Loss and discovery are the two things that define our lives. On a personal level, the challenge maintaining a long-term relationship, discovering a new one, or putting an old one to rest can take one down a very dark path. Other times, such discoveries can make for quite a romp. Part Five examines both the darkness and light.
(Introduction by Steve Schweighofer)
A Single Man (2009)
It is the early 1960s, and George Falconer is a middle-aged English college professor, depressed, over-thoughtful, grieving a great lost love, living in Los Angeles. He has visions of the dearly departed Jim (Matthew Goode), and before he sets out to take his own life too, spends the day being re-shaped by closest friend Charley (Julianne Moore), student Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), and a brief interaction with a Spanish prostitute (Jon Kortajarena). The attention drawn to homosexuality in A Single Man is the sheer beauty of it as a form of devotion like any other. Love and attraction are common, natural commodities of the human heart and soul, captured so penetratingly by director Tom Ford, score composer Abel Korzeniowski, and stunning cinematography by Eduard Grau. It is the sublime Colin Firth (he ought to have won his Best Actor Oscar for this a year earlier) who’ll break your heart into a thousand pieces here, carrying the full weight of a broken heart on his fragile shoulders. Painful, wonderful.
Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Quebec filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée can credit his rapid rise on the international scene, and especially Hollywood, with this funny and moving coming-of-age film set primarily in the 70s. The soundtrack immerses us in the best music of the period as we watch Zac (Marc-Andre-Grondin) come to terms with his own sexuality while balancing his relationship with his adoring, yet homophobic father, all in the midst of the cacophony that comes with a large family and all the comedy and drama therein. Vallée makes what could have been a standard gay bucolic into something fresh, at times, transporting – a fantasy sequence set to Bowie’s “Space Oddity” is nothing short of thrilling. C.R.A.Z.Y. managed something impossible – a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – and when Martin Scorsese saw it, Vallée was given the reins to Young Victoria, leading to Dallas Buyers Club and Wild. Vallee’s actors are no strangers to Oscar noms, and the performances in C.R.A.Z.Y. stand on equal ground with Matthew and Reese. And yes, the film’s title is a direct reference to the late, great Patsy Cline. Search out this gem and find out why.
Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag
Keep the Lights On (2012)
I admire films like Keep the Lights On, films with faith that the audience will discern the meaning of a moment left incomplete, hear not only what is said but what is not, and also what is meant. These characters do not merely speak idiomatically but realistically, not always verbalizing their thoughts in the most articulate way, communicating their case in great detail by means of trite, cliched dialogue – that is, if you attune your mind to what is not said, and what is meant. And there’s so much to communicate, yet through a combination of great acting, writing and directing, the emotional intricacies of each instant are comprehensively navigated. The earnestness of Ira Sachs’ screenplay and of the performances of the cast give this the impression of a literally palpable experience. Of course, as an interpretation of events in Sachs’ life, there’s a reason behind the sincerity, but the openness of it is a sign of artistic integrity more than anything else. In relating it to one’s own life, it develops poignancy; it wasn’t so much that I could empathize with the characters but that the authenticity of it alone struck some place deep within my heart.
Paddy Mulholland @screenonscreen
As portrayed by Charlize Theron in writer-director Patty Jenkins’ Monster, serial killer Aileen Wuornos is tagged so because of the men she kills. Her own demons brutally roll her life out of control, unable to stop, and eventually is her downfall. The movie also shows Wuornos’ sexuality denial with regards to her romance with Selby (Christina Ricci), but the love and companionship suck Aileen in long before she destroys it. Even when Selby testifies against Aileen, seemingly heart-broken by the monstrous revelation, there is still a certain good that prevails in the tiny corner of the murder’s heart. Theron swept up acclaim and a fair share of gold, including the Academy Award for Best Actress, for her ferocious turn, allowing a glint of true passion to shine for her lover right til the very end.
Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Bad Education (2004)
Pedro Almodóvar, the ever subversive and confronting filmmaker returns to the darker themes involving sex, murder and manipulation with added importance on cinema and ‘acting’. The plot rejoices in its melding and twisting of cinematic conventions, gleefully telling, showing and alluding to tales within tales, stories within stories, films within films. It is best that the plot shouldn’t be talked about here. Not only will it ruin the experience for those who haven’t seen it but also I will lose my way writing about it as one loses themselves within the meta-textual web that this film weaves. Basically a story of two men meeting after years, who share a childhood history involving sexual abuse from a priest. The meeting and its intention, then the further delving and ‘revelations’ imply something deeper or to be precise many deeper things. Nothing is what it seems here. Gender and identity are covers and these roles in larger sense of societal practices becomes roles for these characters to practice and advance their own motives, desires and darker goals. Gael García Bernal stuns, not just in the drag but overall. Sexuality (of all kind) is used by the director with an ease and command not many can. The Hitchcockian playfulness in the mystery and identity of characters provides for a marvelous cinematic experience. Bad Education isn’t against any subject or issue in particular, it’s a more queer very Almodóvarian “Vertigo”, only more insane, self-aware and liberated.
Asif Khan @KHAN2705
Scorpio Rising (1963)
Experimental filmmaker, actor, and author Kenneth Anger is a queer icon of the sort that we are unlikely to see again given the unprecedented gains in queer rights and representation. His short films – he made over forty during his career – are important in the history of queer cinema. They’re edgy and gritty, reflective of the underground culture where, in the days before the legalization of homosexuality, queer people were able to openly express themselves. Like most of Anger’s other films, Scorpio Rising has no dialogue, and it could only loosely be described as having a narrative. More accurately, it is a series of evocative images – of Catholicism, Nazism, homoeroticism, and the occult – intercut with one another and laid on top of a classic rock and roll soundtrack. And while the queer film-making practices of Anger and his contemporaries have largely become a thing of the past, they are still iconic testaments to the productive influence of social repression on art.
Desirae Embree @ZeeSayre
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005
Shane Black’s black comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (which he appears to have somewhat remade recently with The Nice Guys) is a crime film long before it claims to be a gay one. And that’s not a bad thing. In one of few returns-to-form for Val Kilmer, his ludicrously and aptly named Gay Perry has an “I Will Survive” cell phone ring tone, and is often at the end of witty retorts towards his homosexuality. And Black pulls it off, making juvenile lines like “Don’t give up your gay job” as funny as Robert Downey Jr’s Harry accidentally peeing on a dead body. Except that corpse is more key to the plot than Perry’s sexuality, giving a much fuller circumstance of character than an opportunity for audiences to cry homophobia. Kilmer and Downey Jr have such great buddy-chemistry you perhaps can’t help feeling Harry enjoyed their police decoy fake kiss more than the character’s mouth-wiping disgust suggests.
Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
That is right. From 1924. And directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer in all its silent, close-ups utilizing beauty. The story is about a famed master painter Claude Zoret (Benjamin Christensen) and his deep passion for the titular muse, ‘adopted son’, played by the beautiful Walter Slezak. Michael falls for a financially broke countess who uses him to her personal gain. The modesty of the filmmaker and his intention to tell a story of unrequited but deep love is felt throughout since that sensational development in the plot isn’t sensationalized. Zoret gives and gives to the true love of his life, his compassion reverberates. He had found it, known how it felt like. Fame and money meant nothing. While not explicit in the implications, they are much obvious now. Dreyer’s signature art of burning close-ups, isolating his characters from everything else and heightening their intensity is present. Apart from the central plot, there are other side plots of people related to the painter facing their own turmoil of love unrequited, lost, never found. Affecting story with clever visual motifs. A man with riches of all kind eventually leaves having lost it all, just like the frail man in his last painting. An early LGBT film entry that should be sought after by passionate cinema fans.
Asif Khan @KHAN2705
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
My personal relationship with drag queens didn’t start with LogoTV’s RuPaul’s Drag Race (the show definitely enhanced my education and appreciation), but I first discovered the performance art with To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. It’s a bit surprising that the film, headlined by Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo as three queens traveling cross country for a national drag competition, was nominated for 2 Golden Globes and held the top spot at the box office for 2 straight weeks back in the 1995. The sight of Swayze, Snipes, and Leguizamo dragged to the nines but stranded in a dull town must have been a hoot, but To Wong Foo has remained a staple in LGBT cinema for its quotable lines and the messages of community empowerment and sisterhood. It helps that the men are supported by a great cast of women including Stockard Channing, Blythe Danner, Melinda Dillon and Beth Grant. Everyone might not be born fabulous, but To Wong Foo shows us that you’re never too old or out of touch to learn.
Joey Moser @JoeyMoser83
Lonesome Cowboys (1968)
Sometimes not very good films act as catalysts in breaking cinematic barriers, and Andy Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys is just such a curiosity. The master of self-promotion spent just a few days filming his interpretation of the frolics of some isolated and horny cowboys that generated tons of publicity, received a thorough FBI investigation, and launched the underground film careers of writer/director Paul Morrissey and former street hustler Joe Dallessandro. The film is basically a satire on Hollywood westerns – how exactly do those young men spend those cold nights and boring days out on the range? Rumor has it that a pissed-off Warhol named his film in at attempt to get even with John Schlesinger, who had used some of Warhol’s Factory folk in Midnight Cowboy. Whatever the truth, the film stands tall in LGBT cinema history more for its buzz for being banned in some states because of subject matter and nudity than for its technical achievements. Lonesome Cowboys is wobbly step in the advancement of cinema tolerance, but a step nonetheless.
Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag