Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book Review: "The Lavender Screen"

The Lavender Screen by Boze Hadleigh (Citadel Press, 256 pages), illustrated with photographs.

Although Hollywood releases very few films that are gay-focused, the silver screen nevertheless, writes Boze Hadleigh in his study of gay and lesbian-themed films, The Lavender Screen, is a cornucopia of "minor gay characters, references, and plots."

In its discussion of more than 100 such films, The Lavender Screen emphasizes the period after 1959 when gay and lesbian characters became more visible when the Production code's gay ban was lifted in 1961 following "the success of Suddenly Last Summer and big budget movies like The Children's Hour, Advise and Consent, and Walk On the Wild Side, which had gay themes or subplots and were already completed." (All of these movies are included in the book.)

Each chapter, grouped around a single theme such as "Hunks," "Older Men, Younger Men," "Lesbians You Love To/Or Hate," and "Dress Reversal," ends with critical comments from the gay and mainstream press, both American and foreign.

For those who have not seen all or any of the films under scrutiny, there is one problem: Hadleigh tells too much of the plotlines, often giving away the endings.

But aside from that drawback, The Lavender Screen, deserves a place on the bookshelf or near the DVD player for quick reference, even though it is not as scholarly, opinionated, and comprehensive as its predecessor, The Celluloid Closet, Vito Russo's magnum opus. This book was written with the layman in mind.

Three highlights of The Lavender Screen are Hadleigh's willingness to name gay names, the behind-the-scenes anecdotes (like the one about Henry Fonda, supposedly a liberal, who during a rehearsal for the play, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, insulted its director, Charles Laughton, with the remark, "What do you know about men, you fat, ugly homosexual."), and its extensive bibliography.

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