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HBO’s LGBT History: Gia (1998)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions...

Last week we looked at the tender In the Gloaming, Christopher Reeve's directorial debut starring Glenn Close. And while that film ultimately focused on Close's character (her gay son is dying of AIDS), today, for the first time since we started this project, we get to focus on an LGBT protagonist that isn’t a gay man!

We follow instead a gorgeous woman (Angelina Jolie) who's as sexually adventurous as they come, leading on men and women alike, lighting the modeling world on fire, and falling hard (to the point of stalker-ish behavior) for a certain make-up girl that'll be all too familiar for all of you LOST fans.

Angelina Jolie's "Gia" breakthrough is after the jump...

Gia (1998)
[Watch on Amazon Prime & HBO Go]
Directed by: Michael Cristofer
Written by: Jay McInerney, Michael Cristofer
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Faye Dunaway, Elizabeth Mitchell, Eric Michael Cole, Mercedes Ruehl and Mila Kunis (as young Gia!)

If there's one thing Gia Carangi knows how to do is make an entrance (she was, after all, one of the most sought out models of the late 70s). The same could be said of Jolie (she is, after all, one of the most sought after stars of the 2000s). The initial moments of Michael Cristofer's Gia function as a grand entrance for both women; we hear of Gia from family and friends while seeing someone applying makeup to her face. And then, like an imposing and seductive tornado, she materializes on a runway. She's stunning. She's vibrant. She loves the crowd. The crowd loves her. And then, then things get interesting. She's high on something (heroin, we later learn) and as she starts losing control, disrupting the scene like she’s in a rock band ("I should've been a rockstar... but I can't sing!" she remarks at one point). Eventually she makes it backstage where she collapses, looks of disdain, and impatience surrounding her.

We're then treated, in true biopic fashion (pun intended) to Gia's rise from Philadelphia punk tomboy to supermodel of the world, most of it due to her outspoken personality - she famously carved her name on the desk of the receptionist at Wilhelmina Cooper (Faye Dunaway)’s office. The film follows the well-worn addiction narrative with many breakdowns, rehab stints, second chances and a sad end (Carangi was one of the first women to be diagnosed with AIDS). What is undeniable is Jolie's magnetic performance. It's a great warm up for her role in Girl, Interrupted but also that rare star making turn that fit her persona almost too well. Seeing Gia seduce, cajole, and entice men and women to do her bidding and relishing shocking those around her seems as good a description of Jolie circa 1998 as I can come up with; this is, let us remember, a mere year before the tabloids would seize on her sisterly kiss at the Oscars and on the blood vial she wore took to wearing around her neck!

She's just as strong in the quieter moments of the film, with a looseness that’s refreshing to see from an actress I've long associated now with imperious looks, deliberate movements, and calculated gestures. But here, she's all loose limbs and gawky movements, the grace on the runway and on photos belying an inner awkwardness about her own body. When not modeling, Jolie's Gia is contorting herself on couches, beds, and airplane seats, never quite comfortable in her own skin, seeking refuge in drugs and self-destructing behavior.

She was like a puppy. She was like... love me, love me, love me, love me... and I did. I did. I did right away. She was my lover. The only person I really loved. - Linda, on Gia.

And then of course there’s the sex. It's taken us six (!) films and ten years but with Gia we finally get a same-sex sex scene in an HBO film. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is a lesbian scene that is quite literally staged in front of a gawking man (during a photoshoot where Gia convinces shy makeup girl Linda to pose nude alongside her across a chainlink fence). They continue their fling at Gia's that night and Cristofer's camera lingers on both their bodies leading me to believe lesbian sex is comprised of a lot of standing around caressing one another. It's risqué but oddly demure, and clearly in line with the fetishistic if toothless fascination on promiscuous sex Cristofer’s later films (Body Shots, Original Sin) would double up on. Erotic and non-voyeuristic same-sex sex it would seem, is the next frontier.

Fun Awards Fact: Jolie and Dunaway won hers & hers Golden Globes for their performances, Dunaway winning in a tie with Camryn Manheim from The Practice (they loved themselves some David E. Kelley that year; The Practice won Best Drama and Best Actor, while Ally McBeal won Comedy that year!). Also of note, Jolie won a SAG Award for Gia, an award she would win the following year for Girl, Interrupted; I was trying to think of other back-to-back winners (not for the same role which SAG members love to do) but was coming up empty; anyone have any stats like those handy?

Next week we’ll be shifting gears and focusing on a pivotal year for HBO’s television production. 1998 saw the premiere of Sex and the City and the end of The Larry Sanders Show, while established shows like Oz and Tracey Takes On were continuing to build the brand that would, with 1999’s debut of The Sopranos, prove to finally live up to its tagline: It’s not TV, it’s HBO. 1998 we’ll find out, is also the year we could say HBO comes out in full swing, with episodes in all of these aforementioned shows that found humor and humanity in various aspects of LGBT life.

So catch up on “The Turtle and the Hare,” “Putting The Gay Back in Litigation,” “Strange Bedfellows” and “Tracey Takes on Marriage.”

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Reader Comments (13)

Jolie lost the Emmy to whom?

June 23, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterfadhil

Ellen Barkin

June 23, 2015 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Jolie is so hot

June 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

"I was trying to think of other back-to-back winners (not for the same role which SAG members love to do) but was coming up empty; anyone have any stats like those handy?"

Renee Zelweger for Chicago and Cold Muntain.

June 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHarmodio

Ellen Barkin was good but Angie was robbed. I miss the old Angelina. The one with the craziness and the good performances.

June 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Angelina was wonderful in this though I didn't think the film was anything special. She and to a lesser degree Faye are the only reason to seek it out.

June 24, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I just don't think Angelina wanted to live in this headspace after a certain point -- even though this time period was an artistic high point.

June 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Gia's mom -played by the great Mercedes Ruehl- is a fascinating character.

June 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

this is the movie that catapulted people into puberty.

June 24, 2015 | Unregistered Commentertom

In my college years this film was THE Lesbian film du jour. My best friend went from dating weird dudes to becoming a full-fledged, card-carrying Lesbian after viewing this film 30 times. We loved it and felt like the Oscar win for Jolie was basically for this.

June 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher

i totally fell hard for angie because of this movie and PLAYING BY HEART. her performance in this film is definitely her best, by far. this movie came out when i was in high school and i was struggling to come out. that chainlink fence scene certainly left me further confused about my sexuality...

June 24, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

Give me crazy Gia-era Angelina over UN Stateswoman Peacekeeper Angelina any day of the week!

June 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterIan

Bia -- i agree that that's what likely changed with Jolie. But as much as I want to disagree with the notion that despair/madness/extremes of any kind don't actually help actors, that you can be healthy and great, and still understand the extremes, there are so many examples of artists doing their best work when they were the most fucked up that makes it hard to say that it doesn't *sometimes* help. haha.

not that anyone should have to live in the extremes.

June 25, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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