Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.


I've been thinking a lot recently about Guns of Navarone, and in particular, the fact my gay-reading becomes increasingly more elaborate with every watch.

But as a fan of buddy movies, I normally see gay readings as totally off limits. After all, films can be homosocial without having to be homosexual as well - and I think romance is over-valued as a cinematic fallback compared to a good friendship. So what is going on?

Thinking about the topic, I've developed a general theory on why some films seem gayer than others, and the secret resides in the depiction of female characters. All buddy movies are homosocial, but is it just the absence of screwing that rescues them? I mean, on the face of it:

Buddy movie
Movie is chiefly about the relationship between two (or more) same-gender protagonists. The relationship is non-sexual, but undeniably romantic.

Gay movie
Movie is chiefly about the relationship between two (or more) same-gender protagonists. The relationship is sexual, and probably (but not necessarily) romantic.

On that reasoning, sex is the only difference. But for all we know, it could be going on off-screen - in Brideshead Revisited it almost certainly is.

Having explored my thoughts for a while, I think the key lies in the presentation of female characters. And now it's on paper, I am amazed by how comprehensive this theory is. Explicitly straight films and shows tend to show women as allies on an equal level, and when they aid the male protagonists, it is through "feminine" skills. In gay or unintentionally queer movies, women are the most dangerous antagonists, threatening the safety or happiness of male protagonists. They also often exhibit "male" qualities. Very very gay movies have two levels of threat - a narrative one and an emotional one. You can't split the two, of course (emotion comes from narrative; emotion can also be narrative), but less gay movies exhibit one of the two, or one less strongly.

I don't think this is a universal theory, mostly because it supports things I've always thought about movies. If it is a universal theory, then I've just found a formula that proves me right: unlikely. But there are still some interesting things to explore here.

So this is an examination of some of my favourite homosexual and homosocial movies, analysing what the female characters represent in each. There are spoilers ahoy.

Gay movies

Brokeback Mountain
Main antagonist: 1950s mores; wives
Female leads: wives
Threat: emotional, though as a real-lifey-drama arguably the emotion is the narrative.

The tragic ending is the fault of men, but that's merely the last ten minutes in a very long film. The tragedy throughout is our heroes' inability to be together, and the chief reason why they cannot - 1950s morals - is embodied in the fact they both get married. Though prejudice is the real problem, the two female characters represent that problem. All other factors in their misery - the need to get jobs, to conform to social pressure - are linked straight back to their wives.

Main anagonist: a blackmailing ring; the law
Female leads: Melville Farr's wife, the blackmailer.
Threat: narrative and emotional

As a film about prejudice, homophobia comes from left, right and centre and mostly from men. But characters who actively cause negative events are exclusively female. The emotional challenge in the film is Mrs Farr trying to come to terms with her husband's "condition". Drama is caused by him a) hiding his feelings for her sake; b) fearing her reaction, or that she will be hurt, by his state and c) her walking out on him. When the blackmailers are exposed, the head of the ring is the only other female character of significance in the film. She is therefore responsible for the entire plot.

Beautiful Thing
Main antagonist: "Mama Cass" and mum
Female leads: "Mama Cass" and mum
Threat: narrative and emotional

One of the things I love about Beautiful Thing is how positive it is. Two boys fall in love on an 80s council estate, and no one really minds. It pretends to be social realism for about an hour - complete with an abusive older brother who you're sure is going to be vital later - then chucks it in favour of life-affirming romantic fluff. Consequently, there are no serious antagonists. However, when they are trying to hide their affair, it is their female next door neighbour who frequently threatens to reveal them. And the character who they must win over is one of their mothers. No fathers, brothers or other male friends ever appear on screen - actually, an argument I develop below, as a single mother the mum is mascarading as a male. And mum's boyfriend is the most homo-friendly character in the film.

Movies that, by this reasoning, are coded gay

Guns of Navarone
Main antagonist: time, Nazis - and a female traitor
Female lead: two resistance fighters, one being a traitoress.
Threat: narrative

Our heroes are an all-male team, joined by two female resistance fighters on the island. The two women naturally exhibit masculine qualities - they are armed and tough. However, one turns out to be a traitoress, and the one factor which comes closest to jepordising the success of the mission. This is pretty impressive, when you consider a ship-sinking storm, a critically injured teammember and the entire German army couldn't do it.

You could also argue that she is threatening because she is mascarading as male. To neutralise the threat, they must expose her as a female - she is undressed, begins crying and we discover she is a traitor because she is afraid of pain. We see two other torture scenes in the film, one with the entire band and Franklin, one featuring only Franklin, and the boys manage to keep their fearless masculine composure thoughout. The second female character, is made safe because she also exhibits female qualities: she is in love with Andrea, and ultimately marries him.

Brideshead Revisited - the first half
Main antagonist: alcoholism; lady Marchmain
Female lead: lady Marchmain (later Mrs Ryder and Julia)
Threat: emotional

All that chumming around at Oxford is cut short by Sebastian's drinking. This depression is caused chiefly by his cloying family, and for the first half of the series/book they are represented by Lady Marchmain. She drives a splinter between the pair; she is also responsible for chasing her unhappy husband out of England. Lady Marchmain sends a chill down my spine. We can use the same argument as we did for Navarone, because Lady Marchmain is mascarading as the male patriarch of the family.

The second half, Sebastian drops out in favour of Julia, and thus the argument is no longer valid.

Movies that, by this reasoning, are not coded gay
Ones I've never thought gay, for no good reason, which is now explained by my theory. This theory might not be universal, but it certainly works for me.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Main antagonist: fate, law and the Bolivian army
Female lead: Etta Place, an ally

The studio explicitly flags the pair up as non-gay by depicting them as mutually in love with Etta Place. She is the third member of the group, an equal and takes part in the shooting and robbing. But in her dialogue, she highlights the female-skills she brings to the team - "darning socks"; her main task in Bolivia is to teach them Spanish, and when taking part in heists it is foxing people dressed as a glamorous woman.

The A-Team
Main antagonist: the US military; Colonel Decker; local bad boys
Female lead: Amy Adams, an ally

There is the odd girlfriend about to "prove" the A-Team are straight. But Amy Adams is used much like Etta. She is an equal member of the team, also taking part in shooting, and when her femininity is highlighted it is in a useful way. Her skills within the team are researching, investigative journalism, sympathy and occasionally feminine wiles.

Reservoir Dogs
Main antagonist: each other
Female lead: none

Pretty clear case. If there aren't negative male-female relationships to contrast the positive male-female relationships to, then there can't be any gaying. Some people think White and Orange are gay. I think this takes a lot away from the film, but I admit there is an angle - and the angle is covered in my theory. While the principle threats are the police and one another, the drama is caused by Mr Orange's blood puddle -a puddle caused by an armed woman. But to my mind, that is pretty weak.

Lord of the Rings
Main antagonist: Sauron; Saruman; lots of orcs
Female lead: Arwen, Eowyn

There's lots of slash on the web, and I've never bought it. I've never even bought Sam/Frodo - it's platonic love, which makes it no less valuable as love. No female antagonists - well, virtually no females, until the movie beefed them up.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Main antagonist: fate; Hamlet
Female lead: none

Oh God, I'm so chuffed with this theory. Another pair I've never thought remotely slashy dashed off the list.

Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Main antagonist: Lord Blackwood
Female lead: Irene Adler, an ally; the future Mrs Watson

This is a tougher one, and maybe that's because it's not clear cut. Even though Irene is allied with the villains, the men work with and not against her. Though she has masculine qualities, she also flaunts her feminine wiles. Similarly, Mrs Watson challenges the future of the central relationship; yet she also seems aware of that relationships importance and does not attack it. Both are threats, but they are pretty small ones - Irene is never directly responsible for foiling, injuring or seriously upsetting the leads. Holmes and Watson are too culturally embedded as a safe, unshatterable pair for Mrs Watson to ever be a serious challenge in our eyes.

Lots of fangirls do read this as gay, and I agree it's a tough one. There is evidence beyond the fact that both are hot, chiefly the way they bicker like an old married couple. It's certainly gayer than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

It seems almost suitable that in a case where female representations are mixed up, so would be my conception of how gay it is. And this theory comes into its own when I started looking at shows which for me are a very murky area.

Arguably gay:

Doctor Who
Main antagonist: long running TV show, too many to count

My feelings are mixed, because the evidence points several ways and because I'm hesitant to apply human constructs to alien characters. In general I think this is non-canonical. But its interesting that in general, the female characters on screen function like Etta and Amy: they are friends who bring positive female skills to the Doctor's positive masculine skills.


Doctor Who:Utopia-Sound of Drums-Last of the Timelords
Main antagonist, from the Master's perspective: Martha, Lucy Saxon
Female leads: Martha, Lucy Saxon; Martha's female relatives
Threat: narrative and emotional

In the Russell T. Davis take, The Last of the Timelords, where the slashiness goes off the scale, women are antagonistic. Martha is responsible for taking down the Master, and to do it she utilises masculine attributes (espionage, adventure, would involve shooting if it wasn't Doctor Who). Ultimately, the Doctor cannot take the Master prisoner because he is killed by Lucy Saxon - another woman. Moments before, it is Martha's mum (not her father) who threatens to kill him. In Sound of Drums, the threat of Mr Saxon is headed up by a female agent. In Utopia, a female Futurekind destroys the spaceship and Chan'tho attempts to kill the Master.

It's interesting to see a text about which I have some confusion, itself exhibiting confusion about how it portrays its female characters. Another one causing me headaches is...

Blake's 7
Main antagonist: The Federation, represented by Travis and Servalan
Female leads: allys Jenna and Callie; villainess Servalan
Threat: narrative

At the moment, I'm categorising my leanings as bad writing. I didn't get slash vibes in season one, where every episode was written by a single author, because Blake, Avon and their relationship were consistant. Season two is hard for me to read in any other way, because six or seven authors are contributing and they have a different take on each of the three. Is that professional respect? Friendly irritation? Contempt? Loathing? Ideological issues? Are they a valid buddy pairing, or do they want to kill one another? This makes the relationship so frenetic it's hard to interpret it coherently without throwing love into the mix. As Avon himself would doubtless point out, love is a brilliant way of justifying illogical, irrational behavior.

Lets put it through my theoriser, though. What are the women like? Like Doctor Who, only stronger, its a mix. It features ally-female characters, yet their skills are masculine ones - the same goes for Kasabi, Avalon, Ilsa and other spare females that show up along the way. There's a general absence of womanly-women, even if the female protagonists get shafted in favour of the men.

And though the show exhibits a wide range of antagonists, the overarching villain is the Federation as represented by Servalan. Travis is a major antagonist, but he is very much under her thumb. I'm now going to rewatch the series and see if, on an episode by episode basis, things seem gayer in Servalan episodes.

Ones Which Don't Work

Star Trek
I don't know how I feel about the Fandom That Invented Slash. I haven't watched enough Star Trek to make a judgement. However, I'm pretty sure that women are in general not villainous, and would probably come into the Amy Adams feminine ally catagory, suggesting that Star Trek is not slashy. This is obviously a perspective which many people disagree on, however, perhaps pointing to how ideosyncratic this theory is.

I could argue that Gertrude's infidelity is far more of a plot mover than Claudius' murder, with some success - Freudians have been doing it for years - but it's clutching at straws. Claudius is overwhelmingly the chief antagonist, and he does the murder that causes Gertrude's infidelity. Again, by this reasoning, this would suggest that I should not find a gay reading in Hamlet. And it's true that I'm flexible: I can take or leave it, it's not a vital part of the story because Horatio is merely walking exposition.

But I do often think that Hamlet/Horatio makes a lot of sense, given Hamlet's misogyny and the way his miserable confusion comes back to women so often, and there are plenty of lines that can be read in that manner. It certainly makes better sense than the generally accepted theory that Hamlet is in love with his mum.

Death Note
I'm only half way through, so perhaps things change, but I've never got strong slash vibes off this thing despite it being potentially the slashiest thing ever. Misa is a girly girl, and she only presents a threat unintentionally. Despite this, I'm not confident enough to argue that she is "not a threat", because by this point I worry I would be misjudging how threatening she is on the grounds of what I already believe.

So my final theory stands thus:

Buddy movie
  • Movie is chiefly about the relationship between two (or more) same-gender protagonists.
  • The relationship is non-sexual, but undeniably romantic.
  • Female characters (if present) are allies
  • Their usefulness resides in demonstrating "feminine" skills
  • Subjectively: there is less evidence.
Coded Gay movie
  • Movie is chiefly about the relationship between two (or more) same-gender protagonists.
  • The relationship is sexual, and probably (but not necessarily) romantic.
  • Female characters are present:
    • as narrative villains, or
    • as emotional antagonists
  • Female characters display "masculine" attributes (dress) or skills
  • Subjectively: there is more evidence.
Possibly gay, possibly not
  • Movie is chiefly about something else entirely
  • An important aspect of the movie is the relationship between two (or more) same-gender protagonists.
  • The relationship is non-sexual, and not necessarily romantic
  • Female characters are present both as narrative villains and emotional antagonists AND as allies.
  • Female characters can display "masculine" or "female" attributes
  • Subjectively: evidence inconclusive
I feel a book coming on, oh yes I do!


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