Turner Classic Movies’ 2017 Gay Pride film series comes to a close this evening and tomorrow morning, Thursday–Friday, June 29–30, with the presentation of seven movies, hosted by TV interviewer Dave Karger and author William J. Mann, whose books include Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines and Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969. Among tonight’s movies’ LGBT connections: Edward Albee, Tony Richardson, Evelyn Waugh, Tab Hunter, John Gielgud, Roddy McDowall, Linda Hunt, Harvey Fierstein, Rudolf Nureyev, Christopher Isherwood, Joel Grey, and Tommy Kirk.
Update: Coincidentally, TCM’s final 2017 Gay Pride celebration turned out to be held the evening before a couple of international events – and one non-event – demonstrated that despite noticeable progress in the last three decades, gay rights, even in the so-called “West,” still have a long way to go.
In Texas, the state’s – all-Republican – Supreme Court decided that married gays should be treated as separate and unequal. In other words, same-sex marriage may be legal across the U.S., but at least in Texas that doesn’t mean such marriages should be recognized in any other way, e.g., by extending to same-sex married couples the same government benefits that male/female married couples enjoy.
Meanwhile, after a 393 to 226 vote, the German Bundestag has finally paved the way for same-sex marriage in that country. After stating that she would not stand in the way, Chancellor Angela Merkel cast one of the 393 Lower House votes against granting equal marriage rights to gay couples, explaining, “For me, marriage as defined by law is marriage between a man and a woman.”
Next, the gay marriage bill needs to be approved by the Bundesrat (the Upper House) and then get President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s signature for it to become law. Civil unions have been legal in Germany since 2001.
As for the non-event … Also in the United States, the current White House completely failed to acknowledge Gay Pride Month, first recognized by then president Bill Clinton in 1999. George W. Bush had previously ignored Gay Pride Month as well; Barack Obama acknowledged it annually.
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Edward Albee’s visceral portrayal of dysfunctional heterosexual marriage, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) is one of the greatest films of the 1960s. All four principals are at their best: Oscar winners Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis, and Oscar nominees Richard Burton and George Segal. The film marked Mike Nichols’ remarkable feature film debut. Nearly four decades later, he’d tread on similar territory in the disappointingly ineffectual Closer.
Ernest Lehman was responsible for adapting Albee’s Tony- and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award-winning 1962 play – which had starred Arthur Hill, Uta Hagen, Melinda Dillon, George Grizzard – to the screen. Albee, for his part, wanted Bette Davis and James Mason (or Henry Fonda) as the leads, but Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were much bigger box office, and that’s what he got.
As an aside, in a sensational bit of offbeat casting, Deborah Kerr would undoubtedly have been a memorable Martha. Bette Davis could have played George.
By the way, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? lost the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars to the staid A Man for All Seasons, directed by Fred Zinnemann, starring Paul Scofield, and adapted for the screen by Robert Bolt, from his own 1960 play.
Directed by Oscar winner Tony Richardson (Tom Jones), at the time Vanessa Redgrave’s husband, The Loved One (1965) pays (a satirical) homage to the American Way of Death.
No, guns and mass murders have nothing to do with this one, as The Loved One doesn’t focus on the death itself (suicide by hanging). Instead, the story – based on an Evelyn Waugh novel – revolves around the issue of how to place the dearly departed to rest. Robert Morse stars as the Englishman who must ensure his dead uncle (John Gielgud) will find an appropriate Ancient Egypt-style eternal rest in modern-day Los Angeles.
Also in the all-star cast: Robert Morley, Anjanette Comer, Roddy McDowall, Rod Steiger, Jonathan Winters, Margaret Leighton, Paul Williams, Tab Hunter, Dana Andrews, Liberace, James Coburn, Milton Berle, Barbara Nichols, Reta Shaw, and Jamie Farr.
Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) is one of the filmmaker’s weakest efforts – up to that time. Bear in mind that this came out after Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave, and Gallipoli, but before Dead Poet’s Society, Green Card, Fearless, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
In truth, The Year of Living Dangerously isn’t as bad or as phony as the widely popular Dead Poet’s Society and Green Card, but it makes a mess of history – the overthrow of Indonesian President Sukarno – while being unable to get any sparks going between the two leads: Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver.
Linda Hunt delivers a curious performance in that she plays a male character, one that also happens to represent the film’s moral conscience. For her efforts, Hunt took home the 1983 Best Supporting Actress Academy Award.
For obvious reasons, such cross-gender performances are still rare, but let’s not forget that Divine had been doing his/her bit to make gender labels more malleable in a series of John Waters movies of the 1970s – none of which has been shown as part of TCM’s Gay Pride series. (Other notable pre-Linda Hunt examples include Betty Bronson as the title character in Peter Pan; Mary Pickford as the title character in Little Lord Fauntleroy; Alec Guinness as Lady Agatha D’Ascoyne, one of his many characters in Kind Hearts and Coronets; and Alastair Sim as headmistress Millicent Fritton in Belles of St. Trinian’s and Blue Murder at St. Trinian’s.)
Harvey Fierstein reprises his acclaimed stage role as a gentlemen’s man in Paul Bogart’s Torch Song Trilogy (1988), which he also wrote from his own play. A box office bomb, the dramatic comedy comes across as a vanity project that asks you to accept Fierstein as a sex magnet/romantic partner to the likes of Brian Kerwin and Matthew Broderick. That’s something that may have worked better on stage – with a different cast.
In large part due to Fierstein’s presence, Torch Song Trilogy is simply unbelievable. Worse yet, much of the drama is painfully contrived while the acting is all over the place. As Fierstein’s Nu Yawk Mom, Best Actress Oscar winner Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker, 1962), for one, ravages the scenery as the Jewish mother to end all Jewish mothers.
See link to follow-up post further below.