Since Pride month is a day away from wrapping up, we're pulling some of our favorite queer films from our big-ass list of Unstreamable movies. This group of films definitely isn't comprehensive, but we hope it helps add new titles to your growing watch list. Good luck finding them!
ICYMI: Unstreamable is a weekly column that finds films and TV shows you can't watch on major streaming services in the United States.*
France, 2007, 85 min, Dir. Céline Sciamma
Water Lilies is the debut feature from Portrait of a Lady on Fire director Céline Sciamma. Fans of Lady on Fire will find similar things here: hushed, dramatic shots; fluid and femme sexuality; curious, blistering horniness. She wrote Water Lilies's script while still in film school, and it became a breakout hit. The story follows three 15-year-old suburban girls: Floriane (Lady on Fire's Adèle Haenel), a confident team captain of a synchronized swimming group; Anne (Louise Blachère), another synchronized swimmer who doesn't take anyone's shit; and Marie (Pauline Acquart), a quiet girl with a blossoming crush on Floriane. In less than 90 minutes, Sciamma executes a thoughtful, forceful feature on what it's like to be a girl standing in front of another girl asking her to take off her swim cap and kiss her.
The thing I come back to with Water Lilies is how focused Sciamma is about the way her characters move through space—whether they're strutting down a long cement runway, or swaying in a nightclub, or kicking across a pool. Since it's about synchronized swimmers, Sciamma fills the film with shots of young girls cutting through the water, their rigorous and athletic kicking obscured by elegant lines and smiles. I love how the bodies literally make a splash. But she carries this motion into her regular scenes, like when she places the teen girls against clashing fabrics so their bodies pop out like, yes, lilies. Even with this debut, it's clear Sciamma is a force. CHASE BURNS
UK, 1991, 88 minutes, Dir. John Francis Dillon
Part thriller, part gay romance, Young Soul Rebels starts with the murder of a Black man by a white stranger he meets cruising in a park. His two friends Chris and Caz—pirate DJs who are obsessed with soul—get implicated in his murder as they try and navigate the harrowing social landscape of being Black (and queer) in '70s-era London. The film picks apart class and racial dynamics of the time, but the most interesting bit is the level of acceptance and fluidity of the main characters. Chris is straight and Caz is gay, though it's clear they have a nebulous sexual history with one another and Chris supports and sticks up for Caz when need be. Also the straight sex scenes suck and the gay ones are hot, which I love to see. JASMYNE KEIMIG
Germany | Canada, 2004, 90 minutes, Dir. Bruce La Bruce
Filmmaker Bruce LaBruce's pornographic and faggy The Raspberry Reich is a film about horny gay Marxists with gun fetishes. It starts off with a dude deep-throating a pistol while wearing a t-shirt of Che Guevara while sitting in front of wallpaper of Che Guevara. When the dude comes, a gun goes off. This scene lets you know what you're getting into: lots of guys jerking off, pistol-licking, and revolution. There's no point in getting into the plot here because the plot isn't the point.
The pornography, however, might be the point, but what's missed when people focus so hard on LaBruce's pornography is how funny his dialogue is. "Relax. Think of the revolution," says a gay character while trying to get his straight friend hard. "But I'm not hard," says the straight. "Rome wasn't built in a day," winks the gay, eventually succeeding in hardening up his friend. Other lines I love: "Put your Marxism where your mouth is." And, my favorite tagline: "The revolution is my boyfriend."
John Waters once told me he thought antifa weren't sexy enough. I wonder if he was thinking about The Raspberry Reich. Cuz these anti-fascists are hot. CHASE BURNS
USA, 2007, 79 min, Dir. Mike Ruiz
I don't think RuPaul wants people to see this pre-RuPaul's Drag Race treasure-turd lost to time. If he did, it would be available, because it's one of the best-worst things I've ever seen. Down there with Waters's Multiple Maniacs. Like that garbage, Starrbooty explodes the high/low binary to become its own gem. The basic plot: After her slutty niece Cornisha is kidnapped, secret agent/supermodel Starrbooty becomes an undercover hooker to find the culprit. Part blaxploitation/part porno, it's actually the fourth in a series, with the earlier three made on a $100 budget by RuPaul in the mid-80s. He sold them out of shopping carts in Atlanta, so goes the lore. I'd bet my left nut that this thing will continue to age horribly well. CHASE BURNS
United Kingdom, 1989, 45 min, Dir. Isaac Julien
Using Hughes as a jumping-off point, Julien thoughtfully explores desire, the nature of being a Black artist, the cultural legacy of the Harlem Renaissance, and his own experiences as a gay man. He turns scenes that seemingly take place within a '20s speakeasy in Harlem into gay raves in London. Hemphill's explicit poetry—"I could throw my legs up/like satellites, but I knew/I was fucking fallen angels"—is layered over scenes of dapper Black men dressed in tails cruising each other. It's hot and melancholic and fantastical all at once. The openly gay nature of Looking for Langston caused an uproar during the film's release, with the Hughes estate demanding that some scenes be censored. Regardless, the film is a wonderous monument to the gay history of Harlem, as well as its most famous poet. JASMYNE KEIMIG
Australia, 1994, 19 min, Dir. Kelli Simpson
Let me first start with the film Muriel’s Wedding (1994), which is Toni Collette’s breakout role where she plays a terrible Australian outcast who steals her family’s money to go live her ABBA-fueled feminist dreams. It’s one of my favorite movies, it’s fundamental, and I think its movie poster—which shows Collette wearing a wedding dress, grinning, while confetti rains down on her—inspired a few lookalike movie posters. The first is from the film Cosi (1996), another Australian comedy that doesn’t have the charm of Muriel’s Wedding (granted, a tough bar to clear); the second is promoting the short film This Marching Girl Thing (1994), which came out just as Muriel’s Wedding did and is equally effervescent.
I found the short film on a rare VHS from Scarecrow called Around the World: The Lesbian Way, which includes a handful of lesbian short films from, as it says, around the world. The compliation VHS's cover (above) attracted me because I think it's in the same family as those sister Cosi and Muriel’s Wedding covers (Toni Collette grinning, wearing white, little ornate stuff all around her), and I’m happy I rented it because it’s so charming. (Surprisingly, it also features Muriel's Wedding actor Matt Day.) The basic gist: Toni Collette’s a badass undercover lesbian baton twirler who keeps getting mistaken for a marching girl. There’s a fantastically campy baton twirling finale and an exceptionally acted closing scene from Collette. Few people can deliver line readings like she can. I never know where she’s headed. CHASE BURNS
Taiwan, 2007, 94 min, Dir. Zero Chou
I've heard from people who webcam (like, for sex stuff) that camming companies usually tell their models to set up their rooms to be minimal. Maybe a neutral background and a clean mattress, but that's it. The focus should be on the model's body and what they'll do with/to it. So when I saw the camming set-up in director Zero Chou's 2007 Taiwanese lesbionic drama Spider Lilies, about a cam-girl who wants to get a tattoo from her high school crush, I was surprised by its lushness.
When a horny person logs onto this particular webcam, a floral frame surrounds their camera's livestream, making it seem like they're peering into a jungle. A few feet behind that frame is a raised bed, draped in leopard print, and a pink beaded curtain. This type of dense, visually ecstatic set-up is what viewers can find throughout Spider Lilies, a film with a fresh take on queer relationships, especially for 2007. The plot here is a little confusing—and the film time-jumps frequently, using tattooing as a metaphor to explore trauma and intimacy—so I say go into it for the visual density, the mid-2000s vibes, and Chou's bold point of view. CHASE BURNS
USA | France, 1997, 82 minutes, Dir. Gregg Araki
Watching Nowhere feels like taking MDMA—the bright colors and strobing lights, the urgent press of bodies, the intense emotions. The quick camera cuts in each scene mimic those weird eye twitches of the molly come-up. The plot bounces around the huge cast of weirdo characters—it's hot and loose, and nothing matters.
In addition to some wild cameos—Ryan Phillippe shoves chocolate up Heather Graham's puss in one scene—the theme of alienation is made literal with the appearance of an actual alien. There's even a graphic Metamorphosis reference at the end, which feels nihilistically Teen. Araki serves angst, pure and true.
Marc Jacobs recently included the film's iconic soundtrack in his Y2K-heavy Heaven collection. The music could be why this movie is hard to find; Nowhere has yet to be released on region-1 DVD. Here's hoping the fashion line leads to an Araki renaissance. JASMYNE KEIMIG
Japan, 2002, 118 min, Dir. Hajime Ishimine
Frog River is an indie film released initially across a four-disc DVD magazine, of sorts, produced by Grasshoppa!, a team that included Taste of Tea director Katsuhito Ishii, the director closest to my taste and heart. A blessing on the Slog commenter who alerted me to the magazine. Scarecrow has each disc and the best feature from it, Frog River, on an individual DVD.
This story follows a hapless record shop clerk, played by the Bellevue-raised Ryo Kase, who accidentally pisses off some queers at a bar. It turns out the queers know kendo, and they challenge him to a duel. The rest of the movie mostly follows a bunch of queer dudes doing kendo, and it climaxes with a rather violent battle that starts with: "Those who laugh at queers shall pay for it with tears." I've never seen representation like this. Ishii writes the script, and it has his characteristic oddball bliss. I treasure it.
There's also a fun Crystal Waters dance sequence in it. CHASE BURNS
USA, 1997, 86 min, Dir. Alex Sichel
The 15-year-old girls live in Hell's Kitchen with relatively absent parents. Claude (Alison Folland) is harboring romantic feelings for her best friend and bandmate Ellen (Tara Subkoff), who is obsessed with her shitty boyfriend Mark (Cole Hauser). Typical. As Ellen gets wound up in drugs and criminal activities with Mark, Claude starts to explore her sexuality at lesbian bars stuffed with riot grrrl types. A murder of an acquaintance throws all their lives and relationships in a loop, as Claude gets involved with lesbian pink-haired guitarist Lucy (theeeeee Leisha Hailey).
The movie documents the nuances in girl friendship at a fragile age that sometimes revels in syrupy, afterschool special type drama. But it's a gay, riot grrrl-light teen flick that captures a bit of the contemporaneous culture and is well worth a watch. If not just for the scene of Claude losing it to Patti Smith's "Pissing in a River"—poetry shit. JASMYNE KEIMIG
Japan, 1999, 98 min, Dir. Tetsuro Takeuchi
Fans of zombie movies or Japanese greaser style will find plenty of things to love in this underrated cult B-movie. It oozes gunfights and exploding heads and aquamarine-colored zombies who look like Gumby. The film was basically created as a vehicle for the Japanese garage band Guitar Wolf, who also star in the film, but there's one story line that really sticks with me: The central romance of the movie features a trans character—in 1999—and it's handled maturely! Right after the film's straightish male lead realizes he's fallen madly in love with a trans woman, Guitar Wolf appears as an apparition and yells "LOVE HAS NO BORDERS, NATIONALITY, OR GENDERS." And that's that! The straight dude overcomes his transphobia and the two fight off zombies together so they can suck face. It was progressive for 1999, and it's progressive now. Good job, Tetsuro Takeuchi! CHASE BURNS
US, 1989, 96 min, Dir. Norman René
Thirty years ago, Longtime Companion premiered in the United States. It was the first major film to deal with the AIDS epidemic and remains a forceful and passionate look at a group of friends supporting each other as they battle the virus. It grossed $4.6 million at the box office, earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and won a Golden Globe for the same category. The film was simultaneously ahead of its time and a decade too late, as the virus started ravaging the gay community in the early '80s. Frustratingly, Longtime Companion is unstreamable and out of print.
There are earlier U.S. films that confronted AIDS but didn't get a wide release: Buddies (1985) is credited as being the first film to deal with AIDS, although Bill Sherwood's extraordinary Parting Glances (1986), starring a young Steve Buscemi, comes to my mind first. Parting Glances and Longtime Companion are similar in many respects: Both focus on well-off white gay men living in or around New York City in the '80s, both value a "queer chosen family" over gay couples, and both of the films' directors died of AIDS complications a few years after their respective premieres. But unlike Parting Glances, which you can watch on Kanopy for free via the Seattle Public Library, Longtime Companion is almost lost to time. Thankfully, Yahoo Movies conducted an invaluable oral history with the surviving cast and crew in 2015, but we need to get this film back in the popular consciousness. CHASE BURNS
The Netherlands, 1983, 103 minutes, Dir. Paul Verhoeven
The 4th Man is delightfully gory and full of style. The scene where Gerard gets sucked off by Herman inside of a tomb as he realizes Christine is responsible for her three ex-husbands untimely deaths is iconic—to me. The power she has! While some could say Gerard contributes to the stereotype of bi people being inherently lecherous, unhinged, and just generally untrustworthy, I, for one, am happy for the representation.
The film was Verhoeven's last in his homeland before he set sail for Hollywood a year later. I think it lays a lot of the groundwork for the campy and wild films he'd make here in the states. He's even called The 4th Man a spiritual prequel to Basic Instinct. Both of those films have hot blondes, confused bisexuals, and erotic suspense, so it makes sense. JASMYNE KEIMIG
USA, 1982, 113 minutes, Dir. Arthur Hiller
Making Love's genre is probably the most pitied film genre that exists, the melodrama. Big-budget jerk-off action films like Netflix's Extraction seem to me to be the most pitiful type of movies to exist but I understand that not everyone's taste has imagination. Lately I've been repeat-listening to the song that was created for the closing ceremony at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics—Amigos para Siempre, a song that embodies melodrama—and if you let yourself go, this song can take you to unparalleled heights. The truth is that melodramas can really slap.
This is how I feel about Making Love, an exceptional melodrama directed by Arthur Hiller (NOT Miller) and starring Kate Jackson (Charlie's Angels) as a TV executive in love with "highbrow" tragedy, Michael Ontkean (Twin Peaks) as her doctor husband who is not-so-tragically gay, and Lisa Rinna's husband Harry Hamlin as that husband's hunky side piece. Making Love knows what it is—there are meta-references to it being "lowbrow" drama—but it's also something very rare: a self-possessed, generous film about a woman and man navigating their relationship as the man comes out of the closet. I'm not sure there's anything like it from the early '80s. CHASE BURNS
USA, 1932, 88 minutes, Dir. John Francis Dillon
If I must be straight: Call Her Savage is problematic, boring dribble. This pre-Code drama follows a young woman named Nasa Springer (played by Clara Bow), an aggressive handful who scares her parents and causes fights everywhere she goes. The convoluted plot skips along; Springer gets married, there's a baby, but the bookends of the film are preoccupied with how she's in love with a "half-breed" (the movie's term, not mine—he's half Indigenous). If you couldn't predict based on the title, it turns out Ms. Springer is also half Indigenous—Call Her Savage (yikes)—and that's meant to explain her erratic behavior. The only reason to value this one is because of a little scene that's tucked right in the middle of it: Springer goes to a gay bar (!) where anarchists (!!) and people of ill-repute (!!!) party. At that bar, we get some very early gay representation on film when we see an early '30s cabaret bar that features some ninnies in drag. I've embedded that scene—it's a little blurry—below. Fags, they've been around forever! CHASE BURNS
USA, 1996 , 103 min, Dir. Mary Harron
1968 was a wild year. MLK and RFK were both assassinated. The North Vietnamese communists launched the Tet Offensive. 5,000 university students and police rioted in Paris. Fucking “Hey Jude” was released. And among it all, Andy Warhol got shot by radical feminist Valerie Solanas for allegedly losing the script of a play she hoped he would produce (the play was titled Up Your Ass). Solanas was a lesbian and a sex worker who believed ardently in the inferiority of men and that women could reproduce without them. She famously wrote The S.C.U.M. Manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men), an anarchic, feminist text that argued that men corrupted the world and only women could fix it.
Though it’s still unclear to me why she was so fixated on Warhol, Solanas’s points are incendiary, to say the least, but interesting to think about. Directed by Mary Harron (of American Psycho fame), I Shot Andy Warhol tells her story, incorporating some of Solanas’s original text into the narration. Lili Taylor transforms into Solanas in a performance that's both spirited and totally unhinged, almost convincing the audience that Warhol really needed to be shot. Also of note is Jared Harris as Andy Warhol, Stephen Dorff as Candy Darling, and Martha Plimpton as Solanas’s friend and sometimes lover, Stevie. Warhol never fully recovered from his encounter with Solanas, a traumatic event that haunted the rest of his life. JASMYNE KEIMIG
*Unstreamable means we couldn't find it on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, or any of the other 300+ streaming services available in the United States. We also couldn't find it available for rent or purchase through platforms like Prime Video or iTunes. Yes, we know you can find many things online illegally, but we don't consider user-generated videos, like unauthorized YouTube uploads, to be streamable.