Gay cinema has come a long way. Once it was dominated by coy romances, angst-ridden dramas or frankly grating camp comedies and other OTT offerings. Today, gay cinema is mature, alive and thriving. Allow me to share some of the ones that I’ve seen in recent times…
It’s good to start with a dose of truth, with two biographical documentaries to recommend. The first is Tab Hunter Confidential, a candid and engrossing look at the 1950s heartthrob and star, Tab Hunter, who was also closeted in his heyday. It offers a superb look at the old Hollywood studio system, and, my word, was Tab achingly beautiful in his prime! The other documentary of note is Larry Kramer: In Love and Anger. Kramer was one of the founders of AIDS activist group Act-Up! and a prominent, outspoken gay leader during the height of the epidemic. It doesn’t get more angry, fearless and invigorating than this documentary and its mercurial subject.
The slow, aching self-realization of budding sexuality as a gay teen is something many of us know only too well. It’s no coincidence that it is one of the most popular themes in gay cinema. One such film is Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party, about a 17-year-old realizing his sexuality as a member of an affluent, Christian evangelical household in suburban America. It’s a very small indie film that didn’t even get great reviews, but I found it well-acted, honest and quietly affecting. Closet Monster from Canada is its polar opposite as a teen coming out film – artsy to the hilt (it has Isabella Rossellini voicing a hamster) and quite crazy. It’s arresting stuff and has a terrific soundtrack.
Admittedly, most of the films mentioned here are not readily available on Netflix or Hulu, but they’re worth making the effort. Otherwise you could miss a treat like Guidance, with Canada’s Pat Mills as the most drunken, foul-mouthed and camp high school guidance counsellor ever. Some of it is plain hilarious. And Drown is an excellent Australian drama about lust, repressed gay feelings and horrendous violence between surfers in Sydney.
Can’t bear to read subtitles in order to watch a foreign language film? Shame on you and get over your prissy self! You could be depriving yourself of some of the very best gay films available today. How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) is a refreshingly honest look at two young lovers in Thailand whilst Jess & James is a low budget but engaging Argentinian road movie with two young, sexy guys. Brutally honest and intimate is the French Theo and Hugo, which starts off with 20 minutes of graphic, darkly lit sex in a Paris sex club. The screenplay is terrific and Paris at night has never looked more beguiling and mysterious. Best of all for me was Mexico’s 4 Lunas which shows four very different gay love stories set in modern Mexico City. Although a tad melodramatic at times, it was still a superb film rich with emotion.
There are also those gay films that get rave reviews that I simply hated or found overrated. The Brazilian Futuro Beach is a confused and pretentious mess and Being 17 from France was unconvincing and dull. Venezuela’s From Afar may have won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival but I found it frankly terrible. Other People has been well-regarded by American critics and has its moments but I just couldn’t connect with it to the extent I expected to. And another critically acclaimed gay film, Holding the Man, was an Australian AIDS drama that I simply found became too overwrought and off-putting in the end. Of course, taste in movies is as subjective as it gets. So search out even these films if you like, because you may just love them.
I’ve always loved cinema/film/movies/ call it what you will. Is there anything that allows you to better chill out and just zone out all your concerns than a good movie? But it also gives us precious insight into other lives and other ways of looking at the world. And watching a gay film can inform us about the gay experience for others, whoever and wherever they may be. Gay cinema holds up a mirror to each one of us, whether the reflection is opaque or crystal clear.