Thursday, June 20, 2024

Queer cinema has been around for more than 100 years, encompassing such black-and-white classics as “Mädchen in Uniform” (1931) or “La Belle et la Bête” (1946) and “Orpheus” (1950) by gay filmmaker Jean Cocteau, starring his lover Jean Marais, to films that date back to the early 20th century in pre-code America with 1912’s “Making a Man of Her” and “A Florida Enchantment” (1914). Queer cinema’s history is vast, and over the decades has seen plenty of stories born of LGBTQ+ creators, with newer waves of counterculture grunge from John Waters and New Queer Cinema by such filmmakers as Gregg Araki (“The Living End”) and Gus Van Sant (“To Die For,” “Elephant”). There’s the riotous “Born in Flames” (1983) from Lizzie Borden and Tsai Ming-liang’s introspective fever dreams (“The Hole,” “Rebels of the Neon God”).

All of which to say, queer cinema isn’t a new phenomenon. Films offer a window of empathy, and LGBTQ+ stories are important to celebrate year-round, but this being Pride Month – a sadder one, as the country continues to demonstrate its disinterest in protecting children by stripping them of gender-affirming care – makes this a time to shine a light on these stories, new and old.

Below are three suggested Pride watches selected by Day staff.


‘Tangerine’ (2015)

Shot on an iPhone (several iPhone 5s, actually) and starring transgender actors in leading roles, Sean Baker’s emotionally layered crawl through the seedy side of West Hollywood felt like a fresh breeze in filmmaking and social evolution when it first lit up screens. But that was before the Trump regime settled in and the good people of Florida ripped trans rights back to the 1950s. The film, awash in orangey Southwestern hues, rides the tightly coiled energy of Kitana Kiki Rodriguez as Sin-Dee, a motormouth streetwalker (worthy of a throwdown with Chris Tucker) newly out of jail and anxious to catch up with their cheating beau Chester (James Ransone). The film begins and ends in a doughnut shop, and in between there’s a depraved trailer park(-esque) sex party that feels like something right out of a John Waters (“Polyester,” “Cry Baby”) or Harmony Korine (“Spring Breakers”) film and much ado about OPP. What makes “Tangerine” tick is the fantastic editing and scoring by Baker (who would go on to make “The Florida Project,” something of a bookending tale of streetwise grit), who also writes, directs and shoots. The result is a kinetic buzz that simultaneously emulates and accents Sin-Dee’s vulnerable rage as she plows through trash-strewn streets and alleys looking for Chester who, as her bestie Alexandra (Mya Taylor) puts it, has taken up with “a real bitch, vagina and all.” The film is verve from top to bottom. You can read the Day’s full feature review of “Tangerine” here. (Tom Meek) On Max.


‘Framing Agnes’ (2022)

Unlike traditional documentaries with academics discussing a subject in archival footage, Canadian filmmaker Chase Joynt’s “Framing Agnes” adapts a mid-20th century UCLA Gender Clinic’s interviews with six transgender people in a carefully crafted narrative that casts actors in the roles of the interviewees. Because Joynt first watched public images of trans individuals on 1980s tabloid talk shows, Joynt shot the film on a television studio set instead of the UCLA campus and chose the aesthetic of the renowned late-1950s “Mike Wallace Interview.” Wallace’s studio was composed black-box theater style, and Joynt shoots the re-creations in black and white, switching to color when depicting imagined scenes of subjects in their quotidian lives or interviewing the actors about their experiences and insights in playing the characters – it’s somewhat meta. Wes Anderson’s upcoming release “Asteroid City” (2023) is so similar in format that it feels as if Joynt’s film could have inspired the auteur. You can read the Day’s full feature review of “Framing Agnes” here. (Sarah G. Vincent) On Amazon Prime Video.


‘My Own Private Idaho’ (1991)

Gus Van Sant directs River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in this tender, loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV.” Phoenix stars as Mike Waters, a gay hustler suffering from narcolepsy who travels to Portland, Oregon, with his friend, Scott (played by Reeves); to Idaho; and then to the coast of Italy to find Mike’s estranged mother. The film depicts poignantly the hardships that come from soul searching, especially mixed with questions of bodily autonomy and relationships that blur the lines between platonic and something more. Handled with care and empathy for the two main characters, the direction by Van Sant still leans into the voyeuristic, omnipresent side of filmmaking, as we bear witness to Mike – portrayed with overwhelming vulnerability by the late, great Phoenix – baring his heart time and time again. Patient in its pacing and with a soft glow, the film is rendered with a dreamlike affect perfect for the scenes of long highways traveled. Van Sant might be best known today for more commercial works such as “Good Will Hunting,” but “My Own Private Idaho” remains his classic signature. (Allyson Johnson) On Amazon Prime Video.

Cambridge writer Tom Meek’s reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere. Allyson Johnson is editor-in-chief of the entertainment website InBetweenDrafts.