Jul 2, 2022

Going to Movies in 1994: Ralph Macchio Comes Out, Matthew Broderick Strips, Jason Scott Lee Flexes, and There are Drag Queens


In 1994 I was working another 9-5 job, at Gruen Associates (the architectural firm that invented shopping malls).  Then I got laid off, and started a job counseling business that never got off the ground.  But who cared?  It was West Hollywood, where truth and beauty were more important than a paycheck, and gay potential was everywhere.  Even at the movies.  A few years ago, gay characters simply did not exist, but of the 14 movies I saw in theaters in 1994, six had gay or gay-ish friends, boyfriends, or vampires.  

January: None

February: Reality Bites, about four slacker friends who have relationship and job problems.  One (Steven Zahn) is gay, but doesn't date or hook up with guys, because audiences would run screaming from the theater.  

March: Four Weddings and a Funeral, about a group of British friends looking for love.  There's a gay couple among them, but they don't do anything romantic, because audiences would run screaming from the theater. One (Simon Callow) dies.  Figures; the straight people get weddings, and the gay guy gets a funeral.  At least he doesn't die of AIDS or get murdered in a hate crime.

Threesome: two college guys are accidentally assigned a female roommate!  Eddy (Josh Charles) turns out to be gay, and falls for Stuart (Stephen Baldwin); Stuart falls for the girl, who falls for Eddy.  They all resolve their attractions with a three-way romance (the girl always between the two boys, so audiences don't run screaming from the theater).  Then they break up and start dating other people; Eddy gets a boyfriend.  

April: Naked in New York: Failing playwright in New York interacts with many film greats.  In a minor subplot, his friend (Ralph Macchio) has a "sexual identity crisis," thinking he might be gay.  He doesn't actually do anything gay, because...well, you know.  But he does do straight stuff.

May: Maverick, because Lane watched the old Western as a kid, even though it stars the homophobic Mel Gibson.  In 1994, if you avoided every movie with a star who had made homophobic comments, you'd never go to a movie at all.

May: The Flintstones, because we both watched the animated series as kids.  In the original intro, Fred goes to a drive-in restaurant and orders something so heavy that it turns the car over.  I had no idea what.  In the live-action film, the mystery is solved: brontosaurus ribs.

June: Speed, because of Keanu Reeves.  He's driving a bus that can't go below 50 miles per hour, or a bomb will explode.  Somehow he manages to meet The Girl and have a fade-out kiss.  On the plus side, it contains my favorite anti-heterosexism exchange in any movie.  One of the passengers complains "I can't die!  I have a wife."  A single guy calls him out on his "only married men matter" trope.

July: The Shadow, based on the 1940s radio series, which was in turn based on a 1930s pulp fiction proto-superhero "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?  The Shadow knows."  Of course he meets The Girl.

August: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.  Two gay men and a trans woman try to do a drag show in a redneck town in the Australian Outback.  The trans woman finds love, and decides to stay. One of the gay guys has a wife and son, pushing the "all gays are straight" trope, and the "small towns are far superior to the Big City" trope is annoying, but hey, there are drag queens!

Rapa Nui.  The fall of the Easter Island culture, with Jason Scott Lee, Esai Morales, and other hunks stripped down to Polynesian genital bags.  Of course there's The Girl, but the relationship is minimized, in spite of what the movie posters want you to think. 

October: The Puppet Masters, because it was science fiction, based on a classic Robert Heinlein story abouto alien parasites.  Except Heinlein's story did not include an excessively cloying boy-girl romance. Grr.

The Road to Wellville, because it features a scene with Matthew Broderick nearly naked, tied to a cold shower, as he explores the 19th century health food movement that gave us Kellogg's Corn Flakes.  Same-sex desire is not mentioned, and Will (Matthew) graduates from sexual debauchery to heteronormative marriage and children.  Ugh..  Just concentrate on his muscles.

November: Interview with the Vampire, based on the Anne Rice novel, which has homoerotic hints.  So does the movie.  They don't go beyond hints, but it's 1994. What do you expect?

The Jungle Book, an adaption of the Kipling stories about a boy raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. You're familiar with the animated version (1967), where Mowgli is about ten, and drawn from wilderness to civilization by the smile of The Girl.  This live-action version makes Mowgli (Jason Scott Lee) a hunky adult, and the primary plot about winniing The Girl.  Oh, well: in 1994, as in 2022, almost every movie is about a boy and a girl falling in love.  You just ignore it and look for subtexts, or muscles.

Jul 1, 2022

Going to Movies in 1991: 8 Boy-Girl Romances, 5 Guys in Underwear, 4 Terminal Illnesses, 3 Drag Queens, and a Lot of Giant Bugs

In 1991 I was quite a globetrotter, visiting San Francisco for the first time, then Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam, my standard Spring Break trip for many years. I spent the fall semester in Nashville, studying Biblical Hebrew at Vanderbilt Divinity School.  Nashville didn't have a gay neighborhood at the time, so there was no pressure to avoid the Straight World, and I started going to movies regularly again, 16 before New Year's Eve.

January: None

February:  Run, because of Patrick Dempsey (sigh).  We would have watched anything that involved Patrick Dempsey smiling at the camera, even if he and The Girl were on the run after being falsely accused of murder.

March: The Hard Way, because I knew Michael J. Fox, sort of.  He plays a movie star who preps for a role by hanging out with a real cop, who dislikes him.  They end up being friends, of course, and fighting over the attention of The Girl.

March: If Looks Could Kill, because of Richard Griego (top photo), who starred on 21 Jump Street after Johnny Depp left the teen-cop series: he was so feminine, wearing make-up and dangling earrings, that we assumed he was gay.  He plays a teen slacker who gets involved with spies and The Girl in France.  This was just before my first trip to Paris.  

Toy Soldiers, Terrorists take a boys' boarding school hostage, and the boys save the day in their underwear after discussing strategy in their underwear.  An immense number of biceps and bulges (don't worry, the director made sure that only actors over 18 showed their physiques).

May: None

June: Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, because it starrred the cute Keith Coogan and Christina Applegate of Married..with Children.  A teenage girl takes over when the babysitter dies, becoming a fashion designer, getting admitted to Vassar, and dumping her boyfriend.  Plus there are drag queens.

July: None.

August: Doc Hollywood,  I was getting tired of Michael J. Fox: did he have to meet The Girl in every single movie?  I especially disliked this one, about a doctor who abandons the Big City for a small town.  And it wasn't even Christmas.

The Indian Runner, because I thought there would be Indians in it. Instead, it's about two small town brothers, a sheriff and a crook.  There's also a girlfriend, a wife, and a terminally ill mother.  Yuck.

September: Late for Dinner. Two brothers-in-law are frozen for 20 years.  There are wives, girlfriends, and deadly diseases.  Yuck.

My Own Private Idaho. Keanu Reeves plays a hustler who suffers from narcolepsy.  He has sex with men and women both.  His best friend/ possible boyfriend (River Phoenix) falls in love with a woman.  Just mentioning the possibility of same-sex activity in a theater was amazing in 1991, especially in homophobic Nashville, but frankly, I had no idea what was going on.

October: The Super. Slum lord Joe Peschi is sentenced to live in one of his own horrible tenements.  He bonds with the residents and doesn't fall in love.  It would be a welcome relief from the incessant boy-meets-girl plotlines, except Peschi plays an oozing sleazebag who propositions every woman in sight.  Nashville wasn't working out well.

November: Kafka.  I expected a biopic of Franz Kafka, but instead it's a political thriller set in a world based on The Castle.  Kafka and The Girl investigate a secret society that controls world events.

November: The Addams Family.  An adaption of the 1960s tv series, which was itself an adaption of single-panel cartoons published by Charles Addams in The New Yorker in the 1950s.  No gay content, unless the bizarre family itself disrupts heteronormative expectations.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, because it was Star Trek.  This one has the return of the iconic villain Khan and the death of Spock.

December: Fried Green Tomatoes.  A veiled lesbian relationship in the 1940s South, interspliced with Alzheimer's, terminal cancer, and an abusive husband.  For a brief period in 1991 and 1992, every restaurant in West Hollywood was serving fried green tomatoes.  They're quite tart.

December: Naked Lunch, based on the novel by William S. Burroughs, who was gay.  I had no idea what was going on: a guy kills his wife then meets her again.  There are giant bugs and vomit.  We walked out before the homophobic scene of the swishy gay guy raping someone to death.

Toy Soldiers: Muscle on Parade

Every once in a while, a movie producer hires all of the teen hunks he can find, puts them in an all-male environment, and orders a script that involves fighting a common adversary with their shirts off, thus ensuring the avid interest of every gay boy in the world: Tom Brown's School Days, Lord of the Flies, White Squall.  In 1991, the movie was Toy Soldiers.

The plot: terrorists take over an elite prep school for the sons of the wealthy and powerful, and take the boys and their headmaster hostage.  The boys use their troublemaking skills to gather intel on the terrorists, and wise-cracking operator Billy Tepper (20-year old Sean, left) sneaks out to brief the adults.

When they turn out to be ineffectual, Billy and his friends, including comic relief Snuffy (21-year old Keith Coogan, middle) and surly bodybuilder Ricky (19-year old George Perez, right), go on the offensive, incapacitating several terrorists, disabling their bomb, and leading the  younger kids to safety, just in time to be "rescued."

Other boys include the rich "jerk" Joey (19-year old Wil Wheaton, well known for playing Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: the Next Generation).

And T. E. Russell as the pragmatic Hank.

Sean Astin (Billy) was a major teen idol of the period, with roles in The Goonies, The War of the Roses, White Water Summer, and Rudy).  

Keith Coogan (Snuffy) was a former child star with credits in Adventures in Babysitting and The Book of Love.  

There's some buddy-bonding between Billy and Snuffy, but with a large ensemble cast, it's not well developed.

However, heterosexual interest is absent, except for a scene in which Billy confiscates a Playboy from one of the younger kids.  There are references to getting laid and masturbation, but no one mentions a girlfriend or a desire for girls.

Absence of expressed heterosexual desire is almost unheard-off in a teen movie of the 1990s, giving viewers permission to read one or more of the boys -- or all of them -- as gay.

And the parade of underwear-clad, towel-clad, and shirtless teenage muscle (or rather young adult muscle, since all of the actors were over 18) didn't hurt.

Jun 28, 2022

Going to Movies in 1990: Kevin Bacon's Boyfriend, Patrick Dempsey's Car, Aidan Quinn's Chest, and Matthew Modine's Squatter

 I spent the first six months of 1990 working -- that is, having other people take credit for my accomplishments -- at the Getty Consternation Institute, while desperately searching for another full-time job.  Finally I just quit, did temp work, pushed up my freelance writing, and took classes in Biblical Hebrew at UCLA. Lane continued to push me into going to movies that were even tangentially science-fiction like.   I saw twelve movies in the theater!

: Tremors, because it was science fiction-ish.  Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, and The Girl fight giant sand-worms.  They have a gay-subtext buddy-bond in spite of the fade-out boy-girl kiss.

February: None

March: Bad Influence, because we had seen the star, Rob Lowe, fully aroused.  This was just after the video started making the rounds of Lowe and a friend having sex with girls, so everyone in West Hollywood saw him.  He plays a baddie who drags straightlaced James Spader into a hedonistic lifestyle, including sex, drugs, and murder.  They would have a gay subtext except for the constant naked ladies hanging around them.

March (second movie of the month!): Coupe de Ville, because who wouldn't want to see Patrick Dempsey in anything?  Even a stupid movie about three brothers having adventures as they drive their dad's car to Florida for some reason. 

March (third movie of the month!)
: The Handmaid's Tale, because it was science fiction, based on Margaret Atwood's novel about a near-future dystopian society where women are forced to become "handmaids," producing children for men whose wives are barren.  It starred Aidan Quinn, who played a gay character in the AIDS drama An Early Frost, so we assumed that he would be gay here, too.  Actually he's the secret boyfriend of the Handmaid.

April: Cry-Baby.  Johnny Depp being a teen idol, before he got all bohemian and bizarre. Actually, this was very bizarre, too, directed by John Waters, about duelling youth gangs in 1950s Baltimore.  Montague-Capulet hetero-romance and no gay characters.

May: Last Exit to Brooklyn, because it was based on a novel by Hubert Selby, one of the few works of fiction we knew about with gay characters. Depressed, miserable gay characters, but in 1990 you took what you could get.  There are depressed, miserable gay characters in the movie, too, living lives of quiet -- and sometimes loud -- desperation on the margins of society.   

Total Recall, because it starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, and it was science fiction.  Lane could drool over the techno-gadgetry, and I could drool over...

June (second movie of the month!): Dick Tracy, because Lane grew up reading Dick Tracy comics.  He's a square-jawed detective in a stylized 1940s world who runs afoul of colorful villains like Flattop, Itchy, and Pruneface.  He and his girlfriend Tress Trueheart  adopt a kid for a heteronormative conclusion.

July: Arachnophobia, because it was science fiction, sort of, starring John Goodman of Roseanne.  He plays an exterminator who teams up with nuclear-family entomologist Jeff Daniels to fight a plague of spiders.  Not giant ones, just spiders.

August: None.

: Pacific Heights, because it was set in San Francisco, so there must be some gay characters, right?  Wrong.  It's about a male-female couple (Matthew Modine, Melanie Griffith) being hounded by a siniste squatter (Michael Keaton). He's identified as heterosexual, too.  But I've had my share of sadistic, overbearing, invasive, and downright looney landlords, so it was fun seeing the problems from the other side. 

October:  None.

November: Home Alone, because everyone saw it: a horribly neglected child is left alone during Christmas, and must defend himself against two bumbling burglars.

December: The Sheltering Sky, because it was based on a novel by Paul Bowles, who was gay, so we figured there would be gay characters.  Nope.  No gay subtexts, either.  

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