The Watchers

The Watchers

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

LGBT Movies

The Iris Prize Festival starts today in Cardiff. Now in its sixth year, the festival is a celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) film, with feature film screenings, panel sessions and it also awards the Iris Prize- a package valued at £25,000- to the best short film, allowing the winner to make their next film. I attended events for the first two Iris Prize Festivals and can heartily say they are a very worthwhile event to attend. 

To coincide with this festival, I thought I would share some of my favourite LGBT films. The first issue really is to define what an LGBT film is. One could do worse than this following definition from Wikipedia: 'films that deal with or feature significant LGBT characters or issues, and may have same-sex romance or relationships as an important plot device.'

One could argue that film is film and that is that, and that there isn't a need to ghettoise a film by labelling it 'a gay film'. Film is a universal medium that encompasses all life and lifestyles, telling stories that resonate and touch us all, whether black or white, gay or straight, young or old. Cinema is a great leveller; it brings people together to share an experience. It would be great if society to get to a point where every faction of it is so integrated and the bigotry and hatred of what's different is a distant memory and maybe then everyone can see 'a gay film' as just 'a film'. But until that happens, festivals like The Iris Prize Festival and the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival are important to showcase and celebrate the LGBT experience.

The British film Victim (1961)- starring Dirk Bogarde, Sylvia Sims and Dennis Price- is the first film to use the word 'homosexual' but there have been representations of gay and lesbian people prior to this, even if they haven't always been positive: for instance, it is hinted that the killers in Rope (1948) are a homosexual couple, while there are definite hints that the obsessive Mrs Danvers' feelings for her late mistress in Rebecca (1940) are more than just those of a faithful servant. However, as the years have passed and things have improved, so have the representations. For more information about the history of LGBT cinema, I'd advise the superlative documentary The Celluloid Closet (1995).

This list is by no means exhaustive; there are plenty of other movies with LGBT characters and themes that I like and enjoy, but if I wrote about them all, we'd be here til Bonfire Night. 

Love! Valor! Compassion! (1997) is a film adaptation of Terrence McNally's play of the same name which sees a group of eight gay men spend three successive weekends together. They bicker, bond, fall in love and face some uncomfortable truths. All but one of the original Broadway cast return for the adaptation, with Jason Alexander replacing Nathan Lane as the Broadway-loving HIV-positive Buzz. Whilst all performances are universally brilliant, special mention must go to John Glover who plays dual roles as twin brothers James and John.

Beautiful Thing (1996) tells the story of two young lads- Ste (Scott Neal) and Jamie (Glen Berry)- who find love on a council estate in London. There's able support from Linda Henry as Jamie's fearless mum Sandra and Tameka Empson as their Mama Cass-loving friend Leah. The finale- where the two boys dance together to 'Dream A Little Dream Of Me'- will lift even the hardest of hearts.

Dismissed in some quarters as just 'that film about the gay cowboys', Brokeback Mountain (2005) is a moving, beautiful and thoughtful film about the relationship between two men that spans decades. A quartet of amazing performances by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as the star-crossed lovers, and Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway as their respective wives, with strong direction by Ang Lee and a haunting score by Gustavo Santaolalla make this a brilliant film. It is an absolute travesty that it didn't win Best Picture at the 2006 Oscars.

The Birdcage (1996), an American remake of La Cage Aux Folles (1978), is probably the only film I've ever seen Robin Williams upstaged in. The hysterically funny Nathan Lane steals the show as Albert, the neurotic boyfriend of Williams' Armand who has to conceal the truth of his domestic arrangements when his son's fiancee Barbara brings her ultra-conservative parents to dinner. Performances are excellent all round, especially from Hank Azaria as Armand and Albert's houseboy and Dianne Wiest and Gene Hackman as Barbara's parents. 

The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert (1994) is a technicolour extravaganza which sees three drag queens crossing the Australian desert in a beat-up old camper van. The fact that the drag queens are played by those paragons of manliness Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce adds another dimension to Stephan Elliott's fantastic debut film, full of eminently quotable dialogue and a tender heart behind the cattiness. Kudos too to Stamp who, as transsexual Bernadette, remains entirely in female attire throughout. 

It would be remiss not to mention The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). This gloriously camp confection about a strait-laced all-American couple (Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick) who get their eyes opened and horizons expanded at the secluded castle of Dr. Frank N Furter (the incredible Tim Curry), a hedonistic cross-dressing alien, is the subject of deep adulation and is a firm cult favourite. Famous for the Time Warp and the message 'don't dream it, be it', it's a whole lot of fun (even with the slightly downbeat ending).

Imagine Me & You (2005) is a bright and breezy British rom-com which features a young bride called Rachel (Piper Perabo) who falls in love with Luce, a female florist (Lena Headey)... on her wedding day. Moments of laugh-out-loud comedy sit alongside moments of great emotion- none more so that when Rachel's husband (Matthew Goode) decides to step away so that Rachel and Luce can be together.

Bound (1996) is a clever and stylish noir-ish thriller by the Wachowskis which sees Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly as lovers Corky and Violet who conspire to steal millions from the Mob and pin the blame on Violet's boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano). A sensual, gritty and powerful movie.

John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus (2006) gained some column inches on its premiere for its use of unsimulated sex. But this is far from a pornographer's wet dream; it's also a sensitive, moving and screamingly funny film which follows a dominatrix, a gay couple and a frustrated therapist as they negotiate matters of the heart and body.

In & Out (1997) is a frothy fun comedy based on a true story- when Tom Hanks inadvertently outed one of his former teachers when accepting his Oscar for Philadelphia. Here, Kevin Kline is the happily engaged teacher whose life collapses when a former student (Matt Dillon) outs him. Ambitious news-reporter Peter Malloy (Tom Selleck) goes to the town to discover the truth. There's no prizes for guessing where this story leads, but warm and sympathetic performances from Kline, Selleck and Joan Cusack as Howard's confused fiancee.

The Opposite Of Sex (1998) is a wickedly black comedy starring Christina Ricci as trailer-trash Dede Truitt who causes havoc in her gay half-brother's life by seducing his boyfriend and ending up pregnant. There are sterling performances throughout by Ricci, Martin Donovan as Dede's half-brother Bill and Lisa Kudrow as a bitter friend of Bill's, a million miles from her hippy-dippy Phoebe schtick.

Sean Penn picked up his second Best Actor Oscar for his nuanced and powerful performance in Milk (2008) as titular gay activist and politician Harvey Milk who campaigned for gay rights in California in the 1970s. A lesson in recent history and essential viewing for anyone who wants to see where the gay rights movement was and where it is now.

The murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998 shocked the world and saw the phrase 'hate crime' come to the fore. The Laramie Project (2002) originally started life as a play by the Tectonic Theater Project based on interviews with the townsfolk of Laramie, Wyoming. A powerful, sometimes uncomfortable, film with an amazing ensemble cast among them Laura Linney, Peter Fonda, Clea DuVall, Steve Buscemi and Amy Madigan.

Boys Don't Cry (1999) is a hardhitting drama starring Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny and Peter Sarsgaard. Based on the life and death of Teena Brandon, a transgendered girl who lived as a male and was murdered when the truth came to light, it's rarely an easy film to watch but the performances are superb throughout (especially Swank, who won a Best Actress Oscar for her role)

Transamerica (2005) sees a bravura performance by Felicity Huffman as Bree, a pre-operative male-to-female transsexual about to have the final operation to make her biologically female. Out of the blue, Bree gets a call. When Bree was Stanley, she fathered a son- a son who need help. Masquerading as a social worker, Bree goes to New York to pick up her son Toby (Kevin Zegers), determined not to tell him the truth. But the subsequent road trip throws up a few interesting home truths...

Finally, Touch Of Pink (2004), a culture-clash, coming-out comedy-drama starring Jimi Mistry and Kristen Holden-Ried as the lovers whose relationship is tested when Mistry's devoutly Muslim mother comes to visit and who doesn't know her son is gay. It also features a stunning supporting role by Kyle MacLachlan... as the spirit of Cary Grant who acts as Mistry's confidante and advisor.

Are there any you think are worth a mention? Let me know in the comments below.


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