Aug 28, 2021

Swordsmen and Sorcerers of the 1980s

For over a century, people have been rejecting naturalistic literature to write heroic fantasy.  In Britain, mostly  about unlikely heroes who travel through magic-laden Medieval landscapes to fight ultimate evil (e.g., The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings). In America, mostly about heavily-muscled barbarians who travel through magic-laden ancient worlds to settle personal vendettas (e.g., Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Conan the Barbarian).  

Neither type had much luck in the movies, maybe because of the need for special effects.  Or the difficulty in presenting an entire world without lengthy, boring exposition ("The kingdoms of Caldarand and Bobinur have been at war for centuries....)  Or the distinct preference for naturalism in movie-going audiences.

During the 1960s, I can think of only The Magic Sword (1962).

During the 1970s, Wizards (1977), and a terrible animated version of The Lord of the Rings (1978).

Then Arnold Schwarzenegger tore up the scenery as Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer (1984), and suddenly every bodybuilder who could read a script was being squeezed into a loincloth and given a magic sword to wield:
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Beastmaster (1982)
The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982)
Ator (1982)
Krull (1983)
Hercules (1983)
Deathstalker (1983)
The Blade Master (1984)
Ladyhawk (1985)
Iron Warrior (1986)
Masters of the Universe (1987)
The Barbarians (1987)...well, you get the idea.

The plots were simple 1980s man-mountain plots, with an evil wizard instead of a drug lord, and a weirdly-named Medieval world instead of Southeast Asia.

And they had a similar appeal for gay kids and teenagers.

1. Endless quantities of beefcake. Muscle men, slim sidekicks, and little kids in loincloths or naked.  Unfortunately, also endless quantities of cheesecake, including lots of female breasts.  Bare. There's always a female warrior who fights semi-nude.

2. The buddy-bonding is strong and powerful, more emotionally compelling than the requisite romance with The Girl.  In Deathstalker, the Deathstalker (Richard Hill) is patently in love with Oghris (Richard Brooker).  In The Barbarians, Kutchek and Gore (Peter and David Paul) never fall in love with anyone (else).

  In Beastmaster, Dar (Marc Singer) forms an alternative family unit with Seth (John Amos) and young prince Tal (Josh Milrad).

3. There are usually kids around for the kids in the audience to identify with.  We see the barbarian hero's early childhood tragedies, to give them a personal motive for adult vendettas.

4. There is usually no fade-out kiss.  The Barbarian is a creature of the wilderness.  He saves civilization but does not reside there, so at the end of the movie, he usually moves on.

By 1995, the fad had run its course, along with the cinematic interest in man-mountains, as beefcake fashions returned to the trim and athletic.

See also: Man-Mountains of the 1980s

"Legend": Tom Cruise Grins, Tim Curry Growls, and Everyone Gets Drenched with Pollen

When Legend premiered in April 1986, I was living in West Hollywood, where everyone assumed that 23 year-old Tom Cruise was gay.  But no one I knew saw it.  Last night we watched the director's cut, and I found out why.  

Scene 1: In his brightly-lit lair, the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry with horns and 9-inch nails) gives plot exposition to his lackey, Blix, who speaks in rhyming couplets:  He was about to make it so the sun wouldn't rise again.  But then two unicorns appeared out of nowhere, so Blix has to get rid of them first.  Also, the only thing that can stop his plan is inn-o-cence.

Scene 2:  Inn-o-cence, aka Lili, is wandering slowly through a forest where bails of pollen, flower petals, and glitter are floating around, obscuring the camera and covering her face (how can she breathe?).  There are several long close-up shots of her face as she grins idiotically.  She is apparently very high.

Eventually she arrives at a peasant's house, where she can't seem to remember her lines.  

Peasant woman:  "Would you like a biscuit?"

Lili:  Grins idiotically.  "Ummm....what? love coming here."  

Peasant woman:  "I'll get you a biscuit."

Scene 3: 
Back to the forest obscured by bails of pollen.  Lili yells "Jack!" about a hundred times.  Then Jack (Tom Cruise) appears, and she says "Jack!" another hundred times, while he grins idiotically.  Lots of tight close ups of their faces covered with glittery stuff.  Jack has bad teeth.

  Then they stare at each other for a long, long time.  Just when I think that he's feral and doesn't speak, Jack says that he'll finally take her to the place she's been begging to go to for months.  

Scene 4:  Stalked by Blix and his comic-relief lackeys, Jack and Lili go to the place, a nondescript piece of the pollen-drenched forest, and stare for a long, long time, while I wonder what the big deal is.  Then two unicorns appear. "They'll only be here for a short time," Jack says.  Then why was Lili begging to see them for months?

Lili starts to walk over to them.  Jack stops her in a panic. "NO!  You absolutely cannot go near a unicorn!  It is absolutely forbidden!   It is the worst sin of the pollen-drenched forest!"

But Lili ignores him and walks over, while Jack stares in horror.  She touches a unicorn horn.  They go rogue and run around her, neighing angrily, while she kneels and screams.  (No one notices that Blix and his lackeys have used the confusion to blow a poison dart into one of the unicorns.)

Wait -- why were Blix and his lackeys stalking the girl?  How did they know that she would lead them to the unicorns?  Or does the Lord of Darkness want her, too?  Her inn-o-cence is a threat, or something?

Scene 4:  Later, Lili gets horny (she touched a unicorn horn and got horny -- get it?), and tries to seduce Jack, who is not sure if he's ready for sex.  She sweetens the deal by throwing her ring into the lake and offering to marry him if he retrieves it.  So he dives into the water and looks around.

At that moment, Blix and his lackeys approach the dead unicorn and sever its horn, which is the source of all magic in the world.  Huh?

Suddenly the pollen-drenched forest turns into a snow-drenched forest, where snowflakes and for some reason bubbles obscure the camera and collect on people's faces.   The lake is now iced over.  Lili runs away, leaving Jack to drown.  But he breaks through the ice and survives.

Scene 5:   Lili runs to the peasant's house where she got the cookie. Everyone inside is frozen in place.  She hides as Blix and his cronies come in to fool around with magic and do some plot exposition. 

 Then the Lord of Darkness shows up: they have successfully killed one unicorn, but a second is left, so the sun will rise again.  Take care of it!

Meanwhile, Jack is approached by Honeythorn Gump (David Bennett), a pedophile's dream -- a little boy in a loincloth -- who is extremely high.  He stares at Jack for a long time, grinning idiotically.  Then he gets his eyes to bulge and yells "A human touched a unicorn!  The worst sin in the pollen-drenched forest!  Did you think you could perform such a sacrilege without consequences?"  Hey, it was Lili.  Jack tried to stop her.

Honeythorn says that he won't kill and eat Jack if he answers a riddle.  Jack answers, and Honeythorn has a meltdown, screaming and kicking and rolling around on the ground.  Wait -- you agreed to the riddle penalty.  

Then, all nice, Honeythorn says "Let's gather the gang and try to fix this."  His lackeys consist of two comic-relief dwarves and a ball of light that looks identical to the pollen floating around, but turns into a horny fairy when no one is looking.

That's enough scene-by-scene analysis.  Next there's a lot of staring while grinning idiotically, some magical foes, and the Lord of Darkness (who suddenly has a father, the King of Darkness) deciding that he wants to marry Lili. 

 Jack rejects the horny fairy, who then refuses to rescue him from a dungeon (fortunately, she rescues her friends, who are in the same dungeon, so he can kind of tag along)  He saves the day by reflecting sunlight into the castle, which blasts the Lord of Darkness off into space.  

Back in the pollen-drenched forest, Jack says goodbye to Honeythorn and his lackeys, kisses Lili for a long time, makes plans to see her tomorrow, and then returns to Honeythorn and his lackies.  Wait -- he said goodbye, as if he wouldn't see them again, and one five-minute-long kiss later, he's back?  None of this makes any sense.

Nope.  No one shows any skin except for the prepubscent David Bennet and Kiran Shah, who plays an elf saved from being baked in a pie.  Obviously you take a guy's clothes off before cooking him.

Gay Characters: Maybe Honeythorn is into Jack.  Jack is unwilling to have sex with Lili or the horny fairy, but that may be because he's a forest creature, and sex represents civilization or something.

Heterosexism:  Jack and Lili are in love, of course.  The Lord of Darkness turns out to be hetero-horny.

My Grade: Ugh. Tell your actors to lay off the weed, and cut back on the pollen!

Aug 27, 2021

The Top 7 Hunks of "He's All That"

 I'm not going to actually watch He's All That (2021) on Netflix, the distaff redo of She's All That (1999).  First, the trailer revealed the entire plot, and it's heterosexist to the max, dude: a girl makes a bet that she can turn a loser into prom king, but then accidentally falls in love with him.  No gay people exist.  

Second, votes for prom king aren't based on hotness per se, but popularity.

Third, the reviews say it's "f***king terrible."

Fourth, this is the loser, Cameron Kweller, played by Tanner Buchanan.  Sure, I coud do without the makeup and the effeminate rings, but in what universe is he unattractive?

Fifth, in the trailer,  Kweller yells at a guy for standing too close to him: "I don't want to look at your butt while I'm eating, dirtbag!"  That strikes me as homophobic.

But I thought it would be fun to see what other hunks the movie can provide.

1. Tanner, here a little less flowery.

2. Peyton Meyer as Jordan Van Draanen, the obnoxious jock who cheats on the girl and starts the whole wager business.

3. Romel de Silva as Sebastian Woo.  He doesn't appear in the trailer.  I hope he's not being used for cheap body-shaming jokes.

4. Andrew Matarazzo as "Jordan Friend Logan."  No one in the crew knew about possessives?

5. Dominic Goodman as "Jordan Friend Track," aka Token Black Guy.

6. Apparently there's a dance-off competition.  Antwon Keith Coller as one of Padgett's dancers (she's the girl who creates and falls in love with the nottie-turned-hottie.

7. William B. Simmons as one of Jordan's dancers.  I guess they come in all ages.

Aug 25, 2021

The Lone Ranger and Tonto: The First Gay Couple

When I was a kid in the 1960s, we were all about astronauts and outer space.  Cowboys were strictly for squares. We had a few cowboy toys, presented by clueless adults, but  we didn't dare bring them out with other kids around, and we would watch a tv Western only if it had science fiction elements, like Wild Wild West.  So, except for a few parodies, we knew nothing about the Lone Ranger and Tonto, the most blatant gay couple of the first generation of Boomers.

First appearing on the radio in 1933, the Lone Ranger was a Texas Ranger (a sort of Wild West police officer) who was ambushed along with his squadron and left for dead.  He was nursed back to health by an Indian named Tonto (apparently his creator, Fran Striker, didn't speak Spanish), and the two of them rode off to right wrongs.

The radio series was immensely popular, and led to an endless series of toys, games, cereal give-aways, comic books, Big-Little Books, movie serials, and feature films.

Boomer kids often heard their parents discussing fond memories of huddling over a radio listening to an announcer intone "Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear!", after which the Lone Ranger would say "Heigh-ho, Silver! Away!"

Did none of them figure out that these were two men living together, never displaying the least interest in women, and one of them said "Heigh-ho"?

The radio series lasted through 1956, but first generation of Boomer kids was most familiar with the tv series (1949-57), starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels.  I've never seen it, but apparently there's no heterosexual interest, and Tonto needs rescuing quite a lot.

Clayton Moore (top photo) was a former circus acrobat who broke into Hollywood in 1937 and starred in many Westerns, detective dramas, and even science fiction before and during The Lone Ranger. Afterwards he didn't do much acting; he didn't want to.  He had already become the idol of kids everywhere.  Apparently he was not aware of the gay subtext.

Jay Silverheels (born Harold J. Smith) was a Canadian Mohawk Indian, who got his start in movies as a stuntman.  He, too, had a long career before The Lone Ranger, playing mostly characters named Black Buffalo, Yellow Hawk, and Spotted Bear. Afterwards he continued to work, playing Indians in Laramie, Branded, Daniel Boone, Gentle Ben, and The Brady Bunch, and a non-Indian on Love American Style.  Apparently he was not aware of the gay subtext, either.

But lots of gay kids were aware.  In The Best Little Boy in the World, a classic gay Boomer autobiography, John Reid states that he first figured "it" out through his fantasies of the Lone Ranger and Tonto riding into the sunset together.

The 2013 re-invention starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer effectively heterosexualized both characters.

Aug 24, 2021

Brian Thompson: Is the Action-Adventure Thug Gay?


It was recommended that I do a post on Brian Thompson.  My first thought was that he was the gay guy from Second City TV, but that's Scott Thompson.  I never heard of Brian, so I looked him up.

Ok, he doesn't have much appeal in the face department.  If he approached me at the Faultline on a Saturday night, I'd give him major Attitude.  

But he had quite a physique back in the day, if his head wasn't photoshopped onto this body.

Born in 1959, so about a year older than me, he grew up in Washington and got his MFA in Theater from UC Irvine.  He originally wanted to go into musical theater, but his physique and features got him typecast as thugs and gangbangers, occasionally upgraded to action-adventure villains:

"Street Punk" in The Terminator (1984)

"The Night Slasher" in Cobra (1986)

"Thug" in Three Amigos (1986)

"Second Thug" in Three Fugitives  (1989)

This photo is from the Muppet Wiki, but Brian didn't play a comedic thug in any Muppet movie.  He played Hercules, a non-villain, in the tv miniseries Jason and the Argonauts (2000).

He also played several Klingons and Romulans on various iterations of Star Trek.

And lots of beserkers and baddies, on episodes of The X Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Birds of Prey, Californication, Hawaii Five-O, and The Orville.

Action-adventure stars usually turn to comedy as the age, but Brian seems to have turned to various authority figures, with a little  country-western thrown in.  In Big Muddy (2018), he reconcilles with his estranged brother while sailing down the Big Muddy River.

Plus, in the upcoming Tragedy of Macbeth (2021), he plays Young Murderer.  I wonder who plays Old Murderer.

No gay roles in Brian's career, that I could find.  Action-adventure movies tend to be entirely gay free.  But what about in real life?

Hard to say.  Attempts to search for "Brian Thompson" and "gay" yield a gay Brian Thompsosn who is a financial planner, another who belongs to the ACLU Wisconsin Board of Directors, and a third who is awaiting the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage in a New York Times article from 2015.

Brian the actor's wikipedia page doesn't mention a partner, but it mentions two daughters, along with his interest in paddle surfing, windsurfing, and kite surfing.  

If he is gay, he might have trouble meeting guys.  Unless he takes his shirt off at the Faultline just before last call.

Aug 23, 2021


Arnold needs no last name.  He almost single-handedly took bodybuilding out the realm of Muscle Beach physical culturists and Italian sword-and-sandal movies and created the genre of Man-Mountains. His superlative physique and distinctive Austrian growl have been parodied innumerable times, on Saturday Night Live, on Seinfeld, on Tiny Toon Adventures).    It's hard to leave a room temporarily without being tempted to use his signature line from The Terminator, "I'll be back."

Already a Mr. Universe and nearly a Mr. Olympia, the 21 year old Mr. Schwarzenegger moved to the United States in 1968 with his best friend Franco Columbu, to become an actor.  He posed for a lot of fitness magazines, including the gay-coded Tomorrow's Man.  In the 1970s he was the subject of more conventional semi-nude paintings by Jamie Wyeth.


I had a friend in the 1980s whose bathroom featured what looked very much like a nude photo of Arnold, clipped from a fitness magazine.  It's not the black and white flexing photo that's available everywhere; this one was in color, and showed Arnold standing on a hillside.

His first starring role was in Hercules in New York (1969), which nobody saw.  His accent was so bad that his lines were dubbed.

I saw him (and Franco) in Stay Hungry (1976), about a young man (Jeff Bridges) drawn into the world of bodybuilding, and in The Jayne Mansfield Story (1980), where he played Mansfield's muscular husband, Mickey Hargitay.

But his break-out role was Conan the Barbarian (1982), an invocation of the Conan of heroic fantasy novels and comic books as a Man-Mountain.  He is a warrior of the Hyperborean Age who battles an evil snake cult -- but, contrary to expectations, he gets captured and rescued as often as he does the rescuing.  And he has a male companion, Subotai (Gerry Lopez), with whom he has a bond as strong, if not stronger, than that with his girlfriend Valeria (Sandahl Bergman)..

Who would have thought that a Man-Mountain could be so easily queered?  And did I mention the beefcake?

Conan the Destroyer (1984) also gave Conan two companions, a comic-relief thief (Tracey Walter) and a fierce warrior (Grace Jones).  This time he does a lot of rescuing, but there's no fade-out kiss.

No heterosexual interest in his naked cyborg in The Terminator movies (1984, 1991), but he does buddy-bond with the young John Connor (Edward Furlong).

Then he started playing Man-Mountains who get girls, in Red Sonja (1985), Commando (1985), Predator (1987), and Total Recall (1990). But there were still muscles to look at.

The former governor of California is certainly no gay ally; he has been very clear about his opinions of "girly-men" and gay marriage.  But during the 1970s and 1980s, he was the "first crush" for many gay boys.

Aug 22, 2021

"The Chair": A Woman of Color Chairs a Department Full of Doddering, Older-than-Dirt White People


In The Chair, Ji-Yoon (Sandra Oh) has just been appointed Chair of the English Department at absurdly elegant, Ivy League on steroids Pembroke University.  Her colleagues consist of:

1. Four doddering, older-than-dirt white people (three men and a woman) who haven't looked at a student evaluation since 1966 and don't see any reason to (they have tenure, after all).  They lecture on "the stylistics of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales"  to empty classrooms (all university classes on tv, even advanced seminars, are taught in giant lecture halls).

Uh-oh, the Dean is upset about their low enrollments and has issued Ji-Yoon an ultimatum: get them on the ball, or fire them. Or else he will close the English Department. (Wait -- every student takes a first-year writing class taught by English professors or grad students.  The English Department can't go away.)

2. A young black woman with revolutionary ideas, like "Tweet your favorite line from Moby Dick."  (Um..."Call me Ishmael"?).  She's  going up for tenure.  Uh-oh, everybody knows that you follow the party line to the letter, and save the revolutionary ideas until after you get tenure.  That's why, when you look at the publication list of gay scholars, you find no "queering the text" articles for the first five or six years.  I published on gay topics from the moment I got my Ph.D., which is why it took 13 years to find a tenure-track position.

Plus doddering, older-than-dirt, decidedly not woke white people judging a person of color?  This won't end well.

3. Middle-aged professor Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass, top photo.  Don't get excited -- that's his brother).  Bill's stereotyped dead wife causes him to act out in destructive behavior, like trying to make out with Ji-Yoon n her office, fraternizing with a female student, accidentally showing a porno instead of a powerpoint slideshow, and giving the class a Nazi salute.

That last thing has the students up in arms, demanding that he be fired, resulting in a brawl with the university police.  But hey, he has tenure.

4. There's a job opening.  (Wait -- I thought the department was facing retrenchment.)  Ji-Yoon wants to hire a rising-star person of color who is being courted by Harvard and Yale, but the doddering oldsters of course want someone whose doctoral dissertation cites only works from before 1956.

  None.  Not even any silver foxes among the doddering oldsters.  The students are drawn mostly from drama majors at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh; one has to look far down the cast list to find one with beefcake shots available. (Shown: Alex D. Jennings, "Muscular Guy" in one episode.)

Other Sights:
Establishing shots of the ultra-elegant Pembroke University, pieced together from Washington & Jefferson College and Chatham University.  And the offices are beyond elegant.

Gay Characters: None.  No one at this college is aware that LGBT people exist.  Not even the students.  Not even in a class on Moby Dick. My college, much, much less prestigious, celebrates Pride Month.

Heterosexual romance: Ji-Yoon and Bill were dating before they married other people and had kids.  Now they're both single, so no doubt they will embark on a "will they or won't they?" Sam and Diane thing.

 My grade:  B.  In spite of the utter lack of beefcake and strangely retro erasure of LGBT people from existence, The Chair resonates so strongly with my experiences in academe that it's a lot of fun to watch

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