The Golden Age of Hollywood

5 Films that Changed the Way We View Sexuality

on June 22, 2012

This post is written in conjunction with the second annual Queer Film Blogathon hosted by Garbo Laughs and Pussy Goes Grrr!

As we continue to look more closely at lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender themes in films this week, it only seems fitting to list those seminal movies which tackled these topics head-on. These are my personal favorites, films that drastically changed the way I view gender and sexuality in our society. I will note that there are some movies that I haven’t seen that may be on your own list, like Brian Gilbert’s bio-pic WILDE (1997) (starring the greatest wonderfullest Steven Fry!) or Rouben Mamoulian’s ever-popular QUEEN CHRISTINA (1933). I would also like to give an honorable mention to Geoffrey Sax’s TV-miniseries Tipping the Velvet (2002), which is one of the very few portrayals of female homosexuality on screen.
NOTE: these films are listed in no particular order.

1. Jack Gold’s  THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT (1975) is a coming-of-age story about flamboyant gay icon Quentin Crisp (1908-1999). This film is both poignant and very amusing. The English Crisp is played by John Hurt who won a BAFTA for his amazing performance of the famous writer and wit.

2. Edouard Molinaro’s  LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (1978) or Mike Nichols’ THE BIRDCAGE (1996) are both about two gay cabaret owners who must pretend to be straight for the sake of their son who wishes to marry a girl with two conservative parents. The original French play was written in 1973 and represents the first truly positive portrayal of homosexuals. The popularity of the 1978 film vastly contributed to the transformative power of this film in altering the public’s thought about homosexuality.  I especially love the performances of Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as the two gay dads in the 1996 version. Both actors have that special knack for combining humor and tenderness and that really comes across in this movie.

3. Blake Edwards’ VICTOR/VICTORIA (1982) is one of my favorite movies of all time, probably because I adore both Julie Andrews and James Garner. This is one of those films that uses comedy to try to break down stereotypes about gender by displaying the complete confusion that arises when one tries to define gender and sexuality. Great song and dance numbers too!

4. Julian Jarrold’s KINKY BOOTS (2005): When Charles Price inherits his father’s shoe factory, he soon learns that the business is failing. A chance encounter with Lola, a cabaret drag queen, gives him the idea to start a new line of footwear for men who dress as women. Lola and Charles must struggle with gender stereotypes in order for their working relationship, and their business venture, to thrive. Another very funny movie with a lot of heart.

5.  George Cukor’s SYLVIA SCARLETT (1935) stars Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Hepburn’s character is dressed as a boy for most of the movie because she and her father are trying to evade the authorities. Although this movie was an epic failure at the time, it has become a LGBT cult classic in recent years. For a full analysis of this film’s queer themes, visit this post!
What do you think defines a queer classic? Does a film need to directly address gender and sexuality issues or can those themes be more latent? I’d be very interested to hear what films you would put on your list and how they compare with the movies listed here!
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2 responses to “5 Films that Changed the Way We View Sexuality

  1. Of course, just about any film by gay director James Whale can be considered groundbreaking in its upending of gender stereotypes, as well as its campy, subversive humor. Whale was one of the few gays in Hollywood who didn't hide his sexuality, and his films share his nose-thumbing attitude towards a Hays-Code-dominated studio system. Two of his standout films are BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, with a magnificent, scene-stealing performance by gay icon Ernest Thesiger, who colludes with Colin Clive (another gay icon) to create a woman; and THE OLD DARK HOUSE, a film in which all its characters, as per Vito Russo, can be read as queer (and in which Thesiger again appears, as a member of the very strange Femme family). Both films are on DVD and are required viewing.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I will have to watch BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN again and pay more attention to those actors. Thanks for the tip!

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