Gay Times Reviews XXIV

Witness: Better Dead Than Gay Ch4

Travels With My Camera: Greetings From Out Here Ch4

Dyke TV Ch4

Indecent Acts Ch4

Gaytime TV BBC2

It's a bit of a C4 Fest this month, but I spent most of last month in a raging mood, a situation exacerbated by the fucking weather. And what made my blood boil? Receiving a card with a picture of a schoolboy and the nefarious legend "Better Dead Than Gay" did. It transpired that the card was C4's way of inducing interest in Witness: Better Dead Than Gay. I can do without that kind of publicity, thank you.

The hour-long programme told the story of Simon Harvey. A 'wonderful, lovely' chap with an interest in computers, astronomy and music, Simon was a steadfast Christian - and gay. Unable to reconcile his faith with his 'great and secret anguish' he committed suicide in August 1987, aged 26. His father - a very stiff and belligerent Baptist - did the only thing he knew how. No, he did not express forgiveness. He ripped up Simon's final letters to family and friends to 'stop anyone else from knowing my son was gay' and then set up U-Turn Anglia, dedicating his life to 'curing' homosexuals and lesbians.

You could see the fear and bile rising from his gut. He talked of his 'complete shock' and the 'double blow' of discovering his son's sexuality. He spewed forth a string of theories on gay sexuality that sent me into a conniption fit. Did you know that homosexuals are driven by impious thoughts but heterosexuals have control over such desires? And did you know that even thinking such thoughts means that the sin might as well have been committed? And that those lacking in the Holy Spirit are responsible for perverting others?

If Harvey had any idea that his son felt 'too filthy to live' he didn't seem to care. In an effort to square his conflict, Simon had resorted to psychiatrists, anti-depressants, healers, counsellors, fasting and had even considered exorcism. His father managed a half-decent attempt at repentance, but remained resolute in his disgust. One gay man and an enlightened minister braved the onslaught but Simon's sister (who knew of her brother's 'daily struggle') did not appear. The straight Christian community beseeched the Heavens, asking why this extremely happy man had killed himself, and his gay friend blamed himself for letting Simon down. I wouldn't feel so guilty because no-one could ever have abandoned him in the same way the faithful did. It seems to me that any challenge to Christian ideology should be the admission ticket through the Pearly Gates, not the persecution of gays and lesbians. Because of a religious belief that is used to justify social prejudice, Simon now rests in an unmarked grave. After all, there is no hope for the wicked, remember?

And speaking of ultimate journeys, Travels With My Camera: Greetings From Out Here springs to mind. This three year-old programme followed Ellen and her Heinz 57 dog across the Southern states, in an effort to prove you don't have to move to San Francisco to be gay. Oh but it sure helps.

Our intrepid explorer encountered a gay rodeo in Dallas (complete with a Wild Drag Race) and a pet cemetery in Beaver. She sampled macaroni cheese - 'tasty but not thrilling.' She outlined the erotic history of the Baptists. She vaunted about Southern gay culture emerging from the closet. Bluesy pianos rifts were pounded out. She wore a silly hat to fool the local yokels. They wore feather boas, inch-thick eye shadow and silver lamé. Her car broke down, she got it fixed. Banjo strings were plucked. She drove through Bethune ('Home of the Chicken Strut') on her way to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. She bypassed Dollywood and missed the chance to get some Rattlesnake Beans (a bargain at 59¢ a can). Her car broke down again. Harmonicas blasted and rasped. She charted the impact of AIDS in Mississippi. She confabulated with the first black gay minister in Alabama. She visited the Radical Fairies in Turkeytown, Atlanta Pride and RhythmFest in Georgia.

Memories rushed into my head of tedious, eternal and fractious trips to the West Country, trapped in my Father's Cresta, singing 'Three Wheels On My Wagon' and praying for release from that suffocating, sticky tank-sized jail on wheels. It is extremely rare to watch a programme that so encapsulates childhood trauma. Well done C4. After some 12 years of gluing me to my sofa, you forced me shrieking into an open field.

I wonder now if it would have been prudent to have stayed there, and not come back to watch Dyke TV. Oh don't act so surprised. You knew I wouldn't like it much. Maybe it's because I'm a miserable cow, but how excited can you get over five new pieces, a mish-mash of old items from Out and the 1994 L&G Film Festival and possibly another showing of Desert Hearts?

Sheboom: Dance With The Devils saw the 50+ members of the women's drum band in Barçelona (such a beautiful horizon) for a spot of 'noise without the boys.' It was an interesting home movie of a first trip aboard (preparing, packing, on the plane then off the plane, in the hotel and at the festival) and the band's efforts at making a huge dragon. The sound was totally knackered on the tape, making the drums muffled or tinny. My excitement was lukewarm. Double Entente did absolutely nothing to fuel my ardour either. The film starts with whale song and techno (but it's fine, it's the Utah Saints). There is a lipstick lesbian babe (power suit, bob-cut and flash sports car) whose girlie has arranged, and immediately rain-checked, a clandestine meeting in an empty bar. In walks a raven-haired temptress, pouting and sauntering, who eyes up a crescent-shaped lighter and its owner's backside. Within nanoseconds, they are driving towards a passionate encounter. A glimpse of a breast or two later comes the twist in this short tail, but I wouldn't dare ruin it for you. Yes it's stylish and the women's voices are husky enough to induce a rather pleasurable moist feeling, but ho-hum, it's humdrum.

Three Kisses And A Funeral - the homage to Beth Jordache - is most certainly not. The underlying but overriding premise is that Beth's essence is her strength and because of that, she has gained an iconic status. She has 'punched a hole through the wall of invisibility' while being 'erotic but safe.' Packed into this hour-long soap sapphic smorgasbord are video clips and magazine clippings, Della from EastEnders (drafted in for the compare and contrast), die-hard fans, Anna Friel (the 'babe with brains') in a white limo, photo shoots and fantasies, Rhona Cameron sitting in Beth's bedroom, cliches, demonstrations and eloquent appraisals. Well worth your attention.

We Recruit casts a chronologically challenged eye over the 'good tradition' of lesbian activism. Featuring my fave babes the Lesbian Avengers, the programme uses the tried and trusted formula of talking heads, video footage, news and clippings to unravel the complexities of the lesbian agenda, flitting between the 'Ban These Babies' controversy of 1997, Clause 28, the Avengers and er... Clause 28. Mary McIntosh, Jackie Forster and the Spare Rib collective make welcome appearances. Put down that placard and settle down: We Recruit shows how 25 years of public presence has empowered lesbians but proves that when the torch was handed over, very few were interested. That needs remedying and quickly.

My Mother Is An Alien merits much more than a glance too. Collected tales from the children of lesbians - all extremely positive and rather delightful stuff, and not unlike Between The Sheets: Butch-Femme which provides a peek at the trials and tribulations of 'fluttering' femmes and yer basic butches. 'The sex bits were good,' remarked a friend, watching various bodies dressing up and farting about. It's not an incredibly in-depth study, but it's jocular enough to forgive that. Chicks In White Satin follows Heidi and Deborah, two Jewish thirty-pluses, who are about to tie the knot. They choose plates and invitations, have counselling, face rejection from relatives, get pizza pans at their shower, and decide against loud kissing after they stamp on the glass. The 'day of pure magic' gets so gooey it's frightening. Must mention the best cameo, by Deborah's Mum - it's worth viewing for her alone. And a mention for Forbidden Love, When Shirley Met Florence, Fresh Kill and Only The Brave: don't miss them.

Oscar Wilde's back with Indecent Acts. To commemorate the trials of 1895 (again), Will Parry mustered some heavy-weight opinion and laced it with vignettes in dusty theatres, photographs, film clips, silhouetted figures and readings. Raking over the history of Wilde's seminal trials, Parry juxtaposed a clergyman and a member of the Armed Forces prosecuted in the last 5 years. He ended up with the conclusion that Wilde became a 'scapegoat' for liberating homosexuals. Actually, there seemed to be very little of Oscar himself, but at least Parry dug a lot deeper than BBC2's Wilde Night did. Out of the two, I have to say Parry's was the superior one. It looked better, ran more smoothly and made some exceedingly interesting points about political intrigue and the tremulous reaction to changes in the law. Just one question. Do we have to wait until 2028 before any channel does a programme on marking 100 years since Radclyffe Hall's trial? Or can we please have one on the 70th anniversary in 1998?

So Gaytime TV is over. Yes it improved on the viewing figures for that slot, and beat Out into a cocked hat, but was it any good? I'd still have to say no, it bloody well wasn't. Rhona and Bert did relax a little, but the set remained a nightmare, and the items lauded the American dream too frequently, which meant that the British scene was left waving frantically to gain attention. I certainly could have done without Mark Anthony, his unfeasibly large pecs and his lack of presentation skills. And please can someone arrange to drop that catchphrase 'Don't forget, it's gaytime not daytime'?

Okay, I'll grudgingly admit that there were some good bits but the commercialisation of the gay scene especially seemed to rule the agenda. If the programme has gained high enough ratings (and 1.3 million is not to be sniffed at), it might be back next year, but I sincerely hope Planet 24 adjust their dress before the camera rolls again.

© Megan Radclyffe 1993-2001

Savannah LWT

Doctor Who BBC1

Out This Week  909 MW

The Knock Carlton

Gaytime TV BBC2

Dark Secrets: Sex Aversion BBC2

With Great Pleasure Radio 4

Dyke TV Ch4

The Celluloid Closet Ch4

Celluloid Icons Ch4

After months of resorting to watching chat shows and soaps to get my queer quota, I finally succumbed and entered a totally gay–free zone. As the cold fingers of fear tingled down my spine, I tuned into Savannah (LWT), likened to a 90's version of Dallas and Dynasty. Except it's probably worse, but then it comes from the fetid brain of Aaron Spelling.

The opening 90–minute episode, set in the organza–rich environment of Georgia, was full of beautiful people, the kind Martini would wet themselves over. If you looked really closely, there were a few hairs out of place here and there but the men were chiselled–face with shoulders the size of a barn and perfectly tailored suits, and the women had perfect teeth, pert bosoms with canyons of cleavage, and squeak Southern accents and everyone had a stupid name such as Peyton (aka Bunny), Reese, and the classic Travis Bunker Peterson.

It had a great many of the elements required to make a US soap drama. The sets were swathed in reels of cotton, the houses were white–washed and circled by picket fences, crickets sang in the night on a ranch full of thoroughbred horses, rugged men squinting into the sun puffing on fat Cuban cigars, and showboats floated down river, home to high stake poker games, and black maids tended to their duties quietly in the background. The first pop of a champagne cork came 12 minutes in, and a scant 7 minutes later, the first fuck. Sounds perfect, eh?

No, I wouldn't say so, but then that's what I'm paid to say. The laughter sounded hollow and too loud in the parts where a totally cliched script called for it, and the acting was plasterboard, not even of a standard to merit the term "wooden". There were black and white flashbacks, and the bits in colour were full of clenching jaws, flashing eyes, swishing hips and whipping hair. And eurgh! you could hear them salivating when they snogged!

The plot loped along, with huge markers for changes in fortune and fate placed verbally and physically. You just knew that when one woman said "All I want is my two best friends" that was an harbinger of doom. You knew that when she said "It's lucky I'm not pregnant..." that the patter of tiny feet wouldn't be far away. You know who the bitch is (a titan–haired vamp in suspenders and lacy underwear) and you know there aren't really any good guys. But Savannah will probably run and run. It seems with American programmes that the more OTT it can be, the bigger the hook to catch all those wriggling little viewers on. It will be the Dallas for a new generation but as to whether it will actually be any better, we'll just have to wait and see.

I know it's been an age since the TARDIS whooshed back onto the screen (7 years in fact) but I felt I couldn't let Doctor Who (BBC1) pass without comment. I, like many other Whovians, greeted the news of a new Doctor Who with great excitement. The general consensus is that Paul McGann made for a fantastic 8th incarnation, what the fuck was going on with that story? The first ten minutes, which featured Sylvester McCoy as a suitably matured Doctor, gave a false impression of the shape of things to come. From a promising start, the plot (the Doctor trying to rescue the world from imminent implosion with the help of an atomic clock) disintegrated faster than Leela's skimpy costume and was a weaker idea than K9.

It wasn't set on Metebelis 3 or Telos but in Chinatown, San Francisco. The TARDIS had undergone a huge refit, ending up with a library, a cloister room, and a beefed–up console (which still didn't work). The Doctor spent most of his time desperately, laboriously, struggling over his identity. And what the hell was going on in the minds of the casting agents that they made Eric Roberts The Master? I know the lascivious Roger Delgrano died in 1973, but really, who believed Eric would make a worthy successor? He certainly wasn't the personification of evil: he was sodden and overblown. And how on Gallifrey did they decide that the Doctor was going to kiss a girl? Not once, but twice! I can only assume he'd been given the Hollywood–style treatment: after all, a story can't possibly be deemed to be interesting unless there's some notion of shagging going on, can it?

I realise Doctor Who has a reputation as being somewhat cheesy. The effects were as you'd expect given technological advances but the plot was as unstable as the sonic screwdriver itself. There was no Venusian karate, no Zygons, Cybermen or Sea Devils, few jelly babies, none of the aspects that made Doctor Who such an institution. Even the Daleks have been blown to Kingdom Come.

The American viewing public had the introductory scenes cut out because they didn't know who Who was. Of course, if the BBC had used some of the money raised from the sales of the 98 Doctor Who videos to fund the project, instead of spending it on Eldorado and selling the rights to the Yanks, then maybe we would have had something worthwhile. Rumour has it that Roberts took to wandering around the set telling McGann that he "looked like a fucking faggot" in his Edwardian–themed costume, but check with your local Whovian. More intriguing is the fact that the Doctors are dying in the sequence (theoretically Tom Baker's next) and each one has died a week or so before a new regeneration was seen on TV. Spooky eh?

By the time you read this, Out This Week (909 MW) will have finished its run for this season. In amongst all the reports on harassment, film reviews, Pride, the Olympics and so on was a special on racism, which attempted to cover the full gamut of this social ill.

Some of you will know that I have been labelled as a racist and I have endured people calling me this without due justification. I'll probably get into trouble for this but I found this particular instalment to be biased. Drafted into the studio were three prominent black gays, Isaac Julien, David McAlmont and PP but no whites to balance the scales of discourse. The most interesting comments came from the studio discussion based around the "Blacks are homophobic myth". A report from Brixton, a "trendy neighbourhood that attracts predominately white people and has a thriving gay community" (not my experience of the area, but what–ho) courted the argument that black homophobia is simply "another form of white racism." Few white voices were given assent to challenge this.

Julien dismissed the gay press reaction to Buju Banton's clarion call "Boom Bye Bye" as "moral panic" and that the "articulation of homophobia was ("was"?) something very violent and coming from Jamaica where homosexuality is illegal, it's very different from the actual physical abuse." PP skived off by saying "It's a complex issue" but didn't expand, and McAlmont decried the lack of images of black men in the gay press. A great deal of mirth was derived in the studio from his description of the gay scene as "white, shaven, muscle Marys." PP rejected calls for integration ("the word always sends shivers up my spine, it's such a 60's thing") and claimed that "historically it's always been black lesbians and gays who've led the discourse." Erm... who, exactly? Linda Bellos? And if the percentage of blacks in the UK is estimated as 5% then the representations in the gay press seem equal to the number of black gay men (let alone lesbians).

Personally, I'm fed up with all this. The Out This Week programme paid lip service to demands for reconciliation but left far more questions unanswered than we really need at this moment in time. Put up or shut up, would you?

Do you remember Oliver Tobias? He played The Stud alongside The Bitch Joan Collins back in the late 1970s and plummeted immediately into obscurity. And what's the assured way to get your name back in the limelight? Play an evil gay gangster in The Knock of course! To hail this hearty revival Ollie appeared on This Morning saying that he didn't mind playing gay "so long as the character wasn't overtly... you know..." while Richard and Judy nodded along sagely. Tobias' role as an ugly–natured gay drug baron who doesn't care who he steps on makes a change from being a victim, I suppose. I just wish the producers wouldn't keep marking our territory from the ridiculous to the sublime.

And speaking of the ridiculous, Mary Whitehouse – a gay icon? Feck off! Gaytime TV (BBC2) have really done it this time. "You may hate us, but Mary – we love you!" Says who? Would the idiot at Planet 24 who thought it would be a giggle to laud this vile woman's anti–gay rantings please present themselves? If you're not willing to do so, crawl back under your rock and don't peek out until you've discovered the meanings of "gay" and "icon" and realised the real connection. Here's a hint to be getting on with: you're not a gay icon because you wear crappy nylon blouses and raffia hats.

If you want someone to hold a candle for, then might I suggest Capt. Gerald William Clegg-Smith of the Royal Tank Regiment? His story featured in Dark Secrets: Sex Aversion (BBC2) because in 1962 (aged 29) he died at Netley military hospital in Southampton. And the reason? He had been sentenced to undertake 6 months aversion therapy, to wit apomorphine treatment, but he died "after a few days" from cerebral anoxia, coma and convulsions or, as the Army coroner added, "natural causes". And why was he given this drug? Because he was gay.

Like Clegg-Smith's sister, who cannot comprehend why her brother had to die, my anger was dulled by the immense grief of a situation that saw many thousands of men ruined because of social constraints. The dark secret here is that no-one knows how many people were forced to undergo these types of "therapy". I can only hope that anyone involved in this barbaric treatment is still wracked by guilt. Unfortunately, the programme was stuffed away in BBC2's dead zone...

Many thanks to Radio 4 for sending a copy of the eagerly-awaited tape of Angela Mason on With Great Pleasure. Imagine my delight and finally receiving it in the post. And imagine my horror to discover the tape was entirely blank. And finally, well in advance for your diaries, mark the return of Dyke TV (C4) and the TV premiere of The Celluloid Closet (C4). The latter I have already seen, but I shall explain why I'm not entirely happy with it next month. You might want to watch out for Celluloid Icons (C4) as well, which delves into queer obsessions of Jodie Foster, River Phoenix and Coronation Street – all on your screens in early September.

© Megan Radclyffe 1993-2001

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