Queer Cinema – an Introduction

As well as managing this site I also have recently started a fortnight column on film site Hope Lies , which can be found here: http://hopelies.com/tag/qc/.

I’ll also be posting the articles here, so here’s the first one – An Introduction to Queer Cinema:

Think because you’ve seen Brokeback Mountain you know about Queer Cinema? Think again. Queer Cinema is a varied genre which rarely makes it into the mainstream or given the credit it deserves. It is mistakenly often thought of as a closed niche, only of interest to the gay community, but think about it, 99% of films are hetero-centric; does this mean gay people don’t watch and enjoy them? No of course it doesn’t and this fact is just as true the other way round: you don’t have to be gay to watch ‘gay’ films. For those unfamiliar with the genre, or those who just want to know a little bit more, allow me to give you an overview by recommending three pieces of Queer Cinema: La Cage Aux Folles, A Single Man & C.R.A.Z.Y.

La Cage aux Folles was one of the first queer films I ever saw and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The 1978 French film follows a gay couple living in St. Tropez who run a drag queen cabaret club. Their lives are turned upside down when their son gets engaged and the couple attempt to hide their flamboyant lifestyle from the conservative parents of the bride to be.The film is jam-packed with humour and farce as well as the campness you would expect for a film predominantly set in a cabaret. However La Cage aux Folles also engages an interesting liberal vs. conservative dialogue which subtly encourages the spectator to asses their own world view in light of the unfolding events.

The American remake, The Birdcage debuted in 1996, starring Robin Williams and Gene Hackman who play almost carbon copies of their French counterparts. The remake also updates the film, adding some topical comedy and opens the story up to those reluctant to watch sub-titled films. Whilst The Birdcage is still very enjoyable I would strongly recommend the original as a starting point.

In 2009 fashion designer Tom Ford made his directorial debut with an adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s short novel A Single Man.

It’s 1962 and native Brit George Falconer is living in Los Angeles, trying to cope following the death of his long-term partner, Jim. Exploring the themes of loss, loneliness and death through the eyes of a heartbroken man, Ford delivers an emotionally charged yet ultimately life-affirming message. The film is visually seductive, with Ford’s stylistic flair seeping through the screen. The use of intense colour, slow motion and extreme close ups mesmerize whilst also adding to the poignancy of the narrative.Colin Firth was nominated for an Oscar and won a BAFTA for his nuanced and emotional performance while supporting performances by Julianne Moore and Nicholas Holt were also A Single Manimpressive, oozing cold war anxiety and existential angst. All in all, A Single Man is an absolute must-see.

My third and final recommendation is the 2005 Canadian-French film C.R.A.Z.Y, a journey spanning several decades, starting in the 60s which charts the colourful life of Zach Beaulieu.

Set mostly in Quebec, C.R.A.Z.Y examines Zach’s relationship with himself and his family; his 4 brothers (from whose initials the film’s title is derived), his devout mother and conservative father. From an early age Zach knows he is different from other boys, finding solace in his vivid fantasies and his musical role model, Ziggy Stardust, inspiring my favourite scene in the film – Zach singing along to Space Oddity in full make up only to be ridiculed by onlookers.

C.R.A.Z.Y’s soundtrack is completely immersive with tunes from Elvis Presley, David Bowie and Patsy Cline transporting you along with Zach to the respective eras.

I hope at least one of these recommendations has piqued your interest into the diverse and stimulating genre that is Queer Cinema. These three films are obviously just the tip of the iceberg but provide a representative introduction to a canon of films which I believe shine independently and inclusively of their homocentric themes.

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