Glasgay! and theTennessee Williams Film Festival 2008

Feature by Djuna Bee | 26 Sep 2008

In one of her strips, American cartoonist and out lesbian Alison Bechel claimed she had a rule about whether she’d watch a film or not. The film must:

1.Feature at least two women
2.Who talk to each other
3.About something other than men

It’s a far-fetched idea for anyone who loves film, but she has a valid point: screaming heterosexuality is the norm, and if films are gay, they’re much more likely to be about gay men. Of this year's programme, Bechdel’s Rule can certainly claim The Chinese Botanist’s Daughter, which sounds fascinating: the story of a beautiful orphan, Li Min, who goes to live with a renowned botanist and his daughter. The two women fall in love, but the prospects of a lesbian relationship in early nineties rural China in is fraught with difficulty.

For those of us happy to dispense with Bechdel’s Rule (surely most of us), Glasgay! not only includes a small but perfectly formed buffet of its own films: but also for one year only it proffers a gluttonous feast of films based on the plays of Tennessee Williams.

Before we get on to discussing some of the Williams offerings, though, it's worth noting that top of the bill for Glasgay!'s film programme must be Love and Other Disasters, directed by In Bed With Madonna’s Alex Kashishian. Starring Brittany Murphy as a would-be cupid, and the brilliant Matthew Rhys as her hapless gay flatmate, Disasters claims to be a ‘mo-ed up version of Love Actually. If Kashishian has managed to entice out anything of Rhys’s character Kevin in the TV series Brothers and Sisters, this could, potentially, rock.

Breakfast with Scot seems weirdly reminiscent of eighties sitcom My Two Dads, except the ‘Dads’ in question are both straight laced – and openly gay. However, when Scot’s mum dies and her brother and partner take him in, they’re completely unprepared for the fact that he’s a show-tune loving little blazer in the making.
Bette Davis’ centenary was commemorated at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, and it’s only right that the high-priestess of camp should be celebrated once again at Glasgay! The Anniversary is comedy at it’s blackest, with Davis doing what she did best: ripping unlucky women to shreds with her whiplash of a tongue (in this instance her unlucky son’s fiancées, a new one of which he brings home every year).

Sex, sex and more hot, sweaty, beastly sex – you don’t need to see it to feel its presence, and the tensions, frustrations and passions of men and women sear out of every play Tennessee Williams wrote. It was his calling card, his signature, and it translates perfectly into celluloid. And it helps that these films attracted some of the sexiest stars of the fifties and sixties.

The scorching heat of the Southern sun helps bring Paul Newman and Liz Taylor’s relationship to complete meltdown in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and no-one who’s had their heart rate quickened by the young Marlon Brando (frankly the sexiest brute ever to grace the silver screen) in A Streetcar Named Desire could ever forget it.
The list of classics goes on. Michael Douglas’ dad Kirk plays the ‘gentleman caller’ in the achingly sad Glass Menagerie, a tale of delusion, fragility and fractured family life. Then there’s John Houston’s The Night of the Iguana, featuring an unlikely Mexican church group if ever you saw one: defrocked Reverend Richard Burton, granddaughter Deborah Kerr and old flame Ava Gardner, waging desperate battles of will and morality.

These are only the better known films in a season of fourteen, any one of which will be a revelation to those who haven’t experienced Williams' witchcraft before. Bechdel’s Rule has its place. But in the words of the playwright himself, “I don’t want realism. I want magic!”