Review: Out at the Movies: The History of Gay Cinema

Over the decades, gay cinema has reflected the community’s journey from persecution to emancipation to acceptance. Politicised dramas like Victim in the 60s, The Naked Civil Servant in the 70s, and the AIDS cinema of the 80s have given way in recent years to films which celebrate a vast array of gay life-styles. Gay films have undergone a major shift, from the fringe to the mainstream and 2005’s Academy Awards were dubbed ”the Gay Oscars” with gongs going to Brokeback Mountain, Capote and Transamerica. Producers began clamouring to back gay-themed movies and the most high profile of these is Gus Van Sant s forthcoming MILK, starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the first prominent American political figure to be elected to office on an openly gay ticket back in the 70s. So loved was he that his brutal and homophobic assassination by ex-policeman Daniel White sparked the biggest riots in gay history.

The book also includes information on gay filmmakers and actors and their influence within the industry. Interspersed throughout the book are some of the most iconic scenes from gay cinema and the most memorable dialogue from key films.

With a foreword by Simon Callow.

Review by Erastes

I wouldn’t consider this as a research tool, it’s more like a box of chocolates. Rather than a weighty tome dealing with the subject on a serious level, it’s more a coffee-table decoration and one that lets you pick it up, delve inside and read their view.

Sadly, I didn’t find it a “history” rather than a rainbow coloured meander down a yellow brick road. And that is probably its aim–for a book to truly do justice to subject it would need to be about four times the length.

Despite a very lengthy foreword by Simon Callow I felt disappointed by this book for several reasons.  Many of the films I wouldn’t consider gay at all–but simply “films that have become favourites of gay men.” Films like Mildred Pierce are included, I assume, because Joan Crawford has become such a huge gay icon. But the film itself? Not gay in the absolute slightest. And “The Women” is listed–again, because of the performances and gay icons within and gay men love the film, but neither film is one I would consider to be “gay cinema.”

As well as films that were included–and many of which were awarded their “gay oscar ” accolade at theend–there were notable omissions–the main one being “The Celluloid Closet” which baffled me, unless it was consdered to be a rival. I feel it was an important enough film to at least be mentioned.

It’s an attractive book, with a beautiful layout, lush with photographs and I can’t fault it in that respect. Each era is nicely handled, and not one era is top heavy. It is certainly informative, I just don’t think that it’s as informative as it should be, given the title.

It strikes me like someone’s favourite list, and not a tome for serious study. But it depends what you are coming to this book for, I suppose. If you want a book you can flip through and read snippets about star gossip and what the author thinks gay men take from the “not gay” films–interspersed with actual gay movies, but missing several important films out entirely–then you’ll probably enjoy it. It’s probably suitable for leaving on your coffee table for your friends to leaf through, but if you want a concise book for research on the subject, don’t waste your money.

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2 Responses

  1. I’d imagine the omission of “The Celluloid Closet” was due to the fact that Vito Russo’s 1981 book upon which the film is based, was what this book was aspiring to be but fell short.

  2. A “just in case you haven’t seen it” comment about the directory The bent lens. Sadly now dated (2nd ed 2003) but extremely handy

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