Bright Lights Film Journal

Poor Queen: Giorgios Katakouzinos’s Angel (1982)

Soldier by day, tranny slut by night

Giorgios Katakouzinos’s 1982 feature Angel (Aggelos) is one of the most acclaimed and popular Greek films ever, allegedly having been seen by one Greek in twenty. This in spite of the fact that it’s a luridly, not to mention openly, queer story that features – exposes is more like it – Athens’ seedy queer subculture, from public park cruising to tranny whores luring the good married heteros into their web for a quick blow job or nervous fuck. Perhaps audiences responded in such numbers not only because of the sensational subject matter but also because the movie is so drenched in gay guilt it’s reminiscent of those 1950s and ’60s gay potboilers that portrayed queens as sympathetic but subhuman and ultimately pathological. In spite of Angel’s popularity in Greece, it’s little known here. Its resurrection on DVD from WaterBearer Films might redress the balance, but modern queers who now have choices may find this cinematic psycho homo one too many.

The story is certainly promising, and director Katakouzinos keeps much of it fascinating by milking the melodrama. The tone is set early; the opening scene shows a police bust, with public restroom queens scattering dizzily to avoid arrest. One escapee is Angelo, a handsome, rather square young Athenian who works at a jewelry store and provides much of the support of his extra-dysfunctional family. Daddy’s a drunken lout, Mother and Granny are both embittered ex-whores, and Sis is a drooling retardate. None of these flaws, if they can be called such, comes close to Angelo’s “problem”: he’s gay in a mega-macho culture, and desperately closeted.

In one of those dream scenes that the aforementioned homo potboiler narratives adored, Angelo is approached by hunky hyperbutch Mikhalis, dressed in one of queerdom’s most treasured costumes: a skintight sailor suit. Enchanting as this outfit is, it can’t contain Mikhalis’s bulging muscles; he’s a Tom of Finland drawing come to life. Mikhalis is almost scarily direct, and the quiet, moody Angelo is disturbed but entranced and agrees to date him. Soon they’ve set up house together and appear the picture of closeted queer marital bliss, though Angelo too quickly embraces a traditional female role, waiting on hubby and clinging to his admittedly irresistible muscles. In one of the film’s most sensitive scenes, he’s warned by a seen-it-all middle-aged ex-lover that Mikhalis is well known, a “professional, ” and that Angelo is cruising for a fall.

And fall he does. Drafted into the army, he returns to the happy little homestead to find an eager Mikhalis plying him with presents. To Angelo’s dismay, the presents are women’s sexy underwear. It seems that hubby needs money, and Angelo’s sweet looks would make him a dandy transvestite whore. Angelo hesitates for a few seconds before joining the local tranny whore subculture. Eventually he discovers the grim reality behind all the “fabulous” makeup and glittering dish. The trannies are exploited and assaulted by their pimps and routinely beaten by the local men (after the blowjobs, no doubt) after their wives, who apparently can’t take the competition, demand it. Angelo is brutally beaten and then outed to his family by a homophobic cop. The action spirals downward with alarming rapidity, ending in those staples of retrogressive queer cinema: a suicide, a psychotic breakdown, and a “homosexual murder.”

Angelo, who becomes Angel after his transition to working gal, is passive and pathetic even by the standards of retro queer cinema. A soldier by day, he spends his evenings mincing around like an obedient dog, groveling before Mikhalis (admittedly not an altogether unattractive prospect), adjusting his wig and panties and mindlessly cooperating in his own demise. The film helps him along nicely in this downward drift. When his father stabs himself to death with scissors upon learning that Angelo is “a fag, ” his son morbidly follows daddy’s dead body through its final prep, grimly awash in the guilt that his “sin” has allegedly triggered.

Angel’s relationship with Mikhalis becomes increasingly difficult and degrading. Mikhalis serves a familiar function in dramas like this. He’s an irresistible emissary sent from Heteroland to protect the status quo and punish the threatening homo. Don’t be fooled by his personal participation in the “queer twilight world”; that’s part of his m.o.. Angel’s ass, not to mention his psyche, is the bounty Mikhalis gets for being willing to take out the queen, who’s remolded from a man who likes men to a pathetic pastiche of Woman who enacts every cliché of the passive, submissive feminine.

All the sturm und drang of Angel isn’t the whole picture, and the film is ultimately diverting for anyone who can assign the homophobics to the period and ignore the sledgehammer symbolism (at one point Angelo is raped in a public dump, with garbage falling on and around him – get it?). Buried in all the high jinks is a convincing portrait of Athens’ tranny whore community and the strategies queens evolve for expressing queerness in a historically hypermacho culture. (It’s the old story: if you’re on top, in control, you’re not queer, even if your dick is buried in another man’s ass.) There’s also some choice dialogue. Angelos’s retired-whore granny gets some of the best. Fondly reminiscing about the good old days, she says, almost too vividly, “Our daughters spread their legs for a cup of olive oil.” There’s an unavoidable fascination with such retrograde material, probably deriving from the same feeling that makes us continue to seek out historical queer imagery in books and movies long after what they have to offer has been rejected. From our vantage point in 2000, we can almost – but not quite – laugh at such dubious material and consign it to the safe realm of camp.