Monday, June 20, 2011

La Cage Aux Folles


The Queer Film Blogathon is a month-long event celebrating gay cinema presented by the site Garbo Laughs. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the host site. The final list of blog posts will go up June 27, 2011.

seen online via YouTube
6.19.11

Being black, one usually doesn't have the luxury of being able to hide what one is to avoid racism. Some can and have, of course, by virtue of having light enough skin and Caucasian-like features to "pass" for white, and that has been going on for generations. For most of us, however, having darker skin - and being judged for it, one way or another - is an inescapable fact of life.

Some of the ball contestants of Paris is Burning dress not in elaborate and fancy gowns, but in everyday outfits such as three-piece suits, schoolwear, and military uniforms. The point the subjects of the documentary made about this aspect is how being able to dress this way - to be able to pass for straight - proves to the rest of the world that gays are just as good as everyone else. It was taken as a point of pride that gays were capable of playing the game of passing, not just as a survival tactic but as a way of sticking it to the straight world, in a way.


This actually jibes with what I read in The Mayor of Castro Street, Harvey Milk's biography. One section talked about how in the 70s, you would see gay men, in San Francisco and elsewhere, dressing like everyday people, almost aggressively, as a way of playing the game, to be more masculine than straight men. And I suppose it explains why the Village People dressed the way they did (even though most of them weren't actually gay!).

When I knew him, Bill would dress all in black all the time. Sometimes he'd wear a bandana over his balding head. Granted, I only knew him from a work perspective; I don't know what he'd wear on his own time, but there's nothing hyper-masculine about a black button-down shirt and black jeans. Plus, he was at least in his 40s, so he might have been more flamboyant when he was younger. The way he would talk about his younger years, it's entirely possible.

Milk, of course, didn't want any gays to hide what they are, something he was militant about. As straights, we may not always understand the culture that gays thrive in. We may find it uncomfortable or even threatening sometimes. I'm reminded of the great Joe Jackson song "Real Men," in which the protagonist's masculinity is questioned by the presence of gay men who seem more virile than himself. Perhaps this lies at the heart of so much homophobia.


La Cage Aux Folles deals with this issue in a quite funny manner, of course, but what elevates this material above mere farce is how the protagonists deal with the feelings of guilt and shame that arise when they face a situation that requires them to hide. Of course it would hurt to be told by your lover that you can't be what you are, even if it's for the best of intentions, even if it's only temporary. The movie doesn't really provide as strong a sense of closure on Renato and Albin's relationship as it should, but I suppose we can only assume that any lingering hard feelings between the two got worked out fine - after all, they made two sequels!

(As a postscript: one of the first videos I remember being a big renter when I started working at Third Avenue was The Birdcage. It used to be that we'd have to play new releases during evening hours [a rule that was later relaxed], so I remember seeing this a lot because we had a ton of VHS copies of it. I didn't think it was all that funny and if I recall correctly, neither did Bill.)

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Previously in the Queer Film Blogathon:

2 comments:

  1. This is a great film. I am actually quite fond of the American remake as well.

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  2. Oh, okay. I saw 'Birdcage' first, before 'La Cage,' and I knew it was a remake, but it never did anything for me. And like I said, seeing it a bunch of times at work definitely killed any interest I had in it after awhile.

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