Opening this Friday in San Diego, God’s Own Country has been described as the British Brokeback Mountain, which is both accurate and hyperbolic. Both are about star-crossed lovers who meet while tending to livestock in a sparse landscape, but this time it’s Yorkshire, not Wyoming. Johnny (Josh O’Connor) is the only son of a debilitated farmer (Ian Hart), and his bitterness about being trapped on the farm has led him to alcoholic shenanigans including but not limited to hooking up with strange men in barns. When they hire a migrant farmhand from Romania named Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), Johnny is at first angry at the more competent and controlled interloper. And then they figure out what each other want, and it’s each other, and it’s not easy.
Unlike Brokeback Mountain, which had a deceptively complicated narrative and gut-wrenching emotional realism, God’s Own Country follows a standard romance plot and has more familiar conflicts – albeit with gorgeous and naturalistic imagery and an ending that will satisfy many viewers. While I don’t think the artistry of Brokeback and Ang Lee is surpassed by God’s Own Country, the new film is exquisitely made. Writer and director Francis Lee’s taciturn characters and stark scenes hide powerful symbolism and complicated people, and his actors are roundly stunning. O’Connor’s Johnny is a jerk, but his growth makes him sympathetic, and the performance is gritty, angry and beautiful. Secareanu’s Gheorghe doesn’t have the same kind of arc, but he does for the audience what he does for Johnny: we fall in love with him and his deep, beautiful eyes. The great Gemma Jones plays Johnny’s dutiful, loyal, deeply worried grandmother, and it’s a wise, agonizing performance.
A week later, one of the other great queer-themed films of 2017 opens. BPM (Beats Per Minute) was recently named as France’s official submission for the foreign language Oscar; in June, it won four awards at Cannes. And it’s arguably the greatest film about AIDS made in any language. It follows several members of ACT-UP Paris during the early 1990s, concentrating on the group’s various political conflicts and a relationship between young, furious HIV positive Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) and the handsome activist newcomer Nathan (Arnaud Valois). The film’s focus in the beginning is on ACT-UP meetings, and writer-director Robin Campillo, an ACT-UP Paris veteran, makes them thrilling, frustrating, enraging and awe-inspiring. Over meetings and various actions, Sean and Nathan fall in love, and the film’s superb final act examines Sean’s worsening health and Nathan’s (and other ACT-UP members’) devotion to him.
Even though BPM is arriving 25 years after the height of ACT-UP’s work, its urgency is palpable; despite being firmly ensconced in a particular historical moment, the drama and the emotions do not feel anachronistic. Partly, this is because of how compelling Campillo has directed various key scenes, but it is also because several of the main plot points – pharmaceutical greed, fear of sexuality, bigotry – are still of great concern to all of us. And Campillo does not flinch from the sex, illness, sadness, lust and anger like so many AIDS films before that were made to play well in Peoria. BPM is instructive, enraging, devastating and beautiful. It’s one of the most important films of the year – queer and not – and shouldn’t be missed.
God’s Own Country Written and directed by Francis Lee
Starring Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu, and Gemma Jones
Opens Friday, Nov. 10 at Landmark Ken Cinema
BPM (Beats Per Minute) Directed by Robin Campillo
Written by Robin Campillo and Philippe Mangeot
Starring Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, and Adèle Haenel
Opens Friday, Nov. 17 at Landmark Ken Cinema
I’ve seen the best gay movie since Brokeback Mountain and it is Weekend. Here’s the link to my published review (which includes my Footloose review, too), and here’s the whole thing:
Whenever I see a gay movie as strikingly good as Weekend, it makes me ponder gay cinema in general. The dearth of good movies about gay people is palpable. I am reminded of it every week because I review movies for a gay newspaper, and rarely do I get to write about a new movie featuring, let alone being led by, a gay, lesbian, or transgender character. This is only the fourth time this year. Two films last winter were open for a total of two weeks combined; Gregg Araki’s Kaboom was barely watchable, while Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats was stylish, brilliant, and in French, but barely anyone knew that it was even at the theater. Beginners, Mike Mills’s beautiful meditation on love and loss, featured Christopher Plummer’s portrayal of a late-to-come-out gay man that will probably win him an Oscar.
But the main plot of Beginners revolved around a heterosexual romance, and even though it was marketed towards gays and lesbians, it felt like, as Brokeback Mountain and Milk did, a movie made for straight people. This isn’t a problem, of course, but as a gay man, it would be nice – actually, it is necessary, even imperative – to see my people, to see people like me on the screen. The lesbians have recently had this experience with The Kids Are Alright, but Weekend the first movie since Brokeback Mountain that I felt a part of. And better, Weekend is not about the closet or about secrets or the 1960s; it is about what it is like to be gay and in love now. It is an immediate, intimate, and honest examination of love, sex, and longing in 2011. It’s also gorgeously shot, sensitively acted, and sexier than any gay film I can remember.
In some English city, Russell (Tom Cullen) leaves his straight best friend’s party a little early and heads to a gay bar, where he gets drunker and meets Glen (Chris New). They end up spending the weekend together, and the film follows their awkward small talk, their flirtations and revelations, their drug-fueled musings and arguments, their sex, what turns out to be burgeoning of love, and Glen’s revelation that he is moving to the United States on Sunday afternoon.
Some of the excitement of seeing all of this is that they’re both young and a bit green. What is thrilling and wrenching for them was also for me. Russell, who grew up in foster families and is timid about publicly acknowledging his sexual orientation, works as a lifeguard at a community pool, but he doesn’t seem to be passionate about it; he says his life is “fine.” Glen works at a gallery and is more experienced, a bit arrogant and quick to quip, and he’s perhaps less mature, or at least more emotionally volatile, than Russell. They have a classic introvert-extrovert attraction: What a critic usually calls chemistry – the stuff Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan have, or Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall – is technically apparent, but the film is so naturalistic that it doesn’t seem as if Cullen and New are simply excellent, intuitive actors, but rather that Russell and Glen are falling in love.
Andrew Haigh’s sensitive direction and editing and Urszula Pontikos’s cinematography turn what is basically a two-person parlor play into an intense, almost epic work of beauty. It’s hard for me not to be hyperbolic in my love for Weekend, and in turn, I am irritated that it will be open for only one week in San Diego. Perhaps if we sell out the first weekend, Landmark Cinemas will find it in their hearts to keep the film around longer.
Written and Directed by Andrew Haigh
Starring Tom Cullen and Andrew New
Again, this is too much like Day 4. WTF? And again, I’ll split the hair and say that this is probably meant to be a song that I will play when I’m sad in order to fell… happier? sadder? Well, when I’m sad, a happy song will just annoy me. I prefer to wallow a bit, even find something that will break the seal and make me cry. The few things that will do it are songs from tragic gay loves stories — psychoanalyze that — specifically “What Would I Do?” from Falsettos (there’s that show again) and anything that Gustavo Santaolalla wrote for the Brokeback Mountain sountrack; I’ve included “The Wings” and the Emmylou Harris-sung “A Love That Will Never Grow Old.”
Welcome Lambert fans. Based on some of what I’ve been reading in your comments, I’ve made a few corrections.
Those of you who are interested in Adam Lambert have probably heard his new single, if not seen the video, which is not from his upcoming album, to be called For Your Entertainment, but rather from the soundtrack to 2012, Roland Emmerich’s latest worldwide snuff film.
The song is getting a lot of attention, not just from the usual suspects, like gay blogs and crazed American Idol fans.. Ann Powers, the highly respected Los Angeles Times music critic raved about the single:
Listen to “Time for Miracles,” the single that begins this fall’s triumphant ascent of “American Idol” finalist and hard rock liberator Adam Lambert with a swoosh and bang that does Freddie and Steven (and Ann and Jon and Axl) proud.
Of course, as with anything Adam Lambert does, there are naysayers. A bunch of folks are just revolted by the song, since it is a rather low-rent Dianne Warren-ish power ballad. It sounds separated at birth from Aerosmith’s Oscar-nominated Dianne Warren power ballad “Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” from Michael Bay’s worldwide snuff film Armageddon. This is not an unfair criticism. But I’m a sucker for songs like that, as long as they are sung by someone like Steven Tyler or Adam Lambert, whose voice, for the record, I love. It makes the hair on my arms (and back) stand on end. But some people simply loathe the sound of his voice, and I can see this, since it can go from intense to screechy rather quickly. But it works for me. Because the boy can control it as well as any recording artist working today. When he screeches, he’s doing it deliberately. He’s simply an amazingly gifted vocalist.
However, Adam could sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” without a screech or a flourish, and some people would say it sucks. This guy cannot stand Adam. Since they think he sucks, in more ways than one. Some people just can’t stand they way he moves, or his eyeliner, or his hair, or that he wasn’t spit out by the cloning technology that churned out “masculine” performers like the lead singers of Matchbox 20, Nickelback, The Fray, Coldplay, Kings of Leon, or whatever act you want to list that happens to be led by a straight man. Or supposedly straight. Want to read some hate? Here’s some. Adam Lambert is no less masculine — or more feminine — than David Bowie or Steven Tyler or Axel Rose were at the heights of their popularity, but Adam is actually and openly gay, as opposed to being just ambiguous or faux bisexual like Bowie was back in the day.
And that changes everything. Unlike the guy I linked at the beginning of the previous paragraph, many of the anonymous Lambert haters are not concerned about his supposed pitchiness, but rather that he’s a faggot. A typical string of comments from idol-mania.com:
Coolman // May 24, 2009 at 7:22 pm
Adam is a FAGGOT!!!! He is a “male” Cher. He is the worst contestant EVER. I would rather listen to Sanjia for 10 hours than the FAGGOT adam. He will never be anything
156 Anti-Kara // May 24, 2009 at 7:25 pm
Adam is a pillow biter. Isn’t there anyone left in the USA with MORALS???
157 AdamsGay // May 24, 2009 at 7:26 pm
Maybe adam should get into gay porn. He’ll never make it as a singer. Just goes to show how many queers there are voting. He sure didn’t make it on his singing!! LOL. HE SUCKS—-Literally!!
(By the way, I love how google searches for “fag,” too, when you search for “faggot.”)
(Also, by the way, a lot of the internet hate concerning Adam Lambert is virtually identical, discourse-wise, to the faggot-bashing-shitstorm-tsunami-flamewar that Perez Hilton experienced after his altercation with the Black Eyed Peas’ entourage. Read the comments. If you don’t act like a “man,” you are always already guilty.)
There has never been an openly gay pop star. The closest we’ve ever had are Elton John, George Michael, KD Lang, and Melissa Etheridge, and all were big stars before they came out. And aside from Elton John — with his Disney work and his Princess-Diana-is-dead song — none of them have had a radio hit in the United States since they came out. In case you haven’t noticed, American radio stations are more homophobic than any other popular media format.
Rob pointed out that there was one exception to this: RuPaul. He was out — way out — when he had a hit with “Supermodel (You Better Work).”
This is the exception that proved the rule. He didn’t have a hit as a gay man; he had a hit as a drag queen. He was not a man with a slightly ambiguous gender performance, which is threatening to many straight men. RuPaul’s gender was never ambiguous — this was a man pretending, mocking, satirizing, loving the female and feminine. There’s a reason why female impersonation is safe for straight men to watch, love, and participate in: It reestablishes and reifies gender more often than it disrupts and confuses it. (Check out Gender Trouble and Vested Interests for more.) Out gay men who shirk masculinist stereotypes — guys like Adam Lambert — do not do confirm gender; they fuck with it. Which is one the reasons why I love Lambert so much. Also, I fucking love RuPaul. This song led off the dance-party playlist at our wedding. And the video? One of the greatest ever made. Yeah, Kanye. Really. However, it’s also important to note that “Supermodel” wasn’t a major hit, outside of the clubs and MTV. It peaked at 45 on the pop charts. It wasn’t even a Top 40 hit.
While radio only allows gay people to be drag queens or forces them to first pay their dues by pretending to be straight (or both, a la Boy George in the 80s), gay people and gay stories are hugely successful on TV, on Broadway, in bestselling books, and even in Hollywood films. Sure, we complain about homophobia in American films. And we should. Brokeback Mountainlost the Oscar because of homophobia, both the overt “Ugh, fags” stuff from older voters and subtle “Ha, gays are funny! Here’s my Brokeback parody!” stuff from younger voters. Mincing and/or creepy queers are still used for comic relief and/or as easy villains, even after The Celluloid Closet pointed out that it’s damn offensive to do that. The “Gay Steppin’ Fetchits” in He’s Just Not That Into You. Charlie Prince (Ben Foster) in 3:10 to Yuma. Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) in 300. Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker) in The Fifth Element. Albert (Nathan Lane) in The Birdcage. Prince Edward (Peter Hanly) in Braveheart. Scar (Jeremy Irons) in The Lion King. Ra (Jae Davidson) in Stargate. Ted Levine (Jame Gumb) in Silence of the Lambs. Also, everything about Boat Trip and Chuck and Larry.
And then there’s Brüno, which was ostensibly a movie mocking gay stereotypes and homophobia, but was so badly conceptualized, marketed, and made that it simply furthered gay stereotypes and homophobia — except in the people who were already aware of the evils of gay stereotypes and homophobia. It was at times hysterically funny, diamond-sharp satire, and at times so offensive-and-not-in-a-good-way that I was aghast. As in, my jaw dropped during some of the scenes focusing on Brüno’s adoption of an African baby. GLAAD rightfully attacked the film, which caused some gays to attack GLAAD. My response to the criticism of GLAAD (written as a comment to a Facebook update) was (with some editing), “I haven’t seen it, though if I had any money I probably would. But I don’t think I need to see it to think that GLAAD’s press release makes sense. Barrios says clearly that he knows the point of the satire and knows that a lot of gay people will find it funny. But he also points out that the movie will do no good in areas of the country where most people aren’t able to find humor in homophobia. Like Arkansas. I think GLAAD actually has perspective here. And honestly, I wouldn’t want GLAAD to have much of a sense of humor. If they found very un-PC humor funny, they’d be rather useless as an anti-defamation group. It’s their job to complain about representation and to question stuff like Brüno. Even if I found Brüno funny, and I bet I would find a lot of it funny (though A.O. Scott, who I agree with 95% of time, wasn’t thrilled with it, so I may react with a “Meh,” like JoeMyGod), I’m sure I would still think GLAAD’s response is appropriate.” Then I saw it, and I really agreed with GLAAD.
Clearly, we’re having growing pains as a movement. In parts of the country, we’re so accepted and embedded in the landscape that the sort of satire found in Brüno is fine, maybe even needed. Many of us have been lulled into a content, fuzzy happiness because our local leaders are so pro-us. So, we’re flummoxed that Obama hasn’t made good on every single one of his promises to us, even though some of those promises are rather radical positions in much of the country. In many parts of the United States, where anti-gay marriage proposals pass with the 90% of the vote, Brüno was going to play like I’m Gonna Git You Suckain 1950s Alabama: Badly. These are the parts of the country — and I’m not talking about fly-over country only, but also Orange County and eastern Washington State and north Florida and Staten Island — where people actually believe the lies of Frank Schubert or Tony Perkins or Glenn Beck. They nod along with So You Think You Can Dance judge and executive producer Nigel Lythgoe when he says he doesn’t like it when men don’t dance like men — on a show full of gay contestants who seem not allowed to say or even imply that they’re gay — if they watch the show at all. They voted for Kris Allen over Adam Lambert on American Idol because Kris is so very straight and manly (in a sweet, farm boy way), and Adam is so very not (in a glam rock, showtune, Lady Gaga back-up dancer way).
It also seems that these are the same people in charge of radio playlists. Notoriously conservative Clear Channel dominates radio in the United States, and aside from their back-of-bus, mostly online Pride channel (which has played just two gay acts among their last 200 songs, when I checked), none of their mainstream rock or Top 40 stations play anything by gay acts, so it doesn’t seem terribly crazy to believe that they are either preventing gay acts from succeeding on the radio or tacitly allowing their failure. As someone pointed out, Clear Channel is nice to its gay employees. Awesome. But that has nothing to do with whether or not they will promote out gay artists on the radio. For example, Fox News gives its gay employees domestic partner benefits, but their shows spew homophobic garbage. Yeah, blaming Clear Channel makes me sound like a conspiracy theorist, for sure. But it’s not one that is particularly far-fetched (unlike, say, the theory that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS or that 9/11 was “an inside job”). Worse, however, is that even independently owned stations don’t have the balls to play any gay artists.
I don’t have any problem with him being gay, but I still think that Details made the editorial decision to wrap him up in this more hetero-sexualized image of a boob-lovin’ mysterious… bisexual, maybe? And it’s pretty clear he’s just straight-up gay. That I take issue with that, because it’s as if Details thinks their readership won’t respond if they made Adam pose with nude men, you know? Or maybe it was just a way of getting us to talk about their magazine. I don’t know. In Page Six this morning, Details editor-in-chief Dan Peres said: “Women obviously know he’s gay, but they are still crazy about him. He’s no Liberace. To put him with a beautiful female model felt absolutely right.” Uh… no.
Of course, Details has issues with the gays. They have a huge gay readership but they pretend like they don’t. It’s very odd.
I think many people expect Adam Lambert’s album to be a huge hit. It has amazing Amazon pre-sales and lots of buzz. I hope it is a huge. I hope he becomes a massive star. But Amazon pre-sales do not a multi-platinum album make. It’s much more complex than that. To become the hit people expect, singles from For Your Entertainment need radio play, and a lot of it. But I don’t think radio — either Clear Channel or un-Clear Top 40 radio or indy stations or the crass morning DJs — is going to help that happen. I think they’ll chase after the bandwagon when it’s already down the street, but they won’t help grease the wheels.
Oh, and “Time for Miracles” is out and available for purchase and download. Anyone hear it on the radio yet? I haven’t. It’s a serious question — I want to know. It’s only at #28 on the iTunes chart, though it’s at #16 on Amazon.com (as of 12:03pm PST on Saturday, October 24). Hmm. If there’s a god, it will be #1. But I’m worried.