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Rope as a measure of gays’ cinematic progress

Posted by GayPatriotWest at 4:28 am - May 11, 2009.
Filed under: Gay America,Movies/Film & TV,Random Thoughts

Not in the mood for large crowds this weekend, I was pretty much a homebody, reading a lot and watching the latest movies to arrive from Netflix.  All three I had seen before, one holding up better than the other two, perhaps, in part, because it was shorter, but largely because it provided a window into how much things have improved for gay people in American society.

I first saw the original Planet of the Apes; did not engage me as much as it did when I regularly caught it on TV as a child.  Spartacus, the film I just saw, seemed to require a bigger screen for the second viewing.  While many scenes were really quite stirring, the story seemed less compelling given that I had recently a book detailing the actual story of that eponymous slave’s fight for freedom as best as military historian Barry Strauss could reconstruct it.

Like Mel Gibson with Braveheart, Stanley Kubrick turned a historical hero into a martyr for liberty.

But, the movie which kept me thinking — and not just about its subject matter — was Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1948 classic Rope.

Here, the protagonists are a gay couple (though not called as much), one, a pretentious, self-important snob (John Dall‘s Brandon) and the other, a neurotic drama queen (Farley Granger‘s Phillip).  They decide to murder a friend because they consider themselves intellectually superior.  Yet, once they’ve done the deed, Brandon becomes vainglorious while Phillip begins to feel remorse.  Yet, his conscience doesn’t make him reflective so much as overwrought.  Neither is portrayed sympathetically.  Nor should they be, considering what they’ve done.

Sixty years ago, that was how Hollywood portrayed homosexuals.  To be sure, there are gay people like Brandon, arrogant, full of themselves, thinking they are better than their fellows.  And we do have our share of drama queens–of many sorts.  But, while we are far more than those caricatures, such images were all we saw on the silver screen.

Now, sixty years later, we see images gay people portrayed as more than just cocksure killers.  We see them as the loyal friend to the protagonist, the supportive brother of a man trying to become a better father and the lover devoted by his partner’s passing.

We’re no longer relegated to the role of the degenerate reprobate.

Now, if a studio tried to make films with such unpleasant homosexuals, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) would be up in arms.  The studio in question would pull the film before the first shot was even set up.

Perhaps, then, we’ve gone too far the other way.  But, the point remains that in the post –Will & Grace era, we don’t just see arrogant or neurotic homosexuals on screen, we see a much more diverse array of gay people.

Now, it’s long past time for Hollywood to go where no film studio has gone before and offer a positive portrayal of a gay conservative.  I just wouldn’t hold my breath on that happening any time soon.

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25 Comments

  1. Ah, how perfect is the timing.

    I kept meaning to ask you if there were any homosexual couples on the big screen that predate Went and Kidd (Diamonds are Forever, 1971)

    Any others?

    Comment by The Livewire — May 11, 2009 @ 6:33 am - May 11, 2009

  2. Actually Dan, I would argue that we still see many stereotypes of the liberal and effeminate gay men with little or no morality. I guess this is one reason why the handful of movies I’ve seen that have shattered this were so enjoyable to me. I’m thinking of Big Eden and actually Shelter was good too. Ironically, all the lead gay characters were portrayed by straight men.

    Comment by John — May 11, 2009 @ 8:56 am - May 11, 2009

  3. Yes, but these days, anytime you see a homosexual, he’s (and it’s usually a ‘he’) virtuous and funny and caring and monogamous.

    Unless he’s an evil, repressed Republican.

    For a culture that claims to have no rules, Hollywood has more rules than the military and Catholicism combined.

    Comment by Julie the Jarhead — May 11, 2009 @ 8:57 am - May 11, 2009

  4. Good point. But unfortunately, the current roles STILL aren’t good enough for a lot of gay men. If you check out AfterElton.com you will see that in the columns and comments. Although I enjoy the site for the most part as it does call attention to gay prominence in entertainment, there are problems with how “we” view ourselves. Take “Brothers and Sisters” for example. If Kevin and Scotty do not take up a majority of the scenes, the episode is deemed bad, despite the fact that they are a mature, monogamous couple on a show with about 10 MAIN characters. They don’t want the stereotypes BUT were upset when on this same show, Kevin and Scotty did not have a threesome!!

    Also, when the reviews for “Southland” came out, most praised it for having a gay cop who also is portrayed as if he’s any other cop on the force. However, so many gay bloggers commented that they were disappointed that one of the “hotter/younger” guys on the show were not gay. They were upsest that it was the 40 something “regular looking” guy. Also, it appeared as though they wanted a huge “coming out” episode for this cop. My view, however, was “How great that he doesn’t need a ‘coming out’ episode since its not seen as a big deal!!”

    The gay “spokespersons” say they don’t want the stereotypes in entertainment, however Jack MacFarland was one of the most loved characters in entertainment history. They are also willing to support ANY project with a gay actor, no matter how bad it is and then call people names who do not like the movie b/c it is bad. I know I kinda went off topic with my comments so in closing, I agree with you. I am overall happy with the way we have been portrayed in media as of late. Much better than even 20 years ago.

    Comment by BC — May 11, 2009 @ 10:15 am - May 11, 2009

  5. Dan, I don’t think that sexual orientation should be the focus of any character; it really shouldn’t be all that important. Frankly, I would prefer that ALL bedroom doors be closed. There is nothing wrong with a fade to black–you can leave out images of surging oceans, fireworks, pumping oil rigs, spurting hoses and the like as well.

    Sex, and sexual identity has become the focus rather than the behavior and ethics of a character. As a neanderthal, I would prefer to have the luxury of assuming people are roomates, and allowed to have my comfort zone. In the end, it doesn’t really matter so much if characters are “roomates” or not–what matters is what kind of people they turn out to be. Licentiousness and promiscuity will have terrible consequences regardless of orientation. And, to generalize, it is the same percentage of people (regardless of orientation) who engage in such behavior–their sexual preference is really insignificant.

    The classic “Fey” character in literature doesn’t have any orientation in the way I was taught to interpret it. The sociopath has no boundries, no morals and no limits as to what they will do. Everything that they do is a choice and a whim. The way Peter Lorre played Joel Cairo (Maltese Falcon) is much creepier than a “homosexual”–he would rape your mother, father and your little dog too (and would likely use a knife wound for the purpose.) To interpret the character as played by Lorre as simply “gay”–is kind of sick; don’t you think?

    I still firmly believe that most people just want to live their lives without being harrassed, belittled or crapped on–by anyone.

    PS: In my view, much of the stereotyping is because of lazy/crappy writers and lazy or inept actors. Perhaps it is just me, but I never saw Sociopaths==homosexual.

    Comment by Eric — May 11, 2009 @ 10:46 am - May 11, 2009

  6. I’ve often wondered in Shirley MacLaine would have killed herself in The Children’s Hour if the movie was made today. Would Elizabeth Taylor go crazy in Suddenly Last Summer, or would it turn into a lovely Greek Island version of Will and Grace?

    On the other hand, the final scene of Some Like It Hot was pretty gay positive. And Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were just one drunken night short of being Brokeback Mountain.

    My favorite homoerotic movie is still Apartment Zero. It’s Mr. Darcy meets Taxi Driver. The last scene is the most perfect metaphor for my sex life thus far.

    Comment by Ashpenaz — May 11, 2009 @ 10:47 am - May 11, 2009

  7. If you want unpleasant, even stereotypical gay male characters, I recommend the indie gay film scene. See for example, Quinceanera, The Deep End, Circuit, etc. Perhaps even more mainstream material like The Talented Mr. Ripley.

    Also, I mean, Rope was inspired by Leopold and Loeb, and overt references to the homosexuality of the characters was prohibited by the production code in place at the time.

    As far as positive depictions of gay conservatives, the god awful remake of The Stepford Wives tried it, to a degree, but given that the film is an indictment of conservative misogyny it could only go so far. That being said, if such a film were made (I could imagine a few biographies that would be good candidates, perhaps Jim Kolbe), I’m sure that there would be an audience for it.

    Comment by Alec — May 11, 2009 @ 10:51 am - May 11, 2009

  8. What about Mishima? or Wilde? or Maurice? or Brideshead Revisited?

    Comment by Ashpenaz — May 11, 2009 @ 11:52 am - May 11, 2009

  9. While Some Like It Hot cries out for sequel with modern-sensibilities, I’m still pimping for a gay-version of Sabrina. Though in casting it I’m still torn whether ‘David” should be Lionel’s sister or his brother as in the original. Rather than Lionel being straight or deeply-closeted, I’d back-story him as gay-but-still-mourning a long-ago relationship…perhaps losing his college lover to AIDS decades ago and now just emotionally and physically withdrawn. I always thought that Bogey’s standing on the window-ledge speech cut closer to the truth than Sabrina realized…or is supposed to realize.

    And should the younger “Sabrina” be be bi/straight and come to realize that he enjoys Lionel’s company for than the brother/sister’s? It might be too-easy for dismiss today if he was just a gay circuit boy on-the-make for David. For today’s times, Sabrina’s father would be the family’s private helicopter and Gulfstream G5 pilot; “..a front seat and a back seat, with a window in-between”.

    Comment by Ted B. (Charing Rhino) — May 11, 2009 @ 3:17 pm - May 11, 2009

  10. Why no mention of the documentary, “Outrage”? We’re still waiting for its release in Dallas, TX.

    Comment by RJLigier — May 11, 2009 @ 5:42 pm - May 11, 2009

  11. I’d like to see an all-gay Barefoot in the Park, now that marriage is legal in New England. Make the young couple men and the older couple women–and don’t change a single line (just the occasional pronoun). It would be perfect.

    Comment by Ashpenaz — May 11, 2009 @ 6:20 pm - May 11, 2009

  12. From an unbiased perspective it seems the “tolerant” left is doing more to perpetuate the age-old stereotypes of gays than the anti-gay right. In fact, in many ways, the anti-gay right is saying the stereotypes of gays ARE NOT realistic, which is why we need to WATCH OUT for them. In other words, the anti-gay right wants people to think that gay guys are actually really macho, so you better make sure your son doesn’t get to become too friendly with one, like a scout troop leader or a high school football coach. The one stereotype the anti-gay right seems stuck on is the child molester image. But when it comes to the “pro-gay” left, they seem more into characterizing gays in as many stereotypes as anyone, from effeminate drama queens to sex crazed orgy nuts. When I watch that girl Kathy Griffin call us “her gays” and assume we like to have orgies it’s nauseating. Yet it’s gays who laugh and applaud her like she’s golden. If someone from the right said the exact same things she says, they would denounce it as bigotry. In many ways the anti-gay right is doing more for the gay recruitment drive than those hollywood “liberals” and their obsession with stereotyping and caracitures. I learned back in college that the only real difference between those who are “pro-gay” and those who are “anti-gay” is that the latter believes the stereotypes and hates gays for it, the former believes the stereotypes but could care less. Either way, we’re being pigeon holed.

    Comment by Mark — May 11, 2009 @ 8:01 pm - May 11, 2009

  13. There’s quite a few shows and what not where it doesn’t seem to matter that a character is gay. What’s that law show with Zack Morris that was on last summer? Much was made about a guy on there who’s gay, but I can’t seem to figure out the point. My best guess is that it’s filler to meet the required time frame.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — May 11, 2009 @ 8:31 pm - May 11, 2009

  14. If you want unpleasant, even stereotypical gay male characters, I recommend the indie gay film scene. See for example, Quinceanera

    Typical lefty procedure – pit different minority groups against each other.
    In Quinceanera it was hispanics against gay males.Here is was convenient to have the gays in the role of evil white men who come in, buy property in a Latino neighborhood and force out all poor Mexicans. Of course they did much worse than that in the movie. I was actually quite surprised at how anti gay male that movie was. But it was a small indie movie that no one saw, so no one can say that Hollywood still hate the gays.

    Of course the Lesbians came out smelling like a rose.

    Comment by Leah — May 11, 2009 @ 8:52 pm - May 11, 2009

  15. I agree with John about Shelter, but I’m much less enthusiastic about Big Eden, which seemed like a ridiculous story from gay fantasyland (as if things were ever that easy).

    I’ve been trying to catch up on more gay movies lately, and in the process, I discovered that Longtime Companion was actually a hidden gem. Although I expected an overwrought drama about AIDS, what I found was a very well-done period piece that resisted the urge to go overboard.

    I’ve also been watching many of the old films highlighted by The Celluloid Closet as having hidden gay subtexts. As a result, I discovered several of the Rock Hudson and Doris Day comedies of the late 50s and early 60s. The two I saw had almost very similar plots, but they were entertaining and enjoyable nonetheless.

    Comment by Kurt — May 11, 2009 @ 10:17 pm - May 11, 2009

  16. I’m am NOT one of Kathy Griffin’s gays–I hate that!

    Look, I’ve dropped a lot of gay movie names–has no one seen Mishima? Wilde? Brideshead Revisited? Maurice? Apartment Zero? The Children’s Hour? Suddenly Last Summer? Aren’t these all on the Gay 101 list?

    OK, how about Hedwig and the Angry Inch? Cabaret? Outrageous? Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence? Women in Love? Midnight Express? KIss of the Spider Woman?

    Good golly, people, am I the most gay movie watcher on this board?

    Comment by Ashpenaz — May 11, 2009 @ 10:27 pm - May 11, 2009

  17. Mishima–saw it in college, but didn’t care for it then. But that was many years ago. Wilde–saw it ten years ago; it was good enough, but didn’t really stick with me. Brideshead–saw parts of it on PBS at various times. Liked it pretty much, but thought I really ought to read the book (which I never have). Suddenly Last Summer–another one I saw in college. Your question about it made me laugh, though. I do wonder how that would be remade. I liked a lot of things about Hedwig, but I have never been much of a fan of Cabaret–however groundbreaking it may have been at the time.

    How about Victor/Victoria? That’s another one I saw recently, along with Torch Song Trilogy. I enjoyed both of those.

    Comment by Kurt — May 11, 2009 @ 11:16 pm - May 11, 2009

  18. Actually, I haven’t seen Torch Song Trilogy. However, I think the double bill of Cabaret followed by Outrageous in a theater on Hennepin Ave. in Mpls. trumps any gay movie experience. I liked Victor/Victoria–but who wouldn’t wanted to have seen it on Broadway with Liza?!?

    Oh, and to add to my list–Picnic, The Sergeant, The Edge, The Member of the Wedding.

    Comment by Ashpenaz — May 11, 2009 @ 11:30 pm - May 11, 2009

  19. Apartment Zero?

    Wasn’t that a weird ass Tarantino flick with Madonna?

    KIss of the Spider Woman?

    Was that the one where Geena Davis kills a deer bare handed? Or was that one of those Morgan Freeman/Alex Cross flicks?

    Dunno. I hate gay flicks, for the most part.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — May 12, 2009 @ 1:18 am - May 12, 2009

  20. Any info on the documentary, “Outrage”?

    Comment by RJLigier — May 12, 2009 @ 4:36 am - May 12, 2009

  21. #20
    Already been discussed.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — May 12, 2009 @ 4:57 am - May 12, 2009

  22. To Ms. 19–um, no and no. And we prefer the term “homoerotic cinema.”

    Comment by Ashpenaz — May 12, 2009 @ 9:46 am - May 12, 2009

  23. I have heard that the inspiration for Rope was based on real life murder of a young boy by two supposedly gay men; Leopold, and Loeb. As for Victor/Victoria my only problem was the line spoken by Robert Preston when he tells Julie Andrews about Nana Nanu, ¨the woman I slept with the night before I decided to become a homosexual.¨ He makes it appear that being gay is a choice and not natural condition. That is the argument our religious opponents use.

    Comment by Roberto — May 12, 2009 @ 12:16 pm - May 12, 2009

  24. #23 – I thought it was “Lana Nanoo.” Oh, well – still a funny movie even after 25 years.

    If you ever get a chance, watch V/V with the running commentary by Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews. It’s wonderful!

    Regards,
    Peter H.

    Comment by Peter Hughes — May 12, 2009 @ 12:59 pm - May 12, 2009

  25. I’m enjoying Bryan Batt’s deeply closeted character on “Mad Men”. Some of the scenes with him ring so true that they’re down right uncomfortable to watch.

    Comment by Draybee — May 12, 2009 @ 4:05 pm - May 12, 2009

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