‘I Specialise in Loneliness’ is about five films that changed my life, with a touch of help from a song title by Boy George! 

It’s really in the films and novels that I love that my rainbow tastes become apparent. More so as I get older.  Gay fiction and cinema have acted as a guide, a road map, for me throughout my life, as well as providing a lifeline in which often my own journeys, sensibilities, emotions, desires and sorrows were/are often mirrored and explored. I couldn’t find such things in straight mainstream cinema or novels to help me deal with growing up gay or even growing older as a gay man: not just to help me deal with… but contain an experience that I shared, could relate to, or have an emotional resonance with. Before I found my way into the nearest city to my home,  Manchester, the ‘city’ ( so often the saviour of freaks, young creatives and ‘different’ kids) early teenage life in suburban Cheshire was a lonely, isolated existence, despite being fortunate enough to go to an amazing, tolerant school and having great parents and family.

Books and films were so important to me growing up. Armed with Boy George, Morrissey and Madonna as my music idols, their records and lyrics taught me that being gay and different was fine and special. Pop videos, live shows and song lyrics, whilst empowering  poetry in themselves, lacked the length and subsequent power of a novel or movie for a deeper exploration of developing feelings, lives, loves, relationships and of being different and often alone.

Andrew Holleran, Edmund White, and Jake Arnott are my favourite authors (though Hide by Matthew Griffin and What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell recently have totally blown me away), the former two are definitely hardly a laugh a minute, but I adore the melancholic (often nostalgic) poetic, romantic tales and stories and also the unique and special glamour of their subjects. As gays, we are all glamorous in our own ways, even the most muscle bound testosterone queen stating unequivocally ‘no camps/effeminates’ on dating sites. We all wear or adopt our own drag, our own persona. Our own armour as a matter of survival. As I enter middle age and get older, as my face drops, hair greys and I can no longer wear sleeveless t-shirts without considering myself mutton,  these writers and directors offer a vital lifeline of growing older as a gay man – gay middle age being somewhat an undiscovered country’s mass gay culture. The generation before was ravaged by AIDS so really middle and old age as a sexual minority  are somewhat unchartered territories. When the beauty of youth (if we were lucky enough in the first place to have it) fades,  and ambition, one night stands and brief encounters dissolve into the background and become no longer our raison d’être, we are left, I believe, confronted by our most authentic, naked selves.

As sexual boundaries have blurred and have become more and more accepted, gay cinema has become less genre confined: the amazing and beautiful Moonlight quite rightly winning the Academy’s conservative  approval, I wanted to share a few of my favourite films that have been instrumental in my life. There are so many films that have been so important and inspiring to me…Discovering ‘Ciao Manhattan’ and ‘Paris is Burning’ were both momentous experiences, and of course Madonna’s ’Truth or Dare.’ I must have attached hundreds of time… I have recently been obsessed with anything by Montreal director, Xavier Dolan and  Israeli cinema (‘Eyes Wide Open’, ‘Ushpinzin’, ‘Tikkun’, ‘Fill the Void’)  so deciding on a handful of films that have affected me was not an easy ask. I am also not a film critic. The films that I found almost akin to religious experiences upon first viewing are all unsurprisingly gay films.

It is really in the films and novels that I love that my rainbow tastes become apparent. More so as I get older.

Gay fiction and cinema have acted as a guide, a road map, for me throughout my life, as well as providing a lifeline in which often my own journeys, sensibilities, emotions, desires and sorrows were/are often mirrored and explored. I couldn’t find such things in straight mainstream cinema or novels to help me deal with growing up gay or growing older as a gay man: not just to help me deal with… but contain  an experience that i shared and  could relate to,  or a story that has emotional resonance. Before I found my way into the nearest city to my home,  Manchester, the ‘city’ ( so often the saviour of freaks,  young creatives and ‘different’ kids,) early teenage life in suburban cheshire was a lonely, isolated existence, despite having great parents and family and being fortunate enough to go to an amazing, tolerant school.

Books and films were so important to me growing up. Armed with Boy George, Morrisey and Madonna as my music idols, and their records and lyrics they taught me that being gay and different was fine and special, but pop videos, live shows and  song lyrics, whilst empowering  poetry in themselves, lacked the length and  subsequent power of a novel or movie for a deeper exploration of developing feelings,  lives, loves and relationships and of being different and often alone.

Andrew Holleran, Edmund White, Jake Arnott are my favourite authors( though Hide by Matthew Griffin and What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell  recently have totally blown me away), the former two are definitely hardly a laugh a minute, but i adore the melancholic (often nostaligic),  poetic and romantic tales and stories  and also the unique and special glamour of their subjects. As gays we are all glamorous in our own ways, even the most muscle bound testosterone queen stating unequivocally ‘no camps/effeminates’ on dating sites. We all wear or adopt our own drag. Our own persona. Our own armour as a matter of survival. As I enter middle age and get older, as my face drops, and hair greys and i can no longer wear sleeveless t shirts without considering myself mutton,  these writers and directors offer a vital lifeline of growing older as a gay man,  gay middle age being somewhat an undiscovered country’s mass gay culture. The generation before was ravaged by AIDS so really middle and old age as a sexual minority  are somewhat unchartered territories. When the beauty of youth (if we were lucky enough in the first place to have it) fades,  and ambition, one night stands and brief encounters dissolve into the background and become no longer our raison d’être, we are left, I believe, confronted by our most authentic, naked selves.

 

 

important and inspiring to me…Discovering ‘Ciao Manhattan’ and ‘Paris is Burning’ were both momentous experiences, and of course Madonna’s ’Truth or Dare’ I’m must have attached hundreds of time… I have recently been obsessed with anything by Montreal director, Xavier Dolan and  Israeli cinema ( ‘Eyes Wide Open’, ‘Ushpinzin’, ‘Tikkun’, ‘Fill the Void’)  so deciding on a handful of films that have affected me was not an easy ask. I am also not a film critic .The films that I found almost akin to religious experiences upon first viewing are all unsurprisingly gay films.

The first ‘gay’ film that I ever saw was ‘The Torch Song Trilogy’,  the film of Harvey Fierstein’s play about a drag queen and his quest for love, approval and family. I remember picking the title from the rows and rows of empty VHS cases at the local video shop, drawn to it’s cover of a row of suited trouser legs and shiny black shoes, with a pair of bare, masculine legs (I think they were also in tights….) wearing fluffy bunny slippers. I had to watch it in secret at first at home, but in the end in my later teens I made my parents sit down and watch it. I was so obsessed with its brilliance and importance. In a era that was defined by the now unimaginable horrors of the AIDS plague (how quickly we forget), I was entranced by this movie of a still dangerous and prejudiced New York, but also of the seedy underground glamour of post disco era drag clubs, cruising the piers and bath houses and of the different ’types’ of gay men that inhabit this world, combined with a personal search for true love and of acceptance by a powerhouse of a Jewish mother. I love that post Stonewall, pre-AIDS period in New York: a New York that gave birth to a lot of my favourite art and artists, writers and performers.

‘The Torch Song Trilogy’  is so old fashioned and nostalgically cosy, so romantic, so funny and so real. It has the same nostalgia as rewatching Jon Pertwee’s era of Doctor Who, taking us back to early autumn evenings behind the sofa in the distant early seventies. I have always identified with and loved the more flamboyant sides to gay culture and to being gay, the world of drag and the torch song. The tragic movie queens and by camp in all it’s glorious forms. I feel strongly that it is something that needs respecting and honouring, but somehow there is something very un-camp and masculine about this film. Something that is just uniquely gay and of that time but also universal and transcending in which it was written. It was a world that was not far in the past that its’ echoes remained on the Manchester gay village with it’s drag pubs, raincoats and scally rent boys waiting for trade at the nearby bus station. I was beginning to discover as a fourteen/fifteen year old (I guess I was that old) still underground, slightly dangerous…. Fierstein’s growly raspy voice and larger than life persona cast him as an imposing and domineering lead that stems every scene he is in, particularly those with Ann Bancroft. The Jewish mother coming to terms with her son’s lifestyle and the loss of her husband, his father, echoed by the loss of the main character’s lover.

Simply, the film oozed glamour and a gloriously gay sense of tragedy  to me from the opening minutes: a rasping theatrical monologue over close up shots of Fierstein’s character, Arnold, applying his make up before going on stage, to the last shot of him sitting alone, years later, in an armchair at home , as the torch song plays on the radio, clutching momentos and photographs of the people that he holds dear. The film also is surprisingly domestic and ahead of its time in it’s depiction of a harmonious gay household with a partner and an adopted son, in the last act of the three parts that make up the film. In that way it was full of hope and promise for the young me… that although the characters and their pursuit of love was complicated, the characters flawed and life was by no means an easy ride, it also seemed just very real from a perspective of a gay man. People sleep with each other when they shouldn’t, people need to be desired by people they shouldn’t, tragedies occur, and love involves compromise, all of which could be elements of any straight movie, but the way in which these things happen is so truthful and real in this context. Life is a constant battle, an uphill struggle for self respect and the respect of others, in this case, the mother.

I love that film. It should be apart of every young mans’ passage.

Gus Van Sant is probably my favourite film director, along with Todd Haynes, and I am a fan of most his films, but it is ‘My Own Private Idaho’ which really has stayed with me throughout my life. A haunting, dreamy ambling and amusing tale of drifters and hustlers, of the open road of possibility, and of unrequited love between two male best friends, explored with such sensitivity and depth. Of course it helps that the two friends are played by  the impossibly beautiful and vulnerable River Phoenix and a very pretty Keanu Reeves, and that the film is masterfully styled and shot. It is a story of longing, of something missing and of friendship.The scene around the campfire when narcoleptic Mike (Phoenix) ‘confesses’ his love to his friend Scott (Reeves) is so beautiful and touching, and a scene that has played out certainly in my life, but I imagine in most gay ‘adolescence’ (I use that word as I often think gay adolescence goes on much longer than hetero adolescence.) Straight boys just have to deal with becoming a man… whereas gay men, as they become men, also have to deal with being gay as well as a man and finding their place in the world. Another lyric from Boy George: ‘I used to be a boy…Now it seems I’m alone’ )  Of course Scott, falls in love with a girl and Phoenix’s character has to listen as Scott and his girlfriend bang each other furiously with that lusty gusto of most teenage shagging, as Scott’s world becomes all about her and Mike is left behind. This too is a scene directly lifted from my life… that scene tenderly and brutally emphasizes and perfectly encapsulates a very familiar  overwhelming loneliness, a void between myself and the rest of the world. I felt, between gay and straight, confirmation that I wasn’t  the ‘normal’ one, and somehow destined to always be on the other side of wall listening to someone else’s moaning and groaning. I still find this scene heartbreaking.

Loneliness and a sense of isolation, has never been a stranger, and there is to me now a wistful, melancholic beauty in the loneliness of the drifting soul. It seems such a familiar part of the human condition…but I often wonder if that loneliness is felt as profoundly as it is by gay kids, or kids that are ‘different’ from the norm. I can barely imagine the painful loneness and confusion a trans child must feel when growing up. But for all the acceptance, tolerance and same sex marriage of the modern age, the loneliness of being different is still ever present, profound and subtle.

Relationships, friends and a busy schedule also do

 

not prevent the feeling either. Often they do the opposite. Of course they distract, but I always find that it is there, somewhere, a constant companion. It is often made even more profound when the distraction is taken away or removed suddenly, when it ends without warning.

Tom Ford’s sublime ‘A Single Man’ is a masterpiece. Loneliness and isolation are weaved into every lingering, beautiful shot. Respite, like in life, comes from small, unexpected  moments of beauty and connection. A shared fag with a hustler in a parking lot, a hello from the familiar presence of the cleaner/housekeeper…a pissed night in with a fucked up female best friend, a connection with a younger man at the school where the lead character works as a teacher: human connection.

The lead character’s sense of loss following the death of his lover is so devastating that life seems to have lost its meaning and purpose, so painful that only the idea of suicide offers comfort and escape.

The relationship between the younger pupil and teacher is so beautiful, innocent and again, real. The innocent beauty, wide eyed enthusiasm and lightness of youth contrasts with the heavy, devastated, purposeless older man. The fact that there is no sex between them despite an obvious attraction is something that I experienced myself recently and was the subject of my photographic book, Book Of Igor.. basically the story of myself and a younger man, a similarly life changing  and perspective-altering relationship. Initially a visual essay about photographer and muse, it evolved into the story of a tender and innocent relationship, a rite of passage for myself and for Igor.  In many ways that relationship and project mirrors many of the central theme of these films. Loneliness, gay man, aging and age difference, older man and a beautiful younger man, fantasy, reality, sexual desire evolving into love, then turning into almost fatherly affection.

Maybe the strongest ever cinematic depiction of sexual desire, certainly my own favourite, is  Jean Genet’s silent short black and white film Un Chant D’Amor. I think it is the most truly erotic depiction of homosexuality that I have seen on film. The erotic desire between the character, a rugged older prisoner, the very personification of Quentin Crisp’s unobtainable ‘Big, dark man’ (the Godot that we are all waiting for, but who never comes like the characters in Samuel Beckets’s play), a young beautiful, hairless twink and a uniformed authoritarian guard, their desire is made even more toxic and powerful because of the prison cell walls separating them. The themes of violence, love and danger are omnipresent as are all the themes of Genet’s intoxicating novels: flowers, the prison cell, the prison authority, the sexy, criminal bits of rough, and  gorgeous, intoxicating youths. It is easy to see why these themes have become so identified with gay fantasy. Literally when you watch this film, you can smell the sex. The quintessential blow job, the blowing of smoke between the older man and the younger man through a tiny hole (the ultimate glory hole) in the prison wall is for me probably the most charged, sexiest moment in all gay cinema. Truly intimate sharing and closeness, throbbingly horny, the seductive tendrils of the smoke, pure testosterone and masculine lust, the closeness of  yearning mouths separated by the wall is the most potent depiction for desire between men I have seen, one made all the more powerful, by the barrier between them. In my case, this ‘barrier’ has often been sexuality itself.

Robin Campillo’s ‘Euro Boy,’ again a story of initially lust and desire that becomes something else, a story of a blurred /blurring relationship between a young Ukrainian hustler, picked up by the lead character at Gare Du Nord. The film is a tender and subtle story of two human beings caring and growing to love each other under very unconventional circumstances. The straight equivalent would be ‘Pretty Woman’ but here there is no such glamorous frivolity and fantasy. Campillo, a master of tone and atmosphere, as anyone who has seen his genius TV series,’The Returned’ will testify too, has so perfectly captured the nuances of a relationship of men separated by an age of at least two and a half decades. The relationship evolves through hustler/client, sex, caretaker and a true deeper sense of love that can only exist between an older gay man and a much younger man. Whether Marek, the young 14 year old hustler, is gay for pay or actually gay is irrelevant and beside the point. Both characters share a searching for love and escape.There is an unrequited longing in both of them when we first meet them: the older man Daniel longing and yearning  for the sexy younger man that he picks up for a brief moment of excitement to escape his lonely existence, the dangerous lure of the forbidden fruit of the dangerous youth in his immaculately designer ivory tower of an apartment (before the young hustler’s friends rob him and strip the apartment bare!), as well as from the peculiar, unique loneliness of gay middle age and the young Marek, a foreign immigrant in a strange country, isolated from family and by language. They both exist in a state of isolation from everything around them. Train and bus stations, I find, are the loneliest of places, the transient bustle of millions of people leaves behind a ghost like energy that have been and gone. It is a testament to Campillo’s skill as a director and writer that the film is free of judgement, that the under age consent of Marek and the much older Daniel are both totally irrelevant. Judgement has no place in Campillo’s world. Love is love. Daniel and Marek are just two human beings, two vulnerable searching souls.

The film’s conclusion shows Daniel and Marek in court as Daniel begins the process of legally adopting Marek. I found this so real and so beautifully honest. Relationships aren’t black and white. They are in constant flux, shifting, evolving and  changing. We have so many rules and regulations inherited from an outdated Christian heterosexual marriage model regarding relationships, that as society moves away from a order or structure that has its basis in religious adherence, these rules, preconceptions and ideas about relationships are just exposed as outdated and irrelevant, and shown just not to work or not to be reliant to us. That a relationship is either A or B, that you can’t do this or do that whilst in relationship, that black is black and white is white and that human beings are supposed to have just one long lasting lifelong relationship between the genders is no longer a useful way of looking at these things. In homo and heterosexual contexts, it is often relationships between the same genders that prove to be the most significant in our lives.

WB