May 24, 2013

Student of the Year: Bollywood Gay Romance

A South Asian news story can't overcome its hilarity: .  When Varun Dhawan was promoting his new movie, Student of the Year (2012), in Ahmedabad, he never imagined that he would have to face the affections of a MALE!!! fan. But that's exactly what happened -- while he was signing autographs, a MALE!!! burst through the crowd and grabbed his hand. He tried to disengage, but the MALE!!! said "I love you," as if he wanted all the world to hear.  Varun was left shocked and embarrassed. He refuses to discuss the incident.

Varun's humiliation and the reporter's salacious delight suggests that homophobia in India is rather fierce and dark. There are gay characters in Bollywood movies, but usually humorous stereotypes (sort of like the nail-filing, show tune-humming gay "best friend" of the heroine in Hollywood comedies).

And in spite of Varun's problem, Student of the Year has a strong gay subtext (and a gay character).

Middle class boy Abhi (Siddharth Malhotra, left) enrolls at the ritzy St. Teresa's High School, where he befriends the wealthy Rohan (Varun Dhawan, top photo, the guy who was humiliated by the existence of a gay fan).  The two are soon competing over a girl, Shanaya (Alia Bhatt), and for the Student of the Year award sponsored by the school's gay Dean.

The classic triangulation takes on epic proportions, involving a wedding in Thailand, the death of Abhi's grandmother, Rohan being rejected by his parents, and a fight that demolishes the entire campus.   Abhi lets Rohan win the Student of the Year award, but Rohan refuses to accept it, and the students lambast the Dean for creating a competition that leads to rifts between close friends.

Ten years pass, and Rohan and Abhi meet again.  They argue, fight, and reconcile.  Nothing can tarnish such a close friendship.  Fade out with just the two of them, no girls in sight.

The gay subtext has even been noticed in India, where rumors are flying that Siddharth and Varun are involved in real life.  Director Karan Johar has also received his share of gay rumors.  Everybody denies everything.

May 23, 2013

Josh Hutcherson: Straight but Not Narrow

In April 2012, 19-year old Josh Hutcherson became the youngest person ever to win the GLAAD Vanguard Award for the "Straight but Not Narrow" anti-homophobia campaign that he started (with buddy Avan Joggia of Victorious).

Paradoxically, his on-screen performances have veered toward the heterosexist.

I first noticed him in Bridge to Terabintha (2007), about two preteens who escape from the horrors of real life into an imaginary world, but find that it can't help them.  Real life is too awful.

I hated it: the trailers led me to expect a Chronicles of Narnia-style adventure about a "real" fantasy world, not two mentally ill kids who were hallucinating.  And one of them dies. Oh, and Josh's character gets a girlfriend.

And Firehouse Dog (2007), about a movie-star dog who goes to work in a struggling firehouse, and revives it with the help of a boy, Shane (Josh).  Who gets a girlfriend.

So far this actor's work was depressing, but being a Jules Verne fan, I gave him another chance in the latest adaption of Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008).   In search of his missing brother, geologist Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) explores the Center of the Earth, along with his nephew Sean (Josh) and their teenage guide Anita.  Both Trevor and Sean are into Anita (she picks Trevor).

Ok, what about Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (2009), based on the gay-subtext novel series by Darren Shan?  There's some buddy-bonding: Darren (Chris Massoglia) offers to become a vampire to save the life of his buddy Steve (Josh).

And The Kids are All Right (2010): Josh plays Laser, teenage son of a lesbian couple.

But The Hunger Games (2012): Peeta (Josh) and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) are chosen to participate in a teenage survival-death game where the last one alive wins.  They fall in love, and find a way to both survive.  Fade out kiss.

The Forger (2012), with Jansen Panettiere, looks promising. But Paradise Lost (2014) will star Josh as a young surfer who meets "the girl of his dreams" in Colombia.

Besides, I'm still mad about The Bridge to Terabintha.

The Boys of Rebelde

Rebelde (2011-2012) is a teen telenovela modeled on the Argentine Rebelde Way (with Benjamin Rojas), about teenagers in an exclusive private school who form a band.  But it upped the beefcake and the gay subtexts of the original.

There are two versions, Brazilian and Mexican.

1. Pedro (Micael Borges) enrolls in the private school in order to avenge his father's death, but ends up falling in love with the daughter of the man responsible.

2. Diego (Arthur Aguilar, left) is his best friend, but when they both date the same girl, they have a falling out and break up.

3. The gay-vague Tomas (Chay Suede) steps in while Pedro and Diego are "on a break."

4. Meanwhile, Joao (Michel Gomes) aggressively courts Diego.

5. Teo (Bernardo Falcone) is the slim, stylish, gay-vague "best friend" to all the girls.

6. Fabio (Pedro Cassiano) is the chief antagonist.

7. Rafael (Rodrigo Costa), a gay character, who seems to hang around just to get bullied and discriminated against.

May 20, 2013

Ben Hur: A Gay Tale of Christ

Ben Hur (1959), based on the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ, by Lew Wallace, was one of those big-budget epics with "a cast of thousands" that studios in the 1950s hoped would draw people away from television.  And it worked: 11 Academy Awards, second-highest grossing movie of all time to date (after Gone with the Wind), re-released in 1969, broadcast on tv in 1971.  With a palpable gay subtext.

Gore Vidal, the gay author who wrote the screenplay, apparently included a gay text: around the time of Christ, the Roman Messala (Stephen Boyd) is made tribune of the province of Judea, and looks up his boyhood lover, Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston, previously seen in Peer Gynt).  But Ben-Hur refuses to rekindle the romance, and the enraged Messala tries to destroy him.

The gay text was removed -- you can't have lovers on screen in 1959 -- but the subtext was strong enough, with Messala and Ben-Hur gazing into each other's eyes and linking arms to drink out of each other's cups.  The only problem is, there's no real explanation left for why Messala suddenly turns evil: when a stone from Ben-Hur's roof accidentally falls and injures the Governor of Judea, he seizes on the incident to sell his former "friend" and his mother and sister into slavery.

After three years as a galley slave, Ben-Hur makes a new "friend," Roman Consul Arius (Jack Hawkins), who brings him back to Rome, trains him as a charioteer, and adopts him.

But Ben-Hur wants revenge, and he wants to find his mother and sister.  So after a few years of domestic bliss with his older boyfriend,  he heads back to Judea and challenges Messala to a chariot race.  Messala dies, Ben-Hur is reconciled with his mother and sister.

Ben-Hur gets a girl along the way, but no fade-out kiss.  The final scene shows Ben-Hur and his family witnessing the Crucifixion, where they learn to forgive the Romans.

"Admitted heterosexual" Charlton Heston (Ben-Hur) was no gay ally: "I find my blood pressure rising when [President Bill] Clinton's cultural shock troops participate in homosexual-rights fund-raisers..and claim it's time to place homosexual men in tents with Boy Scouts."

But Stephen Boyd (Messala) was gay. Here he buddy-bonds with David Wayne in another gay-subtext movie, The Big Gamble (1961).

See also: Ramon Novarro, who starred in the 1925 version of Ben-Hur.

May 19, 2013

Stephen King's Cell

In the 1970s, Stephen King single-handedly revitalized the moribund genre of horror fiction by using contemporary settings, small-town high schools and supermarkets instead of castles in Transylvania, and by making his protagonists “total guys” who listen to rock music, watch the Boston Celtics, and drink Budweiser, instead of mild-mannered scholars translating eldrich lore from the Assyrian. But he failed to modernize the homophobia of the genre: In The Shining (1977), the Overlook Hotel in Colorado is haunted chiefly because it was the site of unimaginable depravity during the Jazz Age. There was even sex between men! In It (1986), the monster takes on most terrifying form imaginable, a pedophile Clown; there are also two gay human monsters, a lipstick-wearing swish and a bisexual pervert who likes to watch animals die. In The Tommyknockers (1987), a lisping gay necrophiliac swish receives a gory, well-deserved punishment. In Everything’s Eventual (2002), a man who stakes out a highway rest stop in the hope of engaging in sex with other men! receives a gory, well-deserved punishment.

Contrary to the pattern, Cell (2006) contains no gay monster, human or otherwise. Tom, one of the three survivors who band together when everyone with a cell phone turns into a murderous zombie, is certainly a stereotype, a throwback to the “confirmed bachelors” of 1960s comedy: mild-mannered, soft-spoken, with long, nimble fingers and King’s usual “something of a lisp.” Yet Tom displays hidden reserves of courage, he becomes an invaluable member of the group, and straight protagonist Clay likes him – the highest praise a gay man can hope for! King even addresses the pedophilia libel by giving Tom a paternal bond with twelve-year computer geek Jordan (see, gay men aren’t all pedophiles after all).

But King is careful to make Tom’s gayness nvisible. He is identified as “gay” only twice, both times during the concluding chapters (by then, King no doubt reasoned, his homophobic readers would be too engrossed in the story to toss the book aside in disgust). Otherwise you have to parse it out through stereotypes and subtle hints. When they take refuge at Tom’s house, Clay notes the fastidious neatness and muses that it is characteristic of men whose lives “don’t necessarily include women.” When Tom plans to spend the night with a hysterical teenage girl, to comfort her, he asks, “You know I’m safe with her, right?” Clay nods; he understands that Tom actually means “I won’t try anything sexual because I’m gay.” Even though civilization has collapsed and they are facing horrifying danger, they are still unable to lower their guard and Say the Word.

See also: Two Zombie Movies with Gay Characters.

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