I’ve always been fascinated by the writing of, and indeed, the legend of playwright Joe Orton. It was so refreshing to discover someone who was, shock horror, a confident homosexual in the 60s rather than some simpering, guilt-ridden closet case. I remember when I arrived in London to study film, a friend told me about an organised tour entitled The Joe Orton Walk that went to the sites of public lavatories where Joe looked for casual sex. A worthy tribute as ever there was one.
Stephen Frears’ 1987 film adapts John Lahr’s fantastic biography of Joe with the working-class boy from Leicester venturing to London to join the RADA (darling) and pursue a career in acting. It’s here that he meets Kenneth Halliwell who becomes his partner and co-conspirator. But this union would come to a horrifying conclusion as the tutored (Orton) would eclipse his teacher (Halliwell) and accomplish everything he wanted to but that which was beyond his grasp (you could say it was ‘Beyond Our Ken’ haha).
We get a fantastic depiction of being gay in London in the 1960s where sex was everywhere with a knowing look or if you knew the relevant places to frequent. We also get a vivid depiction of the gay paradise of that era, Morocco.
Orton was ‘punk’ before ‘punk’. His plays poked fun at society’s hypocrisies through his amazing use of language and his fantastic, laser-sharp wit. The library books he altered the covers of and wrote new liner notes for were another example of his playful subversion. I love the fact that the existing examples of these books have now been preserved for the enjoyment of generations to come. And to think that this act actually earned Orton and Halliwell six months holiday at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Outrageous.
Frears’s directs amazingly aided and abetted by a screenplay by none other than Alan Bennett. The cast is also uniformly brilliant with Prick Up Your Ears being an example of perfect casting- Gary Oldman as Orton, Alfred Molina as Halliwell and Vanessa Redgrave as the regal but irreverent Peggy Ramsey.
I also loved the parallels between Kenneth Halliwell and Lahr’s wife that the film establishes. This is very perceptive indeed.
And something else which is remarkable about the film is that it’s currently on YouTube for your delectation. Watch it before it gets taken down.
A new addition to Netflix, this documentary chronicles the life and activism of Peter Tatchell who has campaigned for gay rights and indeed, human rights since his late teens.
Born in Australia, he campaigned for issues such as Aboriginal land rights whilst at college.
He moved to Britain where days after his arrival he learnt of the Gay Liberation Front, promptly joined and then within a month was a major player who wasn’t just participating in events but also helping to organise them.
The film details chronologically his campaigns including the time when he ran as a Labour candidate for the seat at Bermondsey in the by-election in 1983 after joining Labour in 1981. He was openly gay and the opposition’s campaigns against him were based on homophobia and smears with hatred directed against gay people being rife within wider society at the time.
Whilst you may think Hating Peter Tatchell is a congratulatory affair that does nothing but praise Tatchell and his actions, this isn’t the case with the campaigns staged by his group OutRage being explored and spoken about his the many people who contribute to this film. Such actions as outing several prominent people within the church as gay whilst they condemned homosexuality in the name of their faith and disrupting a prominent Easter service given by George Carey the then Archbishop of Canterbury made Tatchell as many detractors as supporters in the press.
But it was Tatchell’s direct action that switched public opinion towards him. Seen as foolish by some (although no one can deny he has guts) to stage citizen’s arrests on such figures as Robert Mugabe, Mike Tyson and even Vladimir Putin, he suffered physical retaliations in some of these actions and has suffered semi permanent brain damage as a result. Tatchell saw this as being a small price to pay when fighting for the rights of others.
The contributors include such luminaries as Stephen Fry, Tom Robinson and Ian McKellan who interviews Tatchell. Even George Carey is interviewed about the incident regarding the disrupted Easter service.
The film shows that Tatchell had the tenacity, strength and conviction to openly oppose certain people and their views whilst fighting for the rights and dignities of often marginalised groups. He wants equality and this means fighting for all sides regarding this. An example of this was when he fought for heterosexuals to have the right to have civil partnerships as he could see that they provided some advantages to some rather than traditional marriages.
We are also taken on one of his campaigns so that we can see how nerve wrecking such an event is, how much planning goes into it and how courageous Tatchell is. The event in question is Peter going to the Olympics being held in Russia to expose the country’s vile stance regarding gay people there.
From revolutionary agitator to national treasure but don’t let that fool you. Tatchell’s work isn’t over yet. This documentary shows just how valuable the Tatchells of this world really are and what REAL activism looks like.
Today is my birthday. What would I love more than anything to celebrate 44 years on this planet? World peace? Sure. An end to poverty? That would be on my wishlist. The soundtrack for William Friedkin’s 1980 masterpiece ‘Cruising’ remastered from the original master tapes? HELL YEAH!!!
And that’s whats happening. The brilliant company Waxwork Records is releasing the ‘Cruising’ soundtrack after sourcing master tapes, liaising with Mr Friedkin and giving the release the love and respect it truly deserves (something we’ve come to expect from Waxwork). And it’s here and it’s queer. Apparently this project has taken the company 4 years to complete.
This release comes at a time when Arrow Video (who are thankfully one of the best Blu ray labels) are due to release the film on Blu ray later this year.
Mark my words- 2019 will be the year that ‘Cruising’ is finally fully reappraised as the classic film that it really is (something that some of us have known since we first saw the film) and will be viewed as a cinematic gem that deserves to be in a lineage of other classic films such as The French Connection, The Exorcist and Sorcerer.
The soundtrack drops this Friday. My essay on ‘Cruising’ is here.
This news is the best birthday present I could have wished for.
One of the earliest British gay-themed films ever made, this tells the tale of June ‘George’ Buckridge, the soon to be eclipsed star on the TV soap opera Applehurst. We see her relationship with the Baby Doll-like Childie and also the interventions of television executive Mrs Crofts. But does Crofts have her own agenda?
This lesbian drama has the amazing tagline ‘The story of three consenting adults in the privacy of their own home’ which obviously mimics the mantra of liberals and homophobes alike regarding ‘the gays’. It’s also a reference to the wording of The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalising homosexuality.
There’s something aesthetically pleasing about Beryl Reid in all of the films and TV programmes I’ve seen her in. This film is no exception. She plays George and she dominates proceedings whenever she is on screen. Her character is irreverent, rambunctious and a sheer delight. She’s ‘punk’ years before the punk movement actually erupted. Also, notice how she plays her rebellious character to perfection and got under the skin of George. This is very evident in her body language. No unconscious crossing of the legs or keeping them together when she sits down. She can manspread with the best of them. This is a headstrong woman who lives life on her own terms rather than conforming to societal norms regarding how a ‘lady’ should act.
Part of the film takes place in the real life lesbian bar The Gateways Club which was then in Chelsea, just off The Kings Road. The film used the real patrons as extras and it feels so natural it’s as if the crew just went in and filmed without warning. The wide range of cast extras show that the uneducated myth about lesbians being either ‘butch’ or ‘femme’ is a fallacy and the locale provides a fascinating peek inside not just 1960’s Gay London but specifically Lesbian London. George and Childie are also dressed as Laurel and Hardy in this scene which makes it even more joyous, surreal and brilliant.
A primary theme of the film is the power play within the character’s relationships. This is nicely shown in the ‘contrition game’ scene in which rather than being degraded by George’s task, Childie makes herself enjoy it thus taking away the power from George and being in control herself.
The film depicts it’s characters like human beings with all of their foibles rather than as freaks in a sideshow to be leered and grimaced at by ‘them there normal folks’. The film prompted a new discussion on societal perceptions of gay people in a Britain in which homosexuality had just been decriminalised (this was carried out in 1967- the year before this film was released).
The Killing of Sister George was unsurprisingly very contentious with the unenlightened British Board of Film Classification when it was due to be released. The main bone of contention was with the scene between Childie and Mrs Crofts- Crofts kisses and caresses Childie. There is nothing gratuitous about this scene and it is dealt with respectfully and mostly takes place off-screen. From the BBFC Case Study regarding the film-
”(But) the BBFC was adamant that the scene be removed in its entirety. Trevelyan stated that the BBFC was “not prepared as yet to accept lesbian sex to this point.”
It’s unbelieveable today that the BBFC saw to not include this scene not because it may corrupt or adversely influence but because they thought the Great British public would have it’s collective minds blown by such a scene.
The BBFC Case Study on the film notes-
”The BBFC classified The Killing of Sister George as ‘X’ in February 1969, with the encounter between Mrs Crofts and Childie deleted. Nevertheless, a number of local authorities across the UK banned the film even in this version. The Greater London Council allowed the film to be shown within its authority area with minor edits. The increase in the age bar for ‘X’ films from 16 to 18 in 1970 saw some local authorities relent on their previous decision and allow the film to be shown under this higher age restriction.”
Today the film is thankfully uncut. This movie is an amazing time capsule, a perceptive and all too revealing glimpse into human relationships and a groundbreaking slice of LGBT history- a history that generally erases lesbians altogether. This film noisily and joyously bucks this trend. And audiences should be truly thankful for that.
From the director of the quite extraordinarily brilliant How To Survive A Plague comes this film.
Marsha P Johnson was a black transvestite/drag queen (there was no ‘transgender’ then) who hung around Christopher Street in the 60s until her mysterious death when she was pulled out of the Hudson River in the early 90s. As we hear from one person captured on video back then who witnessed her body being recovered there appears to have been some kind of wound on her head. Could there be more to Marsha’s death than just the officially held cause being accidental? Was it suicide or homicide?
David France expertly tracks the work of Victoria Cruz in unearthing and unravelling what happened to Marsha whilst celebrating this revolutionaries life. Moments of this documentary are sometimes very shocking. One such is when Ms Cruz telephones a retired member of the NYPD who she asks to meet to discuss the circumstances surrounding Johnson’s death. ‘Definitely not’ he responds to her meeting request. He then warns her ‘Don’t go playing detective’. Sinister.
This film feels like new unexplored relics and answers from LGBT history being unveiled right before your eyes.
However, there are politics at play regarding the film. Some members of the non-white trans movement are slamming France’s work as hes a white cisgender (non-trans) man who is making this film rather than a trans person of colour. There have been accusations of theft of material from another project that was being made by the trans community regarding Johnson. There are also accusations that David France could get funding and distribution because hes white and cisgender. I think these accusations are just a case of sour grapes. If you are a filmmaker who has made films before, have a proven track record and can actually accomplish these projects through to fruition then you will get funding and distribution. How long have we been waiting for the fictionalised short film Happy Birthday, Marsha? I’m amused that its fictionalised- so was Stonewall in 2015. Lets see if there are protests regarding this new film if events are seen to be historically accurate.
Also, does it matter whether the person making the film is trans or cisgender or what their ethnicity is when the film they make is as great as this?
There seems to be a huge emphasis on Marsha and Sylvia Rivera when it comes to LGBT history and the Stonewall Riots. But when anyone else is represented they are lumped together and not given the same kind of detailed analysis or be the centre of attention. I’d love a similar documentary on Danny Garvin, Martin Boyce or the person widely believed to have started the riots- Jackie Hormona (Marsha P Johnson admitted in an interview that when she arrived at the Stonewall Inn on that fateful night in 1969 that the rioting had already started. The interview is here- makinggayhistory.com/podcast/episode-11-johnson-wicker/ She dashed off to Bryant Park to tell Sylvia Rivera who had taken heroin). You don’t know who Garvin, Boyce or Garvin are? Thats very telling.
A great documentary. Now lets hear about other Stonewall voices.
I had the honour and privilege to be able to see Predator (1987) in 4K and on the big screen the other day. It felt like visiting an old friend.
Predator belongs in Arnie’s Imperial Phase which for my money runs from the Conan films up until Red Heat. At this time he was making action movies that defined the genre, pushed its boundaries but fully exploited their future status on the medium of video- in other words they were violent and gory as hell.
Predator works on so many different levels.
The film is the perfect example of a comic book come to life on celluloid. The film possesses the kind of exaggeration and imagination that normally couldn’t satisfactorily be translated to film. Predator shows that these forays into the surreal and its larger than life action sequences can be successfully conveyed. All of the characters could equally be seen in comic book panels as much as they could be on film. The film is so gung-ho that it feels like a war comic crossed with a shoot em up video game at times.
The Predator’s thermal vision that the audience is privy to is also a comic book device.
Another sequence that is reminiscent of a comic book is when Dillon’s arm is cut off but continues to fire a gun.
Also, just as action and horror movies were massively successful on video in its infancy and its growth as a medium, Predator combines elements of both genres and turns them up to 11. The sequence involving Dillon’s arm is a great example of a sequence that appeals to both action and horror fans.
In fact the film is extremely subversive as it starts as a jungle commando action vehicle but then suddenly changes direction. This could have failed to work and come across as forced and completely contrived if handled in the wrong way. But instead it works brilliantly.
The horror and more specifically the slasher conventions within Predator show that the film wasn’t just appealing to the fans of action movies. The Predator’s handiwork is shown as the jungle crew discover the skinned bodies of others hanging upside down. The crew soon find themselves to be the quarry rather than the hunters in the same way that a group of teenagers would be in a stalk n slash movie. They are easy meat.
The film also contains the same kind of kills found in a slasher movie with skulls, intestines and exploding heads all featuring.
Another slasher staple that features in Predator is the unmasking of the killer which of course prompts Dutch to exclaim ‘You are one ugly motherfucker!’ The unmasking sequence is especially a staple of the Friday 13th films in which Jason Voorhees is regularly unmasked to reveal his true face.
Predator also goes the extra mile when it comes to its action genre ingredients. There are guns and muscles aplenty. But where Predator tries to excel when it deals with these components, in doing so it instantly becomes very very homoerotic.
There must have been something distinctly gay in the air in some Hollywood quarters in 1986/7 as two other unintentionally/intentionally homoerotic films were also made around the same time- Top Gun and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.
In fact, Predator is so proudly masculine, homoerotic and therefore camp that to take any of these variants further would topple the film headlong into the genre of gay pornography.
It doesn’t take a lot for the ultra masculine to turn ultra homoerotic and camp. Let me illustrate- think of a clockface as representing all of the different variants of masculinity- 1 represents the camp, effete and effeminate (two examples are Quentin Crisp and Julian Clary) and 12 represents the ultra masculine, musclebound and testosterone soaked (Arnie, your average MMA fighter, the larger WWE wrestlers). There isn’t that much of a distance from 1 to 12 on the clockface is there? Also, just because a man might be camp or effeminate doesn’t mean that he isn’t without balls of steel. Do you think it was easy for Julian Clary and Quentin Crisp to be openly gay and effeminate when they first came to light in the public gaze? No- it took guts and moral fortitude. They are far from being submissive sissies. There are paradoxes at the more extreme positions on the clock.
Whilst number 12 on the clockface is seen as the most masculine its also, paradoxically very camp and homoerotic also. The male who wishes to assert his masculinity more potently will build up his physique and muscles. To display this ‘uber masculinity’ he will expose his body more thus paradoxically instantly appeal to the some members of the same sex. He wants to accentuate his masculinity and has at the same time become more camp, desirable and homoerotic because of this.
This heady brew of the masculine and homoerotic is first seen in the film when Dutch comes across his old friend Dillon again. A handshake turns into an epic display of biceps and a very manly (and very camp) arm-wrestle. You could be forgiven that this is in fact some kind of 1980’s gay porno movie.
The camera seems to relish and luxuriate upon the male cast in the film. There are many shots of gleaming muscles, sometimes clutching huge guns. Predator is a glistening, sweaty jerk-off fest for the gay gaze.
The bead of sweat rolling down the ample chest of the character of Billy is one such example of this. The same character later on in the film decides to ‘take it like a man’ by slitting open his well built chest to prompt the predator out of hiding so that they can go one on one. Its a startling display of machismo that is instantly appealing to the action fan and those who are sexually aroused by such testosterone fuelled exhibitionism. ‘Taking it like a man’ means something very different in gay circles. The pitcher becomes receiver. He decides to ‘receive’ the alien.
Within the film there is also the spectacle of the slow striptease of Dutch. Throughout the course of the film Arnold appears in varying degrees of undress and displays more flesh and more muscle. There is also an unbelievable shot when the crew arrive in the jungle. Dutch crawls through undergrowth with the camera just above his body as he does this, resplendent with an amazing shot of his arse. Ever wanted to know what it would be like to be on top of the film’s lead character? The camera realises this for the spectator.
Arnold’s striptease cumulates with his character covered in mud (!) with a lit torch in one hand and giving a manly bellow to the heavens to alert the alien that he is ready for battle. Man vs alien- and no ugly extra-terrestrial is going to kick Arnie’s alpha-male butt. Whilst this scene is intended not only to signify the potency of the masculinity on display its also the ultimate in homoeroticism and camp iconography- a distillation of the whole film in one sequence.
Theres also the bromance/relationship between Mac and Blain. After Blain is killed there is a palpable longing on the part of Mac which suggests that he misses him for being more than just a fellow soldier. This pining between two male characters is reminiscent of Peter being distraught by the passing of Roger in George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Or the ending of Brokeback Mountain. Yes, nothing gay here.
In fact Blain recalls the ‘macho man’ archetype in the same way that The Village People’s leather-clad biker does- moustache, sexually potent (Blaine describes himself as a ‘sexual tyrannosaurus’), whilst looking down on others who aren’t as masculine. Blaine refers to those people as ‘slack jawed faggots’ the way a leather fan might look down on the camper constituents of his community. Also, notice the use of the word ‘faggots’- Blaine doth protest too much. Or hes just trying to deflect from the obvious conclusions.
With the character of Blaine there also the issue of guns, the size of those guns and the ‘gun as phallus/symbol of manhood’ baggage that is imbued with such imagery. Just as Blaine has stated that he is a ‘sexual tyrannosaurus’ he qualifies this with the gun he carries- a huge gun that can fire countless bullets at once and has a barrel that rotates as its doing this. Blaine calls the gun ‘Old Painless’ and at one point says that its time to bring it out of its bag. This recalls the way a man might say its time to ‘unleash the beast’. Never has a gun represented a penis so obviously.
Also within the film there seems to be a celebration of gun size as an extension of manhood for each character. There are many shots of gleaming muscles and equally huge guns held proudly by each character. Theres also the incredible scene in which the muscled components of the crew fire their guns into the jungle when they happen to see the alien. The scene goes on for way too long, prompting the audience to question why this is. A joyous piece of action genre abandon? A display of unabashed masculinity? Or the film’s equivalent of a circle jerk? This scene is as close as the film can come to each character having his cock out to show who really is King Dong.
In fact the film early on introduces a female character into the proceedings to seemingly try to stop the film being a solely male musclefest. Shes also introduced to make the film homosocial- a female distraction from the otherwise all male action and to show that, ”y’know, we’re not actually faggots or nuthin’ ”.
Anna Gonsalves however isn’t the kind of weak and spineless female character who requires a man to save her from any encroaching danger. She is resourceful and an equal. She spends her formative scenes trying to escape from the crew but then is seen as someone more than willing to pitch in to save herself and the lives of the others in the crew from the predator. She is self-sufficent and with this all male crew, thats pretty much for the best. Saving women would take away from their self-love and exhibitionism.
Ultimately what was Predator’s demographic and who it was made for- the laydeez? Of course not. It was made for male action and horror fans. This vehicle of muscles and macho posturing with the odd splatter scene was made for men. It makes the film even gayer/homoerotic.
Even the behind the scenes stills from Predator were homoerotic. Hers a picture of Arnie holding a huge snake.
But whilst most of society was a homophobic cesspit when Predator was released the world seems to have changed since. Homophobia is thankfully being seen as unjust, outdated and as never being valid in the first place. Arnie is now a successful Republican politician. Whilst everyone was celebrating the amendment that allowed Gay Marriage in America people on Facebook were changing their profile pictures so that they had a rainbow flag filter. Arnie did the same. Most welcomed this. However some old school action fans did not. Arnie’s comeback was epic.
Things really were changing. Just as Arnie was finally embracing gay marriage and equality, was it possible that he knew that Predator was in fact a homoerotic musclefest all along? It would be great if someone from the Predator crew came forward to say that that this was actually the intention. Just imagine the uproar!