Homo Promo

Sooner or later, you’re going to have to sell it
★
☆☆
Released: 
1993
Director: 
Jenni Olson
Starring: 
Various
The Setup: 
Compilation of trailers for gay-themed movies.
Discussion: 

Like the similar [but later] Afro Promo, this is a collection of movie trailers, in this case for gay-themed movies. The idea is that as we examine the ways in which these movies are described and sold, we gain insight into the attitudes of their marketers and their perceived audiences. We do, but as with Afro Promo, what we end up with is a lot less interesting than I had hoped for.

The first trailer is for I Changed My Sex! Also known as Glen or Glenda? There is a title here that pronounces it “most daring film of year,” and later says “Was he male or female? Sizzling! Shocking!” I love the whole concept that somehow the topic of sex change operations is really sexually hot. In fact, it’s sizzling. I haven’t seen Glen or Glenda [it is so on my list], but I feel fairly sure that very little about it is “sizzling.”

Then we have trailers for The Third Sex, seemingly about a man who has an affair with his sister [?], which we are told is “frank, honest and revealing.” Then Victim, which describes itself as “a dynamic exposure of those who lay bare the secrets of the heart, the darkest recesses of the mind.” Now, even though I’m gay, I’ve never thought of myself as “laying bare the secrets of the heart,” but hey, I guess I’ve been deluding myself all these years.

So around this time I was all “I need to see EVERY ONE of these movies!” but unfortunately many of the more interesting ones are out of print, like The Legend of Leila Claire, starring Kim Novak [!], and The Fox, starring Kier Dullea, adapted from the D.H. Lawrence story. You HAVE to watch a film where a title says “The Fox: Symbol of the male.” Then there’s Staircase, with Rex Harrison and Richard Burton as homos, The Gay Deceivers [featuring “beautiful Brooke Bundy”], and Something For Everyone, with Michael York as a sociopath grifter. And most of these are out of print!

Ditto the infamous The Boys in the Band, which I saw once and am ready to see again, but it is out of print. The trailer begins with a shot of a bunch of make-up and pills on a bathroom counter, and then is just a sequence of footage from the film with no voice-over commentary until the end: “It’s not a musical.” The trailer for Myra Breckenridge refers to its infamous [and quite horrifying, in my opinion] man-ass-raped-by-woman-with-strap-on scene by saying “don’t miss the most sensational scene in the history of the screen!” The Christine Jorgenson Story trailer tells of a man who had a sex change and was mocked, but implies that he was able to find true love as a woman. Then Death in Venice, Sunday, Bloody Sunday, and Some of My Best Friends Are… in which, we are told, “the producers have attempted to portray events with full honesty.” We are told that “for those who can stand the truth… it is provocative adult entertainment.”

We then get into Andy Warhol territory, with Heat and Women in Revolt, and John Waters’ Female Trouble. Then “wacky” 70s gay comedies The Ritz [straight guy on run from mob hides in gay bathhouse], Norman, Is That You? and Outrageous! Which we are told is “Original, alive and funny!”

So, based on the project of this compilation, to see what these trailers tell us about how gay stories were perceived and sold, what do we glean? Well, the stories from the 50s and early 60s are described using words such as daring, shocking, frank, honest and revealing [not to mention that pesky “sizzling”], which implies that they are being sold as movies that dare to delve into a forbidden topic. In the late 60s homosexuality still seems forbidden, but the trailers seem to be a bit more comfortable and confident about it, and it’s seeming to take on an air of the kinky [in a good way] and perverse [in a bad way], with homosexuality seeming to be accompanied by murderousness, shame, and mental illness. Now, of course you know that the Stonewall riots occurred in 1969, and I don’t think it’s any accident that gays in these trailers after this date start to come off as more outrageous, free-spirited and ZANY! In here you also have more diversity of films, with wacky comedies being mixed with more artsy movies that take homosexuality from a serious angle. Most of these serious movies seem to retain the “frank look” perspective. Then in the early 70s you start to get the movies that are unapologetically gay and wallow in their trashy elements, but it is notable that these movies are by filmmakers [Warhol, Waters] who were outwardly gay. The rest of the movies represented on this disc seem to aim more for the mainstream, but use homosexuality as just a clever device to hang a sitcom-ready story on, and portray being gay as JUST THE WACKIEST THING EVER!

Like Afro Promo, this collection sounded more interesting than it actually was. On the one hand, it’s hard to sit through an hour of movie trailers with no story to get involved with, but on the other hand, the insights one gains from watching these trailers are fewer than you’d think they might be and are something you have probably gotten just from reading this review. I think there were also some notable omissions, perhaps forced, based on what Olsen could get rights to, but I was looking forward to trailers for Cruising or Women in Love and they just weren’t here. I guess I found this collection a little more interesting than Afro Promo, but that may be primarily a function of the fact that I am gay and am not black. But I am definitely, unequivocally glad and grateful that this collection exists.

This DVD also includes an interesting little short film called Queens at Heart, which is a documentary about the lives of four transsexuals in what appears to be the late 50s or 60s, that I saw last year at the gay film festival here in NYC. It is fascinating to see early drag clubs and their patrons, and to hear the stories of the drag queens, many of whom are deeply depressed to suicidal, and almost all of whom believe that all of their problems will be solved once they get their sex change operation. But… I thought being gay was ever so zany and ultimately heartwarming? Also included are posters for the majority of the films whose trailers are included on the disc, making this a mildly diverting study for those who dare to lay bare the secrets of the heart, the darkest recesses of the mind.

Should you watch it: 

If, after reading this, you still want to see it for yourself.