While Personal Best and Making Love have faded into obscurity as The Celluloid Closet footnotes, My Beautiful Laundrette has become a benchmark in the ’80s new queer cinema. The film’s approach to portraying homosexuality is as much grounded in raw, sensual realism as some of the film’s other themes are in buoyant fantasy. That those other themes—racism, immigration, and economic Darwinism in Thatcher’s England—don’t inherently lend themselves to a lighthearted interpretation is an example of how Stephen Frears adapts the worldview of the characters he presents: the devil-may-care Johnny (a star-making performance by Daniel Day-Lewis) and the blissfully culture-straddling Omar (Gordon Warnecke, who makes ideological ambivalence seem like the sexiest attribute of them all). Omar, whose Pakistani family is torn by materialistic extremes (including organized crime) on one side and by radical political Leftist convictions on the other, is given the opportunity by his greasy-palmed uncle Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey) to refurbish a dingy laundromat. Omar views this as the ultimate compromise. Not only will the management position allow him upward economic mobility, but it will also give the lower-class neighborhood a touch of class. Enter street punk Johnny, who not only becomes Omar’s business partner but his lover. Though gently pressured by many members of the Pakistani community to get married, Omar and Johnny do very little to conceal their true relationship, which culminates in a tender, erotic scene of the couple making love in the back room of the laundromat while Nasser and his mistress dance out front. Throughout, Frears’s lens is ever the explorer, with flamboyant crane shots caressing every corner of every scene. My Beautiful Laundrette is still fresh and remains a model case for creating moving, liberating cinema from an oppressive environment. It’s every bit the landmark gay film it deserves to be.
MGM has offered a remarkably good-looking video transfer for a film that in previous video versions looked as muted and monochromatic as Lars von Trier's Medea. Though the improvement is most obvious in its display of the launderette's garish neon (which now read as actual colors as opposed to peaking whites), the moody back alleyways that Day-Lewis saunters through are just as impressive in their rich blacks and reds. The monaural sound mix is not as much an improvement over previous incarnations, but it is clear and mostly free of distortion.
When MGM puts out a heaping handful of gay-themed DVDs all on the same day, I'll accept the trade-off of having mere theatrical trailers as extras.
As inviting as having a studly young Daniel Day-Lewis lick your neck.