Notes toward a gay film canon

I’ve been involved with an ongoing project — inside my head, anyway — called “Notes toward a gay film canon.” Summed up, it asks the questions, What is a gay film? Is gay film a genre or a marketing strategy? If it’s a genre, what are the defining characteristics? Is there any point in assembling a gay film canon? among others.

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The title was inspired by a capsule review de De olhos bem abertos on the Chicago Reader website. Critic Andrea Gronvall dismissed the film, claiming it simply borrowed from the gay-cinema canon. I replied in a comment that no one had yet bothered to compile such a list so I didn’t know what she was talking about.

So it got me thinking, and asking questions, not only about the possibility of beginning such a project but what it would mean to do it now, during a time that some are calling “post-gay” and as the fight for marriage equality in the Western world gains momentum. Do gays even care about gay movies anymore?

The evidence says they do, and they’re compiling lists and making judgements all the time. (Backlot’s recent big list, with a somewhat surprising #1, is here.)

For one, I care about gay movies. I often still seek out movies with gay characters and gay milieus, and I watch them even if they’re bad. The top-selling movies from last year as listed by number one niche-seller and distributor of gay DVDs and videos, Vídeo TLA, are as follows: Luna Park, Absent, Amphetamine, The One, and the Men Next Door. I’ve never heard of any of them. I’m also subscribed to a Yahoo! group called Gay-Themed Movies. I get a daily digest of file-sharing links from gay-movie enthusiasts every day with very few duplicates and lots of discoveries and surprises and also wastes of time. It’s kept me busy downloading — so busy that I haven’t caught up yet. There are more gay film festivals in the world now than ever before. There are dozens of user-curated lists of gay movies on IMDb. The audience is there, some need is being met. And I haven’t even touched on porn, and I should.

One of the reasons surely that gay men still care about gay movies, other than the intuition that gay men care about movies in general more consistently than any other group of people, is that movies are our memories. Our publicly shared memories. As Andrew Sullivan has pointed out before, gay youth know so little about gay social history because they’re not born into gay families that can transmit it from parent to child. Watching, sharing, talking about movies that depict our lives and present our sensibilities, or at least try to, is one way gay people pass on gay culture. That’s the canon I’d like to explore, and find out what gets passed on, how, who and why.

My first exploratory topic will be cheekily called, older4youngerm4m. Some of the films I’ll be writing about are, in no particular order:

Les amites particulares
O fogo que queima
Pianese Nunzio (Especially interesting but hard to find, my copy is pretty crappy and has English subtitles created by a non-native speaker. But still, it’s good.) aka Sacred Silence
Eban & Charley
For a Lost Soldier
Por trás do candelabro
Eleve Libre (Private Lessons)
Love and Death on Long Island (A great movie available for less than 4 bucks on Amazon right now.)
Deuses e monstros
Our Lady of the Assassins
Love is the Devil

And possibly more.

If anyone has any movie to add to this watch list, please leave it in the comments. Thanks.

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