Emmett Till (1941-1955)

Those who saw last year’s The Help may be wondering if it showed the full picture of the racism of the Southern states before equal rights for blacks. One incident stands out as being  the most unimaginably extreme example of the racist attitudes towards blacks in the fifties.

A young man named Emmet Till was travelling from Chicago to visit his cousin. It was a long drive and when he got there he went  to a local store and bought some bubblegum. At this point Till joined some local boys and approached the white female shopkeeper and may have propositioned her (he suggested he had had sex with white women before). Sensing the situation could get out of hand, the boys told him to leave the town immediately.

It seems that someone told the men at the store where Hill lived. That night Bryant’s husband Roy and his half brother arrived at Till’s house, dragged him out of his bed, and drove him to a barn.Till’s body was badly beaten, his left eye gouged out, they shot him in the head and the next morning his body was found in the Tallahachie river. 


Hill’s body face was so smashed in, that it was hard to identify him, and inspite of the terrible injuries his mother insisted that he have an open casket, so that the world could see what happened. Pictures of Hill’s pummelled face went around the world. 

As for the men who murdered Hill, there was a trial but they were acquitted after three months. Only a few months after the horrendous crime, Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of an Alabama bus, a sign that things were slowly starting to get better.

And the Oscar goes to…………..

You have to hand it to the Academy of Motion Pictures. When it comes to self-aggrandisement they are world leaders.

Among the options available for best picture in what was the most varied list in years, they went for a film that was about a film, albeit one that was only a front for a covert security operation. It seems that even when the options include 3-D fantasy (The Life of Pi), screwball rom-com (brilliant Silver Linings Playbook), a musical, even a western (Django Unchained) and a Spielberg biopic (Lincoln), the Academy’s will always prefer films about themselves. The really disappointing part is that the Oscars now seem to follow all the preceeding award ceremonies (Argo won best film at the Baftas earlier this month).

Generally it was hard to find much fault with the rest of their decisions, especially with so many films to choose from. Christoph Waltz took best-supporting actor for his second Tarantino film, in which his character was the moral center in a film of sickening violence and cynicism, the film was also given Best Original Screenplay.

Just as they had at the Baftas, Anne Hathaway and Daniel Day Lewis won for Les Mis and Lincoln respectively. Amour took Best Foreign film, but that was all. Jennifer Lawrence made good, winning Best Actress for SLP. I have no fault with the Academy’s vote, except that the film was really an ensemble piece in which she was merely a part, but her performance deserves all the plaudits, and really acknowledges a genuine talent. On the film, it proves that the Oscars rarely goes for comedies, even when they are as brilliantly written and photographed as Silver Linings Playbook

The Academy’s were hosted by Seth Mcfarlane, who means very little to me. There was also a completly redundant tribute to the Bond films, which to my knowledge have never been big Oscar winners. Adele sang, as did Shirley Bassey. There was a musical theme to the evening, with performances from Dreamgirls, Chicago and Les Miserables. No problem there , even if the singing was sometimes harsh and discordant.

Charlize Theron (not an actress I can warm to) showed off a very short new haircut. Reese Witherspoon looked properly sexy in a nice blue dress. Somebody was pregnant, this was on the Red Carpet. The speeches were kept under two minutes, sometimes being drowned out by music, the Jaws theme at one point. Catherine Zeta Jones looked like she had come as an Oscar, wearing a gold dress down to the floor. I’ll leave the clothes analysis to the fashionistas. Jennifer Lawrence pleased everyone in Dior, see picture below:




Bizarre Hollywood deaths: Charles McGraw

Actor Charles McGraw (1914-1980) has one of the most bizarre and unusual deaths of any actor I have come across, slipping and falling through a glass shower door.


The accident occurred at his home in Studio City, California. He was 66. McGraw became famous after starring in the noir film ‘The Narrow Margin‘ – playing a detective escorting a woman testifying against her mafia husband. His vocal tones were described as sounding like someone being strangled.

McGraw went on to take small roles in A films; Spartacus, The Birds and The Defiant Ones.

His last film was Twilight’s Last Gleaming.

My thoughts on the Oscar Pistorious Case

Pistorious is currently on bail, charged with murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

What actually happened?

Here is what we know: shots were fired at his home, at 3am, Steenkamp was dead when the ambulance arrived after Pistorious had unsuccessfully tried to revive her.

He made a call saying he had shot his girlfriend.

witnesses have said they heard arguing between a man and woman that evening. His account is that he had been spending a quiet night in, to be woken up by a loud noise. At this point, events seem to support Pistorious, supposing his statements are correct. He hadn’t checked to see if his girlfriend was sleeping beside him. She was in the bathroom when he fired the shots that killed her. If he thought there was a burglar, why not call the police? And why would a burglar lock themselves into a bathroom, rather than attempt to escape? as far I can tell, Oscar had enough time to get up, attach his prosthetics, but not enough time to establish that there was no burglar, just his girlfriend in the bathroom? Quite why he needed to shoot first remains to be known.

Testimony from the prosecution seems to be flawed, and it now looks as though they will have to call a new witness after the police officer has been revealed to be guilty of violent crimes himself. Whatever the consequences, a young woman is tragically dead, which seems to be the most upsetting aspect of this case. 

TV review: – Girls, Season 2.6: Boys

Lena Denham’s Girls has been a constant source of amusement, enjoyment and frustration. Last night’s episode (Boys) was like watching a compendium of everything that makes the show so great, with all of the things that make it drag left out.

Each episode of this series has felt like its a stand-alone film, complete with unique intro and outro music, and the show’s title sequence uses different coloured-backgrounds very similar to those used by Godard in his most insurrectionary sixties movies.



Alison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Lena Denham and Zosia Mamet.

The previous episode, in which Hannah spent the night and day, then night again, with a man whose rubbish bin she had been using, was the closest the show has come to romantic comedy, but it was laced with the sour, bitter ironies of a young and poor woman with a successful older man, as though Neil La Bute were directing an episode of Friends. That episode starred Patrick Wilson a doctor whose outer handsomness belied a dark inner core.

It must be said that  the setup of Girls is completly unfluffy, with none of the brash camaraderie of Sex and the City, or the sweet and un-challenging platitudes of Friends.

Episode Six gave more time to some of the male characters who make up a counterpart to the women of Girls. Likable coffee -shop worker Ray, and Hannah‘s sociopathic ex-boyfriend Adam bonded over a dog which the extremely volatile Adam had taken from outside on the street. The episode saw them leaving Manhattan to take the ferry to Staten island, along the way they shared their view on relationships, both agreeing that very young much older women make the best partners. their burgeoning friendship was sharply abrupted when Adam turned on Ray, accusing him of not being in love with Shoshanna, only being with her due to not wanting a real relationship. The men in Girls can seem in a greater sense of emotional turmoil than the women, especially the primal and sometimes violent Adam, who spent most of the first few episodes of this season laid up in bed after being run-over.

Watching an episode of Girls is to be constantly confounded and surprised, perhaps there is only one show that matches this very literary quality, Mad Men; the two shows share an actress in Zosia Mamet. Things are introduced to us and we think we know where the episode is going, we think we know because in all tv programmes there is a certain expecatation that events will follow a clear pattern, that we are being led down a certain path. I suggest that Girls is unique in refusing to follow this schematic tradition. At the beginning of this episode Marni was in bed with Booth, white-sheets wrapped around her, a classic image of sexual satisfaction that suggested that their relationship was in a good place and would end in marriage only a few episodes later. Then the artist’s personal assistant walked in and we realised we had got it wrong, this artist was an arrogant exploiter, of his assistant and his girlfriend, promptly firing her after she admitted to taking a spoonful of his ice-cream. If that wasn’t enough, he had the temerity to expect Marni to replace his ex-PA at a party he was giving. That scene showed just how conflicted and confused these characters are. Marni was at once delighted to be asked, wearing an elaborate, perspex-layered dress, and then appalled by his attempts to pay her for her work. It turned out that Booth was under no impression that they were dating, and Marni was immediately brought back to a state of unease and uncertainty, which all four girls seem to experience, though virginal Shosh has been less afflicted and may be the most balanced of the group.

Much has been made of the show’s sexual frankness, as well as censorious distaste at the slightly overweight nude body of Denham, whose character barely makes it to the end without being seen naked. Hannah, needless to say, would never make an extra in the Central Perk coffee shop in Friends. If Hannah is sexually promiscuous, Marni (privileged, tall, brunette)  is the archetypal attractive best friend, who pursues conventional relationships but is rarely satisfied. Adorable and kind-hearted Shoshanna started the show a virgin, but the show made no apologies for this, actually Shoshanna has been given as interesting character as the other ‘girls’ – accidentally smoking crack at a warehouse party last season, her sayings have inspired a webpage -‘stupid things Shoshanna says’. There is one more girl, Jessa, to complete the foursome, though her scene was short and made less of an impression. Such a range of women, coming from different backgrounds and cultures, argue more than they agree, and the social world of Manhattan is as stratified as high school. The awful party that Marni attended was a microcosm of this world, in which people fear saying the wrong thing and worry about what they wear, 100 years ago Henry James and Edith Wharton would have based their novels around these environments. It was a party at which Hannah felt unwelcome, reluctantly staying until  insulted by a guest (‘just an ebook’) and leaving alone.

The show reached an emotional highpointt after the party. Marni was on the phone to Hannah, asking why she left early. Neither was able to say what they really wanted to, in Hannah’s case, she hadn’t been able to start her novel, whilst Marni wanted to sound happy and upbeat, despite her heartbreak. Filmed lovingly in brilliant cinematography, the scene highlighted the gap between the image of the life Marni wanted and the reality of the one she was living, it was gorgeously done, and very moving. No less sad was the shot of Adam, sitting on the bench at sunlight, talking to the dog whose owner he couln’t locate “You think I’m hopeless don’t you, my life is going nowhere.”

The show loves its characters even when they behave appallingly, which they often do, they don’t make up at the end of each lesson or spend each episode discussing their sex lives over Cosmopolitans. The show is light years ahead of any other sitcoms made in New York, it is under no circumstances to be linked to New Girl or 2 Broke Girls, with which it shares a noun. It speaks about who we are, this generation of lost souls, like the characters in Fitzgerald’s stories, they are beautiful, but as yet not damned. they are certainly a ,more thoughtful and decent lot than the amoral and hedonistic eighties brats of Bret Easton Ellis novels.

Yes, this show is really going somewhere, but no-one knows exactly where.

On not having sex in college

Right, its confession time. I didn’t have sex in college. Or at university. I’m not proud of the fact. After all that was a big part of me going there in the first place. I hate to think of all the sex I missed by not being at the right parties or hanging with the right crowd. Its nuts when I think about it. all that free time and spare cash hanging around. I did go to parties though, and I was a regular at the student bar. Hardly a social wallflower. And it wasn’t like I didn’t approach women. 

funnily enough when the time came that I actually did get the opportunity to have sex with someone I ignored the signals, we slept in the same bed but didn’t actually do anything, we just got undressed and put the lights out. I’m kicking myself now though. Sorry this isn’t going anywhere. The girl was called Sophie, we actually hung out with each other quite a bit. I was completely stuck on someone else who couldn’t care less about me. Sorry Sophie for not going further with you. It really wasn’t anything you did. I just wish my younger self could have been more proactive.

True life Hollywood: “the Producer and the Black Panther”

This is an amazing real life story that belongs in fiction, or a movie thriller…. Back when the movies had soul and America was feeling the aftermath of the civil rights movement, a young revolutionary by the name of Huey Long founded a radical movement. But this episode centres on what led a big shot producer to personally fund the leaders hideout in Cuba and provide legal support for a string of crimes that should have seen him die in prison.

hueyBlack Panther commander in chief Huey Newton

Newton’s bizarre leadership of the Panthers was known; he carried a swagger stick to be like Idi Amin. More seriously were the exhortion rackets where he shook down pimps, after-hours club owners and theater owners. Murders of others were carried out under his orders for perceived disloyalty to the group, There were regular beatings and pimping out of Panther women at the Lamp Post Bar.

Newton had a way of being tough on the streets of Oakland where he grew up but he concealed it from his respectable friends, both black and white, celebrities and political figures from the liberal elite; Jane Fonda, Leornard Bernstein, Jessica Mitford, Marlon Brando, all of which were supporters of the Panthers.

Schneider died two years ago. He was responsible for breaking down the the stifling control of the old Hollywood studio system and giving artistic control to a group of young first time directors. This is a period welll-documented by Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.  Schneider created the manufactured pop-group The Monkees. He used the profits from their TV show to make Easy Rider, which cost $360,000. Easy Rider went on to make 36 milion, almost 100 times the budget, and making it one of the most profitable films ever made. This figure led to Paramount giving Schneider a six picture deal made by writer directors.

Producer Schneider, with Candice Bergen

With his success as executive producer growing exponentially, Schneider was able to support left wing causes. He donated to antiwar movements, especially Vietnam Veterans against the war, giving money to Joan Baez personally. He was friends with activists Abbie Hoffman and Daniel Ellsberg.

But after he met Newton – the official leader of the Panthers- he took an even greater leap – financially and politically – into Newton’s social world and psyche. Newton was a genuine revolutionary hero to many, He had actually shot a police officer in Oakland who was seen by the  left as a racist pig.

Bert had met Huey in September 1970. Bert had been involved – politically and romantically – with Elaine Brown, a dedicated member of the black panther party. She introduced them after Huey came home from his summer stint in prison. Bert provided direct entree to Hollywood and almost immediately they were as thick as thieves. Bert idolized Huey’s commitment to politics, seeing them as kindred spirits: Bert had overturned the studio system and Huey had his sights set on the world.

“Their bond was incredible,” said Elaine Brown. Bert often had Huey at his side, on vacation, at premieres, at his house. A big black panther ring now sat on Bert’s finger.

He was deeply involved and risked arrest when he helped Newton escape arrest for a string of crimes allegedly committed in 1974. Newton was accused of shooting a 17 – year old prostitute in the leg. He also pistol-whipped his tailor while being fitted for a suit. He also pulled guns on a couple of cops in an after hours bar. The money that Schneider spent helping Newton ran to millions of dollars.

So why was such a director in thrall to a gang of violent and often criminal gangsters? According to his girlfriend at the time, Candice Bergen, ”If Bert saw an injustice he would do something about it. And he could.”

By the early seventies the Black Panthers were falling apart. It seemed that maintaining focus as a revolutionary leader was hard when surrounded by cocaine and alcohol. Huey was a real intellectual, engaging his followers in discussions on free-will and existentialism – but as often happens with idealists- a gulf widened between theory an praxis. Huey eschewed the title of supreme commander yet acted ever more like a messiah gone astray. In Oakland he purged the party of radicals. Trying to get into the movie business didn’t help: working on their epic blaxpoitation film one night, Bobby Seale and Newton locked horns so violently that Newton bullwhipped him, Seale fled Oakland the next day.

Bert never asked Huey what happened in Oakland. He figured Huey was being persecuted. In the politics of the time the Panthers had been declared by J.Edgar Hoover the greatest threat to the country’s internal security.

Organising the breakout of a wanted man was never going to be easy. Schneider gave the project a name like it was one of his films, calling it ‘The Big Cigar’. To help him he enlisted ARTIE ROSS as the babysitter, Benny was the Jew, Huey was the leading man or the star. And Bert would talk about how they needed a location for their movie, and ‘transportation’ to get the star to the location.

It was Benny who came up with the idea of using a plane to get Huey from Mexico to Cuba, under the radar. He knew someone who knew someone who could do it. Nine had bona fide revolutionary credentials having fought for Che Geuvara. Bert gave him money to build an airstrip and find a pilot. This was a time when ‘airjacking’, taking over as plane, was a method of escaping the country.

Homespun cloak and dagger was new for Bert’s Hollywood clique. Nine stalled, saying his pilot had taken the money.Maybe there was no pilot and he was full of shit. Bert talked to ROSS in Tana’s, a popular hangout at the time. Ross’s plan was to use a boat in dry dock in Miami. It was a trimaran called Maya.   Artie was not political, he was scared of Huey, having seen him descend into plenty of paranoid scuffles. As Hollywood’s elite rubbed elbows in Dan Tana’s, Artie thought about seasonal currents and how to transport a fugitive over Caribbean waters. Bert talked to a lawyer friend, who was worried that the whole enterprise was illegal. Unlike the movies this was real life – and dangerous.

Bert was still in hiding, running The Big Cigar from his home in the Valley. Like Huey he was trapped, his underground railroad off the tracks. And he was having problems with his production company after several flops. Then Candice left him. His personality was so large that she felt she was disappearing. She no longer wanted to play Galatea  next to Bert’s power-hungry Pygmalion. Bert was heartbroken. He careened between women and tried to finish Hearts and Minds.

It took several weeks for Artie to ready the boat. A friend was brought in to be captain. Unfortunately, he was stoned. He missed a bouy and crashed the boat into a nine foot statue, Christ of the Deep, a beloved snorkeling attraction. They swam to Key Largo and hitchhiked back to Miami. Artie never sent a distress signal or tried to call the coastguard, he was afraid to answer questions. He let the beautiful boat he built sink to the bottom of the seafloor.


Bert’s Yelapa compound was, in the literal sense, the end of the world. And that’s what worried Huey. Boats were the only way in – or out. And he was worried the counterrevolutionary Federales would find him. Huey felt trapped and imprisoned. he spent time in solitary, and his meditation got him through, but the zen- like Huey was gone. He kept trying to hire local fisherman to take him to Cuba, even though Yelapa is in the Pacific. Huey didn’t want to live in disguise, like Abbie Hoffman. “Then give yourself up” Bert told him. “The worse that will happen is you’ll go to prison.” Then came a phone call. It was from Ross’s uncle Charlie. Charlie had found a Scandinavian with his own boat willing to transport. Bert didn’t ask his business but figured it probably wasn’t sightseeing. He wanted $15,000 if his boat was compensated. Bert agreed and asked Charlie his name. Charlie didn’t know, so he called him the Pirate.

The Pirate 

Huey and Gwen set sail on Thanksgiving Eve, 1974. After months of delays they flew to Cozumel, as instructed. Bert stayed in Los Angeles, crossing his fingers that the Pirate would get them to Cuba.

They set off, Huey and Gwen sailing topdeck. Unaccustomed to sailing they became seasick. As the sea calmed, the trip became more pleasant. Gwen thought that the Pirate, with his scaly and parched skin, looked like a fish that had escaped the sea’s depths. When they saw land on the horizon, Huey contemplated the last leg of the jouney. The Pirate thought they were 15 miles from land. They were facing rough seas, and the journey was going to be even more dangerous, taking place under the cover of  night. ”We’ve come this far,” said Huey. “We have no choice.” The Pirate joked that he’d wait offshore to collect their bodies.

They inflated the Zodiac – a motorized craft and Huey and Gwen battled the rough waters. They immediately lost an oar. They  had five gallons of gas and the remaining oar if the gas ran out. Gwen brought her suitcase – packed with clothes, cosmetics and letter explaining their identities and revolutionary solidarity. The Pirate wished them luck as Huey started the motor and turned the nose to shore.

The only landmark was a lighthouse that flashed every 15 seconds. The motor whined for hours as Huey tried to keep the boat steady. They almost capsized with waves as high as five feet, but after eleven hours daylight revealed they were near shore but even nearer to a churning reef.  By then Huey had realised they had no life jackets, were out of gas and paddling with one oar. The reef raised violent waves that broke water over volcanic rocks. Huey tried to steer but the water was in control. He was a long way from Oakland and Beverly Hills.

On the shore onlookers gawped at the bloody and scratched survivors. Huey and Gwen were soaked, scratched and cut by the rocks when they were picked up by the local committee for the defense of the Revolution. Despite all the fuss about an introduction to the Castro regime, it took Huey hours to convince them he was a famous revolutionary who was here to join Fidel. Pointing  out that he had been invited,  a gendarme said, “well, we didn’t shoot you did we?”

And so finally Huey was safe at last. Back in Hollywood, Bert and the rest of Beverly Hills Seven quietly celebrated Huey’s successful escape. Huey wound up cutting sugar cane and repairing cars for a few years. Bert visited a few times, with Candice Bergen, Francis Ford Coppola and others in tow.

Huey read a script by Artie based on The Big Cigar and liked it. Bert was interested in making the film and Candice and Richard Dreyfuss were attached to star. Then, nothing. The idealism of the sixties was giving way to the apathy of the seventies. Social justice was out, franchises and long queues were in. Some people from that era didn’t last, Artie died of an unwisely administered hit of laughing gas inhaled from the tank. Bert offered one last parting shot when he brought back Hearts and Minds, winning an Oscar for Best Documentary at the Oscars in 1975. Standing in a three piece suit, receiving the award from Jack Nicholson, Bert offered “greetings of friendship to all American people” from the government of north Vietnam.

The scariest thing of all

When I was nineteen I spent a summer working at a warehouse. I was a student and away from home for the first time, and I needed money. The guy said I could start the next evening, i was to be stacking the shelves, taking deliveries and looking at the security cameras. It was a large warehouse containing all kinds of stuff, I think they shipped construction materials. I did the night shift. I got in to start at 10pm. I took a coffee with me and somehow managed to stay awake until the next morning. Most of the time it was just me. The time I want to tell you about comes after I’d been working there for a few weeks. I was really getting the hang of the job by that point. the nights had stopped bothering me. that summer the heat was stifling. If I was at home I’d have been turning around all night trying to sleep. The warehouse was cool and they had air-conditioning so it never got uncomfortable,

So i want you to picture the scene. I was in my first year at film school. I decided that was something I had to do based on some stories I’d heard and films I’d watched. You can tell I hadn’t given it much thought. I kept a notebook where I’d sketch down ideas, fragments of stories that I’d hope to one day be able to develop. You could tell though even then that they weren’t going anywhere. They were too raw, too rough. I’d have an idea I really liked, then realise quickly that i’d stolen the idea from a film i’d seen only recently. I’d tries to write about my own experiences but that got tiresome really quickly. The one thing that I didn’t want was to write about the dull mundane reality I already lived in.

About this time I was starting to discover Hitchcock. We’d already watched Psycho and the professor had linked it with some theories of psycho-analysis that were big at the time. I thought it was just a great film. The deeper meanings didn’t occur to me as i watched it, though they are somewhat more obvious now. Rear Window was another favourite. Watching James Stewart cower defensively in a wheelchair was more frightening than any horror movie I had seen, precisely because what Hitchcock showed could realistically have taken place. I don’t want you to think I was someone scared easily. Sometimes I’d get a chill on my way to work. The streets were deserted, a seemingly endless network of roads un-peopled and under-lit. That was the worst part of the job. I always carried a backpack and I fancied that if I was attacked I could swing it, taking a shot at any assailant. The bag was usually weighed down with solid hard textbooks that could hurt someone if positioned correctly. That never happened. Sometimes a tramp might ask for a money or a smoke, and i’d usually help the guy. I was a smoker then. Once I came to work I relaxed. I had a security pass to let me in the building. If it didn’t bring it to work I would ring the bell and the security guard came down from his office to let me in. Being impatient I made sure I always carried it with me. I spent most of the time tracking orders in the delivery room. If it was quiet, which it usually was, I’d watch TV. With any luck, they’d be a film on that I hadn’t seen. That night I remember they were showing Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train. I’d seen it before, but couldn’t resist watching it again. I started to watch and before long I was engrossed. its not often that you can watch a film and become totally absorbed and forget everything around you. I mean you normally get bored or distracted. i got to the scene where Farley Granger strangles the girlfriend at the fairground, a particularly graphic scene at the time. Something was bugging me. I looked around the room. There were the usual piles of supplies, tools and building equipment. I didn’t want to watch the rest of the film. I got up and grabbed my jacket. Actually I wanted to turn the film off. But I couldn’t: for some reason I thought I needed to keep the sound on. I felt as though I was not alone in the room. Looking at the delivery book I saw that there were none expected that evening. I walked out of the room and shut the door. I thought I heard footsteps. You’ve had the same experience I know, when you’re convinced that someone’s there. The thing to do was to find the guard and tell him I thought something was up. I could have taken the lift but that was too claustrophobic at this point. If it was a brake-in, my orders were to press the alarm that went straight to the police station. They would arrive in minutes. It made me feel a little reassured, but not much. I could hear the noises getting gradually louder. If this had been a film I would have called out something or asked if anyone was there, but that seemed particularly pointless. I wanted to get out of the building there and then. But I also wanted to see what was going on, the way we can’t stop watching frightening films. 

I kept walking down the corridor to the security guard’s office, past piles of bin liners, old takeaway boxes and shoes. My face in the mirror showed me covered in sweat, panicked and terrified. I got out then. I didn’t even tell the guard. The nexy day they didn’t want me to come back, not that I wanted to. I admit it seems funny now, watching a not particularly scary film and being convinced that I was not alone. It wasn’t so funny at the time, I can tell you.

‘The Celluloid Closet’: a history of Hollywood’s depiction of homosexuality

During the forties there were clear intimations of it in Rope (1948), Victory and The Maltese Falcon. The fifties brought I Vitelloni, Strangers On a Train, Suddenly Last Summer, Serious Charge, and the decade was rounded off with two productions of the life of Oscar Wilde. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and Spartacus were probably the last two Hollywood movies to have homosexual  inferences deliberately removed from the original. The character of Brick, played by Paul Newman in the film is unable to make Love to Elizabeth Taylor, but the film ignores the playwright Tennesee Williams’ reasons for this, i.e latent homosexuality, and replaces it with a drinking problem.

In 1962 the subject was bought right out into the open with Victim. In it servant Dirk Bogarde blackmails his master whom he knows to be gay. A Taste of Honey featured a sympathetic homosexual, ie, not a criminal, pyschopath or murderer; and Advise and Consent and The Best Man concerned allegations against American politicians. On the other hand Lawrence of Arabia was so shy in showing any signs of  its hero’s sexual make-up that it was difficult to know what estimate was being made (T.E. Lawrence was known to have had many gay relationships), but for good measure Peter O’Toole (what a  great name for a porn-star) was raped in Lord Jim.

By now universal romantic comedies were starting to make fun of the subject: in That Touch of Mink Gig Young’s psychiatrist thought he was in love with Cary Grant, and in A Very Special Favour Rock Hudson deliberately acted effeminately so that Leslie Caron would feel inclined to ‘rescue’ him.

Tea and Sympathy

Now the floodgates were opened: in short succession we had A View from the Bridge, with its male kiss; The Servant with its odd relationship between master and Servant (Dirk Bogarde again); The Leather Boys (what a title); Stranger In The House; The Fearless Vampire Killers (the bloodsucking vampire is gay) the miscast and unhappy Staircase, The Detective, which made New York appear to be a very gay city; The Gay deceivers, in which two men avoid the draft by pretending to be queer: Reflections In a Golden Eye; Midnight Cowboy; The Boys In The Band, the first sympathetic homosexual comedy; The Boston Strangler and Funeral In Berlin; If, Young Woodley, Tea and Sympathy, Riot, The Sergeant and Villain which revealed camp goings-on in school, prison and gangland. Girl Stroke Boy revealed the plight of parents unable to tell whether theirson is engaged to a boy or a girl.


In Myra Beckenbridge (adapted from Gore Vidal’s novel) homosexuality was lost in a welter of more spectacular perversions.

Historical figures Richard the Lionheart and Tchaicovsky had their sexual pecadilloes explored in The Lion In Winter and the Music Lovers respectively. Billy Wilder jokingly investigated The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. There has always been a homoerotic undercurrent to Holmes and Watson hasn’t there?

Lonesome cowboys private_life_of_sherlock_holmes_1970

TV got in on the subject with That Certain Summer in 1973. There wasn’t much further to go as gays had their own porno films. 1978 brought the last curiousity: a Different Story, the love affair between a gay man and a lesbian.

A new era 

Harvey Fierstein’s semi-autobiographical The Torchsong Trilogy had less impact on the screen than on the stage. Fierstein did the voice of Carl on The Simpsons episode Samson and Delilah. ..Trilogy went hand in hand with a new camp sensibility that appeared in La Cage au Folles and its sequels, as well as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, some of Andy Warhol’s films, like Lonesome Cowboys, and the work of John Waters.


The mood changed in the eighties with AIDS becoming more prevalent and killing many young performers. British director Derek Jarman reacted by making a contemporary film of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II.

Younger directors

Working outside the mainstream in the early nineties were Greg Araki and Todd Haynes, who proclaimed a new ‘queer cinema’. Tom Kalin’s Swoon (puts the homo back in hiomicide claimed the publicity) looked at the Leopold Loeb murders from a homosexual viewpoint; Todd Haynes’s Poison looked at social and sexual deviance with the equanamity of Jean Genet. The Living End had two homosexuals taking revenge on a straight world; Mark Rappaport looked at Rock Hudson’s performances from a gay perspective.


Two examples of new queer cinema

Gus Van Sant enjoyed success with My Private Idaho, about a narcoleptic hustler, it starred River Pheonix and Keanu Reeves.

Director Isaac Julien’s Young Soul Rebels had a black and white male as its protagonists, unthinkable in mainstream cinema.

Philadelphia won an Oscar for Tom Hanks but upset many AIDS activists.

In 1997 Stephen Fry reminded us of past persecutions with Wilde, a role many would consider him born to play.1997, WILDE

Dream casting: Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde

Meanwhile in the same year Rupert Everett concentrated on present pleasures as Julia Roberts’ gay companion in My Best Friend’s Wedding; Everett’s revelations that he was a rent boy made it difficult for his long term prospects as a film actor.

Most recently same sex love was depicted, albeit very cautiously, in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain 2005. 

When all is considered, this is not a subject mainstream cinema has been keen on investigating. The most groundbreaking productions have been for tv, witness Queer As Folk and Tipping the Velvet.

Sadly, there is still a perception that its more acceptable for a straight actor to play a gay role than vice versa. Indeed, I can think of no known gay actor to have been offered a role as a straight man, but hopefully that will change soon.