Classics: Film and Television

Hedwig and the Angry Inch



Dir: John Cameron Mitchell
Cert: 18 • US: 87 min • Fine Line Features  • July 20, 2001
Walter Beck reviews
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Adapted from the Off-Broadway musical of the same name, Hedwig and the Angry Inch was the first queer rock ‘n’ roll musical film of the 21st century. Starring many of the same people from the original stage production, including John Cameron Mitchell, Miriam Shor and Stephen Trask (who wrote the music), it’s the strange journey of a transgender punk rock queen and her search for fulfilment.

The story of East German punk musician Hedwig Robinson (born Hansel Schmidt) and her band, the Angry Inch, starts out with Hedwig and the boys rocking out in a small seafood bar, trailing the tour of international rock sensation Tommy Gnosis. Later with her bandmate and lover Yitzhak, Hedwig begins telling her story.

Born in East Germany with a domineering mother and an absent father, Hedwig first comes to America following a marriage to American soldier Luther Robinson, and a botched sex change operation (leaving her with what she called an “angry inch”). After a year in America, Robinson leaves Hedwig.

Destitute and broke, Hedwig begins taking odd jobs, meeting a rock ‘n’ roll obsessed teenager named Tommy Speck, whom Hedwig believes to be her mythical other half. Taking him under her wing, Hedwig teaches Tommy the ways of punk rock, bestowing upon him his stage name, Tommy Gnosis, from the Greek word for knowledge.

In a fit of rage, Gnosis leaves Hedwig, taking with him all the songs they wrote together. This brings us back to the present time-frame with Hedwig’s band following Tommy’s wildly successful tour. Hedwig is growing obsessed with Gnosis, wanting a confrontation and demanding that the world knows who wrote all of Tommy’s big hits. Hedwig finally gets her wish, getting in Tommy’s limousine one night. The two begin drinking heavily and jamming out on their old songs on the stereo. Things take a turn as they get into a drunken crash, Tommy’s career is shattered and Hedwig finally finds her fame and recognition …

Upon the film’s release, many critics compared it to The Rocky Horror Picture Show for its similar explorations of sexuality, gender, and personal identity – all with a hard jamming rock n roll beat. But I think that comparison falls short.

This film is much more like a queer re-interpretation of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Hedwig, like Pink, has a domineering and controlling mother and a father who is absent from his life. Both characters find solace in rock n roll and ultimately attempt to use the fame and glory of rock stardom to cover up the pain and alienation of their lives. But for both, the plan fails. While Pink lost himself in a haze of drugs and isolation and imagined himself a fascist dictator before snapping and falling back into reality, Hedwig found herself lost in the obsession of her former lover and songwriting partner, trailing his tour, before snapping as a result of her stage image and jealousy.

Both characters end their stories naked and clean for the first time, ready to face their respective realities.

Of course, this being a musical (and my rep as a music critic), I should comment on the songs in the film. While strongly rooted in punk, the songs range from heartfelt ballads like ‘Wicked Little Town’ and ‘In Your Arms Tonight’ to poppy sing alongs such as ‘Wig in a Box’ and even Johnny Cash styled country number called ‘Sugar Daddy’.

However, it’s the balls-out rockers that make this film what it is. Punchy anthems like the opener ‘Tear Me Down’, the violent ‘Nailed’, and of course the signature punk burner ‘Angry Inch’ (which would be covered by American gothic doom lords Type O Negative). They capture the crazed and schizophrenic spirit of Hedwig’s story and the band that backs her.

The film is a blast all the way through; it’s got one hell of a soundtrack, an engaging story of isolation, self-destruction, and ultimately, revelation and redemption. You don’t have to read into it as deeply as I did, it works just as a fun film to put on. It has the dirty, snotty attitude that is often missing in contemporary queer culture. It’s nothing short of essential viewing.

Walter’s Top 5 Slashers: #1 Halloween


Dir:  John Carpenter
Cert: 18 • US: 84 min • Compass International Pictures • October 25, 1978
Walter Beck reviews
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Well here we are, the Number One slasher film on our list. We’ve waded through a river of blood and met some of the most violent psychopaths to hit the screen to get this far. And our number one pick shouldn’t be a surprise. It was the film that launched the American slasher craze and carved its own bloody place in the history of cinema. It’s John Carpenter’s iconic 1978 masterpiece, Halloween.

In 1963, a six year old Michael Myers dressed in his clown costume, spots his sister Judith making out with her boyfriend. He grabs a butcher knife and stabs her repeatedly as she brushes her hair. He is committed to the Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, under the care of Dr. Sam Loomis.

Fifteen years later, Michael has a hearing before a judge to determine his fate, but he escapes and runs off back to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois.

In Haddonfield, seventeen-year-old Laurie Strode is living with her family and she starts seeing a masked man popping up throughout her day. She’s startled, but doesn’t know who he is. Later that night, she’s babysitting Tommy Doyle, and chatting with her friends, Annie and Lynda. But Michael Myers has come home and is now wondering around, leaving a trail of bodies behind him.

Michael’s fixation with Laurie increases and as the film draws to its bloody end, he sets out to repeat his original crime; but Dr. Loomis is on his trail, knowing he’s the only one who can stop him, and puts six rounds into him. When Loomis goes to check the body however, he discovers that Michael has vanished into the night …

Shot on a low budget of $325,000, the film proved to be huge success, grossing over $70 million in its initial theatrical run. The film’s financial success alone proved to be quite a spark for horror directors and soon a thousand different slasher films slaughtered their way to the top of the box office list.

But it wasn’t just the money that made this film such an iconic work of American horror; John Carpenter’s brilliant directing made it the work of art it is. Using odd angle shots and dark lighting, Carpenter created a truly haunting atmosphere not seen since the days of Alfred Hitchcock. The truly frightening parts of the film aren’t those that necessarily involve the killings, but those parts which focus on the cold way in which Michael stalks his victims. Carpenter’s camera puts you just off center of the action, creating an aura of suspense throughout the entire film.

In addition to the camera work, the soundtrack, composed by Carpenter, truly makes for the film’s creepy aesthetic. The title song has become just as famous as the movie itself and what makes the soundtrack work is the same thing that makes the film work, its basic, minimalist structure.

The central cast of characters also plays into this film’s brilliance. You have the perfect villain, Michael Myers, a silent, seemingly unstoppable killing machine. With his white mask, Carpenter allows the viewer to project any image of brutality they like upon the killer. Opposing Myers is Dr. Samuel Loomis, the brilliant psychiatrist who seems to be the only person who understands just how evil Michael truly is.

Another import lead is the girl next door, Laurie Strode. She survives the brutal massacre of the night through her sharp wits and survival skills, rather than the pure chance which saves many previous “final girls” in American horror films.

Of course, the casting is part of what made these characters work. Veteran actor Donald Pleasance found a new life in his acting career by playing Dr. Loomis, his cool manner perfectly captured the analytic mind of the hero psychiatrist. Jamie Lee Curtis had her first major role as Laurie Strode, her ordinary all-American girl looks and personality brought fleshed out the character and she found herself launched into superstardom by her role in Halloween.

The violence in the film is understated, with very little on-screen gore. Carpenter, like many directors on our list, used the Hitchcock techniques of camera work, actor placement, and music to create the horror, rather than blood. And it works brilliantly here, the stalkings become scarier than the actual kills themselves.

In the wake of the critical and financial success of Halloween, the floodgates were open and soon a thousand different films were spawned by the slaughter of Michael Myers. Sean S. Cunningham admitted that the inspiration for his own iconic work Friday the 13th came from this film. Halloween itself spawned a series of sequels (of varying quality) and even a remake with its own sequel.

Well Polari readers, that’s the end of our countdown, hopefully it’s been gory good fun for you and if you haven’t seen the number one film on our list: it is nothing short of essential for any horror fan.

Walter’s Top 5 Slashers: #2 Sleepaway Camp


Dir: Robert Hiltzik
Cert: 18 • US: 84 min • United Film Distribution • November 18, 1983
Walter Beck reviews
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Welcome back loyal readers. We’re getting down to the wire here on our Halloween slasher countdown, but for now, let’s look at our second place bloodbath. We’re going out to camp for this one, the legendary low-budget summer slasher, Sleepaway Camp.

John and his two kids, Peter and Angela, are out on a boat one summer day, enjoying the warm weather. While they’re horsing around, a couple of teenage counselors from the camp across the lake are waterskiing on a motor boat. Peter and Angela jokingly throw their dad into the water and their boat flips. The counselors don’t see them and run over them with their motor boat. John and one of his kids are shredded.

Fast forward eight years. Angela is now living with her weird aunt Martha and her cousin Ricky. Angela and Ricky are on their way to Camp Arawak for the summer. Ricky’s outgoing nature lets him fit right in, while Angela’s quiet, introverted personality makes her an immediate target for the mean-spirited girls at camp. They begin relentlessly tormenting her as she sits quietly, not eating and not participating in any of the activities.

One of the camp cooks, Artie, gets his eye on Angela and attempts to molest her in the stock room of the camp kitchen. Ricky sees him and stops him before anything happens. Ricky and Angela go bolting out of the kitchen and Artie shrugs off the whole thing as Mel, the camp director, asks what happened.

Artie is in the kitchen, making a giant pot of boiled corn on the cob for dinner. While he’s standing on a chair, a pair of hands shoots out and pulls the chair out from under him, causing the huge pot of water to fall on him, boiling him alive. He’s taken out on a stretcher, still screaming in agony. Mel, wanting to avoid the headache of the press and the parents, writes it off as an accident and promotes Ben, another cook, to head honcho of the kitchen to keep the kitchen staff quiet.

With Artie’s death, the violence begins picking up. Later that night, a fight breaks out in the rec hall between Ricky and Kenny. After the fight, Kenny is out on the lake with Leslie, he flips over the canoe, and Leslie swims out in anger, leaving Kenny to haul the boat back. While he’s under the canoe, someone pops up and drowns him. In the morning, his bloody corpse is found by the waterfront director.

Billy is the next to go. After throwing water balloons at Angela, he is brutally killed in the bathroom when somebody slashes open the window and drops a hornet’s nest into the stall.

The night of the big social is when all hell breaks loose, Meg, one of the cruelest of the girl counselors, is stabbed and gutted while taking a shower. Judy, another one of the bitch queens at camp, has a hot hair iron shoved up her vagina. Mel, the camp director, walks onto the archery range and spots the killer, not believing who it is, and catches an arrow in his throat. A group of little kids, on an overnight lead by counselor Eddie, are chopped up with a hatchet.

Head counselors Ronnie and Susie are on the lookout for Paul and Ricky when they find Angela humming on the beach with Paul and the film’s gory ending is unleashed…

Filmed on a micro budget of $350,000, the film was a surprising hit, grossing $11 million during its theatrical run, even beating out Amityville 3-D in the local New York markets. It’s financial success spawned two sequels during the slasher craze of the 1980s, Unhappy Campers and Teenage Wasteland. Director Hiltzik would produce his own sequel Return to Sleepaway Camp, released in 2008, and another sequel, Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor would finally surface in 2012, after twenty years of delays.

So what makes this film a cut above the rest? Certainly the camp setting has long been a favorite of slasher directors, especially following the runaway success of Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th. The first part that stands out is the directing style of Hiltzik, rather than a sharp colored bloodbath, Sleepaway Camp is filmed in a stark, grainy style, making for a realistic looking film.

The writing is also a key part of the film’s greatness. The script, written by Hiltzik, has strong characters with very realistic dialogue. Viewers empathise with the quiet Angela and her protective cousin Ricky. The bad kids are also portrayed realistically; everybody knows arrogant, cocky little shits like Meg, Judy, Kenny, and Billy.

For serious film buffs, the movie offers some surprising treats. Camp director Mel is portrayed by veteran actor Mike Kellin (in his last film role) and cook Ben is played by Robert Earl Jones, father of film legend James Earl Jones.

What about the blood? This is a slasher countdown; we have to talk about the special effects. This was shot on an ultra-low budget and of course, these were the days before CGI. Working with the grainy style of filming, the blood effects are quite realistic in their own right, particularly in Artie’s death; you see his skin blister and boil. The gore is understated, adding to the film’s realism.

Thirty-years later, Sleepaway Camp remains a legendary film amongst slasher buffs for its gory effects, grainy film style, haunting soundtrack, and one of the most surprising endings in the genre. Hiltzik created a masterpiece and if you haven’t seen it yet, head down to Camp Arawak this Halloween season.

Walter’s Top 5 Slashers: #3 Texas Chain Saw Massacre


Dir: Tobe Hooper
Cert: 18 • US: 120 min • Bryanston Pictures • 1974
Walter Beck reviews
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Welcome back loyal readers. We’re at the halfway point in our Halloween Slasher Countdown, and for this one we’re going south to Texas for one of the grisliest slashers to ever grace a movie screen, Tobe Hooper’s gritty vision of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Set in the back roads of Texas, the films follows five young people, Sally, Franklin, Jerry, Kirk, and Pam. They travel to an old cemetery after reports of local grave vandalism to see if their grandfather’s grave is still intact.

After finding the grave intact, they get back on the road and pick up a strange looking hitchhiker. The hitchhiker rambles on about the nearby slaughterhouse, saying “My family’s always been in meat.” He slashes himself with a knife, takes a picture of the group in the van, and after they refuse to pay for it, he burns it. In a fit of rage, he slashes Franklin with a straight razor and they throw him out of the van.

The group speeds down to a service station for gas, but the owner tells them the pumps are empty. They decide to head down to an old homestead where Franklin tells them there’s a swimming hole. They find the swimming hole dry, but on hearing a generator, Kirk and Pam go to investigate and see if they can get some gas. They walk into the house and the deranged killer Leatherface bursts out of the door smashes Kirk with a sledgehammer and takes him in the back room to butcher him.

Pam runs to help Kirk, but stumbles into a room full of furniture and decorations made out of human bones. Leatherface grabs her, takes her to the back room, hangs her on a meat hook while he revs up his chainsaw and finishes butchering Kirk.

Night falls and Sally and Franklin start looking for their friends, in the dark, Leatherface emerges and kills Franklin with his chainsaw. Sally runs back to the service station where the old owner kidnaps her and brings her back to the house …

Tobe Hooper establishes many standards with this low budget gristly film: the false narrative of claiming it was based on true events, the psychotic masked killer, and the grainy film styling, all adding to the level of shock and horror.

Another classic technique that Hooper used, one perfected by Alfred Hitchcock, is the level of implied violence. Sitting through the film, you think you’ve just witnessed a blood bath, but in reality, there is very little on-screen gore. Hooper used atmosphere to create the illusion of blood. This technique would be used by many slasher directors until the gore craze of the 1980s.

The haunting atmosphere and implied gore made this an incredibly controversial film upon its release. It was pulled from several theaters in the United States, it was threatened with an obscenity charge in Canada, and in the UK the British Board of Film Classification refused to grant the film certification until 1998, twenty-four years after its original release.

Tobe Hooper’s stark, gritty vision remains a landmark amongst slasher films, establishing many trademarks of the genre and opening the door for many films that would follow. Like many popular slashers, it spawned a series of sequels, some of which aren’t half bad, and a remake that came out in 2003 (don’t bother with it).

So this Halloween season, head down to Texas and visit Leatherface and his family – just don’t stay for dinner…

Walter’s Top 5 Slashers: #4 Scream


Dir: Wes Craven
Cert: 18 • US: 111 min • Dimension Films • 1996
Walter Beck reviews
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Still here loyal readers? Excellent, well we’re up to film number four on our five-part series of the Best Slashers of All Time. For this one, we’re mixing a little humor in with our blood and gore. We’re looking at horror master Wes Craven’s 1996 satirical nightmare, Scream.

The film begins with teenager Casey Becker getting a harassing phone call as she’s making popcorn to watch a horror flick. The caller repeatedly taunts her, growling the iconic line, “You like scary movies?” He eviscerates her boyfriend and then hunts Casey down and guts her, leaving her mangled body hanging from a tree.

The next day, it’s a media circus in the quiet suburban California town. The story focuses on Sidney Prescott, a quiet girl dealing with the recent murder of her mother. She is harassed by soulless reporter Gale Weathers and is soon being stalked by the mysterious killer. Her boyfriend Billy Loomis is suspected of the slayings, but is released after lack of evidence.

After the principal shuts down the school in the wake of the murders and stalking, fellow student Stu throws a massive party, where the mayhem continues. Randy, one of the kids, begins explaining that it’s just like a horror movie and tells them to follow the rules: no sex, no drugs, no booze, and never say “I’ll be right back”. If they follow the rules, they’ll stay alive.

The film comes to a bloody end with two of the kids taking Sidney hostage and being revealed as the Ghostface killers …

The foremost reason this film made number four on the countdown is the writing and direction of Wes Craven. Working in a post-1980’s atmosphere, Craven knew that the traditional-style slasher film had been done to death. After strings of sequels and direct-to-video releases, the American public was bored and the slasher genre looked to be a thing of the past.

So Craven took an entirely different approach, making the characters strongly aware of the typical slasher film elements. Scream is peppered with numerous references to classic works of gore such as Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Craven’s own Nightmare on Elm Street. One of the best nods is the brief appearance of a grizzled looking janitor dressed in striped sweater and brown fedora named Fred.

Craven goes beyond making sly jokes about the old classics and takes a direct stab at the claim that horror films were responsible for teenage violence; as the killers say in the film’s ending, “Movies don’t create psychos, movies make psychos more creative!” Ironically, Scream would be accused of inspiring several real-life murders.

Like many slasher films on our countdown, Scream’s graphic violence would itself be a subject of controversy. Before the film was released, director Craven was threatened with an NC-17 rating by the MPAA for the excessive blood and gore. Knowing that an NC-17 would be a death knell for the film, since many cinemas refuse to show such rated films, Craven got creative and started claiming that only one take existed of certain scenes, ergo he would be unable to re-shoot and re-cut them.

But it isn’t just gore for the jolly hell of it. In Scream the over-the-top violence becomes another tool of dark humor in Craven’s arsenal. Using the audience’s expectation for blood and guts, Craven pushes the envelope in terms of volume and suddenly, the violence takes on an almost comical tone.

The movie-going public fell in love with Craven’s twisted, funny, gory vision. Scream raked in over $173 million at the box office, earned rave reviews (a rarity since most “serious” movie critics have the same affinity for slashers as they do for cases of syphilis), inspired a string of sequels, and even its own parody, 2000’s Scary Movie.

Scream remains a landmark in the history of American gore, it revitalized a horror genre that the public thought was dead and buried, ushering a rebirth of slashers that would continue into the early 2000’s, until the genre stalled again with an endless stream of remakes, which continues to this day. Many of its cast, including Drew Barrymore, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, and Matthew Lillard would go on to become major Hollywood stars, thanks mainly to their performance in this all-American bloodbath.

Walter’s Top 5 Slashers: #5 Silent Night, Deadly Night


Dir: Charles E. Sellier Jr.
Cert: 18 • US: 79 min • TriStar Pictures • 1984
Walter Beck reviews
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Well hello Polari readers and welcome to our Halloween countdown of the Top Five Slasher Films of All Time, hosted by your Gonzo Correspondent to the Colonies.

For our first film, we’re gonna be looking at one of the most controversial gore feasts ever released in America, the infamous Silent Night Deadly Night.

It’s Christmas Eve 1971 and five year old Billy is going with his parents to visit his mentally disturbed grandfather at the state hospital. While his parents are away, grandpa speaks to Billy, warning him that Santa Claus punishes naughty children. Filling his head with fear, the old man goes silent when Billy’s parents return.

On the drive home, Billy’s parents stop their car to help a man dressed as Santa Claus. Once the car is stopped, the man pulls a gun, shoots Billy’s father, and violently rapes his mother, ending it by slashing her throat. Billy runs off into the woods and hides from the violent Santa.

Billy and his brother Ricky are remanded to a private Catholic orphanage where they are subjected to the harsh discipline of Mother Superior. Billy is repeatedly beaten and even tied to his bed as he relives in the trauma of Christmas Eve.

Once Billy grows up, one of the kindly Sisters gets him a job at a local toy store in the stockroom, hauling crates. For a little bit, things seem happy and well. Billy still suffers from nightmares, but he has a good job, a good boss, and good co-workers.

The snap hits when his boss Mr. Sims makes Billy the store Santa Claus for the Christmas season. Billy’s face changes, he becomes quiet and intense. While on his job, he frightens the children, telling them that he will punish them if they are naughty.

At the store Christmas party, Billy sees one of his co-workers attempt to rape Pamela, the stock girl. Billy fully blows and strangles the rapist with Christmas lights, then begins murdering his co-workers with a box cutter, a bow & arrow, and a hammer.

He then goes on a rampage throughout the town, killing people he finds being naughty …

As far as slasher films goes, this one opens our top five for its twisted story line; rather seeing the killer appear out of nowhere, like many slasher films, we get the full picture of how Billy goes from a sweet normal child to a twisted young killer. Knowing the trauma that has soaked most of his life, we empathise with him. Do we justify his violent rampage? Not at all, but we do understand why he has become what he is.

The gore is also a strong factor here, special effects artist Karl Wesson created a low-budget blood feast; particularly in the close-up shots, such as the hammer sticking out of Mr. Sims’ head or the iconic shot of the teenage girl being impaled on the deer antlers. While by 1984, many American horror films were pushing the boundaries of graphic violence, it was Wesson’s work on this iconic movie that brought new levels to what artists could do in films.

The film attracted significant controversy, with many parents in America being appalled at the idea of a killer dressed as Santa Claus. The film was picketed, boycotted, and the group achieved somewhat of a victory by forcing Tri-Star Pictures to take the ads off the air.

Like many horror films, Silent Night Deadly Night spawned a string of sequels, all of which are honestly crap. Unless you’re a serious fan of the films, stay away from them, they are nothing but lumps of coal, especially compared to the original.

But amidst the controversy, the film remained and became a beloved classic amongst slasher devotees. So whether you’ve been naughty or nice, have a gory holiday treat and watch Silent Night Deadly Night.

Fireworks


Dir: Kenneth Anger
Cert: 18 • US: 13.50 min • Independent  • 1947
Walter Beck reviews
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The earliest picture from avant-garde short-film master Kenneth Anger, Fireworks lays the groundwork for what would be become many of Anger’s signatures – extreme imagery, homoeroticism, an intense soundtrack, and a strong surrealistic setting.

Set aboard a naval ship, the films follows a young sailor (played by Anger) in the throes of an apparent nightmare as he wakes up with a phallic doll. Standing before an altar, he discards his homosexual material in a fireplace and hurriedly gets dressed. Walking into a door marked “GENTS”, he steps out into the night air and begins suffering incredible hallucinations, amongst them a giant, well-cut sailor seducing him at a bar, who then begins violently beating him. A group of sailors gang up on him, wielding chains. In glee, they strip him, brutalize him, and then begin ripping out his organs, finally dousing him with a white, milky substance.

The young sailor then approaches a nude shipmate as he lights a firecracker out of his crotch. His potential lover takes on the jeweled appearance of a young Greek god as the camera zooms in to a close up of homoerotic photos burning in the fireplace. The film ends with the young sailor asleep; his head surrounded by sparks, symbolizing the organism of his dreams.

The film has no dialogue and is told through Anger’s intense, surrealistic camera work and the bombastic classical music used as the soundtrack.

Anger himself said of this film, “This flick is all I have to say about being seventeen, the United States Navy, American Christmas, and the Fourth of July.”

Such a piece of blatant, grotesque homoeroticism was extremely controversial in America in the mid-20th century and Anger found himself in the middle of an intense legal battle to determine whether or not the film was obscene. The California Supreme Court ruled it to be art and not obscene.

But how does a work sixty-six years old still hold up today? Not surprisingly, it still holds up very well and I’m sure it would still turn a few heads (as well as a few stomachs). Anger’s adolescent vision still expresses many of the same fears, terrors, and ultimately pleasures that young gay Americans feel today.

And that is what holds it up today, the raw passion of it. There is no search or hope of really finding true love; it’s about purging oneself of emotions, of engaging in pure animal lust. It would be decades before Hollywood even touch gay themes. Kenneth Anger did it first and he did it in such a way that I’m sure the Big Studios would be afraid to touch even today.

Anger has gone on to have quite a career and is still producing avant-garde works today at the ripe age of 86. He has inspired and influenced a wide array of directors throughout his career (including the queer master of sleaze, John Waters), but it was this, his first work, that broke him into the American cinema underground.

If you’re interested in the history of queer cinema or have a taste for the strange and surreal, Fireworks is nothing short of essential viewing.

Another Gay Movie


Dir: Todd Stephens
Cert: 18 • US: 94 min • TLA Releasing  • April 28, 2006
Walter Beck reviews
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A queer spin on popular teen sex comedy films, Another Gay Movie is tasteless, disgusting, and offensive, easily one of my favorite raunchy comedies of the last ten years. It captures the spirit of classic dirty comedies like Animal House, Porky’s, and American Pie, that last film being the particular target of satire for director Todd Stephens.

Following the post-graduation summer of four high school buddies, Andy (Michael Carbonaro), the awkward sex-crazed kid, Jarod (Jonathan Chase), the insecure jock, Griff (Mitch Morris), the nerd, and Nico (Jonah Blechman), the ultra-flamboyant queen, the boys are on a mission to get laid before summer ends.

What follows is a series of hijinks and misadventures as good as any screwball sex comedy film. There are weird dreams, hookups that go completely sideways, failures of sexual equipment, both mechanical and biological, and some interesting incidents involving rodents and quiche.

When it’s all said and done, the boys realize they had it wrong all along, and that to truly lose your virginity, you need a good passionate screw with someone you really care about.

What’s the moral of the story? Andy puts it bluntly, “Real men take it up the ass” as they toast to the coming sequel, breaking the fourth wall.

Out of the main actors, Michael Carbonaro, who plays Andy, comes off the strongest. Despite being twenty-nine when the film came out, his boyish looks and clumsy mannerisms throughout capture the awkwardness of a horny teenager in search of sex pretty well. Especially key are his facial expressions when his folks catch him in some embarrassing act, whether it’s shoving vegetables up his ass, getting caught sticking his dick in a quiche, or a very strange glory hole scene towards the end, he has that perfect mix of embarrassment and a stunned “oh shit!” look on his face.

The supporting cast is also very strong in this film. First and foremost is the casting of Canadian queer comedian Scott Thompson as Mr. Wilson, Andy’s old man. Already familiar to many from his brilliant work with sketch group the Kids in the Hall, Thompson ups the awkward factor in his role here. His character tries so desperately to help his son through this difficult time, but efforts do little more than embarrass Andy and his friends. Particularly funny is the scene where he has to remove a malfunctioning cock pump from Jarod. Only Scott Thompson could make that scene what it is, simultaneously embarrassing and hilarious.

Another great supporting actor is Irishman Graham Norton as Mr. Puckov, Andy’s Eastern European math teacher. Like with Carbonaro, it’s the facial expressions that sell Norton’s character. He plays a somewhat closeted heavy BDSM freak and when Andy comes over for a lesson, not knowing what he’s getting into, Norton’s malevolent facial expressions sell the scene. You can tell he’s getting a sadistic sardonic pleasure out of dominating his former student, even if things go wrong in the end.

The storyline of the film itself isn’t that original, horny teenagers in search of sex is a bit of a tradition in American gross-out comedy, going back to the 1982 classic Porky’s. What sets this film apart, story wise, is the directing style of Todd Stephens. Stephens made his name in queer cinema, going back to his 1998 debut Edge of Seventeen. He has taken his experience in gay films and used a Mel Brooks/Zucker Brothers sense of humor in it. He knows the iconic status of the basic story line and injects heavy parody into it, poking fun at Carrie and American Pie, recreating the classic pie-fucking scene in the second one for a young queer audience.

But it’s not just all gross-out laughs; Stephens has also used a lot of Zucker Brothers subtlety, such as naming the high school San Torum High (a poke at notoriously homophobic former US Senator Rick Santorum), and having Andy’s mom bear a bit of a resemblance to Faye Dunaway’s character in Mommie Dearest.

And that mix of satire is exactly what makes this film work. Stephens has taken the best elements of teen sex comedies and given them a queer spin. He has said, “Alright, straight America, you can laugh at your horniness from when you were a kid, fuck it, so can we.” And he does, this film plays up every stereotype out there, it has the BDSM freaks, the drag queens, the weird internet hookups, the ultra-flamers, all of it. But it’s all done for laughs, it’s not cruel, it’s not mocking, it’s holding up the fun house mirror to us and letting us see how silly it can all be.

Todd Stephens has carved out a notch in the American teen sex comedy genre for the likes of us. Many films in American gay cinema are dramatically heavy, portraying the loss and heartbreak that goes with a lot of our lives, Stephens and his cast has flipped the middle finger to that whole bit and decided to play up the excessive sexuality for laughs. There is no tragedy in this film, unless you consider the bad sex we all have when we’re young as a “tragedy”. Oh sure, you can make the argument that this is a cult film with a specific audience in mind and Stephens is just preaching to the choir, but with the way the times are, the choir needs a break, we need a good, sick laugh.

Another Gay Movie gives us that laugh. As Andy says in the end, when asked about the moral of the story, “Real men take it up the ass.”

Tongues Untied (1989)

Tongues Untied 
Dir: Marlon Riggs
Cert: U • US: 55 min • Frameline  • July 14, 1989
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Tongues Untied, Film ReviewTongues Untied, film review

Tongues Untied (1989) by Marlon Riggs is an autobiographical performance piece, chronicling the filmmaker’s journey towards finding his identity as a black gay man in America. Reenactment, prose, poetry, song, dance, archival material, observation and first person narrative combine to position the viewer, as far as possible, into the subjective space and worldview of an African-American gay man. In opposition to the usual expository mode of documentary, which seems to speak from above, or outside a group, Riggs suggests that certain kinds of knowledge are only attainable through an identification with another’s subjective experience.  This places the film comfortably within contemporary social movements in which minority groups challenged the dominant historical and social narratives through ‘speaking their own personal truth’. Indeed, the interplay between speech and silence forms the dominant theme of Tongues Untied, emphasising the power of language to condemn, to marginalize, to discount and on the other hand, to release, to liberate and to include.

Much of the film presents Riggs directly facing the camera in a mid shot, against a black background. The effect recalls a theatre stage, with Riggs the sole performer, addressing the viewer in first person prose. Here is Riggs stripped bare, revealing to us his innermost thoughts and feelings. From this position, the viewer is able to see (or at least imagine) social issues such as homophobia, AIDs and racism, from the inside. In one scene, Riggs recalls childhood homophobic taunts. The camera cuts rapidly from extreme close ups of mouths swearing insults, back to Riggs’ face, closing in on his pained eyes. Though he says nothing, we hear his poetic inner monologue, expressing the isolation and confusion he feels.  Simultaneously, the insults are sped up and repeated, creating a cruel rhythmic song which seems to encircle both Riggs and ourselves. Thus the viewer become aware on an experiential level of the marginalizing effect of such taunts. These emotional scenes are intercut with lighter, humorous sequences, which offer a window into black gay ‘scenes’ and satirize common stereotypes. One sequence, ‘Snapthology’, appears as an entertaining instructional video on how to execute a successful finger snap, a form of haughty derision. The viewer cannot help but try the ‘snap’ and yet perceive the sequence’s sad implication; that this skill has developed as a form of defense against a hostile culture.

Beginning with the repeating words, ‘Brother to Brother’, Tongues Untied is threaded with narrative; prose, poetry, wordplay, rap, song, interpretive dance. Riggs reminds us that African-American musical and rhythmic skill has historically provided one of the few permitted forms of acceptance and inclusion for African Americans within a dominant white culture. Here he expressly reclaims this musical heritage for himself and his brothers within the gay African American community. Indeed Tongues Untied is a reflection of that very community, with Riggs’ friends participating in many of the sequences. Moreover, much of the narrative involves overlapping voices or multiple voices speaking in unison, indicating that the subjective space which the viewer is temporarily occupying is a shared space – the ‘I’ expressed is not Riggs alone, but is a group ‘I’. This group connection provides the backdrop for Rigg’s central realisation ; that once he was able to love other black men, he was able to love himself. Thus Tongues Untied culminates in a kind of political call to action, but not of the usual sort:

“Black men loving Black men is the revolutionary act”. SNAP!

The Craft (1996)

The Craft  
Dir: Andrew Flemming
Cert: 15 • US: 101 min • Columbia Pictures  • May 3, 1996
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The Craft Film ReviewThe Craft Film Review

It is a truth universally known that adolescence and highschool (or secondary school, depending on where you’re from) can be an awkward and unsettling time. Hundreds of films and television series have documented and captured teenage growing pains and feelings of being at odds with themselves and those around them. Andrew Flemming’s The Craft takes this overworked theme of successful and not-so successful and shapes it into a supernatural horror.

The adolescent under the hormonal microscope in this case is Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) who has just moved to Los Angeles with her father and stepmother into a new home and (of course!) new highschool. When the time comes to face the crowded hallways and daunting new classmates, Sarah rubs shoulders with both the typical, half-witted jock and a group of female misfits. Both options appear to have their pros and cons but ultimately after being screwed over by the horny athlete, she seeks comfort in the hands of three young women played by Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell and Rachel True.

From the get-go, Sarah sees that they dabble in witchcraft and reveals that she herself holds a supernatural gift. Over time, what first appears to be some experimentation becomes a full-blown coven when Sarah agrees to join as their fourth member. As individuals, the four characters have had traumatic experiences that have made them feel unworthy and insecure in themselves. As a result, the focus of their magic is on amending these issues so they can feel complete. Once initiated into the group, and having earned the respect of the other girls, Sarah begins to question and recognise the danger they pose when the others start taking their gift a spell too far. Deciding to leave the group when things turn violent, Sarah’s newfound friends soon make her life a living nightmare. One of the main strengths of The Craft is the level of research put into Wiccan culture to the film its structure. The magic practiced never comes off as unrealistic, unlike the way it was sometimes portrayed in some of its television counterparts such as Charmed or Buffy The Vampire Slayer. These witches seem to know what they are doing and talking about and it looks pretty convincing.

During the ’90s, The Craft felt like an antidote to the films dealing with the woes of being a young adult. It comes off like a shot in the dark and feels like the twisted sister of the bubblegum highschool satire of Clueless released the year previously. Faruiza Balk steals the show as the highly-strung and loosely-hinged bitch of the group who quickly makes life very difficult for Sarah. Though the film is classed under the horror genre, the really frightening feature of the film is Faruiza’s performance; everything from her evil stares, sinister humour, down to her gothed-out wardrobe lets us know something evil is waiting to unfold.

Not only does The Craft rise to the top of the slew of teen movies made over the years, it also stands up as a queer classic. Feelings of being an outsider and defected, searching for an identity whilst trying to fit in, overcoming all the struggles along the way and establishing yourself in your own terms is something every gay person can identify with. This is not just another teen movie.