Once upon a time, Hollywood didn’t have explicitly gay characters, much less gay movies. Homosexuality was encoded in wardrobe and set design and viewers had to memorize a thick visual lexicon of satin smoking jackets and Oriental decors and characters named “Clarence” and “Raymond” to even detect it.
Nowadays there’s no cover-up. Gay or presumably gay characters are commonplace, although most still function as a sort of set dressing: their main job is to supply acerbic wit and impeccable taste in fashion and design, to be flamboyant and campy and ultimately asexual instead of homosexual. My personal favorite character of this ilk is Dave Foley’s Troy in Blast from the Past.
The theme of this video grab-bag is “gay movies for straight people,” and I’ll be the first to admit I’m not entirely sure what that means. Reassurance, perhaps: proof for some that they countenance homosexuality in movie form, as long as it stays on the “Will & Grace” side of things. One could also compile a 10-volume encyclopedia just on gay subtext, from Goose and Maverick in Top Gun to Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings, and another exhaustive exegesis on camp, so I’ll just stick to a highly subjective list of favorite little gay tinglings and question marks.
The Celluloid Closet (1995)
A good place to start for anyone seriously interested in the evolution of LGBTI themes and characters in Hollywood movies. Narrated by Lily Tomlin, this documentary features insights from Gore Vidal, Tom Hanks, Susie Bright and Tony Curtis on landmark movies like Spartacus and Some Like It Hot, as well as more esoteric specimens like The Warriors and, um, Teen Wolf.
Can’t Stop the Music (1980)
Worth renting just to see former Olympian Bruce Jenner buddy up to the Village People in tank top and short-shorts, but the “YMCA” number set in the men’s gymnasium is completely beyond description.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
This Australian sleeper officially gayified one of my favorite bands, ABBA, and I’m cool with that. An American knockoff, To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, followed in 1995, but not only did it have one of the most unwelcome titles ever, its producers kept a safely parodic distance from the subject by casting manly men Wesley Snipes and Patrick Swayze.
“Batman” (120 episodes, 1966-68)
Speaking of Julie Newmar, what does a curvaceous babe in a skintight cat-suit have to do to get Adam West into the sack? She all but waves her cat-panties in his face, but he begs off with the excuse that a monogamous relationship could only interfere with his crime-fighting. Plus he needs to get back to stately Wayne Manor in time to tuck in his boy ward, Robin, with a tall glass of milk.
The Hunger (1983)
The short answer, here, is that you really can’t go wrong with lesbian vampires.
The Blues Brothers (1980)
The “Illinois Nazis” get their just desserts, but what does it say about the writers’ view of homosexuality that one of those Nazis can only confess his true feelings in a car plummeting to earth from a mile in the sky?
The Birdcage (1996)
A remake of the 1978 French movie La Cage aux folles directed by Mike Nichols and starring Robin Williams, and perhaps the ultimate gay movie for straight people. Not daring or groundbreaking, just pleased with itself and its reassuring stereotypes. I rate Nathan Lane’s celebrated performance as one of the most annoying ever, by anyone. See also In & Out (1997), starring Kevin Kline, another artifact of Hollywood’s calculating mid-’90s gay fever.
Hey, Happy! (2001)
The movie mainstream is at least another 20 years away from being ready for Noam Gonick. Son of a Marxist professor, his directing debut, the 8-minute short 1919 (1997), fogs the Winnipeg General Strike of that year—the biggest civil disturbance in Canadian history—with a delirious amount of gay bathhouse steam. The feature-length Hey Happy! is Gonick’s take on Y2K hysteria, in which DJ Sabu’s quest to have sex with 2,000 boys culminates with Happy, a paranoid ufologist pregnant with the aliens’ love child, and a biblical flood that cleanses the earth of rave music.
Sissy Boy Slap Party (2004)
One of the bonus features on the DVD of The Saddest Music in the World (2003) is director Guy Maddin’s remake of his own 1995 short, Sissy Boy Slap Party. It’s exactly what it claims to be: five minutes of shirtless beefcakes slapping each other senseless. The real “must-see” on this list.