Most of us probably think of 1986’s Top Gun as the quintessential big-screen depiction of gay men in the military. The funny thing, though, is that there isn’t a single gay character in it. While the Tom Cruise-starring adventure is undeniably homoerotic, we’ve had to wait another 28 years for a major studio (Lionsgate) to back a military-set story featuring a gay soldier at its center. Burning Blue, opening in select theaters and available on Video on Demand beginning today, is that long overdue movie.
Lieutenant Dan Lynch (played by Trent Ford) is a Navy pilot aiming to become an elite fighter alongside his best friend, Lt. Will Stephensen (Morgan Spector, seen as Al Capone’s brother, Frank, in several episodes of Boardwalk Empire last season). Their relationship and ambitions are challenged when Dan, who is engaged to a woman, finds himself falling in love with a fellow closeted airman (Rob Mayes). Complicating matters even more is that the story takes place between 1995 and 2000, at the height of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era.
“It’s very personal but it is a work of fiction,” the film’s co-writer and director, DMW “David” Greer, recently told me. “I was in the military and came from that world, so it is drawn from personal experience.” Greer reported that he flew helicopters, not the F-16s depicted in Burning Blue, and that he was stationed in San Diego for a time. “Many of the situations in the film happened to me and many of the characters are based on people I know.”
A successful playwright, Greer is making his motion picture debut with this adaptation of his hit 2002 play. “It was challenging,” he said of the process of transferring Burning Blue from the stage to the screen. “I felt like I had cracked the code on writing a play years ago but I’m still not so sure about writing a screenplay. When I first thought of telling this story, though, I saw it very cinematically.”
The resulting movie is emotionally gripping and features some stunning shots of Navy jets in action, for which I assumed Greer had the Navy’s cooperation. “We had zero cooperation, less than zero,” he replied. Those impressive sequences in the film resulted from, according to Greer, “the marrying of really great B-roll stock footage and individuals’ digital footage; it was a challenge to convince investors that I could pull it off.”
In the film, a Naval safety specialist arrives to investigate a pair of flight mishaps. As he becomes suspicious of Dan’s sexuality, a witch hunt is launched against Dan and other potentially gay personnel. I asked Greer whether, based on what he has observed or heard, the acceptance of gay men and lesbian women in the ranks has improved since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was abolished in 2011.
“I think it has,” he answered. “I haven’t been at the heart of it for a long time but I have friends still in the service, and it really has improved.” Greer cautioned, however, “there is still homo-ignorance or homophobia and there are still people I know in the military who have not been completely forthright. But things definitely have improved.” He noted that there hadn’t yet been any screenings of Burning Blue specifically for military personnel but that he would love for one to be arranged.
Greer has called New York City home since 1983 but has split his time between New York and London for the last 20 years. “My husband is English,” he reported. If Greer was ever subject to military condemnation of his homosexuality, he has happily grown beyond it.
Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.