To celebrate Pride month, Daniel and I have been catching up on some of the iconic gay movies of the 1990s, many of which were pivotal in my life as a gay teenager.
These films were campy, often with cringe-inducing dialogue delivered by colorful characters based heavily on stereotypes. Although the movies may have not been worthy of an Oscar, they are still significant to our history.
The 1990s was the first decade in which we really saw LGBT characters in mainstream cinema. Previous decades were dotted with them here and there, and homosexual subtext dates back to the very beginning of film-making. But now they were finally out and proud. Homosexuality was the focus of the films. Previously we usually just saw gay people as the quirky sidekick who delivered a few lines and then disappeared.
But the thing that’s really surprised and disappointed me is how difficult it is to attain these movies if you want to view them today. Many of them have not been converted to Blu-ray. They aren’t available to stream digitally on Netflix, or purchase on iTunes. Essentially they have died with the DVD copies, which are often out of print.
I signed up for Netflix’s DVD service because it was the easiest and most cost-effective way to view them. Many of them arrived on battered and scratched discs, which I shudder to think they may be the last copies in rotation.
One movie that really has a special place in my heart is Trick. I think it’s one of the first gay-themed movies I ever rented at Blockbuster. (Sidenote: Remember when you had to rush to Blockbuster on Friday to snatch up the good New Releases before they were gone?)
Trick is the story of a young gay man looking for love in New York City, who ends up hooking up with a go-go dancer. Will they fall in love, or will our protagonist end up heartbroken and alone in the morning? This movie has drag queens, fag hags, musical theatre references, and any other cliche you can think of. But it’s a charming movie which has received several DVD releases, but has never been remastered for digital, which means it’s doubtful future generations will get to see it.
Another fun one is Boys Life. It’s three stories about young gay men coming of age and coming out in the early 1990s. There are red ribbons, Silence = Death shirts, and an entire storyline built around the phrase “Friends of Dorothy,” which was the gay equivalent of a secret handshake. These are all elements that were deeply integrated into our culture back then, captured in cinema.
I hope someday these films will be given a proper transfer for the digital age. As silly as some of them were, they gave us hope, especially those of us who grew up in a small town. It was the first time I saw characters onscreen who were struggling with the same problems I had, and I felt a little less alone in the world.