DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Making Love, Mulligans, Parting Glances, The Birdcage (with La Cage aux Folles films (3)), As Good as It Gets, Forces of Nature, The Crying Game, Jeffrey, Priest, Apartment Zero, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Sunday Bloody Sunday, The Fox, The Greg Louganis Story, Cruising, Victim, The Servant, In & Out, Beaches, The Producers, Prick Up Your Ears, The Times of Harvey Milk, Maurice, Mikhael, A Very Natural Thing, Ode to Billy Joe, The Fox, The Killing of Sister George, The Boys in the Band, The Children’s Hour, Midnight Cowboy, Staircase, Paris Is Burning, La Dolce Vita



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Making Love (1982, 20th Century Fox, dir. Arthur Hiller, 113 min, R) is the classic “fairy tale” movie about gay men—especially a married gay man who comes to terms with his homosexuality, comes out to his wife and then has to deal with the consequences. Michael Ontkean (best known for his role in David Lynch’s series Twin Peaks) plays a young doctor, Zack, who falls in love with a writer Bart McGuire (Harry Hamlin), who comes in one day for a checkup. He wants a spot to be looked at, and that foreshadows what is to come soon in the gay community, but not in the film.  The tension between the men mounts and climaxes. Then Zack has to tell his TV-producer wife Claire (Kate Jackson). In that scene, Kate sits underneath a cabinet and cries, and asks, “What about passion?”  She finds a new heterosexual husband “and they live happily ever after.” There are some interesting conversations in the movie, such as about competence in the workplace. I saw this movie with a full audience at Northpark in Dallas, and later that night (at the TMC in Oak Lawn) I would read for the first time, in a local magazine called TWIT (“This Week in Texas”) about Kaposi’s sarcoma.

The film frames the story with a very effective device: It opens with soliloquies with three of the major characters in close-up (the film is standard aspect); this leads to a level of audience engagement with what is otherwise looking to be a quiet, if controversial film.

Mulligans (2008, Wolfe/Warner Independent Pictures/TLA/Border2Border, dir. Chip Hale, 85 min, R, Canada) sets up a college roommate who falls in love with the father of his host, challenging the father’s marriage, a kinds of MLII.  Blogger,.


Parting Glances (1986, Cinecom, dir. Bill Sherwood) was an important indie gay festival film for AIDS benefits in the 1980s. I saw it at the Inwood in Dallas (when I volunteered for the Oak Lawn Counseling Center). The story is simple enough: Michael and Robert (John Bolger and Richard Ganoung), a NYC gay couple pre-gay-marriage-debate, prepare for the separation of Robert’s departure to Africa for work (Africa was just then getting attention as the likely origin of AIDS, and of course the epidemic there exploded.) Nick (Steve Buscemi, in one of his important early roles) is the lively friend with AIDS who, often dancing on Fire Island beaches like The Pines or Cherry Grove, never seems sick, a character of great interest at a time when just a few PWA’s would successfully overcome Kaposi’s Sarcoma in the days before even AZT would become available.

The Birdcage (1996, United Artists, dir. Mike Nichols, wr. Jean Poiret (play) and Francis Verber (previous)) tells a well-trodden story about a gay cabaret owner Armand Goldman (Robin Williams), this time in Miami Beach (or South Beach, I guess, home of the famous diet) and his transvestite lover Albert Goldman (note the last name)/Starina (Nathan Lane). They decide to “ruin it” and make it a straight place to fool their son’s right wing parents (Col. Kevin Keely (Gene Hackman) and his wife Louise (Diane West)). Toward the end there is a specific conversation about “gays in the military.” The film opens, I recall, with shots of the Beach with the music of “We Are Family” playing. The song is conspicuous, and the music license rights for it must have cost a fortune. (They played it all the time in Dallas at “Magnolia’s Thunderpussy”—predating The Roundup—when I arrived there in 1979.)  Of course, having Robin Williams in charge gives the film a certain hirsute flair: there is a funny scene where a woman (Louise I believe) attacks his chest. We all know, of course, that this film is a “remake” of La Cage aux Folles (“Birds of a feather”) (1978, MGM.United Artists, dir. Edouard Molinaro, wr. Marcello Dannon) starring Ugo Tognazzi and Michel Serrault with the story in St. Tropez, which has a sequel  La Cage aux Folles II (1980, UA, wr Marcello Danon and Jean Poiret) involving international CIA-like spies and a secret microfilm, and La Cage aux Folles III, La “elles” se marient (“They get married”, 1985, Columbia/TriSar, dir. Georges Lautner, wr Michel Audiard, Christine Carere), while having the couple age a bit, plays George Elliot’s dead hand, in which Albert will inherit a vast fortune from a distant relative but must get married heterosexually within a year or forfeit the inheritance. All of these films sound lighthearted and frivolous with their situation comedy treatment, but (especially for their time) they deal with everything serious (the military ban, gay marriage, adoption and custody, and the possibility that inheritance rights can be lost by “out of the grave” demands of opinionated relatives. The dead hand problem does happen to GLBT people, and I’m surprised it does get written about more. Of course, one wonders why Armand is attracted to Albert in the first place; is it true psychological polarity? Another film that deals with the “dead hand” is The Bachelor (1999, New Line, dir. Gary Sinyor) where Chris O’Donnell plays Jimmie Shannon, a stud who fears commitment and lets a girl go but finds out he must get married by a deadline to receive his grandfather’s inheritance.

As Good As It Gets (1997, Columbia, dir. James Brooks), a romantic comedy, presents Jack Nicholson as his often misanthropic self (remember his performance in “A Few Good Men”), here an introverted author, who gets involved with taking care of a gay neighbor’s dog (artist Simon Bishop, played by Greg Kinnear, who handles the part with authority) and the only waitress, Carol (Helen Hunt), who will serve him breakfast. Adaptations force him to become a better, and “more involved” person. Hollywood, here, is determined to teach us how to become more virtuous with a rather formulaic story.

The Object of My Affection (1998, 20th Century Fox, dir. Nicholas Hytner) presents Jennifer Anniston as playing Nina, a young woman who falls in love with a gay man George Hanson (Paul Rudd), and wants him to become a surrogate dad after she gets pregnant. There is that scene where she depants him. But the most interesting line comes out during a comic scene where George outs himself to everyone, and where Sidney (Alan Alda) proclaims that gayness “is a very natural choice.”  That does go against being p.c. these days (check Chandler Burr’s 1996 book, A Separate Creation.)

Forces of Nature (1999, Dreamworks, dir. Bronwen Hughes) seems like a straight story—a super handsome guy Ben Holmes (Ben Affleck) is supposed to get married, is seated by Sarah Lewis (Sandra Bullock) on a plane, when a bird flies into the engine. Soon they are on the road together, unable to pay the motel bill when they get kicked out, and needing money, they wind up in a gay bar with a dance floor. (The bartender says to Ben, “they would want to see you dance, not her.”) Sarah will strip Beautiful Ben Affleck (they mount a pool table) on camera, first yanking away his pants, then tugging his shirt, to reach his hairy chest.  Yeah, they get tips. Funny, ha ha, this is a romantic comedy. There are some pretty interesting lines: Ben is a writer, and Sarah says he is failing because he has no emotion. Ben accuses Sarah of arranging relationships with intellectually inferior men, deliberately engineered to fail. 

The Crying Game (1992, Miramax, dir. Neil Jordan) puts together sexual politics (homosexuality and transgender) with political rebellion and terrorism, specifically, the Irish Republican Army (IRA).  A gay British soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker) is kidnapped by terrorists. He makes friends with Fergus (Stephen Rea). Things go wrong, and Fergus runs to London where he will search for Jody’s gender-bending hairdresser lover, Dil  (Jaye Davidson). The film has a big, widescreen, ambitious look, although Stephen Rea looks a bit Spartan and hairless.

Jeffrey (1995, Orion Classics, dir. Christopher Ashley) features Steven Weber as Jeffrey, who debates whether to remain celibate after meeting the man of his dreams. What made this film interesting was the live footage from the 1994 New York City gay pride parade, with one shot of the mile-long rainbow flag being carried up Fifth Avenue. I would like to see the 1993 March on Washington (the last weekend in April) just when President Clinton’s proposal to lift the ban on gays in the military had heated up, show up live in a film. The Washington Times showed an aerial shot of the Mall the Monday after.

Priest (1995, Miramax, dir. Antonia Bird) provoked a lot of attempted boycotts against the parent company Disney in 1995). A young homosexual priest Father Greg (Linus Roache) picks up Graham (Robert Carlyle) and will be caught up in police action. The older priest (Tom Wilkinson) thinks he has his comeuppance. The story gets complicated when Father Greg learns in a confessional that a young girl is getting sexually abused by her father. All of this seems pre-timely, to the days when the celibate priesthood would be debated, as well as the scandal of all of the old molestations. At the time, this seemed like an important film.

Apartment Zero (1988, Skouras, dir. Martin Donovan) was a shocking thriller from Argentina where financially strapped Adrian LeDuc (Colin Firth) takes in a charismatic roommate Jack Carney (Hart Bochner). They will become “lovers” of sorts, before Adrian gradually finds out that his beloved in a terrorist, serial killer or government mercenary.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997, Warner Bros/Malpaso, dir. Clint Eastwood, based on book by John Berendt) starts out with reporter John Kelso (John Cusack) goes down to Savanah, GA to cover the Christmas party of one of its closeted gay millionaires, Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey). Early on John, discovering Savannah to be an eccentric small city, calls back and says, “New York is boring!” Soon Jim’s gay lover Billy (Jude Law) is murdered, and John stays to cover the trial. A panoramic array of characters comes along, including Lady Chablis Deveau. Clint Eastwood’s direction of this film has been overshadowed by the more recent “Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby.”  The movie needed to be full wide-screen. The original book is non-fiction (a true story) and rather Michener-like.

Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971, United Artists, dir. John Schlessinger) presents a love triangle among a divorcee Alex (Glenda Jackson), a doctor Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch) and Bob Elkin (Murray Head), and this includes a gay liaison between the two male leads. I took a female date to this film in 1971, during the three month period when I tried to date girls and “go straight” before my second coming. I even recall a conversation after the movie about the man walking on the curbside of the street to protect the woman—that was the expectation of the time. (No, we did not go Dutch.)

Breaking the Surface: The Greg Louganis Story (1997, USA, dir. Steven Hilliard Stern, 120 min, based on an autobiography co-authored with Eric Marcus) is a biography of diver Greg Louganis, who became controversial in 1988 when, while HIV positive, hit his head on a diving board. Though not seriously injured, the incident stimulated debate about gays in sports and the theoretical possibility of HIV transmission through unforeseeable accidents. The movie has some pretty heavy and angry personal scenes about his relationships.

Cruising (1980, United Artists, dir. William Friedkin, based on a novel by Gerald Walker, NC-17 changed to R, 106 min), was a notorious film about a serial killer stalking gay men in the leather bars, and has some particularly brutal scenes. I remember seeing this in Dallas, where theater owners acted embarrassed to show it (and labeled it as over 18 only). There were reports in a few cases that patrons who saw the film were harassed (as noted in The Celluloid Closet).

Victim (1961, Allied/J. Arthur Rank, dir. Basil Dearden, bw, 100 min, PG-13, UK) is a groundbreaking British film that faces frankly the way sodomy laws, still in effect then in Britain in 1961 (they were lifted there in 1967) simply provide a “blackmailer’s charter.” Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde), apparently happily married (they always are!) is a successful London barrister who goes after a blackmailer who photographed him in a compromising position with a much younger man. Farr find other gay men being targeted by the blackmailer, including one who apparently commits suicide Barrett (Peter McEnery). The police chief (John Barrie) eventually helps Farr. But Farr has a showdown with his wife (Sylvia Sims) (comparable to that in “Making Love”) in which he tries to reassure her that he really loves her – and he does. It is not even clear that he has really had gay sex.  He does admit that he is attracted to, well, attractive men. He even loves one or more of them, but in a way radically different from marital love for a wife. He is capable of both kinds of love. (They have one boy, who apparently is in psychological counseling and art therapy behind one-way glass, the kind that I had myself at NIH in 1962). The detective asks the wife if he really satisfies her physically, and it is not clear that the can.  In the end, Melville faces giving up his career by exposing the blackmailer, something he is required to do by law. He wants to face this alone, without his wife.

One wonders if blackmail was really as easy as it looks in the film. Even with sodomy laws on the books, why did the police believe an unprovable accusation about something that happened in private between consenting adults? I can see this for arrests in public places, like parks. Maybe it would happen if the police give one party immunity to testify against the other. But the film certainly shows the chilling climate against homosexuals in that period. This is set in the same time period as my 1961 William and Mary expulsion for saying that I was a (latent) homosexual. In the early 1980s, I would see problems with police making false arrests for public lewdness in gay bars in Dallas, Texas.

There is also discussion about why there are sodomy laws, with the usual circular “logic.” One reason given is to protect youth from bad examples. It seems like an admission that the male role as provider, protector, and initiator – lifelong – is so precarious that it needs to be “protected” by collectivist moral standards, even in “private life.” That is what people of this generation believed. 

The DVD features a remastered Dolby Digital soundtrack with stirring d-minor piano and orchestra music by Philip Green.

The Servant (1963, Warner Bros/Pathe/Studio Canal/Anchor Bay, dir. Joseph Losey, novel by Robert Maugham, 114 min, sug PG-13) is a battle between two British closeted gayish men in different classes: the house master Tony (James Fox) and manservant Hugh Barrett (Dirk Bogarde), who, as conventional wisdom has it, gradually takes over the house. There is a bit of a love rectangle (Vera Miles and Wendy Craig) but toward the end we start to see what is happening, as the housemaster keeps nude male pictures around (like in an Iris Murdoch novel). It never quite comes to fruition. The music is French jazz, the indoor sets with all the table settings are spectacular in black and white, and outdoors we see London under snow cover. At one point the two men mention to each other their misadventures in the British Army, probably too young for real war in WWII. The film is considered a bit of a classic.

In & Out (aka In and Out, 1997, Paramount, dir. Frank Oz, 92 min, PG-13) is a sassy comedy that puts gays in the military in bed (as a sublayer) with gay teachers. Actor Cameron Drake (a blonde Matt Dillon) has won Best Actor for the make-believe film “To Serve and Protect” about a gay marine. The early part of the film shows a plausible sequence, as the gay character saves his buddy in battle (while taunting his buddy about loving him “another way”) and then, legless, faces his administrative discharge hearing for violating “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”. The board brings up funny evidence, like a VHS tape of Bette Midler’s 1988 film “Beaches.” During his acceptance speech, Cameron (Dillon appears, from the open shirt, to have his chest shaved) mentions his high school drama teacher Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) back home at Greenleaf, IN, and then outs him.  Howard first denies it, and even panders to his mother’s wish that she needs the gratification of his getting married (to a woman). Everyone has a real problem. The boys in the locker room talk about “in” and “out” holes (even when puking). The principle has a duplicitous discussion with him revolving around moot points. Of course, he will get married… or will he?  At his wedding, when it’s time to say “I do,” he misspeaks “I’m gay.” We’ve seen busted weddings before (Summerland, Wedding Crashers).  His bride says, “I based my whole self-concept on the idea that you were willing to marry me.” He is even accused of insulting Martha Stewart. There are too many other funny lines to count, like the bridesmaid who says, “I have to shower and vomit.”   

As for Beaches (1988, Touchstone, dir. Garry Marshall, novel by Iris Rainer Dart), it has always been a “gay” favorite film about two “straight” female friends, dancer CC Carol Bloom (Bette Midler, of course) and lawyer Hillary (Barbara Hershey). There is a great conversation about the commitment it takes to have kids. Hillary gets viral cardiomyopathy when she has her baby, and then comes to resent her friend who will outlive her. John Heard plays “the man in between.” 

The Producers (1968, MGM/Embassy, dir. Mel Brooks) is the original comedy about a showbiz scam. Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) and Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) raise money for a sure flop “Springtime for Hitler.” They will keep the money as nobody expects to be paid back. Pretty improbable. Leo whines about going to jail. The musical is tasteless, as it makes light of Hitler and the swastika symbols. The auditions show some gay characters and a cross dresser. Subliminally, the movie plays into the modern theories put out by Machtan that Hitler could have been homosexual. The 2005 remake is called “The Producers: The Movie Musical”, Universal and dir. Susan Stroman.

There is a remake (2005, Universal/Columbia/Brooklyn Navy Yard, dir. Susan Stroman, music and lyric by Mel Brooks, 135 min) that carries the social and political satire even further. Early one, a boyish and fattish Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) explains creative accounting, how to make money on a flop with creative accounting. This sounds like an obvious takeoff on the Enron and WorldCom (“cook the books”). The musical numbers build up, introducing foppish gay characters, some in drag, some in other stereotypes (including the Village People). The musical numbers are drawn out and add to the length of the film, but among the best are “We Can Do It,” “Keep It Gay,” and “Springtime for Hitler,” the layered musical that they finally pull off. That is full of swastikas and takeoffs on Aryan stereotypes, “Deutschland is happy and gay.” That rings for someone who visited Berlin in 1999 and saw the Reichstag, “Den Deutchen Volken.” Leo gets caught, and sentenced to prison where he can be with a lover, and they pull off another flop, “Prisoners of Love.” The closing credits have fun with anagrams and misspellings of many famous musicals.

Prick Up Your Ears (1987, MGM, dir. Stephen Frears, 111 min, R) is a biography of two writers who were gay lovers. The center of gravity was on the younger Joe Orton (Gary Oldman) who would achieve fame with “Loot” and “What the Butler Saw.” Orton was comfy with the bathhouse and lavatory scene, which is generally understated in the film (his smooth chest is brandished like a weapon, however). Orton was bit daring in his writing, as when an agent rebukes him over the phone for drug use and homosexual scenes in his script (they have to mollify the “public.”) Kenneth Haliwell (Alfred Molina) went bald early, sometimes wore a wig and was a bit gawky. At various points Joe helps him trick, as they go out and look for boys in pairs and evade the bobbies (this was the 60s, just before Britain’s sodomy laws were repealed in 1967). Toward the end, they vacation in Morocco (“by the sea, by the beautiful sea,”) with boys that run around and make one wonder if a denouement like “Suddenly Last Summer” is coming. Instread, Haliwell’s own inadequacy prevails, and he hammers his lover to death in a particularly brutal scene. This sort of violence is not common with male couples. 

The Times of Harvey Milk (1984, New Yorker, dir. Rob Epstein, 90 min, PG-13) is a moving documentary about the life and career of Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay politicians to be elected to office, in this case the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco in the 1970s. His political nemesis would be Dan White, from the conservative southeast side of the city. Milk pushed through an ordinance protecting people in the city from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and in the 1970s this was still a big deal for a lot of people.  During the 1970s the country saw the Anita Bryant orange juice backlash in Florida. Then in 1978 California had the Briggs initiative, a referendum to ban gays from teaching jobs in California schools, a policy that would be similar to what is practiced by the military and it sounds like today’s “don’t ask don’t tell.” The televised debates from the day, which often look technically grainy, are interesting in terms of the group doublethink that they portray. At one point, there is discussion over whether gays are more likely to be child molesters or sex offenders. Briggs says that it doesn’t matter, because you can make kids safer by removing homosexuals from the classroom anyway, a reasoning similar to what is used by the military today. Lesbian spokespersons try to articulate the “religious right” point of view for intellectual or devil’s advocate purposes – that many people’s lives are so intertwined with certain social belief systems about necessary gender roles, that they cannot tolerate the threat that comes from those who would challenge these roles. You could take that idea further—the social family experience as many people perceive it is all that they can live for! The Briggs initiative is overwhelmingly defeated, with help both from Jimmy Carter and even governor Ronald Reagan. Then there is a political controversy over Dan White’s resignation, which he tries to rescind, and mayor George Moscone will not reappoint him. Dan White retaliated and assassinates both George Moscone and Harvey Milk in November 1978, shortly after the Jonestown suicide massacre. In the trial, gay people are excluded from the jury, and White gets off with manslaughter and a light prison term with parole possible, and then there are riots in the streets of San Francisco. Dan White would serve only 5-1/2 years. The suggestion is made that he would have received a worse sentence had he murdered only Moscone and not murdered an openly gay person! This is a time in my life that I remember well, one of the liveliest personally in my own life, the few years before AIDS started. Bryan Singer’s film of Randy Shilts’s book The Mayor of Castro Street is due from Warner Brothers in 2007.

A Very Natural Thing (1974, New Line, dir. Christopher Larkin, 80 min, R) was a famous film in its post-Stonewall days, about an ex-priest David (Robert McLane), becoming a teacher and desiring caution and commitment, falls in love with Mark (Curt Gareth), who has much more opulent and exploratory ideas about life. The title of the film reflects the Aquinas “natural law” flavor of the moral debate of those days.

Maurice (1987, Cinecom/Film Four/Merchant Ivory, dir. James Ivory, novel by E. M. Forster, 140 min, R) is a famous and visually provocative period film about gay men coming to terms and covering up to follow the norms of Edwardian society. The novel is said to be autobiographical. Clive Durham (Hugh Grant) and Maurice Hall (James Wilby) have been boyfriends, and Clive marries Anne (Phoebe Nicholls) to fit in with family expectations. But he will find a new love with the gamekeeper Alec (Rupert Graves). Ben Kingsley also appears in this large indie Merchant/Ivory offering from the UK. The novel used to be a bane for social conservatives.

Mikhael (aka “Michael”, 1924, Kino, dir. Carl Theodor Dryer, novel by Herman Bang, 86 min, BW, silent, Germany) gives us an ambiguous chapter in the early history of cinema with gay themes. Michael (Walter Slezak) is a handsome young artist and model in Weimar Germany, under the tutelage of “master” Claude Zoret (Benjamin Christiansen), who obviously is in love with him. Is the relationship strictly platonic? That is all that is shown. Michael’s artistic talents are questionable, as is his constitution, and he makes Claude jealousy with a heterosexual affair with the countess. There are other love triangles and subplots. But in the end it is all quiet melancholy, as both Claude and Michael fall. The last scene, with Michael in the countess’s arms, taxes the imagination of black-and-white film, as the costume is obviously colorful, anticipating the wild days of fascism to come. The film has mild expressionism. The commentary discusses the need to refer to homosexuality ambiguously; in those days, “humanitarian” was the code word for gay rights, and “invert” for homosexual. There was definitely the feeling that public heterosexual values were easy to undermine. The novelist was often taunted by police in those days, but never arrested or tried. Of course, in ten years things would get much worse. Paragraph 175 is mentioned in the commentary. 

Paris Is Burning (1991, Miramax/Off White, dir. Jennie Livingston, 71 min, R) is a documentary exploring the break dancing and “voguing” styles (later adopted by Madonna) in the African American gay community (with particular attention to the drag queens) in New York City in the late 1980s. This film, because it was first rejected from Oscar contention despite its festival success, caused relooking within the Hollywood Oscar community at documentary. Toward the end of the film some of the characters discuss the extent to which they express trans-genderism, and one of them says, “I don’t know what it feels like to be a woman; I know what it feels like to be a man dressed as a woman. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.” The dancing style does not resemble that closely what happens in large city gay discos today, however.   (Do not confuse with the famous 1966 Rene Clement film “Is Paris Burning?” about the departure of German occupiers in 1994).

Ode to Billy Joe (1976, Warner Bros, dir. Max Baer, Jr., wr. Herman Raucher, 105 min, PG-13) is a story set in the south of sexually insecure Billy Joe McAlister (Robby Benson) who confesses his love to sweetheart Bobbie Lee Hartley (Glynnis O’Connor) and then, when drunk, has intimacy with a man. Then he runs away and has to come out to Bobbie Lee. The film ends tragically as he throws himself off the Tallahachee River Bridge (or is it Tallahatchie), and that becomes a famous ballad song in the rural south. I saw this with a friend in New York City and at the time Billy Joe’s “secret” was a big deal.

Two early lesbian films:

The Fox (1967, Claridge, dir. Mark Rydell, novel D.H. Lawrence 110 min), where two lesbians (played by Sandy Dennis and Anne Heywood) deal with the disruption of a boyfriend (Keir Dullea); set in rural maritime Canada in winter; people would say then “they were that way.” 

 The Killing of Sister George (1968, Cinerama Releasing, dir. Robert Aldrich, R, play by Frank Marcus, 138 min) has a love triangle of lesbians with one playing a character who has to be killed off. Beryl Reid is Sister George (and she is always spoken to as such); also Susannah York and Coral Browne. There is a climatic explicit lesbian bedroom scene that was shocking in its day (outside of Andy Warhol), but it seemed to make female homosexuality real to many viewers. 

Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969, United Artists, novel by James Leo Herlihy  ) won best picture as it dealt with male prostitution (and earned an “X” at first, partly because of a scene in a men’s john). Jon Voight plays the hustler, Joe Buck, and he would grow much older in his career, and Dustin Hoffman achieved notoriety as Ratzo. I saw this in the Post Theater at Fort Eustis, Va and I remember the lieutenant saying in line, “Oh, that movie is about homosexuality and all.” Yet the Army was perfectly OK about shown it to the EM. 

An anemic, stereotyped-queer comedy about male homosexuality was Staircase (1969, 20th Century Fox, dir. Stanley Donen, with Richard Burton and Rex Harrison), although it presents a 20-year gay couple and could fit lightly into today’s debate on gay marriage.

 William Friedkin’s The Boys in the Band (1970, written by Mart Crowley from his play) presented a homosexual birthday party with some killer lines (about “a gay corpse,”--- “you will always be homosexual…”) and some stereotypical anti-butch behavior among gay men. I saw this at a drive-in in Morrisville, PA then, one of the few movies I ever saw at a drive in. But the most important of all of the early gay films is perhaps The Children’s Hour (1961, United Artists/Mirisch, dir. William Wyler, based on the play by Lillian Hellman, 107 min, PG-13) in which a spiteful student Mary Tilford (Karen Balkin) at a private girl’s school accuses the two headmistresses (played by Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine) of having a lesbian relationship, when there was really no factual evidence of that. The bw film captures the anti-homosexual paranoia and scorn of the times, when homosexuality was seen as potentially subversive to middle class culture.

La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life), (American International, 1960, Italian, 173 min, R, b-w Cinemascope, dir. Federico Fellini). Remember American International, the studio that gave us the motorcycle flicks of the late 60s like Born Losers? Well, their imprint is on the reprint of Fellini’s masterpiece, that literally started the 60s. It is credited with inventing the “paparazzi” that hounded Princess Di to her death in the Paris tunnel in 1997. On the surface, this is a satire about the lives of upper class Europeans who turn to suicide when things get rough, as journalist Marcello Mastroanni travels around Rome. His sarcasm comes out when he remarks that a president or Soviet premier can end all civilization with one phone call. But what fascinates here is how the film buries the you in its world of abstraction to pull you toward its conclusions. This is one of those movies that MUST be in black-and-white, and must be widescreen. The images are endless: a helicopter carries a statute of Christ past Roman aqueducts toward the modern City and the Vatican, then past cookie cutter apartment buildings under construction; the girl friend whose basement apartment is always flooded, the girl with a kitty cat in her hair, the doctor who ties his shoes, a modern triangular shapes of nurses’ uniforms in a Catholic hospital.  The black and white forces the viewer to pay attention to textures and details, all the more so in the indoor scenes populating the wide screen with characters and objects. There is no much use of closups here; instead it is the entire vision, of a Rome that always seems a bit cloudy in the black and white. Only in this kind of a world could an orgy follow a tragic multiple family murder and suicide. And in the last thirty minutes, Fellini’s nature comes out of the closet. The orgy goes gay, a bit like modern dirty dancing though with the pop music of the time. The gay men seem more “masculine” than the straight male characters, who are already going down hill a bit, in comparison to the well build gays with hairy bodies (even those in drag). One of the drag queens says, “we will all be homosexual.” At the end, there is a seaside scene with all of those textures that again fill in the colors, and even an amorphous (and perhaps androgynous) sea monster washed onto the beach. This film predates my expulsion from William and Mary for homosexuality by one year, because this was a film, for all its awards, that “normal” people didn’t see in those days. Yet Fellini clearly understood how quickly things would change. But he had to use black-and-white; in Technicolor the real world objections to his fantasy would have been too much to overcome in that era. 

This film is involved in a trademark dispute (since a porn producer has tried to use this name); view this blogger explanation.


Related reviews: Major current GLBT films    The Celluloid Closet  Advise and Consent  Suddenly, Last Summer   (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof   Tea and Sympathy on that same file); Paragraph 175


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