Monday, November 28, 2011
Ken Russell Made Me Gay
Well, that's not really true. But exposure to the famous nude wrestling scene from Ken Russell's 1969 film "Women In Love" in my later teens certainly provided my developing prurient mind with much fodder for the imagination, and planted all sorts of romantic and not-so-romantic notions in my young head. This scene featuring Alan Bates and Oliver Reed is one of the most sensuously homoerotic of all-time classic cinema. Neither actor was gay, of course, and Oliver Reed seems to have been anything but a gay icon in his personal life. But the screenwriter of "Women in Love" was none other than decades-later legendary gay activist Larry Kramer, who undoubtedly crafted the slow burn of this scene with his own aesthetic bent in bringing D.H. Lawrence's novel to life. Speaking as anything but a film connoisseur, the whole film is sort of a textbook late 1960s art film: moody and striking and not really the kind of thing you want to watch for light viewing. This one scene, not exactly pornographic but not exactly in the safe for work category either, certainly pushed the edge. Even when I first saw it I appreciated how it derives its homoeroticism from two burly manly men rather than from angular elven blondes like Michael York, whom it seems was featured in every art film of that era with a male character of ambiguous sexuality, and yet who did nothing for my own developing gay identity.
Director Ken Russell has just passed on at the age of 84. On behalf of once-young gay men everywhere who grew up in a time without openly gay role models and without gay reality TV basic cable, let me say "thank you thank you thank you" for these immortal four minutes of cinema. Rest in peace.