Alain Delon’s Slaughtering Looks

Perhaps it’s Madge over­load, but I com­pletely missed this rather catch­ing ‘Beautiful Killer’ trib­ute to the very fetch­ing Swiss-French actor Alain Delon that she included on her 2012 MDNA album.

This YouTube com­pil­a­tion of breath­tak­ing Alain Delon moments reminds us of how pre­pos­ter­ously pretty the young Monsieur Delon was. He makes Johnny Depp look almost plain.

Delon

Even laid out on the cover of The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead he looks rav­ish­ing. Truly, an immortal.

Delon dead

Tip: Jason R

The Swishy Villainy & Psychodrama of Skyfall

Mark Simpson fondles the pecs and thighs of James Bond’s latest ‘outing’

When at their first meet­ing in Skyfall a rather for­wards Raul Silva, played by a bleached-blond Javier Bardem, takes cad­dish advant­age of James Bond’s/Daniel Craig’s indis­pos­i­tion – tied as he is to a chair – run­ning his hands over 007’s craggy face, ripped chest and power­ful thighs, and flir­ta­tiously sug­gest­ing “Well, first time for everything, Bond…” you could feel the audi­ence in my local cinema freeze.

And when Bond delivered the now-famous lac­onic retort “What makes you think it’s my first time?” you could hear the audience’s sharp intake of breath over the THX sound sys­tem. Wot?! James Bond a bender!?!

Oh bloody hell!, I wanted to shout out, at Raul, the audi­ence and the world in gen­eral. Has ANYONE been pay­ing atten­tion? Of COURSE it’s not Bond’s first time! In Casino Royale Bond tried a spot of CBT with Mr Big and his knot­ted rope, while tied to a RIM CHAIR!!

Casino Royale rebooted and updated the tired, ter­min­ally naff Bond brand in 2006 in the pec­tor­ally prom­in­ent form of Craig, a man whose appoint­ment to the role ini­tially pro­voked a chorus of com­plaints from Bond fan­boys about his blond­ness, smooth­ness and the fact he kissed a man in another movie.

Craig’s Bond proved a sen­sa­tion on screen, one which finally real­ised the tarty prom­ise of Sean Connery’s beefily glam­or­ous, dis­turb­ing sexu­al­ity in 1962’s Dr No – long since for­got­ten in the sex­less knit­wear cata­logue model Bonds of the 70s-90s. By recon­nect­ing Bond to the met­ro­sexy revolu­tion in mas­cu­line aes­thet­ics, the male desire to be desired, that the ori­ginal Bond movies anti­cip­ated but which had been left to other movies to exploit, Casino delivered us Bond as a 21st Century fully-fledged, self-objectifying sex-object. Bond as his own Bond girl. Hence Craig’s Ursula Andress in Speedos moment.

So when Silva has a good feel of Bond’s pecs and thighs in Skyfall he’s just doing what pretty much every­one, male and female, has wanted to do since Casino Royale.

If Casino Royale outed Bond’s omni­sexual tarti­ness, Skyfall, which is at least as good a movie – effa­cing the mor­ti­fy­ing memory of Quantum of Solace – outs the queer­ness of the Bond vil­lain. Someone who was often impli­citly coded queer (those cats, those cigar­ette hold­ers, those hulk­ing goons), partly as a way of mak­ing unmar­ried, shaken-not-stirred Bond seem straighter. After all those dec­ades of cod­ing, Bardem’s openly flir­ta­tious swishy vil­lainy seems exhilir­at­ing. It’s cer­tainly a great pleas­ure to watch.

Though, like Bond, Bardem isn’t actu­ally gay. As a res­ult of the spec­u­la­tion sur­round­ing Bond’s ‘shock­ing’ admis­sion of his bi-curious past in Skyfall Craig was asked in an inter­view recently whether he thinks there could ever be a ‘gay James Bond’. “No,” he replied, “because he’s not gay. And I don’t think Javier [Bardem’s] char­ac­ter is either — I think he’d fuck anything.”

Much like Bond, then.

What’s ‘gay’ about Skyfall isn’t the thigh-squeezing, or even Daniel Craig’s cir­cuit party tits (which I’m happy to report are reg­u­larly on dis­play again) it’s the glor­i­ous camp excess. “Was that meant for me?” Bond asks Silva dur­ing an under­ground pur­suit, after he det­on­ates a bomb behind our hero by remote con­trol, blow­ing a hole in the roof of the vault. “No,” dead­pans Silva. “But this is.” Right on cue a tube train falls through the hole, headed for Bond, while Silva dis­ap­pears up a ladder.

Some film crit­ics com­plained that this scene is ‘over the top’. This makes me won­der: a) What kind of movie fran­chise they think Bond is, and b) Whether they have a sense of humour.

The whole premise of Skyfall is of course pretty camp: that Silva, a former ‘favour­ite’ agent of M’s is going to so much trouble – hack­ing MI6, steal­ing, decrypt­ing and pub­lish­ing lists of secret Nato agents, blow­ing up the MI6 build­ing, per­son­ally storm­ing the Houses of Parliament dressed as a David Walliams char­ac­ter – just to get his own back on M (played by gay icon Judi Dench) for drop­ping him.

That’s some hissy fit.

Fortunately camp isn’t code here for ‘crap’. It’s a test­a­ment to Bardem’s skill as an actor and Sam Mendes dir­ec­tion that he’s vividly, entran­cingly men­acing. He steals every scene he’s in. Actually, his hair steals every scene he’s in. What’s more, you really feel, per­haps for the first time, that this Bond vil­lain has a point. After all, what kind of fucked up fam­ily is MI6? Particularly since in the open­ing scene of the movie Bond is betrayed too – badly wounded and nearly killed after M orders another MI6 agent to take a dodgy shot at the bad­die Bond is bat­tling (atop a mov­ing train, of course). ‘M’ is for ‘Mother’ – bad Mother.

Skyfall is very queer psy­cho­drama – delving deep into the twis­ted fam­ily romance of MI6 and the orphan Bond’s quasi inces­tu­ous devo­tion to M. Silva may be on a deli­ciously queenie ram­page, but we all know that it’s Dame Judi who is the real (Virgin) Queen. When Craig appeared in that embar­rass­ing clip for the open­ing cere­mony of the London Olympics this Summer it was quite clear to every­one that con­sti­tu­tional mon­arch Elizabeth Windsor was Judi’s mere under­study. M has the power of life and death, after all.

Silva’s first scene with Bond – ‘Do you like my island Mr Bond?’ – is grip­ping, and not just in a grop­ing sort of way. But the scene where he meets M and denounces her crimes and invites her to gaze upon her handi­work trumps it as a piece of pure theatre. Again, it’s delib­er­ately over­wrought – but then, so is any fam­ily romance. Even the ruth­less, steely M is clearly affected by this con­front­a­tion with her abor­ted boy toy.

Perhaps because there’s not enough Bardem in it, the shoot-em up final reel is a bit of an anti-climax after the emo­tional tube-train crash of the first couple of hours. Even in a Bond film as Freudian as this one it is too sym­bolic for its own good. More like a bad dream than a finale, Bond and M – and an ancient Albert Finney – are holed up in his fam­ily estate in the Scottish Highlands, which he hasn’t vis­ited since his father died when he was a boy. His bur­ied past, in other words.

The Gothic, moul­der­ing pile is called ‘Skyfall’ – a name which is pos­sibly inten­ded to bring to mind God’s favour­ite, Lucifer, being cast out of heaven. Sure enough, Silva, the agent who was cast out of MI6 by M, arrives with his goons and start shoot­ing the place up in the kind of pyro­tech­nic assault we’ve seen in a hun­dred other movies.

Though as with the rest of Skyfall, the final reel is beau­ti­fully lit. The attack begins at dusk (Lucifer is the ‘even­ing star’) and the light pro­gress­ively turns bluer until it is as dark as death, the only light the hellish orange of Bond’s ances­tral home aflame. Like the fam­ily romance itself, Skyfall is suf­fused with nos­tal­gia. Nostalgia for the Bond fran­chise (it’s a half cen­tury since Dr No was released). Nostalgia for 1960s aes­thet­ics. Nostalgia for Britain and Britishness. For the Mother Country. And mother-love.

Heavily preg­nant with sym­bol­ism, Bond and his Secret Service mother drive to their Highland hon­ey­moon from hell in his Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5 he’s kept in a London lock-up, pre­sum­ably since the 1960s. On the way he dis­plays what Freud would call his ‘ambi­val­ence’ by jok­ingly threat­en­ing M with the ejector seat, fin­ger­ing the red but­ton on his gear stick. Of course, Bond never repu­di­ates his mother-love and remains true to Judi.

However, it won’t be giv­ing too much away to say that Skyfall does finally press that but­ton on 007’s behalf.

 

This review was ori­gin­ally writ­ten for the adult site Nightcharm

Does Magic Mike Have Anything To Stick Himself With?

Magic Mike — the money shot.

The anim­ated gif above will save you £8 and 109 minutes of disappointment.

Yes, I’ve done my invert duty and been to see Magic Mike. Which, accord­ing to The New York Times, gay men are ‘flock­ing’ to see in num­bers not seen since Brokeback Mountain.

Even if they’re not all as jaded as me I think they’re going to be very dis­ap­poin­ted. And not because in Magic Mike gay or bisexual men don’t exist, even as a fam­ously gen­er­ously tip­ping audi­ence for male strip­ping – except as a punch­line. In one ‘hil­ari­ous’ scene Alex Pettyfer’s uptight sis­ter thinks for a hairy moment he might be gay because he’s shav­ing his legs. Phew! He’s not gay. He’s a male strip­per!

No the betrayal is much, much worse than any of that. And judging by how quickly the mostly female audi­ence in my cinema aud­it­or­ium stopped gig­gling and hav­ing fun it’s not just The Gays who are going to feel betrayed.

Magic Mike just doesn’t deliver the goods. The junk stays in the trunks. It’s a 110 minute prick-tease without any pricks and very little tease. Most unfor­giv­ably of all, this male strip­per movie – star­ring Channing Tatum – wants to be taken ser­i­ously. It thinks it has a plot.

And the plot is… another fuck­ing Hollywood mor­al­ity tale. Will Tatum man­age to escape the sleazy, druggy, boys-together world of male strip­ping and Alex Pettyfer’s win­some grin and end up with his judgey, bossy sis­ter, Cody Horn?

Who cares?

Especially since there’s not nearly enough sleaze on dis­play. I can’t remem­ber the last time I was so bored. Oh, yes, I remem­ber now. Watching Brokeback Mountain.

Fatally, this strip­per movie has no sense of tim­ing. Not just in the lit­er­ally point­less strip routines. Magic Mike suf­fers from per­haps the worst case of pre­ma­ture ejac­u­la­tion in cinema his­tory. Two minutes into the film you get the money shot – two seconds of Tatum’s smooth bubble-butt in all its firm, bouncy glory head­ing for his en-suite in digital Panavision. Which is very nice.

But that, as they say, is a wrap.

Except you’ve got another 108 minutes to go. Another 108 minutes in which as far as I can remem­ber you never see Tatum’s ass prop­erly again. In this movie about male strip­ping and the com­modi­fic­a­tion of the male body. Given that you can see Tatum’s bouncy ass scene for free in a trailer for the movie it’s the con of Captain America all over again – but even more of rip off. The wrong kind of rip off.

It goes without say­ing that you never even glimpse his cock. Floppy or oth­er­wise. Or even a dangly bol­lock. It is, after all, Hollywood, and while Tatum may have worked as a male strip­per in the past and worked that past to get where he is, he is now a Proper Hollywood Star and Proper Hollywood Stars don’t show you their cocks. Because that would be low class. Especially in a move about male stripping.

And apart from a glimpse of a couple of sil­hou­ettes of clearly pros­thetic pen­ises you don’t see any­one else’s cock, either, floppy or oth­er­wise. Magic Mike is essen­tially a movie about cock­less male strip­pers. Male strip­ping with no strip­ping. Which could have been inter­est­ing in an avant-garde, sad­istic sort of way. But of course, it’s really not that sort of movie.

Maybe I under­es­tim­ate the dir­ector Steven Soderbergh. Maybe he decided to ruin his career by delib­er­ately mak­ing a crowd-pleasing sum­mer movie that didn’t please anyone.

A more likely explan­a­tion how­ever is that Soderbergh was frantic­ally try­ing not to scare straight male punters. And safely sub­lim­ated homo­erotic sub-plots aside, he does work over­time in this movie to reas­sure that the male strip­pers are all a) straight and b) dudes. But if he was pan­der­ing to straight men he failed there too. Straight men search online for pic­tures of (big) dick as much as they do for pussy. They are going to be at least as dis­ap­poin­ted as every­one else. Except maybe lesbians.

What’s going on here is yet another instance of the pur­it­an­nical American Phalliban at work. Protecting the sanc­tity and power of the phal­lus by mak­ing sure the cock is never shown in pub­lic. After all, no mat­ter how freak­ish, the cock never lives up to the prom­ise of the phal­lus. Even if Magic Mike had the balls to show us… balls it would still have been some­thing of an anti-climax. As I put it in Male Impersonators back in 1994 (which, let’s face it, is really the era when Magic Mike is set):

The myth of male strip­ping mes­merises pre­cisely because it con­tra­dicts itself with every dis­carded item… No mat­ter how freak­ish his gen­i­tal attrib­utes, no mat­ter how craft­ily engorged and arranged with rings and elas­tic bands, no mat­ter how fran­ti­cally it is waved and wag­gled, the stripper’s penis, once naked, never lives up to the prom­ise of the phal­lus: the cli­mac­tic finale of the strip is… an anti-climax.’

Femininity is tra­di­tion­ally seen and rep­res­en­ted in Hollywood movies as ‘mas­quer­ade’. The clothes, the hair, the breasts, the heels, the make-up all stand in for the ‘miss­ing’ phal­lus. Masculinity mean­while is meant to just be there. Because men have the phal­lus. Women appear. Men act. Or so the tra­di­tional reas­on­ing went.

But Magic Mike, because it’s a cock­less movie about male strip­ping, is, inad­vert­ently, a good if bor­ing example of mas­culin­ity as mas­quer­ade. With thongs and leather and cop uni­forms and oiled tanned pecs and really bad, unsexy dance routines stand­ing in for the phal­lus. A kind of male Showgirls, without the camp or the fun. Or the ‘show’. There’s a scene where Tatum is dan­cing dressed in a thong, a SWAT cap and black webbing ammuni­tion pouches over his torso. It looks like a butch basque.

Perhaps because it can’t show us dick, and because it’s try­ing to reas­sure an ima­gined straight male punter, Magic Mike does though keep ram­ming down our throats that the men have cocks and women don’t – and is mostly unable to nego­ti­ate women’s act­ive, assert­ive sexu­al­ity, some­thing that of course the com­modi­fic­a­tion of cocks so char­ac­ter­istic of today’s cul­ture is based on.

By way of a pep talk Matthew McConaughey, who plays (with real rel­ish) the owner of the male strip club, likes to ask his male dan­cers: “Who’s got the cock? You do. They don’t.”

Or as Tatum, dressed as a cop in the now fam­ous open­ing scene of the main trailer says to a nervous sor­or­ity girl he’s about to frisk:

Mike: You don’t have any­thing sharp on you that I can stick myself with, do you?
Kim: No.
Mike: Good. ‘Cause I do!
[rips off pants, women scream]

But does he? After all, we only have his word for it. And any­way, those words are highly unre­li­able. Don’t his words actu­ally tell a dif­fer­ent story to the one the movie is telling us? Don’t they say either:

a) I have a penis large enough to fuck myself with — please allow me to demonstrate

or

b) Stand back ladies and watch me use my night stick on myself!

Sadly, he doesn’t do either, of course. That’s an entirely dif­fer­ent and much more watch­able movie. One that I sus­pect we might have been able to see if Channing Tatum hadn’t had the mis­for­tune to become a Hollywood star, and instead of being con­demned to the­at­rical releases on the big screen had gradu­ated from strip­ping in South Florida clubs to live shows on our PC screens.

magic-mike-1

Friday Night and Sunday Afternoon — A Delightful ‘Weekend’

When I first saw the trailer for ‘Weekend’ it seemed to be a tale of two beards that meet in a gay club in Nottingham on a Friday night and then pro­ceed fall for one another over the next couple of days in a coun­cil flat.

And then I watched it. Once I got past the beards, ‘Weekend’ was the first ‘gay film’ I’d seen in a long time that didn’t make me cringe. In fact, it was the first British film I’d seen in a long time that didn’t make me cringe.

It’s really rather good, with both Chris New as opin­ion­ated, appar­ently unin­hib­ited Glen and Tom Cullen as shy, lonely Russell turn­ing in fine per­form­ances. They have an on-screen chem­istry which makes you feel you are watch­ing some­thing genu­inely intim­ate and del­ic­ate unfold.

And while I still stick to my argu­ment here that the era of the melo­dra­matic genre of  the Big Gay Movie ushered in by ‘Victim’ in which the drama is about homo­pho­bia (inter­n­al­ised and exter­n­al­ised) and the nar­rat­ive is about com­ing out and accept­ance, has drawn to a close – at least in a Western con­text – ‘Weekend’ does seem to point to a future in which charm­ing ‘small gay movies’ have a place. If that doesn’t sound too patronising.

I par­tic­u­larly liked the way ‘Weekend’ refused to resort to homo­pho­bia as a dra­matic device, with Glen being quite obnox­iously gay assert­ive with some beery straight males in a pub but not get­ting bashed – instead, they panic when he accuses them of homo­pho­bia. Russell’s best friend is a straight man who is hurt that Russell won’t talk to him about his dates. There is a sug­ges­tion that per­haps Russell might be a bit ashamed of being gay, or at least, not as com­fort­able as he should be. But then again, neither is in-your-face Glen. The prob­lem, whatever it is, isn’t society’s any more – even if soci­ety isn’t and may never be entirely as accept­ing as it pretends.

Some of the dia­logue was crack­ing, and it reminded me in its fresh­ness of the early 60s New Realist Cinema – the so-called kit­chen sink dra­mas. Though of course it’s 50 years on so it’s a lot fruit­ier: “ERE YOU LOT!” Glen yells from Russell’s win­dow half way up a tower block at some delin­quents down below. “STOP FUCKING ABOUT OR I’LL COME DOWN THERE AND RAPE YOUR HOLES!!”

This might have been delib­er­ate since ‘Weekend’ was set in Nottingham, and some­times seemed to be a kind of 21st Century gay update of the early 60s Neo Realist clas­sic ‘Saturday Night Sunday Morning’ (there’s even foot­age of Russell rid­ing around on his bike like Albert Finney). Or ‘A Taste of Honey’ in which Geoff (Murray Melvin) meets a kind of angry gay male ver­sion of Jo (Rita Tushingham).

My only cri­ti­cism – and of course I would have one – would be that unlike those 60s Neo Realist films I don’t really believe the film or the act­ors have much to do with the city they’re sup­posed to be liv­ing in. Nottingham is just a (very nicely shot) extra in the film. New/Glen you can maybe buy as a pro­vin­cial gay, but Tom/Russell is sup­posed to be a work­ing class foster kid work­ing as a life­guard and liv­ing in a high rise coun­cil flat, but often soun­ded posh. Even the way his flat is dec­or­ated looks a bit like a Shoreditch hipster’s idea of how a ‘poor pro­vin­cial per­sons’ flat would look.

And those beards too seemed more East London than East Midlands. But if ‘Weekend’ had been set in East London per­haps it wouldn’t have seemed quite so ‘real’.

Weekend is out on DVD and Blu-Ray on 19th March

Channing Tatum — The Modern Male Stripped Bare

I like Channing Tatum.

I like the fact he hasn’t got a fash­ion beard. I like his open, bor­ingly beau­ti­ful boy­ish face. I like his GI Joe body. I like the kind of slightly goofy char­ac­ters he plays. I like that he worked in a strip joint before he star­ted strip­ping off for Hollywood. I like the way he works the vibe that he’s a no-nonsense blue-collar Southern boy who could have ended up on a gay-for-pay web­site — and wouldn’t be embar­rassed if he had.

I like the way his name is as American and daft and revers­ible (ver­sat­ile?) as, say, Todd Hunter. I like the fact that he doesn’t take him­self too ser­i­ously. He’s like a pret­tier Marky Mark, sans the hang-ups and mach­ismo and avec a sense of humour instead.

But most of all I like Tatum Channing because he know­ingly embod­ies both the joke and the ser­i­ously good news about men’s objec­ti­fic­a­tion. The butt of the gag and… the butt. Tatum gives male tarti­ness a good name.

And I can’t wait for the male strip­per com­edy Magic Mike. Which is shim­my­ing up to be the must-see met­ro­sexy movie of the summer.

Why ‘Warrior’ Isn’t That Kind of Girl

Middlesbrough, Teeside, one of the last steel-making towns in the UK or in fact one of the last places in the UK where they still make any­thing, is prob­ably the right place to go and see, as I did last week, Warrior, the recently-released, much-hyped MMA Rocky remake set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Warrior Tom Hardy

Warrior is essen­tially a bromantic MMA Rocky. This time there are two Rockies: Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy, play­ing actual broth­ers (rather than ‘bros’) forced to fight one another. Both Rockies are con­sid­er­ably easier on the eye and ear than Sylvester Stallone ever was.

The cinema in ‘Boro was (half) full of groups of young, mostly work­ing class men, sev­eral of them even more worked-out than the stars of the movie – but in con­trast to the res­ol­utely ‘time­less’ grainy Hollywood faux butchery of Warrior that often looked as if it were set in an MMA ver­sion of the 1970s, they were fake-baked, shaven-chested, sex­ily dressed and very much Twenty First Century tarty. (The North East of England is after all home to Geordie Shore the UK ver­sion of Jersey Shore)

Of course, not everything about the film is try­ing to be time­less. I assume the young men had been drawn, like me, by the poster and trailer for the movie fea­tur­ing naked, hulk­ing Hardy and a ripped Edgerton eye­balling each other, and the prom­ise of a very sweaty, if inces­tu­ous porno cli­max. (Or, as the pro­mo­tional copy has it: ‘…the two broth­ers must finally con­front each other and the forces that pulled them apart, facing off in the most soar­ing, soul stir­ring, and unfor­get­table cli­max that must be seen to be believed.’)

Like all trail­ers, of course, it lied. Unlike Captain America the deceit wasn’t that the trailer provided you with the only tits in the movie – for free. There were oodles of shots of Hardy and Edgerton’s tits and abs. In fact, top­less­ness was the default set­ting of Warrior, and for much of the movie Hardy’s intric­ate tat­toos were the nearest thing he had to a shirt. No, it lied about the spor­no­graphic cli­max. But more of that whinge later.

There were though plenty of homo­erot­ics. It’s a movie about brawny male love – because they’re beat­ing the crap out of one another it can afford to be sen­ti­mental and tender, not to men­tion phys­ical in a way that most ‘bromances’ (essen­tially a middle-class ver­sion of the buddy movie) can’t. It’s about two blue-collar broth­ers’ twis­ted, jilted love for one another. About an alco­holic, abus­ive father’s love for his angry, bit­ter sons (who of course, love him really). About the love between a coach and his eager charge. And the love between comrades/warriors.

And also about the hero-erotic love that so many straight men have for MMA fighters.

The MMA winner-takes-all tour­na­ment both broth­ers enter (and end up fight­ing one another) is called ‘Sparta’ – the Ancient Greek City State so fam­ously war­like that accord­ing to legend, women had to dress as boys on their wed­ding night to lure their hus­bands to bed. Hardy is an ex-Marine who is the sub­ject of a YouTube trib­ute from another young (cute) jar­head whose life was saved by Hardy. The Theban/Spartan band that is the US Marine Corps turns up en masse and in uni­form at Sparta to pro­fess their love and sing the Marine Corps Hymn to Hardy. If this sounds a bit camp, that’s prob­ably because it is.

There are really no women in the movie (and there were very few in the cinema). Edgerton’s equally pretty wife (Jennifer Morrison) is some­times glimpsed in the back­ground wor­ry­ing about his fate. But it’s almost as if she’s there as proof of his domest­ic­ated good­ness – and to make the wise­crack about his flam­boy­ant, hand­some ‘unortho­dox’ trainer (played by Frank Grillo) who uses clas­sical music to ‘con­di­tion’ his fight­ers being his ‘boyfriend’.

(The coach chooses Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ as Edgerton’s swishy entrance music, remind­ing me of the Allegretto from B’s Seventh Symphony in The King’s Speech which then made me think: a) The King’s Speech is some­thing of a bromance, and b) It’s also some­thing of a box­ing movie — voice coach.)

The on-screen rela­tion­ship with his trainer is clearly coded as a romance. The moment Edgerton per­suades him to take him on again is a clas­sic seduc­tion scene. In fact, Edgerton is all come-hither smiles and giggles around his coach and when Edgerton pro­fesses later ‘I LOVE MY COACH!!’ it’s quite clear what he means.

Hardy has noth­ing to do with and doesn’t talk about women, except his dead mother. At one point he calls a woman with kids and reas­sures her he will live up to his prom­ise – and then you real­ise he means his prom­ise to his deceased USMC buddy, who we learn described Hardy as his ‘brother in arms’. So it’s about male love again. Male love with big kiss­able titty lips.

Hardy takes on his father as his coach to train for the tour­na­ment, but abuses him in revenge for the treat­ment meted out as a kid. But after a drunken con­front­a­tion finally for­gives him and lit­er­ally takes him to bed, hold­ing his old wreck of a dad between his legs and arms and pet­ting him to sleep. He loves his coach too.

After a long, exhaust­ing, slightly tedi­ous and very clichéd final reel, Edgerton gets Hardy where he wants him in the ring, hold­ing him tight in a ‘rear naked choke’ echo of Hardy’s tender moment with his dad – and whis­pers “I love you” in Hardy’s ear. They stag­ger out of the ring and out of the arena, cling­ing to one another. Brothers in arms, finally.

Essentially Warrior is one of those movies about ‘broth­ers’ that isn’t really about broth­ers at all. It’s a movie about how ‘real’ broth­ers are usu­ally no match for those that men call broth­ers. The way that “I love you like a brother, man” is some­thing of a lie, because most boys and men don’t love their broth­ers that way. As in this movie, sib­ling rivalry, age dif­fer­ences and fam­ily stuff tends to get in the way. It’s the ‘broth­ers’ you choose to love that you really love. At least for a while. The phrase men use, and the strap­line for this movie, should really be: ‘I love you like I don’t love my brother – that asshole! – man’.

But in one way Warrior is true to the sen­ti­ment of ‘I love you like a brother, man’ – the sen­ti­ment of ‘not in a gay way’. For all the pas­sion­ate homo­erot­ics it’s chan­nel­ling – and des­pite the very norty, very arous­ing trailer – it man­ages to clean-up MMA. A feature-length movie, Warrior is con­sid­er­ably less por­no­graphic than almost any UFC match, which usu­ally last just a few minutes. The fight scenes were mostly a headache-inducing blur of shaky, grainy, poorly lit cam­era move­ment. None of the vul­gar, com­prom­ising and down­right lewd pos­i­tions that char­ac­ter­ise the sport and none of the shad­ow­less, multi-angle, expli­cit, zoomed, over­head voyeur­ism of pay-per-view UFC (that I wrote about breath­lessly here) were permitted.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the audi­ence dis­ap­poin­ted not to see Hardy and Edgerton going at it in HD. Any red-blooded UFC fan – and there are loads of them in the UK, as it fast over­hauls box­ing in pop­ular­ity – would be.

Perhaps the chaste­ness of Warrior’s MMA down to the fact that the two act­ors are just that – act­ors, not actual MMA fight­ers, let alone top-level fight­ers. So the dir­ector couldn’t afford to show too much. Or maybe it was because the gritty, obscene mech­an­ics of MMA were too much – for the bromantic storyline. In the end, des­pite the trailer, Warrior didn’t want you to think it was that kind of girl of course, and offered an emo­tional cli­max rather than a phys­ical or even visual one.

Though admit­tedly, any film star­ring Hardy’s lips can hardly be called clean fun.



The Gayness of Top Gun: Feel The Need

Frankly, we could watch a few more hours of Baldwin chew­ing the scenery as Pacino and Hader flab­ber­gas­ted that the pro­du­cers don’t under­stand how “gay” their script is: “I say, ‘Ice Man’s on my tail, he’s com­ing hard.’ I lit­er­ally said that to a bath­room attend­ant last night.”

(I’d like to embed here a clip of the fake Top Gun 25th Anniversary audi­tion tape sketch from SNL with Alec Baldwin as Al Pacino and Harvey Fierstein as Hader that HuffPo is high-fiving in the quote above, but Hulu blocks non-US IP addresses.)

Curious how the ‘gay­ness’ of Top Gun is now part of con­ven­tional wis­dom and a shared joke. It cer­tainly wasn’t at the time.

Hard to believe, but in the 80s Top Gunstar­ring the young, tarty Tom Cruise (the Cristiano Ronaldo of his day), with its top­less vol­ley­ball scenes (to the strains of ‘Playing With the Boys’), linger­ing locker-room scenes, boy-on-boy cent­ral love-story (Iceman and Maverick’s aer­ial sex scenes are much hot­ter than any­thing going on with Kelly McGillis, who has since come out as les­bian) — and awash with enough baby oil and hair gel to sink an air­craft car­rier — was gen­er­ally seen as the epi­tome of het­ero­sexual virility.

And even nearly a dec­ade later in 1994, when I devoted a whole chapter in my first book Male Impersonators to explain­ing the homo­erot­ics of that out­rageous movie, plenty of people still wouldn’t have Top Gun’s het­ero­sexu­al­ity impugned.

Later the same year Quentin Tarantino made a cameo appear­ance in the movie Sleep With Me, essen­tially mak­ing the same argu­ment, Toby Young, then editor of The Modern Review and Tarantino fan­boy, was moved to write a long essay in the The Sunday Times defend­ing his favour­ite movie’s het­ero­sexu­al­ity from Simpson and Tarantino’s filthy calumnies.

Mr Young’s clinch­ing argu­ment? Top Gun HAD to be straight because he’d watched it twenty times – and he’s straight.

But now that every­one and his mother thinks Top Gun — and Tom Cruise — gay, I’m no longer quite so sure.…

In fact, what I told Mr Young in 1994 when he rang me for a quote for his piece was this: “Of course Top Gun isn’t a ‘gay movie’ — but it’s clearly, flag­rantly not a straight one either.” I think I’ll stick with that.

Perhaps we’re all more know­ing now. Perhaps more people are clued-up about homo­erot­ics. Perhaps it’s down to the Interweb mak­ing all the ‘incrim­in­at­ing’ clips always avail­able. Perhaps it’s all my fault. Though I sus­pect it’s more a case of the past being a for­eign coun­try — so ‘gay­ness’ can be safely pro­jec­ted onto some­thing in the past, even if it was once what hun­dreds of mil­lions of straight young men saw as the very epi­tome of aspir­a­tional heterosexuality.

I’d bet­ter end there as I’m off to the movies — to see Warrior.

 Tip: DAKrolak

Chris Evans is Captain Cocktease

You know how every­one com­plains that the best bits of a movie are in the trailer these days? Well, in the case of the new super-hero block­buster Captain America the ONLY bits are in the trailer.

But WHAT bits they are! At around c. 1.40 mins Chris Evans’ oiled bazookas burst out of the instant stud machine he’s been strapped into by the German-Jewish Frank-N-furter. Everyone’s jaw in the lab slaps the floor as the cam­era trol­leys in for a wor­ship­ful close-up on those shiny, massive melons.

Lab 1

Injected with gal­lons of ster­oids and popped in the gimp microwave the skinny nerd’s buns have risen, trans­form­ing him, not into an ulti­mate fight­ing machine but into the ulti­mate Men’s Health cover model. And in just a few moments instead of the sev­eral months it usu­ally takes every­one else using gear — or the seven days that Charles Atlas prom­ised. Isn’t this every boy’s met­ro­sexy dream come true?

So I eagerly coughed up £8 to see more of his super tits last night. But I was robbed. Turns out that this is the only time Evans’ gets his tits out in the whole movie. What a con! What a TEASE!

What’s more, this scene comes very early on in the film, and is its cli­max — in every way. Unfortunately, there’s another hour or two to go, in which our hero tedi­ously battles the evil Nazi bad guy, fully-clothed – and wear­ing that daft hel­met. Desperately try­ing to prove he’s not, as Tommy Lee Jones’ hard-bitten old Colonel char­ac­ter dis­misses him after he has done one too many pro­pa­ganda shows, a ‘chorus girl’.

But he so IS a chorus girl. No one went to see Captain America because they wanted to see him throw­ing his stu­pid boun­cing dust­bin lid around (has there ever been a more rub­bish super-power? Or a camper one?) Male, female, gay, straight, young, old, animal and veget­able they ALL went to see his TITS.

And I’m not even men­tion­ing the ter­rible script, total lack of any plot – or cred­ib­il­ity – the com­pletely life­less dir­ec­tion, and the ter­rible act­ing (Evans’ body may have been injec­ted with ster­oids but his face seems to have been injec­ted with Novocaine). It is, after all, a super-hero movie.

Towards the end of this very long, very dis­ap­point­ing, very chaste movie date, Nick Fury played by Samuel L. Jackson in a dash­ing eye-patch, tells a defros­ted Evans run­ning around Times Square (finally levered into a nice tight t-shirt — but it’s much too little much too late): ‘You’ve been asleep for 70 years, Cap’n.’

YES!’ I felt like shout­ing at the screen in my local cinema, ‘AND SO HAVE WE!!’

Chris Evans Tits

The Unbearable Boredom of Brokeback Mountain

Following the dis­cus­sion of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ in rela­tion to The Last Gay Picture Show I thought I’d post my dis­en­chanted review of it from 2005. As you’ll see, although I had for the sake of con­cise­ness to rope it in with the other Big Gay Movies in that Out essay — and although it cer­tainly has been received and cel­eb­rated as one — I’m not entirely sure it is really a ‘gay movie’. I’m cer­tain though that it’s a very, very bor­ing one.…

Lonesome Metro-Cowboys

‘Brokeback Mountain’, front-runner in the Oscar nom­in­a­tion race and big win­ner at the recent Golden Globes has been dubbed the ‘gay cow­boy movie’. Mark Simpson argues it’s more metro than homo and explains why its uncon­vin­cing nature is prob­ably the reason for its success

(Originally appeared in Black Book magazine, 2005)

Is there a sup­port group for people who didn’t like ‘Brokeback Mountain’? We must, if the rave reviews and news­pa­per reports are to be believed, be a very tiny – not to men­tion vul­ner­able – minor­ity. Am I dead inside because I didn’t exper­i­ence the tor­rent of emo­tions I’ve been read­ing about in news­pa­pers and in movie for­ums? Am I as emo­tion­ally crippled as Ennis because I didn’t blub and hug after sit­ting through this ‘vis­ceral’ movie, but instead wanted to go and ‘help with the round up’? Am I suf­fer­ing from intern­al­ized homophobia?

Probably all of the above. But this doesn’t mean that this film which has become a phe­nomenon, isn’t as tedi­ous, mawk­ish, life­less, uncon­vin­cing and bizar­rely hypo­crit­ical as I found it to be. I wish now that I’d left after the first 15 minutes with the two bored, gum-chewing teen girls in front of me at the mul­ti­plex and gone shop­ping with them for the latest Westlife album instead. There would at least have been more sex.

OK, so there’s a hur­ried joy­less near-rape in the dark at the begin­ning, but we’ve seen all that before in more detail in prison movie films like Shawshank Redemption. Although this part is true to Annie Proulx’s ori­ginal short story, the only sex scene in this ‘love movie’ seems to owe more to dir­ector Ang Lee’s shame and impa­tience about MANSEX than Ennis’. While Proulx allows our cow­pokes other sex scenes in which they actu­ally enjoy ‘love-making’, this filmic essay on homo­pho­bia and its ter­rible toll goes out of its way to shield us from what it is that these two men have together or what it is that they do when together – or why they would bother to go to the trouble of try­ing to relive it every year for dec­ades. Across thou­sands of miles.

Even when they kiss, it’s care­fully shot so that we never really see them kiss, the shad­ows in the tepee art­fully falls across their mouths, or if some­where bet­ter lit they appear just to be push­ing their faces together, lips and teeth grit­ted. This makes the scene in which Ennis’ wife spies these des­per­ately ‘closeted’ guys ‘kiss­ing’ out­side her home all the more uncon­vin­cing and ironic. The real­isa­tion sud­denly hits her: ‘Omigod! My hus­band is a faux­mo­sexual!’ No won­der she’s distressed.

Their boss also clocks the lover boys from a dis­tance. But why their boss would assume they were queer because they liked to wrestle with their tops off rather than wan­nabe Abercrombie and Fitch mod­els I don’t know; maybe he had spe­cial bin­ocu­lars. But I have to say that I sat right at the front of the theatre and I’m still not really sure what the hell they get up to on Brokeback Mountain. They don’t talk much. They don’t shag. They don’t kiss prop­erly. As Ennis’ wife com­plains, ‘You go fish­ing but you don’t bring back any fish.’ The film tells us they’re lov­ers. Insists that they’re lov­ers, god­dam­mit. But fails utterly to show it.

Perhaps I’m merely a jaded homo­sexual. Perhaps I’ve seen too much. Perhaps it’s absurd of me to expect a proper snog between the lov­ers in a ‘love film’, espe­cially in a film that is telling us over and over again in pain­fully didactic fash­ion how bad homo­pho­bia is and a film which has been trum­peted for it’s ‘cour­age’. But in the small pro­vin­cial town in England’s equi­val­ent of Wyoming where I now live, I’ve sev­eral times seen (or rather stared at) drunken young sol­diers snog­ging one another, ‘for a laugh’, tongues and everything, in the middle of crowded pubs, much more con­vin­cingly, pas­sion­ately and linger­ingly than these act­ors who have been told by a thou­sand inter­view­ers how ‘brave’ and ‘com­mit­ted’ they were to do these scenes.

But then, there’s not much real­istic about this film. Even the impass­ively beau­ti­ful Wyoming coun­tryside seems to have been wrapped in cel­lo­phane and Brokeback Mountain a big rib­bon bow stuck on top of it. The boys are also very appet­ising, but while Heath Ledger turns in a fine per­form­ance with an almost impossible script and blood­less dir­ect­ing, both of them are too pretty – Jake Gyllenhaal in par­tic­u­lar, lovely as he is, looks too met­ro­pol­itan, too con­fec­ted, too Details fashion-shoot with a Western theme. By the time he reaches the 70s he looks he like the cow­boy out of the Village People: the same hair­cut, the same black mous­tache, the same Stetson. But maybe this shouldn’t be so sur­pris­ing since the cow­boy from the Village People, I dis­covered later, was the ‘gay cow­boy con­sult­ant’ on this metro-cowboy movie; very Queer Eye For The Western Guy. (Personally, I wished they’d hired Nancy Walker, dir­ector of ‘Can’t Stop the Music’ in place of Ang Lee).

Brokeback’ is not a ser­i­ous explor­a­tion of rural ret­ro­sexu­al­ity and its dis­con­tents, and cer­tainly not a love story, but rather it’s feature-length pro­pa­ganda for con­tem­por­ary, met­ro­pol­itan met­ro­sexu­al­ity. It is an attack on ret­ro­sexual repres­sion in gen­eral and old-style, ‘out­moded’ stoic mas­culin­ity in par­tic­u­lar. This is the real reason for its tre­mend­ous, zeit­geisty popularity.

Both cow­boys, Ennis in par­tic­u­lar, are pris­on­ers of their prob­lems with express­ing feel­ings: homo­pho­bia, internal and external, is just the biggest sym­bol of this. Their fat bald boss is an unfeel­ing bigot. Ennis’ father took him to see the cas­trated corpse of a local queer when he was a small boy (‘for all I know he mighta done it him­self’). Jack’s abus­ive father is uptight, cold and resent­ful. His father-in-law is a bul­ly­ing buffon (who turns out to be a cow­ard for good measure).

None of the older males in this film are fully human – because they aren’t in touch with their feel­ings. They are all twis­ted, mean and nasty. Jack and Ennis, a product of that world, are stun­ted too; they’re just not so mean and nasty. This is why they are also the only attract­ive males in Wyoming. Their desirab­il­ity is proof to a mod­ern, met­ro­sexual audi­ence of their sym­pathy, of their good­ness, of their mod­ern­ity, of the awful­ness of their ret­ro­sexual predicament.

Because ret­ro­sexu­al­ity rather than homo­pho­bia per se is the real tar­get of this film’s didacti­cism, the emo­tional hob­bling is hetero as well as homo. Ennis is por­trayed as someone who is not just closeted about his pas­sion for Jack but closeted in all his rela­tion­ships. Whenever con­fron­ted with the need for a com­mit­ment or a demon­stra­tion of love, either for Jack, his wife, his daugh­ter, his new girl­friend after his wife divorces him, he starts mum­bling ‘ahh don’t know… roundup is comin…’. Fear and loath­ing of homo­sexu­al­ity, of male emo­tion­al­ity and sen­su­al­ity, of expli­cit ten­der­ness between men is presen­ted as a continuüm.

Which, to some degree, it is. As the ‘father’ of the met­ro­sexual, I have some sym­pathy with some of the ideo­logy behind this film, if not the exe­cu­tion. And at least in ‘Brokeback’ male sen­su­al­ity, aes­thet­i­cism and homo­erot­ics is not dis­placed into flip-flops and facials and appro­pri­ation of ste­reo­typ­ic­ally effem­in­ate homo­sexual traits as it was in the spayed mar­ket­ing ver­sion of met­ro­sexu­al­ity – even if it is some­what fet­ish­ized here into jeans, stet­sons and care­fully beat-up pick-up trucks.

But dress it up purdy or plain, or call it by any other name, like the mar­ket­ing ver­sion of met­ro­sexu­al­ity that pre­ceded it, ‘Brokeback’ is also an accessor­isa­tion of homo­sexu­al­ity. This is effect­ively a film about two straight men who have a homo­sexual love-affair. After all, the two prot­ag­on­ists are mar­ried, the act­ors who play them are straight, as is the dir­ector, the author of the short story it’s based on, the male-female screen­writ­ing part­ners, and the vast major­ity of the audi­ence. No won­der they felt they had to hire the gay cow­boy from the Village People as fash­ion con­sult­ant. Even the sex is ‘straight’ – there’s rather more hetero sex than homo. ‘Brokeback’ is lit­er­ally act­ing out the culture’s cur­rent fas­cin­a­tion with homo­erot­ics and male sen­su­al­ity. Which, in itself, is no bad thing. Homoerotics and male sen­su­al­ity are not the unique prop­erty of homo­sexu­als. In fact, they make up a small frac­tion of those human beings who are affected by these things.

And yes, the reti­cence of the film in regard to actu­ally show­ing Jack and Ennis’ love for one another, either sexu­ally or in any other way, and its gen­er­ally uncon­vin­cing air, may not be entirely down to Hollywood’s nervous­ness or hypo­crisy. If their love for one another is merely sym­bolic, to actu­ally show it instead of just assert­ing it might dimin­ish its uni­ver­sal message.

But what makes a film a cul­tural phe­nomenon doesn’t neces­sar­ily make it any good. For me ‘Brokeback’’s metro-cowboy pro­pa­ganda is right smack dab in the place where it’s sup­posed to have a big butch bleed­ing heart and is the very thing which makes it so dis­ap­point­ing. ‘Brokeback’s’ bogus ‘out­ness’ stands in for and in the way of any­thing real. ‘Brokeback’ the ‘break­through’ movie depicts less cred­ible warmth, intim­acy and ten­der­ness between the male lov­ers than a movie like say, ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ — now nearly forty years old.

And rather less homo­erot­ics than that other, ‘straight’, Gyllenhaal vehicle ‘Jarhead’, another film about lonely all-American boys shar­ing tents in the middle of nowhere, which, amongst other things, fea­tures a Marine gay gang bang in broad day­light — it’s sim­u­lated, but rather more con­vin­cingly, and joy­ously, than the sex in ‘Brokeback’.

Palpably ‘Brokeback’ is not the movie that people think or want to believe it is – but it is a movie which, in it’s vague­ness, ellip­sis and coy­ness, and even its hypo­crisy, allows itself to be mis­recog­nised as the mod­ern expli­citly male romance movie people clearly need it to be. Let’s hope that its suc­cess means that someone out there can now make a movie that is a little more convincing.

Or even just one in which men in love kiss with their mouths open.

 

The Last Gay Picture Show

From tor­tured law­yers, drag queens and cow­boys to Mickey Rourke — on the Fiftieth anniversary of Victim the film that star­ted it all, a con­cise his­tory of the birth, boom, and bust of the big gay movie by Mark Simpson (Out magazine).

A tor­tured, be-quiffed Dirk Bogarde, backed into a corner by his wife’s ques­tion­ing, shouts: “I STOPPED SEEING HIM BECAUSE I WANTED HIM! DO YOU UNDERSTAND??”

The up-and-coming bar­ris­ter played by Bogarde in the 1961 clas­sic Victim is com­ing out. In case the audi­ence hasn’t under­stood, his wife, played by a young, pretty and very English Sylvia Syms rams the point home to the audi­ence, scream­ing: “YOU WERE ATTRACTED TO THAT BOY LIKE A MAN IS TO A GIRL!” Strong stuff, for its time.

This was no ordin­ary com­ing out. This was, in fact, the debut of the Big Gay Movie: a form that was to flour­ish for the next half-century but seems to have peaked with the com­mer­cial and crit­ical suc­cess of Brokeback Mountain and Milk in the nought­ies. Fifty years after Bogarde (who was impec­cably dis­creet about his own sexu­al­ity) became the first man to out him­self on the big screen, the gay-themed main­stream movie feels dis­tinctly past its prime.

The first English-language movie to use the word “homo­sexual,” Victim caused a scan­dal in the United Kingdom and was banned in the United States. A plea for sym­pathy and tol­er­ance and also pity for the vic­tims of “nature’s cruel trick,” it was inten­ded to change atti­tudes and the law: Any sexual con­tact between males was illegal in the U.K. at the time. Six years later, in 1967, homo­sexu­al­ity was decrim­in­al­ized — and Victim was cred­ited with help­ing bring that about.

It also became the gay movie tem­plate for dec­ades to come. That tem­plate typ­ic­ally con­sists of four melo­dra­matic parts: the closet, com­ing out, homo­pho­bia, and… uplift! And like Victim, gay movies also ten­ded to dis­play a slightly con­des­cend­ing yen to edu­cate the ignor­ant masses out of their pre­ju­dices, while sim­ul­tan­eously cater­ing to their curi­os­ity and voyeur­ism about this curi­ous new spe­cies, The Homosexual.

By the end of the ’60s, America had begun to get over its shock at hear­ing the word “homo­sexual” and along came The Boys in the Band, the U.S.’s first Big Gay Movie, one that invoked the h-word repeatedly — as a con­di­tion one had to reluct­antly accept. “You will always be homo­sexual…. Always, Michael. Always. Until the day you die.” Like VictimThe Boys in the Band eli­cited sym­pathy and pity for homos, not least for the impress­ive amount of self-loathing they dis­play. As one of the ““boys” says toward the end of a night­mare party that isn’t very gay at all: “If only we could stop hat­ing ourselves so much.”

But the movie was already ser­i­ously dated by the time it made it to the screen — the Stonewall riots had exploded the year before, and the homos were no longer cry­ing into their mar­tinis. Instead, they were throw­ing Molotov cock­tails and shout­ing about “gay pride.” Gay act­iv­ists had over­turned the notion of the gay passivist.

By con­trast, five years later The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) was entirely of the moment – and time­less. Still strut­ting it’s fish­net­ted stuff to this day, the longest-running the­at­rical release in movie his­tory is the least dated, most rel­ev­ant gay movie ever made — per­haps because it’s not really gay at all. There is no plea for sym­pathy or tol­er­ance, no con­des­cen­sion, no moral uplift. Not even gay polit­ics or pride. It’s just a really fuck­ing great party to which every­one is invited. Even Brad and Janet. It’s pan­sexual sci­ence fic­tion that pre­dicts a post­sexual future in which queer­ness would no longer be an issue — because every­one was going to be a little bit Frankenfurter.

Cruising, released in 1980 and pick­eted by angry gay act­iv­ists at the time for its “homo­pho­bia,” also proved proph­etic, but night­mar­ishly so. Al Pacino plays a straight New York cop assigned to invest­ig­ate a series of murders of gay men by join­ing the city’s gay leather S&M scene — but finds him­self, like the 1970s itself, strangely drawn to the gay world. But the gay serial killer stalk­ing the streets of New York City turned out, of course, to be HIV. The “gay plague” of the 1980s and the right-wing mor­al­istic back­lash on both sides of the Atlantic stopped the sexual revolu­tion in its tracks and firmly quar­ant­ined gay from straight.

In this cli­mate of fear and hatred, Maurice (1987), ostens­ibly an adapt­a­tion of the E. M. Forster novel of the same name, seemed almost like a rerun of Victim—but this time with some actual sex thrown in. James Wilby, strug­gling fetch­ingly with Edwardian repres­sion, is told sol­emnly by a sym­path­etic con­fid­ante: “England has always been dis­in­clined to accept human nature.”

Tom Hanks’s dying, closeted gay law­yer in 1993’s Philadelphia, released just before com­bin­a­tion ther­apy gal­loped to the res­cue, is a grim gay melo­drama that won him an Oscar. But it wasn’t long before feel-good and fab­ulous films swished into view: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), Beautiful Thing (1996), and The Birdcage (1996), the highest-grossing LGBT-related film ever released in North America. They were cel­eb­rat­ory, destig­mat­iz­ing films about com­ing out and tak­ing on homo­pho­bia — but in order to keep the now-familiar gay movie themes sound­ing fresh, they had to be set prefer­ably in a pub­lic hous­ing pro­ject or in the Australian out­back. In drag.

By the nought­ies, gay movies had to resort to time travel to sus­tain the pathos. Brokeback Mountain (2005), Milk(2008), and A Single Man (2009) were all gay cos­tume dra­mas, set in an age when homo­pho­bia was a life-and-death issue — and the gay movie wasn’t an exhausted form.

Fittingly, the end of the last dec­ade also saw the release of I Love You Phillip Morris, with Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor as unlikely jail­bird lov­ers. It’s breez­ily cas­ual about homo­sexu­al­ity — we see Carrey nois­ily bug­ger­ing a man in the first few minutes of the film — and it refuses to offer the usual uplift or mor­al­iz­ing. The AIDS death scene at the end of the movie, in which the con man played by Carrey cheats death, is an aston­ish­ing rebut­tal to the mawk­ish­ness of Philadelphia. Our gay anti­hero lives, but in a sense the gay movie dies.

And not a moment too soon. One of last year’s most acclaimed movies, The Kids Are All Right, only handles homo­sexu­al­ity obliquely, as though the topic has become passé. It’s a con­ven­tional Hollywood break-up-to-make-up romantic com­edy with some less con­ven­tional comic details — such as sperm donors and les­bian cun­ni­lin­gus to gay porn. A same-sex couple faith­fully repro­duces the het­ero­sexual mono­gam­ous nuc­lear fam­ily and its neur­oses. Or as The Christian Science Monitor put it, the “fam­ily com­plic­a­tions in The Kids Are All Right are almost reas­sur­ingly recog­niz­able.” Sexuality isn’t the issue of the movie (which could have been called The Kids Are All Straight). Normality is. Gays as a spe­cies just aren’t ter­ribly inter­est­ing anymore.

But per­haps the greatest proof of the genre’s demise may prove to be Mickey Rourke’s strenu­ous attempt to revive it. The 58-year-old plastic sur­gery devotee is cur­rently mak­ing and star­ring in a biopic about 36-year-old gay British rugby star Gareth Thomas. Rourke read Thomas’s story of com­ing out in Sports Illustrated. “To be a man who plays rugby who is gay and to live with that secret for the amount of years that Gareth had… it takes a lot of cour­age,” he said recently. Rourke is clearly drawn to Thomas’s tale because it rep­res­ents the final fron­tier of the Hollywood coming-out story: a gay guy in the gritty man’s man world of pro rugby. You can see the pitch: another Brokeback Mountain, but with com­munal baths, even more sheep, and a hap­pier ending.

True, Thomas’s bio­graphy does offer plenty of con­ven­tional gay movie plot lines: While closeted, he prayed to be straight; upon com­ing out he dealt with an inev­it­able divorce from his wife. But Thomas him­self is clear that he doesn’t want the film to be about his sexu­al­ity: “I don’t want to be known as a gay rugby player,” he said. “I am a rugby player first and fore­most.” Adding, some­what unne­ces­sar­ily, “I am a man.”

In other words, he doesn’t want it to be a gay movie. And who can blame him? After all, it’s one thing to be played by a 58-year-old Hollywood actor when you’re still in your 30s. But it’s quite another to be trapped inside a 50-year-old and now defunct movie form.

 

I Love You, Jim Carrey

Watching the exhil­ar­at­ing ‘l’amour fou’ movie ‘I Love You Phillip Morris’ recently I found myself fall­ing in love with Jim Carrey all over again — after sev­eral years of tak­ing him for granted.

So much so I for­got he was there all over again. The role of Steven Russell the gay con-man is one he was born to play. It’s a return to the Jim Carrey of The Cable Guy — his best and most over­looked film until now. But a bit more grown up, slightly less scary, and with Ewan McGregor instead of Matthew Broderick as the object of his swirl­ing atten­tions. I don’t fancy Carrey, and I sus­pect McGregor prob­ably doesn’t either, but Carrey in full-on comic mad­man mode is impossible to say no to.

So I thought I’d post this love let­ter to him orgin­ally pub­lished in the Independent on Sunday back in 2002.

Fears of a Clown

He’s the funny guy fam­ous for his devi­ant comic roles. So what is it about Jim Carrey, asks Mark Simpson, that makes him the per­fect embod­i­ment of American psychosis?

(Independent On Sunday 19 May 2002)

Whenever I finally con­fess to my friends that I’m a Jim Carrey fan I almost always get the same reac­tion. “Oh, I see,” they say, look­ing me up and down as if really see­ing me for the first time. “Yes, well, I can’t stand him, I’m afraid.” Then they pull a slightly sour expres­sion as if I’d far­ted and explain: “You see, It’s the…” “…gurn­ing” I say, com­plet­ing their sen­tence. “I know. That’s exactly what I like about him.” Clutching for some middle ground they then offer: “I quite liked him in The Truman Show, though”. It’s at this point that I quickly change the subject.

It’s all a case of mis­taken iden­tity: they see a vul­gar spas­ming idiot where I see a god of com­edy… who is a vul­gar, spas­ming idiot. Hence people who don’t like Jim Carrey will prob­ably like his new movie The Majestic. Like The Truman Show (1998), it is played straight(faced), and very com­pet­ently. People who like Jim Carrey, how­ever, will pull their lower lip over their fore­head in frustration.

Appropriately enough, the film is about mis­taken iden­tity. Carrey plays Peter Appleton, a Hollywood B-movie scriptwriter who is caught up in the Anti-Red para­noia the 1950s and sacked by his stu­dio and black­lis­ted as a Commie. Of course, Carrey isn’t really a Commie but just “a horny guy” who was try­ing to get into the pants of a girl at col­lege who happened to be a Commie. But the cold war­ri­ors see what they want to see and Carrey is threatened with a subpoena.

So he gets drunk, crashes his car and suf­fers amne­sia, stag­ger­ing into small­town America where he is mis­taken for someone more inter­est­ing again – Luke Trimble, a young Marine who failed to return from the Second World War. The still-grieving town, hav­ing lost sev­eral sons, has a form of mass hys­teria: benign and heal­ing where the McCarthyite vari­ety is malign and divis­ive, and every­one believes he is Trimble, even Luke’s father and his former girl­friend. Carrey/Appleton, still with no idea who he is, decides that he might as well be who they want him to be.

However, there’s another case of mis­taken iden­tity in this movie: Jim Carrey has clearly mis­taken him­self for Jimmy Stewart. Carrey makes a pass­able Stewart, but why on earth should someone who is the unnat­ural love-child of Dionysus and Jerry Lewis want to be Jimmy Stewart? Besides, Stewart isn’t even dead – Tom Hanks, after all, is still with us.

Mr Carrey, who has just turned 40, is ranked num­ber five in Hollywood’s “star power” rat­ings – which effect­ively meas­ures whether we see what we want to see when we look at a screen actor. At 98.46 he comes behind Mr Cruise, Mr Hanks and Ms Roberts who all score a “per­fect” 100, and Mr Gibson at 98.68. Although he is already one of the most fam­ous and wealth­i­est men in America (and recently announced this by buy­ing his own $30 mil­lion jet), Mr Carrey would very much like to close that 1.54 point gap and be a per­fect 100. Hence the Jimmy Stewart preoccupation.

Carrey’s suc­cess of course has come largely through his mani­acal, edgy, inspired, disturbed/disturbing – and gurn­ing – per­form­ances in films such as Dumb and Dumber (1994), Ace Ventura Pet Detective (1994), The Mask (1994), and Liar, Liar (1997). He even almost suc­ceeded in res­cuing the rub­ber cod­piece melt­down that was Batman Forever (1995), with his tox­ic­ally camp inter­pret­a­tion of The Riddler. Alas, Carrey’s ambi­tions are “big­ger” than such roles allow. He wants to be mis­taken for that truly freaky thing: a well-rounded, redeemed human-being. Frankly, his green-furred mis­an­thropic Grinch (The Grinch, 2000) was a more sym­path­etic char­ac­ter than that.

Carrey seems to be a curi­ous, furi­ous ten­sion between a crav­ing for revenge and ador­a­tion. From a Canadian blue-collar trailer park fam­ily with a sickly, hys­ter­ical mother and a manic-depressive father, he tried to please and dis­tract in equal meas­ure. He wrote him­self a cheque for $15 mil­lion when he was start­ing out in the 1980s. (In a curi­ously ambi­val­ent ges­ture, he placed the cheque in his father’s coffin). Having suc­ceeded, he sur­passed fel­low Hollywood comedi­ans such as Steve Martin, Mike Myers and William Shatner – like them, he is a Canadian whose job it is to be mis­taken for an American.

So it’s per­haps no coin­cid­ence that in most of his films he seems to have “iden­tity issues” – dark­ness, dis­in­teg­ra­tion and exhil­ar­at­ing release is always just a few facial tics away. In The Mask, appro­pri­ately enough the film which brought him to the widest pub­lic atten­tion, he plays a mild-mannered nerd who dis­cov­ers a mask which imbues its wearer with the spirit of the Norse god of mis­chief. In Liar, Liar he’s a law­yer beat­ing him­self up to stop him­self from telling the truth. In Me Myself and Irene (2000), he plays a mild-mannered nerdy cop who keeps flip­ping into a devi­ant Mr Hyde personality

And then there is the The Cable Guy (1996), in which he plays a nerdy cable installer who wants nice Matthew Broderick to be his best buddy and flips over into a com­pel­ling psy­chosis when Matthew dis­ap­points him. Of all Carrey’s movies, The Cable Guy is the one which comes closest to the truth of his screen per­sona and also per­haps the truth of the best com­edy – that it is about des­per­a­tion and dark­ness. Carrey is like the Id mon­ster in Forbidden Planet on the ram­page and with a lisp. He turns in one of the most ori­ginal per­form­ances ever seen in a movie – and most reck­less, given that this was his first $20 mil­lion role.

So when the crit­ics pas­ted it and audi­ences used to his “alrighty!” slap­stick hated it, Carrey and his entour­age pan­icked and scrambled to make sure that his future pro­jects would not expose so much of his dark side: that people would see what they wanted to see, instead of the rage of Caliban in the mir­ror. Ironically, even a schmaltzy non-comedy film like The Majestic requires the know­ledge of the dark, Satanic Carrey to sus­tain our interest in his every­guy per­form­ance. The gurn­ing lies underneath.

Carrey is a man clearly pos­sessed by voices – the trashy voices of American pop cul­ture we all hear inside our heads: Captain Kirk, John Wayne, Bugs Bunny, Elvis, Lucille Ball. He’s a latter-day “Legion”, the Biblical mad­man of Gadarene who spoke in a hun­dred voices, whose evil spir­its were exor­cised by Christ (and who, evicted, promptly com­mand­eered a herd of swine and drove them squeal­ing over a cliff into the sea). Unfortunately, given his “heal­ing” tend­en­cies in his straight movies, Carrey also some­times seems to think he’s Christ too. (In his next movie, Bruce Almighty, he is set to play God.)

Actually, Carrey is someone much more import­ant than God: he is America. At least in terms of his con­tra­dic­tions: hysterical/professional, needy/maniacal, narcissistic/high-minded, base/aspirational, idealistic/hypocritical, cynical/sentimental, amnesiac/media-addicted. In The Majestic Carrey’s char­ac­ter recalls a movie plot but still can’t remem­ber who he is: “You mean you can remem­ber movies but not your own life?” says Laurie Holden. “That’s ter­rible!” Maybe, but it’s not so unusual.

Like The Truman Show, The Majestic ends with Carrey’s char­ac­ter renoun­cing the inau­thenti­city of fame for “real life”. Fortunately for us, the real Jim Carrey is never likely to make that choice.

Muscle: Hollywood’s Biggest Special Effect

By Mark Simpson

(Independent on Sunday 31 March, 2002)

Guys! Do you worry that your body isn’t suf­fi­ciently lean and mus­cu­lar? Do you fre­quently com­pare your muscles with other men’s? If you see a man who is clearly more mus­cu­lar than you, do you think about it and feel envi­ous for some time afterwards?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these ques­tions it used to mean that you should send a postal order to Mr Charles Atlas to ask for advice. Nowadays, if the myriad art­icles about the latest ‘dis­ease’ to afflict men are to believed, it means you might need to see a ther­ap­ist to talk you out of going to the gym so much because you may be suf­fer­ing from ‘big­orexia’ – the delu­sion that you’re not beefy enough.

On the other hand, it might just mean that you go to the movies.

We expect as a mat­ter of course that our male leads these days will have per­fect pec­tor­als, bounteous biceps and cor­rug­ated steel stom­achs that speak of thou­sands of hours of sweat, tears and neur­otic diet­ing. ‘Brad Pitt’ is now Esperanto for ‘six pack’. What, after all, is the point of being a film star if you can’t hire the most sad­istic per­sonal fit­ness instructor in town and feast on egg white omelettes and rice cakes? More per­tin­ently, why should we puny punters pay good money to gaze up at men on the big screen who aren’t them­selves big­ger than life, but sport waist­lines that speak of no life at all?

It wasn’t always thus. In fact, until the Eighties muscles were usu­ally so few and far between on the screen that the oiled man in swim­ming trunks bash­ing the big gong at the begin­ning of Rank films was as much meat as you were likely to get at the movies. It was of course an oiled Austrian action hero and former Mr Universe who changed all that, banging a gong for body­build­ing in ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (1982) and ‘Terminator’ (1984) intro­du­cing us to the spec­tac­u­lar male body and chan­ging forever the way we see the male physique.

True, all those steroid-pumped chests look excess­ive now, ‘tit­ter­some’ even, and screen muscles have ten­ded to come in a more man­age­able, more cov­et­table size for some years, but a male Hollywood star who doesn’t work out is as unthink­able now as an American who doesn’t floss.

And Arnie, like the cyborg he played in his most fam­ous movie – or a per­sonal fit­ness trainer from hell – keeps com­ing back. He refuses to acknow­ledge that he’s mor­tal, or, which is much more hub­ristic, out of fash­ion. Next week sees the open­ing of his new action-hero movie ‘Collateral Damage’, in which he plays a fire­man seek­ing to avenge the murder of his wife and son by ter­ror­ists. Next month he begins film­ing ‘Terminator 3′, quickly fol­lowed by ‘Total Recall 2′ and ‘True Lies 2′ Single-handedly, and Promethian-like, fifty-five year-old Arnie, who had major heart sur­gery five years ago, seems to be try­ing to haul the Eighties back. (Not least because his polit­ical ambi­tions seem to prom­ise ‘Reagan 2′.)

Meanwhile, his former arch-rival and Sylvester Stallone is cur­rently try­ing to get fund­ing for yet more sequels to his Rocky and Rambo films (6 and 4, respect­ively if you’re still count­ing). Also fifty-five years old, Sly hasn’t had a hit movie for a dec­ade. Post September 11th he hopes America is ready again for a muscle-bound, if slightly wrinkly hero and that Hollywood will buy the idea of Rambo para­chut­ing into Afghanistan in a thong and put­ting the fear of god into Bin Laden and Al Quaeda. So far his attempts to get fund­ing have been unsuc­cess­ful, but if the Austrian Asshole suc­ceeds in mak­ing a comeback from the knack­ers yard, who will be able to stop the Italian Stallion?

Of course, Arnie and Sly weren’t the first muscle­men to make it in movies – just the first to suc­ceed in mak­ing it really ‘big’ business.

Back in the 1930s there was Johnny Weissmuller, Olympic swim­mer turned jungle vine swinger in a loin­cloth. His mus­cu­lar tarti­ness in the Tarzan movies was made accept­able by the fact that his physique was prac­tical in ori­gin (swim­ming, vine climb­ing and wrest­ling alligators). He was also an ‘ape-man’. As a (white) noble sav­age, who hardly spoke except to ulu­late loud enough to make the tree tops quiver, or shout ‘Ungawa!’ at a startled passing ele­phant or chim­pan­zee, he was spared many of the enforced decen­cies of 1930s Western civil­isa­tion. Interestingly, like Arnie he was ori­gin­ally Austrian: ‘Weissmuller’ is German for ‘white miller’; while ‘Schwarzenegger’ means ‘black plough’. Modern body­build­ing owes everything to Aryan farming.

By the 1940s and 50s Sword and Sandal epics, the pre-cursor of the action movie, star­ring people like Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, and B-movie body-builder-turned-actor Steve Reeves legit­im­ised the dis­play of more naked, shapely male flesh (hence the line in ‘Airplane’ when the per­vey pilot asks the lad being shown the flight-deck: ‘Son, do you like watch­ing gla­di­ator movies?’). Russell Crowe of course was to revive this genre in 2000 in ‘Gladiator’ and went out of his way in inter­views to claim that his brawny physique had been formed not in the gym but in ‘prac­tising sword fights’ — in a leather skirt. (Some cyn­ics might say that he failed to gain the Oscar for ‘A Beautiful Mind’ because by then he seemed to have lost his beau­ti­ful body).

In the Fifties and Sixties, Rock Hudson, epi­tom­ised the ‘All-American’ clean-cut hunk. A Tarzan of the sub­urbs, if you will. He had a body, but was not sexual. His mas­culin­ity was pleas­ingly super­fi­cial and unthreat­en­ing. (And now we know that there was never any chance that he might do Doris Day at all).

But it was that other fifties phe­nomenon Marlon Brando who inaug­ur­ated a new era — the male as brazen sex object. His tight-T-shirted, sweaty mus­cu­lar­ity was openly erotic; his bru­tish, built but sen­sual Stanley Kowalski was the street­car named Desire (‘Stell-la!’). Clift and Dean were faces, but Marlon was a face on a pout­ing body. There was some­thing andro­gyne yet virile about the Wild One’s most phys­ical roles. Perhaps as a kind of revenge on the industry, Marlon fam­ously developed an eat­ing dis­order (some­thing usu­ally asso­ci­ated with women) and later became notori­ous for his ‘work outs’ with gal­lon tubs of ice cream. In an odd way, Brando’s weight-problem is a kind of ‘big­orexia’, and prob­ably even harder work than stay­ing trim in the way that, say, Clint Eastwood has (and hav­ing sex in ‘In the Line of Fire’ with his tight white T-shirt at 70).

In the Fifties-come-around-again Eighties, Tom ‘Risky Business’ Cruise some­how man­aged com­bine Brando’s erotic nar­ciss­ism with Hudson’s clean-cut ster­il­ity, this time in a pair of Y-fronts. Later, in ‘Taps’ he played an intense right-wing recruit with an obsess­ive interest in body­build­ing and shower­ing. In ‘Top Gun’, the defin­it­ive Eighties movie, he legit­im­ised the new male nar­ciss­ism as some­thing pat­ri­otic and Reaganite. Most of Tom’s oeuvre since then has stuck to the same theme of boy­ish vul­ner­ab­il­ity mixed with determ­in­a­tion; passiv­ity and mas­culin­ity; sen­su­al­ity and respect­ab­il­ity — and the iden­tity prob­lems that this cre­ates (e.g. ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and ‘Vanilla Sky’). By the same token, his muscles, with the excep­tion of those seen in ‘Taps’ — and his pre­pos­ter­ous fore­arms in ‘Mission Impossible’ — have never been huge, but they have always been very def­in­itely there if needed. Or desired.

The Eighties ‘roided’ body­builder action her­oes such as Arnie, Sly, Mel, Bruce ‘Die-Hard’ Willis (who for most of the Eighties seemed to be wear­ing Brando’s unwashed vest from ‘Streetcar’) and the ‘Muscles From Brussels’, Jean Claude Van Damme were less happy to be sex objects. True, these were film stars whose claim to fame res­ted largely on their will­ing­ness to dis­play their bod­ies, but there was also slightly des­per­ate dis­avowal of any passiv­ity – hence the emphasis on being action her­oes. Arnie and Sly were offer­ing their spec­tac­u­lar bod­ies for our excite­ment. Like the explo­sions and the stunts, their bod­ies were spe­cial effects — in a pre CGI era they were per­haps the most import­ant spe­cial effects of all.

Since then the main­stream­ing of body­build­ing, the increas­ing soph­ist­ic­a­tion of CGI and the recon­cili­ation of a new gen­er­a­tion of young men to their orna­mental role has left their Eighties action her­oes’ antics look­ing rather embar­rass­ing. Today’s male stars work out, but the com­pens­a­tion of hys­ter­ic­ally massive mus­cu­lature, hard-on vas­cu­lar­ity and single-handedly wip­ing out entire armies isn’t needed. Aesthetics have become more import­ant than arm-aments. Arnie may have suc­ceeded in get­ting Hollywood down the gym, but it is (early) Marlon and Tom who have inher­ited the World. Keanu Reeves, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Ethan Hawke, and all those close-ups on hunky-but-pretty Josh Hartnett’s long-lashed Nordic eyes in the war movies ‘Pearl Harbor’ (2001) and ‘Black Hawk Down’ (2002) prove this. Even Will Smith in ‘Ali’ (2002) doesn’t really look ter­ribly heavyweight.

And former WWF wrest­ler Dwayne Douglas Johnson ‘The Rock’ who made his debut in ‘The Mummy Returns’ may be hailed by Vanity Fair as ‘the next Segal, Stallone and Schwarzenegger rolled into one’ (a queasy image), but seems extra­vag­antly orna­mental, with his plucked eye­brows, lip gloss, make-up and dec­or­at­ive tattoos.

However, that’s not to say that the new rela­tion­ship to the male body is any less patho­lo­gical. When for example we see Brad smoking or eat­ing a ham­burger in ‘Ocean’s Eleven’, we can’t help but won­der how much it cost in CGI. (Reportedly he and his wife don’t keep any food in the house and have all their meals cal­orie coun­ted and delivered to their door). It’s dif­fi­cult to ima­gine any of today’s gen­er­a­tion of male stars find­ing any­thing they’d actu­ally swal­low – and keep down – on the menu at Planet Hollywood.

Meanwhile Arnie and Co., the ‘bigox­eric’ her­oes of yesteryear’s big screen, seem unlikely to bring back the out­sized Eighties not just because no one really needs them or can find a use for them, but because they are look­ing their age – older actu­ally, in Hollywood terms. The ster­oids Arnie began using at the age of 14 to pro­duce those ‘spe­cial effects’ can hasten the age­ing pro­cess and may well have con­trib­uted to other ‘col­lat­eral dam­age’, such as his heart prob­lems (they have also become main­stream – 7% of High School boys in the US admit­ted to tak­ing them). Having been con­vinced by Arnie to put so much faith in work­ing out and get­ting beefy, the world does not want to be reminded that it can’t keep you young forever and in fact can have the oppos­ite effect.

Yes, in ‘Collateral Damage’ Arnie’s Panzer body is still there, trundling around beneath his pill-box head, but it is faintly embar­rass­ing now – so much so that every­one in the movie pre­tends not to notice it. He plays a fire­man, which is nice and use­ful and human-scale. But we know, post September 11, that most American fire­men, beefy and worked-out as many of them are, do not look like age­ing male mas­seurs. As one of the char­ac­ters com­plains, almost sur­really, when Arnie turns up unex­pec­tedly: ‘You order cheese pizza and you get German sausage’.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2010

This essay is col­lec­ted in Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story

Monogamy and the City

So I finally went to see Sex And The City 2 the other day.  Which is a very rash thing to do. Particularly if you’re not a lady. Or a gay man with lots of lady friends to giggle with at lady stuff.

Almost every­one in the cinema aud­it­or­ium was female. I was flanked on the left by a gran who tut­ted loudly at any­thing sexy – and on the right by a couple of bub­bly 30-something women drink­ing chilled white wine out of plastic cups who laughed a bit too loudly at any­thing sexy. I didn’t know where to look and was hav­ing hot flushes. I don’t think I’ve been exposed to that much oes­tro­gen since my amni­otic fluid.

I blame my new American cyber-friend Caroline who sug­ges­ted I should see it. I think she’s gen­er­ously try­ing to edu­cate me about women. To the fact that they exist. And the English film critic Mark Kermode abso­lutely insisted that I go along.  OK, he pre­ten­ded he was telling every­one not to see it – but his pas­sion­ate rant against it of course had the oppos­ite effect.  And his loud com­plaint that ‘These aren’t women!! they’re men in drag!!’ sort of clinched it for me.

Actually, as a film it wasn’t quite as bor­ing, point­less and silly as, say, Robin Hood – a film which tries so hard to be taken ser­i­ously you just want to roll your eyes. Yes, SATC2 was a riot of bad taste – I mean, Liza and Abu Dhabi in one movie? And yes, the treat­ment of cul­ture and class was equally taste­less: beneath every burqa is a New York prin­cess just burst­ing to get out, and how does any­one cope without a nanny?? But like Liza and Abu Dhabi, so off the scale as to make it impossible to take seriously.

And unlike Robin Hood, I did actu­ally care about the people in this film and was quite taken with their naked super­fi­ci­al­ity. Not a lot, but just enough to take my mind off how much my knees were hurt­ing after two hours of tipsy heart-to-hearts.

However, Kermode’s first advert­ise­ment for the film – ‘these aren’t women! they’re men in drag!’ – is very wide of the mark indeed. As well as the worst crit­ical cliché about SATC. What kind of drag queens, I won­der, has Mr Kermode been hanging out with? He really needs to find an edgier bunch.  Ones not nearly so obsessed with mar­riage and hus­bands and kids and nannies.

And in fact the movie, which begins with a (very) gay mar­riage, goes to great lengths to dis­tin­guish gay men and straight women’s atti­tudes towards rela­tion­ships and mar­riage, in a way which almost dar­ingly goes against the grain of cur­rent lib­eral plat­it­udes that gay rela­tion­ships are ‘just the same’ as straight ones.

The gay couple get­ting hitched are quite san­guine about the pro­spect of ‘infi­del­ity’, to the evid­ent shock of the hetero couples.  One of them is some­thing of a reluct­ant groom: ‘He gets his mar­riage and I get to cheat!’  His more tra­di­tion­al­ist part­ner doesn’t seem to mind the pro­spect: ‘He’s only allowed to cheat in the 45 states where gay mar­riage isn’t recog­nised.’  (Which would include, I think, New York.)

Now, I real­ise that some gays will object that the gay couple get­ting hitched are a ‘ste­reo­type’.  Certainly their wed­ding is an all-singing all-dancing ste­reo­type. And they them­selves are a ste­reo­type of hag fag­gery – plain-looking nel­lies who haven’t been invited to the cir­cuit party: ‘The music stopped and they were left with one another.’

But SATC deals in ste­reo­types.  Stereotypes and aspir­a­tion (aspir­a­tion is almost impossible without ste­reo­types).  Each of the female char­ac­ters is clearly a ste­reo­type. And whilst of course many gay male couples have open rela­tion­ships, not even the most doc­trin­aire gay mar­riage zealot could deny that they are much more pre­val­ent in long-term gay male rela­tion­ships than hetero ones (about 50% of male-male couples have open rela­tion­ships accord­ing to this sur­vey).

If there is one thing that is def­in­itely not up for grabs for the women in a movie ask­ing for much of its two long hours ‘what makes a mar­riage?’, as they try and adapt wed­lock and fam­ily to their needs (and whims), it’s sex out­side mar­riage. This also applies to their hus­bands.  ‘Marriage is mar­riage’ says one of the straight people attend­ing the gay wed­ding, offen­ded by the lais­sez faire atti­tude of the gay newly-weds. Meaning of course: mar­riage is mono­gamy.  Or, per­haps, if need be, cel­ib­acy.

This is even the case for the cent­ral rela­tion­ship of Mr Big and Carrie, who take on the some of the stigma of a same sex couple since they have resolved not to have any kids – and are scorned for their selfish­ness by other mar­ried hetero couples. ‘So, it’s just going to be you two, alone, forever?’  ‘Yep.’  The dis­ap­proval and dis­gust of the ‘breed­ers’ is palp­able. They even try liv­ing sep­ar­ately for a few days a week, which is a strategy of some same sex couples – that can afford it. But even the pos­sib­il­ity of an open rela­tion­ship is never even broached.  And the big plot point of the whole movie (spoiler alert) revolves around Carrie just kiss­ing another man – and regret­ting it, terribly.

Now, I some­what doubt whether SATC 2 accur­ately depicts the sexual real­it­ies – and exper­i­ment­a­tions and frailties – of mod­ern mar­ried male-female couples. It’s def­in­itely not a cutting-edge movie, or ter­ribly real­istic – shouldn’t at least half of them be divorced by now?  Or have just remained unmar­ried because they don’t want to get divorced? And (singly single) Samantha’s role here does seem to be to embody slut­ti­ness, panties lit­er­ally around her ankles, so that none of the other women have to.

But I think it’s fairly safe even for someone as ignor­ant of women and rela­tion­ships as me to say that SATC 2 more or less accur­ately depicts the Saturday Night aspir­a­tion – or neces­sary illu­sion – of mar­riage. That you have found The One. And Only. Forever.

How Ridley Scott invented the 1980s — And His Own Obscurity

Inevitably Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, which I went to see last night, was Gladiator crossed with Kingdom of Heaven — but with the embar­rass­ing mis­take of Orlando Bloom dead-headed. Though actu­ally I found myself miss­ing Bloom’s light­weight charms. Robin Hood is even more bor­ing and pre­ten­tious than both of Scott’s pon­der­ous epics com­bined (which is an achieve­ment of sorts). Except that is for the enter­tain­ment provided by Russell Crowe’s idea of a north­ern English accent — a mix­ture of Harry Enfield Scouse and Brad Pitt Irish, with some Kiwi mum­bling thrown in.

Much worse than Robin Hood though is the news that Ridley Scott is going back to the future by mak­ing not one but two 3D pre­quels for his mas­ter­piece Alien. The pre­quels will make scads of money of course, but almost cer­tainly at the cost of mak­ing you think you didn’t like the ori­ginal very much after all.

It needs to be said: Ridley Scott can’t make great or even par­tic­u­larly good movies any more. Mostly because almost no one can. We live in an age when movies don’t really mat­ter any more. There’s noth­ing sac­red about widescreen when every­one has one in their front room, and a widescreen HD cam­corder in the bed­room. Which is of course why Hollywood as a whole wants to go back to the future and con­vince us that we need to see movies in souped-up 1950s 3D.

In a sense, Scott dram­at­ises this sorry devel­op­ment more poignantly than any other con­tem­por­ary dir­ector, because, as this appre­ci­ation (below) pub­lished in 2005 shows, his films used to mat­ter more than most — lit­er­ally invent­ing an epoch that we’ve yet to prop­erly escape from. The 1980s.

And also because his films helped bring about that world in which pretty much all films are for­got­ten before we’ve even seen them.

Men at Arms

Alien egg

 

First he pre­dicted our dark and soul­less future in ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’. Then he opened our eyes to a new, softer kind of man and a harder kind of woman. Now Ridley Scott has turned his atten­tion to the Middle East with a film set dur­ing the Crusades. But if his work has always been proph­etic, says Mark Simpson, what is he try­ing to tell us this time?

(Independent on Sunday, 24 April 2005)

Generally speak­ing, I’m not ter­ribly inter­ested in film dir­ect­ors. At least, not liv­ing ones.  I don’t rush out to see so-and-so’s latest; I watch films that have nice trail­ers (and am usu­ally as dis­ap­poin­ted as every­one else). But the British dir­ector Ridley Scott, whose new Crusades epic The Kingdom of Heaven is out next month, is dif­fer­ent. I usu­ally make a point of see­ing all of his films, even the unwatch­able ones like 1492: Conquest of Paradise and GI Jane. Why? Because Scott’s films don’t only tell us about the world we live in today. They are that world.

It may be a sign of the degrad­a­tion of our cul­ture, or it could just be my brain, but amongst other ter­ri­fy­ing things about our future, Ridley Scott’s first block­buster Alien (1979) seems to pre­dict real­ity TV: a bunch of people sealed off from the world, a sense of being watched, a Hobbesian battle for sur­vival in which only one per­son comes out alive, and very bad table man­ners. When I re-watched the film recently I noticed that the spher­ical room where the ship’s giant com­puter (called “Mother”) is con­sul­ted even looks like the Big Brother diary room.

Like real­ity TV, the pur­pose of Alien seems to have been to put humans in an inhu­man envir­on­ment and find out what being human was really all about. There is a great deal in Alien that proved eer­ily proph­etic. What’s strik­ing about the film now is how it hasn’t aged; the vacuum of space has pre­served it per­fectly, which is rather more than can be said for the legion of non-Scott dir­ec­ted sequels. Perhaps this is because Alien inven­ted the 1980s — a dec­ade that none of us has actu­ally escaped. And Ridley Scott, who was born in 1937 and grew up in Teeside, was per­haps more than any­one its visual architect.

In Alien the world of scary oppor­tun­ity beck­on­ing from the other side of the 1970s is appar­ent. The crew bicker over shares and bonuses, and in fact they only invest­ig­ate the dis­tress beacon and seal their doom because a clause in their con­tract means The Company will res­cind their share enti­tle­ment if they don’t. It’s every man and woman for them­selves. In the same year as a cham­pion of the free mar­ket emerged as the vic­tor at the British polls, the sole sur­vivor of the Darwinian struggle unleashed on the Nostromo turns out to be a tough, bossy iron lady (though without the hand­bag or the hairdo). The female of the spe­cies, Scott seems to be telling us, is more deadly than the male.

Consider also that crew­mate Kane, played by John Hurt, is orally raped by a face-hugging organ­ism with testicle-shaped lungs, impreg­nat­ing him with the mon­ster that kills him grue­somely and then goes on to mas­sacre his crew­mates. All this, years before Aids, the great ter­ror of the 1980s, had even been named. Kane, it turns out, not Gaetan Dugas, was patient zero.

Like Aids itself, the sym­bol­ism of Alien (designed by Ron Cobb and H R Giger) went very deep. Part of the reason why it is such an extraordin­ar­ily arous­ing film is that it’s hor­ribly Freudian. The entrances to the alien space­craft are giant vagi­nas. The hatches in the vent­il­a­tion shaft are clench­ing steel sphinc­ters. And then there’s the creature itself, with its huge penis-shaped head and phallic-jackhammer tongue that drips with a thread­ing, trans­lu­cent fluid as it unsheathes before pen­et­rat­ing its victims.

For many years before he star­ted to make films Scott had worked as a dir­ector of adverts. And advert­ising knows about Freud and about desire — in par­tic­u­lar, that our desire is actu­ally some­thing that stalks us. Advertising of course tells us to say yes to desire, because in doing so we are say­ing yes to advert­ising, which then uses us in its own sweet way. Alien gives us a glimpse of what an “id” world fuelled by con­sumer­ism, com­pet­i­tion and appet­ite might look like. That world has arrived. The eggs in the hold of the alien ves­sel con­tained the future. Or, at least, embryonic real­ity TV contestants.

But per­haps the most proph­etic part of Alien is its bleakly beau­ti­ful look. Every detail is closely con­trolled by former art-director Scott (who also shot around 80 per cent of the movie him­self: “My per­form­ance,” he once said of his films, “is everything you see on the screen”) and his trade­mark high-contrast back­ground and low-lit fore­ground makes everything seem desir­able. Even the Nostromo’s dazzlingly com­plic­ated self-destruct mech­an­ism becomes some­thing you feel your home is really missing.

Its struc­tural per­fec­tion is matched by its hos­til­ity,” the Science Officer (Ian Holm) fam­ously says about the creature in Alien — some­thing that could be said of sev­eral of the lead char­ac­ters in Scott’s other fam­ous films: the rep­lic­ant rebel Batty in Blade Runner, Lt. Jordan O’Neil in GI Jane, Maximus in Gladiator. Scott’s early interests in the Nietzschean super­man are put on dis­play in the shop win­dow here, help­ing to make Alien so much more than just “Jaws in space”.

Blade Runner (1982), set “early in the 21st cen­tury”, is almost a kind of sequel to Alien. (It was based on Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; as with almost all of his films, Scott is not cred­ited as a writer on Blade Runner.) It shows a chaotic, isol­ated, cool and cold world of sur­faces that could have pro­duced the Nostromo. In this world of signs, people have become arte­facts. Replicants. And the fam­ously “layered” tech­nique Scott used to cre­ate a believ­able future actu­ally helped to bring that world about — then trade­marked it: almost every major sci-fi film since makes ref­er­ence to it. We may not have fly­ing cars yet, but the glob­al­ised, medi­ated, soul­less, vir­tual world it por­trays is here right now.

Perhaps the most proph­etic scene has turned out to be the one in which rep­lic­ant “retirer” Deckhard (Harrison Ford) explores a pho­to­graph via a com­puter, going around corners and examin­ing reflec­tions in mir­rors to catch a glimpse of a sleep­ing, par­tially dressed woman.

Even in the pre-digital age of the 1980s, film, advert­ising and music were fast repla­cing human memory. The fake memor­ies implanted in the Blade Runner rep­lic­ants to make them think they’re human are like the fake memor­ies implanted in us all by pop cul­ture — and Ridley Scott films. Perhaps the film’s greatest achieve­ment is the way it man­ages to evoke a sense of ersatz nos­tal­gia. The simu­lac­rum of being human.

We now live in a world where so many memor­ies are being man­u­fac­tured in so many dif­fer­ent formats and media that we really don’t have enough room for them. Like today’s ads and pop music, films are designed to be for­got­ten before you’ve even fin­ished watch­ing them to make room for the next implant. Blade Runner, seen next to some­thing incon­sequen­tial like Minority Report, would be much too rich a diet for today’s audiences.

Scott did such a good job of ima­gin­ing what the 1980s would look like that, after Blade Runner, the 1980s had no fur­ther use for him. The film was a crit­ical and com­mer­cial fail­ure when it was released (though now it reg­u­larly makes lists of the top 10 best films and has earned mil­lions in video/DVD sales). Scott’s next three films, Legend (1985), Someone to Watch Over Me (1987) and Black Rain (1989), were hardly noticed. It was not until Thelma & Louise in 1991 that he hit pay­dirt again.

Despite or per­haps because of its ostens­ibly ser­i­ous subject-matter — two women on the lam after shoot­ing dead a rap­ist before con­sum­mat­ing a sui­cide pact — Thelma & Louise is some­thing of a hen-party movie, com­plete with a baby Chippendale in the form of a young, lithe Brad Pitt in his first major role as the hitch-hiking cow­boy who gives Geena Davis a night of six-packed pas­sion and then steals Susan Sarandon’s life sav­ings. For much of the pre­vi­ous dec­ade, ads had been address­ing women with the codes of gay soft-core por­no­graphy, repro­gram­ming them to treat men as com­mod­it­ies and pur­sue their desires — and asso­ci­ate fem­in­ine free­dom with con­sump­tion. Even more appro­pri­ate then that Thelma & Louise should take the form of an ironic rehash of that notori­ously male homo­erotic genre, the buddy movie.

Pitt appears here as an early sight­ing of a simu­lac­rum of mas­culin­ity that is now dom­in­ant, a pleasingly-made hos­pit­al­ity rep­lic­ant known as the met­ro­sexual (though Pitt is a par­tic­u­larly annoy­ing example: I found myself agree­ing with Harvey Keitel whose char­ac­ter in the film com­plained: “This guy is begin­ning to irrit­ate me” — and this was just Pitt’s first big movie…). Interestingly, Scott’s brother and busi­ness part­ner Tony, who also has a back­ground in advert­ising (and pop promos), made the film Top Gun (1986), which lit the after­burn­ers for Tom Cruise’s career by por­tray­ing mil­it­ary life as a gay porn shoot.

With Thelma & Louise Scott suc­ceeded in set­ting the tone for the Nineties, but once again his suc­cess undid him: his other Nineties movies Conquest of Paradise (1992), White Squall (1996), and GI Jane (1997) met with muted responses. GI Jane (alias Ripley — played by Demi Moore — Joins the Army) is a fic­tional tale about a woman who tries to com­plete an élite, all-male, hellish train­ing course; it is not so much a fem­in­ist film as another example of Scott’s Nietzschean tend­en­cies: the Will to Power. The sad­istic DI asks at the end of every new tor­ment, “Are you ready for the next evol­u­tion?” Clearly audi­ences were not. (Though even as I write it has been announced that a woman is tak­ing the Parachute Battalion train­ing course.) The most mem­or­able moment in the film, where Demi tells the DI who has threatened to rape her to “suck my dick”, is a self-conscious ref­er­ence to Thelma & Louise, where the rapist’s use of the line prompts Louise to shoot him. But by this time audi­ences prob­ably thought Scott was quot­ing Madonna.

Perhaps the fail­ure of GI Jane per­suaded Scott that, after three dec­ades of unpre­ced­en­ted change, what people wanted was nos­tal­gia. Maybe he him­self, now in his six­ties, was tired of the changes that he had helped to bring about. Gladiator (2000), was Scott’s first hit since Thelma & Louise, and the first sword-and-sandals epic for nearly 40 years (spawn­ing sev­eral oth­ers, none of which repeated its crit­ical or com­mer­cial suc­cess). It seems to reject the brave new andro­gyn­ous world and retreat to more reas­sur­ing, manly sen­ti­ments. A very well-made film to be sure, but it’s dif­fi­cult though not to feel like you’re being sold some­thing dodgy — like one of the fake photographs/memories in Blade Runner. It’s rather like Scott’s most fam­ous and mem­or­able UK ad: the boy on his bicycle on cobbled streets to the strains of Dvorak selling us taste­less, industrially-made bread as some­thing time­less and authen­tic (it even seems to use the same golden filters).

Like noble, self-sacrificing Maximus’s (Russell Crowe) vis­ion of being reunited with his fam­ily as he lies dying in the Colosseum, Gladiator is a sepia-tinted rev­erie of mas­culin­ity, selling back to us what cap­it­al­ism has already ali­en­ated us from. It is, how­ever, a spec­tac­u­larly con­vin­cing world.

Maximus’s nemesis, Emperor Commodus (Joachim Phoenix), is selfish, cruel, unmanly, per­ver­ted, pos­tur­ing — in other words, rep­res­ent­at­ive of the con­tem­por­ary world. Wittingly or not, Gladiator provided the ideological-sentimental palette for Bush’s suc­cess­ful elec­tion cam­paign in 2000 against the “cor­rupt’ and “immoral” Clinton leg­acy. (Bush turned out to have much in com­mon with Commodus’ pop­u­list pos­tur­ing in the Colosseum: such as his Op Gun moment on a US Navy air­craft car­rier — a photo oppor­tun­ity that ref­er­enced Tony Scott’s clas­sic Eighties fly­boy movie.)

Gladiator has other portents in its entrails. The fam­ous open­ing of the film, the awe­some, flam­ing forest battle sequence — “at my word, unleash hell” — seems to have anti­cip­ated, or promp­ted, the “shock and awe” open­ing to Bush’s own block­buster, Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Scott has men­tioned in inter­views sev­eral times that he very nearly joined the Royal Marines after attend­ing art col­lege but was per­suaded to go back into edu­ca­tion by his father, an officer in the Army. Black Hawk Down (2002), based on the events in Mogadishu in 1993 when two US Army heli­copters were downed and in the ensu­ing fire fights 19 American sol­diers died, seems to be Scott’s paean to his lost/alternative world of male camaraderie and esprit de corps.

Black Hawk Down isn’t just Scott’s lost world, how­ever, but ours too. Cynicism is every­where. Talking about civil­ians who think sol­diers are drunk on war, a grunt in the film com­plains: “They don’t under­stand. They don’t know it’s all about the man next to you. That’s all there is.” This fraternal love is very phys­ical — so phys­ical that it’s bey­ond sex; a point under­lined by a scene in which a sol­dier has to root around in his wounded buddy’s pel­vis for his severed femoral artery in a (fruit­less) attempt to stop him bleed­ing to death.

It’s a har­row­ing, bru­tal­ising and mov­ing film, and quite pos­sibly Scott’s best for two dec­ades, cer­tainly a far more real­istic movie than, say, Pearl Harbor — or Top Gun.

But the gory glory of war is pre­cisely what gives Black Hawk Down its glam­our. It seems that its gor­geously shot (again that golden fil­ter) heroic real­ism, and the almost por­no­graphic detail of the SFX mutil­a­tions, may have helped pre­pare the American pub­lic for the inva­sions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Originally slated for a 2002 release it was rushed out a few weeks after 9/11. American audi­ences, reel­ing from the civil­ian cas­u­al­ties at the World Trade Center, and under­stand­ably look­ing for someone to pun­ish, must have been relieved to see American men who were actu­ally trained for battle in the fir­ing line instead. Mogadishu may have been a dis­aster, but Black Hawk Down turned it into America’s Rorke’s Drift. In other words, another memory implant. (Ironically, given what was to hap­pen in Iraq, some crit­ics attacked the film at the time because it seemed just one long, shock­ing, con­fus­ing, end­less battle.)

Maybe Scott regret­ted the way Black Hawk Down was inter­preted. Or maybe he cal­cu­lates that a con­tem­por­ary Hollywood film set dur­ing the Crusades needs to por­tray Western inten­tions in the best pos­sible light. Whatever the answer, his new epic Kingdom of Heaven goes so far out of its way to show war as a ter­rible last resort, to emphas­ise respect for Islam and to advance tol­er­ance in the “mul­ti­cul­tural” world of the medi­eval Middle East, that the whole thing gets lost in the woolly under­growth. The Blairite preachi­ness of the film and its pat­ron­ising cod-history leaves you long­ing for a bloodthirsty mas­sacre. Whatever happened to Scott’s Nietzschean/Darwinian tend­en­cies? Whatever happened to all those alien eggs? Surely one must have sur­vived? How did we end up, 26 years later, with this Care Bear of a Crusades movie?

One of the major prob­lems is that the film’s star, Orlando Bloom — who plays an orphaned black­smith who becomes a great swords­man and defender of Jerusalem — is too much of a mod­ern pleas­ing simu­lac­rum of mas­culin­ity for us to believe in as a hero. But then, that is the nature of the world that Scott made for us. Whatever the recep­tion for Kingdom of Heaven, it is clear that, for Scott, his­tor­ical epics are the new sci­ence fic­tion — his escape shuttle from the eternal Eighties.

Now that the future has arrived, and has proved inev­it­ably to be some­thing of a dis­ap­point­ment, the past is the place to col­on­ise. And it is the sci­ence of CGI which makes that fic­tion pos­sible. Scott may not have joined the mil­it­ary, but he has become a gen­eral, even if most of his men are vir­tual ghosts.

The memory implant he has given us with Kingdom of Heaven is, like his earli­est movies, a visu­ally stun­ning and entran­cing world. It may be a man­u­fac­tured memory designed to make liv­ing in the present, uncer­tain world more pos­sible and peace­ful — to help us sleep more soundly, like an android dream­ing of elec­tric sheep. But even if it were twice the pic­ture it is, then it would still, in this digital, Blade Runner-lite world, be just as dis­pos­able as all the other implants out there.

large_blade_runner_final_blu-ray_2x

Copyright Mark Simpson 2012

This essay is col­lec­ted in ‘Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story

Crims Ain’t Wot They Used To Be

Mark Simpson on the way pub­lic inform­a­tion films about poli­cing and justice throw an arrest­ing light on our recent past

The London Times

Some trace the demise of the British way of life to the day when RAC patrol­men stopped salut­ing. In fact, as Police and Thieves, a mar­vel­lous two-DVD col­lec­tion of his­tor­ical doc­u­ment­ar­ies on poli­cing and the justice sys­tem from the vaults of the Central Office of Information, shows, the rot set in when bob­bies stopped wear­ing skin-tight white gloves.

The reas­sur­ing paraphernalia of poli­cing that I remem­ber dress­ing up in as a kid to play cops and rob­bers has pretty much dis­ap­peared from our streets today, along with kids play­ing cops and rob­bers (every­one wants to be a rob­ber). But in The British Policeman, in 1959 to teach the Commonwealth about the Mother Country, is noth­ing less than porn for hard­core nos­tagal­ics. Pointy hel­mets and chunky hand­cuffs, shiny whistles, wooden truncheons, police boxes and those white gloves — per­haps inten­ded as a reminder that, as the very received-pronunciation voi­ceover intones, “The British police­man is a friend to all except the crim­inal … he is taught that he is the ser­vant not the mas­ter of the public.”

And not a high-visibility jacket or stab-vest to be seen. Back then bob­bies were a com­fort­ing sym­bol of the order of British soci­ety and the invin­cib­il­ity of its class sys­tem. This is under­lined by the way that no one shown in the film actu­ally speaks: the clipped voi­ceover speaks serenely for every­one. Today, of course, police are seen only when there’s trouble — if you’re lucky.

Filmed in crisp black and white on a warm sunny day in a Leicester that looks more like Trumpton than a major Midlands indus­trial town, this was the high sum­mer of Ealing Englishness, before the 1960s ruined everything. The clumsy pro­pa­ganda of The British Policeman, like many COI films col­lec­ted here, is easy to ridicule now — and prob­ably was then too — but it also provides a price­less glimpse of a world that now seems at least as quaint and for­eign to us as it did to its inten­ded audience.

No one, except the avun­cu­lar bobby prot­ag­on­ist of the film, is over­weight. Almost every­one in what may soon be Britain’s first major­ity non-white city is Caucasian, save for a Commonwealth gen­tle­man at the begin­ning of the film who asks our help­ful bobby for dir­ec­tions. Middle-aged women wear scarves like hijabs. Sullen bequiffed Teds hang around all-night cof­fee stands. Our bobby helps old ladies to cross the road, untangles school­boys’ fish­ing lines caught in trees and attends to a pig-tailed girl’s grazed knee. Proving he’s no pushover, he also appre­hends a burg­lar in a don­key jacket, his pocket full of chisels, who prac­tic­ally shrugs and says, “Fair cop, guv”. Only one female PC makes an appear­ance, turn­ing up to babysit a run­away girl who has been hanging around with the Teds.

This world thought it was going to last for ever, but the end was wait­ing just around the corner, cosh in hand. In Unit Beat Policing, a 1968 recruit­ing film, the white heat of tech­no­logy has replaced white gloves — and bob­bies. Filmed in Chester, it’s a cel­eb­ra­tion of hard­ware: panda cars, walkie-talkies, cent­ral radio con­trol, elec­tric type­writers and “col­lect­ing inform­a­tion”, com­plete with a Z-Cars–style theme tune. A tech­no­cratic chief con­stable enthuses: “A squad car can do the job of five men on the beat. Which in turn allows us to spend more money on tech­no­logy that saves manpower . . .”

No female PCs are to be seen in 1968 either, but we do see some women push­ing prams and a gos­sipy lady reports a neigh­bour for being unmar­ried, liv­ing with a girl, not hav­ing a job and gen­er­ally being shifty. By 1973 in another recruit­ment film, Anything Can Happen, excite­ment is now the selling point: big side­burns, action, matey­ness, sex­ism: Life on Mars without the irony. While the young male bobby prot­ag­on­ist is now allowed a voice (albeit a slum­ming RADA one), female PCs are just dumb bait for recruit­ing male PCs — two years before the Sex Discrimination Act.

In the 1970s the COI star­ted to move away from doc­u­ment­ar­ies and towards the TV shorts that it is most fam­ous for. Bicycle Thefts (1974) stars a sus­pi­ciously pretty, fey young man in a fedora and cravat who seems to have inspired much of David Walliams’s oeuvre: “I’d rather not say what was in my saddle­bag. It’s personal.”

Police and Thieves also includes some COI doc­u­ment­ar­ies show­ing the work­ings of the post-war justice sys­tem: Four Men in Prison (1950), Probation Officer (1950), and the remark­able Children on Trial (1946) (pic­tured). The public-school pater­nal­ism of the age is evid­ent in all these films: “At work and at play we expect you to act like men — we run a civ­il­ised, high-class com­munity,” says one gov­ernor in his wel­com­ing speech to the new intake. But it is a sur­pris­ingly enlightened pater­nal­ism that has rather more faith in human nature and rehab­il­it­a­tion than we do today. The future turned out to be much more demo­cratic, but also much less for­giv­ing than class-bound Britain, white gloves and all.

Police and Thieves, the COI col­lec­tion, Vol 1 is released by bfi

Quentin Crisp & Hurtian Crisp

The Naked Civil Servant is the best and fun­ni­est TV drama ever made. And I’m sorry, but it’s a sci­entific fact.

And like its sub­ject it could only have been made in the UK.  Even if Crisp said he hated England — and he did, over and over again.

So many lines in Philip Mackie’s superb screen­play for the Thames TV adapt­a­tion glit­ter like, well, the icy aph­or­isms that Crisp filled his eponym­ous auto­bi­o­graphy with. But it was Hurt’s break­through per­form­ance as Crisp which is most his­toric: ren­der­ing Crisp, as Quentin him­self acknow­ledged — and wel­comed — some­thing of an under­study to Hurt’s Crisp for the rest of his life.

The actual, quasi-existing Crisp, born Dennis Charles Pratt in Sutton, Surrey in 1908, some­times soun­ded by this stage (he was nearly 70 when the drama aired) like a vin­tage car tyre los­ing air ve-ry slow-ly. And was almost as immob­ile. Hetero dandy Hurt injec­ted a kind of rak­ish­ness – a hint of phal­li­cism, even – to Crisp’s defi­antly passsss­ive perssss­sona that came across rather more invig­or­at­ing and sexy than he actu­ally was. Hurt rendered Crisp rock ‘n’ roll when he prob­ably wasn’t even up for a waltz. When Hurt repeatedly intoned Crisp’s Zen-like answer to the world and Other People and Desire in gen­eral – ‘If you like’ – it soun­ded slightly more aggress­ive than passive.

(And for me, Hurtian Crisp was fur­ther improved and made edgier by what I shall call Hoyleian-Hurtian Crisp: I met the per­form­ance artist David Hoyle in the early 80s when we were both teen­age run­aways to London’s bedsit-land. He would per­form key moments from TNCS mid con­ver­sa­tion about the weather or who was on Top of the Pops last night, adding a dash of David Bowie and Bette Davis to the mix. David always suc­ceeded in mak­ing these impromptu excerpts sound as if they were flash­backs to his earlier life. Which, since he grew up a sens­it­ive boy in work­ing class Blackpool in the 1970s watch­ing a lot of telly, they were.)

TNCS, both the book and the dram­at­isa­tion, is crim­in­ally funny pre­cisely because so much of what Hurt/Crisp says/declaims is so shock­ingly true.

The line whispered del­ic­ately in the ear of the leader of a 1930s queerbash­ing gang is now almost a cliché, but still has hil­ari­ous force: ‘“If I were you I’d bug­ger off back to Hoxton before they work out you’re queer.” Some toughs are really queer, and some queers are really tough. Crisp’s truths, par­tic­u­larly about human rela­tion­ships, are the truths told by someone who has noth­ing to lose – largely because they’ve already lost everything to the bailiffs of des­pair. This is the ‘naked­ness’ of the Civil Servant.

Because it was one of the first TV dra­mas to depict a self-confessed and unapo­lo­getic — flaunt­ing, even — homo­sexual TNCS has been fre­quently mis­rep­res­en­ted as a ‘gay drama’. But Crisp’s sexu­al­ity is not really what TNCS is about – or in fact what Crisp was about.

To a degree it is about being ‘out and proud’, or at least determ­ined to inflict one­self on the world, but not so much as a homo­sexual, and cer­tainly not as ‘a gay’, in the mod­ern, respect­able, American sense of the word. It’s not even, thank­fully, a plea for tol­er­ance. Rather it’s a por­trayal of the heroic self-sufficiency of someone who decided to stand apart from soci­ety and its val­ues, henna their hair and work as a male street pros­ti­tute – and then, lying bruised in the gut­ter, turn a haughty, unsen­ti­mental but pier­cingly funny eye back on a world which regards him as the low­est form of life. It’s the black­est and cheeki­est kind of com­edy — which is to say: the only kind.

I am an effem­in­ate homo-sex-u-alll’, declared Crisp to the Universe, over and over again. And the Universe had no choice but to agree. By being utterly abject Crisp forced the Universe to do pre­cisely as he instruc­ted. A blue­print for celebrity that was to be repeated many, many times by oth­ers before his death in 1999 and even more times after — though usu­ally rather less wit­tily and with less jaunty headgear.

Crisp added that as an effem­in­ate homo­sexual he was imprisoned inside an exquis­ite para­dox, like some kind of ancient insect trapped in amber: attrac­ted to mas­cu­line males – the fam­ous Great Dark Man – he can­not him­self be attrac­ted to a man who finds him, another male, attract­ive because then they can­not be The Great Dark Man any more. Hence the fam­ous, Death-of-God declar­a­tion in TNCS, after many, many mis­haps and mis­recog­ni­tions: ’“There. Is. No. Great. Dark. Man!”’

Strictly 19th cen­tury sex­olo­gic­ally speak­ing, Mr Crisp was prob­ably more of a male invert than a homo­sexual and often said that he thought that he should have been a woman, and even wondered whether he was born inter­sexed (this des­pite fam­ously dis­miss­ing women as ‘speak­ing a lan­guage I do not under­stand’ — per­haps because he didn’t like too much com­pet­i­tion in the speak­ing stakes). Either way, he doesn’t appear to have been ter­ribly happy with his penis or even its exist­ence – some­thing homo­sexual males, like het­ero­sexual ones, are usu­ally deli­ri­ous about. But then again, per­haps rather than express­ing some kind of  proto-transsexuality Quentin’s Great Dark Man com­plex was merely set­ting up a situ­ation in which he could remain ever faith­ful to his one true love. Himself.

In Thames TV’s TNCS, which begins (at Crisp’s request) with a pretty, pre-pubescent boy as Quentin/Dennis dan­cing in a dress in front of a full-length mir­ror, Hurtian Crisp is an out-and-proud nar­ciss­ist, who simply refuses to take on board the shame that such an out­rageous per­ver­sion should entail. When he attempts to join the Army at the start of the war he causes apo­plexy in the recruit­ers for being com­pletely hon­est about his reas­ons for doing so: he doesn’t mouth plat­it­udes about ‘doing his duty’, ‘his bit’ or ‘fight­ing Nazis’. He just wants to eat prop­erly and the squad­dies he knows seem to have quite a nice time of it, load­ing and unload­ing pet­rol cans in Basingstoke. His open­ness about his homo­sexu­al­ity is palp­ably less shock­ing to the Army offi­cials than his hon­esty about his self-interestedness. About his interest in himself.

Or as Hurt/Crisp replies as a preen­ing adoles­cent youth when asked by his exas­per­ated, buttoned-up Edwardian petite-bourgeois father: ‘Do you intend to admire your­self in the mir­ror forever??’

If I pos­sibly can.’

And boy, did he. TNCS, which aired slap in the middle of the 70s, was prob­ably more of an inspir­a­tion to the glam, punk, new-wave and new romantic gen­er­a­tion than to gays in gen­eral. Hurtian Crisp and his hen­naed hair and make-up sash­ay­ing the streets of 1930s London sym­bol­ised in the 1970s the idea of an aes­thet­i­cized revolt against Victorian ideas of proper deport­ment and dull­ness that had dom­in­ated Britain for much of the Twentieth Century. The best British pop music had always been a form of aes­thetic revolt, and Crisp seemed very much his own spe­cial cre­ation, which is what so many teens now aspired to be. Crisp was taken for a real ori­ginal and indi­vidual in an age when every­one wanted to be ori­ginal and indi­vidual. Or as Crisp put it him­self later:

The young always have the same prob­lem – how to rebel and con­form at the same time. They have now solved this by defy­ing their par­ents and copy­ing one another.’

TNCS changed Crisp’s life and made him very fam­ous indeed. A real­ity TV win­ner before such a thing exis­ted, his prize was the chance to move to America. Since he had loved Hollywood movies from child­hood and was later treated like a Hollywood star­let (albeit in air raid shel­ters) by American GI’s in London dur­ing the Second World War, no won­der he grabbed the oppor­tun­ity with both hands.

But if there’s any­thing to be learned from An Englishman in New York, the sequel to TNCS broad­cast on ITV recently, it’s that it may all have been a ter­rible mis­take. Even if Mr Crisp never thought so.

Although Hurt turns in a tech­nic­ally fine per­form­ance, he seems to have become more Crispian and less Hurtian. Perhaps that’s inev­it­able with the pas­sage of time (Hurt is nearly 70, the age Crisp was when he first played him). Or per­haps it’s simply that his act­ing skills have increased. Whatever the reason, it’s not a wel­come devel­op­ment here. And I’m sure Crisp would have agreed.

But much, much worse is the redempt­ive reek of this sequel. Everything is made to turn on Crisp’s ‘AIDS {upper case back then, remem­ber} is a fad’ quip made in the early 80s and the trouble this got him into in the US – and why he was a good sort, really. Despite the things he actu­ally said. So we see him adopt a gay artist dying of the ‘fad’, fuss­ing over him and arran­ging for his art to be exhib­ited. We dis­cover him send­ing secret cheques to Liz Taylor’s Aids found­a­tion. We even hear him explain what he meant by ‘fad’ (sup­posedly it was a polit­ical tac­tic: min­im­ize the gay plague to avoid a hetero backlash).

Now, this obses­sion with redemp­tion may be very American and has of course, like many American obses­sions, become more of an English one of late – espe­cially when try­ing to sell some­thing to the Yanks, as I’m sure the pro­du­cers of this sequel are hop­ing to do. But if there was any point to Crisp at all it was that he was utterly unsen­ti­mental – except where roy­alty were con­cerned – and rel­at­ively free of the hypo­cris­ies of every­day life.  This sequel sup­posedly about him is full of them. So for­give me if I’m unconvinced.

Crisp was invin­cible in his determ­in­a­tion to regard the US as the dream­land of the movies of his youth made real: America was as he put it ‘Heaven’ where England was ‘Hell’. And why not? If you’ve spent most of your best years deprived of almost every single illu­sion that com­forts most other people, why shouldn’t you have one big one in your retirement?

And to be fair much of what he had to say about the friend­li­ness and flat­ter­ing, encour­aging, open-hearted nature of Americans com­pared to the mean-minded, resent­ful, vin­dict­ive English is quite true, even today. But Crisp’s whole approach to life was even more at odds with American cul­ture, even in its atyp­ical NYC form, with its emphasis on self-improvement, aspir­a­tion, uplift and suc­cess. ‘If at first you don’t suc­ceed, fail­ure may be your style,’ said Crisp, who regarded him­self as a total fail­ure. Could there be a more un-American world­view? Apart that is from, “Don’t try to keep up with the Jones.  Try to drag them down to your level.  It’s cheaper.”

In an early doc­u­ment­ary from the 1960s Crisp, sit­ting in his London bed-sitting room sip­ping an unap­pet­iz­ing powdered drink he takes instead of pre­par­ing food, which he can’t be bothered with, that ‘has all the vit­am­ins and pro­tein I need but tastes awful’ he describes him­self as a Puritan.  Actually Crisp was a Puritan with an added frost­ing of asceti­cism. Crisp was deeply sus­pi­cious of all pleas­ure (save the pleas­ure of being listened to and looked at) and most espe­cially of sex, which he described as ‘the last refuge of the miser­able’. And four years of house dust is a very good way of show­ing how above the mater­ial world you are.

It’s a very middle class, middle England, middle cen­tury Puritanism – just like Crisp’s back­ground. But Crisp was also his own kind of revenge on him­self, or on the world that had made him — of which he was a liv­ing par­ody. Ultimately none of us are really our own spe­cial cre­ations. The most we can hope for is a spe­cial edition.

Crisp’s Puritanism was part of the reason why he could never embrace Gay Lib (‘what do you want to be lib­er­ated from?’). He was recently sub­jec­ted to a stern posthum­ous tick­ing off by Peter Tatchell, an ori­ginal Gay Libber, in the Independent news­pa­per promp­ted by what he sees as the ‘san­it­ising of Crisp’s ignor­ant pom­pous homo­pho­bia’ in An Englishman in New York. Post-60s Crisp was appar­ently jeal­ous of a new gen­er­a­tion of out queers who were steal­ing his limel­ite: he wasn’t the only homo in town any more.

This broad­side was a tad harsh, and Tatchell some­times sounds as if he’s on the Army board that rejec­ted Crisp (while accus­ing him of ‘homo­pho­bia’ threatens to make an absurdity of the word). But I agree that the sequel does ‘san­it­ise’ Crisp, though I think this a bad thing for dif­fer­ent reas­ons to Mr Tatchell. I also sus­pect there’s some truth to the accus­a­tion of ‘jeal­ousy’, but I’d be inclined to put them in another form. Maybe Crisp didn’t want homo­sexu­al­ity to be nor­m­al­ised because if it were it would undo his life’s work. Likewise, I think Crisp would have loathed met­ro­sexu­al­ity.

And as the sequel sug­gests, in one of its few insight­ful moments, one reason for Crisp’s fail­ure to answer the gay clarion call was simply that he didn’t believe in causes, or the sub­jug­a­tion of truth and dress-sense to expedi­ency that inev­it­ably goes with causes. Unless that cause is yourself.

Besides, like many ‘inverts’, Crisp was a great and romantic believer in Heterosexuality — the ideal kind, of course, rather than the kind that het­ero­sexu­als actu­ally have to live, and which they execute very, very badly.  He used to call het­ero­sexu­als ‘real people’ (as opposed to ‘unreal’ homo­sexu­als), but I sus­pect he thought he was the only real het­ero­sexual in town. And in a sense, he was.

***

I can’t leave you without point­ing out that while Quentin Crisp may have dis­missed Aids as a ‘fad’, Hurtian Crisp became more asso­ci­ated with ‘the gay plague’ than almost any­one save Rock Hudson: lit­er­ally becom­ing the sound of the ser­i­ous­ness of the sub­ject. In 1975 hetero Hurt plays the most fam­ous stately homo in England. The suc­cess of this gets him to Hollywood, where four years later in 1979 he is cast in an even more glob­ally fam­ous role — as ‘Patient Zero’ in Ridley Scott’s Alien: the first host for the ter­ri­fy­ing unknown organ­ism that enters his body by face-raping him and which pro­ceeds to kill-off in hor­ri­fy­ing, phallic-jackhammer fash­ion, his ship­mates. Two years before the first iden­ti­fied Aids cases in NY.

Eight years later, Hurt was the unfor­get­table fey-gravelly voice for those ter­ri­fy­ing tomb­stone ‘AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance’ ads (com­plete with jack­ham­mers) that ran in heavy rota­tion on UK TV, urging people to read the Government leaf­let pushed through their let­ter­box and prac­tise safe sex.

In other words, The Naked Civil Servant had become a rubber-sheathed civil servant.

Old Spice: inter­view Crisp gave Andrew Barrow of the Independent a year before his death.

Crispisms

  • In an expand­ing uni­verse, time is on the side of the out­cast. Those who once inhab­ited the sub­urbs of human con­tempt find that without chan­ging their address they even­tu­ally live in the metropolis.
  • It is not the simple state­ment of facts that ush­ers in free­dom; it is the con­stant repe­ti­tion of them that has this lib­er­at­ing effect. Tolerance is the res­ult not of enlight­en­ment, but of boredom.
  • To know all is not to for­give all. It is to des­pise everybody.
  • You fall out of your mother’s womb, you crawl across open coun­try under fire, and drop into your grave.
  • I simply haven’t the nerve to ima­gine a being, a force, a cause which keeps the plan­ets revolving in their orbits and then sud­denly stops in order to give me a bicycle with three speeds.
  • It is explained that all rela­tion­ships require a little give and take. This is untrue. Any part­ner­ship demands that we give and give and give and at the last, as we flop into our graves exhausted, we are told that we didn’t give enough.
  • The con­sum­ing desire of most human beings is delib­er­ately to place their entire life in the hands of some other per­son. For this pur­pose they fre­quently choose someone who doesn’t even want the beastly thing.
  • The simplest com­ment on my book came from my bal­let teacher. She said, “I wish you hadn’t made every line funny.  It’s so depressing.”
  • Even a mono­ton­ously undevi­at­ing path of self-examination does not neces­sar­ily lead to self-knowledge. I stumble towards my grave con­fused and hurt and hungry.
  • Someone asked me why I thought sex was a sin. I said, “She’s jok­ing, isn’t she?” But they said, “No.” Doesn’t every­one know that sex is a sin? All pleas­ure is a sin.

Bottoms From Outer Space — Anal Anxiety at the Movies

Independence Day

by Mark Simpson

(Originally appeared in Attitude, September, 1996)

You might think me obsessed with men’s bot­toms. And you’d be right. But if you want to know what a real bot­tom obses­sion looks like, one that makes my own heavy breath­ing look pos­it­ively flir­ta­tious, just visit the movies.

Take the Summer block­buster Independence Day. Here’s a film so fix­ated on bum­holes that it can’t see any­thing but bum­holes. Bumholes so big and special-effected that they threaten to swal­low up the whole world. Literally.

In this start­lingly excre­mental (fig­ur­at­ively as well as lit­er­ally) movie, American civil­isa­tion is dwarfed by vast, round alien arse­holes which sau­cily posti­tion them­selves over the biggest, proudest, poin­ti­est build­ings in New York, LA., Washington etc. After twenty-four hours of teas­ingly hov­er­ing above these phal­lic monu­ments, they open up their sphinc­ters to dump a stream of shit-from-hell which first demol­ishes the sky­scraper below and then engulfs, des­troys and gen­er­ally wreaks havoc on the nicely ordered American met­ro­polis beneath it. That’s some bottom.

In case we’ve missed the point, the gung-ho US pilots who attempt a counter-attack talk a great deal about how they can’t wait ‘to give it to those ali­ens up the ass!’ However, they fail to pen­et­rate the ali­ens’ defences with their hot, hi-tech rock­ets — even the nuclear-tipped babies — because the cheeky Pushy Controlling Bottom ali­ens have a force-field hymen pro­tect­ing them from such unwanted attentions.

Fortunately, Jeff Goldblum’s wily jew­ish­ness saves the day and mankind’s repu­ta­tion as fuck­ers not to be fucked with, by craft­ily work­ing out that what is needed to lower the ali­ens’ defences is a virus. Jeff infects one of the smal­ler alien ves­sels and thence the mother ves­sel by ‘dock­ing’ with it, and soon the virus is trans­mit­ted to all the alien ships, whose force-fields/immune sys­tems collapse.

This allows Randy Quaid, play­ing a kamikize love-missile, to fly up the sphinc­ter of an alien ves­sel open­ing to crap destruc­tion on a city below, while shout­ing ‘ALIEN ASSHOLES!! UP YOURS!!’, before explod­ing and des­troy­ing the alien ship, help­fully show­ing the rest of the Earth forces ‘Where the ali­ens’ weak-spot is.’ That is to say: in the same place as men’s.

You can’t get more botty-fixated than this. Except, that is, in last year’s Sci-Fi block­buster Stargate. This film, made by the same team as Independence Day, fea­tured basic­ally the same explos­ive anal end­ing in which an alien desert des­pot is des­troyed by an American bomb which is sent shoot­ing up the arse­hole of his space-craft by Kurt Russell (who is much the same thing as Randy Quaid), shortly after Kurt has uttered the only explet­ive in this 15 Certificate movie — ‘FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE!!’.

Men’s bot­toms are offi­cially meant only to allow one-way traffic, any remind­ers that it can admit as well as expel tend to make men uneasy — unless they can be pro­jec­ted onto some­thing hated. Stargate was a movie which begins with the dis­cov­ery of a huge ‘ring’ in the Egyptian desert which turns out to be a ‘portal’ to other worlds — which is fine and dandy. But it is also a point of entry to our own — which isn’t. So com­mander Kurt and his men are dis­patched to plug that hole good and proper and pro­tect Earth Men’s virtue.

As film star Mel Gibson made clear in an infam­ous inter­view where he was asked about whether he wor­ried that people might think he was a homo­sexual because he was an actor, the pos­sib­il­ity of two-way traffic in the region of your own pos­terior must be denied. Pointing to his not unin­vit­ing arse he allegedly shouted: ‘This is for shit­ting; noth­ing else!’ All the same, it’s just a little odd that his hard, manly, hairy per­form­ance of Scottishness in ‘Braveheart’ against the soft, smooth, nancy-boy English reached its cli­max in a scene where he was pub­lic­ally dis­em­bowelled by the Sassenachs without so much as blinking.

Invasion, enslave­ment and defeat have long been seen as analag­ous to anal rape — a form of emas­cu­la­tion. Recent rev­el­a­tions about the sexual-humiliation prac­tises of vic­tori­ous troops in the Bosnian con­flict on their male pris­on­ers have only rein­forced this idea. Perhaps this is why in Independence Day Randy Quaid, the man who finally ‘gives it to the ali­ens up the ass’ on behalf of all Earth men is an alco­holic ex-Vietnam vet who, we’re told, years ago was abduc­ted by the ali­ens and sub­jec­ted to ‘sexual experiments’.

The end­ing of Stargate also owed some­thing to recent American his­tory: A T-shirt pop­u­lar with US forces dur­ing the Gulf War, depic­ted Saddam Hussein — that other scary des­pot the yanks lib­er­ated desert people from — bent over with an American mis­sile up his butt and the legend beneath it read­ing: “WERE GONNA SADDAMIZE YA!’

The dir­ect rep­res­ent­a­tion of male viol­a­tion, like con­sent­ing male homo­sexu­al­ity itself, used to be a taboo; in the Seventies the play ‘Romans in Britain’ was pro­sec­uted for inde­cency because it fea­tured a sim­u­lated male rape scene (defen­ded, inter­est­ingly, as being ‘a meta­phor for imper­i­al­ism’). John Boorman’s film Deliverance (1972) was con­sidered ‘con­tro­ver­sial’ because it hin­ted rather heav­ily at male-male sexual assault. Nowadays, how­ever, in the arsehole-anxious nineties, male rape scenes are prac­tic­ally de rigueur in main­stream movies, pop­ping up (and being held down) in films such as Pulp Fiction (1994) and The Shawshank Redemption (1994), while, as we’ve seen, the theme of forced, venge­ful pos­terior pen­et­ra­tion has even become the stuff of sci­ence fic­tion movies ostens­ibly aimed at kids.

This might just have some­thing to do with the rising vis­ib­il­ity of homo­sexu­al­ity and the increas­ing fas­cin­a­tion with male passiv­ity — along with the ines­cap­able fact that, no mat­ter how many ali­ens the guys blow away at the movies (and in Stargate and Independence Day sav­ing the world is strictly a guy thing) they still keep los­ing the sex war with the ali­ens they live with. Females.

So, without want­ing to come over all Vito Russo, it’s prob­ably no coin­cid­ence that the Stargate alien is played by Jaye Davidson who also played the tricky tranny in The Crying Game (1992), is sur­roun­ded by mus­cu­lar young men in leather, and flies about in a space­ship that likes to sit on pointy pyr­am­ids. Nor is it without sig­ni­fic­ance that in Independence Day, Harvey Fierstein, play­ing as usual an extremely annoy­ing gay con­stantly on the phone to his mother (“Oh, mother, it’s AWFUL, the ali­ens are get­ting MORE ATTENTION than ME!”) is the first char­ac­ter to be killed by the alien attack. Eliminating early on (but not early enough for my money) the only Earthling who will­ingly takes it up the ass.

Hollywood sci­ence fic­tion these days is not so much about man’s fear of inva­sion from outer space as that of the inva­sion of man’s inner space. As Kevin McCarthy shouts to the free­way traffic in the clas­sic 50s sci-fi para­noia flick Invasion of the Body Snatchers — ‘They’re here already!’

Standing right behind you.

This essay is col­lec­ted in ‘Sex Terror: Erotic Misadventures in Pop Culture