Apr 5, 2014

Tom Jones: Sex and Nudity in 1749

When I was studying for my M.A. in English at Indiana University, I had to select two historical eras.  The first was easy: the Romantic Period, full of exuberant homoerotic scenes and buddy-bonding monsters. For the second, I chose Restoration-Augustan, mostly because Professor Singer, who taught my Restoration seminar, was gay.

I didn't like the texts much, especially those endless boring things that were the precursor of novels: Moll Flanders (1722), Pamela (1740), Tom Jones (1749), Tristram Shandy (1759), Humphrey Clinker (1771). 

 Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding, was not the worst of the lot, just the longest, over 300,000 words (the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy is just over 400,000).  And the most heterosexist, a celebration of heterosexual horniness.

Tom Jones, a foundling raised by Squire Allworthy, courts lots of women, but is interested primarily in girl-next-door Sophia, whose father rejects him due to his lack of parentage.  He doesn't have any male friends; men always betray you, due to malice or ignorance.  Mostly he butts heads with his half-brother, the snively, hypocritical Blifil.

There have been several movie and tv versions, which usually concentrate on Tom Jones' heterosexual exploits.  But at least they offer a lot of beefcake, endless scenes of Tom jumping out of beds in his underwear and scramming before the father or boyfriend shows up.

The most famous (1963) stars bisexual actor Albert Finney as the randy foundling.

In 1997, a tv miniseries starred Max Beesley with full frontal nudity.

Nicky Henson (top photo) starred in a sex musical, The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones, in the heart of the swinging seventies (1976).

There is also a comic opera by Francois Philidor (1765), which is still performed occasionally, plus a number of stage plays, none of which apparently give Tom a buddy.

Try Joseph Andrews (1742) for some homoerotic scenes between the young footman and his mentor, Parson Adams.

Apr 3, 2014

Matthias Schweighoefer: What a Man

Matthias Schweighoefer is one of the most popular young actors in Germany, notable for his stunning physique, his nonchalance about full frontal nudity, and his intense buddy-bonding.  Indeed, he often combines nudity and gay subtexts (or texts) in the same movie.

12 Paces without a Head (12 Meters ohne Kopf, 2009): Pirate pals Klaus (Ronald Zehrfeld) and Gödeke (Matthias) must decide whether to retire to a farm or to remain pirates to the end.

Friendship! (2010): East German buddies Tom (Matthias) and Veit (Friedrich Mucke) go on a road trip to San Francisco to track down Tom's long-lost father, and have picaresque adventures, including stripping at a non-stereotypic gay bar, before hugging at Golden Gate Bridge.

What a Man (2011): Alex (Matthias) is dumped by his girlfriend, and takes lessons in how to become more "macho" from his friend Jens.

Woman in Love (Rubbeldiekatz, 2011): Alex (Matthias) is cast as a woman in a movie, and soon finds that he can only get parts in drag. He ends up kissing Adolph Hitler.

Russiendisko (2012): Three Russian friends, Wladimir, Andrej and Mischa (Matthias, Friedrich Mucke, Christian Friedel), travel to Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall to seek their fortunes.

Schlussmacher (2013): Paul (Matthias) is a professional "separator" (he breaks up with your boyfriend or girlfriend for you).  Then he meets Toto (Milan Peschel), the dumped boyfriend of a customer, and they buddy-bond.

He's cool about being an object of desire for men or women, or heterosexual men while dressed as a woman.

Apr 2, 2014

Head: More of the Monkees

After their spectacular, media-orchestrated rise to fame in 1966, with a top-rated tv show and several #1 hit songs, the Monkees were on top of the world.

 But not for long. They chafed at their "boy band" restrictions; they wanted be known as serious artists, to move beyond teeny-bopper love songs,  to tackle serious issues. They wanted to be free. Their handlers disapproved.

In the spring of 1968, they wrote and produced a movie, Head.  It premiered with great anticipation; fans thought that it would be a comedic documentary, like the Beatles' Hard Day's Night.

It wasn't.

You say we're manufactured -- to that we all agree.
So make your choice and we'll rejoice in never being free!

It consists of a series of sketches, most about the difference between reality and the manufactured plotlines of their tv series: Davy becomes a boxer; Micky is lost in the desert; they visit a haunted house and the Old West.  They constantly disrupt the stories, changing their lines, dropping character, or just saying "We don't want to do this anymore" and walking off the set.

But every set leads to a new story.

They think they have escaped, and settle down to throw a birthday party for Mike.  But he starts yelling that this is not his apartment, these are actors, not his real friends, it's all a fake.

They escape from a box only to find themselves in a bigger box.

They try to commit suicide, only to find that that, too, isn't real; there is no escape.

The constraint of modern life, the inability to ever be free, is a common thread in 1960s media, and resonated strongly for gay kids growing up in a constant drone of "What girl do you like?  What girl do you like?  What girl do you like?"

We've seen it in Easy Rider and Alice's Restaurantin the Tripods series of dystopian mind-control novels, in Richard Schaal trapped in The Cube; in Number 6 trapped in The Village, even in the Castaways trapped on Gilligan's Island.

Still, this version is worth a look for:
1. The clever "box inside a box" concept
2. The frequent beefcake.  You see more of Micky and Davy than ever before, constant shirtless and semi-nude scenes, and all of the guys gets close-ups of their very, very tight pants.
3. The homoerotic buddy bonding that shines through, in spite of the frequent girl-kissing.  These guys are into guys.

In a way, Head represented the suicide of the group.  Teen fans hated it, and the psychedelic generation stayed away.  Their tv series was cancelled, and their songs stopped charting.

But, 46 years later, the memory remains.

Mar 31, 2014

Neil Diamond: All of the Sad, Gay Songs

My junior year in Augustana College (1980-81) was very busy: cruising at the levee, tricking my friend Haldor into a date, going to Professor Burton's Handcuff Party, hanging out with the Bookstore Gang, reading Death in Venice in my German literature class. 

It was all done to a backdrop of Olivia Newton-John, Rex Smith, and especially Neil Diamond.  You couldn't turn on the radio without hearing "Hello Again," "America," or "Love on the Rocks."

Or walk down a dormitory hallway without hearing "September Morn" or "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" playing from someone's room.

In December 1980, everyone went to see Neil Diamond starring in the update of The Jazz Singer.

In March 1981, everyone went to see him in concert in Davenport.

My friend Bruce called him the most handsome man in the world.

I wasn't a big fan.  His songs were earnest, heart-wrenching, and ultimately depressing, and I preferred light-hearted and joyous.

And with greater gay symbolism, like "Physical" by Olivia Newton-John, or "I'm Coming Out," by Diana Ross.

Still, he had a nice hairy chest, and I figured he was gay due to his habit of dropping pronouns, so his lost loves could be male or female. Check out "Hello Again":

Hello, my friend, hello
Just called to let you know
I think about you ev'ry night

My friend?

Or "Love on the Rocks":

First they say they want you
How they really need you
Suddenly you find you're out there
Walking in a storm

They say they want you?

Ok, so I was mistaken.  With three heterosexual marriages and a number of hetero-romances on his resume, Neil Diamond is probably straight.

But gay-friendly.

In contemporary performances of "Brother Love," he does a call out: "white or black, gay or straight, big or small, we are all God's children."

The Three Stooges: Gay Symbolism on "Cartoon Showboat"

When I was a kid in the 1960s, every day after school I rushed home or to my boyfriend Bill's house to watch Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat.  Captain Ernie (later weatherman Ernie Mims) showed old Bugs Bunny and Popeye cartoons, and with the proviso "Don't try this at home," The Three Stooges.

I didn't realize that the comedy shorts were originally shown in theaters 30 or more years before, or that the three "stooges" belonged to a long tradition of comedy teams.  I found them bizarre, somewhat disgusting,  and fascinating.

What was this world of boarding houses, boxing rings, hobos riding the rails, jitterbug music, and machine-gun toting gangsters?

Why did Moe, Larry, and Curly/Shemp have different jobs and living situations in every episode?

Why was their theme song Three Blind Mice?

Why was third member of the trio so changeable, sometimes Curly, sometimes Shemp?

The role of the Third Stooge was sometimes filled by two flamboyantly gay-coded actors, Joe Besser in the shorts and Joe DeRita in the movies (seen here with Samson Burke in The Three Stooges Meet Hercules).  But they never appeared on Cartoon Showboat.

And the most important question: why did the men live together (and sleep together)?  Where were their wives?

All of the adult men I knew, or had seen on tv, or had ever heard of, had wives.  My parents and other relatives constantly talked about the far-off day when I would be "grown up" and "married," as if the two states were identical.

Yet these three men were obviously grown up, and obviously not married.  Men building a life together, not needing or wanting wives (I missed or ignored the scenes where they flirt with women).

I didn't think there was any  romance between them, not even friendship -- Moe was painfully abusive to the others, and they treated him with open contempt.

But, as with the Hanna Barbara cartoons of my earliest childhood (Yogi Bear, The Flintstones), the domesticity itself was evocative.

There was a recast, The Three Stooges, in 2012, with Chris Diamantoupoulos  (top photo) as a rather muscular Moe.  Again, they don't get girlfriends or wives; the hetero-romantic plot is given to a new character.

See also: Samson Burke.


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