Jul 19, 2013

Being John Malkovich: I'd Rather Be Anyone Else

In one of the most iconic heterosexist moments of the 1980s, Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) holds a boombox over his head to win the Girl of His Dreams (Ione Skye) in Say Anything (1989).

Ten years later, in Being John Malkovich (1999), he plays the grotesque, greasy-haired, spotty-moustached Craig Schwartz, a puppeteer who trots his creepy marionettes out onto the streets of Manhattan to perform the Medieval heterosexual romance Abelard and Heloise, with the expected anxiety from audiences (he gets beat up before we find out how he intends to stage the castration scene).  He isn't bringing in any money, and neither is his ditzy wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz), who is busy filling their small apartment with a menagerie: birds, dogs, even a chimp.

Craig has to get a job, so he answers an ad for a file clerk in an office on the "7 1/2th floor," where the ceiling is only 5 feet from the floor -- nothing to do with the plot, just weird.

He crushes on coworker Maxine (Catherine Keener), and asks her out on a date.  During the date he admits to being married.  She immediately asks: "Are you a FAG????"

1. What's with the homophobia, in 1999 Manhattan?
2. Is that really the first thing that pops into a woman's mind when a man who wants to have sex with her admits that he's having sex with another woman?

Craig and Maxine find, inexplicably, a portal that leads into the mind of then-unknown actor John Malkovich (playing himself).  So they open a business, charging people $200 to spend 15 minutes seeing the world through the eyes of John Malkovich, as he runs errands and does chores.

Lotte takes the tour, really likes it, and announces that she's a transman: "Everything seemed right."   Craig disapproves.  Nothing comes of it.  I guess she changed her mind.

Maxine begins an affair with Malkovich.  She is particularly interested in him when Lotte is inhabiting his body -- she likes the femininity.  Lesbian, sort of?  But then Craig finds a way to inhabit Malkovich permanently, controlling all of his movements, so Maxine sticks with him.  Back to hetero.

Craig/Malkovich gives up acting and becomes a puppeteer.  Abelard and Heloise becomes a smash hit.

Nine months later, Craig is ousted from Malkovich's body, and Maxine returns to Lotte (in her own body).  They become a lesbian couple.  Maxine is pregnant from sex with Malkovich with Lotte inside, so it's really Lotte's baby.  Sort of.

I like quirky movies, but this is by far the weirdest movie I have ever seen. And one of the most unpleasant to watch.  The color palette is gray and washed-out, the male actors are almost uniformly hideous (although John Malkovich has a nice physique), the marionettes disquieting, and I can't even begin to parse out the gender identity misconceptions.

And taking over John Malkovich's body, controlling all of his movements as if he is a marionette -- isn't that a horrible violation, like rape times ten?  Yet no one in the movie gives it a second thought.  They keep congratulating each other over their cleverness.

Plus this is a gay-free Manhattan, except for the homophobic slur.

Jul 16, 2013

Tim Robbins: New Sensitive Man

Speaking of Tim Robbins, he was one of the most recognizable faces of the 1980s, appearing on tv in Amazing Stories, Hill Street Blues, Love Boat, and Santa Barbara; in teen sex comedies, horror movies, and dramas opposite nearly every star in the business, from Elizabeth Taylor to Jodie Foster.  Although always portrayed as indefatigably hetero-horny, he enjoyed a few buddy-bonding roles:
Fraternity Vacation (1985), with gay actor Stephen Geoffries.

Tapeheads (1988) with John Cusack

The Shawshank Redemption (1994), with Morgan Freeman.

His most iconic role was in Bull Durham (1989), as ball player Nuke Laloosh, triangulating his homoerotic interest in colleague Crash (Kevin Costner) with groupie Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon).  Plus displaying his body in his underwear, tied up by Annie.  Tim Robbins ended up marrying Susan Sarandon, in spite of his unremarkable beneath-the-belt assets.

In the 1990s and 2000s Tim was involved mostly in serious dramatic roles or sarcastic comedies, with ample nudity but not a lot of gay content: all I could find was Cradle will Rock (1999), with Orson Welles trying to provoke the censors in the 1930s by staging a gay-themed play; and Cinema Verite (2011), about the reality-tv Loud Family of the 1970s.   His characters were New Sensitive Men, occupying a liberal, progressive yet gay-free world.

But he's a gay ally in real life. In 2009, he performed a staged reading of Martin Duberman's Stonewall, about the Stonewall Riots of 1969 that marked the beginning of the Gay Rights Movement.

Lance Loud: The First Gay Celebrity

Many people believe that the first person to come out on national tv was Lance Loud of the reality series An American Family (1973).  Cameras followed Bill and Pat Loud and their five children, including young adult Lance, for 2000 hours in 1971, and the footage was culled down to 12 hours, airing on PBS on Thursday nights in the spring of 1973.   Among the highlights of the 12 hours was Pat asking Bill for a divorce, and, according to the urban legend, Lance coming out to his mother.

I didn't see it in 1973, but I've seen it recently, and Lance doesn't come out.  He's already out, living in Manhattan, where his mother visits, meets his friends, and goes to a drag show with him.

But that was probably the first time most tv viewers, at least those hip and liberal enough to be watching PBS, saw real, live gay people.

The show became famous, parodied on Saturday Night Live, spoofed in the movie Real Life, given a homage in the name of the rock group The Loud Family.

And Lance Loud became the first gay celebrity, being seen with Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, commenting on cultural issues for magazines such as Rock Scene, Details, and Interview.  He was a columnist for the gay news weekly The Advocate for many years. He died in 2001.

The 2011 film Cinema Verite, about the making of The Loud Family, starred Tim Robbins as Bill and Thomas Dekker as Lance.

See also: The Andy Warhol Museums

Dog Pound: Unpleasant, Violent, Homoerotic

Most "boys alone" movies are about boys sticking together to overcome adversity.  The grim, gritty Canadian movie Dog Pound (2010) is about brutality and chaos.

A group of juvenile delinquents are sent to the Enola Vale Youth Correction Facility in Montana, where theoretically they will be "rehabilitated":

Butch (Adam Butcher), whose heterosexuality is established with a requisite opening sex scene, comes to the rescue of the bullying victim Davis (Shane Kippel), and they develop a homoerotic bond.

But now both are subject to increasingly violent attacks by a gang of youths led by Banks (Taylor Poulin).   They refuse to tell the guards, even after Butch is poisoned, and sent to solitary confinement for refusing to reveal his assailant.

During another attack, the guard Goodyear accidentally kills their friend Angel (Mateo Morales), and Butch is sent to solitary again.  While he is in confinement, Davis is raped and beaten, and then commits suicide.  Butch emerges ready for chaos.

Alexander Conti (of Harriet the Spy) also stars as Sal.

The gay subtext and frequent nudity are not enough to save this immensely unpleasant movie.  Besides, I hate movies where all of the main characters die.

Adam Butcher hasn't done much gay-positive work, but Shane Kippel starred in Degrassi High, where his character had a gay best friend.

The Hard Times of RJ Berger: A Teencom Where Size Matters

Would you watch a tv series about a high school nerd who suddenly becomes popular with the ladies when they discover that he has an enormous...um, you know?

Even if it was on MTV, not well known for its pro-gay programming?

Something is wrong with that premise -- as I understand it, it's usually men, not women, who believe that size matters: every inch increases your erotic desirability for gay men, and for straight men, your overall worth as a human being.  So the nerd's not getting more cheerleader-models.

The Hard Times of RJ Berger (2010-2011) actually spent little time on discussions of erotic desirability.  It was a sitcom version of a 1980s teen nerd comedy, with the nerd RJ (Paul Iacono, below) torn between the girl-next-door who has a crush on him and the Girl of His Dreams, who is dating an abrasive jock (Jayson Blair, top photo).  He also has a portly best friend (Jareb Duplaise, seen here in Epic Movie).

A significant plot arc involves RJ attempting to bond with his Dad, the studly Rick (Larry Poindexter), from whom he has inherited his "gift."  Rick previously worked as a stripper, and now, down-and-out after his divorce, he has returned to his old life at the Hunkeez Club (RJ is offered a job there as well, but he's too young).

It's all actually rather pleasant, with an enormous amount of beefcake, some bulges, and virtually none of MTV's trademark homophobia.

A gay student, Guillermo (Justin Cone) appears a few times, and eventually RJ discovers that his nemesis Max is also gay, but strictly closeted.  RJ attempts to use the "secret" to his advantage; but he's playing on the brutish Max's internalized homophobia, not on a belief that being gay is shameful.

Paul Iacono, who is gay in real life, also starred in the gay-free remake of Fame (2009).

Jayson Blair has played several gay characters, and in The New Normal (2012-2013), he played the estranged husband of the woman who becomes the surrogate for a gay couple.

Get Season 2 for the male stripper and gay kiss episodes.

Jul 15, 2013

Next Friday: Homophobes Create an Interracial Gay Romance

So I'm channel surfing, when I see a white slacker, carrying an enormous dog, an enormous grin on his face, about to leave a house.  Inside, a black slacker coyly says "Call me!"  He replies "You know it!"

Did I just see a gay romance in bloom?

I quickly check the TV Guide for the movie -- Next Friday (2000), and get a copy from Netflix.  It stars Ice Cube as Craig Jones, who is fleeing from a gangster and hides out with his uncle in the suburbs. The slackers are Cousin Day-Day (Mike Epps) and his friend Roach (Justin Pierce), who work in Pinky's Record Store.  Day-Day is being harassed by an ex-girlfriend, but otherwise the two display no heterosexual interest.  They don't even discuss girls at work.

But they can't keep their hands off each other.

The dog belongs to the neighborhood drug dealers, but Roach makes friends with it by feeding it bologna.

The drug dealers kidnap them -- Day-Day puts his arm around a freaking-out Roach to comfort him -- and tie them together, planning to shoot them later. But Craig and his friends come to the rescue.

Later, when the various crises are resolved, we get the "Call me!" scene.

It seems odd to find such a remarkable gay romance, with physicality, emotional connection, and the promise of permanence, in the heart of a stoner comedy written by Ice Cube, who was quite homophobic at the time (he's softened his antigay position since), and starring Mike Epps, known for his homophobic outbursts in airports.  Justin Pierce, who committed suicide in 2000, starred in the homophobic Kids.

Maybe we can attribute the gay subtext to director Steve Carr?

Or maybe it was purely unconscious.

Matt Bush: The Gay Best Friend

I like guys who are on the shorter side --  5'5, 5'4, shorter if I can find them.  So the main appeal of Glory Daze (2010-2011), about fratboys parading around in their underwear in the 1980s, was not the protagonist Joel (Kelly Blatz), or the jock Brian (Hartley Sawyer), but the Jewish operator Eli, played by 5'3 Matt Bush.

 And of course, I had to find his other project, to see if there were gay subtexts, or at least some more shirtless or underwear scenes (he certainly had plenty in Glory Daze).

He broke into film in One Last Thing..(2005), about the dying Dylan Jamieson (Michael Angarano), whose last wish is sex with a supermodel.  Sounds quite heterosexist on paper, but his best friends Ricky (Matt) and Slap (Gideon Glick) are devoted to each other, a gay-subtext couple.

After a few tv appearances, Matt starred in Adventureland (2009), about James, a young slacker (Jesse Eisenberg) in the 1980s, who takes a job at a decrepit amusement park and meets The Girl.  His childood friend Tommy Frigo (Matt) gets him the job, but then bullies him, hits him repeatedly in the crotch, and embarrasses him at a party by loudly pointing out that he has "a boner."  Tommy seems rather interested in James' endowment.

In High School (2010), stick-in-the-mud valedictorian Henry (Matt) is talked into smoking pot by his stoner buddy Travis (Sean Marquette), just as the principal institutes a drug test.  They decide to fight the drug test by getting the whole school high.  There's The Girl, of course, but she is a minor player in this homoerotic buddy-bonding comedy.

Nice Guy Johnny (2010) is gay-subtext free.

Piranha 3DD (2012) is advertised by a close-up shot of a woman's breasts. 3DD is apparently a bra size.

The Kitchen (2012): Jennifer (Laura Prepon) is turning 30, and her bff Stan (Matt) throws her a party, but doesn't fall in love with her.

Not a bad gay-subtext oeuvre.  No word on whether he is gay or gay-positive in real life.

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