May 21,1982/Montrose Voice 13
By Richard Rogers
©1982 Stonewall Features Syndicate
If Conan the Barbarian had been made in
the '50s, it would have been a low-budget
adventure flick with Steve Reeves and an
ad campaign that screamed, "See Conan
Tempted by the Seductive Sorceress! See
the Man of Steel Wrestle a 34-Foot Snake!
See Him Knock Down a Camel With One
In the inflated '80s however, Hollywood
relies on blockbusters for survival. So this
naive little tale of a Hyborian-Age hunk
has been bullied into a $19 million epic,
with nudity, gore, and overblown special
Last year, Steven Spielberg turned a
serial adventure into a stunning hit with
Raiders of the Lost Ark. Despite its big
budget and elaborate special effects, Raiders never lost the dopey charm of its sources. Spielberg's friend, John Milius, has
not been so fortunate with Conan. He has
borrowed from Samurai movies, Biblical
epics, and Italian quickie flicks, then
attempted to superimpose a comic view on
the collection. But the gore and humor
tend to fight one another. The writer/
director has peppered his tale with visual
jokes, but he never achieves a style that is
This is a shame, because the middle portion of Conan has a sense of high adventure and comaraderie reminiscent of
Sinbad the Sailor. Arnold Schwartze-
negger almost comes to life in these
sequences, and Sandahl Bergman and
Perry Lopez make lively characters ofthe
barbarian's lady love and sidekick.
If you're in an indulgent mood, there
may be enough derring-do and visual
humor to keep you amused through most
of Conan. But if you're in the mood for a
more cohesive work of the imagination,
you may want to wait for Spielberg's
upcoming E.T. or Ridley Scott's Blade-
The media attention lavished on several
new films has made it easy to overlook the
slow but increasing influence that the gay
community has exerted over the film
world in the past few decades. Yet anyone
who has grown up with movies cannot
forget the impact of Julie Christie's gay
friend in Darling, or the daring on-screen
kiss between Peter Finch and Murray
Head in Sunday, Bloody Sunday.
As we approach Gay Pride Week, it
seems fitting to recall a sample ofthe films
that shows a progression in the handling
of gay themes, changing our awareness of
ourselves as well as the consciousness of
the general public. Vito Russo's important
book, The Celluloid Closet, used here as a
reference, is recommended to readers for a
complete analysis of the subject.
In the '20s and early '30s, films like Pandora's Box, The Gay Divorcee, and It's
Love I'm After featured character actors
like Edward Everett Horton and Eric
Blore, who specialized in playing
"swishy" valets and male secretaries.
By the mid-'30s, the production code of
the Hays Office forbade the treatment of
gay subject-matter or characters. Gay references were deleted from scripts such as
The Lost Weekend and Crossfire.
Kenneth Anger made the independent
gay short film entitled Fireworks in 1947.
Tea and Sympathy (1956) dealt with
that "unspeakable topic," but it turned out
the protagonist was just shy, not gay.
Some Like It Hot (1959) played around
with role reversal and transvestitism.
Billy Wilder left the ending curiously
Otto Preminger's Advise and Consent
gave mainstream America its first look at
a gay bar, and a gay protagonist who, of
course, committed suicide.
Also in 1962, The Children's Hour suggested and then denied that heroines Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine were
lesbians. MacLaine hanged herself, just in
case it might be true.
Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising burst
on the scene in 1963 to become an underground classic.
John Schlesiger's Darling (1965)
showed audiences that straight women
sometimes have gay friends.
An independent feature, Frank Simon's
The Queen (1968) caused a stir in larger
The Boys in the Band (1970) became the
first Hollywood film in which all the major
characters were gay. William Friedkin (of
Cruising infamy) directed.
Tragic gays, including lesbians, became
the rage in a wave of films that included
The Fox, The Killing of Sister George,
Staircase, The Damned, Midnight Cowboy, Death in Venice, and Fortune and
Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Something for
Everyone, and Cabaret introduced bisexual chic in the early '70s.
Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971) provided
the most mature view of gay love of any
movie of the decade.
John Waters' Pink Flamingos, Multiple
Manics, and Female Trouble brought us
Divine and his/her heady irreverence for
Truffaut's Day for Night included a recognizable gay character in 1973, foreshadowing the director's positive gay images
in The Last Metro and The Woman Next
Christopher Larkin's A Very Natural
Thing (1974) was the first non-porno commercial release that dealt with the gay lifestyle exclusively. Of questionable artistic
merit, it nonetheless represented a breakthrough for gay visibility.
Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon presented a real-Life gay love story with a minimum of sensationalism in 1975. Al
Pacino's lover was a tragic mess, though,
and Pacino died in a hail of bullets.
In 1977, two independent gay features
(Outrageous; Word Is Out) won critical
and popular support.
La Cage Aux Folles (1978) stunned Hollywood with its box-office clout, and
started producers thinking about gay-
Face to Face, To Forget Venice, and The
Best Way were late-'70s pictures that presented responsible, non-neurotic gay male
and lesbian characters.
1981 brought us meaty, humorous parts
for gay charaacters in Neil Simon's Only
When I Laugh and Blake Edward'sS.O.B.
So far, 1982 has given us major gay
characters and themes in Making Love,
Personal Best, Deathtrap, Victor/ Victoria, and Taxizum Klos. Partners is upcoming. It's anyone's guess as to what (or who)
will jump out of the closed next!
The new religious wars
By John W. Row berry
International Gay News Agency
"With Beirut, an old dream disappears,
that of the Orient. The Orient no longer
exists. Actually, it never did exist. It was
only a dream of the West."
The seeming contradiction in these
lines, spoken by one foreign journalist to
another during the 1980 war in Lebanon,
is echoed throughout Volker Schlondorff s
Circle of Deceit, where war and betrayal
are wedded to rites of manhood and love.
Schlondorff s first film since The Tin
Drum is firmly set in the genre of the New
German Cinema with its daring composition and narrative—but is unlike any film
about foreign journalists or foreigners living in a war-torn landscape yet to emerge
from the modern electronic age.
The story, simply, is almost a cliche: A
West German reporter and his photographer companion are sent to Beirut to
cover the Palesteniam uprising. The reporter, played by Bruno Ganz, leaves behind
a shattered relationship with his wife in
which nothing is what it seems; inwhich
deceit and betrayal are as ordinary as
morning orange juice. When they are
caught mid-argument by one of their children, they begin a quick ritual of seduction
in front of the child as if the violence ofthe
sex act would mask the violence of their
Rather than have Georg, the reproter, go
through the usually predictable
metamorphisis—where he enters the war
with objectivity and emerges on one side
or the other—Schlondorff follows the path
established by Coppola; the act of redemption for Georg in which he comes to understand the fighting, is so horrible as to be
Circle of Deceit was filmed in Beirut
while the war raged on across town.
Schlondorff didn't use any actual film
footage or enlist any of the rebels in the
making of the film—yet everywhere there
is the look of authenticity. A printed preface on the screen warns that every single
image in the film is a work of fiction. It iB,
while no doubt the truth, impossible to
believe. I can not imagine fiction created
to so mirror truth with such detachment.
American audiences may not understand the underlying factors in the war in
Beirut, and Circle of Deceit does not
attempt, at any point, to separate the
"good" guys from the "bad."
While this film is set amid a war, and
uses the metaphor of war, it is instead a
film about the humam condition that
becomes interchangeable under certain
circumstances. Georg is betrayed by his
wife, his peers, the Lebanese, the woman
he meets and falls in love with in Beirut
(Hanna Schygulla); ultimately by his profession and his own weaknesses.
He doesn't return from Beirut a better
man for the experience, but a changed
man; perhaps a man who fits better into
the landscape around him. The killer in us
all—a cliche except for Schlondorff s selective handling of the sums that add up to
Something must be said about the look
of Circle of Deceit; the cinematography by
Igor Luther is itself a deceptive metaphor,
often filled with fictionalized "newsfilm."
Part of the ability ofthe film to distinguish
itself from others in the same genre is how
amazingly well Luther mixes the straight-
on style of the film's narrative with
touches that are either copied from sheer
documentarianism or border on pure visual metaphor.
The composition of key shots (like a
recurring letter that threads the relationship of Georg with his wife back in Germany) are nothing short of brillant. And
Luther makes even the most unbelievable
film symbols—crashing waves turned
blood red—workable semiology.
Circle of Deceit is an intellectual exercise, to be sure; but one that moves with
the swiftness of a missle. The gentle and
biting satire of The Tin Drum has been
replaced with a focused, sharp, unsettling
sense of reality-as-illusion. It questions
our ability to see not just the truth, but to
see at all.