Gay cinema

Parent categories: gay - cinema

Related: queer cinema - lesbian cinema - homoeroticism

Connoisseurs: Andrew Grossman

Directors: Pedro Almodóvar - Jean Genet - Fassbinder - Todd Haynes - Richard Oswald - François Ozon - Jack Smith - Gus Van Sant

Titles: Bilitis (1977) - A Special Day (1977) - My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Brokeback Mountain (2005) - Ang Lee [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Different From the Others (1919) - Richard Oswald [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) - Hector Babenco [Amazon.com]

"Hollywood only understands money," declared one speaker at the Basic Instinct demonstration. "If they're going to make films that endanger my life, they better budget for my anger." --"Gays and Lesbians in Cinema", Cineaste's Political Companion To American Film, Gary Crowdus, ed. Chicago: Lake View Press, 1994. via http://www.glbtq.com/arts/film.html [Jun 2004]


Have you ever thought about what constitutes a gay film as opposed to a straight one? Is it gay thematic content, characters, gay filmmakers, or the amount and explicitness of gay sex? Assuming that you have a favorite gay film -- by whatever definition -- was it chosen for its artistic merits or some other reason, such as, that it advanced the 'gay cause'?

I have never liked this segregation of films into gay or non-gay categories. However, for the record, my strict definition of a gay film is a film made by, for and about gay people. Anything that falls outside of that is, strictly speaking, not a gay film. Ultimately, however, for me, a film is either good or bad. It makes a whole lot more sense to engage with a film on an emotional, intellectual or aesthetic level and, no matter what the sexual proclivities of its makers, to view the unfolding drama in terms of our complex responsiveness to universal human experience. --Dmetri Kakmi in http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/00/8/queer.html

There are essentially two ideas behind the label "gay cinema": first, that Hollywood's images of homosexuals are worth investigating and, second, that gay filmmakers themselves have been working independently--and in opposition--to these images.

Thus there are two strands to a gay film history, which only really intertwine in the last two decades, when independent films such as Longtime Companion (1990), Desert Hearts (1986), and Parting Glances (1986) proved that gay and lesbian culture has what Hollywood cutely calls "crossover" potential.

Despite the critical and commercial success of these films, lesbian and gay cinema is not something that happened only since gay liberation--although politicization has provided the impetus to sift through history and tease out what was previously concealed.--"Gays and Lesbians in Cinema", Cineaste's Political Companion To American Film, Gary Crowdus, ed. Chicago: Lake View Press, 1994. via http://www.glbtq.com/arts/film.html [Jun 2004]

Theatrical films that deal with or feature important gay, lesbian or bisexual characters or issues and may have same-sex romance or relationships as an important plot device.

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_gay-related_movies [Oct 2004]

Cruising (1980) - William Friedkin

Cruising (1980) - William Friedkin [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Sexual thriller with Al Pacino as a young cop who must go undercover as a gay 'cruiser' in New York City. There's a homicidal homophobe on the streets, brutally killing gay men, and it's up to Pacino to stop him. Shot on location in several gay bars of the era.


At present, outrate.net counts Matthew Rettenmund, the author of “Totally Awesome 80’s”, “Boy Culture” and “Blind Items”, Gary Morris, the editor of Bright Lights Film Journal, and Jaap Kooijman, who teaches media at the University of Amsterdam. [May 2004]

--http://outrate.net/reviewindex.html [May 2004]

Earliest portrayals

One of the earliest portrayals of homosexuality on screen was the ground-breaking German production Mädchen in Uniform (1931), directed by Leontine Sagan. Set in an almost exclusively female environment, the film concerns an unhappy pupil in a Prussian boarding school whose crush on her angelic teacher upsets the demonic headmistress. Politically attacked upon its release, the film has gone on to become a landmark film in the evolution of gay and lesbian cinema. --http://www.glbtq.com/arts/eur_film.html, Apr 2004

The Celluloid Closet : Homosexuality in the Movies (1981) - Vito Russo

The Celluloid Closet : Homosexuality in the Movies (1981) - Vito Russo [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

When Vito Russo published the first edition of The Celluloid Closet in 1981, there was little question that it was a groundbreaking book. Today it is still one of the most informative and provocative books written about gay people and popular culture. By examining the images of homosexuality and gender variance in Hollywood films from the 1920s to the present, Russo traced a history not only of how gay men and lesbians had been erased or demonized in movies but in all of American culture as well. Chronicling the depictions of gay people such as the "sissy" roles of Edward Everett Horton and Franklin Pangborn in 1930s comedies or predatory lesbians in 1950s dramas (see Lauren Bacall in Young Man with a Horn and Barbara Stanwyck in Walk on the Wild Side), Russo details how homophobic stereotypes have both reflected and perpetrated the oppression of gay people. In the revised edition, published a year before his death in 1990, Russo added information on the new wave of independent and gay-produced films--The Times of Harvey Milk, Desert Hearts, Buddies--that emerged during the 1980s. --Michael Bronski, Amazon.com


  1. Victim (1961) - Basil Dearden
    Dirk Bogarde risked his career to make this 1961 film about a lawyer who risks his career to stand up to blackmailers. Part crime thriller and part plea for tolerance, Victim uses the terror of a blackmailing ring to point out the injustice of Britain's antisodomy laws. Bogarde plays Melville Farr, a married lawyer who learns of a blackmail scheme when one of its victims, an old friend, commits suicide rather than tell the police. As Farr conducts an investigation, he must confront his own past. Victim was ahead of its time--it was the first English-language movie to use the word "homosexual"--and as such it seems quaint and stilted at times. Straw-man clichés about homosexuality must be knocked down, and, like in all first-wave issue movies, occasionally characters need to have rather stilted debates. Still, the crime plot stands on its own, the performances are excellent, and the film is brave enough to make some very good points. This is an interesting and worthy bit of cinematic history. --Ali Davis, amazon.com

  2. The Celluloid Closet (1995) - Jeffrey Friedman, Rob Epstein [Amazon US]
    Author Armistead Maupin (Tales of the City) wrote Lily Tomlin's narration for this superb documentary, based on a book by the late Vito Russo, about Hollywood's treatment of homosexual characters in the 20th century. Never pointing a finger at anyone in the film community, The Celluloid Closet presents clips from more than 100 mainstream features (including The Children's Hour, Advise and Consent, The Boys in the Band, and The Hunger) that speak loudly in their respective images of gays and lesbians. The film makes a persuasive case for patterns of sexual mythology in Hollywood, such as presenting homosexuals repeatedly as tragic, helpless figures redeemed only through death or as back-street monsters cavorting in the shadows. Things change, of course, and clips from more recent films by gay and lesbian filmmakers suggest a more vital, diverse, autobiographical approach. There are lots of great interviews with screenwriters (Gore Vidal), filmmakers (John Schlesinger), actors (Tom Hanks, Whoopi Goldberg), and others to enunciate the major themes. --Tom Keogh

  3. Fucking Åmål, Show Me Love - Lukas Moodysson [1 DVD, Amazon US]
    Åmål is a small insignificant town where nothing ever happens, where the latest trends are out of date when they get there. Young Elin has a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to guys, but the fact is that she has never done *it*. Another girl in her school, Agnes, is in love with her but is too shy to do anything about it. For different reasons, Elin ends up at Agnes' birthday party as the only guest. They have a girl's night out together but after that Elin desperately avoids Agnes, refusing to even consider her own homosexuality. [incredibly well done feelgood movie about two girls in love]

  4. Querelle (1982) - Rainer Werner Fassbinder [Amazon US]
    First of all when you get the DVD version, you have the opportunity to watch the film as it was originally filmed - in English. Anyone who speaks French and can read lips knows that the film was dubbed into French (and not just bad sync-sound) - the film was later released back in the states with English subtitles under the French dub (talk about a triple threat).

    I must say that I love this movie for tackling issues that 20 years ago were definitely still taboo in the mainstream. Although not a masterpiece in terms of plot development, I believe it stays true to the development of Jean Genet's characters - and of course the cinematography is stunning. Like watching a live action Tom of Finland cartoon directed by David Lynch at times... Wonderful. --Andrew Mackintosh for amazon.com

  5. Paris Is Burning (1991) - Jennie Livingston [VHS, Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    Paris Is Burning closes with two neon-lit boys holding each other on the streets of Harlem. One looks into the camera and asks, "So this is New York City and what the gay lifestyle is all about--right?" This documentary takes an honest, humorous, and surprisingly poignant peek into one of America's overlooked subcultures: the world of the urban drag queen. It's a parallel dimension of bizarre beauty, where "houses" vie like gangs for turf and reputation ... only instead of street-fighting, they vogue their way down makeshift catwalks in competitive "balls." The only rule of the ballroom: be real.
    In surprisingly candid interviews, you discover the grace, strength, and humor it takes to be gay, black, and poor in a straight, rich, white world. You'll meet young transsexual "cover girls," street hustlers saving up for the big operation, and aging drag divas reminiscing about the bygone days of sequins, feathers, and Marilyn Monroe.
    Made in the late 1980s, this fashion-conscious film shows its age less than you'd expect. It's still a great watch for anyone interested in the whole range of humanity, or anyone who's ever been an outsider, desperately wanting something the world hides out of reach. --Grant Balfour for amazon.com

  6. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) - Stephan Elliott [1 DVD, Amazon US]
    A surprise hit in America, this 1994 Australian comedy is anchored by Terence Stamp as a transsexual who, in the company of two drag queens, travels to a remote desert location to put on a lip- synch performance--to the amazement of the locals. Getting there on a pink bus named Priscilla, the trio stop and play for people all over the Outback, getting the same homophobic, bewildered responses. The weak link in the film is dialogue that seems to have been pulled from "Queer Movie Banter for Dummies," all bitchy and cliché-ridden but fortunately salvaged by strong acting. The most fun comes whenever the three are performing; fans of Abba will be particularly pleased. The DVD release has optional full-screen and widescreen presentations, cast and crew bios, optional French and Spanish subtitles. --Tom Keogh for amazon.com

  7. Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) - Hector Babenco [Amazon.com]
    The history of gay cinema can be split into two sections: before Kiss of the Spider Woman, and after. This great film was undeliberately timely, and in the twenty years since its release, its pop-cultural importance has only increased.

    Kiss Of The Spider Woman opened in a Manhattan cinema on July 26, 1985, the same week that a dying Rock Hudson flew to Paris on Concorde to try the experimental AIDS treatment, HPA-23. Days later, the first reviews of the film began appearing in newspapers, obscured behind disaster-movie style front pages featuring blown up pictures of the wasted Hudson, and announcements from UCLA immunologist Michael Gottlieb, such as “Mr Hudson is being evaluated and treated for complications of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.”

    During the first screaming years of the AIDS epidemic, gay characters in movies all but disappeared. Then they re-emerged, politicised and martyred, in films like Philadelphia and Longtime Companion. Post AIDS epidemic, they were reborn - infantile and gurgling at the breasts of mother figures like Jennifer Aniston and Madonna in films like The Object of My Affection and The Next Best Thing.

    Culturally, the AIDS epidemic rumbled in like a fire curtain, sealing off the danger zone - obvious, fruity homosexuality - and Kiss Of The Spider Woman lunged across the nationwide release line just in time. The film's main character Molina (William Hurt) was the last in a grand line of theatrical, flawed gay adults who didn’t shy away from their dark sides, their carnality and their sadnesses, and who had more bravery and spirit in each perfectly polished toenail than a thousand modern gay guys put together. The vital gay characters from films like Victim, The Boys in The Band, and Making Love were a breed apart from their washed-out post-AIDS epidemic cousins, and Molina/Hurt is the King of them all.


    Manuel Puig, the author of the original novel, hated it, predicting correctly that in the role of Molina “La Hurt is so bad she will probably win an Oscar”. However, while Puig's novel was innovative, anyone who’s seen the film first will find the far less lyrical book comparatively drab. --Mark Adnum http://outrate.net/outratespiderwoman.html

  8. Flaming Creatures (1963) - Jack Smith
    His own performance style--half dashing, half mongoloid--is better preserved in the Jack Smith routine that caps off Andy Warhol's CAMP: the great man, looking dapper as a Lower East Side Clark Gable, does a ten-minute performance piece about, literally, coming out of a closet. And the late, great Ron Vawter's extraordinary "Roy Cohn/Jack Smith" preserves the molasses, the stupor, and the head-thumping epiphanies that made up a live Jack Smith performance.

    CREATURES, one of the most notorious of all American "avant-garde films," seems at first to be a queer-theory seminar avant la lettre. Then Smith's processional of silent-movie-looking waifs and queenies repeats and repeats. I find George Kuchar and even Kenneth Anger more interesting on similar territory; but Smith is a man-god, and CREATURES should be seen...once. --matthew wilder, imdb.com

  9. Far from Heaven (2002) - Todd Haynes [Amazon US]
    This uniquely beautiful film--from one of the smartest and most idiosyncratic of contemporary directors, Todd Haynes (Safe, Velvet Goldmine)--takes the lush 1950s visual style of so-called women's pictures (particularly those of Douglas Sirk, director of Imitation of Life and Magnificent Obsession) to tell a story that mixes both sexual and racial prejudice. Julianne Moore, an amazing fusion of vulnerability and will power, plays a housewife whose husband (Dennis Quaid) has a secret gay life. When she finds solace in the company of a black gardener (Dennis Haysbert), rumors and peer pressure destroy any chance she has at happiness. It's astonishing how a movie with such a stylized veneer can be so emotionally compelling; the cast and filmmakers have such an impeccable command of the look and feel of the genre that every moment is simultaneously artificial and deeply felt. Far from Heaven is ingenious and completely engrossing. --Bret Fetzer for Amazon.com

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