Sunday, June 23, 2013

The LGBTQ Cinematic Experience- The Door To The Celluloid Closet That's Now Fully Open

                             In 1981 Vito Russo (above), activist and once organizer for the Gay Activists Alliance,who had began creating dances and movie nights as an alternative to the Mob owned gay bars of the period,published a text called The Celluloid Closet. Of course Mr.Russo is no longer with us. However his prose, and the excellent documentary film from 1996 that it inspired has got me to think how homosexuality in cinema has evolved just as generationally as homosexuals themselves have in terms of their relationship to the world. As the late Tony Curtis coined in that documentary, film tends to be how the contemporary American continues to learn about the society around them. And as Vito Russo pointed out told straight people how to think about gay people, and gay people what to think about themselves.

                              To be frank I am not as well versed in the entire spectrum of LGBTQ cinema over the years. However so much has happened in the gay community, even the name to which it is now referred to, during my lifetime. Before I could even talk,for example there was a film  released that did something that is actually still fairly daring by presenting homosexuality as an act of love. It was called Making Love,starring Michael Ontkean and Harry Hamlin. This was released at a time so early in the AIDS epidemic that the disease didn't yet have a name. And spoke of two adult men finding love between each other in the post Stonewall era. I didn't see this film until my late adolescence-presented to me in a sociological context at that particular time.

                           During the early 1990s there was a sudden boom of films that celebrated the culture of cross dressing. These were also shown to me at a time when I started meeting the first homosexuals I ever know. A couple grown men who were acquaintances of my parents. These men were decent and fatherly types and generally treated me like a younger brother or a son. One of these cross dressing themed films was Priscilla Queen of The Desert,which revolved around a trio of cross dressers from three different generations going on a tour together in the Australian outback and the adventures they encounter. It told the same kind of well rounded and human stories I was then experiencing at the time with the first gay men I had a chance to formerly be aware of.

                          Interestingly enough,one of the biggest changes I've known with homosexual actors or actress's is how they are presented in films. When Ellen DeGeneres and singer/actress KD Lang first came out during the 1990's, their film roles were generally limited to "gay cinema"-such as  Salmonberries for KD and If These Walls Could Talk 2 for Ellen. The same went for Harvey Fierstein in his transition from theater to film. In today's world openly homosexual actors even such as Sir Ian McKlellen of Lord Of The Rings fame and Zachary Quinto, who portrays Spock in JJ Abrams Star Trek films can now enjoy the freedom of selecting any roles they wish and remain comfortably out of the closet.

                             Not only has gay cinema become integrated into mainstream cinema but another visual media has picked up on it: television. Even during the 1990's,outside Ellen's famous coming out on her own comedy series, homosexuals were almost non existent on television. After this came a major change in that when Will & Grace premiered in the late 90's and featured two fully integrated homosexual characters in the main cast. Now with prime time dramas such as Modern Family,as the celluloid closet has opened into the perverbial digital age bedroom a persons sexuality is slowly becoming far less the taboo it was not so long ago. So this proves Tony Curtis dead on right about cinema having an enormous influence-positive and negative on the outlook of people.

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