Brokeback Mountain has been described as "a gay cowboy movie," which is a cruel simplification. It is the story of a time and place where two men are forced to deny the only great passion either one will ever feel. Their tragedy is universal. It could be about two women, or lovers from different religious or ethnic groups -- any "forbidden" love.
My Own Private Idaho
Here is a movie about lowlife sexual outlaws, and yet they remind us of works by Shakespeare or Dostoyevsky, not William Burroughs or Andy Warhol. Maybe that's because Van Sant is essentially making a human comedy here, a story that may be sad and lonely in parts but is illuminated by the insight that all experience is potentially ridiculous.
Milk tells Harvey Milk's story as one of a transformed life, a victory for individual freedom over state persecution, and a political and social cause. There is a remarkable shot near the end, showing a candlelight march reaching as far as the eyes can see. This is actual footage. It is emotionally devastating. And it comes as the result of one man's decisions in life.
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar
With the exception of a brief opening sequence involving Swayze, the three men are never, ever, seen except in drag; we accept them as queens because we don't see them as anything else. Then the movie avoids any sexual activity for any of them. They don't sleep with each other or anyone else -- and for all I could tell, such a thought has never even crossed their minds. The plot seems convinced they dress as women primarily to help other people solve their problems. For them homosexuality seems less a sexual orientation than a license to practice family counseling.
Although I have never been a gay London teenager, I had the feeling that Jamie and Ste were not understood very deeply by the film, and their behavior wasn't convincing. After they tentatively accept that they are gay, for example, they go to a pub advertised in Gay Times and find drag queens putting on a floor show. (One of the songs is "Hava Nagillah''). Here they realize they are not alone in the universe, and even eventually invite Sandra and Tony to go there with them. Oh, yeah? To begin with, no London teenager is going to be completely in the dark about homosexuality. Not in these times. Nor are most 16-year-olds going to find much amusing in a pub full of older men, many of them in drag, a lot of them drunk. Teenagers of any sexuality seek others their age, think 30-year-olds are "old,'' and might be a little slow to dig middle-aged men doing Barbra Streisand imitations.
The movie involves two gay men, who meet in a bar, wake up in bed the next morning and begin a conversation that unexpectedly grows very deep. Some aspects involve homosexuality, but this isn't a "gay film." Most people can identify with Russell and Glen. That's because some of us are more open and some of us are more guarded. Some of us trust easily, and others more slowly. Some of us have sexual feelings that are not open for discussion. Some of us pretend to be who we think we "ought" to be, and do it so well that even close friends don't know who we really are.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Filmed with ferocious energy and with enough sexual variety to match late Fellini, it may be passing through standard bookings on its way to a long run as the midnight successor to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. John Cameron Mitchell electrifies the movie, with a performance that isn't a satire of glam-rock performers so much as an authentic glam-rock performance. The movie may have had a limited budget, but the screen is usually filled with something sensational, including a trailer home that transforms itself in an instant into a stage.
Torch Song Trilogy
I have not seen anyone quite like Fierstein in the movies, and the fact that he is a specific individual gives this material a charm and weight it might have lacked if an interchangeable actor had played the role.
The Crying Game
Neil Jordan's wonderful film does what Hitchcock's Psycho, a very different film, also did: It involves us deeply in its story, and then it reveals that the story is really about something else altogether. We may have been fooled, but so was the hero, and as the plot reveals itself we find ourselves identifying more and more with him. Warning: This is the kind of movie that inspires enthusiastic discussions afterward. People want to talk about it. Don't let them talk to you. The Crying Game needs to be seen with as close to an open mind as possible, and anyone who tells you too much about the film is not doing you a favor.
Pink Flamingos has been restored for its 25th anniversary revival, and with any luck at all that means I won't have to see it again for another 25 years. If I haven't retired by then, I will... Note: I am not giving a star rating to Pink Flamingos because stars simply seem not to apply. It should be considered not as a film but as a fact, or perhaps as an object.