With San Francisco’s Frameline Film Festival underway and LA’s Outfest weeks away, it’s that time of the year when the festival circuit gets a little queerer. And so, for those cinephiles looking to celebrate LGBT Pride Month at home, here are ten queer cinema essentials you can stream now.
“Un Chant d’Amour” (Fandor)
It seems fitting to begin with Jean Genet‘s shattering 1950 short about gay male desire slithering behind prison walls. Shot in illusory black-and-white, the film’s highly stylized, dislocating sex scenes are as shocking today as they were then. Genet forayed into theater and literature many times throughout his life as a libertine in France — from his play “The Maids” to the bewitching novel “Our Lady of the Flowers” — but this song of love was his only cinematic effort, and one he would come to loathe as much as he did his own skin.
A straight-and-narrow lawyer, happily married to a woman, is blackmailed by a community of conspirators when his secret life in the gay closet is mistakenly outed. Often left out of the queer canon, Basil Dearden‘s radical British masterpiece spit on the face of social nicety in 1961 when it became one of the first films to use the word “homosexual” in English — in other words, movies were finally starting to name the thing they had been suggesting all along.
“The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” (Hulu)
In 1972, German workhorse R.W. Fassbinder adapted this fascinating, devastating film from his own psychologically charged play about the tectonic shifts happening below the surface of female relationships. The whole film takes place in woebegone fashionista Petra’s (Margit Carstensen) garish apartment, with the camera nimbly circumventing then, finally, fully inhabiting the contradictory feelings of love and hate stirring between three women. (Also check out Fassbinder’s Genet adaptation “Querelle.”)
Todd Haynes‘ 1991 Sundance revelation is a trilogy of mythic tales — and an open wound of gay agony that the world, at that time, urgently needed to see. One story is a mockumentary parable about a lonely little boy who could fly; another is a B-movie-style sci-fi horror story about sexuality gone leprously awry; and the third is a luminous retelling of gay prison novel “The Miracle of the Rose” by Jean Genet, to whom all these filmmakers are, in one way or another, indebted.
“Love Is The Devil” (Google Play)
Is there a more beautifully upsetting gay love story in all of cinema? Watching Derek Jacobi and Daniel Craig batter each other emotionally and physically is a gloomy pleasure in John Maybury‘s 1998 take on the life of expressionist painter Francis Bacon. Originally made for British television, and an Un Certain Regard contender at Cannes, the film contains eerie visuals to die for, and a million dollar bathtub shot you won’t want to miss.
“High Art” (Amazon)
“Kids Are All Right” director Lisa Cholodenko‘s moody debut turns on a bored photographer (Radha Mitchell) who drifts away from her longterm boyfriend and into a dangerous lesbian affair with a woman on the edge. It’s a serious downer, but the subtle tone and shifts in character are coolly seductive, and Patricia Clarkson is marvelously unhinged as a washed-out, heroin-rattled artiste. (2013’s equally intelligent “Concussion,” also on Netflix, owes a debt to this one.)
“Mysterious Skin” (Hulu)
Queer cinema auteur Gregg Araki‘s best film to date remains this 2004 coming-out-and-of-age drama about a mixed-up teen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) turned gay hustler in the early 90s. Gordon-Levitt endures hell in melancholy small-town Kansas, as does Brady Corbet, whose repressed sexual abuse stirs an obsession with alien abduction. One of the most gushingly emotional film experiences out there.
“Keep the Lights On” (Netflix)
Magnetic performances from Danish actor Thure Lindhardt and Zachary Booth turn a doomed romance into a poetic opera of gritty beauty and unexpected power in this New York-set tragedy that wowed Sundance in 2012. With documentary realism, writer/director Ira Sachs revisited his own troubled relationship with author (and former drug addict) Bill Clegg that devoured a decade of his life to pen the script — and it’s a miracle he did. His next film, “Love Is Strange,” hits theaters this Summer.
“I Killed My Mother” (Fandor)
Call him a brat, call him a savant, call him an enfant terrible — there’s no denying that Xavier Dolan, 2014 Cannes Jury Prize winner for “Mommy,” is, at 25 years old, the real deal. His 2009 debut “I Killed My Mother” languished in stateside distribution hell for years before finally wending its way here not long ago. Dolan writes, directs and plays the (gay) main character, a sangfroid teenage Adonis with enough mommy issues to fuel an army of Oedipuses.
“Stranger By The Lake” (Netflix)
French director Alain Guiraudie rips the puritan bedsheets off safe onscreen sex in this intensely erotic and murky blend of desire and dread on the shores of a lakeside cruising hotspot. With menacing tone, and explosive sequences of guy-on-guy action, the film knows, and dwells in the fact, that attraction is a ravenous, terrifying and utterly ridiculous thing.