Being gay is like being born with a golden bell attached to your neck. A cloud of jingles is always following, always haunting your every move. There is no escape from its clangs and clatters.
So, at the end, it is your choice, and your choice only, to either glide through life like a cipher constraining the noise emanating from your bell, or you make it ring in enchanting melodies, with all the pride and ceremonious happiness residing in your heart.
If we were to examine the outcast history of cinema, we would get to the conclusion that this bell has rang with ambivalent blusters along the years.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s, homosexual characters portrayed on screen, were abominable creatures filled with consuming rancor and burning remorse. They were aware of their deformed nature, and therefore, their only reachable atonement was dead. Remember Mrs. Danvers in Hitchcock’s Rebecca? She was a being of toasted hatred, bombinating like a rusty phantom through the trammeled memorabilia of her deceased patroness, whom she was in love with. She was a closeted lesbian, and consequently, a devoutly evil being.
In the 1960’s, gay men were characterized as creatures of exaggerated nature, almost goblin-like, moving in disquieting maneuver and shooting unicorns and rainbows out of their assess. Their function was to equilibrate the ranges of the narrative rhythm: They were friends of the damsel in distress, allies of the heroes, never ambiguous about their sexuality but somehow, always asexual.
By the 1990’s, gay filmmakers began to relinquish on these stereotypes in order to expose a revealing rawness on the issues of being an everyday homosexual man, within an everyday fluctuating society. These was the beginning of a new era of recognition, this was the dawn of a presentation of films about men that could feel, men that could love, and most importantly, about men that could be felt and loved by other men as well.
Don´t ask me why almost all of these films, even to this date, strive on the subject of love with an essential maunder towards tragic finales. It is true; it is one of the most dismally oriented sub genres in film, in regards to the destructive destiny of its characters.
Maybe we just have to take a glimpse at what still happens to gay men in Uganda and Russia, to realize that the doom of lovers in gay cinema is not an exaggerated tool of marketing and controversy, but an honest truth, a metaphor that serves as a banner of the inequities and reduced perspectives that continue to haunt humanity even in the XXI century. Because what better way to protest there is, than through the universal factory of dreams that is film.
NOTE: THIS IS A LIST OF FILMS THAT ONLY REFER TO THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN MEN. THERE WILL BE ANOTHER ENTRY IN REGARDS TO THE SAME SUBJECT, FORMULATED ENTIRELY BY LESBIAN FILMS.
1. Keep The Lights On (Ira Sachs, 2012)
Keep the lights on is a film about all those arcane things we do when the lights are off. Darkness is a perfect blanket for deep feelings of revulsion; one in particular being, shame.
Hello!-a voice, tender in texture but possessed by crude lust whispers in the dark. It is the speech of a man brimming and mumbling litanies of sexual venture to someone else, someone non-present in the same room. We listen to him convey little details such as: how big his dick is, how nasty a top he is, where he is located and how fast can he get to that other place. Then, he shrieks- “Shit!”
The line has been cut off, now we know he´s been on the phone all this time. He dials again, waits for the tone, someone picks up and, he starts all over again.
This man is Erick, a Danish filmmaker residing in New York City. He is a care-free spirit working on an endless documentary, sucking and dwindling on daddy´s money, and filling up his nights with random, sexual encounters. His soft-spoken gentleness and inviting demeanor are persistently slashed out by his morbidity and his offhand craving for anonymous orgasms.
He meets Paul through one of these “phone sex sites”, a man, who also drifts within the shadows of his unwanted reality, perhaps hovering even deeper than Erick: he has a girlfriend, and he is addicted to crack. Even through such crawly circumstances, Paul and Erick embark on a tumultuous 9 year relationship.
There is a scene of sexual demise, where, after days of searching for him, Erick finds Paul hiding in a hotel room, feeding his blood and lungs with the rampages of crack. When Paul first disappeared, his smile was still capable of splitting rooms, and his gaze was still able to flicker with echoing life. Now that Erick has found him, looking at Paul is like looking at the scribbling of an alley wall, wet with piss and booze.
Paul asks him to leave, Erick refuses. Fine! It is your choice! – exudes Paul.
A male prostitute arrives. Erick just stays there, flagrant and immobile as the other two stroll in front of him and step into the bedroom. The sex soon begins and Paul moans in hallucinatory despair, calling for Erick, who remains sterile, contemplating such disillusion.
This is a story about lovers trying to recognize each other through the thick web cobs of darkness, about people pleading for a bright light that could at least help them find the edges of the eyes belonging to the partner they want to look at, and be look by them in return.
It is the hard telling of a man who finds his significant other inhabiting in such darkness, only to realize that he has grown accustomed to that gloom, and now, he is asking him to descry his way back to the light all by himself, because he has found a much peaceful place in the twilight, where the dim of their love is of no use.
2. Weekend (Andrew Haigh, 2011)
Weekend is a charming and patient film. It has the mood and scrutiny of a handwritten letter. It is precise and concise in its context, but long-winded and yielding in the roots of its essence. It takes its time to find the right words it desires to express, and you can actually taste the melancholy of the ink drops, still drying on the edges of the frame. In a way, this is the telling of a common longing.
It is the story of connection and profound realization we all yearn for at least once in our lifetime. Or in some cases, it is the event that has happen to us all, materializing many of our life´s encouragements and our heart´s frustrations.
Russell roams through life, attaching delicate boundaries to all the fragments of his personal universe. He is one of those loners that carry the air of uncertainty everywhere they go. You wish you could get to know him better, but perhaps, even he prefers to be a far-flung spectator of his own unraveling and isolation. There is something painful in his everyday monotony, but also an endearing quality that propels a hidden inclination to just…hug him.
He meets Glen one Saturday morning, naked, sleeping next to him right there on his own bed, not exactly sure of how this man got here in the first place, all due to a night of heavy drinking and ethyl blackouts . At the beginning of their acquaintance, they seem to be very much alike; there is even a sense of reflecting recognition meandering in their conversation. That is of course, until he realizes as much as we do, that Glen is a man of no description, about to convulse his life in thunderous waves.
Weekend is not a tragedy about two men who can´t be together. It is a nostalgic lecture and an economical film about how, when it is loyal and sincere in its affections and acknowledgments, even ephemeral love can provoke heartbreaking loss. Glen is departing to North America on Monday, not coming back for the next 2 years.
In the last scene of this film, we understand the substance of this cinematic letter. It is a kindhearted farewell, broken down in monograms of universal affirmation: Love is suitable for everyone. And even within the strangest of casualties, there is always a future waiting for it.
3. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)
Ennis del Mar looks as if he has been watching rain all his life. His eyes have the same expression as that of a boy staring out through the window of his room; counting raindrops accumulate on the gutter of his rooftop. They appear tired and sleepy of staring at things they don´t want to see.
In one of the last scenes of the film, Ennis enters into Jack´s room as if driven by automatic motion. We know that Jack has perished, though we will never truly know the real reason of his demise.
As Ennis mildly tours through the room, he ponders over all the decisive instants of his existence that have led him to this place and moment, to this particular time and space. These are the raindrops on the gutter he is forced to stare at.
He has always been quiet and soft-spoken, always monotone and guarded in his words, but it is perhaps within this silent chamber of dusted memories, where for the first time in his life, he craves for an outspoken conversation, this is the place and time where he covets to implode and drown his pain in the sea of unspoken words and rotten sentences he never dared to say.
Ennis finds the shirt Jack lend him the first summer they spent working together at Brokeback Mountain. It is still there, hanging untouched, inside Jack´s closet. It is unwashed, with inks of dried blood printed on the sleeve. Ennis approaches it as if resisting a cankering spell. Then, he hugs it like he has never hugged anything before. He engulfs himself in a kind of idiotic past, so lucid and tangible with its touch, that it appears as if he is ready to dissolve himself within the dirty cloth of that shirt.
This is the story of two men compelled to contemplate the love they felt for each other, the same way we wait for rain to pass: at a secure distance, and with utter, melancholic frustration. Jack and Ennis were ripped apart in halves during the 20 years of their secret affair.
On the one hand, they had the half of themselves they needed in order to subsist, the one they exposed to the world; the half they hated because everyone else accepted. And on the other hand, they had t the half they could not show, because it provided the necessary honesty the other half simply could not get attach to.
Brokeback Mountain is in essence, a film about betraying one-self when the ache of being different is just breathtakingly in awe.
4. A Single Man (Tom Ford, 2009)
Have you ever felt melancholic about a time and place you know nothing about? It is a strange affliction of sadness and oblique remembrance, since you find yourself missing a life that isn´t yours to begin with. That is what Tom Ford´s vision of the 60´s made me feel through A Single Man; and in a way, that is how George, our main character, feels all the hours of his day: missing something nonexistent.
It´s been 8 months since the death of his lover, however, the pain of his departure, though still lingering, is not the reason why he has decided to kill himself on this particular summer day. It has to do with something more ethereal. It is a hollow emptiness as karmic as it is gastric. It has to do with the wrenching feeling of not belonging, of not fitting in as a whole within this time in space.
It is the universe letting you know through cosmic eviction notes, that there is no more room for you and your loneliness, for you and your joys and sadness, no more room for all your demeanors, exasperations and presences.
That first shot in which Colin Firth receives the message of his lover´s tragic extinction, is pure cinematic agitation. We intrude with passive anticipation and safe distance, into George´s thoughts as he listens to the voice on the other side of the phone delivering the news. We are left hanging there, watching him with unmitigated disenchantment as the fracture of his fragile sanity begins to disentangle.
It takes a few seconds for him to react, but the wait for him to do so appears to be eternal. When he finally does collapse, we are deprived from the full diagram of pain. The director chooses to suffocate the alteration of the sound, and allows the image to play on its own.
The film was severely criticized for the over polluted style it manifests, and for its images filled with pretentious, visual movement. Notwithstanding, the element no one can argue against, is Colin Firth´s icy deconstruction of a man crashing into vases of shock and heartache. His, is a unique portrayal of a crippled soul, absorbed in an unforgiving rapture of lost time and forfeited dimension. He is a forgotten lover, doom to endure the ravages of a post-apocalyptic sentimentality.
5. Contracorriente (Javier Fuentes-Leon, 2009)
Contracorriente, overall, is not a great film. Occasionally, the narrative lacks purpose, and the melodramatic turns are fleeting and leisurely mechanic, which inevitably drains the story away from the possibility of a braver exaltation. Neither is it a bad film, it is uncomplicated, smooth, and above all, honest within its own absolutes and tragedies. It is worth the watch, since it stays away from the logic of controversy, in order to calmly focus and center on the solvency of a metaphysical assertion.
The story takes place in a small fishermen village. It is an arid landscape of rocks and random, unpolished brick houses; but it is also a beguiling panorama of blue skies, salty wind, and soaked sunsets. It is an aloof place of magic and wonder, where reality strikes hard and dense.
Miguel is a local fisherman, one of those kindred spirits that seem to lighten up the whole place with his constant positivity. Respected by his community, he implies to have it all, good friends, a pregnant, loving wife, and of course, a male lover named Santiago.
Santiago is an artist, a photographer, and a painter whose only reason to visit this place is his disjointed relationship with Miguel. In contrast to Miguel, Santiago is despised by the community, mainly due to the frankness of his sexuality.
These two lovers are very different from each other; they are separated by tradition, background, and the sour disposition of their roots, nevertheless, when hidden among the rocks and sheltered by the cocoon of their intimacy, when making love they look at each other with the deepest of recognitions, as if they were repeatedly staring at themselves with a mirror.
Miguel is about to have a baby, there is no bearing fruit in their exposition, therefore, one afternoon, Miguel decides that they must remain shadowed by their silent complicities despite Santiago´s opposition. They fight for the last time and depart ways.
Next morning, Miguel finds Santiago, waiting for him inside his home, his face detached from the spark of livelihood. Miguel´s wife cannot see him nor hear him. What stands in front of Miguel, is the ghost of his deceased lover. Santiago has drowned and now his soul cannot be at rest.
The film has problems when navigating through such corrosive changes of genre. It is a bumpy ride, but it never hits rock bottom. The confidence that the film lays upon the faithfulness of these characters´ relationships is the generator from which we can surpass the holes of its narrative, and contemplate the candid nobility of the whole picture.
6. The Crying Game (Neil Jordan, 1992)
The Crying Game is a film about contradictions. It not only exposes them, but it also invokes them. Even its place on this list might be target for contradictory arguments: I can almost hear you saying it: Why cheapen this film by categorizing it within a list of gay films?
It is about many things, like very few great movies truly are. So yeah, The Crying Game is a gay film; maybe one of the best of its kind since it is never alluring and poignant towards this subject, despite “the big reveal” waiting for us.
The film speaks with truthful decorum about the inevitabilities of the human nature, about the autonomy of our inner personalities despite the enslaving tantrums of our outer shell.
Everyone in this film communicates with soft passion, as if they were all whispering sassy things inside a funeral. There is a sensual appeal in the tone of their voices, but also, a sense of mourning in its quaver. They have all lost something pure and basic from their human condition, perhaps it is the ability to recognize their own true core.
first time Dil and Fergus establish an actual conversation is through Cal, the bartender of The Metro, who acts out as a channel of communication that almost translates each other´s questions and answers. Through these sorts of narrative mediums, the film proves its original worth.
These types of scenes are the subtext of what these lovers will attain as a relationship: two individuals on different ends of a tunnel, attempting to reach out to each other. They can run to the other side and meet in the middle, but there is that present darkness in between, too hollow and unreliable to dare be swallowed by it. It is a darkness as squat as their own secrets.