Old Gay Films and Why I Love Them

Remember “The Hunger?” No, neither did half the people who showed up to a screening of it at my local theater the other day. They had never seen this 1983 Tony Scott film starring Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, and David Bowie…and the incomparable performance of a young Willem Dafoe as 2nd Phone Booth Youth.

the hunger willem defoe

Local non-profit North Jersey Pride hosted the screening after the sad passing of David Bowie and served up some 80s realness with a side of vampire immortality and soupçon of girl-on-girl action. I braced myself for 96 minutes of torture that I hoped would at least be comical after all this time and considering how far queer film had come. Yet, I actually appreciated the slow-paced, stylized fantasy world that Scott created and the walk down 80s lane. But more than anything, watching “The Hunger” reminded me of my budding lesbionic self.

I had not seen the film in 1983 when it first came out. In 1983, I was 15 (yeah I’m old, whut?), and I wasn’t even loving ladies then, or gentlemen, or scoundrels for that matter. I did feel a fond affection for a special pillow during those sad and lonely days before I left my parents’ house. It was the best I could do.

When I finally did discover more reciprocally satisfying bedfellows, I saw “The Hunger” a few years later, and it was a revelation. Sexual fluidity, boobs, A-list straight celebrities playing gay, more boobs, and hot women making the love – but not in the spray-tanned, impossibly long nailed, drugged up porn way produced for straight men. To be fair, the sex scenes were unsurprisingly tame, the bloody vampire feedings far more graphic than the sex scenes, but that didn’t stop me from swearing off pillows once and for all – I mean except for the memory foam pillow that provides me with exceptional neck support.

Susan-Sarandon-Catherine-Deneuve-in-The-Hunger-_1

The lesbian required viewing in the ‘80s were films like “Lianna,” “Personal Best,” and “Desert Hearts.” These were the cream of the crop, but they were creamy crops in a very small field. I couldn’t help but feel super old considering how much things had changed. The field is so much bigger and, indeed, so much creamier. That’s right, queer film is a veritable field of creams.

Field of creams

After the film, a bunch of us gathered to debrief. Those who had never seen the film before that night were not impressed. There was too much blood, not enough sex, and some raised questions about the ethical treatment of animals after a few scenes with irate monkeys. I had to agree that the monkey scenes were disturbing but only because I had been traumatized after watching “The Wizard of Oz” and had nightmares about long-fanged flying monkeys imprisoning me in a box – before being held in a box was a happy thing.

I realized then that I will always love “The Hunger” and all those queer movies of yesteryear in a way that ‘kids today’ will not. Those films of olden days may have been low-rent or poorly acted or depressing stories of love that could never be or blood-sucking vampire fantasies, but I can’t help but love them because they were the films of my baby-dykehood. I love them because I can relive those years of awakening without all the fear and crap that came along with them. And, I love them because they remind me that we have, indeed, come a long way.

2 thoughts on “Old Gay Films and Why I Love Them

  1. The SOUNDTRACK to the “sex” scene between Sarandon and Deneuve – oh. my. god. (from the opera Lakmé by Delibes). Made me realize I could claim parts of mainstream culture as lesbian, whether they had intended to be used that way or not. I had it as my answering machine (remember those?) song, along with 1 000 000 other dykes.

    1. Answering machines, yes! It was right next to my digital clock radio. HA! But yes, I agree that we can all have the sexy-times to good music. I’m going to go back and add that excerpt to the post as my tribute to all the ladies on this Valentine’s Day.

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