Sunday, July 31, 2011

Gay Cinema 101: Ten Movies You Can't Miss

In honor of Derek's book Colonnade: A Life In Columns (a collection of his FantasyMan Island columns along with his own recollections of his first two years in Manhattan) now being available for the Kindle, we thought it would be a good time to check out some of the other columns he wrote around that time.
A few months after the start of Derek and Romaine on Sirius Radio back in 2003, Derek wrote the following column recommending essential movies for gay men to see. Since it often comes up with Steve Hayes, Tired Old Queen at the Movies, or Hedda Lettuce join the show, his essential list is reprinted here.

Gay Cinema 101: Ten Movies You Can't Miss

August 15, 2003 - There is a newly out intern down at my Sirius radio show. At my recent summer party (A Midsummer's Day's Debauchery!), some of my guests were shocked to discover that Bobby Intern, as we call him, hadn't seen the recent Oscar winner and instant gay classic, Chicago.

Longtime FantasyMan Island reader Paul suggested that I create a list of the 10 essential movies that all gay people must see in order to graduate into full-fledged homosexuality. I couldn't bring myself to list just 10, and I am certain that you have additional suggestions. Feel free to send them along. However, I think this list should cover it for most people. So, without further ado: Bobby Intern (and all you other boys out there just like him), this column is just for you.

1. The Celluloid Closet
Start with this star-studded documentary based on the popular book by Vito Russo. The film basically explains why gay people look for themselves in mainstream cinema, and shows how newly gay people like Bobby Intern can pick up on the subtle ways filmmakers used to give shout-outs to desperate gay fans. Also, it's very funny.

2. All About Eve
Overly quoted and oft-imitated, this Bette Davis comeback vehicle is still great -- despite the tarnish of years of camp value. When I first saw the movie again in my late 20s, it struck me how grown-up the movie was in terms of the issues it deals with and the emotions it conveys. The backstabbing bitchiness is fun, but this is a grade-A movie, richly deserving its record number of Oscar nominations.

3. Outrageous!
This is my mother's favorite movie, and it's one of mine too. When it came out in 1979, it won the Canadian equivalent of the Oscar for best picture. It deals with issues of camp, coming out and mental illness freshly and matter-of-factly. The queer cinema movement of the '80s and '90s owes much to this low-budget charmer. Craig Russell's spot-on impersonations of Bette Davis and the heavenly Tallulah Bankhead are dated and largely lost on younger audiences, but the movie has enormous heart and a lot of scrappy charm.

This hybrid horror movie is a strange curiosity much beloved by gay men, primarily because it stars two of the biggest gay icons of the 20th century: Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Faded and feuding film divas Bette and Joan play sisters who happen to be faded and feuding film divas. This movie is high on camp value and includes one of the great invented phrases of all time: "But cha are!"

5. Desert Hearts/Longtime Companion
Generally, Desert Hearts is the first video wise older lesbians hand to fresh young baby dykes. I think gay men need to see it as well. Longtime Companion, while not a great film, does explain what life was like when AIDS appeared and ruined everything. With both films, you see a shift, because the times, they were a-changin'. For Desert Hearts, it is the blooming of lesbian love in the Nevada desert. In Longtime Companion, it is the appearance of a devastating illness in the otherwise-tranquil lives of successful urban gay folk. In both films, lives are never the same again. It is important to see where we came from to understand where we are headed.

6. The Women
Like Desert Hearts, part of this film takes place at a divorce ranch in Reno, but that's not why you are watching it. The all-female cast contains some of the nastiest and best dialogue in a movie, and the casting is pretty close to perfect. Joan Crawford is genius as mantrap Crystal Allen, and the fight scene between Rosalind Russell and Paulette Goddard is worth rewinding.

Before The Matrix movies, there was Bound. True, it was made by the Wachowski brothers, but Bound is a great lesbian movie. The film manages to take a tired plot from the 1940s (sexy gangster moll convinces dimwitted plumber to kill her boyfriend and steal his money) and turn it into a brand-new idea. The film works because the tried-and-true story works, and because Gina Gershon has never been hotter. As homage to Robert Mitchum potboilers as well as dime novels about bad girls gone lesbian, Bound is great.

8. The Wizard of Oz
You can't be a "friend of Dorothy" without seeing The Wizard Of Oz. Most kids spend their childhood mindlessly watching the movie and not really thinking about the message. Ostensibly, MGM was trying to tell young girls with stars in their eyes that staying home in the Dust Bowl was a better idea than ending up broke and desperate on the streets of Hollywood. Gay viewers who see the movie again as adults realize that for them, it is a film about not fitting in -- and searching for somewhere beyond the moon, behind the rain. As it turns out, that place was the Castro District in 1975.

Watching Camp recently made me realize that "Priscilla" really did this much better -- its balancing act between real emotions and dance numbers has never been matched in a gay movie. Some of the lines were dated and tired before the movie came out, but it doesn't matter. This is where we first fell in love with Guy Pearce, and where we finally expressed our love/hate relationship with ABBA.

10. Joan Double Feature! Mildred Pierce and Mommie Dearest
Joan Crawford won an Oscar as Mildred Pierce in an over-the-top performance that seems tame compared to her own shadows and shoulder pads. In contrast, Faye Dunaway watched her career fade away playing Joan. You can't be a gay man without seeing these movies, because they contain all the overwrought emotions and dramas that make Saturday night in West Hollywood what it is. Joan plays Mildred as a scrappy, self-sacrificing mother who scrimps and saves to give her ungrateful bitch of a daughter, Vida, a life worth living. Faye plays Joan as a woman who basically thinks she is Mildred in real life, much to the horror of her otherwise innocent and undeserving daughter. I'm getting all gayed up just thinking about it.

So, there you have it, Derek's essential gay movie list. How many have you seen (even Romaine has managed to see seven of them)? What would you add or change? Post your comments below.


  1. Priscilla is my favorite all time movie!! Love Love Love HOT Guy P. Love to track Hugo Weaving's films too. The latest is the villain in Captain America!! Love D&R you big ABBA turds!!!

  2. If you can't quote Baby Jane Hudson you have no business sucking cock!
    Great list Derek.
    Seen all of them and would add
    Cruising and Pink Flamingos

  3. Dear Mr. Hartley,

    I have returned to Denver without you becoming' my indentured bitch. This means you're on your own for the remodel! I will be back week after next if you change your mind! :)

    How about Brokeback Mountain!

    Darryl in Denver

  4. OMG! Every time Mildred Pierce is on I have to watch it no matter what I was watching before. Never get tired of that one!

  5. I have only seen 2 of them :/. I will add this on my netflix

  6. I love "The Sum of Us" I think it is a must see gay film. Russel Crowe is great

  7. I wish I didn't have to turn in my gay card for saying this, but I never get it about 'Priscilla.' It doesn't seem balanced at all in the way you describe; it telegraphs everything and pummels the audience and people try to shame you if you don't enjoy every over-campy minute. Agreed about Guy Pearce though. And agreed about 'Bound''s so sexy it makes a gay man want Gina Gershon. My idea for a sexy scene...when Daniel Day Lewis sticks his tongue in the ear of his Indian boyfriend in front of a group of skinheads in Thatcher-era England. Talk about butch!

  8. Seen them all and I have to say that "The BirdCage" (not listed) is my favorite. I still laugh at most of the stuff Nathan Lane does in the movie. The actors are great especially Dianne Wiest. If you are not overly sensitive to gay related issues and take the movie for what it is (a great comedy) there is nothing better to watch on a Saturday night. There is a Spanish movie called Chef's Special (English title) that is absolutely fun.

  9. Where are VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and TORCH SONG TRILOGY? DOLLS is Camp 101. Period. And most gay people have felt (at one time or another) exactly as Harvey Fierstein perfectly expresses in his two monologues to his mom near the close of the film: first in the graveyard and then in the apt. Both films are essential.