I’m lucky enough to write a fortnightly column column on Queer Cinema over at Hopelies.com , I just thought I’d post my most recent column here as well:
Bisexuality on film is an interesting case with a strange myth taking centre-stage in a large proportion bisexual depiction. That of the bisexual being evil, deranged or heartless. In this fortnight’s column I’m going to take a look at some famous examples as well as try and get to the bottom of this bizarre cinematic convention.
It could be argued that this trope has its roots in the Lesbian Vampire phenomenon of 20th Century exploitation film. The plot of such films as Dracula’s Daughter, The Vampire Lovers and many more nearly always centres on a sexually violent female vampire seducing an innocent (straight) young girl. This sub-genre has spawned a frankly unbelievable number of films which now even boasts its own Top 10 lists all over the internet.
The notion of a depraved temptress seems to have been too seductive for film makers to resist with the lesbian vampire genre seeping into more mainstream fare and being twisted and forced upon bisexuals. At this point it’s worth noting that since the dawn of cinema, the vast majority of film-makers were, and still are, heterosexual men. Therefore I would argue that it’s possible that since a lesbian vampire doesn’t directly threaten or involve the straight man, in making her bisexual the film-maker gets his perfect antagonist – terrifying yet sexually alluring. Having said that, vampire lore goes way back before the moving image with equal damnation and fascination imbued on the seductress. However the point remains most of this lore springs from the straight man, who chose to continue this convention into the medium of his time, in this case cinema.
The most obvious example of the bisexual seductress is that of Catherine Trammel in Basic Instinct. The plot centres around a murder investigation in which detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is more or less convinced of Catherine Trammel’s (Sharon Stone) guilt but being unable to find any evidence becomes embroiled in a sexually charged cat and mouse game. Trammel is manipulative, powerful and ultimately homicidal, murdering at will with her weapon of choice, an ice pick. The film was beleaguered from the start by gay rights groups who vehemently opposed such a negative depiction.
This myth doesn’t look like it’s going to be broken any time soon with Liz Hurley recently being cast to play Veronica Cale in the Wonder Woman reboot. An evil pharmaceutical magnate with a ‘”deep seated Wonder Woman envy”, and guess what? She’s going to be bisexual. There’s a big part of me that thinks this a cynical ploy to draw in viewers with a lesbian kiss in the trailer and barely mentioned ever again whilst still perpetuating the evil bisexual fallacy. On the other hand I think this type of sexuality realignment could be a lazy attempt by the makers to make Cale seem more interesting. Either way I sincerely doubt her bisexuality will be depicted positively.
Bisexuals on film aren’t only presented as murderous, as seen above, but also as callous and fickle people who toy with same-sex admirers only to leave them alone and broken-hearted, nearly always in favour of a hetero-normative relationship. Films falling into this category include: The Fox, Personal Best, Cabaret and Brideshead Revisited. What often shocks with such films is the way the rejected gay partner ends up; In The Fox – killed by a tree falling between her legs (symbolic much?) and in Brideshead – a depressed alcoholic. It seems bisexuals being attracted to both sexes have led film-makers to believe that they are selfish, greedy and conceited, who having had their way with a same-sex love interest throw them aside or steer them to their destruction.
The counter-argument that if LGBT groups want full equality they shouldn’t complain when members of their community are cast as villains holds little water with me. Whilst it is true that gay characters should be presented in a variety of roles the proportion of evil LGBT characters compared to LGBT characters in general is shockingly skewed to the former.
Whether this myth stems from the straight-male film-maker’s imagination as the perfect antagonist, a cynical ploy as I suspect for Wonder Woman or a more deep-rooted belief that bisexuals are somehow inherently bad people is up for debate. What isn’t up for debate is the fact this seriously outdated relic is symptomatic of lazy & clichéd characterisation.