Alex Kaufman and Jacob Passy | Sassy Cinema
Somewhere over the film rainbow
Published: Monday, April 23, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 23, 2012 08:04
In honor of GAYpril, which is slowly coming to a close, we give heed to gay movies of the ages — and for us that means the past 30 years or so. Gay movies come in all different shapes, sizes, genres and styles, from full−on drama like “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) to biopics such as “Milk” (2008) to musical fantasies like “Were the World Mine” (2008).
The go−to gay movie of our generation has to be “Brokeback Mountain,” which features the unspeakably handsome duo of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Directed by Ang Lee, the movie portrays two cowboys who enter into a gay relationship and fall in love despite surroundings. The movie did what its predecessors have attempted and failed: depicting the dire costs of homophobia. Of course the movie was met with snickers, flinches and hate. But this cinematic pioneer paved the way for the “gay−movies−with−a−cause” industry, a very different kind of film than “In and Out” (1997) or even “TransAmerica” (2005).
However, there is an altogether different type of film that dominates queer cinema. These films, known as gay cult classics, engage the viewer with campiness. Camp refers to a quality of excessive theatricality and affected mannerisms that combine to produce something that is simultaneously low−brow and sophisticated. This definition of camp has its roots in homosexuality, as the “camp” used to refer to gay meeting places for men.
Altogether, there are many films that fit this bill, so, for ease, let’s divide them into two categories. There are films that have become campy hallmarks of queer cinema because they contain queer imagery and themes. Then, there are films that inadvertently became queer cult classics because of their ridiculousness.
It would be a crime to address this first category without referencing John Water’s filmography. This gay director made a point of incorporating subversive elements from queer life in his films, casting real−life female convicts in his trash−tastic films “Pink Flamingo” (1972) and “Female Trouble” (1974). Additionally, many of his films featured the larger−than−life, diva−licious talents of Divine (née Harris Milstead), a drag queen that arose to fame through Water’s films. Water’s most famous film, “Hairspray” (1988) featured Divine’s tour−de−force performance as Edna Turnblad. It also featured the nexus between the explicit portrayal of the civil rights movement and the sub−textual themes of the gay rights movement.
However, there are also films that have become cult classics within the LGBTQ community that do not explicitly feature gay characters or themes. These films possess their own set of definitive features. For instance, there is typically a strong female actress in the lead role — Faye Dunaway’s portrayal of Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest” (1981) is one example. Famous actresses, for their theatricality and sordid lives, often become gay icons.
Musicals often also fall into this realm. The prime example is “The Wizard of Oz” (1939). It was because of this film that the gay slang term “Friend of Dorothy” arose. Generally, musical films have always accepted diversity and flamboyance, which was eagerly accepted by the queer community. Other films became gay cult classics for less obvious reasons, such as “Fight Club” (1998), which became popular film within the gay community because of a shirtless Brad Pitt, among others.
Overall, whether a queer film becomes famous for how it deals with gay issues or for its over−the−top performances, queer films represent an important part of cinematic history. This column only scratches the surface of the queer films that are available — we encourage all of our sassy readers to find more films on their own and enjoy the camp and cause!
Jacob Passy is a junior majoring in international relations. He can be reached at Jacob.Passy@tufts.edu. Alex Kaufman is a sophomore majoring in sociology. He can be reached at Alexander.Kaufman@tufts.edu.