Over at Metro Weekly this week, we're all about the movies. Namely, the 25 Gay Movies Everyone Should See. This was not a particularly easy list to come up with, given that our initial, off-the-top-of-the-head list was about a hundred films, many worthy (some not). Compromises, of course, had to be made. For myself, if I had to pick just three of the final 25, based on pure artistic achievement, I'd go with Brokeback Mountain, Mysterious Skin and Walk on Water -- a trio that probably says as much about my own sensibilities as it does about gay cinema.
Of course, Brokeback remains the gay film for much of America -- Milk is certainly a worthy addition to the canon, but it hasn't grabbed the national consciousness in the way Ang Lee's film did. But while I love Brokeback Mountain as a film, I've generally been puzzled by the overall reaction of gay men toward the film, in particular the desire to claim the film as some sort of first major Hollywood gay romance on screen. It's actually one of the least romantic films I've ever seen.
Yes, the bucolic section where Ennis and Jack meet and fall in love over the course of a summer is rich with innocence and romance. But the film is really about how the closet will always prevent any true romance or relationship -- in fact, the film is all about how the closet destroys everything it touches. The key moment in the film, for me, is when Ennis' wife, Alma, explodes with her knowledge of the truth of her failed marriage -- it's simply heartbreaking to understand how much she tried to have and how much she lost, just the same as Ennis. The closet took a price from everyone in Brokeback, not just the cowboys. That makes for a truly depressing and wrenching film.
But, hey, people can take what they want from a movie.
What I'm glad of is the basic change we've seen in how gays are portrayed in film. The biggest argument I engaged in on the 25 Gay Movies list was the duo of films by William Friedkin, The Boys in the Band and Cruising -- two films that I hate with a burning passion. The self-hatred that drips from every frame of Boys makes me cringe. I know that a lot gay men of a generation of two before me adored the film, and the bitchy, lacerating repartee with which its parade of stereotypes battles each other. If I had been as deprived of gay images in all media as those generations were, perhaps I'd have a different perspective -- I'm sure some of the films I adore now will be reevaluated as oppressive trash by some future gay generation. But that doesn't lessen the horrible messages at the core of Boys in the Band, and I hold no brief for the argument that it should retain its prominence because it's a window on history.
Birth of a Nation can tell you a lot about the horrible history African-Americans have had to go through in this country, but I wouldn't put it on a list of must-see films for young black kids.
As for Cruising, it pretty explicitly argues that hanging out with S&M gays can make you a serial killer, so I'm not so hip to it, either. Strangely enough, I think Stephen King nailed the aesthetic of the film years ago in Danse Macabre: "I wasn't able to have any fun with Friedkin's more recent film, Cruising, although it fascinated me because I suspect it indicates the wave of the future for the bad film which has a big budget; it has a sparkly look that is still somehow cheesy—it's like a dead rat in a Lucite block."
But, I'm not upset that they made our list -- even if, in the imaginary world ruled by the whims of Sean Bugg, they would have been cut -- because they illustrate the point that movies are to be savored and and promoted and criticized and loved and hated, sometimes all at once. I know you have some films you think should be on the list -- or some you think should be deleted. We have an open thread up at our web site, so stop by and tell us what you think.