fbpx

Tag: Queer Film

Editorials, How Film Changed Me

How Film Changed Me: On Sex Scenes

November 1, 2020

There is nothing that emphasises a dry spell more than your upstairs neighbours having near-pornographic sounding sex at 7am on a Thursday. It’s incredibly tricky when that dry spell is government-enforced. In May, the government in the Netherlands told single men and women they should organise a “sex buddy” if they wanted to enjoy physical contact during lockdown. They asked people to consider their sexual partners based on how many other people they might see and plan the safest way to meet up for a shag. Going through someone’s social calendar and organising which position you’ll be in based on how likely it would be to transmit an airborne virus is not precisely foreplay though, is it? 

As for in the UK, the government offered no such suggestion – although,  having Chris Whitty or Boris Johnson dictating the specifics of my sex life would kill what little libido I have left – and thus, we were told we wouldn’t hug a stranger until 2021. So whether it was organising a sex buddy with the precision of a NASA Space Launch or being forced into celibacy by government restrictions, for most single people, sex has become, well, unsexy. 

This has become increasingly harder to deal with when watching movies with sex scenes. The touching, the kissing, the licking, the panting, the sweat; all of which feel both dangerous and off-limits now. Recently, I watched Matt Bomer and Andrew Rannell’s get it on in Joe Mantello’s The Boys in the Band remake. It’s only for a few seconds, but the two beautiful men kiss, drenched in sweat and passion, and all I could think was they’re definitely not six feet apart. I couldn’t find it hot (which objectively it was) because all I could think of was all the germs that might be passed around in their hot breath. 

The Boys in the band
The Boys in the Band (Credit: Picturehouse Entertainment.)

The pandemic has made sex unsexy and has made even watching sex scenes tough because it requires a physical closeness that most of us fear now. We can’t be near people, but when we see actors on screen, in movies filmed sometime last year, getting too close, it’s hard to un-train the brain to not panic at the sight of their touching. 

As Raven Smith noted in Vogue earlier this week, it’s not only the closeness but also the current climate stopping us from “feelings super-duper horny” these days. News of Trump, Brexit, Boris Johnson, death tolls, tiered lockdown systems, social unrest, racism, violence, and corruption are not exactly subjects that lead to being turned on. It’s hard to spend all day on Zoom taking in news updates, and rumours of impending lockdowns, and still have the mental capacity for sex – if the option is still available to you. Plus, any sex scenes I watch just serve to mock me. Not only because I wince at the touching but because they say to me: Look at all the fun you could have been having if you weren’t in the throes of a major historical event. 

Disobedience (Credit: Curzon Artificial Eye. )

I used to see sex scenes as a marker of boldness, especially in queer cinema. Whether that was Jake Gyllenhaal bottoming on a stomach full of baked beans, or Taron Edgerton, as Elton John, getting into bed with Richard Madden, it often signified a film’s willingness to “go there”. Was the filmmaker unafraid of alienating a straight audience by showing queer sex? Rachel Wiess spitting in Rachel McAdams mouth in Disobedience, Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu rolling round in the mud in God’s Own Country, or the sandy-handy on the beach in Moonlight set them apart from the “straight-friendly” LGBTQ+ movies that tried to toe the line. 

I hope, soon, I can return to that mindset. One in which I’m excited by sex scenes again and take pride in the unabashed sexiness. In fact, I’m just as keen to enjoy sex scenes as I am literal sex. Still, as my neighbours taught me at 7am last Thursday, not everyone is in the same boat.

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On the Value of Youth


Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Editorials

‘Birds of Prey’ & the Curse of Being Casually Queer

February 22, 2020

I’ve been burned before. The promise of queer representation dangled, cruelly, in front of me before it’s swiftly pulled away and edited out for China. Routinely, we’ve seen big studios get a lot of press by announcing the first ‘gay character’ in their particular franchise. It happened with Star Trek Beyond, Independence Day: ResurgenceBeauty and The BeastAlien: CovenantFantastic Beasts: The Crimes of GrindlewaldAvengers: Endgame, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to name a few. First, a fuss is made in the gay media and mainstream news, people on Twitter cry that ‘WOKE PC CULTURE IS RUINING CINEMA’, and then the film comes out and… well, it was all for nothing. There’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kisses, hand brushing, suggestive looks, or single lines (or worse, jokes) that simply hint at a character’s sexuality. It all passes you by so discreetly that most people don’t even notice.  

In some ways Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) does better. Sure, it approaches the bisexuality of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn with an easy-to-miss millisecond in the film’s opening animation and the much-talked-about relationship between villains Black Mask and Victor Zsasz (played by Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina, respectively) is nothing to write home about (even if Zasaz’s bleach-blond dye-job screams ‘gay man in distress’.) All that being said, it does have Renee Montoya, played by Rosie Perez; a jaded queer cop with a penchant for speaking in 80s cop clichés. It’s revealed, in voice-over, that Montoya has an ex-girlfriend (played by Ali Wong) who works for the DA in Gotham. Montoya is far more rounded and substantially queer than anyone in those movies mentioned above but it still doesn’t quite feel like enough. I’ve seen countless muscled white dudes kissing different skinny white women in almost every superhero film ever. I’ve seen men and women, in all kinds of romantic scenarios, kissing while they run from volcanoes, spaceships, or supervillains. I was even recently subjected to Rey and Kylo Ren’s horrendously odd kiss in The Rise of Skywalker. It’s all there, right in your face, all the time. So why, when it comes to LGBTQ+ characters, does it all feel so, well, casual? 

Birds of Prey
Birds of Prey / Warner Bros. Pictures.

Whether it’s categorised as queerbaiting or seen as studios trying to ‘toe the line’ for the elusive and hard to define ‘Middle America’, it always comes down to money. If not for those in ‘the middle of the country’ then the problem is outsourced to other countries, like Malaysia or China, who won’t spend their hard-earned cash on LGBTQ+ content. It seems the big studios, and those in charge of franchises, want to have their Queer Cake and eat it too. A little deniable queerness please, they say, but not too much that it might genuinely mean anything. Mass appeal is the driving force but ultimately that means that queer people, who are so used to watching straight folks copulate on screen, get a whole lot of nothing.

LGBTQ+ relationships, romances, and experiences are frequently side-lined in this system. They’re never central to a film’s plot so it can be recut and still make sense. But what is the overall effect? A feeling of being second-class to heterosexuality? A lack of worth? When queer characters exist on the fringes, in fleeting moments, in the subtext, it sends a message: these stories, these people, are not worth the airtime compared to their straight counterparts. I mean, the most prominent TV show of the last decade, Game of Thrones, featured a substantial amount of straight sibling-on-sibling action. How does incest play in ‘the middle of the country’ I wonder? A whole lot better than a two-second gay kiss, I guess.

Is there hope for the future? Who can say? Patty Jenkins has been spotted filming scenes featuring the ‘Silence = Death’ protest signs for her upcoming Wonder Woman 1984 and Kevin Feige has promised an LGBTQ+ character in The Eternals, a story about God-like entities from space. While recent Oscar-winner Taki Waititi has teased that Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie will finally take flight as a fully-fledged, and explicitly acknowledged, bisexual woman in Thor: Love & Thunder.

Everybody's Talking About Jamie
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie / (20th Century Fox/Twitter)

But hope, well hope is a dangerous thing for a queer like me to have. These promises, the big studios waving their rainbow flags on the horizon, don’t inspire much trust. I know we have Ryan Murphy on Netflix with his adaption of Boys in the Bandfeaturing an all-gay cast of actors. We also have Murphy’s grander adaption of the Broadway musical The Prom, with a (mostly straight) all-star cast including Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Keegan-Michael Key, and Kerry Washington to name a few. Actual real-life queer woman Kirsten Stewart is also set to star in a Thanksgiving-themed lesbian Rom-Com from Clea Duvall, and Britain promises to unveil its film adaption of the drag based musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie this Autumn but who can say how big any of these films will hit. It doesn’t feel obtuse to suggest that it won’t be on the level of any major franchise.

At the 2020 Independent Spirit Awards, a clip of the Gay Men’s Choir of Los Angeles singing about ‘The Gayest Moments in Other Films You May Not Have Realised Were Gay’ went viral. Its appreciation of the queer lens, of Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers and Laura Dern’s entire career was funny, accurate, and unmistakably the product of Gay Twitter. Even so, it was a little sad to think that so many queer people are, out of necessity, watching and claiming things that weren’t made with them in mind. Of course, there is power in reclamations, in queering the narrative, in forcing yourself into a place that didn’t consider you and making it your own, but it shouldn’t have to be that way every time LGBTQ+ people watch a blockbuster. Will that ever change? I’m not holding my breath.

Also Read: Where Are All The Young Moviegoers?

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Editorials

The Best LGBTQ+ Films of the Decade (2010 – 2019)

December 12, 2019

If the 1990s gave us New Queer Cinema, and the 2000s gave us mainstream successes, like Brokeback Mountain (2005), then what did we find in the 2010s? There was, of course, more mainstream entries like Love, Simon (2018) or Dallas Buyers Club (2013). There was the return, whether we liked it or not, of Queer Eye (aptly dropping ‘For The Straight Guy’ from its title) which showed that LGBTQ+ centric content was on the minds of studio executives but that maybe they were still making the same mistakes.  

However, a dominant swell of independent cinema (sometimes called New-Wave Queer Cinema) that took on identity, the intersection between sexuality and race, homophobia, our collective history, the AIDS epidemic, sex, and so much more came to the forefront. Yes, LGBTQ+ independent film left few stones unturned over the past ten years as it portrayed varied and nuanced experiences. Even so, there is still a significant lack of representation of disabled LGBTQ+ folk, as well representation of trans folk and people of colour is still substantially lower than it should be which will hopefully change in the decade to come.

These films from the past 10 years grappled the challenging decade it has been and found hope, anger, and desire in the process. Here are some of the highlights…


Pariah‘, dir. Dee Rees (2011) 

Focus Features: 2011

Dee Rees’ has become one to watch over this past decade, with her work on HBO’s Bessie and Netflix’s Mudbound, her hazy and fresh style landed her an adaption of Joan Didion’s The Last Thing He Wanted (scheduled for release next year). But it all began with Pariah, adapted from her earlier short film, it is a story of a teenager in Brooklyn navigating identity, first love, and familial pressures. 


Weekend‘, dir. Andrew Haigh (2011) 

Peccadillo Pictures: 2011

In this early indie hit, Russell and Glen men meet at a bar and go home together. Over the following days the two battle with the idea of commitment, monogamy, intimacy, and love in Andrew Haigh’s debut film that is simple, subtle, and modern with a mixture of pathos and joy. 


Stranger by the Lake‘, dir. Alain Guiraudie (2013)

Les films du losange: 2013

A French sexual thriller that dared to be bold and vivid, the film utilised graphic portrayals of sex and violence. The film revolves around a murder in a prime cruising spot and a sexual relationship that is complex and dangerous, passionate and risky. Featuring stark nudity, rising tension, and gorgeous cinematography, Stranger by the Lake is a sultry and dangerous ride. 


Tangerine‘, dir. Sean Baker (2015)

Magnolia Pictures: 2015

A genuinely original independent production shot entirely on iPhones, Tangerine is a brash, bold, and initiative film filled with humour and struggle. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor star as two sex workers looking for an ex-boyfriend on Christmas Eve in LA, and their performances are deeply grounded and light up the screen with a flurry of energy and presence. Also, it’s the best queer Christmas movie to date!


Carol‘, dir. Todd Haynes (2015)

The Weinstein Company: 2015

The slow, cold, burn of Todd Hayne’s Carol whipped people into a frenzy in 2015. The adaptation of famed lesbian author Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, the film saw Cate Blanchett’s housewife fall for Rooney Mara’s sensitive shop-girl in a wildly cinematic romance that could put classic cinema to shame. 


In Between‘, dir. Maysaloun Hamoud (2016)

Peccadillo Pictures: 2016

The story of three women who share a flat in Tel-Aviv who have to navigate their conservative families and the cultural divide. One that leaves them influenced by the West but living in the Middle East – a situation that brings into question things like religion, sexual violence, tradition, sexuality, and female kinship. The director, Maysaloun Hamoud, had a fatwa issued against her for her frank depictions of sexuality, drugs, and womanhood.


Moonlight‘, dir. Barry Jenkins (2016) 

A24: 2016

Taking the Best Picture Oscar at the 89th Academy Awards, Moonlight cemented itself into cinematic history. The film explored queer longing and desire from the black masculine perspective in a way that was tender with cinematography that firmly placed male beauty and black men at its centre.


120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)‘, dir. Robin Campillo (2017)

Memento Films: 2017

Boldly political and deeply enthralling, Beats Per Minute follows the Parisian branch of ACT UP in the 1980’s as they fight for visibility and recognition. It’s an elegy for the people who were lost and visceral protest for them too. Enthrallingly rich, sexual, personal, and queer BPM is queer cinema at its most perfect. 


A Fantastic Woman‘, dir. Sebastian Lelio (2017)

Sony Pictures Classics: 2017

Sebastian Lelio brings his hazy glow to the story of Marina (Daniela Vega), a waitress and nightclub singer, who is grieving the loss of her boyfriend while also facing suspicion from the police that she was involved in his death. Vega’s performance is one of the best this decade with nuance and anger rolled into a mish-mash of jubilation and sadness.


God’s Own Country‘, dir. Francis Lee (2017)

Picturehouse Entertainment: 2017

Set in the Yorkshire countryside, Francis Lee’s protagonists find romance amongst premature lambs and blistering cold. Decidedly dark and moody, the film is beautifully tender with erotic sex in the mud, self-sabotage, and questions of commitment, xenophobia, and love. 


1985‘, dir. Yen Tan (2018) 

Peccadillo Pictures: 2018

1985 flew mostly under the radar but packed an emotional punch into its short runtime. Adrian, (Cory Michael Smith) returns home to his family with some news he’s reluctant to tell them. Smith and Jamie Chung, who plays Adrian’s high school best friend, are superbly matched in this tribute to a generation of LGBTQ+ people who were abandoned. Brutally emotional and superbly considered, 1985 is a true revelation.


The Miseducation of Cameron Post‘, dir. Desiree Akhavan (2018) 

Vertigo Releasing: 2018

The decade brought with it a Vice President of America who believed in conversion therapy. Akhavan’s sweet, harrowing, mature, and underrated tale about a group of young people finding each other at that one of those camps was the perfect antidote. Both politically and emotionally engaging, Akhavan blends the format of a teen comedy with the prevalent spectre of right-wing bigotry as the film found joy in the kinship of queer folk, the awkward nature of teenage sexuality, and examined the evil within those that want to convert them.


Pain and Glory‘, dir. Pedro Almodóvar (2019) 

Sony Pictures Releasing International: 2019

No list on Queer Cinema would be complete without Pedro Almodóvar and his deeply personal 2019 film about legacy, mortality, and memory was extraordinary. Through the vessel of Antoni Bandaras, Almodóvar creates a portrait of himself, his losses and his relationships with supreme precision and emotion. It is a master working at the height of his craft and it’s thrilling to watch. 


Portrait of a Lady On Fire‘, dir. Céline Sciamma (2019)

Pyramide Films: 2019

Radical and tender, Portrait of a Lady on Fire oozes with longing and passion. It’s part gothic novel and part feminist reclamation of the past. There is a trend of ‘repressed lesbian period dramas’ of late, but this film feels more modern than most movies released in 2019 with its approach to examining female autonomy and gaze, with an exceptional retelling of a famous Greek myth to-boot. A true must-see!


Honourable Mentions: And Then We Danced (2019) / End of the Century (2019) / Can You Ever Forgive Me (2018) / Sauvage (2018) / Paris 5:59: Theo & Hugo (2016) / Certain Woman (2016) / Nasty Baby (2015) / Grandma (2015) / Pride (2014) / Love is Strange (2014) / Lilting (2014) / Keep The Lights On (2012) / Kaboom (2010) 

Also Read: Rebel Without A Pulse, Art Without A Soul

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.