RuPaul's Drag Race Season 9 begins today (March 24th) and before you become absorbed in the best of gaudy reality television, take some time to watch the documentary that started it all and enjoy some other critically acclaimed pieces of LGBT cinema.
Paris is Burning
The library is open hunties! This documentary is mentioned by title in every season in RuPaul’s Drag Race with numerous tributes to the 1980’s ball cultural throughout the show. In fact, a large part of the modern gay culture (reading, drag mothers, realness, surrogate families) and even modern pop culture, originated from the black queer scene depicted in Paris is Burning. Madonna, Lady Gaga and others would be without their signature styles if it weren’t for the 80’s queens of color. Even if you have no interest in drag culture, Paris is Burning is a must watch for any gay individual. And if you’re on the other end of the spectrum, becoming overly emotionally invested in the trials of this season's queens, Paris is Burning should be watched now, before you even touch the remote tomorrow. The originals of everything from "realness" to "reading" will become clear. The film is entertaining and educational, produced in an approachable style. You’ll thank me.
Stranger by the Lake
What if porn films had great performances and a plot that extends beyond the conventional, "How will I every pay for this pizza daddy?" What if Alfred Hitchcock made a modern thriller with more cock than his last name? Mix in some classical French filmmaking and a messy game of cat and mouse and you're left with the powerhouse film that is Stranger by the Lake. It's a slow burn as we vicariously cruise alongside the protagonist Franc who lusts after a smolderingly handsome Michel (who rocked scruff and a mustache before it was back in style.) There's a danger surrounding Michel which is both enticing and chilling, a feeling recognizable to anyone who's had a sketchy Grindr hookup. The fall from will-they-won't-they to a cat-and-mouse game that could happen to anyone in this current hookup era feels all too real, but it's best left to experience on the silver screen in this vital piece of cinema. Needless to say, the film will only affirm the idea that "hiking" in Central Park at 3a.m. is a bad idea.
As a gay in New York, there’s a high chance you’ve experienced a one night stand that turned out to be a little more—an intimate conversation after sex, a friendly second date, or a connection that extends beyond the wham bam thank you, man. It lies in that uncharted territory of emotion, sitting between one-night-stand and relationship that usually leaves people in a confused mess. Andrew Haigh, in his directorial debut, examines this gray area of connection through some of the most explicit and intimate dialogue on sex and love ever put to film. But, it never reaches pretentious philosophy or preachy dialogue. If Richard Linklater began the modern, cinematic study of brief human connections with Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, Andrew Haigh perfected it with Weekend. The film could easily be a documentary, following its breakout stars as they burn brightly through their brief encounter.
This year’s winner for Best Picture, Moonlight, is an intimate portrait of a gay, black male growing up in a penurious Miami neighborhood. Barry Jenkins directs a deeply emotional drama, slowly burning over three decades where complex and nuanced relationships develop. Mahershala Ali, Naomi Harris, Trevante Rhodes and the younger actors have the audience captured with quiet emotional intensity as they navigate drugs, sexuality, and ultimately the human condition. The eyes have us. Looking. Analyzing. Deciding. Imagine cruising a man in a club, but remove the feeling of lust while maintaining the intense need for connection. The characters in Moonlight are cruising on a deeper level, looking for understanding while swimming in a sea of ethical, financial, sexual, and emotional uncertainty. Like Brokeback Mountain, Moonlight doesn’t fit into the category of popcorn entertainment. It’s meant to make you listen, feel, and think.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Neil Patrick Harris brought Hedwig to the front of pop culture with the play’s Broadway debut. But before Hedwig was popularized and later portrayed by well-renowned actors like Michael C. Hall, Darren Criss, and Taye Diggs, the character was rocking it off-broadway and in this cult-classic indie film helmed by creator John Cameron Mitchell. Hedwig and the Angry Inch pulls from the lunacy of 1980’s rock films like This is Spinal Tap and Pink Floyd: The Wall, and bests fellow rock musicals (looking at you Rocky Horror Picture Show) by not losing its characters in campy comedy, transphobia, and satire for the mere sake of satire. Dr. Frank-N-Furter may be Transylvania's leading transvestite but Hedwig is the real rock queen in town. Transsexualism is a stirring element of the plot, deepening the complexity of the main characters, and not thrown around as a creepy anomaly. Mitchell’s creation is an artful homage (sometimes using literal art and animation) to glam-rock and the crazy excess of such performances while exploring gender identity, homophobia, and self-discovery with the speakers cranked to eleven.
The Way He Looks
“No pics = no chat” is a Grindr profile staple. A Tindr decision is made with a fleeting glance. And that really cute guy at the bar was also looking at you when, oops, you made eye contact which was held just a millisecond too long for it to be mere coincidence. Clearly, you were both checking each other out so it's time buy him a drink. Conclusion: gay men have a dependency on sight.
Now imagine your life without sight. What happens to your nights at the club, the late nights on hookup apps, or meeting the guys for coffee? Close your eyes for a minute and feel the darkness wrap around you. Place yourself in a bar, a club, or the street, but without your sight. How would you function as a gay man? How would you meet people…trust people? The Way He Looks is a beautiful foreign film that examines these exact ideas with an extra dollop of teenage angst.
You Should Meet My Son
This one is for the baby gays. Everyone in the gay community, at some point in their life, has experienced coming out and finding their true family. This little independent film follows a mother as she and her kooky sister explore the gay scene after discovering her son is gay. The acting may be a little stilted and the plot is straightforward but this film is overflowing with heart. Whether you connect with the closeted son, the explorative mother, or any of the colorful supporting cast ranging from gogo dancer Chase to drag mother Fantasia Xtravaganza, there’s a good chance this film will give you warm-fuzzy feelings that leave a goofy grin on your face. Pop this flick on during the winter months to alleviate a little seasonal depression and make you feel wonderful to be gay.
“I want you to be happy. Laugh-out-loud, thrilled-to-be-alive, smiling-all-the-time kind of happy. And if you think this world won’t give you the things that you want, then I am going to have to change the world, because I will not have it change you.”
Other films to check out:
The Times of Harvey Milk, City of Borders, The Celluloid Closet, We Were Here, The Sun, The Moon & The Hurricane, Undertow, Mysterious Skin, I Killed My Mother, Before Night Falls, Bent, Yossi & Jagger