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Entries in HBO (64)


HBO’s LGBT History: Cinema Verite (2011)

Last week we reminisced about Vito Russo with two related docs: the essential The Celluloid Closet and the 2011 HBO doc Vito. This week we turn from a pivotal figure in silver screen LGBT history to a pivotal one for the small screen. I’m talking, of course, of Lance Loud, who famously came out in An American Family in 1973 when the Loud family became the subject of a PBS docuseries, what many deem to be one of the first reality shows in American TV. Directed by Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini, Cinema Verite (watch on HBOGo) follows the behind-the-scenes drama behind that infamous and breakthrough program.

For Americans, as we saw last week, many of the images they saw of homosexuals on movie screens were outright stereotypes. But they really paled in comparison to the images they were getting from the media. In 1967, CBS aired The Homosexuals an episode of CBS Reports. Here’s a sampling of Mike Wallace’s voice-over in the show:

“The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested or capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage. His sex life, his love life, consists of a series of one–chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits.”

That by 1973 audiences got to see Lance Loud being openly gay and accepted within his family was a huge step forward (even if, given the time period, his homosexuality was used to further vilify the Louds in the press). More... 

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HBO’s LGBT History: The Celluloid Closet (1995) & Vito (2011)

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

Last week we went a bit #NSFW and looked at six gay sex scenes that ranged from violent/sexy (Oz) to just fully sexy (Looking). This week, we go from the sexually explicit to the (homo)sexually implicit as we turn to The Celluloid Closet and the HBO documentary Vito (Netflix) on the iconic queer film historian, Vito Russo.

“In 100 years of movies, homosexuality has only rarely been depicted on the screen. When it did appear, it was as something to laugh at, or something to pity, or even something to fear. These were fleeting images but they were unforgettable. Hollywood, that great maker of myths taught straight people what to think of gay people. And gay people what to think about themselves. No one escaped its influence.” - Lily Tomlin in Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s documentary based on Russo’s work.

As soon as you hear Tomlin’s words, you know you’re in good hands.

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HBO’s LGBT History: Sex on TV

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

Last week we had a ball spending time with Big and Little Edie at Grey Gardens. This week, I wanted to do something a little different so I picked out six key gay sex scenes from HBO’s TV history to talk about the network’s unabashed attempts at indulging its audiences in rather raunchy scenarios.

HBO, untethered to the whims of the FCC and its attendant parochialism, has often flaunted its ability to depict sex openly. From its Real Sex docs to Game of Thrones, this has been a great selling point for the network: “It’s not TV, it’s HBO… and that means we can get away with some serious nudity, guys!” Thus, while LGBT representation on network television was often chided for closeting actual sex (think Will & Grace, Ellen), HBO was able to offer titillating scenes that openly addressed and even represented sex as an integral part of these character’s lives.

In an era where every other American Horror Story episode will offer plenty of skintastic gay sex, and where network dramas like Empire and How to Get Away with Murder have been giving us hot and heavy scenes that keep pushing what’s allowed on prime time, some of these scenes may look quaint, but it is undeniable that they definitely paved the way for the embarrassment of riches we are now confronted with. Lots of NSFW goodies ahead!

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HBO’s LGBT History: Grey Gardens (2009)

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

Last week we looked at Outrage, the Kirby Dick documentary on outing U.S. politicians. It’s a fascinating, well-researched doc that, as many of you noted, is all the more groundbreaking for the way it revealed media biases when it came to reviewing the film (NPR famously refused to discuss the documentary’s subjects citing the rights to privacy of the politicians involved). This week, we’re talking about a staunchly camp classic that got the HBO prestige treatment and gave us perhaps the best Drew Barrymore performance to date, one which made great use of her charm and comedic timing shaded with some of the dramatic depth she so rarely gets to show off.

“Inside the incredible world of Jackie O’s relatives.”

Thus reads the film’s tag-line and that, one has to admit, is one way of selling the film. The other, of course, is “Inside the incredible world of one of the greatest documentary subjects ever committed to film.”

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HBO’s LGBT History: Outrage (2009)

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

Last week we revisited Carrie & co. in their silver screen outings. As it turns out, the Sarah Jessica Parker series continues to elicit strong reactions though the films are, across the board, considered lesser versions of the oft-brilliant HBO show. This week, we look at Kirby Dick’s doc Outrage which navigates the tricky issue of outing closeted gay politicians. The doc aired on HBO in October 2009 after a Tribeca bow and a limited release earlier that year.

“There is nothing more public than privacy.”

I quote this Michael Warner gem almost every day. Usually to myself; it’s a mantra that perfectly captures many of the discussions about the LGBT community in the twenty-first century. It gets at the inherent and insidious privilege of privacy; it’s always those who don’t realize how their own “private life” (dating, family, marriage) is inherently public (coughMattDamoncough) who claim to want to keep it away from public view. Warner’s epigram could very well function as an apt tag-line for Kirby’s film (though “Do Ask. Do Tell” has a delightful campy, gossipy tone that’s a brilliant reworking of the militaryspeak it echoes).

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HBO’s LGBT History: Sex and the City (2008, 2010)

After a week off (festivals sure do take it outta you, but did you catch up on all of our fun NYFF coverage?), we're back to our regularly scheduled programming. Last we spoke, I howled in laughter watching Curb Your Enthusiasm’s “pre-gay” kid, Greg in that show’s current series finale (there’s always rumors they’ll make more episodes, but Larry David seems to be in no rush). This week, we continue looking at another HBO comedy staple, the endlessly parodied, needlessly dismissed Sarah Jessica Parker series, Sex and the City...

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HBO’s LGBT History: Curb Your Enthusiasm (1999-2011)

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

Last week we looked at Tanaz Eshaghian’s documentary Be Like Others, an unflinching portrayal of trans people in Iran. In many ways, it falls right in line with HBO’s commitment to sparking and hosting button-pushing conversations on contemporary issues like they’d done before with Common Threads, Rosie’s All Aboard! and Middle Sexes. But you know what else HBO is known for? Hilarious comedy, which is what we’ll be discussing today.

When I talked about the gay stereotypes that litter HBO comedies, a handful of you pointed to the “Larry vs. Michael J. Fox” (HBO Go) episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm as a helpful complement to that discussion. The plot of the eighth season (and potential series) finale follows Larry’s escalating cold war with upstairs neighbor Michael J. Fox (“Just having Parkinson’s doesn't give you carte blanche to take advantage of the non-Parkinson's!”) while the B-plot has him meeting Greg, the seven-year old son of Jennifer (Ana Gastayer), the woman he’s been seeing. As Greg is an avid fan of Project Runway and a swishy one at that, Larry decides to get him a sewing machine for his birthday which all but appalls his mother:

Jennifer: He is a happy, healthy, normal seven year old boy. What is the matter with you?
Larry: Ehh, I think he might be gay.

As if the episode’s use of Parkinson’s disease as comedy fodder wasn’t enough, the episode’s continued pushing of Greg as a gay kid (he’s “pre-gay” Larry notes) is classic Larry David: awkward, borderline inappropriate but for that all the more hysterical. It also features one of the few examples of pre-teen homosexuality in our HBO history. Jennifer’s own anxiety that Larry might be thrusting homosexuality on a kid who is barely seven years old mirrors much of our modern ideas of homosexuality. Kids can be effeminate. They can be sissies. They can be pansies. They can enjoy Project Runway. But that, we are told, in no way means they’ll grow up to be gay. Even in that sentence construction, we espouse the belief that homosexuality is something for grownups, irrevocably tied to same-sex desire and thus tied to hormones, puberty, and of course, sex.

What does Greg love about Project Runway? "The fashion!"

The radical humor of the episode lies in not shying away from calling that myth out; indeed, young girls are encouraged to think of their future husbands thus inscribing in them a heterosexuality that, at a young age, need not be tied to their sexual preferences; why should gay kids be treated any differently, with their gayness both signaling but not encompassing actual sex? True, it falls on pretty well-worn stereotypical territory, but for those of us who were called out as sissies and pansies for our aversion to sports and penchant for “feminine” cultural objects, Greg’s unabashed swishiness is particularly refreshing to see. That his mother seems to want to not even consider thinking about what that may mean for his sexuality and that Larry’s own approach to the issue begins with a question of whether raising Greg will be somewhat difficult for Jennifer (given, you know, how he is and all), would warrant more unpacking if the episode didn’t give Greg so much autonomy and confidence. Plus, with sewing skills like that - he singlehandedly crafts a throw pillow with the fabulous design Larry taught him about (the swastika) - you know he’ll be fine.

Fun Awards Fact: Michael J. Fox was nominated for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy for his portrayal of himself on the show. He was also nominated that same year for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama for his work on The Good Wife. He lost both his bids that year, though I’m sure he found solace in his five previous Emmy wins.

Next week: We’ll continue talking about HBO Comedies as we revisit the two big screen adaptations of arguably the most talked-about HBO comedy of all time: Sex and the City. So bring your Cosmos, wear your Jimmy Choos and be prepared for plenty of puns!