“True Blood” star Anna Paquin puts the B in LGBT. The 1993 Oscar winner (for The Piano) has been openly bisexual for years. Recently two other Oscar winners, Cate Blanchett and Tatum O'Neal, also came out as bi. In their honor, SFGN takes a look back at several of the better known portrayals of bisexuality on the screen.
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
“Midnight Cowboy” made history when, during the 1970 Oscar telecast, it took the top prize: Best Picture. To date, it's the only X rated film to receive the coveted statue. Considered shocking in its day, the intense, relentlessly grim drama has since been re-rated R.
“Midnight Cowboy” was a courageous film that dared to shine a light on many taboo subjects: male prostitution, homosexuality, homelessness, and the blighted decay that was then plaguing New York City. It's a film that pulls no punches.
Over the years, some critics have derided “Midnight Cowboy” for it's unflattering portrayal of its gay and bisexual characters. Director John Schlesinger, himself openly gay throughout his life, stated that he was "against political correctness and the self-censorship it encourages."
Schlesinger, (1926-2003) featured gay and bisexual characters in a number of his films.
Jon Voight (Angelina Jolie's dad) heads the cast as Joe Buck, a handsome but none too bright young man from a small, dusty town in Texas. He takes a bus up to New York City, convinced that he'll make a fortune by selling his body to wealthy women. In one unforgettable sequence, he attempts to hustle a hard-boiled, past her prime call girl (Sylvia Miles). She turns the tables and hustles him.
In a particularly daring scene, a desperate for money Joe allows a young man (Bob Balaban) to perform oral sex on him in a movie theater. The high schooler turns out to be broke.
Joe is soon locked out of his hotel room. Wondering what to do next, he enters into an unlikely friendship with Ratzo (Dustin Hoffman), a partially crippled, third rate con man who lives in an abandoned building. The two men have no one but each other. Together they pickpocket, steal food, and try to obtain clients for Joe.
As Joe and Ratso struggle to pull themselves out of poverty and despair, “Midnight Cowboy” becomes an unexpected love story. Some viewers might take offense to dialogue in which Joe and Ratso assure each other that they're "not fags." But it becomes obvious that these lonely, down on their luck losers have fallen deeply in love with each other. It remains platonic and unspoken, but it's as real a love as any other. Voight and Hoffman play this love entirely with their eyes — it's screen acting at it's finest.
In 1994, “Midnight Cowboy” was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)
Schlesinger followed his Oscar winner with the more genteel but equally daring (for its time) “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” In some ways, Sunday was even more groundbreaking than “Midnight Cowboy” — the homosexuality/bisexuality of the second film's characters was blatantly placed at the film's core. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” may have been the first major film to show two men kissing on the lips, both in and out of bed.
Dame Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch star as Alex and Daniel, two upper class Londoners. They're both in love with Bob (Murray Head), a handsome young artist. Bob loves them both, and moves between them with ease. Though Alex and Daniel would prefer to have an exclusive, monogamous relationship with Bob, they accept the situation as is.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday” is a fascinating and superbly acted character study of three very passionate, sensual people who know what they want and aren't afraid to express it. Like many of the director's films, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” stunned audiences with its frankness.
What makes the film so satisfying is its depictions of Bob and Daniel. For the first time (that we know of), a major studio release showed a gay character and a bisexual character who were comfortable with who they were. Bob and Daniel were successfully upscale, happy, and had no desire to live a traditionally heterosexual life. Ironically, it was Alex, the straight female character, who comes across as frustrated and unsure of herself. For LGBT viewers, Bob and Daniel were a long time coming.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Radley Metzger achieved fame and fortune for his X rated, soft-focus, soft-core erotic dramas. Often shot on location in Europe, Metzger productions like The Lickerish Quartet (1970) and Therese and Isabelle (1968) titillated adult moviegoers with their tales of free spirits who shed their costumes with abandon. Though somewhat graphic, Metzger's films shied away from actual hardcore footage. Until Score.
Originally released in both hard and softcore versions, “Score” is a delightfully silly drawing room comedy about Elvira and Jack (Claire Wilbur, Gerald Grant), a swinging bisexual couple determined to "score" with Betsy and Eddie (Lynn Lowry, Cal Culver), a pair of naive newlyweds. Eddie is an obvious a closet case.
Shot in a small, picturesque village in the former country of Yugoslavia, the dialogue heavy film is not your typical X rated fare. Originally an off-Broadway play co-starring a then unknown Sylvester Stallone (Wilbur is the only member of the stage cast to appear in the film), “Score” sports some clever dialogue about spouse swapping and sexual identities. Though none were great actors, the cast is sparkly and sexy. Wilbur and Lowry were mainstream actors, while Grant and Culver were best known for their work in gay porn. Both men were casualties of the AIDS crisis.
Metzger's films had always been marketed to straight audiences. “Score” therefore attracted attention when it was marketed to a mixed viewership, opening in mainstream theaters with an X rating. It received some positive reviews in spite of a single, stand-alone hardcore sequence between Culver and Grant. By contrast, the sex scene between Wilbur and Lowry is decidedly R rated.
For many years, “Score” was available in a heavily edited version in which the brief hardcore footage was deleted. But as of 2011, it was released on DVD, complete and uncut.
In a later interview Lowry recalls her crush on the openly gay Culver, and says that she was "shocked" when she went to see the film and saw the two men actually having sex with each other. She probably wasn't the only one in those more restrictive days of 1972.
Fosse's Oscar winning film is a masterpiece. Based on the writings of openly gay author Christopher Isherwood, Cabaret is set in 1931 Berlin. The Weimar Era, that brief period between the World Wars when artistic and sexual freedom flourished in the German city, was ending. The dark cloud of the Nazis looms on the horizons.
Liza Minnelli won a well-deserved Best Actress award for her bravura performance as Sally Bowles, a part time prostitute and a part time chorus girl at the decadent Kit Kat Klub. She enters into a fast friendship with Brian (Michael York), her quiet gay neighbor. Sally tries to seduce Brian to no avail.
As the glitz and glamor she adores begins to crumble around her, Sally makes another friend: the wealthy Max (Helmut Griem). At a delightfully decadent weekend in the country, it becomes obvious that Max intends to seduce both Sally and Brian.