List Film

Out at the Movies (3 stars)

Steven Paul Davies

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Brokeback Mountain

(Kamera)

GAY CINEMA HISTORY

With Gus Van Sant’s Milk generating significant Oscar buzz and the latest big budget gay-themed movie I Love You Phillip Morris about to hit the silver screen, Steven Paul Davies history of gay cinema is timely. Working chronologically from the 1920s, Davies charts the depiction of gay characters and themes in Hollywood and indie cinema from the stock sissies of the 40s and 50s, through the demonising of gay characters up to and throughout the 60s, to the rise of openly gay filmmakers and performers exploring gay milieu, largely free from the restraints of censorship.

While the author admits in his introduction that he has been unable to cover every gay reference in the movies, some of his editorial choices will raise eyebrows. Visconti’s Ossessione (1942), for instance, is singled out as particularly worthy of note, while the director’s later, more blatantly homoerotic works such as Rocco and his Brothers and Conversation Piece are conspicuous by their absence. There’s also little attempt to deal with those films where the ‘queer’ subject matter is hidden in the subtext and fabric of the film – Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes for instance.

Significant films and personnel from each decade are dealt with in short critical summaries, with longer essays providing an overview on that decade’s films in their historical context. In these extended passages Davies makes a decent attempt to consider films from each period against their historical backdrop (including the rise of the gay rights movement, Stonewall, the impact of AIDS). While individual reviews can be undermined by the author’s occasional breathless tendency towards empty superlatives (‘Quite simply a masterpiece’ is his bold assessment of Brokeback Mountain) taken as a whole this is a fun, accessible introduction to the high and low points in the history of gay cinema.

Milk

  • 4 stars
  • 2008
  • US
  • 128 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Gus Van Sant
  • Written by: Dustin Lance Black
  • Cast: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, Alison Pill, Victor Garber, James Franco

This fairly conventional biopic of the first openly gay elected politician in the United States succeeds in overcoming genre limitations to create a powerful and compassionate film. Tracing Harvey Milk's (Penn) life from his apolitical forties, through three unsuccessful political campaigns, before winning a seat on the…

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