The Children's Hour back-to-back with Imagine Me & You, a cheerful dyke comedy made in 2005. I recently did so thanks to a magnificent boxed set of ten GLBT classics of the past 49 years entitled the Cinema Pride Collection. It is now available for purchase exclusively from Amazon.com.
The Children's Hour stars Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine as the headmistresses of an all-girls school who are accused by a spiteful student of having an "unnatural," homosexual relationship. Adapted from a play by Lillian Hellman, the film co-stars a young and handsome James Garner in addition to Miriam Hopkins and Fay Bainter. The latter was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, one of four nominations the movie received.
While the filmmakers are clearly sympathetic to the women's plight — probably as much as one could be in 1960's Hollywood — The Children's Hour notoriously climaxes with MacLaine's lesbian character committing suicide. Today, this tragic finale leaves a bad taste in many viewers' mouths thanks to a greater understanding and acceptance of GLBT people.
Hopkins' statement in the movie, "A whole culture is changing," had proven prophetic by the time Imagine Me & You was released in 2006. In it, a newly married woman, Rachel (Piper Perabo), briefly locks eyes with the female florist at her wedding (the lovely Lena Headey) and they become smitten with each other. The florist is comfortably and openly lesbian, while Rachel experiences being attracted to someone of the same gender for the first time. Rachel's husband (the charming Matthew Goode, who recently played Colin Firth's lover in A Single Man) is understandably confused.
While not everyone in Rachel's family takes easily to her new relationship, the movie is blessedly devoid of the angst that characterizes so many earlier GLBT-themed plots. It quickly becomes clear that our community has come a long way since 1961.
The Children's Hour and Imagine Me & You serve as the chronological bookends of the Cinema Pride Collection. In between are such gems as the 1978 French comedy La Cage aux Folles and its Americanized remake, The Birdcage (1996), starring Nathan Lane and Robin Williams; My Beautiful Laundrette (1986) which features a hot young Daniel Day-Lewis and Gordon Warnecke as lovers who overcome class and ethnic differences; and 1998's The Object of My Affection, with Jennifer Aniston as a relationship-hungry woman who falls in love with her gay roommate, played by the super-cute Paul Rudd.
The set also includes the now-classic The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) in an "Extra Frills Edition" that contains a director's commentary, deleted scenes and bloopers among other bonus features. Terence Stamp gives a wonderful performance as aging drag performer Bernadette that obliterated the then-dominant image of him as the villainous General Zod in the Superman movies. Full of hilarious, quotable lines and great musical numbers, the movie also won a well-deserved Oscar for the drag queens' outrageous costumes.
Completing the Cinema Pride Collection are Bent, a powerful 1997 film adapted from the acclaimed play about the plight of homosexuals in a Nazi concentration camp, starring Clive Owen and Sir Ian McKellen; Boys Don't Cry, which won Hilary Swank her first Academy Award as Best Actress for her performance as Brandon Teena, a real-life transgender teen who was tragically murdered; and 2001's Kissing Jessica Stein, an acclaimed romantic-comedy wherein a historically straight woman responds to a classified ad from another woman.
In addition to providing older GLBT viewers a trip down memory lane, the Cinema Pride Collection can provide a powerful educational service for young people coming to terms with their sexuality. Thanks to 45 years of development in the presentation of GLBT characters and images in movies, they are coming out in a generally more accepting environment. It is important, though, for all of us to remember our past as a community and look to the future with pride.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.