One of the British New Wave’s most versatile directors, John Schlesinger came to New York in the late 1960s to make Midnight Cowboy, a picaresque story of friendship that captured a city in crisis and sparked a new era of Hollywood movies.
Jon Voight delivers a career-making performance as Joe Buck, a wide-eyed hustler from Texas hoping to score big with wealthy city women. He finds a companion in Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo, an ailing swindler with a bum leg and a quixotic fantasy of escaping to Florida, played by Dustin Hoffman in a radical departure from his breakthrough in The Graduate.
Back in 1991, Christopher Marlowe‘s notorious 16th century play was radically adapted into this gay cinema masterpiece by the late, great queer iconoclast Derek Jarman – and it’s easily one of his most powerful films.
Using anachronistic imagery, modern dress, gay activists battling riot police and Annie Lennox singing Cole Porter, the story of Britain’s only openly gay monarch and the persecution he suffered is given a contemporary resonance by Jarman, paralleling the injustice with prevailing modern-day homophobia.
“Where do these people come from? Where do they go when the sun goes down? Isn’t there a law of something?” -Rex Reed
Glamour has never been more grotesque than in Female Trouble,John Waters‘ 1974 classic, dubbed at the time “a new high in low taste.” The film injects old-school Hollywood melodrama with anarchic decadence. Divine, Waters’ larger-than-life muse, engulfs the screen with charisma as Dawn Davenport, the living embodiment of the film’s lurid mantra, “Crime is beauty,” who progresses from a teenage nightmare hell-bent on getting ‘cha-cha heels’ for Christmas to a fame monster whose ego-maniacal impulses land her in the electric chair.
Although it’s attitudes and perspective are somewhat dated, this strange pseudo-doc is often hilarious, highly original and still pretty convincing.
Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, originally released in 1992, offers up a revisionist interpretation of Rock Hudson’s film career and life – and seeks to discover the “real” Hudson through his “reel” persona. Was this Hollywood hunk completely out of touch with his secreted sexuality, or did he, throughout his entire career, offer subtle – or not so subtle – hints at his homosexuality?
A highly obscure 48-minute short film from the Netherlands, released way back in 1990, To Play or to Die, based on a story by Anna Blaman and directed by Frank Krom, a former assistant to Paul Verhoeven who made his own cinematic debut here, is a still a powerful psychological drama, but feels a bit taboo when viewed through a modern lens.
The film follows Kees (Geert Hunaerts), an introverted young boy who attends an all-male Dutch school where powerful bullies and sadomasochistic games are the stock in trade. Kees is fascinated by the extraordinarily handsome young Charel (Tjebbo Gerritsma), ringleader of the tormentors. Seeking to turn the tables and stem his victimization, Kees invites Charel back to his house while his parents are away. His plan is to take revenge… but Charel gets the upper hand. So begins a difficult and painful pas de deux with surprising results.
Hollywood action director Wolfgang Petersen (the man behind Enemy Mine, Troy, Outbreak, Air Force One, In the Line of Fire, The NeverEnding Story, The Perfect Storm, Das Boot and more) made this surprisingly tender, though highly controversial prison-set gay German romance way back in 1977.
Jurgen Prochnow stars as Martin, who is sent to prison for the seduction of a minor. There, he meets and is immediately drawn to Thomas (Ernst Hannawald), the teenage son of one of the guards. After Martin’s release, the boy runs away from home to live with him. And despite threats from the boy’s father and the authorities, their love flourishes as the two are determined to live their life together – unprepared for the wrath triggered by their actions.
A very pretty sixteen year-old boy falls in love with a dangerously screwed-up rock-n-roller in this stunning Swiss film from 1998. Though it’s complicated, to say the least, Fogi is a Bastard contained some of the most tender sex scenes we had ever seen in a gay film up to that point in time. The film takes the audience on a turbulent ride through two young men’s exciting but troubled relationship.
Clean-cut 16-year-old Beni (Vincent Branchet) is a Zurich high school student just itching for an alternative life. He follows the rock band “The Minks” around and falls madly in love with Fogi (Frédéric Andrau), the dangerously attractive and quite gay lead singer. With looks suggesting a thuggish Keanu Reeves, the 26-year-old Fogi surprisingly takes to the cute, but coltish youth. He hires him as a roadie and the two begin a wild sexual attraction that hardens into love and devotion for Beni but wears off for the soon bored Fogi.
One of the year’s most acclaimed gay films, award-winning filmmaker Dome Karukoski‘s Tom of Finland is coming to DVD and Blu-ray in February courtesy of Kino Lorber. Known to the world as Tom of Finland, artist Touko Laaksonen shaped the fantasies of a generation of gay men with his proudly erotic and taboo-shattering drawings of testosterone filled, muscle-bound men. But who was the man behind the leather? This stirring biopic follows his life from the trenches of WWII and repressive Finnish society of the 1950s through his struggle to get his work published in California, where he and his art were finally embraced amid the sexual revolution of the 1970s. Tom’s story is one of love, courage and perseverance, mirroring the gay liberation movement for which his leather-clad studs served as a defiant emblem.
Also coming in February, timed with the release of the new biopic, is a special edition Blu-ray of an unusual gay classic. Blending live action, animation and interviews, Daddy and the Muscle Academy, originally released in 1991, is a steamy documentary from filmmaker Ilppo Pohjola that explores the life and art of the famed gay iconoclast – whose pornographic drawings of massively-endowed men in leather, uniforms and totally naked have aroused a generation of gay men.
Quite an important work in the history of American gay filmmaking, A Very Natural Thing is considered the first feature film on the gay experience made by an out-of-the-closet gay man to receive commercial distribution. The simple but insightful story involves a 26-year-old gay man who leaves the priesthood and moves to New York City in the hopes of finding a meaningful gay relationship. Now a schoolteacher, he soon falls in love with a handsome young advertising executive.
Though the film is barely remembered today, detractors at the time of its release found it a bit too sappy, bordering on soap opera. Others saw it as a sensitively told and refreshingly romantic story. At the time, the film was also seen as a gay response to the massive commercial success of Love Story. That film’s famous quote “Love means never having to say your sorry” is almost directly parodied with the line “Love means never having to say you’re in love,” in A Very Natural Thing.
A novice filmmaker searches for an actor to portray his seductive and enigmatic jailed lover in this surreal and sexually explicit film from the 1976.
In Johan, a bizarre meta-story from French filmmaker Philippe Valois, one never quite knows who’s who or what’s what, but that’s okay, because even if you lose the narrative thread, there’s plenty – and we mean plenty – of gorgeous footage of beautiful men in various states of undress doing everything from dancing to playing cards to making sweet, sweet love to one another.