Waterworks some nights at 11. This one is from the vaults from the first season. But it's worth a revisit as the film is currently available on Netflix Instant Watch.
I've always been a little bit a lot perplexed by the famous shower scene in Alan Parker's Midnight Express (1978). I'm not exactly sure why it's in the movie. Midnight Express strongest asset is arguably its expressive physicality and gritty tactile quality; you feel like you're right there in the grotty hellish Turkish prison, sweating and suffering along with Billy Hayes (Brad Davis). But the sexual vibes coming off of the movie are at times unfathomable. Is it gay? Is it bi? Is it straight? Is it just horny? Or is its ambiguous eroticism simply a by-product of casting a star as carnally charismatic as Brad Davis in the lead role?
As warm up to the famous shower scene we get a montage detailing the friendship of Billy and Erich (Norbert Weisser) a fellow prisoner. They've been in this hellhole for years. We see them do yoga togethe and bathe each other. They even duet on a private meditation mantra...
Monastery. Cloister. Cave. Prison
They lock eyes while chanting this repetitive phase. Billy drops his head with sadness at the word "prison" and we dissolve to a shot of the intimate friends showering together. In the steam Erich tenderly grabs Billy's soapy hand, slides his hands up Billy's body and pulls him slowly into a passionate kiss, though the steam obscures a lot of what's happening.
Billy hesitates and then reciprocates, though the steam obscures most of their kissing
Here's the curious part.
Moments after he's begun kissing Erich back, Billy pushes him away. He lifts Erich's hand to kiss it, shakes his head in a strangely condescending manner (I love you but I'm not that way) and exits the shower. Despite his willingness to work out, chant, bathe and lock lips with his friend while naked ... he draws the line at sex.
Erich is understandably bummed and the camera dissolves to an exterior shot of the prison, over his sad wet face.
Never mind sequential logic. Never mind that Billy has gone for (literally) years without sex. Never mind that he's already comfortable kissing, being bathed by and getting naked with Erich. Never mind that the real life Billy Hayes actually did have consensual sex with fellow prisoners according to his autobiography. In Oliver Stone's Oscar-nominated screenplay, "Billy" isn't having it.
This scene has always confused me on a basic human level, sexual orientation being beside the point. I'm gay but if you threw me in a prison for years and my only option for human tenderness was sex with a girl I liked who was into me? I wouldn't shake my head and walk away. I'd be... 'how often, when, where and what position? Let's go!'
Another 1978 picture, the elusive but strong Girlfriends has an oddly parallel sequence: the lead character's new female roommate begins to caress her shoulder and tries to kiss and undress her. Our heroine gently pushes the misguided girl's hand away and quietly says "no." I can only come to the reductive conclusion that in '78 this was exactly the way liberal Hollywood felt about the gays -- tolerated them, kinda dug them on an one-on-one basis, but were still totally weirded out by them. The sequence in Girlfriends is a throwaway and doesn't interrupt the movie's flow. In the case of Midnight Express, the sequence is given a lot of weight and the filmmakers seem to be letting their own sexual prudishness get in the way of narrative logic. There's nothing wrong with changing material from book to screen, don't get me wrong, but if Billy wasn't going to have sex with Erich, why was their foreplay still included in the movie?