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Gay Cinema

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I haven't written a blog entry in a little while, so I wracked my brain to think of something interesting to write. This entry will likely be followed up soon after with another component of the Autobiography, which I've neglected for too long.

As the title says, this entry will address gay movies, mostly because it's a question I hear a lot from other gay people. Do you know any good gay movies? I love going to the cinema, and I'm fortunate enough to live in a city which has a gay film festival annually in the summer, so I get a chance to go to screenings of obscure movies at times.

One I recently attended involved a lecture on the overlap between Crip Theory and Queer Theory, and was followed with the film Otto, or Up with Dead People, a movie about a guy who thinks he's a zombie and gets cast in a movie billed as a "gay zombie porno." If you think this movie sounds strange, it is. The person giving the talk apparently thought it was an enjoyable combination of disability and queer issues since it combined physical disability (being a zombie) with being gay. The movie is a laugh if you can enjoy horrible pretentious art movies, and it involves graphic zombie sex, which I don't think can be found anywhere else.

Now onto discussing some gay movies in general. I think there is pretty much 4 main categories of gay cinema.

The first category is the Hollywood apologetic, films that are all about showing that gays are people too, in case you weren't sure of that beforehand. I would include Philadelphia, Broke Back Mountain, and Milk in that category. Transamerica is another one, but that's about transgenders. Those examples are good movies, but they aren't very interesting movies. None of them really does anything too daring or new.

The second category is what I would term the queered-Hollywood-generic-plot genre. These are films that copy the usual formulaic crap produced by Hollywood, and just make everyone gay. So, this includes a whole slew of gay romantic comedies, dramas, and usual garbage. Some are decent, just like some formulaic Hollywood movies are decent. A decent recent example of this is Shelter, a romantic drama about surfers that is so-so. I would maybe include in these films the sub-genre of the magical gay fairy land where practically every character in the film is gay as a way to avoid dealing with any pesky social realities.

The third category is the impossible to ignore Coming Out film. These films are usually also combined with a typical love story, bullying plots, and occasionally the bigoted parent story. They usually involve teens, like Beautiful Thing and Get Real, two British coming out films that are quite good for what they are. An American example of the top of my head would be Edge of Seventeen, though I'm less fond of that movie. These films also tend to have a typical political message, but tend to be less didactic than the Hollywood gay films.

The fourth, and final, category is the experimental or subversive film, like the zombie movie mentioned above (or really any film by Bruce LaBruce). I'm going to give a paragraph to each film I want to mention in this category to give them each their due.

Shortbus - here is a film about sexual diversity, although a gay couple is a major part of the plot there are also heterosexual characters. The film concentrates on different conceptions of sexual freedom and exploration, and revels in the excess of it. It also features unsimulated sex, but it's not filmed like a porno, giving it an interesting feel, a bit like a less tiring Caligula. In this situation, I think it's more than just erotica, it's form simply mirroring content.

Funeral Parade of Roses - This is a bizarre, bizarre, experimental film in the tradition of French New Wave from 1960s Japan. It was apparently a major influence on Stanley Kubrich. What I love about the film is the intimate look at Tokyo gay subculture, mostly drag queens, at a time when such Western ideas were pretty fresh in Japan. There are meta-cinematic elements, like a "sex scene" where the camera then pulls out to reveal that it is a foot massage and that a camera crew is there filming it. There are also interviews where individuals speak about what it means to be a drag queen (or a simply a queen as they term it in the movie) and what it means to be gay.

Totally F*cked Up - this is a Gregg Araki film, I had to include one film from what is termed the New Queer Cinema, mostly a group of New York based film makers working in making gritty dark gay themed films in the 90s. This is a film that follows, sort of in a fictional documentary style, the life of a group of lesbian and gay teens. It isn't exactly an exciting film, but it addresses a lot of central themes in a lot of gay media. Notably it addresses the issues of the general polyamorous behavior of the gay community, and the issues of dealing with infidelity, alienation, AIDS, and such that arise from it. As an example of Araki's usual take on this stuff, the gay couple that champions monogamy in the film is of course broken up by cheating, and of course they're torn up about it. It raises the questions of if gay people can fit into the usual relationship frameworks that are tailored really to heterosexuals, and what does it mean for gay people to want that heteronormative lifestyle.

Honorable mentions to My Own Private Idaho, Mysterious Skin, The Boys in the Band, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I should also mention a lesbian film worth watching, it's kind of campy and horrible but a groundbreaking early representation of lesbianism in film, Personal Best.

Updated 02-02-2011 at 10:47 PM by OrphanPip



  1. qimissung's Avatar
    Some interesting movies, OrphanPip. I have seen only a few of the mainstream movies. I actually saw Personal Best in the theater many years ago.

    I remember reading the review and being excited to see it. The theater was packed. The review had made no mention of the lesbian relationship between Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly and I can say that my head was spinning by the end of the movie. I just didn't know what of make of it.

    You don't really hear anything about it nowadays, and I was curious how it's reputation has fared with the passage of time. I found this on Rotten Tomatoes:

    Synopsis: It takes a lot to win. This movie is usually considered a classic of lesbian cinema, and that's too bad: its true sensuality lies in powerful erotic... It takes a lot to win. This movie is usually considered a classic of lesbian cinema, and that's too bad: its true sensuality lies in powerful erotic associations with running and the sheer pain of competition. The film opens with a memorable close-up of sweat dripping on tarmac, an early glimpse of a visual style which evolves throughout the picture into almost pornographic slow-motion sequences of high jumps, shot puts, and running legs.

    The story follows a young runner (Mariel Hemingway) from a clueless start in the 1976 Olympic trials through a vexed affair with her mentor-competitor (Olympic runner Patrice Donnelly) to a final, triumphant qualifying race for the boycotted 1980 Moscow games. The human elements are told in an almost documentary style, giving an honest, complicated look at the blossoming of friendship into love against the near-military backdrop of world-class competitive sports. Hemingway and Donnelly can act, and their drive to win is compelling, both on the field and in their personal lives. But what really makes the film worth watching are the races--stunning images, beautiful editing, and the timeless drama of athletic endeavor. --Grant Balfour

    It gets a 73% on the tomatoemeter which is not to shabby.

    I haven't yet seen Hedwig and the Angry Inch and I will have to put that on my list of movies to see. I have seen Philadelphia and I agree with your assessment, but at least they were trying. You know I actually remember reading an article in Time magazine about a mysterious ailment that was devastating the gay community. My mom told me years later that I was the first one to mention the disease that came to be know as AIDS to her.

    I would also like to see that Japanese movie which sounds fascinating to say the least.
    Updated 02-05-2011 at 06:01 PM by qimissung
  2. The Comedian's Avatar
    Enjoyed this blog entry -- though I haven't seen hardly any of the movies that you list here (only Brokeback and Philadelphia) -- but that doesn't mean much about the gay issue -- I don't watch many movies at all.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your categorization of the different types of film, or really, ways in which gays are depicted in film. It gives me something to think about out next time I see on of these movies.
  3. Buh4Bee's Avatar
    It always amazes me how many categories and sub-categories we can have to classify film. I am interested in Seeing My Private Idaho. I've see Broke Back Mountain, a very moving film.
  4. JuniperWoolf's Avatar
    My favorite is Breakfast on Pluto. I love how everyone in the film makes a much bigger deal of his being Irish than his being a drag queen, that's great. It was like "a coming of age story from the perspective of an eighteen year old boy in the dangerous and often deadly political turmoil of Ireland in the 1970's... oh yeah, and he dresses like a woman."
  5. OrphanPip's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by JuniperWoolf
    My favorite is Breakfast on Pluto. I love how everyone in the film makes a much bigger deal of his being Irish than his being a drag queen, that's great. It was like "a coming of age story from the perspective of an eighteen year old boy in the dangerous and often deadly political turmoil of Ireland in the 1970's... oh yeah, and he dresses like a woman."
    I've seen Jordan's earlier movie, The Crying Game, but I haven't had a chance to see that one.

    Honestly, I'm surprised this post got some responses, haha. I wanted to say something about lesbians in film, but the only movies I could think of were Personal Best, and But I'm a Cheerleader.
  6. JuniperWoolf's Avatar
    But I'm a Cheerleader is great. I guess it would be a mix of the coming out film and the experimental (those colors!). It's kind of a gay film too, that was the first place that I ever heard the chant "it's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!"