Maedchen in Uniform (1931)
It’s almost hard to believe now that a film where female sexuality sat front and centre came out of Germany just two years before Hitler was appointed Chancellor of the country. Maedchen in Uniform is not only a stunning piece of early female empowerment on film. But also achieved critical success around the world, a feat that was truly amazing in early 1930’s society. However, when watching this film, you can’t help but reflect on the devastation that was to come. Taking Germany’s role as a leader in equality and empowerment into some of the darkest regions of world history.
Pink Narcissus (1971)
Providing us with a courageous and joyous celebration of the male body, Pink Narcissus is photographic art in celluloid. An explosion of vibrant colour in an erotic dream of pure beauty. Shot over seven years on 8mm film in his apartment using homemade props and sets, Pink Narcissus was a labour of love for James Bidgood. Despite this, a quick and highly controversial cinema release led to the film being edited for public consumption; Bidgood choosing to withdraw it from public view. However, although it may have remained shrouded in mystery for many years, Pink Narcissus was thankfully found and restored. A cult classic of early gay cinema once more finding its rightful place in the LGBTQ film archives.
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Whether Midnight Cowboy can truly be described as an LGBTQ film is an interesting question that still causes debate among critics. For me, this is a film that not only shines a light on a range of issues still taboo on its release in 1969. But also bravely centres its narrative on themes of male love and bonding. Here, at the films, core we have the relationship of Joe (Voight) and Ratso (Hoffman), which still endures. And while elements now seem dated and the characterisations may appear conflicted within modern sensibilities.
Midnight Cowboy is still a powerful exploration of masculinity and sexuality in a grim world of male prostitution—the first and only X rated movie ever to win an Oscar. And while Midnight Cowboy owes much to Schlesinger’s creative vision and Voight and Hoffman’s performances in its enduring ability to reach new audiences. The themes it carries continue to speak to us on a deep intrinsic level, as we all continue to explore what it means to be male.
My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
In a mid-’80s British society where capitalism was in full swing and money was the new drug. AIDS was ravaging the gay community without discrimination or impunity. Therefore, Frears adaptation of Hanif Kureishi’s play offered a glimmer of hope to a community lacking positive representation. While also critiquing a dramatically changing British society. My Beautiful Laundrette not only took square aim at homophobia but also Britains racially divided society. Using a comic slant, alongside a complex cultural dissection of 80’s Britain. Laundrette remains a beautiful portrait and a time capsule of a changing decade where race and sexuality dovetailed with politics, family and belonging.
Un Chant d’Amour (1950)
The only film to be written and directed by French novelist and playwright Jean Genet. Un chant d’amour was a groundbreaking and important turning point in gay cinema. Shot on 35mm film in stark black and white. This 25-minute feature set in a French prison challenged societies concepts of sexual freedom versus control. Relying purely on an image as it traversed the relationship between two inmates in solitary confinement—each communicating their feelings and desires to the other through a small hole in the wall. Ultimately creating a picture of photographic intensity that still carries immense power. A power that found it banned in the UK and USA for many years after its release.