Sunday, June 5, 2022

Alain Delon And The Homosexual Gaze

 "So what's wrong if I had? Or I did? Would I be guilty of something? If I like it I'll do it. We have a great actor in France named Michel Simon and Michel Simon said once, "If you like your goat, make love with your goat." But the only matter is to love." 

Alain Delon, on his alleged homosexual tastes (1969)

   And that's where M. Delon should have left the full knowledge that actor's 'truths' about themselves are often to be taken with the same grain of salt as speculation about their sexuality. But he didn't. With his more recent dotage he's become the proverbial whore in church spouting homophobia while writing fluffy books about the women he's loved. His claim to not be bothered about being wrong can be interpreted as evolved masculinity or next-level narcissism. Richly deserving of the 2019 Cannes Palme d'Or d'Honneur for his body of work, it's hard to argue that he didn't also earn some of the backlash and personal denouncements his award attracted. It was full-circle for Alain Delon: he'd first shown up at Cannes in 1956 as the escort of an older actress, rather than as an actor. According to Roger Ebert he nevertheless walked the red carpet with gay star (and lifelong friend) Jean-Claude Brialy. 
 Even as his millions of fans have tacitly accepted every salacious and unsavory aspect of his life, so they've accepted as probable many dalliances with men - be they for love or personal advancement. Or as Claudia Cardinale put it: "Alain Delon? Men and women were lining up to have sex with him." But no amount of vilification or self-promotion can ever destroy or create the work of art that simply is. Delon's on-screen magnetism was summed-up many moons ago with a simple and succinct comment: "You just didn't know whether he intended to kiss you or kill you."

A Real Piece Of Work

    An enfant terrible from the get-go, Alain Delon's movie stardom arrived within a few years of his being dishonorably discharged from the French Navy while spending undocumented times as a Pigalle denizen - no place in the late '50s for a young fella to be avoiding crime and whoring. Four film roles quickly came his way, and few failed to notice that his blazing male beauty heralded future stardom as a new kind of movie Frenchman: young, immaculately composed and New Wave cool. He also personified the masculinity and sexuality which many Anglo males still despise as being of Frenchmen. If ever a man was therefore entitled to The Homosexual Gaze it was, and is, Alain Delon because his appeal lies squarely on the spectrum as carnal significance in top gear: he's a fine piece of ass.

The Style And Substance Of Homoerotica

When nobody else finds you attractive or desirable

   No amount of lived experience as a unisex object of desire  could prepare Alain Delon for René Clément's Plein Soleil / Purple Noon (1960). The lead role in the first filming of The Talented Mister Ripley required acting skills far beyond what excellent direction could declare as believable. At twenty-four, Delon delivered a bullseye performance as the otherworldly Tom Ripley - seamlessly demonstrating pathos, menace and sexual ambiguity of the mostly creepy kind. A risky role, it fell to the amorphous quality of star power to succeed. The camera sent Alain Delon directly to the imaginations of audiences - any and all disparate gazes perceived exactly what their psyches craved. We ignore the fact that nobody in the film finds Tom Ripley attractive.
 Originally up for the much easier second male role of the cruelly masculine Phillipe, Delon coveted the lead and his pitch to Clément and the producers (who humiliated him as "a little prick who should pay to be in the film") was that he shared Ripley's character. Watching Alain Delon in Plein Soleil does little to support any counter-arguments.
The role also demanded style, which Delon expertly served up as a suavely dressed star, rather than being an actor in good wardrobe. Well into the 21st Century, men's fashion writers invoke Delon as Ripley to demonstrate what style is, as they peddle expensive retro-ish fashion to men pursuing the myth of the alpha male with no regard for the humorous sidebar fact that they're being urged to impersonate an impersonator. 
Commerce sometimes picks up on good ideas, and French style done properly gives a man an enigmatically attractive edge when being like him and being with him become blurred as sublimated homoerotic feelings. Of course, there would be no more aggressive salesman of Alain Delon Style than Alain Delon himself, as he merchandised as many aspects and accoutrements of his potent youth as he could through an endlessly extended middle-age.

A Piece Of Work In Progress: The Visconti Factor


   The homosexual gaze as passively experienced is one thing. The homosexual gaze as artistic inspiration and motivation is something else again, with few willing to acknowledge that some of the greatest art of Western civilization is the creation of homosexual men. Or that it was so before the term was even invented and pathologized.  Luchino Visconti didn't make gay movies per se - the highly-educated aristocrat's cinema is as obtuse as it is rich in its social commentary while appearing unconfined to stylistic considerations.

Neither dissolute playboy nor self-absorbed trained actor waiting for breaks, Alain Delon immediately grasped all that cinema is, and set about being a great star actor within the collaborative process. His appetite and respect for great direction paved the way for what he had to be and do when chosen by Luchino Visconti as the titular lead in 'Rocco e i suoi fratelli' / 'Rocco And His Brothers' (1960). While Plein Soleil went a long way to establishing the Delon stereotype, Rocco as conceived by Visconti is an allegorical opposite. He's arguably the most womanly manly male ever to grace a cinema screen. While he could box with the best of them, Rocco's saintlike character is entirely of female components like tenderness, loyalty, protection, sentiment and sacrifice. Visconti clued us up early in the piece by sending Rocco out in the cold to happily do labor in his mother's sweater.

Taking direction or asserting intimate territory?
While Rocco's 'sweetness' throws most critics to this day, it only makes sense to see him as the compleat male lover, as defined by an intelligent man who valued womanhood as much as he cherished masculinity. And it's just as reasonable to assume that the actor became what he played in some form or another.
People still speculate as to whether or not Delon took on Visconti as his lover - or vice versa - at this point. Interestingly, the morality of the place and time simply accepted the term 'protege' for all it implied. Candid on-set photos certainly indicate an unusual intimacy between an intimidating director and an up-and-coming actor.
   The Visconti / Delon relationship didn't end when 'Rocco' wrapped: within the year, Visconti decided to direct Delon and Delon's then-girlfriend on stage in his adaption of the scandalous 'Tis Pity She's A Whore'. Neither had any stage acting experience, but Alain Delon had the experience of working Visconti's way i.e. he ran his sets as precise and disciplined stagecraft, permitting no improvisation. The Parisian critics  snorted disdain while the public and Delon in Elizabethan tights made it a huge success. As with the filming of 'Rocco', Visconti fussed with Delon's makeup while simultaneously applying his imposing stage skills to driving the theatrical event. All in all, it can't be assumed that Visconti took upon himself the sad role of an older gay man longing chastely for the unattainable - that's just the plot of  Visconti's 'Death In Venice' (1971).
No faked period makeup for Tancredi
   Luchino Visconti was already rewriting and preparing to direct 'Il Gattopardo' / 'The Leopard': an international big-budget adaption of the popular Italian historical novel, which as a film serves as a timeline precursor to 'Novecento'/'1900' (1976) with Burt Lancaster further linking the two. Although Warren Beatty was being heavily lobbied by financiers for the key second lead Tancredi, he unsurprisingly got nowhere near the role while Alain Delon and Visconti were whatever they were. Retrospectively deemed  a masterpiece, 'The Leopard' truly is great cinema and it's difficult to imagine anybody but Delon as the sensually fresh and charismatic Tancredi. His balletic and glamorous departure-for-battle scene with his doberman is wonderful cinema inasmuch as it prevents the film from slipping early into a leaden, masculinized costume drama. Rarely feted, Alain Delon's graceful energy as Tancredi is the embodiment of 'dashing', while also being a man who knows what must be done to survive in a changing world with no sure way forward.

On the 'Il Gattopardo' set (1962)

A Body Of Work, The Scent Of A Man


   While female starlets doing publicity in bed sheets wasn't revolutionary for 1958, it certainly wasn't commonplace for male starlets. And still isn't. But Alain Delon's sexuality and attitude weren't of brutish machismo, so sprawled out in a messed-up double bed and enjoying a probably post-coital cigarette possibly seemed like the next best thing. Not an early image-building miss-step, the notion found form as the Plein Soleil camera lingered on him being woken up and revealed as an eyeful in the broad light of day. At barely 180cm he was nevertheless proportioned well enough to look as good in and out of bed as he looked in and out of clothes. 

Delon's notorious swimwear getup for 'The Yellow Rolls Royce' (1964)  

   Hollywood never knew what to do with Delon, but nevertheless took a shot at imagining what a Frenchman wore for a swim. Never bulge-friendly, MGM wasn't so shy about taking the tits-and-ass approach. While 'The Yellow Rolls Royce' hasn't achieved any measure of esteem after the fact, the same can't be said of Delon's black terry-cloth trunks: a decade ago at auction a version attracted four times their estimated value. The following year, The New York Times review of  'Once A Thief' took a veiled and bitchy pot-shot at his masculinity by declaring he "appears to be a romantic intellectual, and not a rough-tough type".

Gratuitously nude in 'Shock Treatment'
The still from 'La Piscine' which informs its modernized artwork, and then some
   Despite half a century of concerted hetero-washing and gun-as-penis stylized  menace, there's nothing more obvious than the fact that the Delon image has its genesis in not-too-subtle homoerotica, and that the homosexual gaze polished it and continues to do so.  French cinema in the wake of Alain Delon demands of male stars his unisex appeal and committed intensity - as with Delon, Romain Duris' identifiable gait commands attention in a long shot and the late Gaspard Ulliel brought Delon's acting chops as well as his male model sexual sensibility during his all-to-short life. For the French, it's de rigueur to do gay roles and do them frankly and arrestingly.

While Delon nude helped sell 'The Girl On A Motorcycle' (1968) it didn't help sell 'Traitement de Choc' / 'Shock Treatment (1973). Sexualized Delon in a Courreges bathing suit however still sells 'La Piscine' (1969). In fact, it still sells not only the movie but a whole lot more: in 2010 Alain Delon became the face of Eau Sauvage when Dior relaunched the sensational 1966 men's perfume, with vintage 60's photos of Delon in print ads, and a TV commercial of clips from the aforementioned film, heavily featuring Delon in the aforementioned swimsuit. 
Eau Sauvage was our bourgeois gateway to the Houses of Guerlain and Sisley, and it's only appropriate that Alain Delon being of the senses takes us to that place when and where the world is sensed as better, with just a dash of something like class.

On a good day it's easy to part the mists of Avalon, and be on a sun-drenched Mediterranean with a man who excites our senses...all of them. He looks good, he smells good, he infuriates us, he impresses us, he indulges our projections and we're more alive for the experience. He's insouciance and he mixes a damned good Boulevardier. You may have met him in Saint-Tropez but then again you may have met him in the brig. He's probably Alain Delon.


Saturday, May 14, 2022

Gay Romance Movies: Too Niche Or Too Much Of A Threat?


"I inserted a gay romantic subtext" - Gore Vidal on 'Ben-Hur' (1959)


   Gay men experience a twice-removed relationship with movies. As both artform and persuasive social modeling, movies have traditionally defamed and excluded us, with what we pick up at the movies substantiating the Dhammapada's reference to herons by a lake with no fish...for a lifetime. What's been an endless banquet of approving acceptance for non-gay men is just sustained yearning and proscribed loneliness for the homo psyche. Hollywood certainly isn't stepping up to the plate as it excises token homo characters and scenarios in order to sell to flagrantly homo-hating global markets. Little good is likely to come from lucrative export product which may or may not pander locally to The American Dream, as filtered through the prisms of what commerce determines to be our just desserts.


   Forty years have come and gone since Vito Russo first published The Celluloid Closet. Groundbreaking in its focus and scope, it still clarifies how filmic culture best defames homosexuals – be they men who identify as gay, or men who simply like to have sex with other men. A co-founder of GLAAD, Russo’s work lives on as that U.S. organization’s benchmark criteria. The Vito Russo Test lucidly articulates how film-makers can best avoid their petticoats showing biased intent, and worse. The Test is necessarily applied consistently to all genres like drama, romance, comedy, and documentary.

·        The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender (LGBT).

·        That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. the character is made up of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight characters from one another).

·        The LGBT character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect.  Meaning they are not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline; the character should matter.


Cinema For Losers - The Parables Of Disingenuity

    Now, we’re almost twenty years into the Vito Russo Test guidelines, and as far as male characters go there’s little or no evidence that the guidelines are being implemented with any seriousness by film-makers. Or, more to the point, by American film-makers and their European counterparts. Seemingly, death and the misery of failed love are the normalized narratives for popular gay-themed mass entertainments – be they Philadelphia (1993), Brokeback Mountain (2005), or Call Me By Your Name (2017). The emptiness of Britain’s Weekend (2011) is no more sincere than Australia’s Holding The Man (2015), which sincerely believes its own lived-experience shallowness. 
 Like a sickly medication, the tropes of gay drama are relentlessly regurgitated as menace and struggle, with gained 'resilience' ostensibly the best payoff imaginable. Awards and rewards flow, with few asking whether or not the underlying takeaway of  'Toughen up, princess' is nearly enough when few practical ideas like a punching bag ('Cuatro Lunas', Mexico (2014)) or a rifle ('Marilyn', Argentina (2018)) are offered up as ways princesses might toughen up, rather than sucking it up. It's hard to dispute that Moonlight (2016) isn't just more of the Stateside same as it applies to the filmed male homosexual experience. While female gaze upon the male body is notionally welcome, sitting through writer / director Eliza Hittman's sordid 'Beach Rats' (2017) just might be cause to hope she never does it again, and that critics and film festivals alike stop celebrating dated soulless junk about men who have sex with other men.

In a shorthand media age it's hard to avoid lists, and the prolific '50 Best LGBT / Queer Films' lists are far more suspect than their daffy nods to community and inclusion imply: as a recently-created genre of the socially constructed kind it first needs to be evaluated for soft-sold multi-group segregation intent. By the time one's eliminated what has nothing to do with men loving men or men who've actually 'come of age', the leftovers are for the most part formulaic and anti-progressive. We're reminded that neither Gregg Araki nor Gus van Zant has been able to deliver the contemporary gay male masterpiece expected of New Queer Cinema, let alone it having found form as a seductive romance...where somebody actually gets the guy with no suffering involved. You just know segregation's alive and well when two men who attractively hit it off rarely appear in 'mainstream' movies of any genre -  even as secondary or support characters.

The Wheel of Misfortune - step right up fellas!  
It’s not naïve or unrealistic to expect happy endings, and when cinema consistently delivers the opposite we’re wise to suspect all that hides behind quasi-documentary struggles lest we're giving a pass to perpetuating victimhood. It's worth noting that both Brokeback and Call Me... feature photogenic locales which serve to numb what's most unattractive and pleasureless about their storylines. It's also worth noting that with some goodwill and ingenuity the device can be purposed to support uplifting stories about diverse men who elevate the romance genre to its rightfully gratifying and most powerful place. 
We're probably all hard-wired to crave at least two of the three components of romance: attraction, lust and attachment. The genre of romance in media embellishes it all with chivalry and what's seductive about faraway places and men with strange-sounding names. Our healthiest selves always anticipate a future which may have little to do with what we have now, and there's nothing quite like a romance movie to get the dopamine cells firing...why, it's almost like being in love.




Some Speak Of 'Journeys'...

   Reviewers and commentators alike are thrown by The Man With The Answers (2021), with quite a few not knowing what to make of a male romance which fails to spell out 'sexual identity' (or even career identity, for that matter) on its calling card. With no obvious dramatic precipitations to justify itself, writer / director Stelios Kammitsis' road movie is most European, as its men are most matter-of-fact. Its allure lies in that sweet spot where the mundane plays against sumptuous scenery, magnificently photographed. Too short at around 80 minutes, the road of trust and seduction Victoras and Matthias take is clunkier than the old Audi they're in but both are eminently serviceable ways to get from A to B.


Do we know who's driving or where we're going to?

One would expect the movie to stumble somewhere (or everywhere) on its cliches but it's so well directed and acted that you want the trip to not end so soon. Kammitsis certainly has his ducks lined up, and knows exactly where a gay relationship stands in the grand scheme of things. 



Washing their sins away...or something
 The Man With The Answers can be experienced as counterpoint to - or refreshment - from He Loves Me (2018). Writer / director Konstantinos Menelaou's voice-over'd rumination about two very gay men taking their very urban crumbling relationship to a deserted beach to re-find love in the dunes (and in the raw) is as confronting as it is self-indulgent. 


As a bitter indictment of many gay relationships, He Loves Me very much presents the relationship Marianne Williamson ascribes to two emotional cripples joined at the hip. The film hasn't found many gay fans beyond the soft-core porn crowd and that's remarkable because it's not unrelated to the celebrated Weekend (2011), which conclusively proved that gay men can talk shit with the best of 'em when it comes to relationships. A peculiar and uncomfortable film, He Loves Me goes directly to where we angels fear to tread: damaged men and interpersonal dysfunction, as pressure-cooked by an urban gay lifestyle. It's probably a fine romance, of the been-around-the-block kind.

 It's A Big Wide World 


   There's a lot to bemoan when we're enslaved to our own cultural presumptions. Thankfully there's much to experience and enjoy when we're not. My own comfort zone suits me best when it's inhabited by men just like me as well as men not like me at all. Along those lines, if travel broadens one's horizons then cinema can do the next best thing - especially if it's directly sex-positive as our culture becomes less so. 

It hadn't occurred to me that I'd never seen a homo onscreen who was just like me until very recently. And I was completely overwhelmed when it happened: Alec Secăreanu's take on Gheorghe in God's Own Country (2017) seemed ripped from my soul and the sense of validation I experienced was life-affirming in a way that many ideas I had about identity and being a gay outsider melted away. Such is the power of cinema, and the British movie uplifted me in ways that a dozen of the finest academic writings (or self-help books) about homosexuality never could. 


Gheorghe and his Johnny..quite simply, for better and for worse

An exceptionally well-made first feature by Francis Lee, it's magic is propelled by its earthy connection to nature in an alternately beautiful and hard landscape requiring some knockout acting to match: these guys actually do something besides living in their heads and immersing themselves in the inorganic. They farm. They adapt. They live, they love. The heart of God's Own Country just might be as simple as chances taken and given are their own rewards.



The passion and the pride of Antonio & Lucas
   The day movie theaters closed in 2019 at the onset of this century's pandemic was the proposed opening day for Chilean writer / director Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo's Los Fuertes but that misfortune is balanced by the fact that it's been generally widely available. Probably too short and positively crying out for a sequel, it takes its own sweet and sexy time to get to the point: at what age does a man need to crunch the numbers and think twice about leaving the apparently perfect man in the far regions to pursue urban gay ambitions? And of course there's the question of how the fisherman who's being left behind is supposed to feel when neither man is a callow college boy.
In substituting an almost end-of-the-world landscape for societal menace, Hidalgo elevates his story of men who love into a film of rare observational intelligence which isn't chasing such an honor.

    Argentina is a home-base of sorts for gay male films these day - due in no small part to the prolific output and sensually arresting films of Marco Berger.  Lessons have been learned from Spain's Almodovar - that gay genius film-maker has never subjected a character to 'coming out' over four decades, or even thought that audiences needed to share such a ritual. Perhaps just dash a of hot-blodded male arrogance with its heart on its sleeve is all it takes for some men to refuse to build or refurbish their own closets.

From the pen of Andi Nachon, director / producer Papu Curotto deftly crosses a few borders (and some might say boundaries) with Beyond Borders: Esteros (2016). The nominal wetland estuaries refer to both the regional setting in Argentina's far North East and what happens when fresh water meets salty sea. Or male romance within an ecological allegory if you like. Matías and Jerónimo were childhood friends who developed a mutual, pubescent sexual attraction prior to the former's family relocating across the border to Brazil. Predictably, a decade later they re-meet by chance - with Jerónimo as a single but secure gay man while Matías is ensconced in a relationship with a woman.

Not waiting for Grindr to sound

What presents as a predictable bittersweet pill for gays to swallow isn't what Curotto has in mind at all: Jerónimo is well and truly out, not inclined to subservience to heterosexual imperatives, resents having been apparently 'cancelled' by Matías and is quick to remind him that he was indeed Matías' 'first' when it comes to sex. The delightful payoff is exactly what it should be for any man willing to take charge of his life and loves.
But that's not all. It would be remiss to not re-mention two remarkable Brazilian features which transcend the dubious trappings of youth-themed coming out epics:  The Way He Looks (2014) and  Hard Paint (2018). While they may not enchant us by appealing to our stereotypical instincts to form an attachment of desire to one or both of the male leads, we're hard-pressed to not think about falling in love with somebody far removed from our normalized urban Prince Charming fantasies. 


It's Only A Movie

   Or is it? Vito Russo concluded The Celluloid Closet all those years ago with a special mention for all the queers who work in Hollywood, in the full knowledge that powerful Hollywood product was, and still is, insulting to great degrees. Those who consistently choose to remain silent, regardless of how much power they wield, have newer faces but but are of the same old politics. We may have been lulled into thinking that things have changed, but what exactly has changed when high-minded awards and critical praise are handed out for the mawkishness of  'coming through adversity'...with just enough menace to subliminally keep victims as victims?
However, as we've seen - and going with relatively narrow but informative criteria - film-makers are making films which dignify gay men doing what gay men can do, while standing as excellent and original films in their own right for all audiences. Remarkably diverse (although not significantly diverse when it comes to class or race), they're the results of our broader worldwide communities committing to that muse that is the cinema. New auteurs are exploiting newer ways to bring their visions to the world, be it by streaming services, crowdfunding and even giving their art away for free. Usually years in gestation, they're often preceded by shoestring-budgeted short films to drum up interest. We're wise to know that something based on a true story doesn't legitimize it: assumed gravitas shouldn't be mistaken for truth or art or satisfying entertainment.
And then again, if art just reflects life it's not too much to ask that the cinema now and then reflects a life well-lived i.e. a life which knows that there's only love and fear, and that they can't co-exist.