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arts

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Film  
 
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Later nonfiction features achieved this mission more succinctly: The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) is a persuasive political tearjerker, while Before Stonewall (1984), made the same year, is an elegant family album of archival footage; both films, like the documentaries of the 1990s--Tongues Untied (1990) and Voices from the Front (1991)--still rely on the truth of personal testimony to move, or forge identification with, their audiences.

The Blur between Hollywood and Independent Films

In the 1980s and 1990s, gay-themed fiction commanded a high profile. In Parting Glances (1986), Desert Hearts (1986), and Lianna (1986), the blur between Hollywood and independent produced narratives that addressed both gay and non-gay audiences. Many of these were directly the result of filmmakers' experience in the 1970s with international work made and screened exclusively for gay men and women.

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For American audiences, annual gay film festivals (in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and other cities) discovered European directors such as Eloy de la Iglesia (The Deputy, 1979), Monika Treut (Seduction: The Cruel Woman, 1986), and Alexandra von Grote (November Moon, 1984) or otherwise reclaimed the lesbian and gay "sensibility" of avant-gardists like Ulrike Ottinger, Isaac Julien, and Rosa von Praunheim.

Crucially, dedicated researchers such as Richard Dyer, Vito Russo, and Andrea Weiss brought new perspectives to the work of earlier filmmakers.

Eroticism

Eroticism features strongly in today's mainstream gay movies. AIDS has moved gay-themed films once again away from realism, has clarified that films are indeed fictions. Whether it is boredom with heterosexuality or another burst of voyeurism, Hollywood seems captivated by what gay people do in bed, hence Lianna, Longtime Companion (1990), Maurice (1987), and Torch Song Trilogy (1988), all made independently but picked up by major distribution companies.

Of course, it would be unfair to claim that eroticism is the sole project of any of these films, but it is true to say that the bed scene has replaced the bar scene.

Gay Themes and Diverse Responses

As Hollywood claws back and reconstitutes the novelty of lesbian and gay culture, and as independent gay filmmakers confess to the pleasure of mainstream genres such as romance, gay themes and influences cluster in increasingly bizarre regroupings.

Among these themes and influences are the adoration of the male body/buddy (Schwarzenegger, Cruise; My Own Private Idaho, 1991); the mass marketing of camp (Too Much Sun, 1990; Pee Wee's Big Adventure, 1987; Soapdish, 1991); ceaseless homosexual subtexts about Oedipal indecision in teen movies such as Fright Night (1985) and Point Break (1991); the reappearance of the destructive film noir lesbian (Slamdance, 1986; Bellman and True, 1987; Basic Instinct, 1992); the dominance of educational-TV movies (An Early Frost, 1986; Consenting Adult, 1985; Andre's Mother, 1990); AIDS and associational imagery in horror (The Fly, 1986; Lifeforce, 1985); homosexual serial killers and their newly graphic crimes (The Krays, 1990; Silence of the Lambs, 1991).

Oppositional work is also thriving, either as agitprop or avant-garde. Video allows for fairly instant responses to issues: there are now hundreds of tapes around AIDS, and within a few months of Britain's new anti-gay legislation in 1988, eighteen campaigning tapes had been logged.

At the same time, a new kind of underground cinema is identifiable; filmmakers like Su Friedrich (Sink or Swim), Gregg Araki (The Living End), Tom Kalin (Swoon), and Todd Haynes (Poison) are unarguably at the vanguard of a playful new aesthetic.

Conclusion

The tentative and fractious nature of these recent groupings is proof that heterogeneity is still the norm. For as long as homosexuality occupies the same difficult ideological position that it does--ceaselessly yoked with anxieties about disease, reproduction, and contamination; bound in with legislative and civil rights discourse; shaped by sociological surveys and celebrity scandal--filmmakers will undoubtedly continue to produce consistently provocative and complex images.

Mark Finch

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   Related Entries
  
arts >> Overview:  Bisexuality in Film

The history of gays and lesbians in film is well documented, but bisexuality, in both characters and performers, has been less examined.

arts >> Overview:  Documentary Film

The queer community has used documentary film to resurrect historical memory and to permit the marginalized to bear witness, as well as to build an image base that reflects our diversity and counters distorted representations.

arts >> Overview:  European Film

Since the 1960s, European film has included significant gay-themed films, many of them directed by openly gay and lesbian directors.

arts >> Overview:  Film Directors

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual film directors have been a vital creative presence in cinema since the medium's inception over one hundred years ago.

arts >> Overview:  Film Festivals

The queer film festival circuit came into its own in the early 1990s and has since burgeoned into a major international phenomenon.

arts >> Overview:  Film Noir

Queer characters were a crucial component of the film noir landscape, part of the genre's challenge to complacent American values.

arts >> Overview:  Film Sissies

The film sissy had his heyday in the 1930s, but persists as a film archetype, subtly reminding audiences that there are other ways of being than conventional heterosexuality.

arts >> Overview:  Film Spectatorship

Film spectatorship is an integral part of queer culture, affording a process of self-invention and making possible the coded articulation of queer desires and identities.

arts >> Overview:  Horror Films

The monsters of horror films may frequently be read as mirrors of societal views of homosexuals as predatory, amoral, perverse, possessed of secret supernatural powers, and threatening to "normal life."

arts >> Overview:  New Queer Cinema

Independent films that aggressively assert homosexual identity and queer culture, the New Queer Cinema can be seen as the culmination of several developments in American cinema.

arts >> Overview:  The Western

A distinctive American narrative genre that has developed over more than two centuries, the Western is now consumed worldwide; characteristically depicting homosocial relationships, it is also frequently suffused with homoeroticism.

arts >> Anger, Kenneth

One of America's first openly gay filmmakers, and certainly the first whose work addressed homosexuality in an undisguised, self-implicating manner, Kenneth Anger occupies an important place in the history of experimental filmmaking.

arts >> Araki, Gregg

The poster boy of radical and militant queer cinema, Gregg Araki disdains the ghettoizing label of "gay filmmaker."

arts >> Baker, Josephine

Entertainer Josephine Baker achieved acclaim as the twentieth century's first international black female sex symbol, but kept carefully hidden her many sexual liaisons with women, which continued from adolescence to the end of her life.

arts >> Chéreau, Patrice

Award-winning French director, screenwriter, and actor Patrice Chéreau has earned international renown for his visionary, often controversial, productions of opera, theater, and film

arts >> Crowley, Mart

Playwright Mart Crowley deserves honor for having blazed the trail for gay-themed theater with his 1969 groundbreaking play The Boys in the Band.

arts >> Daniels, Lee

Producer and director Lee Daniels is attracted to subjects that are daring, potentially alienating, and often violent, but he discovers in these subjects universal truths and at least a sliver of hope.

arts >> Deitch, Donna

Although pioneering film and television director Donna Deitch is best known for Desert Hearts, a classic of lesbian cinema, she has also made other films that probe gay and lesbian relationships

arts >> Dietrich, Marlene

Actress and cabaret performer Marlene Dietrich scandalized society almost as much by wearing trousers in public as by her numerous love affairs with both men and women.

arts >> Flynn, Errol

Handsome, athletic, graceful, and charismatic, actor Errol Flynn was widely rumored to enjoy sexual relations with men as well as women.

literature >> Ford, Charles Henri (1910?-2002), and Parker Tyler (1904-1974)

Members of New York's early twentieth-century avant-garde, Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler are also the authors of a widely suppressed and largely unread experimental novel of 1930s gay life, The Young and Evil.

arts >> Ford, Tom

Heralded as the savior of men's fashion, openly gay designer Tom Ford has both tapped into and assisted the fundamental change in men's attitude towards their appearance; he has since become a film director.

arts >> Foster, Jodie

One of the most accomplished film actresses of her generation, Jodie Foster has been a glbtq icon for decades, though only recently has she obliquely acknowledged her lesbianism.

arts >> Garbo, Greta

Mysterious, aloof, occasionally androgynous, actress Greta Garbo ignited the passions of men and women alike.

arts >> Garland, Judy

The fragile persona and emotion-packed voice of actress and singer Judy Garland are powerfully linked to gay culture and identity; she appealed especially to gay men, but also to lesbians.

arts >> Hammer, Barbara

The most prolific lesbian feminist filmmaker in the history of cinema, Barbara Hammer creates works that are among the most thoughtful celebrations of queer life.

arts >> Haynes, Todd

Since his 1991 film Poison won the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival, innovative filmmaker Todd Haynes has emerged as the leading figure of the New Queer Cinema.

social sciences >> Hirschfeld, Magnus

German-born Magnus Hirschfeld deserves recognition as a significant theorist of sexuality and the most prominent advocate of homosexual emancipation of his time.

arts >> Hytner, Sir Nicholas

British director Sir Nicholas Hytner is acclaimed for his work on musicals and plays in London as well as New York, and also for directing films and operas.

arts >> Julien, Isaac

Filmmaker, artist, and cultural critic Isaac Julien is the most prominent member of a new wave of black artists and filmmakers involved in examining black and gay representation.

arts >> Kleiser, Randal

Although best known for his direction of lighter fare such as Grease, Randal Kleiser made his most significant contribution to gay cinema with the 1996 AIDS-themed "It's My Party."

arts >> Kuchar, George

One of the founding fathers of cinematic camp, George Kuchar made innovative, if engagingly threadbare, epics from 1954 almost until the end of his life.

arts >> Larson, Jonathan

Although apparently heterosexual, musical theater composer Jonathan Larson wrote sympathetically about a diverse community of artists, many of whom are glbtq.

arts >> Leisen, Mitchell

A noted director of Hollywood's Golden Age, Mitchell Leisen is credited with more than 40 feature films, which are celebrated for their stylishness and visual elegance.

arts >> Lynch, Jane

Out lesbian actress Jane Lynch has forged a successful career on television, in movies, and on the stage, including some memorable turns portraying lesbian characters.

social sciences >> Milk, Harvey

Harvey Milk, among the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the United States, was assassinated in San Francisco's City Hall, making him the American gay liberation movement's most visible martyr.

arts >> Mineo, Sal

Although actor Sal Mineo was twice nominated for an Academy Award, and enjoyed success as a stage director and recording artist, he is remembered chiefly for his performance in Rebel without a Cause.

arts >> O'Haver, Tommy

Director and screenwriter Tommy O'Haver has drawn on his own experiences as a gay man in creating films and has also demonstrated his versatility by working on a variety of other cinematic projects.

arts >> Ottinger, Ulrike

Avant-garde German filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger creates both fictional fantasy worlds that shatter traditional gender constructions and documentaries that examine marginalized peoples.

arts >> Ottman, John

In addition to scoring over thirty full-length motion pictures, American film composer, editor, and director John Ottman has also created musical compositions for numerous short films, television programs, and commercials.

arts >> Ozpetek, Ferzan

Thanks to the critical and commercial success of most of his films, Turkish-born Italian director Ferzan Ozpetek has challenged the celluloid closet that silenced or marginalized queerness in Italian film.

arts >> Praunheim, Rosa von

One of Germany's leading gay activists and chroniclers of queer life, filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim makes films intended to foster self-examination by gay people and to advance gay rights.

arts >> Ray, Nicholas

One of the most significant and influential American movie directors of the twentieth century, Nicholas Ray created characters and situations that continue to resonate with queer viewers.

arts >> Roos, Don

Screenwriter and director Don Roos has won plaudits for films that feature gay and lesbian characters and that also give strong roles to women.

arts >> Sherman, Martin

Best known for his groundbreaking play Bent, iconoclastic playwright and screenwriter Martin Sherman has created an impressive body of work.

arts >> Shores, Del

Playwright and screenwriter Del Shores explores the intersection of Southern culture and glbtq culture with empathy and humor; he has also been active in championing equal rights.

arts >> Singer, Bryan

Film director and producer Bryan Singer overturns standard narrative formulae and develops complex characters; he consistently emphasizes the fluidity and ambiguity of identity categories, including those pertaining to gender and sexuality.

arts >> Treut, Monika

German filmmaker Monika Treut consistently explores challenging and controversial issues surrounding minority sexual and gender identities.

arts >> Warhol, Andy (as filmmaker)

Although Andy Warhol is generally remembered either for a single film--Sleep (1963)--or for works that he did not actually direct, his contribution to gay cinema is incalculable.

arts >> Waters, John

A director, writer, producer, and photographer, John Waters became well known in the early 1970s through his filmic collaboration with actor--and drag queen--Divine.

arts >> Weiss, Andrea

Award-winning writer and documentary filmmaker Andrea Weiss has produced innovative work that embodies her commitment both to art and to political action.

arts >> White, James Melville "Mel"

Mel White spent over thirty years serving the Evangelical Christian community; after struggling with his homosexuality for many years, he broke his ties with anti-gay religious leaders and became a glbtq activist.

arts >> Williamson, Kevin

Screenwriter-producer-director Kevin Williamson is best known as the writer of clever, self-referential horror films and as the creator of the groundbreaking television series Dawson's Creek.

arts >> Wright, Doug

The works of award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and librettist Doug Wright often focus on the unconventional lives of society\'s outsiders.

arts >> Wu, Alice

Filmmaker Alice Wu broke ground with her first feature-length motion picture, Saving Face (2004), a multi-generational portrait of Chinese-American women who transgress traditional sexual taboos.


    Bibliography
   

Bad Object-Choice Collective, eds. How Do I Look?: Queer Film and Video. Seattle: Bay Press, 1991.

Dyer, Richard. Gays and Film. New York: New York Zoetrope, 1984.

_____. Now You See It: Studies on Lesbian and Gay Film. New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, 1990.

Russo, Vito. The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies. New York: Harper and Row, 1987.

Tyler, Parker. Screening the Sexes: Homosexuality in the Movies. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Finch, Mark  
    Entry Title: Film  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated January 20, 2010  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/film.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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