Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Single Man

By:Craig Rigby
I am not particularly fond of gay cinema. I find that gay themed films fall into two categories, tragedy or campery. If Hollywood is to be believed we gays are either rejected and miserable or party time drag queens.

A lot of people like “Brokeback Mountain”, I can’t think of a better example of what is wrong with the Hollywood approach to homosexuality. The characters have horrible lives filled with hiding and rejection. They end up unhappy and dying a violent death. What a lovely image of the life we homosexuals lead. In addition what the hell is with the sex scene? What an inaccurate depiction of sex between men! Has the man never heard of foreplay? Poor old Jake Gyllenhall....

The other category is campery. “Pricilla Queen of the Desert” is a good one. I liked the film, at least it was fun, but it was also about as unbalanced a view of gay people as you can get. At least this sort of film usually ends happy.

I was bored last Saturday, Jake was at work all day and it was raining. I spent a few hours cleaning and then decided to bite the bullet and watch “A Single Man”. I had heard it was good, but from the same sort of people who told me “Brokeback Mountain” was good…
The film is about a man dealing with his grief after his long term partner dies in a car accident. It follows him through a day of his life, a day in which he is secretly planning his own suicide and saying goodbye to everyone. He meets a teenager during the day who changes the course of his life. This sounds like another miserable tragedy right?

The surprising thing is that the film really isn’t that miserable. I won’t spoil it but it has a cheerful end, even with death taken into account. It gave me a lump in my throat I won’t lie. As I said it starts with the death of the partner and their dogs and this touches a special place in me. It sounds weird to say but I think about Jake and my dogs dying all the time. When we are sat on the sofa sometimes I hug him close and tell him I am savouring the moment so I can remember it in case he dies first when we are old. Even when my dogs were puppies I used to think about how sad I would be when they passed away, I even partially picked a Pekingese because they can live a long time. I am like that...morbid.

The story is about coping with grief and ends with a resolution of those feelings of grief. It is only incidentally gay, which is a good thing. They could have easily made the same film with a straight man having lost his wife. There are a couple of little rants about minority rights but it wouldn’t have been too much of a grind to alter the character sexuality to appeal to a wider range of people. I am glad they didn’t, we need more incidental gayness in the public sphere.

This is a film is that it is full of English people. The main character is an Englishman living in LA played by an English actor, the teenager is played by an English actor doing an American accent and so is the dead boyfriend. The only American actor in a main role is Julianne Moore who plays the best friend, paradoxically with an English accent. All this Englishness makes me like it more, England being the greatest country on Earth and all.

All the actors put in a good turn. Colin Firth plays the title roll very well, he carries the entire film. I think he deserves an Oscar for this and the acting is much better than “Brokeback Mountain”. The teenage boy is played well also. If you look closely you will realise that it is the same actor who played the child in “About a Boy” opposite Hugh Grant. He has certainly grown up since then.

The entire affair is certainly very pretty. It is set around the 50s and the art deco design and artful cigarette smoking certainly gives it a retro chic. It has been applauded for its cinematography but I don’t think it is perfect. They have used an digital grading effect to enhance the colours every time the normally gloomy main character sees something that reminds him of the good things in life. It is a subtle effect the first couple of times, but starts to wear by the end of the film.

Despite my gripes I have to say that this is probably the best gay film I have seen. I have reviewed it here because I want to highly recommend it, just make sure you are in the mood for the grim subject matter. If you are a grim bugger like me you will certainly find it very touching.


  1. It sounds good. *jots down title*

    I kinda disagree about brokeback because I mean, hiding and rejection are pretty common themes amongst gay people. But I get what you are saying, I'm the same way about movies... I hate movies that literally are only made to make you feel sad with no resolution or anything to walk away with. (requim for a dream) O_O

    My bf makes me watch so much crap omg. :P

    Oh, and I also have to disagree about that "poor" jake gyllenhaal statement. ;)

  2. @Craig,
    I love to watch gay movies(even one sided ones) because they show another facet of who we are as gay people. Even if I never chose to don a silver lamee outfit and ride through the desert on top of a bus...that doesnt mean that it wasnt an awsome movie moment....and from movies about drag queens I learned quiet a bit about internal fortitude...say what you will about pricilla...those were some tough broads.

    Brokeback was yet another facet that resonated with me in that period when I knew what I was but couldn't tell anyone. It made my heart ache for those two men who believed that they could never have any kind of life together.

    A Single Man sounds great...but I cry at the drop of a hat so I will probably be a mess watching this:(

    As for England being the best:

    P.S. is their anyone who knows how to get a picture to display in a blogger comment? I can't find any info on it.

  3. I will look for this movie. And although BBM is a tragedy, it does portray the reality of some gay men. Not all gays are out, happily living with a partner. Have you ever thought about the reality gay men face in the developing world, for example?

  4. I agree with you anonymous, some gay men have it bad. It just annoys me that so much gay cinema is all about the sad ending. It would be nice if there were more happy or balanced ended films out there. More of a mix.

  5. That was me above, I didn't realise Jake was logged in.

  6. You know what book I'd love to see made into a screenplay? The Dreyfus Affair.

    It's about two ball players that fall in love with each other and has the added element that it's also an inter-racial relationship.

    Realistic enough.

  7. Brokeback Mountain gave me the courage to start coming out, and stick with it rather than falter when I didn't get immediate support (as happened in high school when I had tried to pronounce myself to some of my friends). It was because of my absolute refusal to have my life develop in a way similar to that of Heath's and Jake's characters that I refused to stay in the closet - I wanted (and still want) a fulfilling life with somebody I love, camping in the foothills of Montana.

    That sounds awesome.

    I started what I call my second coming out the night of Heath Ledger's death, as a tribute to his portrayal of Ennis. It was then that I told one of my best friends, the first person to have been told in more than four years; and, though it took another year before I would tell anybody else, this friend's unconditional love of me gave me courage to continue the process. I felt as though I could conquer the foundations of God with him at my side... still do most days.

    One of the best films I have seen that fits into the "Gay Interest" categories would have to be Shelter. Great film, that I feel I can relate to fairly well.

    I've also recently seen "Boy Culture", which I enjoyed for what it was. Nothing serious, but definitely enjoyable. I actually really enjoyed the protagonist...

  8. I agree: it seems that Hollywood would prefer to portray most gays as tortured souls bound to live an equally tortured existence or as stereotypically flamboyant, etc. as possible. One classification I would add is the crude comedy. It seems as though just as many of these are being produced, and they just seem to be more disgusting than anything else.

    Now I do think that tragedies can be exquisitely beautiful in a way that still mystifies me, but it does seem, as you said, a little unbalanced. Why can't there be a drama that ends on a high note, or a more realistic cast of characters?

    I will recommend, along with Canadianhumility, the movie Shelter. By far the best gay-themed movie i've ever seen.

  9. What a great blog and review of the film. Enjoyed reading it immensely.

  10. I had to find my copy of Christopher Isherwood's "A Single Man" after seeing the film as I was pretty darn sure, though the main character was rather depressed, he wasn't planning to kill himself. Indeed, in the novel, the main character was not planning to kill himself. Oh well. There's introspection that director Tom Ford visualized as suicide preparations; an interesting choice, not completely off, I thought.

  11. I don't know what your take is on the movie Milk, maybe you've mentioned in somewhere in the blog before and I've missed it, but I thought that was a beautiful film. Granted, it falls into the "tragic" spectrum, but it's a wonderful piece of cinematography.

  12. "I won’t spoil it but it has a cheerful end, even with death taken into account."

    Umm... you did see the ending, right? Cheerful? Pointless, would be a better description. I thought it ended that way for shock-value, nothing more. -- I do want to add that I thought Julianne Moore was terrific in this film. Another Oscar worthy performance... just like in The Kids Are All Right.

  13. I didn't like BBM because it felt insincere. and it couldn't go as deep into the matter of social and self rejection as it could, IMO. but there are lots of other good GLBT themed movies, craig, i could supply a long list ... maurice, for example. breakfast with scot. patrick 1.5. priest. mumbo italiano! were the world mine. My Beautiful Laundrette ... i'm sure i'm forgetting many... Edge of Seventeen...
    this will keep me up tonight

  14. "Poor Jake" heh. Well, i like the movie, but i would most certainly love to see a story with a happy ending or at least a mixture. I'm quite the cry baby when i watched it. I didn't really like to cry at movies, not because i worry someone would assume my sexuality nor do i think it's a weakness, but because i'm always wiping my face with my sleeve ugh.

    This thing wouldn't let me post! well, i was saying that i think it's really great that the parents are very accepting of their kids who dresses up in dresses. I agree that it's not an indicator of sexuality or how they'll turn up in the future. Kids will always do silly things. I remember i was forced on a dress when i was real little by my eldest sister. I recall my teacher who scolds me because i had a painted fingernails. But of course, i had no desire to wear a dress (Or tuxedos either!) give me black clothes anyday! kudos to these curageous parents and kudos to you to Depfox.

    Tim (