Thank God for Netflix, because it allows me to see many movies that I may have missed along the way, usually because they never screened around me in Long Beach, Calif. This is particularly true of gay- and lesbian-themed films. We have one theater here that specializes in art and indie films, the Art Theatre, a fabulous old throwback to the often uncomfortable days of old. One screen, two shows a night. Often gay films play there, for a week or so, but I still tend to miss them.
So Netflix it is, and it even has a gay and lesbian category on their menu. And I’m glad I get to watch a majority of these films in the comfort of my home. Quite frankly, I’d feel dirty watching them in the public arena of a theater. Because for some reason, gay men who either make films or have films made about them seem to focus on the penis, on the pecs, on the male physique. Many of these movies are just feeble excuses to get a cast naked as often as possible and show as much as possible for as long as possible. It leads me to believe that most gay filmmakers, be they scriptwriters, directors, or producers, need to masturbate before they make a movie. Get it out of your system so you can actually tell a story.
This usually applies to American-made gay films. Foreigners seem to get it right and concentrate on the story. Perhaps because nudity, sex, gayness are almost passé to many European filmmakers. But our filmmakers are still caught up in the antiquated philosophy that seems to fuel most gay pride events: that our sex is our statement, our sexuality our being.
Countless times I’ve fast-forwarded through a gay film hoping for some acting, hoping for something more than eye candy. It happens. There are some good ones. I Think I Do comes to mind, as does The Broken Hearts Club. Then there’s the opposite end, like Eating Out, where audience members need a shower afterwards.
If we want our cinema to be taken seriously, we, the American gay men making movies, must create something that is a cut above a late-night film on Cinemax for gays.
Now, sex in movies is fine. God knows heterosexual filmmakers put it in with aplomb. But they keep it in check; it’s not in every film. I can’t tell you how many touching “coming-of-age” stories I’ve seen about gay boys coming. Not one American-made story from the recent past rises to the level of excellence of the British beauty Beautiful Thing, which truly is a touching coming-of-age story, one in which there are no gratuitous sex scenes and the players aren’t all A&F models.
Look, it’s not hard. Start with a great story, not a great reason to get cute boys naked. Start with a story that has universal appeal, not a setup to show full-frontal male nudity scene after scene.
Oh, and how about making a film where we are all healthy, adjusted, dealing with day-to-day problems. Why in almost every American made gay film does someone have to have AIDS? Can’t gay men die of anything else anymore? Heart attacks, cancer, getting run over by a bus? Or can’t gay men live anymore, even in our own movies? And must we all have substance abuse problems, end up in a club where guys in Lycra gyrate on a box, and act like we’re at Mecca or in a park, back alley, or other such seedy environment?
That’s why I do my Outfest here at home. Because I have a fast-forward button and I’m not in the room with strangers in case the mood changes to that of an adult theater. Not that it can’t be done tastefully; it can. I just saw Mysterious Skin and was moved by the realistic performances and gritty situations presented in the film. The sex worked, it wasn’t overdone, and it was crucial to the story. See, the story.
It’s a shame there’s no great middle ground, which is where independent films should come in. Hollywood wants us to be camp, like in In & Out, or dying (Jeffrey, Angels in America), and indie films seem to want to rebel by being sexual. But we’re many things in between, and I’d like to see them on the screen.
Our population has some of the most talented, creative people in the world. We can do better than the glut of gay films that come out and land one step short of porn. We’ve got millions of stories to tell—let’s start telling them on film. And let’s show straight Americans who may find themselves watching a gay film that much like in their lives, sex is a part of ours but not the focus and that, heaven forbid, we do have taste and decorum.