film note: The Everlasting Secret Family

The Everlasting Secret Family
Directed by Michael Thornhill
94 min, Australia, 1988

After I watched this obscure gay-themed movie I went in search of reviews of it. I’d found its tale of a sub-rosa mostly homosexual society in Australia so odd that I wondered how it had been received. I didn’t find anything dating from the time of its release except notices that the distributor had trouble making its money back. Imagine that in 1988.

A review on Time Out London states that it’s “about nothing but self-hatred.” Well, it’s not often that people who hate themselves possess such self-consciously dry humor, at least not in the I’m-a-wretched-faggot kind of way that this reviewer suggests, but I guess it’s possible. There are moments of clear satire, of course, as we watch a Japanese businessman pick out a live crab and then lead a blond youth into a bedroom for sex on the half-shell, or as an older woman dressed like a flapper girl takes out her breasts and offers one to the same youth. More broadly it lampoons the D/s reputations of all-boy boarding schools and the enduring rumors of male-dominated cults of power and influence who mentor, groom and do unspeakable things to beautiful blond adolescents. I don’t know if any of that is true but I found myself wanting to believe it anyway. There’s probably something in there about social stratification, class and the futile pursuit of eternal youth but it seemed a weak presentation.

So it all sounds salacious and sexy (we never see anyone do it, either, just some stiff kissing that moves out of frame) but it’s really not and really not that funny, either. I kept thinking if Kubrick hadn’t been such a staunch heterosexist he might have been able to make this thing at least a bit mysterious and weird. Instead, it’s just a tedious repetition of homo-lit myths and tropes. There are a handful of interesting shots and sequences, but none more inventive than the series of forward dollies and zooms cut quickly together in the film’s opening as we see a rich older man scouting the athletic field for his next conquest, clad in white shorts and a tight white tanktop. The comic aspect of it all is never far from the surface but I only laughed a couple of times.

The film is based on an eponymous book by Frank Moorhouse, who also wrote the adapted screenplay — a voiceover excerpt frames the film — and I’m half-curious to find out if it reads any better. But only half.

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The Everlasting Secret Family
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