Gay Times Reviews XVI

EastEnders BBC1

Midnight Underground: She Don't Fade Ch4

Boy Bands: Stripped To The Waist MTV

Celluloid Icons Ch4

Secret History: The Whitechapel Murders Ch4

Moving People BBC2

It seems we were right again. Tony Hills (played by Mark Homer) may just be tittering on the edge of a homosexual abyss. Not since the days of Colin's lip fondle with Guido have we seen the likes of it. And because the BBC got cold feet again, the kiss between Tone and Tiffany's brother Simon (Andrew Lynford) was liberally spliced before EastEnders (BBC1) went to air "on the advice" of BBC1 controller Michael Jackson. He decided the kiss (filmed at two seconds) "went on too long." Shame. Still I don't suppose all the attendant publicity did the ratings any harm.

If Dyke TV, The Celluloid Closet and Celluloid Icons aren't enough, those radical types at Horseferry Road came up with Midnight Underground: She Don't Fade (C4), the tale of a black dyke's search for the perfect woman. American comic Cheryl Dunye scrawled, supervised and starred, dragging a few friends in to abet her. She played 29 year–old street vendor Shea who hit upon a dastardly plan to "approach women differently" in order to get laid. As we had no idea what method she used before, this dramatic change in strategy was lost. Dunye provided a running commentary, which flipped in between vignettes of her efforts. There was an attempt of a sexual nature with a conquest called Margo, but the "director" employed stop–frame camera work and filmed it from a single, skewed angle. Spontaneous it was not. The action came with a voice off–camera telling them, "You guys are dead. You gotta move."

Dunye attempted to achieve that "hot magical energy from the eyes to the hooch" with a passing stranger but choked the potential life in this by singing not one, but two off–key verses of Torn Between Two Lovers. Cheesy wasn't the word. Probably realising she was about to run out of pocket money, Dunye hurriedly wrapped the story up with a chance meeting at an ill–attended party and a sudden move in which she kicked Margo to the kerb. It could be described as a brave effort (but not by me) spoiled by the ego of the main protagonist.

I knew having cable installed would pay off eventually. After weeks of cartoons, chat shows, American soaps and lashings of British daytime TV, I came across Boy Bands: Stripped To The Waist (MTV). Hosted by the fatuous but beguiling Davina McCall of God's Gift infamy, it was an unsurpassed feast. Covering the full gamut of this phenomenon, the programme was suitably tongue–in–cheek. It was a smorgasbord for 13 year–old twittering females whose beady eyes scour the horizon for a briefest glimpse of their main squeeze ("Mark, I'm your love slave. Take my virginity any time"), their little legs sprinting towards them but their lungs failing due to bouts of hysterical screaming.

Boyzone, East 17 ("They take the mick. They're just ugly") and Take That featured heavily, augmented with soundbites and fleeting video clips from Bros, Let Loose, Worlds Apart, Bad Boys Inc., Backstreet Boys, MN8 (who claim "We got style, charisma and attitude." Nah–nah nah, definitely not), Gemini, Bed & Breakfast ("Eurgh! They're disgusting!"), Upside Down, and Code Red, who all proved that you "can't create chicken soup from chicken shit." There was only a cursory mention of the archaic boy bands (the Beatles, Jackson 5 and Wham!), hardly any NKOTB, no Bay City Rollers and absolutely no 4Guyz. There were a few hurried nods towards a gay influence or following. Robbie admitted that, "When we started out, the only place that would have us were gay clubs" and Tom Watkins admired Peter Andre (touted as a solo substitute for the failing popularity of boy bands), saying he has "a set of abs any homosexual man would kill for."

But the programme wasn't aimed at gay men. That kind of arousal is a by–product. Stripped To The Waist concerned itself with the relationship between the bands and young females, and a disturbing one it's turning out to be ("We saw a banner with 'Point your erections in my direction' on it"). It detailed pseudo–sexual stimulation, the living out of fantasies, and of that being a replacement for "the religious experience of seeing the cross with some kind of initiation that made you scream." Does this mean that boy bands are bigger than Jesus Christ? Where have I heard that sentiment before?

This is such a huge industry, encapsulating the constant promotion of boy bands through videos ("They have to look gob–smackingly gorgeous but they also need an edge of sophistication. It's a commercial for the band") and merchandise. One fan had spent over £3,000 on CDs, concert tickets, travel, bags, underwear, t–shirts, hats (woolly and baseball cap), poster mags, dolls and stationery and you can be sure she's not alone in her fiscal devotion.

Now the question of enduring popularity has raised its gruesome head. Is it all coming to an end? Are the calls for young, fresh and sexy boy bands to show us something original more frequent? Blur, Pulp and Oasis are, we are told, the next generation. However, the industry is about peddling sex, and if these chaps "won't take their shirts off or dance", if the songs are "hard and frightening" and you don't want to adorn your bedroom walls with "posters of hairy brutes" then it's RIP not only for Take That (I'm still wearing black) and the rest of them. Davina finished with a few choice words of comfort, and an opener for another string of specials: "Don't worry, cos there'll always be boy bands. Hoorah!" Indeed.

It's certainly a goal to aim for it seems. Celluloid Icons (C4) put a gay spin on the world of idols. The homage to The Street was introduced by an affected queer in a gold lamé suit. "Has anyone noticed how Coronation Street is just a drag show now?" he wailed. With the advent of a gay couple in The Archers (R4), Coronation Street is the only soap left without a gay character. But it doesn't need one. The camp humour, the strong women and the "moments of real poignancy" guarantee a gay following. The Divine David, Twinkle, Tilly McAuley and Regina Fong all pitched in, along with a rag–taggle band of Mancunian queers who trailed around the set, asking for a copy of Gay Times at the Kabin.

Of course, it descended to the level of the shaggability factor and who was most fanciable before plummeting further into the world of fantasy gay characters. "Dierdre happens on the isle of Lesbos and meets a Greek waitress... No, Rita adopts a gay teenager." It'll never happen. Essentially, this was just a film of conversations in pubs and clubs up and down the land for years – but did it make good TV? Interesting yes. Riveting no. The pieces on River Phoenix and black divas [see next month] could fall into the same critical category.

Jodie was another matter but I'll admit to a personal fantasy here. Produced and directed by Pratibha Parmar, it dealt with the dual premise that Foster's unconfirmed sexuality is one reason to idolise her, and that lesbians need someone to identify with is another. Bugger all that stuff about subtext or the fact that Foster "projects a positive image of women", this "unusually physical actress" has got it made when it comes to an unwavering dyke focus. The lesbian nation had invested in her star image, seeing ourselves in a woman who "looks like a boy and talks like a man". Everyone has a story about this "modern–day Marlene" and the selected video clips from Carny and Hotel New Hampshire added fuel to an already raging fire, as part of an "accumulation of unlicensed gossip" which becomes truth. Everybody's got or heard a story about her girlfriends, right? And everyone interviewed here spoke as if they were personal friends. Time was wasted on whether Foster is butch or femme ("Hollywood butch" or "visually femme mentally butch" or "tomboy femme" – like it matters) but it was thoroughly lovely.

Jack the Ripper may not be considered as an icon per se but he does provoke an awful lot of interest. Secret History: The Whitechapel Murders (C4) forwarded yet another theory on the killer's identity with "a clue the world once knew and forgot."

With the routine techniques of reconstructions, descriptions of wounds and post–mortem or crime–scene photographs, the programme began by debunking the bogus theories and suspects before moving onto a hint left by a senior policeman, John G. Littlechild. Among a dusty old bundle of letters found in antique bookshop, mention was made of an "American quack" called Francis Tumblety. It beggars belief that historians, researchers and amateur sleuths have missed this man for the past 108 years to the extent that I had to ask if the evidence was rock solid, conjecture, or simply desperation.

Tumblety was described as a sadist with "remarkable" feelings towards women that were "bitter to the extreme." US newspapers were abreast of Tumblety's movements ("American Charlatan Suspected Of Whitechapel Murders Missing") and even talked to his protege ("He Lived With Doctor And Was His Constant Companion"). Court records show that the doctor was taken into custody for committing acts of gross indecency with four men when "slumming" in E1. He was bailed and promptly vanished. The British press fell strangely silent. Rumour has it that Scotland Yard were embarrassed by the fact they had lost their prime suspect and slayed the story.

Here's my dilemma. Homosexual men who are serial killers (and there have been a considerable number) are hardly ever known to kill women. It's simplistic to suggest that Tumblety's "rage" against women was a delusion that progressed to murder. Whatever evidence has been pieced together, it is not enough to convict him, certainly as his supposed motive didn't match his lifestyle. It seems the search will go on, but I would hope Secret History provides the next instalment. It's gratifying when a programme leaves you pondering.

Finally, a section from Moving People (BBC2) which detailed the trauma of Keith and Gary's move from a truly hideous tower block in Deptford to a nice semi–detached in Abingdon. Blink and you'd probably have missed it. After six years together, the two lads were ready to clean out the chip pan for the last time then battle bravely with the lift doors to get their stuff out. Helpers weren't seen on camera and I found that sad, as all of them gave the reason that they "weren't out to their family" or not out at work "and us being gay will reflect on them." Well it's only 1996. Why assume can we expect a tolerant attitude at home and work? Silly me. Still it was a dreary way to prove that not only heterosexuals move house...

© 1993-2001 Megan Radclyffe

Dafydd BBC2

Fine Cut: Osaka Story BBC2

Safe And Sexy MTV

Over The Rainbow Ch4

Gaytime TV BBC2

Picture it. Pontypridd, Wales, 1995. Dafydd, a young lad stifled by the claustrophobic atmosphere of a small town mentality, decides to hop aboard a ferry and visit the capital city of twilight liaisons, Amsterdam. He seeks freedom but ends up joining two Dutch sufer dude rent boys, gets pissed, stoned and shagged at every available opportunity. When he's not off his tits, he is avoiding a violent pimp who wants our eponymous hero on his books. He is then befriended by a local, but revolts and bolts when the Samaritan starts breathing heavily.

And so into Dafydd's life sidles a sexually confused music teacher with a bow tie and a restrained quiff. In the midst of this sleazy, neon-lit world, the two men discover a mutual devotion to opera (what else?) and attempt to find a little comfort in a cold city.

Of course, it all goes horrednously wrong, and the teacher ends up with hi guts spilt across the floor by a rent boy and his prostitute girlfriend he employed to assess his sexuality. And there it ended, with the wide-eyed teenager "alone and dislocated" in the land of tulips.

Dafydd (BBC2), presented by the Welsh playhouse, could have been an enlightening tale. It was supposed to show that the "chance of friendship or love" could transend - nay, destroy - the horrible realities the 19 year-old encountered. It was supposed to be a tale of the loss of innocence and social alientation. In fact, it was a mororse, lurid tale of obsession and stupidity that left a bad taste in my mouth. Oh, and you mustn't forget the moral: there's always a price to pay for freedom.

Fine Cut: Osaka Story (BBC2) came in from a different tack. Toichi Nakata's film of his squabbling family made for interestingly poignant viewing. His father (a Korean money lender and pinball machine operator) hardly talks to his mother and has disowned Nakata's sister, who married a Korean Moonie. Nakata's view of his family, both as individuals and as a group who grudingly tolerated each other, ended with a slight twist. His father desperately wanted the traditional route for his son - come home, get married and take his place in the business - but Nakata ended up explaining why he couldn't possibly do this by coming out to his mother. The film struck the right mix of objectivity and subjectivity, providing a rather personal film that achieved a somewhat universal feel.

Safe and Sexy (MTV) tried to convince its trendy 18-25 audience that the only European currency should be the condom, but started off rather shakily with fuzzy videos, wobbly sound and flashing graphics. They too visited Holland, land of the "kondoom", talking to safe sex guerrillas and alerting us to the actual existence of "advanced attitudes". Kylie, Boy George and Bon Jovi handed out cryptic tips, Irish extremists claimed that condoms "don't protect you" and that HIV+ people should be quarantined (yawn), and a gay man from Brighton submitted a video diary during which he displayed a seemingly dangerous attitude towards protecting his partners.

It was no more enlightening than anything else I've seen (except I learned that only a dismal 13.5% of people in the UK have taken the HIV antibody test, and that you can buy mini-rucksacks packed to the drawstrings with handy-sized safer sex oddments), but it's nice to know that MTV are still championing the cause fourteen years on.

The "minority channel" came through once again with Over The Rainbow (C4), a four-part series on queer life in America. Outrage '69 charted the rise and waver of activism and although it skipped about outrageously to begin with, it provided an excellent chronicle. Using cine film, home movies, new reels, paper clippings and alarmist Government information filsm, crucial activists were paraded, briefly recollecting the trials, triumps and tribulations, analysing the problems within the community, and berating the rise of "professional gay lobbyists".

I liked the way in which Outrage '69 presented both sides of the story, from gay male and lesbian perspectives. It didn't miss out on the rise of the Lavendar Menace in the Gay Liberation Front, or the confession that committees were headed up by especially chosen "token lesbian", nor did it gloss over the birth of the Salsa Soul Sisters, the dissipation of the Radicalesbians or the appalling treatment of the drag queens.

Part 2 - Culture Wars - put forward the idea that the more visibility we have, the more hatred will increase. Hum... Accompanied by far too much slo-mo footage, gritty film and protracted clips of the right wing displaying a "misuse of religion and democracy", the programme made my heart sink because it proved the bastard bigots are still at it, banging on without respite or remorse. The preview tape ofthe third part, Hollow Liberty, was recorded at double speed, and the fourth - Generation 'Q' - was a very positive, almost rose-coloured view of young US gays and lesbians finding their voice personally and politically. Again, the producers employed that slo-mo style, this time with lots of sunshine and general happiness, while the youngsters bantered on, cuddled and show their comaraderie. Only a brief mention of the suicide rate, bashings and parental disgust, but who would dare rain on their parade?

It was gratifying to see that C4 are still living up to their promise to provide lesbian and gay television, but it would be even better if they provided some funding so that a British version could be made and aired. But who can pull the right strings?

Gaytime TV (BBC2) certainly couldn't. The "glossy" magazine show, front by "Gaywatch" titles (with more pink posing pouches than you could shake a stick at) led us into a strange world where we could "celebrate with a certain amount of freedom". Hosted by Rhona Cameron and Bert "Thumbs Aloft" Tyler-Moore, Gaytime TV licked the arse of "rich, gay and fabulous" people (mostly American), let us ogle at the wealth of (mostly American) gay talent, lost their dignity fawning over (mostly American) stars of screen and sport and ended up with a torch song. If that wasn't enough, Gaytime TV was packed with endless shots of horny, bronzed men (mostly American). In fact, pecs outweighed breasts by about 12-1.

Where oh where was all the British stuff? Where were the lesbians? Oh, they included some of the Pride Festival, but one wonders what they'll fill the space with when that event isn't on. They had gay perfume, gay soap operas and gay holidays, and a token lesbian interview of about 55 seconds of Martina. Okay, okay, I'll admit I only saw the very first instalment ( so I'll return to Gaytime TV next month) but I can't say I was overly impressed. My girlfriend put it rather more succinctly: "It's total bollocks and I could fucking cry."

© 1993-2001 Megan Radclyffe

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