Monday, March 22, 2021

"Beautiful Thing" is still a beautiful thing to behold

I happened to notice over the weekend, while looking for something on Amazon Prime Video to watch, that Hettie Macdonald's 1996 film adaption of Jonathan Harvey's 1993 gaycentric play, "Beautiful Thing," is scheduled to be dispatched behind a pay wall after March 31.

So I watched it again --- and was not disappointed. Besides, who could resist a track of background and featured music composed almost entirely by works of The Mamas & The Papas with special emphasis on Cass Elliot solo pieces.

I'm not especially good at writing about film, so looked for a review to do that for me and found this 2016 retrospective from "The Atlantic" written by Brandon Tensley to do the job.

That review concludes, "Departing from the tired and tiring depictions of gay people as outcasts, seedy sexaholics, and victims, Beautiful Thing offers complicated characters moored in a world in which any sort of gay nuance or texture is often redacted. On its release two decades ago, Beautiful Thing achieved a level of artistic complexity that created not only a more interesting, but also a more relevant expression of queerness. It still does this today. That was, and is, a beautiful thing to behold."

Set in a London council estate (subsidized low-rent apartment complex), the centerpiece of the film is the gentle coming out love story of teen-agers Jamie and Ste backed by an amazing assortment of characters, all portrayed by outstanding actors no one in the Americas really had heard of before or has heard from since although most of them remain in the profession.

1996 also was the year Mike Nichol's and Elaine May's "The Birdcage" (a mainstream adaption from the French La Cage aux Folles) premiered. But for the most part the lower-budget gay cinema of the time,  while it could be moving and beautifully done ("Parting Glances" 1986, "Longtime Companion" 1989, "Jeffrey" 1995), offered few happy endings. We all were preoccupied with AIDS, staying alive and avoiding the homophobic wrath of family and neighbors.

So "Beautiful Thing" was breath of fresh air --- and it continues to hold up remarkably well.

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