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One of the most dour denouements belongs to a British film, Walk a Crooked Path (1969), in which a married gay teacher is abandoned by the schoolboy he adores, after having engineered the murder of his wife. He sits alone in his now-still home and the image changes from color to black and white as the film flashes through long shots of each deserted room.

Yet these intensely melancholy fantasies were of course rooted in real-life , legislation, and social stigma. Just as musicals capture moments of ecstasy and community, Victim and The Children's Hour exaggerate isolation and injustice to a degree that is recordable, palpable, and undeniable.

Gay Bar Scenes

Another key moment in films of the 1960s and 1970s is the gay bar scene. The Detective (1968) pitches Frank Sinatra in pursuit of a homosexual killer and comes up with a crawl tour of New York's gay dives. There is a self-consciousness not just in the representation of "casual" gay social life but also in the camera pans and overhead shots, a sense in which the film is proud to present something so explicitly, and yet still be bewildered by what it sees.

The Detective was not the first film to peek inside a gay bar (Vito Russo pinpoints this to Call Her Savage, a 1932 Clara Bow drama), but it typified the realist trend of the next decade.

Each gay-themed film made a special claim to authenticity. For example, Sister George's publicity made much of the fact that its bar scenes had been partly filmed at London's famous Gateways Club. Ten years later, William Friedkin took to Manhattan leather bars in search of real-life clubbers for Cruising.

The mid-1960s films often used the device of an investigative figure delving into the gay scene in order to resolve a mystery, a commentator to a criminal kind of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Later, Investigation of a Murder (1973), Partners (1982), and Cruising made their heroes literal detectives.

The bar scene is also constructed to confirm culture's queer conspiracy theory, which goes something like this: "Homosexuals have a secret code and a secret meeting place, just below the surface of ordinary social life."

Yet for gay viewers the bar scene may function as a vision of utopia, a restorative after all the hours of miserable, cinematic isolation. The self-consciously casual scenes of 1970s social life potentially offered the pleasure of recognition for lesbian and gay audiences. Not for the first time, Hollywood's homosexual images can be experienced differently, and in complex ways, by a gay audience.

Making Love

By 1980, however, the curiosity of gay viewers had been both sorely tested and exploited. Twentieth Century-Fox released Making Love (1982) with much self-generated excitement. Penned by openly gay writer Barry Sandler, and promoted as the first honest look at gay relationships, Making Love is best remembered for a sex scene of astonishing discretion.

More interesting than the movie itself--a TV-movie tale of broken marriage and bisexuality, with Kate Jackson as the hurt wife on the trail of her husband's nighttime liaisons--was the narrative of the film's marketing. Aside from the standard campaign, which presented Making Love as an old-fashioned women's picture and bleached away the gay theme, Fox also ran a separate campaign for the gay community.

This latter involved preview screenings for gay journalists and other community "opinion-makers," as well as a new poster picturing Harry Hamlin undressed and embraced by Jackson's movie husband, with Kate herself banished to the background.

Making Love was a failure with both constituencies, gay and non-gay. Against that film's much derided middle-class coziness, the plurality of lesbian and gay lifestyles was apparent in the increasing vigor of the American gay movement.

Documentary Films

In the 1970s, independent documentarists had tried to get at this diversity. A Position of Faith (1973), Gay USA (1977), and Peter Adair's hands-across-America panorama Word is Out (1977) all attempted not just to explain the premise of gay liberation, but showed it too. When interviewees in Word is Out claimed, "We're just like you," audiences could see that it was true.

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