Jan 13, 2023

Queering "Willow"


I never saw the 1982 movie Willow, an epic fantasy that apparently involved a kick-ass Princess, an "arrogant" (that is, sexy) rogue, and the titular dwarven wizard Willow in a Medieval faux-Celtic world.   It has returned as a tv series on Disney Plus: a generation after the events in the movie, the kick-ass princess Kit must rescue her twin brother from Airk (pronounced "Eric") (Dempsy Bryk, top photo) from the Withered Crone, who is a pawn of the Wyrm that wants to destroy the world.  

She must cross the Shattered Sea to find the Immemorial City, with lots more portentious-sounding places and objects.  She, of course, has a coterie of ragtag companions, one of whom is the Chosen One, Elora Danan, whose name I cannot hear without thinking of yogurt.

The big news, blasted all over the internet, is that Kit is gay, and commences a romance with knight-in-training Jade.  They even kiss a couple of times. 

On the journey, they also encounter two women living together in the forest.  They are both killed within about five minutes, and they don't do or say anything to indicate that they are romantic partners, but what else could they be?

 But I wanted to see if there were any gay guys in the series, so I checked the ragtag companions, one by one.

1. Starting with Airk himself: thin, stylishly-dressed, long fluffy hair, wearing about a thousand rings.  A lot of gay coding, except that he's introduced smooching up bakery assistant Dove, with the reputation of smooching up every lady in sight.  He spends most of his kidnapping mooning over Dove (who, spoiler alert: turns out to be the Chosen One/Yogurt). 

2. Prince Graydon (Tony Revolori) 
who was betrothed to Princess Kit as a political strategy by their parents.  He doesn't want to marry Kit and seems to buddy-bond with Boorman (below).  Plus I thought that the actor was gay in real life, but he's shown here with his brother, not his boyfriend.  Prince Graydon starts mooning with unrequited love for Elora Danan, the Chosen One/Yogurt.

3. Boorman (Amar Chandha-Patel)
, a lovable rogue who inevitably finds his "I'm in this for the money" facade fade to a fierce group loyalty.  Another multiple ringed, rather feminine guy, but he notes that his main goal in life is finding, wooing, and bedding ladies, and never expresses any same-sex interest.  However, when it looks like they are all going to die, he suggests that he, Prince Graydon, and Elora Danan spend their last moments smooching.  So he's canonically bisexual, or at least open to a boy-girl-boy three-way if he'll be dead soon.

He's also the only one of the group who displays any beefcake.

4. Willow himself (Warwick Davis),
who uses his wizard powers to determine the fellowship's course of action and train Elora Danan and, briefly, Prince Graydon, in the magical arts.  He brings along a fellow Nelwyn (dwarf) named Silas, and they buddy-bond briefly, but his main affection is for his daughter back home.  I can't remember if his wife is living or dead, but he's definitely got some heterosexual coding.

So no gay/bi guys except maybe, in one comment.  But maybe a lesbian couple is enough, after years of Disney hints, subtexts,  and "blink and you miss it " hugs.

Richard Thomas: Falling in Love with a Photograph

When I was in junior high and high school, this was one of the most recognizable faces in America: Richard Thomas, who played Depression-era teenager John-Boy on The Waltons (1971-77).

I never saw a single episode, just snippets as I walked through the living room on my way upstairs to watch hip sitcoms like Welcome Back Kotter, Barney Miller or What's Happening!!!  Who wanted to watch a boring drama set a thousand years ago, when my parents were kids?

But I saw the parodies on Saturday Night Live and in Mad Magazine, I heard all the jokes, and I had a big crush on Richard Thomas.

Ok, not much of a physique, but that hair, those eyes, those  lips! Tell me you can look at that face without wanting to kiss him.

He wasn't a big teen idol, with no shirtless centerfolds in the teen magazines, barely a mention as they poured out articles about Donny Osmond, Leif Garrett, and Shaun Cassidy.  Maybe he was too old, in his 20s (born in 1951).  Maybe he was too married.  Or maybe he just wasn't androgynous.

But I didn't know he was married, and nine years older was the perfect age for me.  And the pictures in TV Guide, Parade, and other general-interest magazines were enough to spark my romantic interest.

In an interview, Richard stated that he was studying Mandarin Chinese for fun.  I was into languages!  Maybe we would meet and study Arabic together.

I like your smile.
Ana uhibu aibtisamatak

May I kiss you?
Hal li 'an 'aqbalak?

The first erotic dream I remember, around 1975 (ninth or tenth grade), involves kissing Richard Thomas.  I replayed that dream in my head a thousand times.

 I hadn't even figured "it" out yet, and I was fantasizing about kissing Richard Thomas!

During high school and college, I saw him in 3 movies:

1. Roots: The Next Generation (1979).  He played a boy involved in an interracial romance.

2. No Other Love (1979).  He played a mentally handicapped boy who wants to get married.

Both roles about forbidden love.  Could Richard be gay, and trying to "come out" in a roundabout fashion?

3. The 1980 Star Wars rip-off Battle Beyond the Stars (he played Luke Skywalker to George Peppard's Han Solo and Sybill Danning's Princess Leia).

For some reason I missed his role as a gay wheelchair-bound Vietnam vet in Fifth of July.  It aired on March 9, 1982, during my senior year in college.  Most likely I just didn't know about it.

I haven't seen Richard Thomas in anything since.  He generally appears in movies and tv series that I would have absolutely no interest in, religious (The Easter Story, Touched by a Angel), hetero-romantic (Linda, Time after Time), or sad (To Save the Children, Anna's Dream).  No more gay roles, that I know of.

Besides, he has not aged well.  His eyes have narrowed, his lips have shrunken, his face has panned out.  Kissing him would not be out of the question, but it's certainly not the first thing you think of when you see this photograph.

And his photograph was what I fell in love with.

See also: The Waltons: The Gay Connection

Jan 11, 2023

King of the Golden River: Boy Meets Dwarf

Shortly after I was born, my parents bought a set of Colliers Encyclopedia and The Junior Classics, an anthology of mostly Victorian-era stories like Alice in Wonderland and Jackanapes. During my earliest childhood I often took them from the shelves and leafed through them, marveling at the odd illustrations.  I first tried reading them at age 8 or 9, but the antiquated language and obscure references made it well-nigh impossible.  Still, their very impenetrability was attractive, suggesting hidden codes and secrets, so over the years I tried again and again, finally encountering some amazing gay subtexts.

The King of the Golden River (1841) begins with a blustery, round person, "The North Wind," visiting an extremely girlish young man named Gluck.   From there, things get even more bizarre.  Gluck battles his older, bullying brothers, Hans and Schwartz, for a golden mug, which turns out to contain the imprisoned spirit of the dwafish King of the Golden River.  

Someone must travel to the source of the river and sprinkle it with "holy water."  The evil brothers try, but fail, and are turned into black stones.  Gluck tries, but gives the water away in acts of kindness, and is rewarded when the river turns into a river of gold.

There is no same-sex romance, but Gluck (played by Thor Bautz, left, in a gender-transgressive 2009 stage version) is quiet, sensitive, feminine, gay-coded.

And,  bucking the tradition of fairy tales ending with "they were married and lived happily ever after," he never meets a girl.  At the end of the story, he is old, wealthy, well-respected by the community, with no wife.  

That was, in itself, a revelation.

The author of King of the Golden River was John Ruskin (played by Tom Hollander, top center, in the 2009 tv series Desperate Romantics).  He was apparently heterosexual; like Lewis Carroll, he liked young girls.  But there is no evidence that he had a physical relationship with anyone.

His marriage to Effie Gray was annulled after six years, not consummated because "there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked passion."  There have been many theories about what those circumstances were, but probably not the nude female form itself. (Effie later married his friend, pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais).

He was a scholar of the Renaissance, who became aware of the practice of "the bestial vice."  Although he was quite homophobic, revealing that same-sex practices occurred at all helped to create the image of the "queer Renaissance," where gay people didn't have to hide.  Oscar Wilde said that studying under him at Oxford was one of the turning points of his career.

Jan 9, 2023

"Mine": Lifestyles of the Super-Rich and Super-Sinister

 Mine, on Netflix, promises to be a sleazy Korean soap about the shenanigans of the super-rich.  Plus the icon displayed my favorite Korean heartthrob, Cha Hak Yeon (from Bad and Crazy), whom I'm relatively sure is gay in real life.  So I thought I'd check it out.

Scene 1: Catholic Mass, night.  An elderly Korean nun runs past the gigantic crucifix, into the rain, and all the way to the police station in the daylight.  "Somebody was bleeding to death!" she screams.  Lady, that was Jesus.  No, flashback to the convent, and a woman's hand lying in a pool of blood.

Time runs backwards to 60 days earlier.  Hyowon Mansion, actually a complex of several mansions surrounded by gardens.  The elderly nun and a young woman are strolling on the grounds, discussing her donations to the Single Mothers' Foundation.   Uh-oh, some tough guys are roughing up the kindergarten teacher (actually the kids look like they are 11-12 years old).  The young woman intervenes and calls the police. 

What happens next is quite confusing, with five women who you can't tell apart  -- all young, thin, and black-haired.  So instead of a scene by scene, I'll lay out the main players.

The infinitely wealthy Hyowon Family is run by a tough-as-nails matriarch and her two sons, each of whom is married to a power-hungry conniving Jackie Collins type. 

Eldest son Jin-Ho (Park Hyuk-Kwanm left) is married to Seo-Hung, an icy-cold artist.  He has a teenage son from an earlier marriage, Soo-Hyuk (Cha Hak-Yeon, top photo), who has been sent to school abroad to avoid scandalizing the family.

Second son Ji-Yong (Lee Hyun-wok) is married  to Hi-Soo, a glamorous former actress. She's the one who donates to the Single Mothers' Foundation and rescued the orphan girl from the thugs.   

There's also a daughter, Jin-Hee, whose husband, Jung-Do (Jo Eun Sul, below), tries his best to not be noticed.

Each of the daughters-in-law tries to demonstrate their authority by hiring someone that the other dislikes. After some passive-aggressive competition, Second Wife ends up hiring the absurdly unqualified Ms. Kang as a  live-in tutor for her husband's eight year old son.  First Wife ends up hiring the rescued orphan kindergarten teacher Ms. Kim as a maid.  I know, each of the newcomers should have gotten the other's job, but that's how the Jackie Collinses arranged things.

Let's pick up at Scene 11:

Scene 11: Teenage Soo-Hyuk, who is wearing a traditional costume, returns from his exile overseas.  His father hugs him twice and says "Welcome back.  We've kept your room the same as it was."   

Their mansion on the estate is the size of an Egyptian pyramid!  On his way up the stairs, Teenage Soo-Hyuk runs into Maid Ms. Kim.  They stare at each other in abject horror, which I assume is the Korean expression for Person-of-My-Dreams horniness.  Then she walks around him in slow motion twice. 

Scene 12: First Wife supervising the army of maids as they set the dinner table. She orders Maid Ms. Kim to introducer herself to the Matriarch, who yells: "How dare you speak to me, you worthless inferior!  What an impudent bitch!" Teenage Soo-Hyuk stares in abject horror.  Obviously Grandma will not approve of their romance!

Scene 13: Second Wife, her husband, and the 8-year old boy are heading toward Teenage Soo-Hyuk's welcome home dinner.   "We want the new tutor Ms. Kang to stick around for awhile," she tells him.  "So none of your shenanigans.  Be friendly, but not too friendly!"  Translation: no sex!  Tutor Ms. Kang gazes from far off, scheming to get her clutches into Second Son.

Scene 14:
The dinner. Matriarch refuses to say grace: "I'm thinking of converting to Buddhism, because if I stay a Christian, I'll go to heaven, and my husband is there!  Ugh!"   "You don't need to worry about going to heaven,"  Daughter snipes. 

Then they discuss their plans for Teenage Soo-Hyuk's career and wife (Korean children don't get to choose).  Then he sees Maid Ms. Kim, and stares in abject horror again.  The horror is understandable: if he marries the Girl of His Dreams, his family will hate him forever, but if he doesn't, he'll be miserable forever.

Scene 15: The kitchen staff gossipping about Teenage Soo-Hyuk's dad, First Son, who used to be an alcoholic with anger issues.  Plus he's an idiot.  His first wife ran off. Why did the glamorous Artist agree to become his second wife?  Um...he's filthy rich?

Meanwhile, Teenage  Soo-Hyuk is lying in bed (no beefcake), thinking about his dilemma. Whoops, a hair-braid thing.  Maid Ms. Kim must have lost it while cleaning. He holds it tightly.

Scene 16: Kitchen staff marches into the deserted dining room to clean up. First Daughter is yelling and throwing dinner plates at her husband (they cost 1.5 million each, about $1,000).  The Daughters-in-Law rush in and tell her to stop; even rich people aren't that rich.   Then they sit her down for a confab: "Your disgraceful act will bring shame to the family.  You are no longer welcome here."

Meanwhile, the Sons confab: "We hate each other, but Daughter refuses to give me a divorce!" Son-in-Law exclaims.  Second Son promises to have a chat with her. Then he gets a call from his 8-year old son: "I have a stomach-ache, and Mom hasn't picked me up." 

Scene 17: Second Son and his wife rush home to their son. Tutor Ms. Kang tried to cure his stomach-ache by pricking his finger.  This angers Second Son, but Second Wife is pleased: it's an old Korean folk remedy..

Scene 18: Maid Ms. Kim in bed.  She's too horny to sleep, so she gets up and walks through the labyrinthine house and grounds to Teenage Soo-Hyuk's suite.  She explains that she got lost!  He returns her hair braid thing.  "Oh that...I must have lost it while I was mastur...lying in...making your bed."

"Why don't we switch rooms?" he suggests. "That way I can...um...er...make your bed.  It will be fun to do maid-stuff."

Scene 19
: Second Wife comes downstairs to see Tutor Ms. Kang sashaying around in her dress!  "I'm sorry...the maid put it aside to dry clean, and it was so beautiful that I had to try it on (because I'll own it when I take your place).  

Second Wife orders her to take it off, so she does -- right there -- and teasingly flounces up the stairs in her slip.  Second Wife follows, knocks on her door, and stares in abject horror.  Ulp, she's just met the Woman of Her Dreams.  Tutor Ms Kang  just smiles and returns to the parlor to feel a table in slow motion.  She doesn't mind -- she'll get everything, regardless of which of the spouses she seduces. 

Scene 20:  The elderly nun from Scene 1 asking "Does anyone deserve to die? Certainly someone thought so."  The four main women stare at each other as a body falls to the floor.  The end.

Beefcake: None so far. Some cute guys.

Gay Characters: Definite lesbian subtext between Second Wife and Tutor Ms. Kang.  

Soap:  These people are twice as wealthy as the Carringtons of Dynasty, and three times as sneaky.  Everyone has a hidden agenda and a few scandalous secrets.  I just wish that the women weren't so hard to tell apart.

My Grade: B

Jan 8, 2023

"The Pale Blue Eye": A Murder Mystery with Edgar Allan Poe and a Cadre of West Point Cadet Hunks


The Pale Blue Eye, on Netflix, is a murder mystery set at West Point Military Academy  in 1830, with Edgar Allan Poe as one of the players!  Poe was obviously a devotee of the feminine, but queer studies scholars have found homoerotic subtexts in his works, and the original novel by Louis Bayard was placed on a list of must-reads by The Advocate in 2016, so it must have queer content.  

Scene 1: A snowy, dark winter in the Hudson Valley, New York, 1830.  Augustus Landor washes his hands in a creek, and returns to his cabin to mourn his Dead Wife.  Captain Hitchcock of the controversial West Point military training school is waiting for him. 

Scene 2: While they ride, Captain Hitchcock tells Landor his own back story: famous detective, solved many important cases in New York, dead wife, runaway daughter.

Scene 3: The Headmaster tells him that a cadet named Fry (Steven Maier) hanged himself last night -- a big problem for West Point, as it indicates that the harsh treatment of cadets isn't working out, and will give some senators in Washington their chance to shut them down.  

But to make matters worse, someone came into the hospital later and cut Fry's heart out!  The job would take considerable strength and some knowledge of anatomy, but no medical training.  It could have been one of the cadets.

Next Landor interviews Cadet Huntoon (Brennan Keel Cook), who found Fry,  and examines the body, both in the morgue and in a baththub, and concludes that he was struggling when he died: he was murdered. Also, he was clutching a scrap of paper with printed words on it.  

Captain Hitchcock warns Landor to not engage in his usual out-of-the-box shenanigans among the cadets.  Do tell...does he like twinks?  Later, as Landor examines the crime scene, a cadet approaches and tells him that the heart-carver must be a poet, because the heart is a symbol, and who trafficks in symbols? 

Scene 4: Landor interviews Cadet Cochrane (Gideon Glick), who was guarding the body at the hospital until 2:30 am, when he was relieved by an officer.  It was dark, so Cochrane didn't see his face.  He knew that it was an officer because he had bars on his uniform -- right side only.  Those on the left side were missing!

Scene 5:
Landor at a inn: realistically lit by candlelight, that is, very dark.  He drinks with the bartender ("fuck the rules!")  and sees the shy, stuttering, over-eager cadet who had the poet idea, a Mr. Edgar Allen Poe (Harry Melling)! 21 years old, with two books of poetry published, and hating the academy.  In real life, he only lasted a few months.

They discuss the use of the heart as a symbol in great poetry and the Bible.  When Landor gets up to leave, Poe grabs his arm: "Investigate Cadet Loughborough.  He was Fry's roommate until they had a lover's quarrel...um, I mean argument/"

Scene 6:
Cadet Loughborough (Charlie Tahan, top photo), Fry's roommate, denies that they had an argument..just "diverging paths. He'd fallen in with a bad bunch."  

Next Landor interviews an unnamed cadet, maybe Cadet Ballnger (Fred Hechinger), the last person to see Fry alive: they passed in the quad, and Fry asked if there were any officers about.  He said he was off on "necessary business."

Uh-oh, a cow and a sheep have been butchered, and their hearts cut out!  Someone is making a collection!

Scene 7:  Landon offers Poe a job gathering intel, "but keep our relationship a secret."  Have they been dating?   First task: decode the paper fragment found on the body.  Then Landor he goes home to look at a picture of his dead wife and wonder if it's ok to meet someone new.  She wouldn't mind, dude. 

Poe knocks on the door: he's decoded the last two lines of the message: "Come soon. Don't be late."  Landor decodes the others: "I'll be at the cove by the landing." But why would you meet a fellow cadet by the cove, when you can meet him anywhere?  The sender must be a woman, not allowed on the campus.  Darn, I thought for sure that Fry was gay.  In 1830, they didn't have a term for exclusive same-sex interest, but they certainly knew what same-sex interest was.

"I saw a woman!" Poe exclaims.  "Outside the mess hall the morning after the murder.  The most beautiful creature I've ever seen!"  I thought Poe was going to be gay-ish.. 

Scene 8:  Landor in bed with a woman. He asks for some intel on Poe.  I thought Landor was going to be gay, too.

I'm out of space, so I'll stop the scene-by-scene, but two more hunky cadets are yet to appear:

Cadet Marquis (Harry Lawtey) and his sister are prime suspects.  He doesn't express any heterosexual interest.

Cadet Stoddard (Joey Brooks) disappears after the second cadet is murderd (and his genitals cut out), presumably because he knows he's next in line,

There's a really silly plot twist, a WTF ending, and every indication that Poe is romantically interested in Landor, in spite of his interest in women.

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