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Thursday, Jan. 26, 2006 06:36 pm

The new gay cinema

Brokeback Mountain caused a sensation, but there are better gay films

Many films with gay characters and themes, from the sanctimonious Philadelphia to the incendiary Cruising, have played in local theaters, but few have caused the sensation of Brokeback Mountain. Early on it was tagged “the gay-cowboy movie,” and that seemingly negative label has turned into a marketing goldmine. Now everyone is talking about this good but slightly overrated film. The basic story is too inconsequential for the exalted status it has attained. There are certainly better films from 2005, and better gay-themed films were released last year. Saving Face (2004), quite frankly, isn’t better than Brokeback Mountain, but it is entertaining fluff. Writer/director Alice Wu offers a glimpse into Chinese-American culture in New York through a troubled mother-daughter relationship. The daughter is a lesbian who hides her new relationship with another woman from her mom, who is harboring a secret of her own. Saving Face works best as an examination of the modern challenges facing old Chinese customs, but Wu’s resolution is too heartwarming to be real. Mysterious Skin (2004), from gay filmmaker Gregg Araki, is a shocking story of two teenagers haunted by traumatic childhood events. Neil was molested by his Little League coach, and Brian believes that he was abducted by aliens. Araki follows each story separately while suggesting a possible link. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a revelation as the teenage Neil, who is now a gay hustler. No one could have expected a performance such as this from the kid from the sitcom Third Rock from the Sun. Araki makes it clear in this bizarre and provocative tale that the molestation is not the cause of Neil’s homosexuality. Controversy has always followed Araki, and he really pushes the envelope here. The child-molestation scenes may not be explicit, but they are very uncomfortable to watch. Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex, Bounce), another openly gay filmmaker, gives the subject of homosexuality normalcy in modern society in his third film Happy Endings (2005). Roos uses the hyperlink structure to follow separate but interrelated quirky characters. Critics have committed a crime by ignoring this extraordinary little film. From its startling opening to its finale, Happy Endings is a brisk, vibrant comedy that is easily compared with the best of Woody Allen. No one writes better dialogue than Roos. Brokeback Mountain is the safe gay movie that has crossed over to mainstream audiences. See it first, then work up to the more challenging films.

New releases on DVD on Tuesday (Jan. 31): Corpse Bride, In Her Shoes, and The Legend of Zorro.
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