Reporting Eric Henderson
It’s Twin Cities Pride this weekend, and I imagine watching movies is the last thing on the minds of many within the Cities’ GLBT community. But, hey, that’s no reason not to add a few titles to your Netflix queue in anticipation of the comedown. I’ve whittled down the list of my favorite gay cult classics to just these ten, which I intended to cover a wide range of bases. Some movies didn’t make the cut because their appeal is arguably too limited (Kenneth Anger’s legendary short film Fireworks), and others because their appeal extends well beyond the parameters of gay cultdom (David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive). Not every movie in the list is explicitly GLBT in that it showcases a romantic, same-sex relationship, but trust me, every movie on this list (which is presented in alphabetical order) is totally gay. In the best way.
Beautiful Thing (1996)
(Dir: Hettie Macdonald)
[File Under: The First Time]
Coming out stories may be a dime a dozen, but you truly never forget your first. For some, it may have been the controversial ’80s melodrama Making Love. For others, it may have been the groundbreaking Oscar-nominated cultural juggernaut Brokeback Mountain. For me, it was Beautiful Thing, a tiny little British import that hit theaters stateside in the mid-’90s. The incredibly sweet tale of two neighboring high school boys who, against all odds, find love is a genuine crowd-pleaser.
Female Trouble (1974)
(Dir: John Waters)
[File Under: I Am Woman (?) Hear Me Roar (!)]
John Waters is arguably the preeminent gay director, and Female Trouble was reportedly his own favorite film. Who am I to argue? Divine’s ferocious performance as the slovenly, abusive, glam-obsessed bad girl Dawn Davenport is matched by one of Waters’ most astute scripts, filled with beautiful one-liners (“The world of a heterosexual is a sick and boring life!”) and wonderfully twisted views on the intertwining worlds of high profile crime and celebrity culture.
Fight Club (1999)
(Dir: David Fincher)
[File Under: The End of Masculinity]
I am Jack’s skepticism. No really, David Fincher’s barnstorming adaptation of (gay) author Chuck Palahniuk’s cult novel is teeming with gay undercurrents, for those tapped into its shall we say unique worldview. Ed Norton’s relationship with Brad Pitt’s perfect-abbed Tyler Durden carries with it the illicit charge of a double life situation. And then there’s the whole idea Tyler espouses that men need to be with other men to really be men.
Grey Gardens (1974)
(Dir: Albert & David Maysles and Ellen Hovde)
[File Under: Proud Outcasts]
On the surface, there’s nothing inherently gay about this documentary peek into the crumbling estate of Big and Little Edie Bouvier, aunt and cousin to former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. And yet the movie endures as one of the most universally loved gay cult classics. Why? You needn’t look too far to realize that their predicament — staunch (S-T-A-U-N-C-H!) individualists in the tony Hamptons — should resonate with anyone who has ever felt like an outcast.
Mommie Dearest (1981)
(Dir: Frank Perry)
[File Under: Discipline, Mixed With Love]
Three words: “No! Wire! Hangers!” I bet you didn’t know that Faye Dunaway’s unbridled performance (if not wholesale inhabitation) as Joan Crawford — fading movie star by day, slap-happy abusive mother by night — almost won the New York Film Critics Circle award for best actress in 1981. (She was runner up to Glenda Jackson in Stevie.) So put that in your “so bad it’s good” pipe and smoke it. But remember, when you’re polishing the floor, you have to move the tree!
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
(Dir: Jack Sholder)
[File Under: Gay Panic]
There’s a rich legacy of horror movies with coded references to gay panic. Immortal ’80s slasher classic Sleepaway Camp for one, but the tradition arguably extends all the way back into the silent era. My favorite of the bunch, though, is this neglected if not outright loathed follow-up to Wes Craven’s 1984 franchise-igniter, in which demonic sandman Freddy Krueger targets a willowy teen and works through him to continue his string of murders. “You’ve got the body, and I’ve got the brain,” he sneers. The entire movie plays like a fevered nightmare from within the closet.
Paris is Burning (1990)
(Dir: Jennie Livingston)
[File Under: Which Is Realer?]
Sashay, shante! Paris is Burning, a documentary look behind the scenes of New York City’s drag ball culture, was a minor sensation in the late ’80s and almost certainly caught the attention of Madonna before she embarked on a mission to get everyone to “C’mon, vogue!” But it’s not all glitz and glamour. Jennie Livingston’s doc also shines a light on a marginalized community and the harsh disappointments they’ve dealt with and tried to overcome. A truly uplifting doc.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
(Dir: Jim Sharman)
[File Under: Get Used To It]
This movie may be to this list what the Gay ’90s is to Minneapolis: an obligatory tourist stop. But its relevance can’t be denied. The salient point to be made about this movie isn’t that it’s arguably the most popular midnight movie of all time, but that the incredible size of its audience gives lie to the notion that sweet transvestites (at heart) reside only on society’s fringes. Plus, Tim Curry just plain knows how to rock a garter belt.
The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
(Dir: Rob Epstein)
[File Under: Stonewall 101]
This is the third documentary on the list, and what’s more, it’s the clear “good for you” entry. Rob Epstein’s Oscar-winning 1984 doc takes a clear look at the significance of San Francisco city councilman Harvey Milk’s legacy as one of the pioneering openly gay politicians. His plea for people to come out of the closet and show their loved ones the true, human face of homosexuality still resonates. You can also watch the whole thing for free on YouTube. Do it.
What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962)
(Dir: Robert Aldrich)
[File Under: Diva Worship]
I went back and forth between a number of movies starring either Bette Davis (All About Eve) or Joan Crawford (The Women) before giving up and admitting that two divas ups the game exponentially. This was the charter effort and remains one of the most unsettling, unique horror movies in Hollywood history. (Like, are we supposed to be horrified that women in their 50s look like women in their 50s?) “But ‘cha are in that chair, Blanche! Ya are in that chair!”