Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Book Review: The Lavender Screen: The Gay and Lesbian Films--Their Stars, Makers, Characters,and Critics
Coming a little later this month I will be co-hosting a blogathon, the Gender-Bending the Rules Blogathon. Although I am an avowed heterosexual male, I am nevertheless interested in movies of any kind or stripe. I enjoyed the hell out of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I also liked To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, all of which have been reviewed elsewhere on this blog.
Homosexuals (men more than women, admittedly) had been a source of ridicule in film for most of the 20th century. That is when Hollywood even deigned to admit that a character was a homosexual. It must be noted that the Hays Code insured that for the most part that people of "aberrational" sexual attraction were basically verboten in film during the heyday of the Hays Code. And even when the movies included characters that were gay, there were often cast as the villain or were just the source of comic relief.
It is refreshing therefore to have a look at the history of movies in which gay men and women were at least nominally sympathetic characters. These are not movies that ridicule the gay community.
The Lavender Screen: The Gay and Lesbian Films--Their Stars, Makers, Characters,and Critics by Boze Hadleigh
From the beginning, Hadleigh covers a range of movies that dates back to the early 30's. The introduction includes a preface by a guy who was one of the actors in a silent epic, Salome', who claims that that movie featured an entire cast that was either gay or lesbian. From there the author segues into the first feature, a pre-Nazi era German movie called Madcen in Uniform.
Down through the years, Hadleigh touches upon such classics as Suddenly, Last Summer, The Killing of Sister George, and The Children's Hour as well more modern movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, The Birdcage, The Hunger, and Kiss of the Spider Woman.
He of course delves into movies that confront Aids. A movie I have garnered an interest in seeing, Longtime Companion, covers an entire decade of the lives of several gay couples as they deal with this devastating disease. Some more obscure movies, at least to me, are covered too with a loving but not altogether sycophantic eye (as should be if you are going to be classified as a critic).
There are a couple of issues that I had with the book, however. For one, Hadleigh quotes other contemporary reviews of movies, and one person he quotes often, early on, is John Simon. I always considered John Simon to be an obnoxious twit, and that was before I even saw any of his mostly homophobic reviews quoted herein. But then, maybe that was part of the point for Hadleigh to quote him.
The other issue was for Hadleigh to let his political viewpoint enter into the fray on occasion. OK, so Republicans don't particularly like the gay culture, we get that, but I hate being beat over the head with it, especially in a piece that is not supposed to be about politics (unless the movie is about the politics of the issue, that is.)
The book was first published in the early 90's and my copy was a second edition, published in 2001. As such, it misses out on 17 years more of movies, and a couple of comments are outdated. One especially apparent was Hadleigh's opining that a movie made on the story of Harvey Milk, the openly gay politician in San Francisco who was murdered back in the 70's would probably never get made. (It did, and Sean Penn even won the oscar for his portrayal of the politician).
I have already reviewed several of the movies contained in these pages, and now I have several more that are on the list to be reviewed in the future. Notably, for the aforementioned blogathon, I will be covering The Birdcage and Kiss of the Spider Woman. I have to admit Fellini's Satyricon probably won't end up here, however. Even without watching the movies, however, this is still an interesting read.