Last week, Dirk watched the incredible A ROYAL AFFAIR (Arcel, Denmark, 2012) which tells the story of how the Queen of mentally-troubled Christian VII of Denmark fell for the royal physician Struensee and subtlety manipulated the situation to bring the Age of Enlightenment to the people of her country. The bigots and the conservatives resisted, but ultimately she triumphed in her desire to bring Denmark from the clutches of medieval thinking. It is a brilliantly realized film that could inspire another celebration of the Danish court.
However, I was struck by a coincidence of timing. The struggle for Enlightenment continues. In the Palace of Westminster hoary-old MPs were debating the issue of same sex marriage. It was an extraordinary spectacle where newspapers and many of the Tories were still clinging to the notion that gay marriage was such an aberration that the fabric of the Nation was under threat. I am no fan of David Cameron, really, I’m not, however I admire that he forced this through because he thought that it was the right thing to do rather than for his personal advantage.
Cinema and television has been instrumental in shifting attitudes to gay culture over the past couple of decades. These things move quickly in popular culture, more quickly than the establishment and legal framework is able to accommodate. Many have attributed the TV Soap Eastenders as being important in bringing gay culture into the mainstream, thanks to the character of Colin Russell, who was a middle-class ‘yuppie’, and the most emotionally intelligent character within Albert Square. He’s ‘just like one of us …’ etc. etc.
Call me old fashioned, but I much prefer my Queer cinema to have a harder edge, for it to be a celebration of difference, rather than an appeal for equality. The best of gay cinema is transgressive, pushing the boundaries, asking questions and challenging the status quo and exposing how up-tight we really are.
These are Dirk’s digglers …
ON THE GAYDAR …
1) SEBASTIANE (Jarman, UK, 1976) A film in vulgar Latin that explores the life and times of Saint Sebastian with the homo-eroticism turned up to 11 and a bit. It is memorable for smuggling a semi past the censors and I’m not talking Homos under the hammer …
2) HAPPY TOGETHER (Wai Wong, Hong Kong, 1997) Given its subject matter, this is Wai Wong’s most accessible film that follows the turbulent relationship of two men at different points in their lives. I don’t think that The Turtles’ ever thought that they would inspire something like this!
3) POISON (Haynes, US, 1991) Three intercut dramas that caused a sensation at the 1991 Sundance Festival, the scenes of characters spitting into each others mouths proved too much for critic Roger Ebert who reportedly withdrew his hand when introduced to the film’s director. There will be more of Haynes later, however this film is notable for both launching his career and the notion of ‘New Queer Cinema’.
4) BEAUTIFUL THING (Macdonald, UK, 1996) A very sensitively handled ‘coming of age’ drama about the awakening feelings of Jamie who becomes infatuated with his classmate. On the one hand, it is dogged by the problem of most British films of the period, its a television film ‘made-good’, however it belongs to a fine repertoire that includes A TASTE OF HONEY (1961) in its depiction of hope within loving relationships in a desperate, working class milieu.
NOTHING BUT PUFF
5) ARE YOU BEING SERVED (Kellet, UK, 1977) Mr Wilberforce Clayborne Humphries in his salmon-pink safari-suit has done little to further the cause of gay culture beyond placing it firmly into the regressive attitudes of the nineteen seventies. It may have been ‘just for a laugh’ but this was the same culture that produced predatory disc jockeys and Spike Milligan in a turban. “I’m free!” Are you? Are you really free?