer Ira Sachs' troubles included finding a young male actor in Memphis who would play a gay character and then having to find another actor the week before production was slated to start, when the first lead ran away for fear of being branded homosexual. Fortunately, Sachs was lucky in finding Gray. Gray gives the kind of performance that outshines actors paid a thousand times more than what he got. Thang Chan, another nonprofessional, was ostracized in his native Vietnam for his mixed parentage, and his real-life story of rejection must not be much different from the story he tells on camera. The sound on The Delta is, frankly, terrible, but the visuals tell the story with a dexterity that nearly makes up for the sometimes murky dialogue, and the scenes of life on humid nights are both memorable and delicate.


The Delta (Unrated; 85 min.), directed and written by Ira Sachs, photographed by Benjamin P. Speth and starring Shayne Gray and Thang Chan.

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From the Nov. 6-12, 1997 issue of Metro.

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