In trying to establish the type of film that will constitute the base of my PhD, I encountered some problems. Since I am going to be studying ‘gay cinema’ of sorts, I faced questionings from my friends and relatives wondering what exactly can be defined as gay cinema, if Spain has an specific gay genre, where are the limits, etc.
I have always tried to explain that I will not be studying gay cinema as a whole, but the evolution of the gay character in Spanish cinema, and as such, I didn’t see the need to define what gay cinema is understood as, where are its limits, or what are its markers. Reading through Alberto Mira’s ‘Miradas Insumisas’, though, I found some answers (to the questions I hadn’t asked myself, but which people where keen to know), and in page 25 he esplains that though ‘gay cinema’ (a term that really needs to be put inside inverted comas) is difficult to pin down, general understanding of the term has normally been referred to one of three different possible definitions.
1.- gay cinema as that one which is based on the representation of homosexuality.
2.- gay cinema as that one which is made by gay/lesbian directors or screenwriters, but that does not mean that gay characters have to appear in them.
3.- gay cinema as that one which, even when it doesn’t have any homosexual groundings, the ‘gay community’ have come to appropriate it as being gay.
Personally, I was always interested in the first definition, and this is what I will be looking at (primarily) when writing my thesis, but I find quite interesting the other two possibilities. While many homosexual directors will include gay characters in their films or television series (and therefore, these films would fall in both definitions of ‘gay cinema’) there are known gay directors or writers who have not done (yet) movies with a queer text in it, but can still be seen as ‘gay films’ according to the second definition.
So while Almodovar is clearly a gay director (second definition) who has gay characters in some of his films – ‘Broken Embraces’, ‘Bad Education’, ‘Labyrinth of Passion’ – (first definition, and therefore some of the films that I will undoubtedly discuss in further blog posts and my thesis), we have others like, Joel Schumacher, who we know are gay in real life, whose filmography doesn’t particularly follow definition one, but can still be seen as ‘gay cinema’ according to definition two. And although there is nothing particulaly queer about ‘Tigerland’ or ‘Bad Company’, we cannot deny that ‘Batman & Robin’ or ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ have a clear gay/queer/camp atribute to them.
Not that, according to the second definition of ‘gay cinema’ we would need these clear gay markings to appear in his filmography to be considered ‘gay cinema’, since the whole idea is that, even without those films, Joel Schumacher could still be considered to be making ‘gay cinema’ just because of his sexual orientation. On a side note, one needs to asses if to be able to read a film one needs all this ‘exterior’ information (what is not seen on screen) to be able to define it and categorise it. Personally, what directors do or like to do or would like to do in the privacy of their bedroom, or whom they love is non-consequential to the production, viewing and enjoyment of a film, and therefore it is a marker that I do not think I will be exploring within my own research (though I do find it a fascinating point that we could discuss in future posts).
Finally, the third definition I find absolutely fascinating since I am torn between agreeing to it, and trying to deny it. Mira discusses films like ‘Splendor in the Grass’, a film that has no intrinsically gay qualities, but that the gay community (or at least, part of it) has read it as gay, and has ‘taken it’ as ‘one of their films’. Though I don’t think there is a type of films that homosexual beings will be more attracted to, there is no denying that there are certain films that gay viewers are more likely to enjoy or feel drawn to (and I do see the oxymoron in this sentence!). It’s a very fine line.
If you agree that there are certain films which a homosexual gaze is going to appropriate as ‘theirs’, then you can agree that there is a ‘gay canon’ through which we (gays/lesbians) see films, and which we base when deciding if we like a film or not. In very simplistic terms, the musical genre, for example, is one that appeals to the gay community, and though such statement can be far too broad (stereotypical even), there is no denying that, a big number of the international gay community is drawn to this type of films, more so than heterosexual men and (even) women.
Though I do not adhiere 100% to this third definition (I think it opens the door to multiple discussions about the gay gaze, this idea of gay canon to liking films… discussions which I hope we’ll have time to discuss in future blogs, since it is interesting), I do believe that there is some truth in it. And even if I try to tell myself that it isn’t true, that there are no rules to which I go to when I decide what films I like (and therefore there can be no common gay-denominator in film-liking), I can’t help but see that, for example, I do like musicals. And although, again, musicals are just an example, if a group of 50 homosexual men and 50 heterosexual men (ditto for women) were to write down their top 5-10 films of all time, we would see some clear repetitions in the two distinct groups, and therefore, maybe (just maybe), we can agree that there is a patternof sorts. A gay-pattern, and a heterosexual-pattern.
I leave you with a quote from Alberto Mira himself, which defines this third notion of ‘gay cinema’: They are not [···] gay films, but movies which by incidental and sometimes very difficult to define motives are liked by gays.