Short Reviews of 9 Gay-Themed Movies

Worth a look

Wild Side
2004 Directed by Sébastien Lifshitz 110 mins

Sébastien Lifshitz‘s elegant and melancholy relationship study utilizes elliptical editing patterns that double-back on the film’s main narrative — the daughter of a transsexual woman returns home after several estranged years to take care of her dying mother — thereby slowly and non-judgmentally providing the occasionally salacious details of the ménage à trois that nestles like an egg — fragile but protected — in the middle of this movie about beginnings and endings.

Wild Side is every bit as affecting as Lifshitz’s well-loved Presque rien, but here, instead of showing the limits of love, the wholly counterintuitive effect is an almost utopian prophecy of where it’s possible to go in the world, and with whom, no matter where or how you started out, with what body parts and with what sort of parents.


Harvest
2011 ‘Stadt Land Fluss’ Directed by Benjamin Cantu 88 mins

In this beautiful little film the relationship between two teens on an agricultural complex south of Berlin develops so slowly and with a couple false starts that by the time they do kiss for real, take their shirts off and start laughing, you know exactly why they do.

It’s a very well-earned relief but not as much of one as the final shot, which seems like an echo of Hettie Macdonald’s more upbeat Beautiful Thing. We don’t get enough movies about loneliness really and what it feels like to finally make a connection.


Cal
2013 Directed by Christian Martin 89 mins

Less uneven in tone than its predecessor, Shank, if also less satisfying as drama, this sequel suffers from its director’s penchant for not knowing when to quit, with plenty of over-the-top situations, bizarre behavior from its underwritten characters, unbelievable scenarios, unconvincing milieux as well as unmotivated violence, unpleasantness, and a flat performance from the lead.

Gay street punk Cal from Shank, not so fresh from getting raped by his criminal mentor and best friend in the last movie, returns to London from wandering Europe to find his mum dying of cancer. What else? He falls in, somehow, with a hustler who’s involved with some Fagin-like pimp and drug dealer. The couple eventually has sex, even though Cal resists the hustler’s advances at first, because rape trauma, and eventually they try to escape their sordid existences after being forced to engage in a bloody fist fight in their underwear at gunpoint for a client. As everybody does, you know.

Whereas Shank’s characters, even the bad ones, came off as more or less human, if terribly fucked up, there’s very little evidence of humanity in this movie. There’s nothing sexy about the central relationship, either, which is I suppose the real reason why anyone wanted this movie made in the first place.


Hard
1998 Directed by John Huckert 102 mins

The execution of this serial killer/cop procedural/coming out story is so amateurish and provided so many ironic laughs that for the first 30 minutes I thought I was getting camp. But then as the story cemented and the ideas coalesced, I realized it was more a Larry Cohen movie from the 70s than a John Waters one: in the taut screenplay; the brutal, gory and pointed shots of murders; and the serious attention given to the similar psychologies of cop and killer.

That doesn’t mean I never laughed again but it did mean I paid a lot more attention.


Ode to Billy Joe
1976 Directed by Max Baer, Jr. 105 mins

Director Max Baer, Jr (Jethro from the Beverly Hillbillies) delays almost forever any climax, sexual and otherwise, in this teenage Southern melodrama from 1976 by keeping the sexuality mostly suggestive and at a slow, slow boil.

The narrative is helped along by some snappy and sometimes comically over-written dialogue (scripted by Herman Raucher, who also wrote the screenplay for Summer of ’42) between the title character, played by a gloriously cute and sweaty Robby Benson, and his love interest/beard, played by a sweet and innocent-looking Glynnis O’Connor.

If you know the Bobbie Gentry song the movie is based on, don’t think that tells the whole story. The movie is pretty ballsy for the 70s (it was a hit even) and not only kept my interest but the poignant coda moved me, as Bobbie Lee decides to leave home rather than give away Billy Joe’s secret. Suitcase in hand, she encounters Billy’s one-night stand and has a very adult conversation with him on the bridge — that bridge — on her way out of town.


Cowboy
2008 Directed by Till Kleinert 35 mins

More odd than creepy, this is still a pretty effective and rather old-fashioned German horror short shot in 16mm that borrows imagery, setting, and the occasional plot suggestion from Deliverance, Children of the Corn, and Wicker Man, just to name a few touchstones.

A thirty-something real estate investor stops at a farm in rural Germany hoping to buy up cheap property. He runs into a skinny, sweaty, smirking, shirtless twink working on some farm machinery and realizes he may be in the market for something else.

Derivative in a broad sense but inventive and a little bit sexy in its details, the story certainly pays off better than most mainstream horror flicks three times its length, particularly the funny and surprising reveal and a twist or two. Good use of silence, and ahem, Dutch angles. Available on a compilation of gay shorts called Boys On Film 2.


The Third Sex
1957 ‘Anders als du und ich (§ 175)’ Directed by Veit Harlan 91 mins

This is more a historical curiosity than it is a film to recommend on its own merits so I won’t rate it.

Klaus is a handsome, not-quite-18 West German youth whose parents become worried about his possible homosexuality because of his friendship with another boy, Manfred, who is gay, and because he’s been hanging out with an older gay sophisticate, the ephebephilic art dealer, Dr. Boris. They concoct a plan to encourage their live-in maid, the majority-age Gerta, to seduce Klaus in order to turn him into a real man. The father also reports Boris to the police but the tables get turned on him and his wife.

Didactic and tedious in spots, particularly when some doctor talks about homosexuality and in the extended courtroom scenes, there’s also some deliberate humor and camp as well as some unintentional laughs. Finally, although Klaus is saved from Dr. Boris’ clutches, it’s the petite bourgeoisie who get it in the end. For the late 50s, this was strong stuff, on any continent.

The US titles are Different From You and Me and Bewildered Youth.


Greek Pete 2009 Directed by Andrew Haigh 75 mins

Andrew Haigh’s tender and sometimes poignant portrait of a London rent boy is notable mostly for its style — a heavy emphasis on selective focus, even in close-ups; a drifting handheld camera that often shoots through objects and architecture and manages to suggest both intimacy and distance; a muted, real-world color palette that emphasizes the documentary aspects of his story. All of these elements Haigh would go on to perfect and expand upon in his masterpiece, Weekend.

What this fictionalized documentary lacks that Weekend doesn’t is suggestive dialogue. Although I don’t think the film is any longer than it has to be, and it’s pretty short, Pete and his friends really aren’t that interesting to listen to. So some scenes meander and linger for no good reason, particularly the Christmas dinner sequence.

The reconstructed scenes with Pete’s johns also stick out from an otherwise convincingly realist milieu. Still, Pete himself is charming and open and his scenes with his unmotivated drug-obsessed boyfriend ring true. I just wish that Haigh had made Pete’s big triumph near the end of the film feel a little less blatantly hollow, but maybe that’s because I identify a little too strongly with rent boys.


Dive!!
2008 Directed by Naoto Kumazawa 115 mins

This film seems to exist solely to present as sublime objects of beauty the smooth, lithe bodies and little Speedo-bulges of adolescent Japanese male divers. More power to it because it’s convincing. Yet the almost complete sublimation of any overt sexuality is the weirdest thing about it, at least from a Western perspective.

Oh, but there is this scene, reprised twice, in which a group of boys de-Speedos a young lad in front of his favorite diver and causes the star to botch the maneuver as he dives.

“Did he see it? Did he see it?” the lad wants to know, grinning madly, not sure whether to be embarrassed or not, or for what. I wasn’t sure whether or not to be embarrassed either.

“You sure like Tomo, don’t you?” his friends ask.

“I sure do!”

And I’m sure an old-fashioned semiotician or psychoanalyst could have some fun with this; I was drawn in while at the same time being utterly confused and often bored. Some nice crane shots of the diving tower though and apparently these boys are real divers.