The Big Small Screen

From childhood to adulthood, movies have provided a window into other lives and other worlds

While I love movies, I actually rather hate movie theaters. I realize that many people enjoy the communal experience of a movie — sharing in thrills, chills, laughter and tears with a crowd of friends and strangers — but for me the presence of a crowd crowds out the experience of the movie. I like my movies intimate, preferably while relaxing on my couch with the surround sound turned up just shy of the point where it would prompt a noise complaint from the neighbors.

Some of this likely goes back to my youth, when seeing a movie required an hour-long trek from the farmlands of my hometown to the nearest city with a movie theater. Fortunately, that coincided with the early 1980s boom in VCRs and video-rental stores. I’m part of the generation who learned the language of cinema lying on the shag-carpeted floor of the living room, far too close to the behemoth Zenith television that hulked in the corner.

I’m amazed in retrospect that I could even see anything on a television that weighed three times what I did (at the time) yet had a screen not much larger than my current MacBook.

But small screen or no, that Zenith — and the Magnavox VCR that sat atop it — was my window to the world. It was where, late at night with the volume turned low, I would watch films I probably shouldn’t have been able to rent (I think the clerk at the video store had taken a shine to me and turned a blind eye to my viewing habits), like American Gigolo. It’s where I learned if you paused Porky’s at just the right spot, you could see a penis. Same thing for Tom Cruise in All the Right Moves.

In my defense, this was pre-cable-television rural Kentucky. I had a lot of time on my hands.

The small screen was also my introduction to films like Victor/Victoria — stories that from my adult perspective seem rather less affirming than they did to my teenage self, but were my first times seeing something about the gay life I secretly knew I would end up living. Parting Glances was a further step along in the affirmation, much needed at a time when being a closeted gay teen came with many, many fears for the future.

These days, I don’t look to movies as much to see ”representations” of myself — I don’t particularly need to see the stories of middle-aged gay white guys sorting out their lives, because I do that on my own every day. I do look to movies to see the lives of others — from different times, different orientations, different countries.

Movies are magic to me because I get to live, for a couple of hours, the life of another, whether gay or straight or bi or trans. It’s why I continue to love Transamerica, why Magnolia is one of my favorite films of all time (and it has a great gay storyline, as well). Many of the films we’ve highlighted this week are among my personal favorites (particularly Love of Siam and Yossi & Jagger). I hope that each of the films gets your consideration for your streaming queue or DVD rentals — and that each leads to the discovery of even more films not yet on our list.

Now that I’m older, the floor of my living room is a more tasteful hardwood and the screen against the wall dwarfs anything I would have imagined as a child, but it’s still the place where I find a window to the world. It’s good the screen is bigger because there’s more out there than I ever thought I’d see.

E-mail Sean Bugg at sbugg@metroweekly.com or follow him on Twitter @seanbugg.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.

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