gay film

   Gay subjects have appeared in British films in several forms: the new wave film movement in the 1960s, fascination with British gay personalities, oblique elements in mainstream films, ethnic film collectives, avant-garde film-making (see avantgarde cinema), and gay film-making and documentary films.
   The British new wave acknowledged gayness as a part of realism in films such as The L-Shaped Room (1962) and A Taste of Honey (1961). In Basil Dearden’s Victim (1961), a gay married barrister has to confront a group of blackmailers who killed his former lover. Pointed gay subtexts appear in Joseph Losey’s The Servant (1963), in the relationship between a decadent aristocrat and an usurping servant (with a menacing screenplay by Harold Pinter), and King and Country (1964), in which an army officer’s defence of a deserter reveals a strong underlying relationship.
   Joe Orton’s gay fame and writings gave rise to the films Entertaining Mr Sloane (1969), Loot (1972) and Prick Up Your Ears (1987); as did Quentin Crisp’s witty autobiography to the film of The Naked Civil Servant (1980). David Hockney directed his semifictional autobiography in A Bigger Splash (1974). The World of Gilbert and George (1981) and Francis Bacon (1985) are documentary portrayals of the artists. The Cambridge homosexual spy scandal, which included Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt and Donald MacLean, was the subject of An Englishman Abroad (1985), A Question of Attribution (1992), and Blunt: The Fourth Man (1992). Within mainstream films, Peter Finch played a troubled Jewish homosexual doctor in John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971). Ken Russell presented D.H.Lawrence’s sexual politics in Women in Love (1969), and the tortured homosexual artist in The Music Lovers (1970). In Antonia Bird’s Priest (1994), a Liverpudlian priest struggles with morals and self-doubts before entering a gay bar. In Hollow Reed (1995), a court drama centres on gayness as the reason for a man’s unfitness as a father. In Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983) a Japanese commanding officer is smitten by his prisoner of war (David Bowie). Among the lightest mainstream treatments are Simon Callow’s role in Mike Newell’s Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), and the fairy-tale romance of two teenage boys in a working-class housing project of southeast London in Beautiful Thing (1995).
   Films about ethnic difference provide more substantial themes, particularly in the case of Isaac Julien of the Sankofa Collective, whose work situates the black gay man in punk, rap and reggae subcultures. Stephen Frears’s My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) (with screenplay by Hanif Kureishi) is a gay love story set in a London Asian community. Pratibha Parmar’s Khush (1991) deals with the difficult experiences of Asian gay and lesbian cultures in Great Britain, North America and India, in which individual testimonies are intercut with dream and dance sequences and soundtrack. The Colour of Britain (1994) takes Asian artists (Anish Kapoor, Jatinder Verma and others), and redefines British culture and ethnicity, using the post-colonial writing and voices of Homi Bhabha, Paul Gilroy and Gilane Tawadros.
   One of the two main influences on direct gay film-making sprang from the avant-garde in the 1980s around Derek Jarman, Cerith Wyn Evans and John Maybury, often using Super 8, and described by Jarman’s biographer Michael O’Prey as having an inbuilt anti-professionalism, cheapness, and not least, in the hands of Jarman, celebration of gay eroticism. Their influences ranged from art schools, Benjamin Britten and David Hockney, to Malcolm McLaren and punk rock, with its anti-glamour and debunking of male technique.
   By contrast, the second influence stems from individuals focusing intensely on gay concerns. The foremost of these is Terence Davies, whose partly autobiographical Trilogy (1976–83) charts the life of a lower middle-class Liverpudlian homosexual, tormented by conflicts of religion, guilt and frustration over his masochistic homosexuality. Davies’s Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988), involving a psychic, traumatic life history, has been compared to the styles of Bergman and Bresson. Ron Peck’s Nighthawks (1978) concerns a school teacher who cruises the discos and comes out via revelatory discussions with pupils; his Strip Jack Naked: Nighthawks II (1991) is an autobiographical documentary film history of British gay experience over the previous three decades. Christopher O’Hare’s Better Dead than Gay (1955) traces the tortured history of Simon Harvey, who took his own life because he could not reconcile homosexuality with his religion and family. Constantine Giannaris’s North of Vortex (1991) portrays a Kerouac landscape in which a gay poet picks up a bisexual sailor and a desperate waitress on the road. Guinnares’s Caught Looking (1991), commissioned for Channel 4’s lesbian and gay series Out, invents a virtual reality game in which the player selects historical periods or locations, and chooses various gay action scenarios. A key figure in gay cinema, Nigel Finch, died of AIDS while editing Stonewall (1995), which showed conditions for gays around 1969. Finch’s The Lost Language of Cranes (1992) provides a London suburban setting for a troubled family’s comingout crisis. Peter MacKenzie’s To Die For (Heaven’s a Drag) (1994) was the first film to handle AIDS with a comic touch. The gay historian/documentarian, Stuart Marshall, made films about AIDS, gayness in the armed forces, and gay movements and organizations.
   Awards to gay film-makers include the Chicago International Film Festival Bronze Hugo (1976, for part I), and Gold Hugo (1980, for part II) for Terence Davies’s Trilogy. Distant Voices, Still Lives won the International Critics Prize at the Cannes Festival in 1988. Khush won various awards at festivals in Paris, Madrid and San Francisco. Giannares was voted Best Gay Film-maker of the Year 1992 by the British magazine Gay Times, and was awarded the Teddy Bear Prize for Best Gay Short (1992) at the Berlin Film Festival for Caught Looking.
   Further reading
    Bourne, S. (1996) Brief Encounters: Lesbians and Gays in British Cinema 1939-1971, London: Cassell.
    Howes, K. (1993) Broadcasting It: An Encyclopedia of Homosexuality in Film, Radio and Television in the UK, 1923-93, London: Cassell.
   ARTHUR McCULLOUGH

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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