Gay And Lesbian Essay, Research Paper
Historians have traced homosexual imagery to the very start of American cinema, with the Thomas Edison film The Gay Brothers (1895), directed by William Dickson, in which two men dance together. Female impersonators and women playing male roles, both fixtures in late-19th-century vaudeville and theater, began appearing in split- and one-reel films of the 1900s. Today this work can seem more overtly gay or lesbian than it did in its time, when the notion of homosexual desire was more strictly taboo — despite the frequency of gender disguises and same-sex bonding in popular entertainment. By the teens, however, American comedies were relying on the audience's recognition of homosexual types. In Algie The Miner (1912), a one-reeler produced by Alice Guy-Blach?, Billy Quirk was a sissy who wants to become a cowboy. Quirk also played a fop in the two-reeler The Barber (1918), in which the Chaplin imitator Billy West styles his hair with girlish ribbons. Behind The Screen (1916) has the real Chaplin kissing Edna Purviance when she's disguised as a boy; big bully Eric Campbell spots them and starts swishing about, mocking what he thinks are two gay lovers, until Chaplin wallops him. In the five-reel A Florida Enchantment (1914), directed by Sidney Drew, Edith Storey eats a magic seed that changes one's gender, and she turns into a pants-wearing woman-chaser in a sly performance of masculine comportment and attitude. Drew, who also starred, tries a seed himself and is soon mincing about with the trademark sissy mannerisms. When he dresses as a woman, an angry mob runs him off a pier and into the ocean — at which time Storey awakens from her dream. In the 1920s, Stan Laurel showed a penchant for sissy humor in his solo two-reelers. The Soilers (1923), his send-up of the rugged actioner The Spoilers, includes a femme gay cowboy who adores the macho men around him. Laurel himself was the sissy creating consternation in With Love And Hisses (1927), one of his first films with Oliver Hardy. As a comedy duo, the pair made Liberty (1929), directed by Leo McCarey, in which the boys are escaped cons who shed their prison garb but inadvertently slip on each other's trousers. The film's running gag has them trying to hide and exchange pants, only to be constantly caught together with their pants down by shocked passersby. Leo White in Erich von Stroheim's The Devil's Passkey (1920) and George K. Arthur in Irene (1926) were effeminate dress designers as comic relief; more serious imagery came from producer/director Cecil B. De Mille, who spiced up an orgy scene in Manslaughter (1922) with some lesbian kissing, and Alla Nazimova, who starred in and produced Salome (1923), a stylized adaptation of the Oscar Wilde play, reputedly filmed with an all-homosexual cast.The first years of sound saw — and heard — the same sissy characters of the silent era, with foppish chorus boys and costumers in the 1929 musicals Why Bring That Up? and The Broadway Melody. The Motion Picture Production Code, adopted by Hollywood in 1930, included homosexuality among its many taboos, but sissy humor, where the character was more asexual than gay, persisted with such 1934 musicals as Wonder Bar and Myrt And Marge. Franklin Pangborn had played "pansies" since the '20s but did his best work in talkies such as the 1933 films Only Yesterday, International House, and Professional Sweetheart. Edward Everett Horton fluttered through The Front Page (1931) and The Gay Divorcee (1934), and "pansy" humor also punctuated Our Betters (1933, directed by George Cukor), Sailor's Luck (1933, directed by Raoul Walsh), Laurel and Hardy's The Midnight Patrol (1933), Mae West's She Done Him Wrong (1933), and Chaplin's Modern Times (1936). Call Her Savage (1932) had an uninhibited scene set in a gay bar, Sandra Shaw played a cross-dressing woman in Blood Money (1933), and the gender-swap farce The Warrior's Husband (1933) was filled with gay and lesbian innuendo. More serious films also had homosexual situations. A tuxedoed Marlene Dietrich takes a rose and a kiss from a young lady in Morocco (1930), directed by Josef von Sternberg. Greta Garbo dresses as a man in Queen Christina (1933), directed by Rouben Mamoulian; Christina kisses Elizabeth Young, and claims she'll die not an old maid but "a bachelor." Hell's Highway (1932) alluded to homosexuality in prison, and in De Mille's The Sign Of The Cross (1932) Charles Laughton played Nero as the effeminate, infantile maniac the Emperor really was. Dracula's Daughter (1936) brought an erotic edge to Gloria Holden's bloodlust for women. But when Lillian Hellman's play The Children's Hour was filmed that year by director William Wyler, its lesbian theme was cut and the film was re-titled These Three. Also in 1936, Katharine Hepburn was disguised as a boy for director George Cukor's Sylvia Scarlett. A box-office flop, it hurt their careers and inhibited other drag comedies from exploring transgender and homoerotic feelings.Cary Grant explodes, "I've just gone GAY all of a sudden!" to explain the peignoir he's wearing in Bringing Up Baby (1938), directed by Howard Hawks. Afterward, homosexual references become increasingly rare. Judith Anderson played a subtly lesbian character as the housekeeper obsessed with her dead mistress in Rebecca (1940), directed by Alfred Hitchcock. More overtly gay was the elegant criminal Joel Cairo, played by Peter Lorre in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941); Sydney Greenstreet as Casper Gutman and Elisha Cook Jr. as his "gunsel" Wilmer were almost as uncloseted. Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend (1945) included Frank Faylen as Bim, an intimidating gay male nurse. In Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948), John Dall and Farley Granger played killers based on the 1920s murderers Leopold and Loeb. Like their real-life models, the characters are lovers, but the film keeps their homosexuality entirely in the wordless shading of the actors' performances. Independent filmmakers James Watson and Melville Webber used erotic imagery, gay and heterosexual, in their experimental film Lot In Sodom (1933). The so-called "immoral" subject matter of Children Of Loneliness, a 1939 exploitationer, kept the film unreleased until 1953. Its cautionary tales depict a woman brought back from the brink of lesbianism (while her "congenital" seductress gets hit by a truck), and a young man who feels more female than male and so commits suicide. In 1947, the 17-year-old Kenneth Anger shot Fireworks in his parents' home and made one of the pivotal avant-garde films. He'd never again do anything as homoerotic as the sailors of Fireworks, who pose for him and then tear him apart (although his Scorpio Rising (1963) recognizes the gay impulses in the biker scene). A teenage Curtis Harrigton worked in a similar vein with his 1946 short Fragment Of Seeking. Willard Maas collaborated on such gay-themed psychodramas as Images In The Snow (1948), The Mechanics Of Love (1955), and Narcissus (1956). Gregory Markopolous' vision of male beauty is already at work in his early films Du Sang, De La Volupt? Et De La Mort (1948), Swain (1950), and Flowers Of Asphalt (1951).In 1950 Hollywood glanced at lesbianism with the women's-prison film Caged and with Young Man With A Horn, where Lauren Bacall finds her girlfriend more interesting than Kirk Douglas. A subtler gayness characterized Robert Walker's murderer in Hitchcock's Strangers On A Train (1951), or the teenage Plato, played by Sal Mineo, who loves the older boy Jim, played by James Dean, in Rebel Without A Cause (1955), directed by Nicholas Ray. Director Vincente Minnelli filmed Robert Anderson's play Tea And Sympathy (1956); John Kerr was the college student everyone thinks is homosexual until an older woman lets him prove otherwise. Tennessee Williams' play Suddenly Last Summer was filmed by director Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1959. Scripted by Williams and Gore Vidal, it delivered a nightmare account of a gay man devoured by the starving boys he has exploited. The next year, an attempt by Roman general Laurence Olivier to seduce his slave Tony Curtis was cut from director Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus; the scene was finally restored for the film's 1991 re-issue.In 1962, four important films featured homosexual content. More than 25 years after These Three, producer/director William Wyler faithfully filmed The Children's Hour, with Shirley MacLaine committing suicide when she realizes that the lesbian rumors about herself are true. Sidney Lumet directed Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge, in which Raf Vallone implicates his own sexuality by accusing another man of being gay; eventually he too kills himself. Advise And Consent, produced and directed by Otto Preminger, has a scene in a gay bar; it also has a suicide, when politician Don Murray is blackmailed for a past gay fling. In A Walk On The Wild Side, directed by Edward Dmytryk, Barbara Stanwyck is a brothel madam in love with prostitute Capucine. She survived the film (although Capucine got shot!), and cleared a path for lesbian subplots in the mid '60s. Shelley Winters was a madam with a yen for Lee Grant in The Balcony (1963), Joseph Strick's film of the Jean Genet play. Jean Seberg's mental patient is openly bisexual in Robert Rossen's Lilith (1964). Candice Bergen was the nice college girl who's also "sapphic" in Lumet's The Group (1966). Teenage Sue Lyon aroused more than a chaperone's interest from Grayson Hall in The Night Of The Iguana (1964), John Huston's film of Tennessee Williams' play; she evoked similar feelings from Margaret Leighton in Seven Women (1966), the last film of director John Ford.The lesbian and gay civil-rights movement grew significantly in the '60s, culminating in the epochal rebellion at New York's Stonewall bar in June of 1969. The decade's films reflected these changes, most notably in two documentaries: Shirley Clarke's Portrait Of Jason (1967), an interview with black hustler Jason Holliday, and Frank Simon's The Queen (1968), about a transvestite beauty contest in New York. Drag humor began using gay and transgendered characters in the comedies The She Man (1967), The Producers (1968), Candy (1968), and The Gay Deceivers (1969). Most dramas conflated gay men with criminality: Gunn (1967), The Boston Strangler (1968), The Detective (1968), P.J. (1968), Riot (1969). John Huston's Reflections In A Golden Eye (1967), adapted by Chapman Mortimer and Gladys Hill from Carson McCullers' novel, starred Marlon Brando as an Army officer confronting his repressed homosexuality. More conventional was The Sergeant (1968), in which Rod Steiger kills himself after forcing a kiss on a soldier. Estelle Parsons admits her feelings for Joanne Woodward with an impulsive kiss in Rachel, Rachel (1968), directed by Paul Newman. Lovers Anne Heywood and Sandy Dennis kiss even more readily in The Fox (1968), from D.H. Lawrence's novel, but the Reaper is still inevitable for at least one of them, after they get intruded upon by heterosexual spokesman Keir Dullea. The most explicit drama of the era came from producer/director Robert Aldrich, adapting Frank Marcus' play The Killing Of Sister George (1968). Beryl Reid is the uncloseted soap-opera actress who loses her job and her lover Susannah York to network shark Coral Browne. Aldrich even shared some of their intimacies with the audience, but the film was rated X for its subject matter. So too was Midnight Cowboy (1969), directed by John Schlesinger: The very idea of a film about a gigolo in New York was enough to restrict it to adults. But the film was a box-office hit, making stars of Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, and it was eventually re-issued uncut with an R-rating. In the early 1960s gay themes were celebrated in landmark avant-garde films. Jack Smith's delirious classic Flaming Creatures (1963) met with numerous legal hassles because of its nudity and transvestism. Markopolous made several films with powerful homoerotic imagery, most notably Twice A Man (1963) and The Illiac Passion (1967). Andy Warhol's Blow Job (1964) was a 35-minute close-up of a young man's face as he receives oral sex. Warhol directed features dealing with the gay-sex-for-hire scene — My Hustler (1965), I A Man (1967), Bike Boy (1967) — but kept increasingly to producing and let Paul Morrissey direct, write, and cast the films. They made a memorable series with former pro Joe Dallesandro, starting in 1968 with Flesh and Lonesome Cowboys. Warhol also appreciated transvestism, and Mario Montez was the leading lady in films with writer Ronald Tavel, such as Screen Test (1965). Morrissey had a similar eye and discovered Holly Woodlawn for Trash (1970) with Dallesandro; he also co-starred her with Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling in Women In Revolt (1972). At this time John Waters was making obscene black comedies which extolled crime and exalted his 300-lb. male heroine, Divine: Multiple Maniacs (1970), Pink Flamingos (1972), and Female Trouble (1974); his later, Divine-less Desperate Living (1977), a lesbian fairy tale, was one of the wildest of all his films. Other notable gay- and lesbian-themed underground films of the '70s include the drag troupe the Cockettes in Tricia's Wedding (1971); Jim Bidgood's sensual fantasy Pink Narcissus (1971); the films of Jan Oxenberg, such as A Comedy In Six Unnatural Acts (1975); and the films of the late Curt McDowell, including Thundercrack! (1975) and Loads (1980). Director William Friedkin filmed Mart Crowley's play The Boys In The Band (1970), in which a group of unhappy but witty gay men lacerate each other and themselves. Mervyn Nelson's Some Of My Best Friends Are… (1971) echoed that "sad young men" approach with its habitu?s of a gay bar. Michael York was a busy bisexual in both the black comedy Something For Everyone (1970), directed by Harold Prince, and the musical Cabaret (1972), directed by Bob Fosse. Homosexuality was used to typify sleaziness and evil, from the animated features of Ralph Bakshi (Heavy Traffic, 1973; Coonskin, 1975) and blaxploitation films (Cleopatra Jones, 1973; Cleopatra Jones And The Casino Of Gold, 1975), to espionage dramas (The Kremlin Letter, 1970; The Tamarind Seed, 1974; The Eiger Sanction, 1975), cop actioners (The Laughing Policeman, 1973; Magnum Force, 1973; Freebie And The Bean, 1974; Busting, 1974; The Choirboys, 1977), and prison films (Fortune And Men's Eyes, 1971; Caged Heat, 1972; Scarecrow, 1973). Homosexual rape mars the backwoods trip of Deliverance (1972), and promiscuous hetero Diane Keaton gets murdered by a gay man in Looking For Mr. Goodbar (1977). The revelation of homosexuality was still causing suicides in Ode To Billie Joe (1976) and The Betsy (1978), and lesbians and gay men were still providing cheap laughs in There Was A Crooked Man (1970), M*A*S*H (1970), Little Big Man (1970), For Pete's Sake (1974), Sheila Levine Is Dead And Living In New York City (1975), and The Goodbye Girl (1977). Less impressive were condescending comedies that focused on homosexuality: Norman, Is That You? (1976), The Ritz (1976), and A Different Story (1978). But there were also gay supporting characters who were actually funny, such as Antonio Fargas in Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976) and Car Wash (1976), or Michael Caine in California Suite (1978). In A Perfect Couple (1979), Robert Altman treated his gay and lesbian characters with respect, and gay dramas were offered by the independent films Saturday Night At The Baths (1973) and A Very Natural Thing (1973). Director Sidney Lumet and writer Frank Pierson delivered a box-office hit with Dog Day Afternoon (1975), a smart, fact-based comedy/drama starring Al Pacino as a bank robber who's trying to finance his male lover's sex-change operation. Among television films, That Certain Summer (1972) featured Hal Holbrook as a gay father coming out to his son; A Question Of Love (1978) starred Gena Rowlands as a lesbian mother fighting for custody of her child; Sergeant Matlovich Vs. The U.S. Air Force (1978) with Brad Dourif dramatized a real-life challenge to the military's ban on homosexuality. The collaborative Mariposa Film Group made the landmark documentary Word Is Out in 1977, interviewing 26 lesbians and gay men of various ethnicities, ages, and life experiences. Since then, several other important documentaries have been filmed. Robert Epstein and the late Richard Schmiechen made The Times Of Harvey Milk (1984), an account of the openly gay San Francisco City Supervisor who was assassinated in 1976; Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman made Common Threads: Stories From The Quilt (1989), about a few of the lives memorialized in the AIDS Quilt, and The Celluloid Closet (1996), a history of Hollywood's treatment of homosexuality. Greta Schiller's Before Stonewall (1984) offers a valuable history of gay and lesbian life. Jennie Livingston's Paris Is Burning (1990) is a unique look at the drag balls of gay blacks and Latins. Schmiechen's Changing Our Minds: The Story Of Dr. Evelyn Hooker (1992) examines the psychologist whose work persuaded the American Psychiatric Association to no longer classify homosexuality as a mental disorder. Arthur Dong's Coming Out Under Fire (1994) documents gay and lesbian life in the armed forces during World War II. Adi Sideman's Chicken Hawk: Men Who Love Boys (1994) looks at the North American Man/Boy Love Association. Wigstock: The Movie (1994) puts the New York drag fest on the screen. Heather MacDonald's Ballot Measure 9 (1995) covers the defeat of anti-gay legislation in Oregon. In 1980 the filming of William Friedkin's Cruising was hounded by protesters who insisted his thriller about a psycho in the gay S&M scene would heighten social prejudices and encourage bashing. That same year, Gordon Willis directed Windows, in which evil lesbian Elizabeth Ashley stalks good heterosexual Talia Shire. Evil gay men came to foul ends in American Gigolo (1980) and Deathtrap (1982). Other films completely diluted their homosexual themes: The heroine's lesbianism in Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple was expunged almost entirely from the 1985 film directed by Steven Spielberg; so was the gay side of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima in Paul Schrader's biopic Mishima (1985). But the decade also saw well-meaning dramas that tried to deal respectfully with homosexuality. In Making Love (1982), written by Barry Sandler and directed by Arthur Hiller, a man leaves his wife for another man; in John Sayles' Lianna (1983), a woman leaves her husband for another woman. Robert Towne's Personal Best (1982) starred Mariel Hemingway as a bisexual athlete. Kiss Of The Spider Woman (1985), from Manuel Puig's novel, had William Hurt as a gay prisoner who becomes the lover of his cellmate, political activist Raul Julia. Last Exit To Brooklyn (1989) adapted Hubert Selby Jr.'s novel; Stephen Lang was the striking worker who comes to recognize his own gay urges. Television contributed An Early Frost (1985), with Aidann Quinn as a gay man with AIDS, and Consenting Adult (1985), from the coming-out novel by Laura Z. Hobson. Zorro, The Gay Blade (1981), starred George Hamilton as a sissy swashbuckler, and Partners (1982), had hetero cop Ryan O'Neal undercover as a gay man. Other '80s comedies were more gay-positive, notably Blake Edwards' transgender farce Victor/Victoria (1982) and Torch Song Trilogy (1988), written by and starring Harvey Fierstein. Other important films include the Neil Simon comedies Only When I Laugh (1981) and Biloxi Blues (1988), the remake To Be Or Not To Be (1983), and The Hotel New Hampshire (1984). The era's best work, however, came from the independents. Mala Noche (1985), the first feature of writer/director Gus Van Sant, was a classic portrait of unrequited gay love. Paul Morrissey creatively filmed Alan Bowne's play about teenage hustlers in Forty Deuce (1982) with Kevin Bacon. Anne Carlisle played both a woman and a gay man in the imaginative Liquid Sky (1982), which she also co-scripted with writer Nina V. Kerova and producer/director Slava Tsukerman. Donna Deitch's Desert Hearts (1985) and Sheila McLaughlin's She Must Be Seeing Things (1987) were intelligent romantic dramas about lesbians. The late writer/director Arthur J. Bressan Jr. made dramas about intergenerational gay love in Abuse (1983) and the AIDS crisis in Buddies (1985). The plague also informed As Is (1986), directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, and Parting Glances (1986), directed by the late Bill Sherwood. In the '90s, despite such drag-queen comedies as To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (1995) and the mega-hit The Birdcage (1996), an adaptation of the hit French farce La Cage Aux Folles, Hollywood has stuck to the prejudices of earlier years. The smash Basic Instinct (1992), directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Joe Eszterhas, starred Sharon Stone as a bisexual villain, and its filming aroused protests as vehement as the attacks on Cruising. Equally furious was the response to the hit thriller The Silence Of The Lambs (1990), directed by Jonathan Demme and written by Ted Tally, which equated homosexuality and transgenderism with insanity and murder. David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch (1991), made a dour, homophobic film out of William Burroughs' funny, gay-positive novel. Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) adapted Fannie Flagg's book but deleted the lesbian relationship between its young women. Both The Prince Of Tides (1991), directed by Barbra Streisand, and Barry Levinson's Sleepers (1996) pressed audience buttons about gay rapists preying on boys.Two recent major releases have treated gay themes seriously. Cronenberg's M. Butterfly (1993), adapted by David Henry Hwang from his fact-based play, starred Jeremy Irons as a French diplomat in China who gives government secrets to his longtime lover, a singer with the Chinese Opera — without ever knowing that she's really a man. Demme's Philadelphia (1994), written by Ron Nyswaner, starred Tom Hanks as a gay man fighting the discrimination he faces as a person with AIDS. Television produced two reality-based dramas: And The Band Played On (1993) adapted the late Randy Shilts' book about the Reagan administration's slow response to AIDS; The Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer Story (1994) starred Glenn Close as an open lesbian fighting to stay in the military. Again the most noteworthy films have come from independents. Openly-gay writer/directors Gus Van Sant and Todd Haynes both released major films in 1991. Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho (1991), starring River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves, merged a story of two young hustlers in Oregon with Shakespeare's Henry IV for a surreal, funny, and moving tale of love and betrayal. Haynes' Poison intercut three stories, including homoerotic sequences from Jean Genet's autobiographical novel The Miracle Of The Rose. Christine Vachon, the producer of Poison, brought several other important films to the screen: Swoon (1992), Tom Kalin's look at the gay love between the murderers Leopold and Loeb; the lesbian comedy/drama Go Fish (1994), directed and co-scripted by Rose Troche; Postcards From America (1994), Steve McLean's adaptation of writings by the late David Wojnarowicz; I Shot Andy Warhol (1996), about Valerie Solanas' attempt on Warhol's life; and Stonewall (1996), a British dramatization of the birth of the modern-American gay-rights movement. Other independent films dealing with homosexuality include Gregg Araki's boy-meets-boy-meets-gun tale, The Living End (1992); The Hours And Times (1991), Christopher M?nch's speculation on John Lennon's relationship with Beatles manager Brian Epstein; Longtime Companion (1990), a touching drama of loves lost to AIDS, directed by Norman Ren? and written by Craig Lucas; and the bisexual farce The Wedding Banquet (1993), directed and co-scripted by Ang Lee. Among the noteworthy films in 1995 were Maria Maggenti's lesbian romance The Incredibly True Adventure Of Two Girls In Love; the gay romantic comedy Jeffrey, from the play by Paul Rudnick; and Roy Cohn/Jack Smith, a filming of the late Ron Vawter's stage triumph in which he played the closeted and homophobic arch-conservative Roy Cohn, and the totally uncensored, visionary artist Jack Smith — both of whom died of AIDS in the 1980s. More recent independent releases include Larry and Andy Wachowski's Bound (1996), a lesbian version of film noir with Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon; Johns (1996), Scott Silver's drama of hustling teenage boys; and in 1997 Joe Mantello's heartfelt, funny and very-human comedy Love! Valor! Compassion! adapted from Terrence McNally's multi-award winning 1995 play. Despite the pressures of homophobia, American films have made classic accounts of lesbian and gay life in the hundred years since The Gay Brothers. This body of work augurs well for the next hundred years of movies.