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The Music of LGBTQ+ Cinema
Michael Abels 3471

Michael Abels

Composer

Pride is a celebration of queer visibility, equality, and achievement. Yet queer film and queer music are defined not only by the gender identity of the artists or the characters. Queer can also be a sensibility, a subtext perceptible only to those of us whose “gaydar” is already tuned to that frequency. But in the extroverted spirit of Pride, here are six examples of films with very visible queer characters in which the music plays a crucial role.

Academy member Michael Abels is a concert and film composer (Get Out, Us) and co-founder of the Composers Diversity Collective, an organization dedicated to increasing visibility and providing mentorship to composers from diverse backgrounds in the industry. His latest film, Bad Education, starring Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney, is based on the true story of the largest public school embezzlement scandal in history.

1

Brokeback Mountain

2005

WHERE TO WATCH

Ang Lee’s now-classic romance starring A-list Hollywood actors. The Oscar-winning score by Gustavo Santaolalla perfectly captures the beauty of the mountain locations, the longing felt by the lead characters, and the profound isolation that links both.

WHERE TO WATCH
Brokeback Mountain
2005
134 Mins | R
Two cowboys (Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal) have a secret romance over many years.


2

Moonlight

2016

WHERE TO WATCH

Barry Jenkins’ Best Picture-winning film about a young gay Black man’s search for his identity within his community. Nicholas Britell’s sensitive, hip-hop-influenced score captures a sense of innocence lost, of vulnerability trapped in a shell of necessity.

WHERE TO WATCH
Moonlight
2016
111 Mins | R
A look at three defining chapters in the life of Chiron, a young black man growing up in Miami.


3

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

2019

WHERE TO WATCH

Céline Sciamma’s passionate, intimate story of an affair between a painter and her portrait subject features only one original music cue, a galvanizing, one-of-a-kind piece for womens’ voices by Para One and Arthur Simonini, performed on-screen by cast members around a bonfire.

WHERE TO WATCH
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
2019
121 Mins | K12
A woman develops a mutual attraction to a female artist commissioned to paint her portrait in 1770.


4

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

1994

WHERE TO WATCH

The first film I saw that portrays drag performers and a transgender character as heroes, as family. The soundtrack is a primer on camp classics and gay anthems, including a lip-sync performance of “I Will Survive” that manages to joyfully include aboriginal instruments.

WHERE TO WATCH
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
1994
102 Mins | R
Drag queens (Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce) in Australian desert.


5

Velvet Goldmine

1998

WHERE TO WATCH

Todd Haynes’ visionary take on glam rock, inspired by iconic musicians of the '70s who were gender fluid long before that was fully recognized as a thing. With a soundtrack of art rock standards, on-screen covers, and a score by Carter Burwell, whose ongoing collaboration with Haynes continues to bring queer stories and sensibility to the screen.

WHERE TO WATCH
Velvet Goldmine
1998
123 Mins | R
A glam rocker's (Jonathan Rhys Myers) career soars, then plummets.


6

All About My Mother

1999

WHERE TO WATCH

Almodóvar’s films often center on queer stories and include transgender characters. Multi-Oscar nominee Alberto Iglesias has scored virtually all of them. All About My Mother is my favorite of his scores: noir, mysterious, eclectic, and deeply empathic.

WHERE TO WATCH
All About My Mother
1999
99 Mins | R
A woman (Cecilia Roth) struggles after her son's (Eloy Azorín) death.


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