Movies: Where are the New Gay Classics?

It might sound old school in a "post gay" world to ask for films which so neatly fit the LGBT labels but given the newish cultural flexibility, shouldn't the movies be reflecting it? TV is trying harder but we need more gay or gayish films. On the Kinsey Scale Hollywood's movie studios are still pretending to be a "0". 

Gayby-posterAre there new gay films on the horizon? It seems like every time you hear of one it's indefinitely delayed. Remember when Ellen Page was going to star in the feature version of that Oscar winning lesbian documentary Freeheld? It still hasn't gone before cameras. Remember when actresses as high profile as Gwyneth Paltrow, Charlize Theron, and Nicole Kidman were attached (at one point or another) to the transgendered period piece The Danish Girl

There's is at least one brand new gay ticket. Jonathan Lisecki's buzzy and reportedly very funny GAYBY (2012), which I haven't yet had time to see, is hitting screens this weekend in New York for Pride and will hopefully emerge in more venues as the summer progresses. But otherwise if you want gay cinema right now, your best bet is to reach back into the classic vaults over at Focus Features. 

Brokeback Mountain (2005), the crown jewel of modern gay cinema, is obviously the headliner in Focus Feature's current "10 YEARS OF CELEBRATING PRIDE" feature. Among Hollywood's mini-major studios, Focus has a great deserved reputation for supporting high quality LGBT movies and the careers of gay directors (Todd Haynes, Lisa Cholodenko) or gay-friendly directors like Brokeback Mountain's Ang Lee. Lee's US breakthrough, a full decade before Brokeback, was the gay-themed Oscar nominee The Wedding Banquet. There's only one week left in Gay Pride month but you can screen several Focus films on On Demand for another week and the Focus Features gay classics are also available at iTunes.

The film they're pushing most heavily is the newish Loose Cannons (2010) from the prolific Turkish/Italian director Ferzan Ozpetek who has made a number of gay themed features recently. This one is about the closeted gay son and heir to a conservative Pasta empire. He really just wants to be a writer. I won't spoil the flim's early twist that prevents him from coming out as he's planned but it took me by surprise. Elsewhere the film is far more predictable though still enjoyable. It's indisputably "light" but it has a good heart which is too rare in movies — even the homophobic characters are viewed with compassion despite the laughs the movie has at their ignorant histrionics. It also has good fun with the clichéd tropes it clings to like a Birdcage like setpiece where the lead's visiting gay BFFs try to pass as straight. 

Loosecannons

Among Focus' more familiar titles are Best Picture Oscar nominees like Brokeback Mountain (2005), Milk (2008) and The Kids Are All Right (2010), magnificent art pieces like Far From Heaven (2002) and smaller lesser seen lesbian titles like My Summer of Love (2004) – one of Emily Blunt's first and best screen roles – and last year's excellent indie Pariah (2011) which I've raved about right here on Towleroad

Here's a peek at Focus Features' decade-long gift-giving to LGBT moviegoers. 

If you've seen all of Focus Features gay treasures, Netflix has a number of terrific still underseen or underdiscussed gay films on their Instant Watch service: The touching Swedish romance Show Me Love (2000) about two high school girls; the erotic and thrilling Argentine crime film Burnt Money (2001); The intimate peek at drag ball culture in Paris is Burning (1991) which is only one of the best gay documentaries of all time; Yossi & Jagger (2002) a wonderfully brief but impactful Israeli feature about two soldiers in love (that's just spawned a sequel, in fact); the religious ethical angst of Priest (1995) starring a great Linus Roache is still powerful; (André Téchiné's The Witnesses (2007) about the first days of the AIDS crisis in France; and even Ang Lee's aforementioned breakthrough The Wedding Banquet (1993) about a closeted gay man's struggle with his visiting family's marital expectations for him. That's but a small sampling.

Just think how far we've come. If a gay movie were released in 2012 called The Wedding Banquet everyone would assume it was a comedy about gay marriage. Now if only Hollywood would propose to us on bended knee with a slew of great new big-ticket LGBT films.

Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

Comments

  1. alex says

    We are a small minority. Expecting mainstream Hollywood to spend tens of millions to produce and market a gay movie that has a limited market will only lead to disappointment. Some will cry homophobia. While homophobia certainly is in play, the truth is that Hollywood is a business. It’s hard to fault a for-profit company for choosing to make a hetero romantic comedy because the potential return on investment is much higher than for a gay version.

    Every minority group wants to see themselves represented in mainstream movies. Instead of complaining that Hollywood doesn’t enough gay movies, I’d argue that we are better off than other groups. How many movies prominently feature Native Americans? Methodists? First generation immigrants?

  2. CDMatthew says

    Nathaniel….Glad to see the mention of Gayby, which I just recently saw at the Provincetown Film Festival, and it is a riot. Very fast-paced, witty dialogue (I hear a Preston Sturges influence in Lisecki’s writing), excellent actors having a wonderful time together, and up-to-the-minute themes handled with a light touch. Please see this movie, and please continue to talk it up…..it definitely deserves to be seen by a wider audience than just the film fest bubble.

    Thanks,

    CDMatthew in Boston

  3. benjamin says

    Stop the asinine references to Mayans and the apocalypse…there was never any mention about the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar, just the end of an age. The apocalypse is a western fiction.

    Oh, and what about reaching way back to My Beautiful Launderette; still far better than most of the crap about gay life done today, and doesn’t fall back on the use of cliches or stereotypes.

  4. bcarter3 says

    The female lead in “Gaybe” is Jenn Harris, who is absolutely wonderful playing Clarice Starling in “Silence! The Musical”, which will be running in NYC through summer. “Silence” and “Xanadu” are the 2 funniest shows I’ve seen this year.

  5. Kurtcor says

    Alex,

    You are what breeds the bigotry. Your apologist excuse making mentality is what gets us under represented. You’re nothing short of an apologist…own it!

  6. IonMusic says

    @ ALex

    BULLSH*T!

    There’s MILLIONS of gays raising children, MILLIONS more in relationships, and MILLIONS more who are openly, proudly gay. This idea that because there’s not “as many of us” as others so we need to sit on the back of the bus is pure unadultered bigotry. There’s plenty of us. There’s not as many black/latino folks as there are white, yet they certainly are represented in vast spectrums. We’re not asking for films devoted to just being gay, but our story NEEDS to be told. It’s a rich story full of triumph, struggle, and education.

  7. says

    Alex,

    By your logic, why should we even want to attain ANY amount of progress? There’s a homeless, albino, transexual, in a wheel chair who has it worse than us. Instead of seeking to find our place in the table (after we’ve continually get rejected) we should just let everyone in line before us and consider how hard others have it. That’s not how progress works. One group attaining equality and visibility is not at the expense of another group, nor does our advancement in film/television damper the ability for said other groups to advance themselves. That you would even go there showcases you’re own bias against LGBT. Hope you work on that.

  8. Steve Jonasen says

    Alex- I disagree with you on so many levels that there really isn’t enough chalk to express it all. We’ll never be as prominent as straight individuals, but we’re still here, we’re still a reality of life, and reality coupled with entertainment is what Hollywood aims to expose. We’re just as much part of daily life as any other pairing, and to overlook that is a complete pretense to portraying human lives and human emotions. Hollywood has always been ahead in leading the social acceptance and displaying the social minority. We should be no exception. Our relationships deserve the same lvel of respect and exposure as any other, and we certainly will fight tooth & nail to bring our presence in the limelight. You can make excuses for it while the rest of us actively work to see ourselves as more of the same

  9. MJ says

    @ ALEX

    Because first generation immigrants can’t get married? because they have people protesting they’ll burn in hell at their funerals? because Native Americans today are fired from their jobs if their employer so much suspects them of being Native American (and it’s legal for the employer to do that)? LGBT endure a form of discrimination *NO* other minority group today can claim in terms of social HATE, legislative injustice and lack of representation. We will fight those areas with great passion; including our lack of representation, and unapologetically so. We have no reason to hide or be hidden because the majority can’t sympathize with our tale. The argument that “there is someone who has it worse than you…deal!” is a very calculating, disturbing and homophobic tactic to make a group of opressed folks complacent. I’m glad it’s being called out and exposed for what it is on here. No more…get on the back of the bus. GLBT today have far more self respect than that.

  10. CHRISTOPHER ALLEN HORTON says

    IN ANY GENRE, I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THIS TREND OF MAKING WORKS OF ART WHICH ARE TEN OR FIFTEEN YEARS OLD OR LESS, “CLASSICS.” AS FAR AS I AM CONCERNED, HOMOSEXUALS ONLY HAVE TWO CLASSIC FILMS – “Making Love” (WITH, Michael Ontkean) AND “Rocky Horror…”

    CHRISTOPHER ALLEN HORTON

  11. CHRISTOPHER ALLEN HORTON says

    CORRECTION – I JUST THOUGHT ABOUT Prospect Theatre’s PRODUCTION (1970) OF, Edward II (WITH, Sir Ian McKellen).

    CHRISTOPHER ALLEN HORTON

  12. Heut says

    I absolutely agree with the sentiment that we need our stories heard, our message told, and our faces seen in mass media and movies. Movies are what shape the mental construction and mediate that exposure for a great part of the population. In an age where our gay youth feel their futures are not inspiring and feel unmotivated to go on, we have a duty as adult LGBTs to lay the ground work for them to be able to identify with a gay character in a movie. And relate to a gay storyline in a film, and be inspired and motivated. They deserve that much and certainly are worth it. The gay dollar and gay tenacity travels far enough to ensure that will happen. And should.

  13. Kevin Mendoza says

    Sharing a gay story, with gay character developement is just as amazing and should be considered by Hollywood. Unfortunately, we don’t have that many gay story lines being shared. We’re a riveting people with riveting struggles and lives that people would be both entertained by and inspired by.

  14. NYNiceDude says

    We’re not asking for mass films just about gays, Alex. Having gay roles, gay characters and gay plots within straight films will do just fine. We’re not the ones asking to be the central character, but we should have characters where the 30 MILLION + LGBTQ individuals in this country can relate to.

  15. jaragon says

    Yeah what happened to all the gay mainstream films that were going to follow “Brokeback Mountain”? I think there will always be gay indie films-major studio movies have become so expensive that I doubt they would risk it on a big budget gay story- meanwhile we have the two gay supporting clowns in “Rock of Ages” which is not as horrendous as I feared- well the big strip club production number was terrible-Cruise is fine but the two juvenile leads can’t carry the picture- the story is really about them.

  16. RilesRay says

    There’s plenty of characters and roles where demographics who “Aren’t the majority” are still represented. Weak argument. I agree with the many commentators that state that gaysneed to be better represented by Hollywood.

  17. Doug Collins says

    It’s interesting because if you google The Golden Girls and gay, there were so manyyyy shows in the golden girls devoted to gay characters, gay stories, and even marriage equality! Entire shows devoted to gay men being able to marry. That was in the late 80s. Watching films from the 80s and 90s, there were many, many movies and shows that touched on being gay. Today, because of the Christian taliban, I feel in many ways we’ve regressed. That Ellen Degeneres getting a job with JCPennys would create such outrage, or Chaz Bono being on a DANCING SHOW would make Christian Taliban parents protest means we’ve got a lot to do, and fight back, and be visibile. They can’t win this fight, and making us go hide in a closet is them winning the fight.

  18. J. James says

    @Eric26

    Gay people do enough “thinking about other people” gay people are afterall, the one group of people who infact think SO much about other people that they are willing to lead a lie, be closeted, be shamed in who they are, and reject being gay…ALLLL because they think about “other people”

  19. says

    J.James for the win! One of the best come back arguments (and perfectly stated) I’ve seen on here.

    Gay people don’t spend ENOUGH time thinking about their own advancements. That’s really a far more honest and accurate argument.

  20. Steve Jonasen says

    @ Eric26

    LGBT are in a most fragile time to solidify their place in a world that stones them, hangs them and a country where elected officials compare them to pedophilia. We are the most opressed by a land slide. We are also not the charity case for every sample of population. Each group has a responsibility to prioritize themselves first in a battle, and gays have been cornered to fight a war. Sorry that in that quest to attain some form of equality, equality that other said groups already have -BUILT IN- we don’t put everyone else’s needs before ours. Actually, I take that back. I’m not sorry. When LGBT are at an equally playing field as other disenfranchised groups, then we’ll consider taking time and resources away from our plight to win everyone else’s battle. Until then, we’re busy taking loaded guns out of the hands of our gay youth in America who get kicked out of their homes by their families for just being gay.
    Gay people attending their needs and issues being a threat to you speaks volumes on where you stand. Now step aside, you’re in our way.

  21. Kurtcorter says

    Huh? Gays wanting more gay plots in various form on cinema is them not thinking enough about other people? What a gross ploy to get gay people to feel guilty for seeking their place in the world. Just as Latinos care about Latino rights, and Jews care about the advancement of Jews, and the thousands of organizations devoted for black rights and justices…gays need their leaders and cause galvanized as well, and should make absolutely no apologies for it. To even make this conversation about gay movies stray to how gays need to just shut up and think about other groups is my definition of homophobia.
    “How dare hispanics talk about immigration rights? don’t they know about gays and how gays are suffering?”
    I love how gays have to be the ones to first and always put their needs aside to comfort everyone else. No thanks, we did that for centuries when we stayed closeted.

  22. says

    *sigh*

    No mention of A Beautiful Thing, Get Real, Edge of Seventeen, Like It Is or Latter Days.

    Why is it that so many think the snore of a movie, Brokeback Mountain is so great? Maybe the same reason people actually like Woody Allen movies?

  23. Randy says

    I just recently saw Gayby and thought it was very entertaining. Also, I saw a movie called Elliot Loves and it was really original and had amazing performances. It sure is a candidate for a new gay classic.
    It seems like Hollywood is just not very interested in seeing gay stories being told, especially when they show two gay men. The reality is studio executives are mostly straight men who are interested in seeing stories that are familiar to them or to their teenage selves.

  24. says

    BEGGINERS was a brilliant film full of emotion, raw…genuine..sincere emotion, EVERY gay person can relate to. Christopher Plummer won an Oscar/GoldenGlobe/Sag/EVERY single award last year for his role as an aging gay man who comes out of the closet. The film was inspiring, touching, moving, motivating and beautiful. I advise LGBT to go rent it.

  25. IonMusic says

    What Beginners did for me is respect the struggles of the gay men and women who came before us, and inspire me to give back to my community. It was heart wrenching to see that gay men were forced to lead double lives. Yes, forced back then. And to now have a moment to experience what self acceptance is. It really was a lovely film, and the acting and even that irresitable dog made for magic on camera.

  26. Jacob T. says

    I want to see MILK very bad, but between being recently kicked out of my home from my own family for being gay (I’m 19) and feeling really vulnerable. I just don’t know if I can handle it. I’ve been meaning to see it, but am scared it will bring out too many emotions.

  27. kyle Michel Sullivan says

    I think a lot of it has to do with the crappy gay films that keep getting made. Done on the cheap with gratuitous full frontal nudity and insipid storylines. Most of the actors are second rate, with notable exceptions like Chad Allen and Charlie David, or are played by “straight” actors who try to make sure everyone knows they’re really into girls so they can play romantic leads. I’ve tried to watch so many of today’s gay movies…and they fall flat for me or are just insulting to my intelligence (tho’ that’s a complaint that could be leveled at 99% of Hollywood’s output). If we want good quality projects, we have to do them ourselves. Back them ourselves. Be willing to take risks ourselves. And support them, ourselves.

  28. UFFDA says

    JACOB – hang in there babe, we want you to live and live well and although I can’t think of their names just yet there are organizations who want to help you, and lots of individuals as well. People care and it’s worth the effort to find them. Keep us posted here by telling us how you feel about various things. Best to you.

  29. alex says

    I read the article as lament that there aren’t “a slew of great new big-ticket LGBT films”. To me, mainstream, “big-ticket” films are ones produced big studios…not their smaller subsidiaries. From that perspective, I stand by my comments. It’s a business decision that is unlikely to change.

    Note that I never said I think this is good or that I didn’t wish things were different. I merely pointed out the economic reality of the movie business.

  30. Coasters says

    We most definitely need more filsm geared toward an LGBT angle, and I would hope those many LGBT working in Hollywood can work to help make that happen. It’s not impossible. Everything is possible, everything -right- should happen. And in this front, we shall continue to see advancements made while continuing to strive for even more advancements.

  31. jason says

    Face it – Hollywood doesn’t like the GLBT’s. It’s very conservative up top where the financial decisions are made. In fact, it’s one of the most conservative places you’d find anywhere in America.

    Hollywood only wants us making costumes and putting make-up on their starlets. It wants us to be its enablers. Well, guess what? I’m sick and tired of being its enabler.

    Memo to Hollywood: we aren’t going to watch any of your movies from now on. We’ll bad-mouth them and minimize your box office.

  32. Autarchic says

    @PHOENIX

    THANK YOU for mentioning BEAUTIFUL THING!!

    It’s the first film I think of when looking for a “Gay Classic”.

    Funny, excrutiatingly painful, magical and hopeful. Precisely what I look for in a “classic” that attempts to document the struggle of our “collective” lives.

    It continues to live on my Top 10 list of films…

  33. RJ says

    People (especially IONMUSIC) jumping on Alex need to give their heads a shake. He’s 100% correct – Hollywood is not going to fund a major motion film just to lose money. They are not going to gamble several million dollars on the possibility that *every* member of a select minority will spend one dollar to see the film, no matter how ‘important’ it is for minorities to become visible.

    By all means, get political, and be upset on how social issues aren’t important enough motivators for capitalists to simply throw away money over. If you don’t feel like being realistic, I’m sure that behaviour will placate your sore and tired sense of outrage. Alex’s point is still sound, and inaccurately calling him an apologist for giving a sound and accurate assessment only diminishes the importance of the term ‘apologist’. The capitalists who ultimately decide film production have one interest, capital – and no amount of societal guilt is going to change that – and the LGBT minority isn’t going to generate the capital returns they’d want.

    If you want to make The Greatest Movie In History (That Happens To Be Gay), then start a goddamned IndieGoGo for it, and see what the interest is. I’m serious, do this now. I really think you need reality to set in, to ever look at this realistically and objectively, and the only way for that to happen is to have LGBT people break your hearts with an <$25000 donation.

  34. says

    @Autarchic – You are welcome. It is my favorite gay themed movie so far. I loved it so much, I paid full price 7 times to see at the Tivoli Theater in Kansas City. I still get it on Netflix about twice a year just to watch it again.

  35. Brandon K. Thorp says

    Jacob T.:

    Sorry to hear about your troubles. How you doing?

    Everybody else:

    I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned “Lilies,” the Canadian film from 1996. It’s not just one of the great, underrated gay films of all time — it’s one of the all-time great, underrated films in any genre. From its concept (bizarre!) to its aesthetic (lush!), its writing (poetry!) to its acting (freaking peerless!), it’s very nearly perfect. Watch it. You’ll cry, you’ll giggle stupidly, you’ll make your friends watch it and they’ll thank you forever.

    – BKT

  36. jamal49 says

    @ALEX you have a point, kind of. But, it’s not a question of whose minority status is larger than the other. It’s a question of commerce. Whatever sells is what gets produced in Hollywood. These are the days of blockbuster films, dazzling in their special effects but empty in the depth of their narrative. But, this is what the public wants: mindless entertainment with lights and whistles and not much more.

    There are enough wealthy gay individuals who could start a production company and finance “gay” films but to what end if the films are not going to draw in audiences. It would have to be one helluva well-written screenplay with a universal theme that gays and straights could relate to if such a film were to get produced.

    Strange though that some lament the alleged lack of gay films this year. Guess they haven’t visited TLAVideo’s website where there a dozens of releases to DVD/Blue Ray that are entirely gay-themed. Which is great, but creates a gay-film ghetto.

    I’d rather see films with strong, gay characters and lots of other people in an integrated plot than just a film with a solely “gay” theme.

    Someone needs to talk to David Geffen or Michael Lucas (as repugnant as he is) since they seem to have all the money that might finance more gay-themed films.

  37. kode says

    There really aren’t that many good quality gay films made, even though there are quite a lot low quality ones.

    To me the ultimate gay classic is probably Maurice, which I love. Close to it comes Priest (a British film from 1994). My Own Private Idaho is great, too. From the newer ones some of my favourites are Urbania, Burnt Money, Brokeback Mountain. A french film, which might be a bit difficult to understand, but really powerful in its beauty and harshness is Presque Rien (Come Undone in the US). I was a bit apprehensive to see Weekend at first but I finally did last week and what can I say: it is a gay classic.

    There’s huge list of gay films at Wikipedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lesbian,_gay,_bisexual_or_transgender-related_films

    although of course not all of them are classic-material. Personally I’ve lived without love and in the closet most of my life and gay films have shown me things that I miss so much. Some films, like Maurice, set my mind free for some time, and I’m ever grateful for that.

  38. Oliver says

    Alex is right. How many major studios have released movies aimed at African-Americans, Latinos, or Asians? Very few or none. Studios are very conservative. There may be lots of gays working there but they aren’t producing gay-themed movies because they don’t see the profit potential.

    Movies targeting minorities are mostly coming from independent filmmakers.

    Tyler Perry became a millionaire because he created product for an underserved market.

  39. SFshawn says

    The original “Life and Times of Harvey Milk” 1986 is a much more powerful movie to watch and more accurate from a historical perspective then the Sean Penn Hollywood remake. See it if you get the chance. So worth it.

  40. says

    WHAT ABOUT “OUT-OF-MAINSTREAM” FILMS? Check out German and French films: “Summerstorm” “Guys and Balls” both quite “appropriate” for straight audiences. And, oh what joy!!! Also “Regular Guys” (German) – fantastic fun to watch. Good film for “straight” audiences with no hangups – is – “Times Have Been Better” (French) beautiful characters – especially the mother. Laughs galore, fun, heart warming. By the way, have we forgotten “Parting Glances” ? I saw this movies first run at a multiplex theatre in West Hollywood – with a straight audience. British – “Get Real” “Beautiful Thing” – Italian – “His Secret Life” (Il Fate Ignorante – “the Ignorant Fairy” – filled with all kinds of beautiful, caring, working-for-the good people and what a score! Instead of complaining, why don’t you guys and gals get together for a DVD film festival. Several more films come to mind! DO YOUR RESEARCH.

  41. TrueWords says

    The best gay themed movie in the last 10 years was C.R.A.Z.Y

    There are five boys in the Beaulieu family — Christian, Raymond, Antoine, Zachary and Yvan. But Zac (played by Emile Vallee and Marc-Andre Grondin) is the only one who’s gay. That’s why growing up in Montreal alongside his heterosexual brothers and his strict, emotionally distant father (Michel Cote) proves especially challenging for the blossoming outsider, who finds solace in the music of Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie.

    TRAILER:

    WATCH THE ENTIRE FILM HERE:

    If you have Netflix you can watch it here:

    http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/C.R.A.Z.Y./70051094?trkid=2361637

    REVIEWS:

    http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/crazy/

  42. Yen Torch says

    We need the spotlight on our story …LGBT has so many magical stories to tell. There CAN be a profit made. We need someone to give us a well written script, characters and actors and it can generate as much positive thrill as Broke Back Mountain. We need to support our own.

  43. Stefan says

    Geez, what a bunch of over-reactive people. Alex did not say that we should not have gay themed movies. He did not say anything against the advancement of gay rights. Everything he said was simply fact and not about being an apologist. The highest grossing film that told a specifically gay/bisexual story was Brokeback Mountain at $178 million worldwide, and part of that formula involved downplaying the gay sexual content, having two straight guys as the leads which is more titillating but also more acceptable (“it’s two men acting, not two gays kissing”), having female nudity during hetero sex scenes, and being awards-worthy. Honestly, based on how Hollywood has treated our story lines so far (indulging in stereotype or sanitizing our experience or romance to the point of it being unrecognizable) I’d say it’s pretty obvious that we’ll never have a “gay Hollywood classic.” We’ll have what straight people are comfortable in thinking is a gay film, because then a movie will have a much bigger revenue upside.

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