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Defining Gay

Films run the gamut at SJ Gay & Lesbian Film Festival

By Richard von Busack

WHAT EXACTLY is a gay film? The minimarathon of 15 films constituting this year's San Jose Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (July 19-22) is a tangle of different strains. The festival closes with an early preview of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (8:30pm, July 22), the much-recommended musical about a German transsexual punk rocker on the warpath. Mostly what the festival's calendar suggests is that gay people, who often don't have to worry about the tedious matter of hiring a baby-sitter, are the backbone of the repertory and art-movie audience.

When I mentioned the popularity of gay film in San Jose to Hedwig star John Cameron Mitchell, he speculated, "Maybe they're assimilated down there." But these days, Mitchell added, "there are lots of shitty gay films." The cinema that brings us Kiss Me Guido, the very sticky Broken Hearts Club (6pm, July 21) and Big Eden has some explaining to do. Still, the festival has booked a broadly themed slate of revivals, claiming them as gay with a hegemonic gusto that Slobo Milosevic would envy.

Without doubt, lesbian film begins with 1931's Maedchen in Uniform (6pm, July 20). It's "one of the few films to have an inherently gay sensibility," wrote historian Vito Russo in The Celluloid Closet. The German-made film tells of doomed passion in a third-rate Potsdam girls' school. It was the forerunner of decades of fatal romance, leading to the dyke-noir of Russ Meyer's immortal Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (11pm, July 20) and Bound (8:30pm, July 21).

And despite hundreds of homosexual jokes in pre-Code movies, from Mae West to Betty Boop, gay film likewise really begins with The Wizard of Oz (9pm, July 19). The yearning anthem "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" primes the pump for the tears in both The Crying Game (4pm, July 20) and Boys Don't Cry (1pm, July 21). But why All About Eve (8:30pm, July 20)? That's a rhetorical question; the gay audience has long been under the delusion that the late-period Bette Davis is a man in disguise. (A joke explained is a joke inaned.) Maybe it's gay because of the presence of the robustly heterosexual George Sanders, demigod of sarcasm, some years before he appeared in drag in John Huston's The Kremlin Letter.

One side of Cabaret (11pm, July 21)is that it is the first bisexual musical, in which the divinely decadent Sally Bowles breaks her heart over a gay guy (Michael York). The other side is that Bowles, played by one very nubile Liza Minnelli, performs a number of torch songs basically wearing no clothes. Her body was a matter of lively interest to breeders then, even if she looks like the late Carroll O'Connor now. With the disappearance of issue films--and not a moment too soon--it seems like the most long-lived gay films are the ones that appeal to all sides of sexuality. While it's not certain how well all the films at this retrospective would pass a gay litmus test, they are--to quote the title of a since-forgotten '70s bisexual comedy--Something for Everyone.


The San Jose Gay & Lesbian Film Festival plays July 19-22 at the Towne Theatre in San Jose. Tickets are $10 per film; $15 closing night.

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From the July 19-25, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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