Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Some of My Best Friends Are... 40

Little-seen film "Some of My Best Friends Are..." is 40 this year (download it here, and the soundtrack here). Set almost exclusively in the confines of a Greenwich Village gay bar called The Bluejay (actually real-life bar The Zodiac), the action happens over the course of Christmas Eve 1971, as the lives of the patrons and staff of the bar dramatically intersect.

The film could be seen as a companion piece to another film, The Boys in the Band, which features a birthday party at a gay man's apartment around the same time. Both have a party atmosphere, campy characters, a violent attack from a homophobe, a sympathetic black man and anguished queers coming to terms with their sexuality. Of the two, I prefer Some of My Best Friends Are... Boys in the Band has a depressing tone and ends in a downbeat way. In Some of My Best Friends... there is a better sense of a cohesive gay community, along with happy endings for most of the nicer characters. It also features a number of casting delights including, Rue McClanahan (who achieved fame as Blanche in the Golden Girls). Here she plays a bitchier younger version of Blanche.

There's also Gil Gerard (Buck Rogers) in the role of a gay butch pilot who Rue's character jealously lusts over.

And best of all is Warhol regular, Candy Darling, giving the most serious, strange and nuanced role of her career. Candy is one of the other girls who goes to the bar, and her storyline involves two important twists as it progresses. She also gets many of the good lines in the film: "They all heard him say I was beautiful! Prettier than she is. But I can't dance with them all!" and "Has anyone found a contact lens?"

There's a huge cast of characters, from all walks of life - a priest, a ski instructor, a perfume counter queen, a hustler, assorted actors, a frightened newbie, business men. One odd fish, referred to only as Miss Untouchable, arrives in a cape and never speaks, but manages to inject a lot of humour into giving archly prissy looks at everyone.

Another is called Giggling Gertie due to the fact that he finds everything hilarious. When someone accidently spills a Bloody Mary in his lap, he shrieks "Thank heavens! I'm not pregnant after all!" There are plots and sub-plots and characters who just seem to be there to add colour. As gay life increasingly happens online now, where it's easier to check out someone's profile and reject them if they don't match what you're looking for, I wonder how long the gay bar as an equalising all-in-it melting-pot will last.

The film has a great soundtrack, with two title songs - one is a down-and-dirty funk number by Novella Nelson called "The Bar", the other a plaintive lament called "Where do you go?" which plays at the start as the key characters are set up.

A few of the scenes seem to mingle shots of real-life patrons with the cast, and as a piece of history documenting New York's early '70s gay scene, the film is priceless. As with the orignal Stonewall Inn, the bar is owned by a small-time Mafiosa who regularly gives envelopes of cash to a corrupt cop so it won't get raided. A sign on the wall (mostly ignored) says that boys can dance in a straight line but not facing each other. At one point someone's mother turns up and publicy disowns him for being gay. Times have changed, though the types haven't.

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