The new degaying of Hollywood: Alexander. Troy. Brokeback Mountain. De-Lovely. Straightening up history's heroes, desexing literature's love stories, Hollywood is making gay movies-without the "gay".
Catwoman gives Halle Berry a mincing coworker who is so outlandishly gay (clapping his hands girlishly and cooing over "man sandwich" Benjamin Bratt), you don't know whether to be angry or embarrassed. Troy features two of the most famous male lovers in history--Achilles and Patroclus--and pretends they're just really good pals. De-Lovely tackles the life of Cole Porter by finally letting the composer (a wry Kevin Kline) be seen chastely in bed with men but implies that the real love of his life is his wife, Linda (Ashley Judd).
And upcoming movies seem to threaten just more of the same. It's two steps forward, one step back: Hollywood is tackling more and more gay subject matter, but sometimes in a way that denudes it of meaning or substance.
Acclaimed British writer Andrew Davies finishes a new film script of Brideshead Revisited, and the dream cast includes Jude Law as the teddy-toting Sebastian and Paul Bettany as Charles Ryder. Then Davies happily describes his work as "darker" and "more heterosexual" than the classic" miniseries and Evelyn Waugh's novel.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger set hearts aflutter by agreeing to star in Ang Lee's drama Brokeback Mountain, based on the short story by Pulitzer Prize-winner E. Annie Proulx. Currently in production, it's about two modern cowboys who are passionately in love with each other but tragically unable to make it work.
Gyllenhaal further warms the cockles of our heart by telling Canada's Calgary Sun it would be no big deal to kiss a guy in a movie and that "every man goes through a period of thinking they're attracted to another guy." Then he spoils it later by saying to another paper that the gay love scenes might be toned down and that Lee had made the claim that two men herding sheep was far more sexual than two men having sex on-screen.
Up first is Alexander, Oliver Stone's epic about Alexander the Great, one of the most famous bisexuals in history and a man who conquered the world with his male lover and military general Hephaestion by his side. Colin Farrell, who plays the title role, spoke charmingly to Entertainment Weekly about his well-reviewed drama Home at the End of the World--then launched a clever preemptive strike on complaints about Alexander (due November 5 from Warner Bros.).
"I don't have a kiss with Jared [Leto]," Farrell told EW, referring to the actor who plays Hephaestion, "but I have a sex scene with the woman who plays my wife. And there will be blue murder as to, Why do we see him have sex with Rosario Dawson, but we don't see it with [Leto]? Nobody will stop to think; they'll only see what's on the surface."
Alternately, in the new drama When Will I Be Loved, directed by James Toback, Neve Campbell has a steamy lesbian scene, and no one blinks twice, except perhaps the always excitable Toback.
What's going on? With gay people kicking ass on reality and game shows; with gay characters so common on sitcoms and dramas on prime-time broadcast and cable TV that you can barely keep track of them all; with Ellen DeGeneres the darling of daytime talk; with Broadway flooded by queer-friendly musicals like The Boy From Oz, Hairspray, and Avenue Q; with authors such as Allan Gurganus, Sarah Waters, and David Leavitt treated as major talents rather than ghettoized in the "gay" section; with out pop stars like Rufus Wainwright and Scissor Sisters becoming matter-of-fact; with scenes of men kissing men and women kissing women featured routinely on the local news as people fight for their basic civil rights, why is Hollywood so timid?
It's always been so, says Frank Rich, longtime cultural critic for The New York Times. "Mainstream Hollywood movies may be the most conservative medium in this regard, [certainly compared] to television, theater, and independent filmmaking," says Rich. "Mainstream Hollywood movies are much more dependent on the international market than an independent film or cable show. That leads to a general dumbing-down of everything, not just the presentation of gay people."
To show that gays are not "alone, Rich cites such examples as The Diary of Anne Frank (which barely presented Anne as Jewish), the history of blacks in cinema, and the first film version of The Children's Hour, which drained all the lesbian content from the play. Mark Merlis, the out author of several novels, including the recent Man About Town and An Arrow's Flight, which plays off tales of the Trojan War, can attest that today is, in some ways, an embarrassment of riches.
"I'm old enough to remember when you'd go see anything that had a fleeting gay image in it--even if it was negative--just to see something," says Merlis.
Yet 20 years ago we had Making Love and Deathtrap with Christopher Reeve (Superman, no less!) kissing Michael Caine. Now Iris reduces the lesbian loves of Iris Murdoch to one stare from a "mannish" woman in a bar. And the more we're seen in other media the less patience gay people seem to have about being whitewashed out of film.
Eric Shanower is the acclaimed out author of Age of Bronze--a multivolume graphic-novel depiction of the Trojan War that he labors to make as historically accurate as possible. (Volume 2: Sacrifice just came out this summer from Image Comics.)
"If you're going to do the stoic of a historical figure like Alexander," says Shallower, "you've got to do the story; you've got to do the record we have. If the person is homosexual, you've got to put it in there. It's just cheating and disappointing to even minimize it. I find that unacceptable."
Laura Foreman, the author of Alexander the Conqueror--which Oliver Stone calls "a vivid, sharply detailed, controversial, but enjoyable overview of Alexander's life"--agrees.
"I don't think you could make anything approaching an honest film or do an honest book or anything else about Alexander without acknowledging the one great human connection of his life, besides his mother," says Foreman from her home in New Orleans. "I think it's likely they were lovers. Whether or not, it's a secondary issue to how important Hephaestion was to him. I don't think he ever truly trusted anyone else."
Neither of them is criticizing the movie Oliver Stone has made, for the simple reason that they haven't seen it yet. They're just malting clear what is important to them. As Rich says, "I know how people get into this mind-set, but I'm really not a part of it. You have to give the artist the room to do whatever the hell they want."
That's the stance of James Schamus, producer of Brokeback Mountain and copresident of Focus Features. He's been bemused by the fracas surrounding a movie that had just barely finished principal photography when we spoke by e-mail.
"Back when we made The Wedding Banquet and I'd tell people we were making a gay Chinese comedy, even the few people who were listening thought I was kidding," says Schamus, referring to Ang Lee's superlative hit about a happily partnered Taiwanese gay man who marries a woman for his parents' sake.
"Now, with Brokeback," Schamus continues, "the attention seems at times even greater than the kind of speculative frenzy that accompanied the production of The Hulk. Even things like whether or not the boys kiss on-screen have taken on a life of their own."
In other words, they've made good movies before. Trust them and hold your judgment until the film comes out. Is that so crazy'?
"If we show them jerking off but they're saying, 'No kisses!' I guess that'll he OK," laughs Shanower. "Obviously, I'm not familiar with the movie, and I don't know the story. But ff you're not going to do the gay content, wily choose the story that had the gay content in the first place?"
What filmmakers are choosing, of course, is how to tell that story and dramatize the moments that matter to them. "Let's say there is a big kiss in the story and it's taken out of the movie," says Rich. "Until we see it, we can't judge. I don't think that's necessarily wrong. If we learned that a studio executive made them take out the kiss--they wanted it artistically, they wanted to be faithful to that part of the book, but the studio said, 'No, you can't do that because we don't want to lose any viewers'--that would be appalling and reprehensible. But we don't know that we're in that situation. For 'all we know, Ang Lee has a way of doing it that's more original than showing any kind of explicit physical contact."
Indeed, stories can be told and retold in a thousand ways. The Trojan War, for example: Troy, the Brad Pitt summer blockbuster ($480 million worldwide and counting) is sheer spectacle that turns Achilles and Patroclus into cousins.
Shanower's book treats their love matter-of-factly, as something unremarkable to those around them. And An Arrow's Flight by Merlis is a marvelously original take that mixes in anachronistic details like cars and television, all in service of a story that uses the mythic tales of the Trojan War to breathe new life into the very modern story of a go-go boy and the curse of AIDS. (The novel couldn't be gayer, but Merlis got angry letters from readers upset that it didn't include the romance of Achilles and Patroclus. Apparently the sexy goings-on surrounding Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles and a hustler to boot, weren't enough for them. Just goes to show you can't please everyone.)
Ironically, Shanower didn't know about the romance between Achilles and Patroclus when he began researching his project in 1991. And Merlis initially intended to focus his book on the cursed Greek warrior Philoctetes and play it straight in every way--until he realized that the curse on that warrior spoke to him as a metaphor for AIDS.
So two gay authors approached this classic and unexpectedly discovered gay elements they wanted to explore. Shouldn't other artists be able to adapt that same story and find the straight ones? And does it matter?
"I haven't seen Troy, but it's still a Hollywood star vehicle," says Rich. "It's not as if it's changing what kids are reading in high school history, books. I'm much more worried about that kind of tampering going on. I'd be very upset--and I daresay it's probably happening--that the gay identities of historical figures, such as Alexander, are edited out of history books."
Giltz is a regular contributor to several periodicals, including the New York Post.
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|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Date:||Sep 14, 2004|
|Previous Article:||Colin Farrell bi and bi: the star of Alexander and A Home at the End of the World talks about playing bisexual two films in a row.|
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