Out at the Movies
Steven Paul Davies
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.