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The Bear Necessities An Interview with Alonso Duralde, Part Two

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The Bear Necessities: An Interview with Alonso Duralde, Part Two

In Part 1 of our interview with Alonso Duralde, arts and entertainment editor for The Advocate and author of 101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men, Alonso analyzed the gay subtext of Carrie, conceded that he might consider jumping the fence for Gina Gershon and said Brokeback Mountain had the potential to be the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of homophobia. In Part 2, he praises The Apple, defends Kevin Smith and Chasing Amy, and explains why Top Gun isn’t in his book.

Purely on a synopsis level, I’d imagine there was no way you could have excluded Gods and Monsters. But that movie was troublesome for some viewers, particularly young gay men who came of age in the era of AIDS activism. I personally know two gay film critics who despised that film because to them, James Whale represented sort of a worst-case-scenario gay artist, the broken down old queen lusting after the hunky young straight handyman. For all the film’s intelligence and period sophistication, doesn’t Whale’s character seem like a gay white equivalent of Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy? By which I mean, a representative of a particular type of man who irrefutably existed, and continues to exist, but who makes the supposedly “enlightened” world more uncomfortable by the year?

I think it’s very easy for us to look down on James Whale from our 21st-century perches, but the fact is that he represents the way a lot of people lived at one point. And I think it’s reductive to say that the movie is just about a pathetic old queen who lusts after a hunky straight guy. While the friendship between the two is certainly initiated over Whale’s attraction to the younger man, I think through the film we see something deep and genuine form between them. And the film wisely plays a trick on us when we think that Whale is trying to put the moves on Clay, when in reality he’s trying to goad the young, strong man into killing him. Whale was a great filmmaker, and his friendship helps Clay (note the symbolism in the name) become a true, mature man in the same way that Frankenstein creates his monster in Whale’s immortal film. If every gay character had to pass by contemporary standards, there’d be no room for The Boys in the Band, much less for Franklin Pangborn, and that’s just too hideous even to consider.

For me, the most out-of-left-field pick you made is the 1975 Maysles brothers film Grey Gardens. Why this documentary?

A number of reasons. First off, I just think there’s something about dotty old women that a lot of gay men just find entertaining and enjoyable. And then I think Little Edie is both a great character and a screen icon—she’s like something out of Chekhov, a woman with big dreams gone unfulfilled, stuck in this crumbling house with her ancient mother, slowly but surely losing her grip. And yet, no matter what’s happened to her life, she manages to always project a real sense of style and élan. And I think there’s something very queer in the idea of being as stylish as possible no matter how terrible things are around you.

As you know, Kevin Smith credits me with inspiring him to write Chasing Amy, because I panned his previous film Mallrats and said he needed to stop it with the cool jerk characters and admit that he’s a romantic. Depending on your feelings towards Smith, that’s either the best possible byproduct of criticism or an assurance that I’m going to hell when I die. A lot of this blog’s readers would say the latter, and in fact I was shocked to discover that you love and defend that movie. Some smart people thought it was not only a bad film, but not too astute about straight men, gay men, lesbians or anything else. What do you see in Chasing Amy that other critics do not?

I first saw the film at Sundance in 1997, and it gave me almost unprecedented chills of recognition about the way gay men and straight men relate to each other, particularly the relationship between Ben Affleck’s Holden character and Dwight Ewell’s Hooper X. It just reminded me of the way that, say, you and I would talk to each other. Most people have objections to the whole lesbian-falls-for-a-straight-guy storyline, but I think as time passes, people are becoming more and more open to the idea that sexuality exists on a continuum and isn’t always necessarily fixed. I believe in the idea that sometimes you fall in love with one person in particular, regardless of gender, and so I just buy the love story in Chasing Amy. And since I buy it, I’m able to enjoy Smith’s gift for dialogue and the wonderful performances of his talented cast. But I get that some people can’t get past the film’s basic premise, so obviously the whole film’s going to be a wash for them.

But speaking of Smith’s romantic side, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you make your way to Red Bank, NJ, the next time Smith has a Vulgarthon, because you must see the director’s cut of Jersey Girl. I was left completely cold by the release version of that movie, but Smith’s original edit left me in tears. And it won’t be put out on DVD for another decade or so, so I’m begging you, go see it. You’ll be amazed.

Wow. That’s such a surprising recommendation that I might have to take it. But in the meantime, could you sing the praises of The Apple, a film with which you seem to have a deep and frankly scary connection?

Ah, The Apple. Here’s the thing: I grew up reading the old (Michael & Harry) Medved bad movie books, I went out to see The Lonely Lady and Glitter in the theater, and I’ve seen every post–local TV episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Basically, I thought I was up-to-date on the great cinematic disasters. So imagine my thrill when, out of the blue, I got to see The Apple for the first time. Where, I wondered, has this crazy 1980 disco-musical-biblical-allegory been all my life? What can you say about a movie that features a series of staggeringly awful musical numbers, each worse than the last, with German backup dancers and some of the faggiest supporting characters ever filmed? About a movie that features male AND female cameltoe? You just have to see it for yourself.

Last question: Why did you not include Top Gun? It’s either the gayest straight film of all time or the reverse.

I certainly thought about it. But as you may know, I can’t stand Quentin Tarantino, and I couldn’t have talked about Top Gun without quoting the speech QT makes about it in Sleep With Me, although Roger Avary is rumored to have actually written it.

So the film’s inarguable merits as a candidate for inclusion were outweighed by the prospect of having to type the words “Quentin Tarantino.”

Pretty much, plus the fact that I didn’t really feel like sitting through Top Gun again. Quentin does get a mention in the book when I slag him for stealing his whole “glowing briefcase” thing in Pulp Fiction from Patricia Rozema’s I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing. But then, what in his movies isn’t stolen from something else?

If you want to ask Alonso a question, argue with him or make a recommendation, post a comment on the board below, or shoot him an email at 101GayMovies@AdvocateBooks.Com.