Being a cog of the New Queer Cinema movement myself, I wouldn’t choose one of my own works, but here is a list of LGBTQ+ films that I think really deserve a viewing.
I also encourage audiences to discover or rediscover the works of Marlon Riggs, Gregg Araki, Cheryl Dunye, Bruce LaBruce, Alain Guiraudie, Jacques Nolot, Ira Sachs, Rose Troche, Chantal Akerman, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, just to name a few!
Bill Sherwood’s only feature before succumbing to AIDS was produced and distributed in 1986 at the start of the epidemic. The story of an urban gay couple in New York, it chronicled the lives of Robert (John Bolger) and Michael (Richard Ganoung) and Michael’s ex Nick, played by Steve Buscemi. It captures the period in real time of what it was like to love and live during this period. Watching it today seems as fresh as the day it was made, only now, it feels like a period piece. Personally, I wish I could have met Bill to tell him how this film inspired me to pursue my career. I met with Christine Vachon, who was not only a close friend of Bill’s, but served as both a walk-on part and editing room assistant on the film. I tracked down Richard Ganoung for one of the lead roles in a film I was produced, Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss, where he pays tribute to his previous role, and ultimately became friends along the festival circuit with actor Steve Buscemi. This film wasn’t just an inspiration, it was a blueprint for me.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Anthony Minghella’s smart story is eclipsed by its cast and production. Most of the American public who went to the film probably didn’t read through the gloss and glamour of the stars and the locales. Beneath the surface of everything, Matt Damon’s character of Tom Ripley is a tortured soul. He becomes a monster by circumstances of the period’s homophobia. Every instance when Tom kills—whether it’s from the rebuke from Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), taunts from Freddie (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), or ultimately his love of Peter when his true identity would be revealed—is a complex telling of Patricia Highsmith’s novel. Highsmith specialized in tortured LGBTQ characters, as she wrote Strangers on a Train and the novel that inspired Todd Haynes’ Carol.
Todd Haynes’ smart and intellectual interpretation of Jean Genet’s work is such a daring and confrontational piece that was one of the key launching points for the New Queer Cinema. It indirectly and directly addresses the AIDS epidemic and, while it may seem oblique at times, it always keeps its focus on the viewpoint of being an outsider. Seeing the film for the first time, I was both elated by the storytelling and moved to tears by the sadness of how Todd was able to convey so much emotion through these characters in a very unconventional storytelling method. Images of the prison sequence still haunt me today. Todd has stayed faithful in his craft of storytelling and always chooses to tell stories of the outsiders, the under-represented, and the neglected.
Looking for Langston
Isaac Julien’s landmark achievement reflecting on gay Black lives during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and using archival footage mixed with his own beautiful images in black-and-white remains a dreamy distillation of Langston Hughes and a reinvention of his thoughts. Isaac’s other short films, The Attendant and Young Soul Rebels, are both thoughtful works about race, culture, and class. His career has been devoted to dealing with these issues, and it’s one that viewers should seek out and discover.
Wong Kar-wai’s chronicling of an Asian couple, played with crazy romantic frisson by Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung, as their vacation in Argentina goes awry. It beautifully captures frenetic love and romance that goes up in flames. I would never have imagined Kar-wai to create such a realistic and truly original work of what gay passion could be, but his romanticism in previous and subsequent work has never disappointed. It's a testament that he was able to gather this cast to create such a beautiful work of art.