Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Top Ten: LGBT Films

Top Ten: LGBT Films

Greetings, salutations and the most wondrous of welcomes to the month of June! Not only does June hark winter in Australia, my birthday, and my most anticipated entertainment launch, June is also Pride Month. Yes as per a Presidential proclamation, each June Americans and the world alike will be celebrating the LGBT contributions of the community, whilst also drawing attention to the prejudices and discrimination the (well my) community still faces. So in recognition of my favorite month and my favorite community, I thought I would introduce my first Top Ten feature.

For any straight people that may feel uncomfortable, allow Amber Heard to distract you:

Whoops she's taken!
Guess you'll have to read on. If you're still having issues please direct your complaints to my assistant below:

Thanks Karen!
So this post includes my Top Ten picks for LGBT films. However I would like to stress that this is far larger than a film movement (coined New Queer Cinema by B. Ruby Rich in 1992) or even a genre. Queer representations on film have been around since the very invention of the medium. The first live film recording (known as the Dickson Experimental Sound Film) features the sight of two men dancing. You could see Hollywood hinting at the then closeted community all through the years of the Hays Code (see Morocco, Rope, Spartacus). However after finally appearing  in mainstream films, queers were often treated as deviants, outsides, or even as persons to be feared. And almost always these characters met a tragic end. We've come a long way, and the below films should be celebrated as seminal moments in cinema history and queer culture. So whilst some of the films on this list are direct products of queer cinema, others either feature prominent (and positive) representations of gay characters, themes and issues.

Honorable Mention - "Weekend" (2011)

Andrew Haigh's film has been making strong waves in the cinema community the last few year since it's debut in 2011, and I have included it as an honorable mention largely because I haven't seen it yet! Lauded on its first run, and recently released by my favorite company The Criterion Collection, Weekend is perhaps so reverent because it essentially isn't a gay film. It basically follows two men who hook up one night, and the next morning find themselves locked in conversation that may prove there is something deeper in their relationship beyond a one night stand. Straight or gay who can't relate to that?

10.) "The Celluloid Closet" (1995)

I love this film, it was one of the first films that I watched when I was in the process of coming out. I remember the when I purchased it from Palace Cinemas, going home that night, and watching it twice that night. Rob Epstein's documentary chronicles queer representation in cinema, particularly that of Hollywood through the ages. Based on a novel of the same name by film historian Vito Russo, the film interviews countless Hollywood actors/directors from the golden age through today (well 1995). In fact my historical background that I gave a few paragraphs back was pretty much lifted from this. It shows the highs, the lows, the stereotypes and the ultimate triumphs of queer culture on screen. If you want to learn and appreciate the history of the LGBT community, you need only watch this documentary.

9.) "Mysterious Skin" (2004)

No you're eyes don't deceive you, that is Hollywood's current "IT" boy Joseph-Gordon Levitt. Little do people know that prior to his big break Jo gave the performance of his career in Gregg Araki's controversial film Mysterious Skin. This film is an important chapter in the history of queer cinema, largely for its honest and highly accurate portrayal of a darker side in modern society, pedophilia. Neil (Levitt) and Brian (Brady Corbet) are two boys from a small town who were both sexually abused by their sports coach as children. From this trauma we see to markedly different trajectories. Neil, already from a broken home, interprets the abuse as an introduction to sexuality, and embraces a life of sexual compulsivity which later sees him becoming a prostitute. Brian meanwhile represses the memory through developing amnesia, and interprets the blanks in his memory to alien abduction. Harrowing, raw and emotionally crushing, this film is important in analyzing abuse as it occurs to children, as well as how one can find closure.

8.) "Milk" (1999)

Gus Van Sant's biopic starring Sean Penn is a fantastic portrayal of one of America's most beloved political figures, Harvey Milk. I won't delve to far into his history as you will see in a moment, but know that this film is a celebration of a man, a community, and a journey that many of us go through. It's an emotional experience to watch this film, for me as it's a journey I'm still treading, and seeing his life on screen in such a touching adaptation is one worth seeing.

7.) "Philadelphia" (1993)

This film you may or may not know made history when it was first released. For the two decades prior the United States and the world were in the gripes of the largest public health crisis in history, the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This was a a crisis that disproportionately affected the gay community, and in the early years of the epidemic was known pejoratively as the 'gay cancer'. Philadelphia broke ground in showcasing with the then still controversial issue, and targeting larger homophobia and discrimination of the LGBT community at large. Poignant, heartbreaking though ultimately triumphant, this is Hollywood doing right by the queer community.

6.) "My Own Private Idaho" (1991)

"I'm a connoisseur of roads. I've been tasting roads my whole life. This road will never end. It probably goes all around the world". So begins Gus Van Sant's (he just keeps coming back!) modern day retelling of Henry V, not only a seminal example of New Queer Cinema but a magnificent achievement in film making. Following two male hustlers Mike (River Phoenix) and Scott (Keanu Reeves) the film follows the duo through deep personal introspection. Scott is the son of the Portland mayor, seeking to rebel from a life that is planned for him, and Mike simply wishes to know his past and find his mother. I include this film not only as it fits perfectly into the context of this list, but it also has one of the most resonant scenes between two men that I can remember. It taps into a need to wander in all of us, to depart from everyday existence and truly find ourselves and who we are.

5.) "Fight Club" (1999)

Oh yeah I'm totally going there and prepared to receive a shellacking for doing so, but bear with me and ignore your inner teenager who watched this verbatim in high school. Fight Club at its core is a celebration of men. Think about it. The central creed of the film's philosophy is the repression of masculinity in modern society. In the shackles of corporate life, commercialism and PC interactions, men's primal urges aren't free to be expressed. The fight clubs that Tyler Durden creates are a method to tap into this raw state, to a state of nature for men. Just listen to this speech, it isn't just a treatise on contemporary America, it's male emancipation. *SPOILERS* Tyler Durden (himself a split personality of the narrator) can be viewed in a homoerotic context, representing a repressed aspect of Edward Norton's character.

Did I just blow your mind? Or suckerpunch you in the childhood?
4.) "Mulholland Drive" (2001)

I've reviewed this film briefly in the past, though if that is any indication this is one of my favorite films of all time. I will save any deeper analysis of this film for a future review but I have included it here as it contains the most beautiful lesbian relationship I have ever seen put onto the silver screen. The first part of the film shows the strangers Betty and Rita trying to get to the bottom of the mystery behind Rita's past. The closeness they exhibit grows deeper, and they soon descend into a tragic love affair. Just watch the below video and tell me you don't shed some kind of tear for the purity of their connection. Lesbians in particular haven't fared well in cinema, often portrayed as villains or as doomed to perish. So I cherish any positive representation Hollywood gives us. 

3.) "Brokeback Mountain" (2005)

Yeah I bet you all could see this coming. I mean this is one of the biggest romance films of all time, and that it is of a queer relationship in itself makes it groundbreaking. For those who haven't seen Ang Lee's adaptation of Annie Proulx's novel the film follows a decades long sexual and romantic relationship between two men in the American West. Much like my assertion for Fight Club, this film shows a deep masculine attraction which begins as seemingly meaningless sexual release before fully evolving into a romantic affair. I loved this film largely for its representation of a highly closeted society in the west, where any natural expression of attraction to the same sex is taboo if not illegal, and how this repressed environment is emotionally devastating to one's self and families.

2.) "A Single Man" (2009)

This isn't just one of the best queer films out there, it's one of the best films of all time. Why? This film doesn't have the narrative effusions of Mulholland Drive, the poignancy of My Own Private Idaho or even Brokeback Mountain's impact. What whats this the perfect queer film is its depiction of normalcy. That a gay relationship is exactly that of a straight relationship. We laugh the same, we love the same, we grieve the same. George's descent following the death of a lover is the most relate-able experience one can have, and the film is successful in providing a humanizing face to a community that is so often treated as different.

1.) "The Times of Harvey Milk" (1984)

Well here's a familiar face. Yes much of Gus van Sant's 2008 film owes much to this documentary. Harvey Milk is one of the greatest LGBT figures and a seminal American icon. As Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, Milk had hope, hope which carried an entire community across the country. As the first openly gay man elected to public office in California, he came to be the figurehead of a movement for equal rights and protections for gays and lesbians in America. Rob Epstein's documentary is the perfect record of this incredible man's life and accomplishments, and is a fascinating look a society which at the time wasn't merely disparaging towards the LGBT community but rather openly hostile.

Milk may not have changed public opinion overnight, as we to this day are still fighting for equality, but he did give this community a face. He showed denouncers that gays aren't the monster in the dark. He showed them that we're your teachers, your doctors. We're your coworkers, the neighbors down the street and the barista that brews your coffee. We're your brothers and sisters, your sons and your daughters.

He has been quoted as saying "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door. " And that's what his accomplishments did. He made it possible for that indescribable barrier of the closet to become meaningless, as their is a community, a society and ultimately a someone out there that loves you regardless. This documentary is not only important for showing where we came from, the steps Milk took and the sacrifices he made. It's important for showing how far our society has come towards true equality, and gives promise for the uncertain steps that we still need to take.

Well that's the list! hope you enjoyed my first departure from the inanity of film reviewing and into something different. The ultimate message here, Happy Pride Month! Stay fresh, stay classy and stay proud, take it away Karen!

Thanks for reading!


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