Gay Shame: A Primer

By Lee, Nathan | Out, June/July 2009 | Go to article overview

Gay Shame: A Primer


Lee, Nathan, Out


ONCE UPON A TIME-1981, TO BE PRECISE-a scholar of the cinema could break virgin ground with a study of the various shady, salacious, and repressive ways that gays and lesbians were portrayed on the silver screen. Vito Russo's landmark survey The Celluloid Closet laid important groundwork for countless gay critics and historians to come, but half a century later, much of its hectoring, kneejerk indignation has grown dated. While it may be hard to agree that Kubrick's Barry Lyndon deserves singling out for "a gratuitous and offensive scene [that] shows two gay soldiers bathing in a river," it's easy to understand how the conscientious critic of Russo's era 1

CRUISING (1980)

On the one hand, William Friedkin's notorious thriller about an undercover cop (Al Pacino) who descends into the gay underground to catch a serial killer is the ultimate gay panic movie, a lurid cautionaty tale about the power of Crisco-coated leather freaks to seduce upstanding heterosexuals. On the other hand, it's hot as hell. Reviled by gays upon its release, Cruiiing now functions as a time capsule of uninhibited sexual camaraderie-the last gasp of Dionysian abandon befbre the arrival of AIDS.

2

OFANTASMA (2000)

This ingenious fable from the young talented Portuguese filmmaker joao Pedro Rodrigues charts the descent of a fetishistic garbage man into madness after bemg rebuffed bya straight swim jock.A formal tourde fbrce that aims to represent the veiy shape and structure of desire itself this brilliantly staged, exquisitely dirty provocation is art house smut at its brainiest.

3

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005)

Huh? Aren't we all super proud ofthis one? Exploding the homosocial subtext of the classic Western, Ang Lee's gay cowboy opus is both a milestone in gay representation and a throwback to the shamebased melodramatics of the 1950s. There's no doubting its emotional force and cultural significance, but let's not pretend this isn't, at the end of the day, yet another movie about mortified homosexuals led to their doom.

4

FIREWORKS (1941)

The legendary avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger was still a teenager when he made his first film, shot at home one weekend while his parents were out of town. A key inspiration for Jean Cocteau and Jean Genet, and the summation, per Anger, of everything he had to say about "being 17, the United States Navy, American Christmas, and the Fourth of July," Fi,vworkr is an experimental wet dream about getting beat up then jizzed on byagang of sailors.

5

REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955)

Nicholas Ray's classic tale ofyouth run wild and the formulation of alternative families has long been analyzed for its subtext, insinuation, and cxyptohomosexuality. After all, the needy sissy played by Sal Mineo, crushed out on James Dean, is nicknamed Plato....

would pounce on every image, no matter how fleeting or coded, that cast his lavender brothers in an unflattering light. …

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