Gay werewolves, the Marquis De Sade, and a mean one-legged nun: The tortured queens and killer dykes of yesteryear make way for more rarified queer types this season.
Queer and queerish films have come increasingly de rigeur in the modern cinema landscape, with a subsequent broadening of the types of queers portrayed. The day of the vampire lesbian and the queer psycho killer isn’t exactly dead, but such beloved stereotypes are more likely to be celebrated or camped-up than vilified as in the past. In this post-everything world, gay werewolves, respectable dykes, macho dancers, and teenage girl boxers have found a happier existence in film than they might in the Real World. The boundaries are sufficiently blurred that some of these characters are not precisely queer but queer-coded, welcomed as their own by both gay and straight audiences.
The fall movie scene looks to be richly queer, with the above-mentioned group sharing cinematic space with such icons of homo life as the Marquis de Sade, William Burroughs, San Francisco lap dancers, and that timeless troop, cutthroat-competitive poodle queens. (Playdates may change; check your local listings. And of course some of these films will appear only in major cities.)
Not surprisingly, since men still rule the roost, there appear to be more male-oriented features than female in this season’s gay-la offerings. The first, opening Sept. 8, is François Ozon’s Falling Drops on Burning Rocks, an adaptation of a Fassbinder play that he either forgot or purposely shelved, apparently because it involved an affair he had as a young man with an older queen. Discovered after his death, the play makes a dandy claustrophobic chamber piece, with a winsome trick slowly, viciously disabused of every ideal by a predatory old (50, that is) queen. You don’t have to be a Fassbinder freak to appreciate this film’s black vision of a world of homo hunters and hunted.
Jon Shear’s Urbania, opening September 15, is a queer odyssey through Manhattan with tormented Charlie (Dan Futterman) avenging a friend’s fagbashing. Flashbacks and forwards and a gritty view of New York City as a Boschian nightmare give this dire, violent story poetic resonance. Also scheduled for that day is the premiere of the real-life nightmare of Paragraph 175. This doc by San Franciscans Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman somehow managed to unearth queers who survived the Nazi death camps, along the way limning the gruesome history of homos living under that particular reign of terror.
Also due for revival this fall is William Friedkin’s seminal glop ‘n’ gorefest The Exorcist. The draw here is an additional 15 minutes of footage, though it’s not clear if this consists of anything more than different angles of projectile vomiting by that zany hellspawn Linda Blair. The film is of course must viewing for queers in its skewering of mainstream straight religion. Perhaps a matinee of that barf-o-rama could followed by an evening with Christopher Guest’s Best in Show, opening the same week. Guest’s Waiting for Guffman impressed many viewers with its slashing satire of a dinner theater company, and this time Guest sweetly assaults another treasure of lowbrow American culture: the dog show. Among the crazed entrants: two spoiled Shih Tzus, “Miss Agnes” and “Tyrone,” and a pampered poodle, “Rhapsody in White,” owned by a New York queen and his hairdresser boyfriend, the latter played by the always welcome Michael McKean.
More fun in this vein arrives with Paddy Breathnach’s Blow Dry. This time the subject is a national hairdressing competition in a small English town. Alan Rickman plays an old-school hairdresser vs. his ex-wife, played by Natasha Richardson, who’s drifted into dykedom. This comedy, directed by the guy who gave us The Full Monty, features the rarely sighted male morgue beautician.
Opening September 29 is Karyn Kusama’s Girlfight. Not strictly queer, it’s nonetheless of interest as a rare glimpse at the professional and romantic travails of a teenage girl boxer (played by Michelle Rodriguez). Advance buzz is hot for what sounds like a Rocky for babydykes, and featherweight or feather-brained, it sounds like something worth working up a sweat over. Robert Lee King’s Psycho Beach Party has made waves on the queer film festival circuit, and promises at least diversion with its campy sendup of ‘60s slasher films. Watch for Charles “Lesbian Vampires of Sodom” Busch as “Captain Monica Stark.”
“Gay vampire” is practically a redundancy, but gay werewolves haven’t fared as well. These beasts have usually been resolutely hetero. Making up for that is Will Gould’s The Wolves of Kromer, opening October 20. This parable of homosexuality focuses on anti-social, “amoral” lycanthropes pursued by a murderous mob (Christians, no doubt) in an English village. The thought of male werewolf couples fucking each other’s brains out at bonfire parties, then running off to fleece the straight villagers, sounds like sweet revenge indeed.
Also in October (opening the 6th) is Greg Berlanti’s The Broken Hearts Club, whose coy tagline is “The shortest distance between friends isn’t always a straight line.” This queer version of Diner – or Friends, or any number of ensemble-based TV shows or movies – updates the Boys in the Band model by having its queens prattle about Ricky Martin, Janet Jackson, and John-Boy Walton instead of Judy and Bette. The studio is hoping for a crossover hit: a recent Wall Street Journal article quoted director Berlanti as saying “I’d love for this to be the first film with all gay characters not to be in the ‘gay’ section at Blockbuster.” Perhaps prayer will help the director realize this dubious dream.
Pithier thrills can be had from Julia Query and Vicky Funari’s Live Nude Girls Unite!, also opening around the 6th. This bracing doc tracks a strike by lap dancers at San Francisco’s Lusty Lady club as they try to unionize. The women are passionate, intelligent, and articulate; maybe this will be the film that finally ends the notion that women who work in the sex industry are all coked-out morons too dumb to get any other kind of work. Not to insult our many friends who are coked-out morons.
November’s homo highlight, at least as of this writing, is yet another of those overcooked Filipino sweatfests about macho dancers and their sad little lives. Burlesk King is by the late Lino Brocka’s heir apparent Mel Chionglo, and stars fetching Rodel Velayo as a young American-Filipino who arrives in Manila to find his abusive father and avenge his mother’s death. Expect the usual bump ‘n grind follies, with fleshy bodies undulating under tacky colored lights, along with a soupcon of social commentary.
December finds us in territory at once quirkier and more familiar. Gary Walkow’s Beat examines the inner workings of Ginsberg, Burroughs, his target-practice wife, and various hangers-on during an early ‘50s trek through Mexico. Anyone expecting a hot Beat fuck will be disappointed; there’s little more than one uncomfortable scene between two of the Beatsters. If the film is as accurate as it would have us believe, these Beats weren’t quite the giddy libertines they claimed to be. Fading queer auteur Gus Van Sant weighs in with Finding Forrester, a buddy movie that will no doubt have plenty of homoerotic touches. The buddies in question are mentor Sean Connery, playing a reclusive author, and Jamal Wallace, a black athlete studying at an all-white prep school; they meet on the Internet. Hmmm… reclusive author “mentors” a hunky jock, they meet on the Internet. Forget subtext; this sounds like a full-blown faggot melodrama.
Also in December is Philip Kaufman’s Quills, a period drama about everyone’s favorite historical pervert, the Marquis de Sade. Geoffrey Rush plays de Sade and prissy Joaquin Phoenix prances through the part of a wacky priest. Not to spoil, but the film does answer the question of what to do when you’re in prison and deprived of pen and paper – how about red wine and a chicken leg? Gus Van Sant is also allegedly working on a film about the His Wickedness, At Home with the Marquis de Sade, but no details yet.
More queer history is mined in December by Shadow of the Vampire, E. Elias Merhige’s fictionalized look at the filming of the silent horror film Nosferatu, by notorious queer director F. W. Murnau (John Malkovich). Willem Dafoe plays the creepy-looking star “Max Schreck” and it’s a question whether he’s really a vampire. Murnau’s death is part of Hollywood’s legend; supposedly he died in a car wreck caused by blowing his chauffer. With luck, Shadow of the Vampire will meticulously re-create this scene with lingering close-ups.
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys isn’t due on screens until early 2001, but with a title like that and the presence of Jodie Foster in bride-o’-Christ drag, it’s too good to resist at least mentioning. Incredibly, Foster turned down the remake of Silence of the Lambs because the story was too ridiculous but accepted Altar Boys. According to press notes, a bunch of 8th-grade southern Catholic boys get caught drawing dirty comics about priests and nuns. When the school inexplicably insists they be punished, the little brats vow revenge against the “mean one-legged nun,” Sister Ascension (Foster), in charge. Hunky Vincent D’Onofrio adds inevitable queer spice as the coach of a boys’ soccer league, but Foster deserves camp canonization not only for playing what sounds like one of the most outlandish cinematic creations in recent memory, but also for thoughtfully introducing a new kind of queer icon for jaded viewers to worship.