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Film Directors  
 
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Colin Higgins (1941-1988) may be best remembered for writing the Hal Ashby-directed cult film Harold and Maude (1971), a black comedy that violates all kinds of sexual boundaries. He wrote the screenplays for a number of other films, including Arthur Hiller's Silver Streak (1976). His directorial debut was Foul Play, featuring Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase, which was a surprise hit. He went on to co-write and direct two Dolly Parton vehicles, 9 to 5 (1980) and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982). He died of AIDS-related complications in 1988, aged 47.

German director Wolfgang Peterson (b. 1941) first gained international attention for Die Konsequenz (1977), a discreet and subtle study of homosexuality that he wrote as well as directed. But his great crossover film was Das Boot (1981), a nail-biting wartime drama told from the perspective of the average German submariner. Peterson has gone on to make a number of mainstream Hollywood films, including In the Line of Fire (1993), Air Force One (1997), and The Perfect Storm (2000).

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Randall Kleiser (b. 1946) worked in television during the 1970s. His first feature film was the hit musical Grease (1978). This success was followed by such teen (heterosexual) romance films as Blue Lagoon (1980) and Summer Lovers (1982) and popular comedies such as Big Top Pee-Wee (1988) and Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992).

In It's My Party (1996), however, Kleiser abandoned heterosexual comedy to make one of the most powerful AIDS films. Centered around Nick Stark (Eric Roberts), a man who is about to lose his long battle with the AIDS virus and decides to host a two-day farewell party for his family and friends after which he will commit suicide, the film is emotionally searing but finally consoling. Featuring excellent performances by Roberts and Gregory Harrison (as Stark's former lover), Lee Grant and Marlee Matlin, among a host of others, the film is based on the death of Kleiser's own lover.

In the late 1990s and the early years of the twenty-first century, writer and directer Bill Condon came to prominence with several successful projects based on gay or queer-inflected subject matter. In addition to directing a number of television movies and writing the screenplay for Rob Marshall's Chicago (2002), Condon scored hits with Gods and Monsters (2002), based on the life of James Whale, memorably portrayed by Ian McKellen, and Kinsey (2004), based on the life of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, brilliantly performed by Liam Neeson. Condon wrote the screenplays for the films.

Independent Films

Over the last two decades a crop of young, openly gay and lesbian directors have obtained success through critically acclaimed independent films, some of which have obtained a degree of mainstream marketability.

The early works of American director Gus Van Sant (b. 1952) include such offbeat films as Mala Noche (1985), Drugstore Cowboy (1989), and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993), based on Tom Robbins' novel. But his masterpiece is My Own Private Idaho (1994). Here he expertly blends the genre of the road film with Shakespeare's Henry IV to present a compelling study of young gay hustlers, played by Keanu Reeves and the late River Phoenix.

Since Idaho, Van Sant has moved more fully into the mainstream with mixed results. To Die For (1995) and the Oscar-winning Ben Affleck/Matt Damon buddy film Good Will Hunting (1997) were critically successful. The 1998 remake of Hitchcock's Psycho, paying slavish attention to the original, was generally deemed disappointing.

Gregg Araki (b. 1959), another graduate of the University of Southern California school of cinema and television, has won critical acclaim for his frequently bleak filmic landscape that explores the post-AIDS experiences of alienated young queers. His work includes a pseudo documentary Totally F***ked Up (1993) and the road movies The Living End (1992), The Doom Generation (1995), and Nowhere (1997).

Todd Haynes (b. 1961) began his career with the innovative documentary, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987). Featuring Barbie Dolls in the central roles it was subsequently banned via legal technicalities raised by its subject's brother, Richard Carpenter. In the 1990s Haynes moved onto such hard-edged studies of popular culture as Velvet Goldmine (1998), a fictionalized exploration of the polymorphous sexualities of 1970s glamrock.

In his Oscar-nominated Far From Heaven (2002), Haynes achieved mainstream success. Paying homage to the style of 1950s auteur Douglas Sirk, he skillfully draws out and makes explicit the homosexual subtexts latent in Sirk's melodramas.

In 1986 director Donna Deitch (b. 1945) adapted Jane Rule's classic lesbian novel Desert of the Heart as Desert Hearts. A full-length feature, it was perceived by many lesbian critics as too implicated in the aesthetics and values of traditional heterosexual romances; however, it won and maintained a strong following by lesbian viewers.

Deitch, meanwhile, has moved into television work, directing numerous high profile dramas such as NYPD Blue, Murder One, ER, and Crossing Jordan. In the television movie Common Ground (2000), she returned to gay and lesbian themes.

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