Friday, February 10, 2017

LGBTQ Love on the Silver Screen


 

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and Cupid is getting his bow and arrows ready. Some of us hope to be struck while others may be doing everything we can to dodge his arsenal, but there is no doubt that love will be in the air for the next few weeks.


Lots of people turn to romantic movies this time of year for both encouragement and solace, which got us thinking about those LGBTQ-themed films that can be considered the most romantic. I have my personal preferences but I also enlisted the help of nearly thirty gay and lesbian Facebook friends to identify their favorites.

Sunday Bloody Sunday
The notion of romantic movies geared toward our community is actually fairly recent, with few such films made before the 1990’s. Most previous films featuring LGBTQ characters usually saw them being killed, committing suicide or otherwise being punished for their non-conforming yearnings. Pioneering early productions incorporating more positive depictions of LGBTQ protagonists include Midnight Cowboy (1969), Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Making Love (1982) and My Beautiful Laundrette (1985).

Things really started to improve with 1987’s sympathetic Maurice. This gorgeous Merchant-Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster’s autobiographical novel, which Forster refused to allow to be published while he was living, focuses on the repressed feelings shared between two young, upper-class British men (James Wilby and Hugh Grant). While their relationship doesn’t endure, the title character is more successful with a dark and handsome groundskeeper (memorably played by Rupert Graves).

Desert Hearts
Pre-90’s romantic favorites among the ladies include the true story Silkwood (1983), in which Cher plays a lesbian power plant worker caring for her radiation-exposed friend (Meryl Streep); Desert Hearts (1986), a passionate, 1950’s-set love story between a divorcee (Helen Shaver) and the Nevada ranch hand (Patricia Charbonneau) she meets; and Personal Best (1982), Robert Towne’s graphic-at-the-time exploration of love between two female athletes (Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly) and the male coach who threatens to come between them.

Two recent, admirably unapologetic additions to the lesbian love canon are Blue is the Warmest Color, the acclaimed and erotic 2013 film about a young French woman’s sexual awakening, and 2015’s award-winning Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as women having a secret affair in the closeted 1950’s.

Beautiful Thing
For many LGBTQ people, the most cherished romantic movies are coming-of-age stories. Frequently cited in my survey were 1996’s Beautiful Thing, the British tale of tentative first love between two put-upon high school boys (based on Jonathan Harvey’s hit play); the similar but lesbian-themed The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love (1995); and Get Real (1998), in which a brainy gay boy crushes on his school’s star athlete and finds his attentions reciprocated, at least for a time. Two of my personal favorites in this subgenre are 1996’s Lilies, about a tortured love triangle in a Catholic school for boys, and Come Undone (2000), a no-holds-barred French drama about two toned and tanned young men who fall in love on the beach during summer vacation.

The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love
Love and loss often seem to go hand-in-hand in real life, so it isn’t surprising that a few gay-themed films considered the most romantic also involve death and dying. The Oscar-winning gay cowboy saga Brokeback Mountain (2005) is the undisputed champ in this regard, and the film has resonated even more strongly in the wake of co-star Heath Ledger’s tragic death just a few years after its release. Other tragic love stories mentioned by my Facebook pals are the revolutionary AIDS dramas Parting Glances (1986) and Longtime Companion (1989), Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy (1988), the fact-based Soldier’s Girl (2003), A Home at the End of the World (2004) and the 2009 Peruvian gay ghost story Contracorriente (Undertow).

A Single Man
I would add to these David Lewis’ 2009 film Redwoods, starring gay fave Matthew Montgomery and the beautiful Brendan Bradley as two men who embark on a life-changing relationship that endures beyond death, as well as Tom Ford’s exquisite A Single Man (also 2009). Colin Firth scored a deserved Academy Award nomination for his moving yet frequently funny turn as a gay university professor grieving the sudden death of his partner.

As if being homosexual, bisexual or trans wasn’t considered unorthodox enough, a few recent movie gems feature unexpected romances between unusual pairings. From Beginning to End is a 2009 Brazilian film about an Olympics-bound swimmer in love with another man. The catch? The two are half-brothers who were raised together from a young age. So controversial it was never released theatrically in the US, it is worth seeking out on home video or streaming. And then there’s Plan B from Argentina, in which two heterosexual men bond as friends over one’s messy breakup with his girlfriend (whom the other man is now dating) but ultimately become lovers. I found this film refreshing in its disdain for sexual labels and very touching in the end.

Soldier's Girl
2010’s Paulista, also from Brazil, boasts a male-to-female trans title character who knowingly has an affair with her initially in-the-dark but increasingly vulnerable father. It isn’t for everyone but some trans viewers may find their dilemma intriguing, to say the least. More recently, The Danish Girl recounts the story of the first man to undergo gender-reassignment surgery. This 2015 biopic is unique in that it begins as a heterosexual romance between its married subjects but becomes more queer as the wife (Alicia Vikander, in an Oscar winning performance) grows to support her transgender spouse (Eddie Redmayne).

The Circle (2014) is an even more factual, inspiring love story. Director Stefan Haupt employs a combination of documentary footage and dramatic recreations to relate the decades-spanning romance between Ernst Ostertag and Robi Rapp. They met as young men in the 1950’s and fought right-wing oppression in their native Switzerland. Both were still alive and together at the time of the film’s production.

Moonlight
Of course, the newest gay, cinematic love story is current awards darling Moonlight. Based on an autobiographical play, it depicts a neglected black boy’s coming of age including his first sexual experience as a teenager with his best friend. They reconnect as adults in the film’s final, hopeful segment.

Trick, Jeffrey, Fried Green Tomatoes, Yossi & Jagger (I would add its 2012 sequel, simply titled Yossi, too), The Wedding Banquet, Carrington and Big Eden wrap up the remainder of my Facebook friends’ nominees for most romantic LGBTQ films of all time, and I agree with most of these.

Wherever you find inspiration, we wish you all a happy Valentine’s Day!

By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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