ThinkMovies: The Pride list

ThinkMovies: The Pride list

by Alan Grant
article from Wednesday 10, June, 2020

JUNE IS PRIDE MONTH. Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s celebrations of all things LGBTQIA+ will be, understandably, curtailed and more sedate than usual. As the situation stands currently, there will be little to no parties, parades, protests, or gatherings of any kind across the world as the fight against the virus continues. It is to the community’s credit that there has been very little in the way of objection to this – perhaps the gay community has a better memory than others when it comes to the need to take swift action against an indiscriminate, and easily transmitted, virus. This is both a feature and a strength of the coalition of sexual and gender minorities of which it comprises.

As anyone who has been to a Pride event will know, it’s a shame that there will be no such events this year. That is why, in a return to our regularly scheduled lists, I’d like to bring you five movies that should be on your Pride 2020 watchlist. 

Only two notes of qualification are required on this important list. 

The first is that you won’t find any double-meaning or subtext on this list. While lots of cinema greats, like Rebel Without A Cause or Top Gun, have a lot of homoerotic undertones, winks, nudges, and other such subtleties, and are worth a watch for that reason, they aren’t right for this list. 

We’re sincerely here to be clearly queer! 

Secondly, as per the normal rules of ThinkMovies, films that I’ve discussed at length already are excluded from this list. So, with that in mind, let me say that Love, SimonBut I’m a Cheerleader, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post are only not on this list by virtue of this rule and belong on anyone’s Pride list to which this rule does not apply. With that being said, come take a look at the five movies you should take a look at this month…

The adventures of Priscilla, queen of the desert

As a movie critic, I often find myself being asked for film recommendations. In doing so, I try to challenge myself to reduce the premise of any given film I suggest to a single sentence. As such, I’ve come up with “family find themselves trapped in a spooky hotel”, “a rock ‘n’ roll musical set in an isolated mansion”, and “the rise and fall of one of America’s most legendary gangsters”, but none have quite been as effective as, “two drag queens and a transgender woman embark on a karaoke odyssey across Australia”. That, my friends, is the summation of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

This 1994 comedy made huge waves at the time and has subsequently earned a dedicated following, a place in popular culture, and even garnered an Oscar for Best Costume Design – never has there been a more deserved award – due to its positive portrayals of LGBT people. 

It is this depth and sincerity of character that makes Priscilla worth a first visit, and then multiple revisits. Hugo Weaving’s Anthony, Guy Pearce’s Adam, and Terence Stamp’s Bernadette initially appear, if we’re being sincere, as a bit wooden and one-dimensional but as the world of Priscilla opens up, we see that they are complex, intriguing, and very human characters with satisfying and rewarding character arcs. 

Themes of identity, family, homophobia, gender, and aging are all dealt with deftly and with a sly, hilarious, robust, campy wit that may well be the achievement of writer Stephan Elliot’s career – seriously, it’s really, really funny. Plus, as the Oscar win demonstrates and Brian J. Brehney’s cinematography reinforces, it’s a sumptuously gorgeous film made with care and joy.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert has since become a musical that, so I’ve heard, is excellent but, until I get the chance to see it in a theatre I’ll stick with cheering on the big movie, with a big heart, big hair, and a big bus, and so should you. 

Pride

One of my core beliefs about filmmaking is that it’s possible to make a good film about anything and that I don’t have to necessarily agree with any or all of the politics of a film to appreciate it or think it’s excellent. When asked to back this argument up, I’ll point to 2014’s Pride; the story of an unlikely alliance between a London-based group of gay activists and striking miners in a sleepy Welsh village. 

Pride follows the fictional audience-insert character of Joe, played by George Mackay, a closeted young man who joins what becomes Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners to raise money for the 1984 strike. However, he’s very much a cypher, this is the story of individuals like LGSM founder Mark Ashton (played wonderfully by Ben Schnetzer) and Sian James (Jessica Gunning) as they clash against the social and moral of traditionalism and conservatism that dominated trade unionism in the eighties. It’s full of heartache, conflict, tension and, especially during once sequence that sees the LGSM members take their new pals to London for a big gay night out, funny in a very British kind of way. 

While the politics of trade unionism, its hero Mark Ashton was a committed communist, are not necessarily mine, there is no denying the power of Pride. The writing, performances, and direction create an atmosphere in which even the most strident Thatcherite may find themselves humming along to “solidarity forever” and wishing the striking miners all the best. It’s worth it just for that.

However, what earns Pride a slot on this particular list is that it is book-ended by two Pride marches and offers an interesting point of discussion for what Pride should be. While it won’t settle any arguments between those who think it ought to be a celebration and those who think it’s still a protest, although it definitely has a side in that debate, it certainly provokes the much-needed discussion and does so in a very clever and technically sound way. 

Brokeback Mountain

Based on the book of the same name, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as two cowboys who form a stormy and passionate relationship against the ultra-conservative background of rural 1960s Wyoming. With an awards haul of three Oscars, four Golden Globes, and four BAFTAs, it’s quite possibly the most technically and artistically serious film on this list and is often cited as an example of cinema dealing with LGBT themes without resorting to comedy or irreverence (although, ‘resorting’ to comedy is much harder to get right than drama).

If truth be told, Brokeback Mountain is my least favourite film on this list. I do not deny that Gyllenhaal and Ledger put in two long shifts with two difficult characters, nor do I deny that it looks lovely, and is well-paced and considered… but, as anyone who’s seen it will surely agree, it’s a bit of a slow boil isn’t? That is by design, of course, and it’s a matter of personal taste but the word ‘boring’ is never far away from my thoughts during watching it. That is perhaps my failing as a film critic, but it’s nevertheless true.

The reason Brokeback Mountain is on this list is that it is perhaps the most well-known, high quality, ‘gay film’ around and, more importantly, that it punched through into the popular culture like no other. Scour your TV, other movies, books, and all other forms of entertainment and you’ll find references to two cowboys shagging in a tent, the line “I wish I could quit you”, stuff about totemic plaid shirts, and many of the other memes that can be traced right back to this 2005 hit.

As a stand-alone piece of popular culture, that has thankfully avoided being sequeled or serialised, it has become as important as Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’, Queer as Folk, and Ru Paul’s Drag Race in terms of gay contributions and should be treasured as such. If ever there was a time to reacquaint yourself with this story of doomed love in the hills then Pride under lockdown is as good a time as any.

Call me by your name

I said, mere paragraphs ago, that Brokeback Mountain was “quite possibly the most technically and artistically serious film on this list”. I stand by this but, if there was a tournament for that accolade there can be little doubt that Heath and Jake would be going up against Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in the final. May the best pair win.

Also a story of taboo love, Call Me by Your Name takes place against the dreamy background of an Italian summer and finds the confident and charismatic academic Oliver, played by Hammer, and the quiet, musically talented, bibliophile Elio, a star-making role for Chalamet, carrying out a sweet and passionate relationship, full of the thrills and spills of a summer romance. 

Based on the book by André Aciman, and James Ivory’s Oscar-winning screenplay, Call Me by Your Name  deals with themes of identity, age, lust, family, and decay, and does so wonderfully.

Everything about this well-received and iconic film is wonderful. The performances, even down to the bit parts, are both brilliantly cast and magnificently given, the music, art direction, and other sensory aspects are first class. If films are art, and they absolutely are, then Call Me by Your Name deserves a place in a top gallery somewhere.

However, what Call Me by Your Name does better than any other film on this list, or any other film I can think of at the moment, is creates a sense of atmosphere and immersion. Through a combination of expert filmmaking and storytelling, Call Me by Your Name manages to be more than just a series of moving images and manages to be a full experience that the attentive viewer becomes lost in. When that moment of immersion happens, the audience is treated to a sumptuous and luxurious hour-and-a-half in the Italian sunshine. 

So go, get lost in the world of Oliver and Elio’s whirlwind romance this Pride and reflect on love, lust, heartache, and what it means to be human. 

G.B.F

Yes, it stands for exactly what you think it does… “Gay Best Friend”.

This 2013 American teen comedy stars Michael J. Willet and Paul Iacono as two closeted high school students. When Willet’s Tanner is outed thanks to an app, he becomes the subject of a competition between the school’s popular girls to find their gay accessory. It’s a story of cliques, friendships, warring factions, ‘abbrevs’ (that’s ‘abbreviations’ if you’re over 35), and other high school tropes that we’ve seen a million times before… but gay, this time. 

Ordinarily, this kind of neon bright, AQI infested, sass for the sake of it stuff would make me run for the hills and make my eyes roll so fast that I’d burn off my retinas… but there’s something about G.B.Fthat I really L.I.K.E. 

I don’t know if it’s the earnest performances, the simple plot, inversion of the usual high school formula, or the surprisingly clever writing that does it for me but from a pile of broken parts emerges something that is genuinely fun, compelling, and likable.

It’s trash, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s the kind of trash that is invaluable when slumped on a sofa, on a Sunday afternoon, in the full grip of a hangover and that is something that gay cinema is often missing. There are a lot of serious movies with po-faced protagonists, struggling with issues and coming to terms with who they are through an avalanche of tears and broken relationships, so the levity, fun, and good nature of G.B.F. comes as a welcome reprieve from the misery and seriousness.

Plus, it’s got Megan Mullally a.k.a. Karen Walker from Will & Grace as a sympathetic mum character! What’s not to like?

Pride, at this stage of its evolution, is fun, as anyone who’s been to any event will attest, and G.B.F.encapsulates that spirit of fun. It’s silly, zany, and a bit daft but it’s a lot of fun and is worth watching for that reason alone. 

So, there we have it – your movie-watching homework for this Pride month. Go enjoy them and remember, there might be no marches or parties this year but it’s still important to remember; to mourn the dead, fight like hell for the living, celebrate the progress, and demand more in the future. 

I wish you all a very happy Pride 2020, whatever it means to you.

Remember, I’m available on Twitter @alangrantuk.

Until next time.
All the love,
Alan 

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