Good and Gay
Three Dollar Bill Throws Down
It has to be acknowledged that the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival is not terribly exciting. Occasionally there's something worth seeing, but you can't just pick a program at random and expect to be wowed. It's not so much a curated event as a plodding record of gay-themed movies made over the previous year. But recently Three Dollar Bill Cinema, which produces SLGFF, has been programming brief, carefully considered series at Northwest Film Forum in which every film is worth seeing. Last May, Three Dollar Bill produced a smart three-part series on homoerotic westerns entitled Tough Love: Johnny Guitar, Red River, and the rarely seen Andy Warhol/Paul Morrissey collaboration Lonesome Cowboys. And this month, the series is Scandalous!—three more or less explicitly gay-themed films from the ignorant, repressed 1950s. With lovely prints created for recent or forthcoming DVD releases, last week's prep-school melodrama Tea and Sympathy, this Thursday's women's prison film Caged, and next Thursday's Jean Genet swoon-caught-on-celluloid Un Chant d'Amour are all must-see events. Last Thursday, I stupidly used Northwest Film Forum's pull-out calendar instead of The Stranger's Get Out movie-times search (which is, naturally, based on the very most recent information), so I thought the movie started at 8:00 p.m. Wrong! Let it be noted: All the Scandalous! films start at 7:00 p.m. I missed approximately 30 minutes of the two-hour film, but I did see one of the most explicit portrayals of homophobic cruelty ever put into a Hollywood film—whether pre-, post-, or in this case, during the Production Code. In MGM's Tea and Sympathy, John Kerr plays Tom Lee, a mildly effeminate schoolboy (he bounces on the balls of his feet as he walks and he listens to classical records in an atmospheric library/garret) who is bullied by his classmates and intentionally neglected by his housemaster. Deborah Kerr, as the housemaster's sympathetic wife, pities and mothers and nearly seduces the boy. Desperate to prove his (heterosexual) manhood, Tom attempts to bed the waitress from a neighboring cafe. But he can't even bring himself to kiss her and instead attempts to slit his wrists. It's hard to tell whether contemporary viewers read this behavior as homosexuality or mere sensitivity: A New Yorker review clearly gives him the "benefit" of the doubt, whereas good old Bosley Crowther in the New York Times excoriates the tacked-on epilogue (not in the original play, and specifically requested by the Catholic Legion of Decency) in which a grown-up, mysteriously married Tom visits his old school. Tea and Sympathy has it both ways: "Be kind," Deborah Kerr admonishes in the original finale—but it's obviously best to be straight, too. Thursday, April 19, you can see the, uh, seminal women's prison film Caged, featuring a naive girl and a butch prison matron; Thursday, April 26, it's Genet's fantastic Un Chant d'Amour, with a world premiere Kenneth Anger short about Elliott Smith. Be there.