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10 Great Queer Films Made By Straight Directors

10 Great Queer Films Made By Straight Directors

My
gut reaction is to say, “I don’t think a straight director should make a queer
film.” There’s a specificity of the experience of being queer, of living that
life and lifestyle, which a straight person will never truly understand. It’s
not their fault, by any means, but it makes the depiction of queerness on
screen a tricky task unless one has lived it themselves, not unlike portraying
the life and experiences of any other marginalized group that the filmmaker
doesn’t belong to. And yet, these ten films seem to be the exception to the
rule: they are made with such power, strength, sensitivity delicateness,
nuance, splendor, beauty, and passion that renders one speechless and
astonished. Here are ten truly outstanding queer films that were directed by
straight people.

1. Cabaret (1972) | Directed by Bob Fosse

Jack of all trades master Bob Fosse
brought Kander and Ebb’s musical to the screen, but with a catch: he brought it
back to its queer roots. As Christopher Isherwood, author of the Berlin Stories upon which the film is
based, intended, English Brian Roberts (Michael York) arrives in Weimar
Germany, his sexuality, at that point, a non-issue. The stage musical had
essentially de-queered much of Isherwood’s content ,but in order to drive home
some of Cabaret’s more interesting politics, Brian’s bisexuality thusly
was reintroduced, adding a larger sense of danger to the film. Danger is hard
to imagine at first, but given the era, that edge feels far more pointed in
Fosse’s adaptation. And then there’s Liza Minnelli’s place as a gay icon, along
with her mother, Judy Garland. The film brims with sexuality, from Brian’s
relationships to Sally Bowles’ entire persona. It’s pointed, sexy, and sinful.

 

2. The Wedding Banquet/Brokeback Mountain (1993/2004) |
Directed by Ang Lee

There is, without a doubt, an
impressiveness given Ang Lee’s depiction of queer characters. They are both of
their times and yet so transcendent of them, given their texture and
complexity. In the former film, a screwball scenario is set up with a gay Taiwanese
man, Wai-Tung (Winston Chao) pretending to get married to a woman (May Shin) in
need of a green card, all the while hiding his relationship with his lover
Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein). In the latter, two ranch hands (Jake Gyllenhaal and
Heath Ledger) fall in love, but are forced go off and live their separate
lives. I’m more impressed with the former film insofar of its ability to eclipse
its silly premise with legitimate explorations of secrecy and sexuality,
desire, and clashing cultures and cross-generational squabbles. Brokeback
Mountain
is most interesting when it examines the men’s’ lives and how
their relationship affects the people around them. Lee imbues his films with
singular sensitivity.

 

3. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) | Directed by Anthony Minghella

Much of Patricia Highsmith’s book The
Talented Mr. Ripley
and French film adaptation Purple Noon concerned a
desire regarding class. But Minghella brings the latent homoeroticism of Mr.
Ripley to the forefront, transforming the film into a cross examination of
desire. Minghella, though straight, makes desire honest and sexy in its
universality: it creeps under your skin and begins to make you sweat. Your eyes
track the characters, from Jude Law to Gwyneth Paltrow to Matt Damon. Mr.
Ripley
’s gaze is universal.

 

4. Angels in America (2003) | Directed by Mike Nichols

Based on Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer
Prize-winning play, Mike Nichols (who also directed the interestingly
problematic The Birdcage) brings a genuine feeling of grand scale to
television, taking the play’s subtitle (“A Gay Fantasia on National Themes”)
literally. Clocking in a six hours (it was technically a mini-series, but who’s
counting), Nichols and Kushner run the gamut and survey a series of characters
with their own hang-ups in the midst of the AIDS crisis in New York. But
“characters” is wrong; Angels in America consists of humans
with a multitude of emotions and numerous facets, and the film is able to
exhibit them with passion and consideration. It’s worth every second of your
time.

 

5. Some Like It Hot (1959) | Directed by Billy Wilder

Maybe the inclusion of Billy Wilder’s
screwball masterpiece might be controversial, but I feel that its queer
inclusiveness can be boiled down to its final line of dialogue: “Well, nobody’s
perfect.” Release in 1960, these few words seemed to hint at the desire to
normalize queerness in a way that is still, in a way, being fought for today.
Its other queer content is more obvious (cross dressing, Marilyn’s Sugar Kane
falling for Tony Curtis’s female persona Josephine), but nevertheless
intriguing. Oh, did I mention it’s one of the funniest comedies ever made?

 

6. 3 Women (1977) | Directed by Robert Altman

Robert Altman’s dreamlike film registers
as queer in perhaps a more subtle manner than the other films I’ve mentioned so
far: the attraction between naïve Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) and loquacious
Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall) becomes more apparent in waves, washing over
the audience in a hypnotic manner. Undoubtedly one of Altman’s oddest films, 3
Women
is a mesmerizing look at a gradually weirder and incredibly
complex relationship in the middle of the desert.

 

7. Dog Day Afternoon (1975) | Directed by Sidney Lumet

Often forgotten about as a queer film and better remembered as a bank
robber/Stockholm syndrome film, but Sidney Lumet’s iconic film nonetheless
examines two facets of queerness: the personal, through character of Sonny and
his lover, and the political side, through the LGBT activism seen in the
streets of the film. The former is ripe for study: Sonny’s lover was a
transwoman in the midst of her transition, and his primary motivation for
robbing the bank was to grant her the opportunity to go through sex
reassignment surgery. Such a queer relationship depicted on film is captivating
and important, and Pacino’s multifaceted performance elevates it even higher.

 

8. Chasing Amy (1997) | Directed by Kevin Smith

The inclusion of Chasing Amy might raise
some eyebrow, given that it is, ostensibly, about a queer woman falling for a
straight man: yet, that very relationship dynamic exemplifies it’s exploration
of how complicated and mysterious sexuality is. Refreshingly honest and
sincere, the heart stands still when watching the relationship develop between
Holden (Ben Affleck) and Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams), both of whom are rejected
from their respective friend groups given the unconventional nature of their
romance. Arguably ahead of its time in terms of examining these ideas about
sexuality (especially for a mainstream audience), Chasing Amy is
impressively beautiful and nuanced in its depiction of queerness.

 

9.  Lady Vengeance (2005) | Directed by Park Chan-wook

Park Chan-wook got to the strange goings
on at a women’s prison before Orange is
the New Black
(not counting “women in prison” movies), and while there’s
queer activity going on there, it’s more interesting to examine Lee Geum-ja’s
(Lee Young-ae) own presentation of her sexuality in the film: heterosexual sex
notwithstanding, Geum-ja radiates a vibe that transcends a performative binary.
Though it’s rarely depicted in how she presents herself aesthetically
necessarily, the femininity and masculinity of her character are used to her
advantage, as her power.

 

10.  Heavenly Creatures (1994) | Directed by Peter Jackson

It’s like amour fou, but for kids. Peter Jackson’s stunning masterpiece
examining the notorious Parker-Hulme murder case in New Zealand blurs the line
between romance and friendship in an endlessly alluring way. Two young girls,
Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet) from different
social classes become friends when the latter transfers to a new school. Soon
enough, their friendship becomes obsessive, powerful, and fantastical,
burrowing itself in the phantasmagoria of film and fairytale. And there are
moments when this enslaving dynamic hints at something more romantic and
erotic. Jackson paints a whirlwind of emotions through bizarre and wondrous
imagery, never losing sight of the complexities of the relationship. 

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