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Queer and/or peculiar films that have mattered

Wednesday, Jul 10 2002

At first, the 20th anniversary of Outfest seemed like a good excuse for the Weekly's film critics to do what critics love to do best -- make 10-best lists. But who cares, really, what we think? Instead, we've called and e-mailed a bunch of artists and filmmakers and asked one simple, scintillating question: "Which gay- or lesbian-themed film do you love most and why?" Their responses were warm and generous and full of surprises -- and included, we note with satisfaction, one 10-best list.

DAVID ANSEN (film critic, Newsweek)

One of the first movies that pops into my mind, although you could argue whether it's a gay movie or not, is Sunday, Bloody Sunday [1971; John Schlesinger, director]. Seeing it in 1971, it felt sort of post-liberated. It made no fuss. It accepted gayness very matter-of-factly. And the Peter Finch character was so moving. He was just this guy. There was no issue at all. That made a huge impression on me.

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MIGUEL ARTETA (filmmaker, Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl)

The Times of Harvey Milk [1984; Robert Epstein, director] has so much humanity to it, so much compassion. I'm not gay, but my brother is, and watching that movie was a big moment in our relationship. I'd always felt, Oh, I understand him very well, yet watching that movie made me redefine our relationship. It took me by surprise. It's a movie I watch when I'm feeling like making films is bullshit. It helps me get closer to a feeling that says, "There is work to be done. Do not live a foolish life."

RON ATHEY (performance artist)

All things Pier Paolo Pasolini. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom [1975] is the best example of how -- except for maybe in his unfinished novel Petrolio -- Pasolini used gay sex acts to attack, rather than entice. Set in fascist Italy, the jaded libertines, the big-dicked guards and the storytelling whores make edge-play as true to De Sade as allowable, and it's still almost unbelievable. Graphic sex on the screen is not always pornographic.

SHEILA BENSON (former chief film critic, Los Angeles Times)

What struck me about Aimée & Jaguar [1999; Max Färberböck, director] is that, except for Don't Look Now, it has the hottest love scene I've seen almost anywhere, between any two people, much less two women. And I was thrilled that on a recent Charlie Rose, Richard Gere got director Adrian Lyne to admit that, true to the immemorial tradition of American directors, the sexiest sequence in Unfaithful [2002] -- where Diane Lane's entire body shivers and trembles at her lover's touch -- was a direct lift from Aimée & Jaguar. Bless his heart, Gere made Lyne cop to it.

KAUCYILA BROOKE (conceptual artist, director of photography program, CalArts)

I saw The Killing of Sister George [1968; Robert Aldrich, director] after I first came out, and it terrified me -- the established lesbian relationship in the film is so dysfunctional -- but I saw it again in 1990 and thought, "This is fabulous." There's a scene in which George [Beryl Reid] -- I love that her name is George -- makes Childie [Susannah York] eat a cigar butt, and at first George gets off on Childie's disgusted face. But then Childie triumphs by pretending to love the cigar butt, that it's the best thing she's ever had. Power, playing back and forth. Later, an executive at the TV studio named Mercy, played by Coral Browne, seduces Childie in ä one of the hottest lesbian sex scenes I've seen. Childie is laying there in a kind of empire-waisted dress with a little white collar, and she's got a fall on, and has long hair and bangs -- very little-girl. And Mercy opens Childie's dress and pinches her nipple and sucks her nipple, and the way it's edited -- the expressions on Childie's face, the older woman/younger woman aspect of it, the shifting of power -- is extremely erotic. Really wonderful.

BILL CONDON (filmmaker, Gods and Monsters)

The last couple of times I've seen Parting Glances [1986; Bill Sherwood, director] I've been struck by how Sherwood does so much with the idea implied by the film's title. This movie has more exit scenes and exit lines than any movie I've ever seen. It's always people leaving, and I think that's part of the movie's underlying structure, so it really packs a wallop when the lead character, Michael [played by Richard Ganoung], goes over to his ex-boyfriend, played by Steve Buscemi, and declares that he's only been in love once and it was with him. In a movie about how people are constantly moving on to the next thing, the idea of this guy going back and trying to hold on to something really hits you. And, of course, there's this great resonance because we never got to see more Bill Sherwood movies [Sherwood died in 1990 from AIDS complications]. There's such exuberance and joy in the film, too. It's very special.

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