100 LGBT Film Experiences – Part Four

Part Four of our LGBT series looks at control, how it’s addressed, how it succeeds spectacularly or fails tragically. Sentimentality and cynicism, along with some good old-fashioned ingenuity and the occasional snappy line, can go a long way to rectifying a situation, or at least make it bearable to the bitter end.

(Introduction by Steve Schweighofer)

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Bound (1996)

Superbly shot (bravo Bill Pope) and paced with an assured modern film noir style, crime thriller Bound was written and directed by The Wachowskis, who have come a long way themselves in their own personal transitions, this marks a feature film debut for film-makers with a clear, kinetic, visual talent indeed. The sex-and-violence-fueled story can be interpreted as one of escape, or the underdog, but what is clear is Violet (Jennifer Tilly) deserves better than the existence before her, surrounded by no-good mafia-types through her jack-ass boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano). When she meets the forth-coming ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon), Violet not only falls head over heels, but between them see a way beyond their current lives. The sexually-charged scenes (as well as the many stylish set-pieces) are sensuous and slick, their ambition for independence is matched by their mutual passion. Where the crime world spilling into the apartment walls is often claustrophobic, the mutual attraction of Violet and Corky, in particular their isolated moments together, provides some real intimacy. You root for these women to get through their scheming together, away from danger, and come out holding hands.

Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

In 1939, the world was introduced to The Wizard of Oz and to one of the most recognizable characters of the 20th century, Dorothy played by Judy Garland. A woman considered by some to be a symbol for gay freedoms. While considering LGBTQ films through history one may not typically think of Judy Garland’s portrayal of Dorothy. The connection from film to ideology is exactly that. More so the metaphorical ties from cinema to a time where the people of the LGBTQ community were misunderstood, persecuted, and even feared. The Wizard of Oz shows the journey of a lonely farm girl being transported to a world of incredible impossibilities and an acceptance of the community over the single person. Many gays of the ties idolized the story of Dorothy and wished themselves to be able to be accepted and even welcomed into such a land. Preceding the film’s release, members of the LGBTQ community often helped find other members by identifying themselves as “Friends of Dorothy.” The themes of acceptance and freedom of choice although not the intent of the filmmakers and cast has become a source of that for many of said community. There needs to be a more open dialogue about these issues of misunderstanding in our society and The Wizard of Oz was decades ahead of the issue, you just never knew!

Mike Austin @MuzakWeeWoo

Desert Hearts (1985)

Desert Hearts, directed with unraveling passion by Donna Deitch, is very much about about the attraction between two somewhat different women. Vivian (Helen Shaver), from the city, and in her 30s, lands in the radar of the younger, much more assertive Cay (Patricia Charbonneau) – both women appear to be striving to step out of a very recent, ongoing, relationship with a man. Their eventual love affair carries with it the heat of sexual passion as well as that of the Nevada setting. There’s a build up to an unforgettable sex scene between the two women, vivid to me as one of the very first I saw in my movie-watching life, but also puts a pin in the lesbian representation film map. The erotic sequence works for it’s unflashy and gritty realism, two women exploring each other and themselves all at once.

Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Edward II (1991)

Iconic indie director takes on homophobia by way of the 16th Century play by Elizabethan hottie, Christopher Marlowe, in which an openly gay 14th Century monarch meets his undoing. By loading his film with visual and aural anachronisms, Jarman expands the scope of his message by suggesting that this sort of oppression has been practiced thru the ages, and one must assume that the director’s own battle with AIDS fueled his efforts here. He lost that battle in 1994. Steven Waddington plays Edward as a somewhat spoiled individual who does not see that he is triggering his own demise, while Tilda Swinton, as his queen, Isabella, turns in the film’s best performance – frustrated and icy with passion that seems to be eating her alive. Jarman throws in everything but the kitchen sink as far as sets and costumes are concerned – he’s Visconti on angel dust – and there are some scenes of sexual encounters and torture that pushed the accepted boundaries of the time. As a political message, a history and a work of imaginative cinematic art, Edward II is one artist’s clarion call on many levels. Christopher Marlowe would likely have appreciated the effort.

Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag

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Plein sud (2009)

Translated to “Going South“, the French drama Plein sud is heavy on relations between strangers and family members, a film that attempts to focus on human expression and emotions in the long and short term. When Sam (Yannick Renier) finds himself in contact with his estranged mother, he sets off on a road trip from France to Spain, picking up three travelers along the way – Lea (Léa Seydoux), her brother Mathieu (Théo Frilet), and Jeremie (Pierre Perrier). Both Lea and Mathieu ae attracted to the somewhat distracted Sam, who soon shows his availability to the brother (while Lea hooks up with Jeremie). Director Sebastien Lifshitz keeps tensions raw throughout, in two particular sexual sequences Mathieu hears his sister’s pleasurable moans, while Lea herself later decides against watching as her brother and Sam get at it on the beach.

Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Love is Strange (2014)

Love is Strange. And it isn’t. It’s life. A life lived and endured, moments and memories, strengths and weaknesses. It’s togetherness and a sense of belonging. Ira Sachs’ gently heartbreaking film is a drama of subtle beauty and emotions. Scenes by scene unhurried moments played out and their resonance felt. Story is centered on Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) who get married after being together for 39 years. Ben is a painter and George teaches music at a Catholic school. But with word reaching about his marriage, to a man, has him fired. Without the income, they have no choice but to leave their New York apartment and find refuge among their friends and family separately. What follows is a nuanced depiction of separation and fierce commitment between two individuals who have loved and lived together for years. Who knows and understand each other better than anyone else. Both the actors perform with ease and such organic beauty. New York the city is as much a character in the film as any people. Spaces, not designed to lived for many at once. The infuriating sense of being occupied, boundaries, privacy is all the focus. Music, art, work, passion and the bittersweet charm of life populates this graceful drama. You don’t find such mature dramas about couples and their life together with such piercing insight, outlook and resonance. About what it is like to live and love, love and live.

Asif Khan @KHAN2705

Stranger by the Lake (2013)

This 2013 French thriller depicts the events of a series of summer days at a lakeside cruising spot. Men young and cold meet on the pebbled banks of a nameless lake to sunbathe and enjoy one another’s company. Those so inclined wander into the nearby woods for furtive, anonymous sexual encounters among the weeds and the trees. However, the balmy, serene scenery is in stark contrast to the anxiety and dread that lurks at the edges of the erotic idyll. After one of the cruisers is found drowned, the romantic Franck is forced to confront the danger inherent in his desire. The film is a slow burn, allowing its themes of masculinity, sex, and death to simmer under the surface of its multiple, explicit images of men loving other men, but the ease with which it folds this complexity into a satisfying thriller plot makes it a standout film in the queer canon.

Desirae Embree @ZeeSayre

Butley (1974)

Ah, poor Ben Butley. The filmed version of Simon Gray’s comedy, directed by Harold Pinter, begins with the professor of lit. nicking himself shaving and the day goes “straight” downhill from there. It doesn’t help that the closeted Butley drinks too much, a problem accentuated by the fact that both his estranged wife, with whom he shares a daughter, and his male lover, with whom he shares an office, have decided to part with his nonsense on that day. Butley, of course, will not go down without a fight and takes his frustrations out on anyone who comes into his orbit, be it coworkers or students coming for a tutorial. They all get a full blast of his intellectual bitchiness, delivered exquisitely by actor Alan Bates in his finest film performance. The wit in the film is razor sharp: “You know how it exhausts me to teach books I haven’t read.” He complains that American students format their theses “like film scripts”, and caustically proclaims ”I’m a one-woman man, and I’ve had mine, thank God!” While all his browbeating entertains us immensely, is only pushes Butley into further isolation, proving some days it is better not to say anything – or even get out of bed. Thanks to Bates’ wickedly funny tour de force performance, we’re glad he did.

Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag

Go Fish (1994)

Floating out there during the American independent film flourish of the 1990s, was a kind of naturalist spokeswoman of a movie for the lesbian community. Go Fish is ultimately about the lesbian code, the free-speaking characters are allowed to speak their minds on the subject they live and breathe throughout. Written and directed by Rose Troche (co-scripter Guinevere Turner plays the protagonist Max), the observant, bold little movie displays an effective use of low-budget black and white, and has some swift editing. There’s also a perfectly poised foreplay scene that derives from nail-cutting. We know that the journey through falling in love can be an enduring one, Go Fish allows these everyday obstacles (being out of the game for months, already in a relationship etc) to tell a story that somehow seems familiar irrespective of your sexuality.

Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

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All About My Mother (1999)

Almodovar’s masterpiece. His love letter and ode to women, mothers, films and a giant gift to everyone who cares and deeply feel about them. A career filled with extravagant characters, slapstick, sex, queerness, women, colors all comes together here. This is a film which is as dizzying dramatically, thematically and emotionally as his earlier films were for different reasons. The characters here not just connect but they hurt. Their struggles, lives are not sensational plot devices or something to be laughed at and with. Yet it has humor, genuine. The tragic side of it is crushing. The post-modernism delicious. Aesthetically, a stunner. It depicts the array of characters with such honesty and focus and the actors perform with such expressionistic sharpness that the experience overwhelms. Women, mothers, soon to be mothers, adoptive mothers, actresses, transsexual prostitute, transvestite battling AIDS, gays, every character is important. They all possess their particular charm, they have bad days, struggle, beaten down by life, they have their contradictions, they expand, affect each other. Humanity is given an Almodóvarian makeover. It feels more real than ever, resonates, feels, looks brighter, colorful and sincere. Melodramatic with remarkable emotional weight, humorous without being campy, references art and artists yet feels more Almodóvar than ever. One of the best films ever made. Powerful, contemplative, wise.

Asif Khan @KHAN2705

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