Tag Archives: Gay/Lesbian

Can’t Stop the Music (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Somebody stop this movie.

It’s an extraordinary achievement that this actually got made. It’s a relic of its time that is beyond words and is like nothing you have ever seen or will ever see again. This is one of those bad movies that you just have to see and, for a while, even enjoy in all its awfulness as it tells the story of the Village people and their rise to fame.

Unfortunately it’s not overdone enough to achieve that coveted cult status. The humor isn’t corny enough the storylines are not dumb enough and the costumes are not gaudy or the sets garish enough. They don’t even let the Village People try to act and make complete fools of themselves. They do have some speaking lines, but they are wisely brief. Eight minutes is all you need of this phenomenon before its long takes and general empty headedness become overwhelming.

Steve Guttenburg is probably the most annoying even more than he usually is. He is too clean cut and eager to please and his swift rise to success is artificial. The songs he writes are bad even for disco. Hearing lines like “he’s a genius” and “he knows what people want to hear” are probably the film’s single most insulting element.

Most youth oriented movies don’t cast too many older actresses, but this one does. Tammy Grimes, June Havoc, and Barbra Rush put a lot of energy into their parts and in the case of Grimes a lot of camp too. It’s a strange sight to see these three jump onto stage and line dance with the Village People during their last number. Paul Sand is fun in a part that goes against his persona as he plays an aggressive, no-nonsense record producer. Even Bruce Jenner, and I hate to say it, has his funny moments as an uptight lawyer. Yet it is Valerie Perrine that comes off best as her down to earth sensibilities helps to hold the whole thing together.

It is hard to tell what type of audience this film was aiming for, or even what the thinking was. The overall banality seems best suited for pre-teen girls yet the gay overtones snub that. Anyone over sixteen just isn’t going to buy into it and having the whole thing directed by 60-year-old Nancy Walker best known for play Ida Morgestern on the TV-Show ‘Rhoda’ makes it even more confounding. Even members of the Village People have stated in interviews that they dislike this movie. The only possible explanation is that it was made by people on cocaine for other people on cocaine.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 20, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Nancy Walker

Studio: Associated Film Distributors

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: A bi-sexual love affair.

Bob (Murray Head) is having a relationship with middle-aged divorcee Alex (Glenda Jackson) as well as a family doctor named Daniel (Peter Finch). He jumps between the two of them whenever the mood hits. Both Alex and Daniel are aware of the other and are not happy about it, but feel if they push the issue Bob will simply leave them. The film focuses on the frustrations and loneliness that Alex and Daniel feel in dealing with Bob and their less than ideal situation.

This film is engrossing from beginning to end. Director John Schlesinger was still in top form as the camera work, cinematography, and editing is first rate. Everything is meticulously orchestrated to the point that every shot seems to tell its own little story. The narrative is done in a fragmented style going back and forth between the present day to scenes from when both Alex and Daniel were younger. Much of it comes off like thoughts going on inside someone’s head and the film’s style is masterful and flawless.

What I really liked about this movie is the fact that it focuses not so much on each person’s time with Bob, but actually more on their time away from him. The points this film makes about the difficulties of communication that people have when they are in a relationship as well the glass wall that sometimes gets created is completely on-target. The film’s subtitles and nuances are perfectly balanced and if you are a viewer with more sophisticated tastes then this will be time well spent.

Things are revealed about the characters through visual and subtle means, which I loved. When Alex drops an ashtray and then proceeds to clean it up simply by rubbing the ashes into her rug, or the precarious way she makes herself on cup of coffee in the morning while rushing off to work nicely reflects her out-of-control life and the topsy-turvy way she approaches it. The scenes where Daniel attends a Bar mitzvah is excellent and for me some of the strongest moments in the movie.

The portrayal of the children here is above average as well. They are not cute and well-behaved, but instead realistically rambunctious and mischievous. I liked the wild, endless energy that they display and how easily chaotic they turn their household into, or how the parents had become immune and deaf to all of it. Having the 4-year-old smoke pot while Alex and Bob, who are babysitting, decide to overlook it may be pushing things a bit far, but I still liked the mod approach the film takes, which reflects nicely the unconventional lives of the characters.

The film’s biggest flaw is Head himself. The man is mainly known for his singing career and his acting ability is clearly limited in comparison to Finch and Jackson who are both excellent. The character is dull and the film does not make much of an attempt to analyze him like it does with the other two. In a way Head’s one-dimensional performance works because the character seems to be used as a ‘pretty boy’ who the other two are attracted to because of his looks and youth and therefore revealing the insecurities that they have about themselves as well as giving a pertinent warning that when one pursues someone solely based on their sex appeal the relationship is doomed.

I liked how at the very end Daniel and Alex do meet and have a brief conversation though I wished it had been just a little more extended. Having Finch talk directly to the camera at the closing is a bit disconcerting though what he says is interesting.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: September 8, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Schlesinger

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray (The Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video

The Detective (1968)

detective

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Up against the system.

Many people may not realize that Frank Sinatra was the original choice of Harry Callahan for Dirty Harry.  Due to various reasons he turned down the part despite the fact that he was interested.  You can’t help but wonder what that film might have been like had he accepted.  A good indication may be the character of detective Joe Leland that he plays hereIt has a similar theme of a tough cop tired of ‘the system’ and breaking off on his own to solve a bizarre case.

The murder itself is particularly gruesome and ahead of its time as it deals with the killing of a gay man found nude on the floor of his apartment with his genitals cut off. The actual shot of the victim is conveniently framed so that a fern, yes a fern, is strategically placed over the offending area, which is a little corny.  Yet the dialogue and description of the case seems incredibly graphic for the time. Ol’ Blue Eyes even says the word penis, which I think has to be a movie history first.

The way it deals with the homosexual topic is also surprisingly enlightening. Gays are not labeled as ‘sick’ and ‘perverse’, at least not by the Leland character. In one good bit the Sinatra character even slugs another officer, played by Robert Duvall, in retaliation for getting  rough with a gay man that he was questioning for no apparent reason except that he was gay.

There is another electrifying sequence involving Leland questioning the victim’s live-in lover and chief suspect. The part is well played by actor Tony Musante who gives his character all sorts of weird body gestures and nervous ticks, which makes the viewer feel uneasy but still compelled to keep watching until it becomes a fascinating experience. The Leland character again shows an amazing amount of compassion and enlightenment for the gay lifestyle during the interrogation, which should be enough to give this film a landmark status.

However, for all of its apparent sophistication, there are also things that hold it back and make it dated. One is reverting to what was a trend in the 40’s and 50’s, which was to film a person driving their car while sitting in front of a blue screen and holding onto a steering wheel that is not connected to any dashboard. It was considered a ‘ingenious’ way to stay under budget and not having to go through the ordeal of mounting a camera onto an actual car, but for today’s sharp audiences it comes off looking obvious and cheesy.

The casting of Sinatra is another drawback. He was already 53 at the time and he looked it.  The part seems to be screaming for a younger, more rugged method type of actor like Steve McQueen or Paul Newman, who would have done better.  Sinatra overplays the tough guy thing too much until it becomes one-dimensional and boring. The character needed more personal quirks and odd habits in order to make him more filled out and interesting.  He also wears outfits worn by the ‘old school’ investigators of yesteryear even though the character is one looking to break from tradition and fighting the mainstream.

I also wasn’t quite sure why Lee Remick’s role as Sinatra’s love interest was necessary. I usually dislike it when crime dramas feel the need to work in a romance angle as a side story because it usually bogs everything down and in this case was no different. Now Remick is always reliable and her character was interestingly flawed, but how that was supposed to connect with everything else was not clear.

The story works in three different parts. The first deals with the murder and the homosexual community of the period.  The second analyzes the politics of the police department while the third involves a mysterious suicide of a successful businessman. The third part, which doesn’t start until the second hour of the film, was the most intriguing for me. The suicide is shown from the point-of-view of the victim. They literally took a camera and heaved it over the edge of a building until it crashes directly onto the pavement below, which actually made me flinch. It is not until the very end where you see how all three of these parts come together, but the twist is excellent and made viewing this film well worthwhile.

Overall the cinematography, editing, writing, directing, and supporting acting are first rate.  There are a lot of familiar faces in supporting roles including: Jack Klugman, William Windom, Lloyd Bochner, Jacqueline Bisset, Horace McMahon and Al Freeman Jr. They all do splendidly. The subject matter and the way it is handled easily elevates this from other melodramas of the period.  The resolution should make this entertaining even for today’s viewers and enough to overlook a few dated elements.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 28, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gordon Douglas

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD

Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The first gay marriage.

Based on the Joe Orton play of the same name, this film deals with a handsome young stranger named Sloane (Peter McEnery) who becomes a lodger at an isolated household in the English countryside. He is on the run from a murder he committed and feels this will be a safe haven due to the only other inhabitants being a quirky old lady name Katherine (Beryl Reid) and her equally quirky father Kemp (Alan Webb).  Katherine, or Kath, takes a sexual interest in Sloane despite their wide age difference, which Sloane doesn’t mind as he uses this to manipulate her. When Kath’s brother Ed (Harry Andrews) arrives and takes an amorous interest in Sloane as well, he does the same thing to him. Then Kemp recognizes Sloane as the killer and Sloane is forced to kill him, which culminates with ironic results.

Playwright Orton was years ahead of his time. His plays always had a dark, sexual, even explicit nature to them and his characters were always perverse and amoral in a darkly hilarious way. It is unfortunate that he was bludgeoned to death in 1967 by his jealous gay lover and his career was cut short. However, this adaptation done by screenwriter Clive Exton seems to miss the mark. The dialogue is endless with very little action. The other adaptation of Orton’s work that was made into a film, Loot, was much more lively and full of a lot of campy, zany humor as well as quick edits and imaginative camerawork. This film is visually dull and all the action is jammed into a cramped, dark house with bland decorations. It never really gets going until the final 15 minutes when you get to see the world’s very first gay marriage performed, but by then it is much too late.

For 1970 this film does seem edgy and even controversial in certain parts. The gay erotic subtext is quite strong especially the way the camera scans Sloane’s tan, half naked body. There is also Ed’s pink Cadillac that he drives around, which I got a real kick out of. I liked the way it squeaked as he drove it and was constantly bouncing up and down.  There is also his very provocative hood ornament of a naked man that the camera hones in on. The best part comes when Ed washes his car and is more focused on the ornament, which he lovingly caresses with his towel, than the rest of the vehicle.

However, 40 years later this stuff seems pretty tame and there are too many segments where nothing happens and is handled too conventionally.  It seemed like director Douglas Hickox really didn’t get, or appreciate the material enough, or interpret it in some interesting way because the final result is nothing more than a filmed stage play. The music that is used is terrible and almost enough to get you to turn off the film. It also gets overused and played over scenes when it isn’t needed and hurts the film’s mood in the process.

The biggest problem with the film may actually be with actress Reid herself. Don’t get me wrong this is a wonderfully unique actress who has done some memorable work. I especially liked her in The Killing of Sister George, and she is quite good here as well. However, I do have two issues. The first is a small one. It involves the fact that the character wears dentures. In one scene Sloane supposedly knocks them out and breaks them, but then Reid turns around and screams and you can see that she still has teeth in her mouth.  The other, much more serious issue is the fact that near the beginning of the film she is seen walking through a cemetery in broad daylight wearing a see through blouse. Now with some woman this can be quite sexy and I certainly wouldn’t complain, but when they are 60 and looking more like 70 this is a bad idea, even for perversely comical purposes as it is here it is still a bad idea. What is even worse is when she turns around and a gust of wind blows up her skirt and you can see her entire bare backside, which might be enough to make some viewers sick.

Now, before anyone accuses me of ageism let me relate an interesting experience that happened to me. Back in 2003 I was home from work and decided to take in a movie. I was living in Chicago at the time and I went to the neighborhood theater to see the interesting French mystery Swimming Pool starring Ludivine Sagnier and Charlotte Rampling.  It was a Tuesday and little did I know that it was senior discount day and the place was packed, literally, with people all looking well over the age of 70. The lady that sat beside me looked to be at least 80 and came in using a walker. The film featured an abundance of nudity from the young and attractive Sagnier, which I thought might shock and offend the seniors, but no one reacted to it and everyone went on enjoying the film. Then, towards the end of the movie, 58 year-old actress Rampling starts to take off her clothes and this indeed elicited a nervous response from the crowd. The lady next to me even said ‘oh dear’. In all fairness Rampling didn’t look all that bad naked, but it still hits home the point that even old people don’t want to see other old people naked.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 27, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Douglas Hickox

Studio: Continental Distributing

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2)

Happy Birthday Gemini (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gay son comes out. 

A brother and sister by the name of Judith and Randy Hastings ( Sarah Holcomb, David Marshall Grant) travel to Philadelphia over the summer to visit their college friend Francis Geminiani (Alan Rosenberg).  Judith dated Francis during the school year and wants to continue the relationship. Francis though has come to terms with his homosexuality and realizes that he is now more attracted to her brother.  The story examines their adjustments and attitudes to this news as well as the many eccentric characters that make up the neighborhood.

Despite not rating well with the critics, I kind of liked this movie for the most part. The film was directed by Richard Benner who received acclaim for the directing the groundbreaking Canadian film Outrageous. I think he captured the row houses and inner-city neighborhoods of Philadelphia well. My Mother is from the city and I spent many summers visiting there. I enjoyed the bright color schemes of the different houses as well the character’s costumes. The movie has a very European feel featuring a lot of long takes and a leisurely pace. The characters are also much more open-minded and accepting of each other’s transgressions than you would usually find in an American film.  The toe-tapping ragtime music and upbeat ending help fill it out.

Kudos must also go to Madeline Kahn and her performance as Bunny Weinberger. I was very impressed with this woman’s comedic skills after seeing her in What’s Up Doc as well as in Paper Moon. I didn’t think anything could top those, but this comes close. Her portrayal of a foul-mouthed, ditzy blonde with a very heavy eastern accent is outstanding and a highlight of the whole movie.  Her scenes in a courtroom where she has to defend herself from a battery charge as well as a nicely photographed scene where she threatens to jump off an abandoned building are two of her best moments.

Where the film fails is in the fact that there is little cohesion between the scenes. The film goes off on long tangents, particularly with the Bunny character, until it seems like Francis’s problem is only a side-story. There is a lot of extraneous dialogue that goes nowhere and was not needed. A 115 minute runtime is much too long for this kind of material.  For a comedy the laughs are lacking and the script needed to be injected with a lot more witty conversations and sharp one-liners. Rita Moreno is completely wasted as the character of Lucille Pompi.  She has nothing funny to say and it would have been more entertaining if they had built up more conflict between her and the Bunny character as the two had very contrasting values. The subject matter itself is no longer fresh or groundbreaking and the film failed to put any new or interesting spin on the topic. Although I liked the positive message I still felt that it glossed over the homophobic sentiments that are still out there and did not do its subject matter any real justice.

Fans of Kahn should see this, but others may find it placid and lacking in any type of distinctive quality.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 2, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Benner

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS