Zachariah–that other gay Western
I had been so busy during Pride Month with other projects (including preparing for a move to The Underground Multiplex Studios) that I had to put off this post originally intended for Pride Month. But what the hell, every month is Pride Month for me, so we can remember the accomplishments of the LGBT community and do some major celebrating anytime. Part of the festivities involves taking in movies to reflect on our lives or challenging us to think and grow in ways we hadn’t before.
But for every Brokeback Mountain and Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, there are plenty of other movies that get overlooked. After finding a list online of the best gay-themed movies (I’m figuring a lesbian film reviewer can come up with a good counterpart to my list), I decided to offer a list of terrific gay-themed movies that should impress your friends (and lose other ones).
1. Save Me
This was among my top ten films of 2007 and not only do I stand by this, the movie seems even better and more relevant today. Out actor Chad Allen plays a sex and drug addicted wild partier whose out-of-control life comes crashes down. His Christian brother enters him into a faith-based rehab house with the best intentions, but the recovering young man challenges what works and what doesn’t in the ex-gay production factory. Allen and Judith Light, who plays the operator of the ministry, give excellent performances (the latter giving an Oscar-caliber one) thanks in part to very good writing of Robert Desiderio, Craig Chester and Alan Hines. This film along with the better known Latter Days are probably the best films I’ve seen taking a fair-minded stance on the conflict between the gay community and its religious detractors.
2. Ben and Arthur
Swinging way over to the other side of why you should watch a movie, Ben and Arthur is a hilarious cinematic mega-disaster and a cultural phenomenon waiting to happen (just like The Room). Cracked Magazine practically begged its readers to make this the next great cult movie and with good reason. When a film is ballsy enough to have Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” as its opening theme and give the same person eleven credits, you know you’re in for something special. Sam Mraovich directs, writes and stars in (eight credits left) this dimly lit, atrociously edited VHS home movie about a gay couple longing to get married. Arthur (Mraovich) wants to marry Ben, but complications ensue when his Christian brother, the flamboyant Victor, is booted from his church over objections to the gay sibling. Because of the ongoing controversy of same-sex marriage, promoting this movie as a cult fav may seem a bit premature, but the gay community needs a time-tested beer and weed laugher for the midnight movie crowd. This is the one, folks!
3. The Gay Deceivers
If this 1969 gaysploitation movie from Fanfare Films seems familiar, it’s because Adam Sandler stole the basic idea for the dismal I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Despite being made four decades earlier–when homosexuality was still technically treated as a mental illness–Bruce Kessler’s comedy still holds up as one of the most gay-positive comedies of the era. Kevin Coughlin and Larry Casey play two straight friends desperate to stay out of the Vietnam War draft, so they play gay to attempt avoiding combat. Tailed by suspicious military officers, they deepen the charade to the consternation of their family, friends and fiancees. The gay ghetto actually looks like a neat place to live and the neighbors, if not stereotyped, are at least a lot more pleasant and lovable than the boring straight ones.
4. The Meatrack
The Meat Rack is a sort of more downbeat version of Midnight Cowboy (as if that movie weren’t a bummer enough). With its seamy underground 16mm grainy look, you can almost smell the poppers. A bisexual hustler named J.C. goes through the daily/nightly grind of male and female tricks for bucks in the seedy parts of San Fran. When he saves a girl from an old coot photographer’s lecherous fate, they partner up in a low-rent love affair. Director Michael Thomas lays on parent bashing flashbacks and a long scene involving violent transvestites armed with a camera. If you’re an admirer of Jim Jarmusch’s early work, you should see this.
5. Best Friends
Not once during this entire film are the words “gay,” “homosexual,” “queer” or even “faggot” ever mentioned, but rest assured this is definitely a gay film. In fact, this might be the most closeted gay film made before Top Gun. Richard Hatch (“Battlestar Galactica”) plays Jesse, a once carefree single man now engaged to his sweetheart. His best friend Pat (Doug Chapin) returns from a stint in Vietnam ready to resume the wild days of boozing, barring and balling chicks with his old buddy. With Jesse’s fiancee and Pat’s latest conquest in tow, the guys decide to cruise California in a Winnebago. The friction between Jesse and Pat, however, intensifies as the latter seems determined to have Jesse dump the future ball and chain and get back to the business of casual fucking. Despite the tagline “She Became the Ravaged Victim of a Century of Revenge!”, this entire movie has nothing to do with a ‘she.’ Best Friends is about a homoerotic obsession based on Pat’s deeply ingrained need for Jesse’s sexual satisfaction, but under Pat’s terms. It makes for a truly unusual 70’s road movie.
6. Raging Hormones
Dedicated to Divine and Edith Massey, this low-budget Florida lensed comedy is one of the very few John Waters’ inspired films that looks as though it could have been made by the master himself. Della Hobby stars as Bev Broadhurst, the trailer-park dwelling queen of the local supermarket. Her greatest wish is to get her son Peter (Topher Hopkins) into state college by urging him to save up money through summer employment. Unfortunately, her neighbor Sally (Darlene Demko) is a cougar on the prowl and latches onto the horny Peter for kinky games. Meanwhile, Bev’s daughter gets the eye of a douche bag with a penchant for gals below the legal age limit. It’s a giddy blast of bad taste fun for the whole dysfunctional family.
Far out, man. John Rubenstein and a very young Don Johnson star in this psychedelic western that’s basically a rock musical with some cowboys and horses running around. Zachariah (Rubenstein) tells Matthew (Johnson) he’s looking for “a friend” and brags about his shiny new gun received in “a plain brown wrapper.” They join a gang of bumbling outlaws (the 60’s rock group Country Joe and the Fish) before deciding to cut out on their own. Facing troublemakers quick to call them “faggots,” listening to Elvin Jones and Doug Kershaw perform, and having a fling with Belle Starr (Pat Quinn) make for subplots in this whacked-out movie. However, the main story is the handsome duo’s friendship gone sour. These guys are the least rugged Western heroes in film history and the closing scenes sealed the deal on its homoeroticism for me. Besides, Zachariah was co-written by The Firesign Theatre, who were masters of subtext in audio comedy recordings. To believe they did not intend a gay tone to this movie would be folly.
8. Whole New Thing
There have been gay-themed coming-of-age movies created by the truckload, but I assure you, this terrific Canadian feature (which made my Top 10 in 2005) is like no other you’ve ever seen. Aaron Webber plays Emerson, a home-schooled teenager who’s brilliant when it comes to English studies and Humanities, but is lagging far behind in math. Aggravating the problem is his dad’s descent into depression, so Emerson is enrolled in a local public school where he becomes infatuated with a sympathetic teacher. Whole New Thing is one of the few movies I’ve seen where the balance of a truly gifted, intelligent student’s knowledge and the confusion of his sexual attraction is given the introspective respect it deserves.
The next four words are going to lose some readers: I hate Fight Club. In fact, it’s one of the few movies I’ve ever walked out of, and I did so before a single punch was thrown. Thirty minutes in, I couldn’t take any more of the incredibly stupid, self-indulgent irritating characters. (And, btw, if the cancer joke towards the beginning of the movie was directed towards women with breast cancer instead of men with testicular cancer, that movie would have boycotted). Whew! Okay, now that I’m finished with that, I can direct you to Shiner, which intertwines a few stories revolving about the fetish of punching the hell out of each other for sexual gratification. Yes, this movie comes out and declares it. None of this coy subtext bullshit, these characters blow their loads over body blows. It’s intentionally unfocused, cheap, seedy, funny and raunchy just as it should be with this topic. It’s another film that pissed off the gay community which completely overreacted to this movie as it did to my final choice…
Many people walked out of festivals disgusted with Todd Verow’s strange masterful film based on a dark gay novel by Dennis Cooper. A young gay man named Dennis grows up with kinky fantasies that grow darker as he gets older. He writes fantasy letters to Kevin, a former lover, implying he may have committed murders, but has he or is he just stringing Kevin along for more twisted visions and a receptive reader? Verow, who also directed Little Shots of Happiness and Vacationland, remains one of the most underrated gay filmmakers working today, in part because he has the audacity to remain outside the Here!/Logo world of tepid swill.
If you want to know more about gay-themed movies you should see but haven’t, check out Facets Night School’s lecture on Myra Breckinridge presented by Dominick Mayer and The Underground Multiplex with plenty of fun and frolics. If you’re not in Chicago, you’ll be able to tune in to “Cinematrocities” for the lecture soon after.