by Thom Ernst Thursday January 12, 2012

It's odd really that a film released in 1978 would not get an Oscar nomination until 1980, but such was the case with La Cage Aux Folles. Odder still is that a foreign film that became as popular as La Cage Aux Folles would get nominated for costume (that makes sense) nominated for best screenplay (not unreasonable) and even a best director for Edouard Molinaro but no Oscar nod for best foreign film. To confound things more, that same year La Cage Aux Folles did win a best foreign film Golden Globe. 

By 1978 social politics had advanced enough to open the door for a commercial film not just about gay men, but about gay men and cross dressing.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves, this was, afterall a European film.  Not being financed in North America but only enjoying a limited art house release says a lot.  Attitudes might have been changing, in 1978 but they hadn't quite changed. One could easily argue that depite a generally acceptance of all lifestyles, the attitudes today have not necessarily progressed as far as we might hope.  But La Cage Aux Folles would hardly cause a ripple of concern were it released today.  Indeed, a comedy that relies on the flamboyaunt kind of mincing that actor Michel Serrault undergoes for laughs might seem crude if not offensive were it made today. Granted, the film's antagonist is the unlikable Simon Charrier (Michel Galabru,) the Secretary of Decency (always a rather humourless and brittle persona to undertake). 



Perhaps timing is the failing behind Mike Nichols funny, but unsuccessful remake, The Birdcage.  The 'let's laugh at the gay man' schtick has (thankfully) pretty much run it's course - though that would hardly explain the success of televisions' Will & Grace except to suggest that television and big screen movies set up their own standards of acceptabliity.  One is in our living rooms, while presumably you seek movies out. 

But back to 1978, the idea of a comedy about two gay men running an all male crossdressing cabaret must have seemed outrageous.  And it is. 

The question is, did the film do anything for bridging the gap between gay culture and straight culture or did it  (does it) merely confirm archaic stereotypes.

Years later came The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.  Priscilla is a bus, but in that bus are three cross dressing performers.  One of them is a transexual, one of them is straight, and one is gay. 

Again this movie was not made in North America and appeared only in art house cinemas.  Certainly the outrageous costumes, dramatic flare and guady make-up (not to mention the ABBA tunes) played into the humour of the film.  But the comedic drive does not come soley from the sexuality of any of the men on the bus.  The comedy comes instead from the confidence of the characters, their ability to handle themselves, and they way the deal with those who might otherwise condem and deny them. 

Mostly though, Priscilla succeeds in working against our expectations by surprising us with a world that is remarkably accepting. 

Good movies - both of them.  But do they push the envelope towards gay acceptance or are they merely films with gay characters made 'safe' for a straight audience?

It will be interesting to see the reactions after Saturday Night at the Movies screen these films January 14th.