Jan 25, 2015

Gay Culture and Films for the New Year

This stunning painting of gay love surviving in the shadows of a hostile world is by the wonderful artist, Doug Blanchard, who is responsible for the extraordinary gay stations of the Cross, The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision, with text by Kittredge Cherry! Check out her Jesus in Love site, devoted to LGBT spirituality. 

This painting captures so many dimensions which words cannot adequately express - the dingy hotel room with the cracked grey walls, the shattered window pane, the broken coffee cups. It looks very much like a refuge, a place of hiding and escape. The two men's bodies glow with a life giving warmth, but the look of yearning and sorrow on the young man's face is both passionate and mournful. Together at last, yet for how long, for only this brief moment? When will the shadows disperse and when can we be open and free.

On a similar note, I recently went through what are probably the three most noteworthy gay films of the past year, in order of my preferences:

The wonderfully heartwarming, Pride, nominated for a Golden Globe for best picture and for several Bafta's, including Best British Film of the Year, which I hope it wins - though the award will probably go to one of the biops The Imitation Game or The Theory of Everything. The film tells the story of "U.K. gay activists working to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984." A deeply moving study of how tenacity and passion can eventually overcome the barriers of homophobia, the ending brings tears to the eyes. The largest contingent of marchers in the fledgling London's Gay Pride Parade of 1984 - was composed of seven tour buses of Welsh miners come to support their friends.  Their numbers were so great, they were put at the head of the parade, banners and all! In those long ago days, there were few communities more homophobic than the Welsh miners and their wives. The motley group of young gay activists, passionate and idealistic, broke through all barriers `and won the miners' hearts and respect, but not before suffering much misunderstanding, ridicule and rejection.  Deeply moving and powerfully political, and as one reviewer noted - and I paraphrase - "with no disrespect intended, this would make a great musical." The best gay film of the year in my humble opinion! Not to be missed. 

My second favorite film of the year was the tender, poignant and very timely love story, Love in Strange, the story of a gay teacher (Alfred Molina) who loses his position as choir director at a Catholic high school when he marries his partner (John Lithgow) of many years. This couldn't be more relevant, as numerous gay employees of Catholic institutions are fired right and left for marrying their partners or coming out as married in any public way.  We the viewers suffer with heartache as the couple in the film deals with the devastating consequences of the Church's intransigence - the loss of their security, their own apartment, health insurance = all the consequences of a deeply homophobic church, unable to face its own dark shadow or practice the virtues it preaches. Devastating. Molina and Lithgow deliver such tender, true performances, with all the wrinkles of such a relationship on display, warts and all. Yet what remains is the haunting image of their lasting love throughout it all -  including bouts of infidelity. Some gay reviewers at IMDB objected to the ending, the long lingering look at Lithgow's young teen nephew, riding his bike alongside his new girlfriend, a bittersweet, sad smile on his face as he thinks with affectionate nostalgia of the uncle he recently lost and whom he deeply misses. In the previous scene, we had seen him sobbing on the stairway, overcome with grief.  "See, he's not gay, thank god," was the cynical response of quite a few of these (younger) gay reviewers, incensed that this seemed to be a film for straight people, reassuring them that the younger boy would not turn out gay (whew! sigh of relief). I'm not sure what to make of that. A bit of truth to it, I suppose, a final note of reassurance for straight viewers that 'even' a gay uncle can have a loving, positive influence of a young male gay teen. "Thank god he was not a pedophile," seems to be the subliminal message some of these viewers read into the film. Yet I found the ending quite positive and affirming. After all, life goes on and what are the statistical chances of the young man being gay? Had he been gay, I would have found the story a bit contrived. Instead, we are presented with a picture of an average straight boy starting out in life, discovering love for himself - after his loving gay uncle gave him the necessary push in the right direction. The gay uncle understands the power of love and what the young man needs to do to find it. In the end sexual orientation matters not a wit. What matters is love and the power of affectionate commitment and loyalty to the end. A beautiful film, not to be missed. 

Alan Turning being arrested on charges of indecency.

The last film, The Imitation Game, chronicles the true life story of Cambridge mathematician, Alan Turning who successfully cracked the German Enigma spy code, helping to shorten the war by at least several years and saving several million lives in the process. He was of course, 'tortured' for his homosexuality when it was discovered in the 1950's (a tryst in a toilet with an undercover policeman). He was forced to undergo chemical therapy to inhibit his gay libidinous tendencies. He committed suicide a year after the treatment began. He was posthumously pardoned by the Queen on December 24th, 2013, a little over a year ago. It is a sad and shameful tale of an extraordinary  man, a hero by any accounts, who made an inestimable contribution to his community, but who was persecuted for his sexual orientation which he had to keep secret for most of his life. The film takes quite a close look at this dimension of his character, including his loving relationship with one of his female colleagues on the Enigma team (the lovely Kiera Knightley) who wants to marry him, sexual orientation be damned. "We can be companions,' she tells him. Benedict Cumberbatch is nominated for both an Oscar and a Bafta for his performance. Another unmissable film. 

Other news:

I Have been watching 'poor' Pope Francis stumble his way through the contraception, birth control debacle, trying to find his way out without compromising the reputation of his office and authority in general in the church - on the one hand, wanting to ensure more Catholic babies, on the other assuring us we don't need "to breed like rabbits." Poor man, trapped by his own preconceptions, priorities, intellectual and theological formation and the heavy pressures of his inflated office. I continue to like him as a sincere, spiritual man, and unlike the cynics, I do not think he is simply lying or playing a propaganda game. Yet it is difficult not to become cynical when - in the words of Jerry Slevin - we see the Pope kissing babies on the one hand, and hobnobbing with billionaire right wing extremists (heavy donors to the church) on the other He seems really and truly trapped by too many restrictions coming from too many directions, not least of which is the pressure from his fellow cardinals seeking to shore up their own authority and escape prosecution for crimes against children. The message I get from this - apart from the obvious one, that we need to stop relying upon authority figures to solve our problems for us or reform anything - is that even a good and spiritual man with the best intentions in the world can be compromised and even corrupted by this system of authority in the Church. It's too easy now to paint him as a hypocritical villain, slyly playing a double game, talking nicey nicey while dealing deviously behind the scenes, shoring up the financial pillars of the institution, protecting the criminals, propping up its tottering public image and authority by trying every which way to continue the contraception ban. I can't quite accept this scenario, though I might simply be naive myself. There seems to be  an authentic decency in the man, genuine and true, and therein lies the paradox. Decency is simply not enough these days! This is a much more subtle, complex picture of a human being than the simple caricature being parroted about here and there. One wonders if John Paul I, Albino Luciani, wouldn't have been somewhat the same.  Caring, decent, saintly - and yet also a man of the church who would have moved very slowly. But given his history of comments about birth control, one also suspects that on this one issue he would have been ahead of his successor + 2.

From The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision by Doub Blanchard (artist) and Kittredge Cherry (author). 


William D. Lindsey said...

You've packed a world of valuable information into this posting, J/R. I'm very grateful for it! Wondering how to find a way to see "Pride" (which other folks have also told me is wonderful), when I doubt it will reach theaters in my area. But maybe I'm wrong about that. Hope so!

Jayden Cameron said...

Thanks Bill! I'm afraid I rattled this one off in a hurry without checking for typos, or even the need for further clarification here and there. And I really should do something about that name, Jayden has gone by the wayside:)
I continue to check into Bilgrimage on an almost daily basis to find out what's what with all things Catnolic these days. Thank goodness you have the tenancity to keep on doing this necessary work. Colleen seems to have fallen along the wayside, Terry Weldon does t really post any more and Michsel Baley rarely. And I'm busy reviewing crime novels, ha!

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks for recommending our book “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” in your gay culture suggestions for the year! I shared a link to this post today on the.
gay Passion book page at Facebook .

Your film suggestions are helpful. I loved “Pride” and look forward to seeing “Imitation Game,” but I had forgotten about “Love is Strange.” It looks great and I added it to my personal “must-see” list.