Hollywood has a lot to answer for.
When I logged back into Letterboxd for the first time in a year, I was surprised by how many lists of LGBT movies there were on the site. Looking over the contents, I was reminded of the disconnect between what most people think of as “gay movies” vs what I think of.
I have to say I’ve been pretty unimpressed by mainstream movies I’ve seen about or targeted at gay people. Part of that is that I just don’t like romances unless they’re romantic comedies, and gay romances in movies are hardly ever allowed to be anything other than tragic. The rest is that the movies either target such a specific subsection of the “culture” that I have nothing to relate to, or else they’re so corny and amateurish that I wonder how they even got produced. I’ve heard Moonlight get universal praise, and some positive things about Call Me By Your Name, but I honestly can’t work up enough interest to see either one. And apart from that, it seems like any gay projects good enough for mainstream exposure are either 1) starring straight actors in a story about how much it sucks to be gay, or 2) aimed specifically and exclusively at the Jonathan Groff demographic.
So I took it as a challenge to come up with a list of what I think of when I hear the phrase “gay movie.” (And not the adult kind). It’s the mainstream movies that felt transgressive when I was watching them, because I felt sure that I was watching them in a way I wasn’t “supposed” to be. It felt weird and isolating when I was an adolescent, but as an adult, it makes me feel even more part of a kind of community: meeting dozens if not hundreds of other people who had exactly the same feeling of I must be the only person in the world with this weird crush growing up.
And I should mention before anyone gets the wrong idea: of course the title of this list is only half serious, and it’s offensive to suggest that something as complex and personal as orientation is arbitrary enough to be changed by watching a movie. Everyone knows that it actually requires the more long-term, repeated exposure of a TV series, like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century or CHiPs.
The Empire Strikes Back
My obsessive hero-worship of Han Solo as a 6-to-9 year old turned into something else when I got older. Han walking off the Millennium Falcon after landing on Cloud City was my Ursula Andress-in-Dr No moment.
The Man Who Would Be King
I didn’t even know about this movie until I was a freshman in college, and my roommate had the poster hanging on his wall. I was already a huge fan of Sean Connery’s after Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but watching this one felt different. It made me a lifelong evangelist for the friendly mutton chops, for one thing, and I make sure to keep them in the rotation for myself. It was also a better vehicle for a confused young man with a secret crush than…
I don’t remember when I first saw this, but I do remember that I spent the entire time feeling like I was watching something I shouldn’t be. Sean Connery with a mustache and a long braid wearing what was essentially a diaper with bandolier straps and thigh high boots was funny, sure, but it was a nervous laughter on my part. “Heh that sure was ridiculous, huh? I think we should watch it again a few more times, though, to be sure.”
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
The scene with Bob Hoskins as Eddie Valiant alone in his apartment with Jessica Rabbit (the “Dabbling in watercolors, Eddie?” scene) is the quintessential example of something that made me feel like a total weirdo as a teenager, but once I got older, I met so many other guys who had the exact same reaction that it’s practically a right of passage. It’s probably still a weird crush for a 16-year-old boy to have, but at least it’s one I’m comfortable with now.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
It started with a spectacular musical number and then had Indiana Jones without a shirt for much of the rest of the movie. Come on.
When I first saw this movie, I thought everybody in the cast must be the sexiest person who ever lived. I don’t think I’d ever seen a movie with so many grown-ups who were so unabashedly and insatiably horny before. I can pretty much guarantee that I’d hate it if I watched it now, but in high school, I had the poster on my wall and everything, and I may or may not have blown it kisses like Laverne and Shirley did with their Beatles stand-up in the opening credits.
The Ice Pirates
The most embarrassing entry on a list that includes Zardoz. Even as a teenager, I could tell that this movie was terrible, and I loved everything back then. But Robert Urich’s character was designed to be a pastiche of all the character types popular for movies in the early 1980s, which also happened to be a combination of everything that turned on a young gay nerd really into sci-fi and fantasy.
Big Trouble in Little China
I don’t even think this one is all that weird; I think it’d be weirder to leave the movie without having a huge crush on Jack Burton and Gracie Law. Seeing this and The Thing around the same time had me wondering if my last words on my death bed were going to be the same as Walt Disney’s.