It was President Bill Clinton who first declared June “Gay & Lesbian Pride Month.” That was in 2000. In 2009, President Barack Obama opened it up further to include bisexual and transgender persons, and the nation followed suit. All month long, cities will host Pride-themed events, virtual and in-person, and if theaters were open, they’d join in on the fun with plenty of LGBTQ classics. Many would even have a drag show or six. Wouldn’t that be nice? “What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play…”
Cabaret If there is any siren more identified as a gay icon than Liza Minnelli, it’s probably her mother, Judy Garland. Though Garland never had a role like Sally Bowles, the Berlin nightclub singer at the Kit Kat Klub having an affair with two men — who are having an affair with each other. It’s delightful and fun, and though today belongs to women like Sally Bowles and Joel Grey’s Master of Ceremonies, tomorrow belongs to the vile. That scene, in particular, is one of the most violent scenes in movie history, and not one drop of blood is spilled. Worse, it somehow never goes out of fashion. Streaming on DirecTV.
Victim Made in 1961, Victim was the first English-speaking movie to utter the word “homosexual,” and brought mainstream attention to the plight of men blackmailed for being gay. At the time, being gay in England was a crime, and the English tabloids covered those trials as if there was nothing good on TV. One accusation and a man could lose his job, his family, even his life, and it led to a rise in blackmailers taking advantage of anyone caught in compromising situations. That’s the basis behind Victim, a socio-conscious noir where a picture of one man consoling another runs a streak of destruction through multiple lives. Public sentiment had not yet turned (England’s anti-homosexual law wouldn’t be overturned until 1967), and director Basil Dearden and star Dirk Bogarde went out on a limb making this movie. Particularly on the part of Bogarde, a man who lived his whole life in the closet because his contract with Rank Pictures (the studio distributing Victim) included a morality clause. Streaming on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.
Death in Venice English actor Bogarde may have lived in the closet, but Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti did not. Visconti also had the luxury of being born into an aristocratic family. So did German novelist Thomas Mann, but he struggled with his sexual identity all his life. And all three collide in 1971’s Death in Venice. Bogarde plays an aging and infirmed composer who’s come to Venice for his health. There he spies an adolescent boy who enchants him. Though they share only words, and few at that, every moment he sees the teen is another moment of life. If only he’d paid more attention to the odd smells and the hush-hush behavior around every corner. He thought he was the star in a story of romance, turns out it was a tragedy all along. Streaming on The Criterion Channel.
Funeral Parade of Roses Splitting the difference between the chaste and the exuberant, Toshio Matsumoto’s 1969 film is an update of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex set in the Japanese gay-boy underground drag scene. The results are kaleidoscopic, electric and fun as hell. Blending narrative, documentary and experimental techniques, Matsumoto follows the life and exploits of transgender women in Tokyo. The movie was a source of inspiration for Stanley Kubrick while he was making A Clockwork Orange, and helped bring Japan’s New Wave movement to the forefront. Streaming on Kanopy.