Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fashionable Stubble and Cocaine Fueled All-Nighters

Last weekend I wrote about an article at Onion's AV Club that complained about the treatment of Christians in independent cinema, and also about Weekend, a new movie about two gay men that has been getting good reviews. This week the AV Club has a review of Weekend by Allison Willmore, the same writer who cried a river about Christians in movies.

The review is highly positive, but it isn't terribly insightful.
But while it’s accurate to describe it as a “gay film,” that label needlessly condemns it to a niche when it deserves a wide audience, or at least as wide an audience as a drama that features frank, unabashed man-on-man hookups can manage. Weekend is, simply, a great indie romance.
I guess this could be worse. Willmore recognizes that the problem is homophobia and niche marketing, not anything inaccurate about the "gay film" label. (And when you think about it, did the "gay cowboy" label -- which was used by just about everybody except the filmmakers and their marketing department -- really hurt Brokeback Mountain?) It would be nice if straights (and probably many gays) could reach the point where they took for granted that a gay movie would be about something other than homosexuality, but I don't expect to see that in my lifetime. And since so many heterosexuals are squicked out by same-sex romance on the screen, it's probably just as well: better they should be forewarned so they don't have to throw tantrums in the theater.

Back in the 90s, impelled by the realization that most gay people I knew hadn't seen any of the significant gay and lesbian films that had been released to that point, I ran a one-semester film series in the dorm where I was working. The turnout was gratifying, and included straights as well as gays in the audience. Later a young straight man who'd attended most of the showings told me that he was surprised to find the films had so much intrinsic interest, that they told meaningful and interesting stories above and beyond same-sex romance and relationships. That made me happy, because it was exactly what I'd hoped people to take from the films they saw: that they'd have been worth seeing even if the characters had been straight.

If you read my post on Weekend from the weekend, you'll recall that I was bothered by what I can only describe as the filmmaker's narrow-mindedness: he complained that previous gay films he'd seen had "never represented how I felt about being gay, ever ... I haven’t got muscles and I don’t live in West Hollywood." By his logic, I shouldn't bother seeing Weekend, since I don't live in England, I don't maintain a fashionable stubble on my face, and I've never had "a cocaine-fueled all-nighter": therefore it doesn't represent how I feel about being gay.

Despite this, I still plan to see Weekend if it ever comes near enough. Why? Because I don't expect art to show me only myself. One reason I read and watch movies is to find out how other people see the world, how they live, what is possible and imaginable in human conduct and relationships. I can't think of any gay movie that was about a person like me. (Many of my favorite gay films have been about lesbians, in fact.) Yet there have been a good many gay movies I've seen that I enjoyed, that spoke to me, that represented at least part of how I felt about being gay.

I remember how some straight women athletes I knew reacted to Personal Best, Robert Towne's 1982 film about two bisexual women athletes: "People will look at this," they wailed, "and think all women in sports are lesbians!" This despite the fact that the two leads are the only women athletes in the film who aren't heterosexual: they're surrounded by peers who are quite vocally interested in men. Still, that is how a lot of people think, if "think" is the word. They'll look at Weekend and think that everybody in Nottingham is gay and does cocaine! The only way to avoid such reactions is not to make movies, I guess. But I expect more intelligence from critics, and from filmmakers -- even though I don't get it nearly often enough.