Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Jedi knights and boy wonders

A few months ago I was driving around in my car, surfing the AM radio band, when I unexpectedly came across a debate between radio talk show host/conservative pundit/movie critic Michael Medved and some other film critic. They were debating, in advance of the Academy Awards, whether Moulin Rouge! was “too gay” for heterosexual men to see.

I immediately stopped twisting the dial and began paying rapt attention. This was a topic that hit home because I had only recently seen Moulin Rouge!, after much effort and many months after its original release the previous summer. After all of that, had I (as a heterosexual man) made a terrible mistake?

Of course, it was Medved who was taking the “too gay” position. From what I can tell, Medved thinks that everything in American popular culture is too gay. Exhibit A of his argument seemed to be the scene in which the lovely Jim Broadbent performs a stirring rendition, backed by an all-male chorus line, of the old Madonna song “Like a Virgin.” To be fair, when I first saw that scene, the thought flashed through my own mind that it might be too gay. But then all movie musicals seem gay. I don’t know if this is because the filmmakers deliberately made them gay to begin with or if gay people co-opted them after the fact for the fabulous clothes and the over-acting.

But seriously, we do know that more than a fair amount of gay subtext has made it into mainstream films over the years, thanks to a number of books and documentaries like The Celluloid Closet and A Bit of Scarlet. Apparently, this subtext finds itself into films sometimes deliberately and sometimes accidentally, probably because a relatively large proportion of creative people, including presumably screenwriters, actors, etc., come from the gay community.

That radio debate over Moulin Rouge! came back to haunt me recently after I had seen Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. Coincidentally, both films star Ewan McGregor, although I don’t think that fact is particularly relevant. Anyway, the question popped into my mind: is the new Star Wars film too gay? And then my politically correct side wondered if I should even be asking such a question. I mean, how would I feel if a gay person wrote a column suggesting that certain movies were too straight? I can’t even begin to imagine how that would make me feel. And that’s the truth.

But now that I’ve asked the question, let’s go with it. I’m already on record as saying that Attack of the Clones is the least successful film in the Star Wars series. In my comments, I described McGregor’s performance as “a bit too prissy” and his co-star Hayden Christensen as “pretty and pouty.” Indeed, in their first scene, Obi-Wan says something to Anakin like, “I’ve never felt you so nervous before” and they bicker like, well, like a romantic couple, where the bloom has gone off the relationship. Now, this is nothing new for Star Wars since more than one person has noted of the original movie that C-3PO seemed like a gay stereotype, implying that he and R2D2 were themselves a bickering couple. And, as I implied in my commentary on The Empire Strikes Back, there was possibly a bit of ambiguity in the Luke-Leia-Han triangle. But this is really nothing out of the ordinary with action movies, even the most macho ones, where male camaraderie and devotion are the norm.

Now, the fussy C-3PO portrayal might be okay for minor, comic-relief characters, but for the main heroes? This evokes memories of 1997’s disappointing Batman & Robin, which was dismissed by some critics as being (guess what) “too gay.” Frankly, calling any adaptation of the Batman comic books as “too gay” is a bit like calling Juliette Binoche “too French.” I mean, even as a clueless little kid, I always found the Bruce Wayne-Dick Grayson thing a bit creepy. I suppose that’s why it was inevitable that the 1960s TV series would be a camp-fest and that the Hollywood movie versions, after Tim Burton’s faithful nod to the original comic books, including the Dark Knight series, would inevitably descend into camp as well, once the Robin character was introduced.

I’m not saying that this is what has happened to the Star Wars series. But it helps point out what is wrong with Attack of the Clones. The story should (and, I think, was intended to) be about a young man rebelling against his father figure, just as Luke Skywalker would in turn defy his father in the earlier/later trilogy. The relationship between McGregor and Christensen doesn’t come off as a father and son. Instead, it is more like two-thirds of a lovers triangle. The perplexing thing about all this is that McGregor’s mis-directed performance seems to have come about at least in part as an effort to mimic the great Sir Alec Guinness, who of course played the older Obi-Wan. The result is a performance that, sadly, doesn’t serve this film very well and is no tribute at all to the late Sir Alec. (McGregor’s vocal mimicry worked better in The Phantom Menace, where he himself was in a sidekick role.)

In the end, it’s not a question of being “too gay.” It’s just a question of whether the performances were right for this story. In my humble opinion, they’re not. Now, if Lucas had made this film a musical…

-S.L., 30 May 2002

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