Film | Nathaniel Rogers

Movies: Where are the New Gay Classics?

GAYBY (2012) is one of too few new gay releases


HAPPY GAY PRIDE EVERYONE! Hollywood isn't really celebrating, but we should.

This weekend's new cinema choices aren't so gay. Not to get all labelly but you can choose between an apocalyptic hetero romance (SEEKING A FRIEND AT THE END OF THE WORLD) or a new Woody Allen hetero romantic comedy (TO ROME WITH LOVE). Regarding the latter, it's worth noting that the Mayans were wrong and we'll live to see 2013. The only sure sign of the apocalypse would be a year without a new Woody Allen movie. A truth: He hasn't missed a single film year since 1981! Your other big multiplex choice this weekend is between an axe wielding US president (ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER) and a new Disney/Pixar Princess with a bow and arrow (BRAVE).

The latter two films sound gay at least. Secret Abraham Lincoln diaries unearthed? Yes! Finally the truth about his relationship with "personal friend" Joshua Fry Sp-- oh. It's about vampire hunting? Really? (Sigh). And it's not even funny but deadly earnest about it? Damn. Brave's heroine is Princess Merida, a tomboy who doesn't want to marry. That's closer. In more closeted olden times that would have qualified her as a latent lesbian icon (think Peppermint Patty's Marcie or Calamity "Secret Love" Jane) but given our rapid strides in the past two decades with actual lesbian icons, it's a stretch. Merida just isn't "ready" for marriage yet - give her a few years. Or a sequel.

 When will we see the next Great Gay Film? MORE AFTER THE JUMP...


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. 


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.

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  1. 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.

    Posted by: USC Trojan Fan | Jun 23, 2012 9:43:18 PM

  2. @ 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.

    Posted by: Steve Jonasen | Jun 23, 2012 9:50:21 PM

  3. 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.

    Posted by: Kurtcorter | Jun 23, 2012 10:23:31 PM

  4. *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?

    Posted by: Phoenix Justice | Jun 23, 2012 10:31:52 PM

  5. I loved The Wedding Banquet. Go rent it if you haven't seen it already. It's a lot of fun.

    Posted by: ROBERT K | Jun 23, 2012 10:56:30 PM

  6. 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.

    Posted by: Randy | Jun 23, 2012 11:29:39 PM

  7. 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.

    Posted by: Art Smith | Jun 23, 2012 11:32:51 PM

  8. I agree with Beginners. I don't know, that film was powerful and really brought out a lot in me and made me think.

    Posted by: Mark | Jun 23, 2012 11:33:35 PM

  9. 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.

    Posted by: IonMusic | Jun 23, 2012 11:35:21 PM

  10. 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.

    Posted by: Jacob T. | Jun 23, 2012 11:37:50 PM

  11. 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.

    Posted by: kyle Michel Sullivan | Jun 23, 2012 11:49:53 PM

  12. 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.

    Posted by: UFFDA | Jun 23, 2012 11:51:50 PM

  13. 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.

    Posted by: alex | Jun 24, 2012 1:28:13 AM

  14. 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.

    Posted by: Coasters | Jun 24, 2012 1:49:47 AM

  15. 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.

    Posted by: jason | Jun 24, 2012 2:18:10 AM

  16. YouTube is more GLBT-friendly than Hollywood.

    Posted by: jason | Jun 24, 2012 2:19:35 AM

  17. Hey EHRENSTEIN...ever made a movie? Thought so.

    Posted by: UFFDA | Jun 24, 2012 7:51:17 AM

  18. @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...

    Posted by: Autarchic | Jun 24, 2012 10:10:39 AM

  19. 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.

    Posted by: RJ | Jun 24, 2012 1:35:01 PM

  20. @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.

    Posted by: Phoenix Justice | Jun 24, 2012 2:26:08 PM

  21. 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

    Posted by: Brandon K. Thorp | Jun 24, 2012 2:27:38 PM

  22. @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.

    Posted by: jamal49 | Jun 24, 2012 3:11:06 PM

  23. 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:,_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.

    Posted by: kode | Jun 25, 2012 6:39:23 AM

  24. 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.

    Posted by: Oliver | Jun 25, 2012 10:18:30 AM

  25. 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.

    Posted by: SFshawn | Jun 25, 2012 12:08:18 PM

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