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.

Channing Tatum MM 1024x586 Channing Tatum   The Modern Male Stripped Bare

The Gayness of Top Gun: Feel The Need

topgun 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

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.

carrey I Love You, Jim Carrey

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.

Monogamy and the City

sex and the city 2 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.

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