Thursday, October 26, 2006

Moo. Moo! Moooooooo!

I am reading From the Closet to the Screen: Women at the Gateways Club 1945-85 by Jill Gardiner. The Gateways Club was a lesbian club, just off the Kings Road, in Chelsea, and popularised in the film The Killing of Sister George. I remember seeing this film for the first time when I was about 12, and found the scenes at the club absolutely fascinating. I had never seen a gay or lesbian club before (didn't even know that they existed). In the film, George (Beryl Reid ) invites the evil Mercy Croft, an upper-class BBC executive to the club. I remember being frightened when Mercy arrives at the club - she has to push past the bouncers and descend a dark staircase, like she's going into hell. I was expecting Mercy to make a huge scene once she discovered that it was a lesbian club, but in fact she seemed to quite enjoy it. Turned out that she was a closet-case all along, and George's plan to humilate her backfires somewhat.

I wanted to know all about the Gateways, who all the people dancing in the background were and who the exotic people running the club were. The book reveals it all. A lot of the extras were real-life patrons, while "Smithy", the butch American woman who served behind the bar actually worked there and was something of a celebrity in London lesbian circles. She may or may not have been in a relationship with Gina, who owned the club (and was married). Gina, her husband and Smithy all lived together anyway. Gina can be seen at the entrance to the club - I always thought she was a man in drag.

Sadly, the film has always been rather slated for its negative portrayal of unhappy, sadistic lesbians. But it's always been one of my favourites. The film revealed the existence of a lesbian scene to hundreds of thousands of people, and membership increased as a result. However, a couple of the women who appeared in the film lost their jobs unfortuantely, as a result of being seen dancing in the background. The Gateways closed in the early 1980s, and is now has an almost mythical status - the Kings Road ain't what it used to be.


matty said...

I also saw that film on VHS with my father when I was about 13 and LOVED it! I love the title, the cinematography and the acting. I also think it is a MAJOR historcial moment in cinematic history. Lesbianism is still not typically shown. least beyond a straight male fantasy.

I think it was made at a time when there was a great deal of confusion around sexuality, womens' rights and the role of power in sexual relationships. It was way ahead of it's time and took a lot of guts for those actors to take those roles! I think it was X-rated in the US when it came out. I still love the film and disregard the negative comments. I respect all opinions but I don't have to agree with them.

Hey, is this like the longest comment you've ever gotten?

Kisses from Gay Town, matty

How are your spiders?

Old Cheeser said...

Yeah, you've got to put the film in the context of when it was made. Attitudes to lesbians have altered somewhat since then! The movie is a great period piece though, and Beryl Reid is fabulous. Does I heard that she was actually preferred ladies in real life - does anyone know?

Old Cheeser said...

Forgive the appalling grammar in my last comment - think my mind is somewhere else this weekend. What I was basically trying to ask was - was Beryl Reid a lezzer in real life?

Lubin said...

She was straight and refused to do a lesbian sex scene in the film, though she got on well with the girls at Gateways. On the other hand, Coral Brown kept herself to herself, although there were rumours of a lesbian relationship in her youth...

Old Cheeser said...

A-ha! Very enlightening. You are a mine of information Lubin .... thanks. Coral Brown had a definite devious dyke quality to her, so I can believe that.