In creating our slice of the rainbow, diversity is key. Our selection for 100 LGBT Film Experiences includes as many colors of queer film-making as we could find, from mainstream biopics to upstream efforts that smashed boundaries. Our first group of ten samples heroes and villains, the artistic and the ordinary. They show us the way LGBT life was presented in the past as well as the way it’s brazenly exposed today, literally no holds barred.
(introduction by Steve Schweighofer)
The Danish Girl (2015)
I think The Danish Girl was the Best Film of 2015. The beautiful, luminous Alicia Vikander certainly deserved her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, though she was clearly the co-lead in the film with the magnificent, brave Eddie Redmayne. Having lived as a woman myself when I was young, and running round with the Warhol circle, I have a unique perspective on this beautiful, ground-breaking movie. Director Tom Hooper got it all right. Every single step, which I experienced myself. when I was a young trans being, considering sexual re-assignment surgery. I never thought I would see this ever portrayed in a major motion picture. I cried my way out the picture, thinking what the late transgendered Warhol superstars, especially Candy Darling & Jackie Curtis would think of this beautiful,historic picture. I can’t stop thinking about it. And Eddie Redmayne’s performance should’ve won him an Oscar, not just a nomination, Talk about degree of difficulty! Superb all round.
Stephen Holt @Haveafabulous
Surprisingly, three very different films in style or intent dealt with the infamous Leopold/Loeb murder case where two intelligent and affluent young men decide to experiment and see if they can get away with the perfect murder purely as an intellectual exercise. The most loosely based is Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, a drawing room mystery designed to appear that it was done in a single continuous take. In typical Hitchcock panache, the victim’s body is hidden in a trunk around which the action takes place, that of a dinner party where the conversation increasingly moves in on the whereabouts of a missing guest. A small side note: this was Hitch’s first Technicolor film and he makes good use of it primarily with the panoramic window view that enfolds the enclosed setting. “Gay”, as such, is never mentioned. In Compulsion, again, the true names of the two murderers – and even that of the lawyer – are fictionalized. Yet again, the relationship of the two men is only hinted at while the attention remains focused on their wealth and cold intellectual exercise of murder. Then came Swoon, while the intention was to advance the New Queer Cinema that was occurring in the 90s; instead, it created a shitstorm. Some gay activists were furious that he could resurrect the damning image of two homosexuals murdering a teen-age boy, especially in the already negative atmosphere of the AIDS era. If one ever wants to see how gay cinema has evolved, simply watch these three films in chronological order. Nothing more needs to be said.
Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag
Derek Jarman left us way too soon. Till the very end however he only wanted to make films. As much as he could and however his frail and slowly dying body would allow him to. This 1993 film of this British, punk, avant-garde genius was his final. He had lost his sight due to AIDS-related complications. It was released four months before his death. The screen is filled with color blue, which is what he could see. What he felt and experienced, his thoughts, ruminations of his life, health, love, sexuality, society, all narrated by him and some of his closest collaborators. It can’t get any more personal than this. A audio-visual diary, using cinema as means of personal expression, quite literally in this case. Voices from the deepest corners of his mind and heart, sounds of varying degree and variety are heard and felt. The affect is devastating, specially for those who are familiar with his work and life. A filmmaker unique for his non-traditional blending of narrative forms, aesthetic sense, pop culture, history, art, literature and acting. Provocative and singular as ever, as bold, transgressive and experimental as he has ever been. This documentary is an artist, activist and visionary closer to his audience, directly interacting with them. A film filled with blissful contradictions, the beauty and horror of life, the inevitability of things, suffering human condition. Poetic and vulgar, deep and universal.
Asif Khan @KHAN2705
I Want Your Love (2012)
It occurred to me stronger than ever before, while watching I Want Your Love, the insignificance of the connection between character and viewer. I expect many films might be greatly depreciated were that empathetic link removed, but only on a selfish status. On a formal status, it’s of little value. I Want Your Love is a well-made production, but it is a rare case in which empathy with the characters is essential in order to enjoy the experience. Travis Mathews’ confidence with actors enables him to rely on the establishment of this connection, as he cannot rely on our respect. These are people living inside their own heads, ruminating over ruminations, discussing how they’ve felt, how they feel, how that might influence how they might feel… Their fallibility is what earns your empathy. And their exultation at what sex contributes to their lives, jolting them into the instant, a rapturous appreciation of pleasing oneself as one wants to, is joyous to behold. Mathews’ understanding of sex, in particular the thrill of good sex, is a marvelous thing to witness enacted. So should I Want Your Love fail to connect with your soul, it may at least connect with your libido.
Paddy Mulholland @screenonscreen
There is no list of lesbian film that would be complete without reference to Barbara Hammer. My first exposure to Hammer was in graduate school. I needed to watch Dyketactics, a 1974 short film, for a paper I was writing, and so I went and checked it out from the media library. I was both bashful and brazen as the library tech helping me asked me to spell the title out loud for her. The box was no less conspicuous than the films it contained; loudly announced on the cover were a collection of short films titled Menses, Superdyke, Women I Love, Multiple Orgasm, and Double Strength. Because of their avant garde nature, it’s not really possible to give an overview of the films, though I think that this is in keeping with Hammer’s film practice. Creating films in the thick of the Women’s Liberation Movement, Hammer’s work is an attempt to render visually a kind of female sexuality and identity that was just beginning to be articulated. That the films are still provocative and erotic–even if they are a little dated–speaks volumes.
Desirae Embree @ZeeSayre
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, Persona is classed as one of the Swedish director’s finest works, maybe his greatest. The atmospheric and psychological journey that both nurse Alma (Bibi Andersson) and her patient Elisabet (Liv Ullmann) seem to encounter is evocative and ethereal in its progress. A film so surreal in its visual story-telling you are often left shaken and stirred. The hazy cinematography by Sven Nykvist adds to Bergman’s already vividly bleak and intimate direction, as the women in their nightwear engage in their own isolation – one shares personal sex tales while one silently absorbs. The writing is sharp and often graphic, while the suggestive eroticism here is an undertone, Persona sets the scene for such pleasures between these two women, it plants the seed, and that’s all it has to do. Anderson and Ullman are mesmerizing, and are our pleasure to see, even in the darkest moments.
Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
It’s not immediately thought of as an LGBT film, but its star character was gay and well respected at a time when not many gay people were. But perhaps it’s because Truman Capote was thought of first as a writer, and someone who was very good at what they do. Capote isn’t so much a biography of the man, but more a telling of how he came to write his classic non-fiction novel, “In Cold Blood”, which was about two young men who broke into a Kansas farmhouse, and slaughtered the family who lived there because they thought there was money hidden away in the house. It is also a story about the relationship formed between Truman Capote and Perry Smith (played by Clifton Collins Jr.), and how Truman used Perry to get the information he needed to write his novel. The film is led by Philip Seymour Hoffman in a career performance, and surrounded by wonderful supporting performances that lead the film through the story. It is a drama that holds no punches, and in the end is tragic for what happens, but in a way that is respectful of its subject matter.
Al Robinson @Al_Rob_1982
Gods and Monsters (1998)
Bill Condon’s adaptation of Christopher Bram’s novel, a fictionalized account of the final days of director James Whale, is a marvel from screenplay and production achievements to the astonishing performances by all three leads. Brendon Fraser and Lynn Redgrave hit career peaks as the hunky, sweet-natured gardener and a befuddled, protective housekeeper in the employ of the once-successful director who created the cinematic image of Frankenstein that lasts to this day. They are the perfect satellites orbiting Ian McKellen’s masterful performance of an artist who not only knows that his best days are behind him, but that he’s at the precipice in his failing health and mental abilities to be able to have any further control over his life. What, in most hands, could have been a dreary, depressing slog is instead a film full of delightful, witty and insightful moments that flash back and forth between 1930’s and 1950’s Hollywood as Whale tries to weave an elaborate solution to his situation – like any great director, he wants full control until the end. The very last frames of God and Monsters is probably one of the greatest film scenes of the 90’s – a life-affirming tribute that recognizes achievement and leaves us smiling at the same time.
Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag
Multiple awards nominee and winner, this Gus Van Sant directed biographical film is based on the personal and political life of gay rights activist Harvey Milk. He was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California and third in the entire US, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. It chronicles the last eight years of his life, beginning with the then 40-year-old moving to San Francisco with his lover Scott Smith from New York looking for a change in life and hoping for more acceptance. There, his foray into activism for the rights of gay community and then his actively political career is portrayed. Fighting many battles in both fronts, facing backlashes and tragedies and eventually winning some of what he alongside an inspired group of men and women fought for. Of course, he is assassinated in the year 1978 by fellow Supervisor Dan White alongside Mayor George Moscone. White, a conservative former police officer, firefighter and Vietnam veteran shares a complicated political relationship with Milk and despises him personally. Based on the original screenplay by Dustin Lance Black, the film paints the many lives with an organic flare. Specially the central figure, to much help from a great performance by Sean Penn who once again sort of loses himself in the role. This is multilayered storytelling highlighting the human complexities and flaws, showing the impact of broader social normality and individual psychological impact in a way that doesn’t overplay. Milk is a remarkable feature that made a huge impact on me personally at the time and many others. A great ensemble featuring Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, James Franco, Diego Luna, Alison Pill and others. Career highlight for Sant, a film of remarkable importance and a deeply felt telling of what it means to be a human deprived of identity as a person and as a community.
Asif Khan @KHAN2705
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Horror, thriller, eerie drama, lesbian romance, murder mystery, all-out mind-fuck – David Lynch and Mulholland Drive sit in a very different place to many of us. And it is not often we don’t long to join them. When Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting, beautiful score soars with the emotional euphoria of Betty (Naomi Watts) declaring a passionate longing for Rita (Laura Elena Harring) it is the ultimate blossoming of their new relationship – and I still get goosebumps. They make love and form a, if you can call it, romantic partnership in the middle of all the darkness and the strange. Mulholland Drive is not, though, there to teach you about sexual identity, but rather force you to wonder about the name-changes, the character shifts, the boxes, the keys. That core female companionship, which carries with it some bemusement and melancholy (for characters and audience), is as close to the heart as Lynch wants to get.
Robin Write @WriteoutofLA