Tag Archives: Foul Play

A very brief note on gay ‘sensibility’ in Foul Play

 

This thought was incurred by the Before Stonewall programme of films at Lincoln Centre and by Guy Madden’s excellent programme of films at Harvard, as well as the suspicion that retrospectives of ‘gay’ films almost always dwell on instances of representation rather than ‘sensibility’ or ‘structures of feeling’ or other elements that are harder to classify but just as clearly communicated, and historically perhaps even more important, as they were a subcultural form of communication but clearly understood through mainstream media, something akin to the minstrelry Henry Louis Gates Jr. describes in Blues, Ideology, and African American Literature, A Vernacular Theory, when he describes blacks donning black-face in minstrel shows and performing to a mixed audience in a way so inflected that the black audience were aware but the white audience possibly not.

I saw Foul Play when I was 14 and it’s the first film I saw which I knew was somehow gay without it having any gay characters to speak of. Today there are many things one can point to: the film’s empathy with outsiders and misfits of all kinds (though some might find the scene above on the verge of being offensive; the film makes amends later); the feminist overtones which then over-hung the incipient gay liberation movement — a girlfriend gives Goldie Hawn’s Gloria a whole array of tool with which to defend herself against male aggression; the San Francisco setting; the way the Dudley Moore character travels through the saunas and discos in search of a quick shag in ways much more characteristic of gay men of the period than heterosexual ones; the type of cinephilia, with its adoring send-ups of thriller/horror tropes; the opera sub-plot and it’s comic use of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado; the plot to kill the pope; the camp humour with which it’s all told; the tracing of this sensibility to its director, one of the first to be openly gay, who had written Harold and Maude before and would later go on to direct such camp classics as 9 to Five and Best Little Whorehouse in Texas before dying of AIDS in 1988: one easily notes the patterns of the films and of the career.  Back then, the only thing I could point to was how in the last shot, the extras looked like the pornstars that then adorned the covers of Blueboy or Mandate magazines, and were later to adorn the covers of Falcon videos. As you can see from the clip above  — where Goldie Hawn plays a librarian who is being chased for a microfilm she doesn’t know she has by a killer nicknamed The Dwarf — it’s all very gay, in every sense of the word. And one knew it, even then, even at 14 but without quite knowing why.

 

José Arroyo

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An image that seemed suspiciously like porn

Watching La Famille Belier in Geneva

IMG_6747Watching films is an activity and an experience. Before technology developed to the extent that the general public could go into a shop and come out with some VHS titled say ‘Foul Play’, one would pay money, go into the movie and come out only with a memory of certain aspects of the film tied to the way that one felt. Thus the laughs at the moment the bed keeps going up and down in Dudley Moore’s pornographic flat, or how Goldie Hawn mistakenly harms the wrong dwarf, or the Japanese tourists jumping up and down in a taxi yelling ‘Kojak!’, are still vivid memories with me. Is the film any good? I don’t know; and I’m afraid to watch it again (might the Kojak bit seem racist to me now? Was Chevy Chase really as handsome and charming as I remember him to be? Was the karate fight between Burgess Meredith and Rachel Roberts really that funny? Is the film really as covertly gay as I remember it to be?) – the memories are too good to sacrifice. How and where we watch films play a role in how we appreciate them.

I saw La Famille Belier at the Salt.Cinema in Geneva, right next to the yacht club, in the kind of balmy coolness only the onset of evening in the middle of a heat-wave (a canicule is the lovely name for it there) can produce. The breeze wafting in from the lake, the illuminated boats cruising through the darkness, the sailboats bobbing up and down in the yacht club, a perfectly made mojito in my hand, an old and dear friend sitting next to me, a giant screen in front. It would have taken a truly horrible film to ruin such a moment and La Famille Belier is great fun, touching at moments, with a great performance by Louane Emera, a semi-finalist in France’s version of The Voice, as Paula, the teenage daughter of deaf parents who feel betrayed when she decides to enter a singing competition. It’s very broad, very deftly acted, and at moments, such as when Paula sings Michel Sardou’s ‘Je vole’, very touching indeed. It was lovely to see a teenage musical, particularly a French one, as they don’t come around too often. The film was very enjoyable if not great, but watching it with a good friend in such exquisite surroundings made for a sublime experience.

José Arroyo

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