In the 90s when cable t.v. went digital compression everybody got their own channel – the blacks got BET, old people got Hallmark, Dad got The Golf Channel, Mom got Lifetime. I remember saying, “How about a gay channel?” In 2005 the gays finally got Logo (actually the gays had Lifetime too, but that’s another article). Logo is now 5 years old and I only watch it if they run old Barbra Streisand movies. Their original programming, doesn’t track with me, and then there is the abundance of gay independent movies. Oh, gay movies are so bad.
When I have the gameness to see another gay movie, be it on Logo, IFC or at a film festival, it’s because of two motivations. One is for the gay sex, although I realize I can find it more explicitly on the internet any time. My second motivation is more sacrificial. Yes, I actually believe I’m doing something political if I sit through all 91 minutes of Boys Shorts IV. I guess gay indy movies are a penance for something, an obligation. This reminds me of Catholics I know who go to Ash Wednesday mass once a year and walk around the office the rest of the day with gray schmutz on their forehead. These people come back every year half-embarrassed and half-imperious. They are not religious people, generally. Hell, my Catholic friends are usually sleeping off a hangover on Sunday morning. So why all the making sure everybody knows they made it to mass on a Wednesday for Christ’s sake? Because it’s what their people do; what their family does. In the family of gays and lesbians, the ritual is you have to go see all the crappily made, crappily acted movies with their soft plot lines and their soft-core sex.*
A new indy feature out is Role/Play. In it a hunky, straight playing ,soap opera actor hides away in a Palm Springs resort after being outed in the media. Next door is a “famous” gay-marriage activist who is similarly hiding from publicity over his recently scandalous gay divorce. At first the two are at odds, each making a case against the other’s hypocrisy. Eventually, they find common ground, have soft-core gay sex together, and drive back to real life in a convertible. Role/Play has
everything to be certified as a bad gay movie:
1.) Lame Archetype Acting. A common problem with these low budget gay movies is that they’re really an agenda mapped over an unlikely story line. Characters are treated as a walking leaflet for some particular point-of-view. There’s no character development and there’s no changing their mind, until they do. Also, when hungry actors go underfed by the script, everybody starves. The programmed performances of Role/Play are wooden, inauthentic, unconvincing, and dull.
2.) On Gay Time. Because of the familiar architecture of this movie I kept feeling a sense of déjà vu that I couldn’t pin down. Then it occurred to me that the setting and issues may change from movie to movie, whether its AIDS, or masculinity, or coming out, but the manikin-like characters are forever lost in time. These movies will drag you into watch-checking Limbo. Role/Play may have just come out or been made 20 years ago. As if self-conscious of its remoteness, the script calls for the characters to constantly and contrivedly work in celebrity names such as and Neil Patrick Harris and Vanessa Williams (?), just in case Yves Montand suddenly walks on set.
3.) Talk About Sex. The bigoted line against gays from the religious right for years has been that gay life is more promiscuous and therefore perverted, right? So, a common strategy in the gay indy is to deflect that stereotype by overcompensating with movies that are actually short on getting-it-on and long on talking about it. This is the thing that really makes me want to hang myself from the rafters of the Unitarian church. Role/Play has a palatable love story to tell, but the actors just talk and talk and talk.
I went into Role/Play knowing full well it could be bad. It was. But I came out wondering how would somebody go about making a better low budget gay movie. In Latter Days, from 2003, a seemingly vapid, gay, party boy bets his pals that he can lure a teenage Mormon missionary who just moved next door. At first the two are at odds, each with prejudice against the other’s life choices. Eventually they begin to see beyond appearance and begin a difficult but honest romance. Latter Days is budget and melodramatic like other gay indies, but it’s not predictable. It succeeds on very thoughtful dramatic dialoge. The characters aren’t agents of a social paradigm. Characters are beautifully flawed and real. While the story isn’t particularly topical, the tribulations of sex and love are always relevant. And the gay sex is soft, but surprisingly sweet. Latter Days reminded me who I want to be and I why I still try to care about these movies.
* I’m talking movies centered around gay male characters. I don’t know much about the Lesbian movies.
Role/Play (2010, d. Rob Williams)
Latter Days (2003, d. C Jay Cox)