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To celebrate LGBT Pride Month, I will be highlighting queer cinema across the years by decade, starting with the 1980s, and ending with ‘09 to the present. There has been a wealth of films over the years, crossing country and genre, that deserve recognition, and I will do my best to bring them to the forefront.

The 80s in queer cinema, for me, started off with two films that have become landmarks in the queer film canon, controversial for their content: William Friedkin’s Cruising and Frank Ripploh’s Taxi zum Klo. The first title more recognizable to straights and cinephiles, the latter to a smaller subset. Cruising stars Al Pacino as a police detective who goes undercover in the underground S&M subculture of NYC – it’s a dark crime thriller whose production and release were maligned and protested by some of the LGBT community, and also spawned the 2013 docufiction film Interior. Leather Bar. directed by James Franco and Travis Mathews, that reimagines and attempts to recreate 40 minutes of deleted and lost footage from the movie. Taxi zum Klo is German film in which Ripploh also wrote and plays the lead – about a gay schoolteacher and the contrast between his public life and private one, where he cruises at the local bathrooms (the title translates to “Taxi to the Toilets”). It shows pre-AIDS gay culture in West Berlin in the early 80s – refreshing in its non-judgmental depiction and honesty, light in its humor.

Coming a few years later in 1984 is Rob Epstein’s The Time of Harvey Milk (left), largely considered one of the best documentaries of all time, recognized by the United States Library of Congress in 2012 and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. The film is a melange of interviews, news reports, and archival footage of the famous politician Harvey Milk, who was San Francisco’s first openly gay supervisor. Charting his political positions and untimely assassination in 1978, Gus Van Sant’s 2008 narrative Milk (right, Sean Penn won the Oscar for playing the title character, Dustin Lance Black winning for Best Screenplay as well) also explores his life and influence.

1986 offered Gus Van Sant’s debut, Mala Noche, based on Walt Curtis’ autobiographical novel. Shot in black and white 16mm in Portland, Oregon, the plot revolves around a gay white store clerk who pursues a Mexican teen. It’s a meditative film, but also one with an inimitable energy – Van Sant’s use of montage perfectly complementing Curtis’ prose. Taking place on Skid Row, a place where homeless gay youths to successful artists and musicians reside, the film immortalizes a time and place unlike most others, and is seen to be one of the foundational works of the New Queer Cinema movement.

Recently re-released upon its 30th Anniversary in a new 4K restoration, James Ivory’s Maurice is considered a gay classic by many, although not being as widely popular at the time of its release in comparison to past Merchant Ivory productions such as A Room With a View. One of the few that could be called a gay period drama, the film came at the start of Hugh Grant’s career – and to be honest, he’s never been quite as good as he was here, playing the love interest (who eventually ends up marrying a woman and advocating for the “normal” life) of the title character. James Wilby’s Maurice is imbued with the purest emotion and intent, as the film is filled with the most stunning architecture (early 20th century England) and thoughtful framing. Based on the book by E.M. Forster, who resisted publication during his lifetime because of public and legal attitudes towards homosexuality, it is encouraging to see this film brought to light again. 1987 also saw the beginnings of another straight actor – Antonio Banderas, playing a crazed young man who aggressively pursues a famous gay director in Pedro Almodóvar’s essential Law of Desire. The film is what I would call a rambunctious one – filled to the brim with plot (never less than entertaining) and bristling with the most energetic of mise en scène and performances. I had the pleasure of seeing it at the IFC Center at a Queer/Art/Film screening a few years back, and boy was that a treat. It also features one of Almodóvar’s main actresses Carmen Maura, who he would go on to have in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Volver.

Bringing light to black gay identity, 1989 saw the releases of Isaac Julien’s Looking for Langston and Marlon Riggs’ Tongues Untied. Both films play with the documentary form in unique ways. Looking for Langston uses 1920s new footage of Harlem with scripted scenes, giving the film a lyrical, abstract quality, while Tongues Untied mixes first person accounts with archival footage to show the specificity of black gay identity and the intersectionality of racism and homophobia in contemporary society. Both are essential viewing.

Make yourself heard!