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Anger's Fireworks (1947), one of the first, widely-screened gay underground movies, is the imaginative and seemingly masochistic sex fantasy of its slim solitary dreamer.

Fifteen years later, Markopoulos's New York-set Twice a Man (1962) exploits the image seemingly without irony: Paul, the melancholic, suicidal hero, literally weeps his way through the Oedipal drama.

Underground Film

Dyer relates the rise of the male gay underground to the popularization of Freudianism (which, however fumblingly, emphasized the idea of unconscious and therefore unwilled attraction), to the war (which brought large numbers of gay men and women together in single-sex environments), and to the boom in paperback publishing (where exposes of homosexual lives were frequently accompanied by the first illustrations of the gay milieu).

These same latter factors also led to the widescale distribution and manufacture of gay pornography. From beginnings with the Athletic Model Guild--a studio devoted to male photography based in Los Angeles--an empire was quickly assembled.

AMG auteur Richard Fontaine started making short, silent posing-pouch snapshot films in the mid-1950s and moved on to sound titles like In the Days of Greek Gods (1958) and Muscles from Outer Space (1962), which featured narratives as well as nudity.

Fontaine's films are among the first gay-campaigning documents in American cinema--he often managed to include references to the lowly status of the homosexual. His first feature-length erotic film, In Love Again (1969), is more like propaganda than porn.

Dyer has characterized the gay images--and there are many--of the 1960s underground as "listless and inconsequential." Warhol's films very much capture the essence of this limp mode; his stars are passive hustlers--Joe Dallesandro in Blow Job (1969) or drugged drunken queens (Taylor Mead in any title).

In the late 1960s, it is only the works of less-well-promoted directors such as George Kuchar, Curt McDowell, and John Waters that allow the appearance of energetic, lusty gay protagonists.

Lesbian underground filmmakers took a different route. As it is with the history of all independent cinema, there is less work by women at this time, for obvious economic reasons. Apart from an exceptional moment of semi-seduction in Maya Deren's At Land (1945), it was left to 1970s filmmakers such as Constance Beeson and Barabara Hammer to break new ground.

Hammer's films--among them, Superdyke (1975), Labryis Rising (1977), and Women I Love (1976)--express a metaphoric, collective lesbian iconography: instead of the individualistic narratives of the male underground, they try to present new images for all lesbians.

Hammer's work since then has persistently continued this devotion to new vocabulary, and in the 1980s she starts to look back at the success of the lesbian avant-garde, by reprocessing and juxtaposing footage from both decades. Hammer's most recent film re-cuts a classic of the gay male underground: Melville Weber and James Sibley Watson's Lot in Sodom (1930).

Sad Young Men (and Women)

For mainstream cinema, as for popular culture in general, the late 1950s and 1960s were times for the tragedy of the homosexual experience. As the censorship systems in Britain and the United States were found to be more malleable, the image of the Sad Young Man (and Woman) figured in narratives.

Movies were suddenly keener to diagnose the condition of their characters. Studio executives, however, read the boom in pop psychology and hand-me-down Freud a little differently from the intellectuals of the underground. Films such as Tea and Sympathy (1956), The Children's Hour (1962), Suddenly Last Summer (1959), Boys in the Band (1970), and, from Britain, Victim (1960) and The Killing of Sister George (1968) set about creating a narrative context for the stereotype.

These films focused on the loneliness of their homosexual figures, but their vision was blurred by a double movement of sympathy and voyeurism. Victim ostensibly credits the anomie of gay men to their illegality and sets out to prove that their susceptibility to blackmail and imprisonment ensures a miserable life. Designed therefore as a campaigning, liberal film, Victim also ends on an image of unbearable isolation.

Similarly, in the final frames of The Children's Hour, after Shirley MacLaine hangs herself, wrongly labeled lover Audrey Hepburn walks proudly and tearily down a desolate tree-lined avenue; after ejecting and humiliating his dinner party guests, The Boys in the Band's host Kenneth Nelson wipes a tear and takes another tranquilizer.

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