Apr 29, 2014

Butterflies are Free

The 1972 movie Butterflies are Free is about the hippie counterculture trying to break loose from establishment oppression.  In the form of a heterosexual romance, of course.

Blind guy Don Baker (Edward Albert Jr.) has been smothered by his domineering mother all his life.  He moves out, and makes her promise not to contact him for two months.  Meanwhile he begins a romance with free-spirit Jill (Goldie Hawn).

Mrs. Baker (Eileen Heckert) is upset about Don's new girlfriend, and advises Jill to break up with him.  But Jill wisely tells her to butt out, and Mrs. Baker finally realizes that all the younger generation wants is to be free.

The claustrophobic movie has three sets: Don's apartment, a mod shop, and a restaurant, and five speaking roles  (in addition to the main three, Paul Michael Glaser as Ralph, the director of the play Jill is in, and Michael Warren as Roy, the owner of the mod shop.

There is a gay reference, taken directly from the original 1969 play by Leonard Gersche (starring Keir Dullea and Eileen Heckart):

Jill is starring in a play about a woman with a gay husband -- he was an alcoholic in the book, but they changed it to gay to be "in."  She doesn't approve of the new visibility of gay people: "I always thought of them as kind of magical and mysterious -- the greatest secret society in the world. Now they're telling all the secrets and you find out they're just sad and mixed-up like everyone else."

She asks Don if he's gay, and when he says "no," mentions her friend Davis, a fashion designer who made the blouse she's wearing: "Actually, he made it for himself, but I talked him out of it."

The rather homophobic statements are accentuated by the gay symbolism.  A "smothering mother" at the time was thought to be a "cause" of gay identity, so Don's blindness becomes a stand-in for gay identity "cured" by heterosexual romance.

Modern versions of the play often avoid the gay references.  But sometimes they leave it in, along with 60s music, remembering that this was one of the first times the average moviegoer heard the word "gay" spoken aloud, symbolic "cure" or not.

By the way, the film and most stage versions also  feature Don in his underwear.

See also: Alice's Restaurant.