Whether discussing gay, lesbian, transgender or cross-dressing films from genres as diverse as art-house, drama and comedy, Out at the Movies offers a welcome look at the history of gay cinema. Rather than simply focus on media with a homosexual content there is also emphasis on the social context for the films, such as the dreadful Hayes code and Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28, as well as an examination of gay icons and films that have have had an impact on communities, together with discussions about those involved with making films – whether aimed at gay audiences or not – for whom prejudice ensured that their sexuality had to be kept secret for a substantial part of their careers; the story of Rock Hudson is particularly moving.
Steven Paul Davies structures his book in chronological order, discussing important films as well as key movers and shakers, together with an overview of their careers and styles of output. The depth with these entries lies with the wider context, matched by Davies’ enthusiastic interest in his subject, with anecdotes sitting alongside analysis. Time has allowed acceptance of gay cinema to change over the years, both in terms of censorship as well as the distribution of titles more targeted at a gay audience. Hitchcock’s Rope (1949), for example, had a homosexual subtext with respect to the friends who murder their former classmate (there are also such implied elements in the British print of Strangers On a Train which at the time could not be clearly stated) whilst there is less restraint in Visconte’s Ossessione (1949). In the UK the release of such films as Sebastiane (Derek Jarman ) seemed to be more acceptable until Section 28, a law stating that a local authority ‘shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’, which made the mainstream distribution of My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears ) all the more welcome, as well as joyously rebellious.
Out at the Movies: A History of Gay Cinema has been released as an updated and expanded edition which shows how much times have progressed (thankfully), and includes, amongst others, films such as the comedy drama Pride (Mathew Warchus ), Oscar winner Carol (Todd Haynes who, naturally, has an entry for himself here too, ) and Palm d’Or epic romance Blue is the Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Kechiche ) as well as Hollywood Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra (Stephen Soderbergh ).The book is filled with a large number of lavish illustrations which often accentuate the colour and composition of many of the films discussed, notably Pink Narcissus (1971) and the poster art of Querelle (1982) amongst many, many others. It’s a book to view as well as read. The detailed foreword by Simon Callow is a fascinating and personal overview of the book and its subject; indeed he also gets an entry later on in the text.
Out at the Movies is a detailed and insightful work. Naturally in any book about such a large body of work there will be omissions. Predominantly the focus lies with films in the English language although a number of key European figures are covered, such as Fassbinder (whose ground-breaking Fox and His Friend  is given rightful emphasis) and films such as Genet’s Un Chant d’Amour (1950) and Cocteau’s Orphee (1950). Outside Europe there are mentions of films such as the moving Israeli film Yossi &Jagger (2002) and the exuberant Thai film The Iron Ladies (2001). But it would have been good to see coverage of more films from Asia and Asian directors, such as Palm d’Or winner (banned in its home country of China) Farewell My Concubine (Chen Kaige ) or the Argentina based couple in Happy Together (Kar-Wai Wong ). Similarly, there are a number of great South American films such as Undertow (2009) or From Beginning to End (2009). But this is a small niggle in what is ultimately an informative and absorbing work that balances analysis with enthusiasm and should be an essential addition to your bookshelves.