Here are 10 queer films to watch if you decide to stay in this Pride weekend
Zodiac Film Club host London based movie nights with a focus on good looking films and complex female characters in rarely screened cult, contemporary, and classic cinema. For info on their latest screenings, follow @zodiacfilmclub
As Pride month comes to a close we, Zodiac Film Club, have picked our top 10 cult LGBTQA+ movies to keep the spirit alive long after the parade has passed. As is our custom, we’ve skirted past the award-winning, prestige examples – Call Me By Your Name, Blue is the Warmest Colour – because let’s face it, you don’t need anyone else telling you to watch them. Instead, here are our recommendations for trashy lesbian vampire horror, international erotica and camp, brightly saturated teen movies. You’re welcome. Xoxo Zodiac.
DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971)
The Lesbian Vampire film trope dates back to 1936’s Dracula's Daughter – which used vampirism as a foil to get the narrative of a woman struggling with her sexuality past the prohibitive censorship of the Hays Code – and generally exists to air society's anxieties about women having things without men; wealth, power, status, property, and (dear God!) sex. There are so many we could choose from this sexiest of genres, but for us, Daughters of Darkness, loosely based on the Countess Bathory story, is the most beautiful and uncanny, with Last Year at Marienbad’s Delphine Seyrig serving some serious looks to boot. We couldn't put it better than the first YouTube comment on the trailer; 'Put on a bunch of jewelry when ya naked and get weird to this'.
MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE (1985)
At Zodiac we find that films we’d take for granted as having been watched to death are often the ones that have remained on people’s watch lists forever. So we’re re-recommending My Beautiful Laundrette to the generation that perhaps hasn’t got round to seeing it yet, especially now we’ll never see Daniel Day-Lewis in anything new ever again. Ambitious young Pakistani Omar enlists the help of a former school friend (and lover) turned racist street punk Johnny to help him make a profit from a run-down laundrette in South London. The film’s conflicts arise from the various social, political and economic forces of Thatcherite Britain rather than the relationship between the two men, which remains a cheerful constant through-out. “Back then, if you’d asked me what was important about the film, I’d have said economics, since the homosexual element was really quite straightforward,” director Stephen Frears said of the film in 2015.
TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING! JULIE NEWMAR (1995)
When their car breaks down in a small town, drag queens Vida Boheme, Noxeema Jackson and Chi Chi Rodriguez sashay their way back to New York City – but not before giving the locals a taste of glamour and spice. Starring Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo as our three Queens, To Wong Foo, directed by Beeban Kidron, is a lighthearted comedy bringing lessons in self-love, acceptance and queer culture. This film is also noted for its celebration of gay men in a time when AIDS was at the forefront of fear of homosexuality. We hear that they are releasing deleted scenes to celebrate this year’s Pride.
SHINJUKU BOYS (1995)
If you love Paris is Burning give this lesser known doc a try. Kim Longinotto and Jano Williams’ Shinjuku Boys follows a group of ‘onnabe’ (people assigned the gender of women at birth who have decided to live as men) in Tokyo who work entertaining female clients at the New Marilyn Club. It’s a beautiful, intimate portrait of trans men, but also a nuanced take on sex work. Challenging the idea of paid dating as a fuss-free alternative to relationships, the Shinjuku boys’ clients appear to be paying for all the uncertainty, power games and disappointment of ‘real’ love. Whatever your preference, we challenge you not to have a crush on these charming men by the end of the 53 minutes.
SHOW ME LOVE (1998)
Most of the films we champion at Zodiac are the ones we stumbled across as teenagers on late night tv that made us ‘feel things’. Lukas Moodysson’s 1998 breakthrough Show Me Love may have been a midnight Film Four find for us, but had such a cultural impact in its native Sweden that it was (incorrectly) rumoured to have outgrossed Titanic. The film tells the story of friendless schoolgirl Agnes and her infatuation with blonde, popular and seemingly promiscuous classmate Elin. One night Elin turns up at Agnes’ disaster of a birthday party ‘as a joke’ and against all odds the two girls connect. It’s a lovely lesbian love story, but works for anyone at all who has experienced a longing to leave their small town and find their people. Fun fact, this is the film that inspired producer Ivan Shapovalov to create controversial Russian music act t.A.T.u.
BUT I’M A CHEERLEADER (1999)
Jamie Babbit’s cult queer flick But I’m a Cheerleader is top of our pride list. When her vegetarianism and Melissa Etheridge fandom lead her parents to suspect she’s a lesbian, cheerleader Megan (Natasha Lyonne) finds herself enrolled for the summer at True Directions – a gay ‘rehabilitation’ camp. Babbit used satirical silliness, a sick, saturated aesthetic and a cameo from RuPaul to poke fun at the supremely unfunny world of gay conversion therapy more than a decade before other filmmakers began looking at the issue. With a lesbian director, Jamie Babbit, and gay screenwriter, Brian Peterson, the film’s authenticity is felt both on and off the screen. The critics hated it but in recent years it’s become a latent hit and a Zodiac favourite.
MYSTERIOUS SKIN (2004)
We couldn’t have a shortlist of cult LGBTQ+ films without including Gregg Araki, whose dark coming of age movies are among the most tumblr-shared of the New Queer Cinema movement. His teenage apocalypse trilogy – Totally Fucked Up, The Doom Generation and Nowhere – are a must watch, but Mysterious Skin is probably the most approachable in terms of form and in being less self consciously provocative and nihilistic than his 90s films. It’s a non-judgemental story of two young men, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet, and the differing ways they interpret and move past an incident of childhood sexual abuse. Michelle Trachtenberg, aka Dawn from Buffy co-stars.
BREAKFAST ON PLUTO (2005)
Based on the 1998 novel by Patrick McCabe, Neil Jordan’s Breakfast on Pluto follows the life of Kitten (played, in a casting that wouldn’t fly today, by cis actor Cillian Murphy) – a young transgender woman growing up in 70s Ireland. Kitten takes on an identity inspired by actress Mitzi Gaynor, courageously leaving home to search for Eily, her birth mother, Kitten falls into both romantic and violent circumstances, piquing the interest of an Irish Glam-Rock band and becoming a magician's assistant among other adventures. Breakfast on Pluto was nominated at the 2007 Golden Globes and awarded with Best Actor, Director, and Script at the Irish Television and Film Awards. Caveat: we don’t love the uncomfortable cameo from Bryan Ferry.
Another favourite of ours is neon dream Tangerine, which Dazed declared the most important movie of 2015. Sean Baker's improvised day in the life of two trans sex workers is a colourfully chaotic screwball dramedy with a tender friendship at its core. Tangerine explores American trans culture, rarely shown on screen, with not one but two leading trans actors, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (Sin-Dee) and Mya Taylor (Alexandra). After eight months in LA, Baker cast Kitana and Mya for the leads, and the storyline itself was inspired by a conversation with Kitana. Underneath the frantic and raw energy this film is a portrait of friendship and human connection, and rather impressively shot on entirely on an iPhone 5.
THE HANDMAIDEN (2016)
Directed by Park Chan-Wook, The Handmaiden is a tale of desire, fetisism and illusion. From the start the film oozes erotisim as the plot of handmaiden Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) and heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) slowly unfolds. With lavish interiors, a twisting story and many arousing scenes it’s firmly on our late night list. The Handmaiden is based on the novel by Sarah Waters, best known for her lesbian novel Tipping The Velvet, who later praised the film for remaining true to the subversive sexual desires of her characters. Yes, it’s a bit ‘soft-porn’ but we’re seduced by its dark, lesbian love story.