A History of Gay Cinema

Steven Paul Davies
Forward by Simon Callow
Kamera Books, 2008

Everett Lewis Writer/Director

Since his debut with The Natural History of Parking Lots, a 1991 Sundance Award Winner, Everett Lewis has made films that celebrate a gay world populated by punsters, slackers and skinheads that hasn’t been since the ‘queer cinema’ of the late 1980s.

“I am impatient with many ‘gay films’, which seem to be rehashing issues and genres that are tired or exhausted’, says Lewis.

Lewis’s most important film to date has been Luster (2002), a no budget piece of grunge, and an irreverent and funny take on the clashing forces of unrequited love and overpowering lust. The film follows a blue haired, skateboarding lyricist through the punk rock world of Los Angeles. A tragic-comedy of bad manners, the film features the poetry of Dennis Cooper, music by Pansy Division, and lines like ‘So what’s your opinion of Foucault’s theory of sexuality?’

Talking about Luster, Lewis stated; ‘I wanted to take a picture of the LA gay arts scene. It was important to me to present a world where being gay was normal. It’s the straight man in the movie is ultimately suicidal. I think the most difficult part of the film was trying to capture a certain moment in youth when the dividing line between callow and heartfelt is so very narrow and constantly shifting. That’s a difficult and dangerous place to swell for too long, and I hope we pulled it off’.

Lewis followed up Luster with FAQs (2005), an offbeat film and a touching and frustrating look at gay bashing victims and the bashers themselves. In fact, FAQs was kind of an action movie—Death Wish for the gay audience, but with the Charles Bronson character replaced with a gun-toting muscular, black drag queen taking back the streets and the night. An interesting concept and one that works very well.


The Guide Magazine: Article
A History of Gay Cinema

The Guide Magazine: Article
May 2006

Oeuvre Uber Alles: Gay Filmmakers Struggle to Create Bodies of Work
By Michael Bronski

The independent contemporary gay film scene has a range of smart, inventive bright spots—as well as its share of clunkers. But what it does not have are writer/directors who are building a sustained body of work that grows with them. The great thing about the Hollywood studio–system, or the French New Wave, was that it sustained directors over time so that their work could mature, and change in surprising ways. It’s a lot harder in the independent film world of today.

Alright, Gus van Sant and Gregg Araki have managed to produce a sizable, impressive body of work, but they’ve moved out of small independent circles. Christopher Munch has made great films beginning with The Hours And Times in 1991, and more recently Harry+Max in 2004. But few others have been able to sustain a career that develops and ripens over time.

That is why Everett Lewis is so impressive. His first film was the 1991 The Natural History of Parking Lots, and then the An Ambush in Ghosts in 1993. Skin and Bone was released in 1996. His themes moved from dysfunctional biological families to dysfunctional chosen families. Each of these films was dark and brooding, with Skin and Bone being downright depressing in its relentless depiction of squalid LA hustler life. (Unfortunately, none of these films are available on VHS or DVD).

In the last three years Lewis has released two new films—which are, luckily available on DVD from TLA, both of which are departures from is earlier work and each in a different way, is quite interesting.

Luster, released in 2002, is a comedy with somber overtones, or maybe a drama with comic overtones . It charts the complicated lives of a group of LA artists and faux-punks, both straight and gay, as they try to arrange themselves in satisfying, workable relationships. Jackson (Justin Herwick) is at the center of the group and is a poet, works part time in an alternative music store run by Sam (Shane Powers) Nothing much happens--Jackson falls in love with his wild child cousin Jed (B. Wyatt), but is loved by the more straightlaced Derek (Sean Thibodeaux), and in the meantime is writing lyrics for closeted SM rock musician, Sonny Spike (Willie Garson), who has an ongoing violent relationship with Billy (Jonah Blechman), who ends up fucking cousin Jed after Jed has had a quick fling with lesbian Alyssa (Pamela Gidley). Confused? Still, the series of couplings weaves a dramatic tension that’s a cross between La Ronde and ‘Dawson’s Creek’.

What’s so emotionally persuasive about Luster is what we like about Jane Asti novels—it presents characters who, even in their extremes, are emblematic of recognizable human traits. It’s true that none of them are particularly likeable—the same can be said of the characters in Pride and Prejudice—but we can empathize with their needs and foibles. There’s an elegant symmetry in Luster that appeals to our sense of aesthetics as well as romance. Luster feels a little lightweight next to the drama of The Natural History of Parking Lots and Skin and Bone, but that’s more the cultural difference of genre than the emotional weight of the film.

FAQs, which as just been released on DVD, ostensibly deals with heavier material—gay bashing, the institutionalized hatred of queers by straight society, the exploitation of young men by an uncaring pornography industry. But as it unfolds, it’s clear that Lewis has other interests in mind. India (Joe Lia), is a young man from Colorado who has come to West Hollywood to be gay but runs into some trouble with a sleazy pornographer who takes advantage of him and them meets Destiny (Allan Louis), a fabulous drag queen who adopts India into her own ‘family’, which includes Lester (Minerva Viera), a butch young dyke. Destiny and India thwart a couple of gay bashers (like all fabulous drag queens, Destiny carries a gun at all times), and then India meets Spence (Lance Lee Davis), another hustler, and they fall in love and India brings happiness to everyone—even the homophobic attackers. The theme of FAQs is that gay love can conquer all, and even revenge withers against its warmth.

FAQS often feels schematic and obvious—Destiny is a parody of the nurturing drag queen, characters speak in pop psychology cliches, the good people are all good, the bad all bad. But Lewis’ genre here is not your standard gay drama film plot, but rather a parody of it--a clever use of conventions and gimmicks that resonate beyond their original uses.

Both Luster and FAQs are helped immeasurably by Lewis’ fine cinematography—evident in the earlier films as well—and natural acting of a caliber unusual in independent films. Neither movies is great, but both are consistently interesting and enjoyable. They’re at least a partial fulfillment of the promise of Lewis’ earlier work. Best of all they make us eager to see what he’ll do next.