What The Mainstream Gay Themed Movies Of The 1980’s and 1990’s Are Still Teaching Me
For awhile now I’ve been rethinking the idea of adding the Logo network to my cable lineup. I so seldom find anything that I’m interested that’s playing on that channel that it almost makes me feel as though if this is the gay channel for gay people and I don’t find it interesting, then perhaps they’re coming to take my gay membership card away. But in a recent trip around the “guide” on my cable box I discovered a movie I’d never heard of from the early 1990’s, “Our Sons” that was playing on Logo. Featuring Julie Andrews as Hugh Grant’s mother and Ann-Margret as Zeljko Ivanek’s mother, the story is about Zeljko dying of AIDS, Grant as his partner and how everyone learns something about themselves when Andrews goes to bring Margret to her dying son who she had kicked out of the house at 17 for being, “one of those.” It’s a melodrama to be sure but as I sat there on tissue number seven or eight, I couldn’t help but feel sad that we don’t have these types of movies anymore and at the same time I thought about what the mainstream gay themed movies of the 1980’s and 1990’s are still teaching me – Don’t Get Me Started!
I think it’s wonderful that there are such things as a gay cable channel and that there are more movies made by gays about gays but to be honest most of them leave me disappointed. Either the scripts are awful and/or the acting is worse and usually I’m just bummed that I gave up two hours of my life (well, let’s face it, thanks to Tivo I can get through anything in under an hour now) but the point is that I’m almost always left feeling as though the movie was less than what it should or could have been. So in watching this TV movie from 1991, I wondered why with all its unforgiving TV underscore and Lifetime movie feeling I felt more about this than any of the more current movies I’ve watched with gay themes. Sure you could say it was the star power but there’s something more, the scripts and the direction are simply better and more thoughtful than the current trend of gay movies featuring more naked and sex but so much less when it comes to story, script and acting.
Yesterday on the radio I heard the song, “Making Love” now to most I’m sure this just sounds like some 80’s tune but to me it brought back memories of seeing this movie on cable probably the year after it came out, 1982 and how much it meant to a senior in high school about to go off and start his real life. Maybe it wasn’t a great movie but I think that anything you experience in life and then later look back on is colored by a lens of where you were at the time both physically and emotionally. To see Michael Ontkean leave Kate Jackson for Harry Hamlin only to find out that Hamlin was a slut and really didn’t want all the settling down that Ontkean wanted was heady stuff for a kid of 17 trying to figure out if there was a gay life for him other than what was pictured in the show biz world. Was there a gay life to be had beyond sailor hats (worn by the Village People and Charles Nelson Reilly) and being an old queen?
A big budget movie like “Philadelphia” or a small television movie like “An Early Frost” proved to mean so much to someone like me, someone who was growing up and not really knowing what being gay was all about other than you are attracted to men and have a desire to sing show tunes. Okay, I’m kidding (sort of) but what these movies did was not only show us the plight of those with AIDS and they’re family circumstances or in the case of “Making Love” coming out, it gave you reason to pause and reflect on a story that was about you and not about you all at the same time. Does that make sense? What I mean is that I don’t have HIV but I know people who do and those who have died from it but I was a little too young to lose masses of friends as so many did in the 80’s so while the storyline was mostly about AIDS awareness in these movies, for me it was seeing two men in a relationship and how it affected them and the people around them. Sure in most of these cases there was no real “Brokeback Mountain” sex on the screen, but you know what, I didn’t and don’t need it if a story is good and well told.
I’ve seen a few movies in the last ten years or so that may come close to the aforementioned films (the first one that comes to mind is “Behind The Red Door” starring Keifer Sutherland, Kyra Sedgwick and Stockard Channing – more of a study in relationships that are unresolved and need to be resolved - excellent) but with more and more gay movie makers finding funding I’m wondering why it’s only in the case of a bio-epic like “Milk” that current movies only come close to being as powerful as the 80’s and 90’s movies? And so I put a call out to all movie makers, straight and gay, please do us all a favor, start looking back into the gay psyche and discovering amazing stories to tell. Sure the stories of AIDS and people struggling with it still exist and should still be in the forefront of our consciousness but just like the movies from decades ago taught as well as entertained (in any of the aforementioned movies you’ll find the lessons that you can’t catch HIV or AIDS from touch, etc.) we need good and melodramas about the plight of couples trying to get married, gays who are getting up there in age and can no longer run with the White Party crowd, movies about garden variety gays trying to find acceptance within themselves as well as their family and gays who try and want to be part of the gay Pride parade but find that it doesn’t really represent them. There are thousands of stories to tell and yet the only ones I seem to see are about the sensitive man from the south who moves to LA, discovers he’s really gay, has several soft-core porn scenes and finally decides the man of his dreams was living next door.
We owe ourselves and the next generation more. I think we’ve all become to accustomed to allowing reality television show us what being gay is all about but for my money, I’d rather a professional writer, cast and director tell me a well thought out story as I sit in a theatre or on my couch with popcorn being entertained and taught. As always a musical theatre reference comes to mind. In the musical, “South Pacific” Lt. Cable confronts his own prejudice when he falls in love with a Polynesian woman, singing the song, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” – “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear. You’ve got to be taught, from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ears, you’ve got to be carefully taught…You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, before you are six or seven or eight. To hate all the people you’re relatives hate, you’ve got to be carefully taught.” Well, we need to be teaching tolerance, understanding and love so I’m hoping some movie maker somewhere does it soon so that the gay themed movies of the 80’s and 90’s won’t be all we and future generations have to look back on to be entertained and educated. What the mainstream gay themed movies of the 1980’s and 1990’s are still teaching me – Don’t Get Me Started!
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An acquired taste, like Tab cola, Some Like It Scott is one gay man's experiences with love, life and things that make him crazy, all done to a musical theatre soundtrack.