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Auntie Mame, the 1958 classic, has some serious gay appeal. Andrew Scahill, who teaches film history at Georgetown University, can easily rattle off a handful of reasons — starting with a theory about the lead character that, while convincing, might be heresy to some.
“If you take away her biological woman-ness,” Scahill says, “she is very much a gay man, in a stereotypical sense.” Of course, in a literal sense, as portrayed by the great Rosalind Russell, Mame was all woman. But figuratively speaking, she was maybe a touch too-much woman, talking and gesticulating grandly like a drag queen fresh out of finishing school. “Her performance is so kind of over the top. It’s so unlike anything else really happening during that period,” Scahill says. “She had a hard time kind of finding an audience, just because of the oddity of it, in terms of a Hollywood narrative.” Russell’s Mame was not a romantic protagonist — she wasn’t even married, gasp! — but rather a mentor to her nephew, who comes under her tutelage after his father’s death.
“It’s this sort-of fairy godmother narrative,” Scahill adds. Mame opens the sheltered boy’s eyes to her fabulous, urban, colorful lifestyle, “a queer world of excess and decadence and joy. Maybe all of us wish that we had that when we were young.” And now that we’re adults? “Gay men have always coalesced around films that are quotable,” Scahill says, noting that, when shared, “they can provide a sort-of cultural identity.”
Next weekend Landmark’s E Street Cinema will present two screenings of the eminently quotable camp classic in its debut as part of the venue’s weekly boozy Midnight Madness series. “It is a wonderful film to enjoy with a crowd on the big screen,” says E Street’s Ruth Hayler, who adds: “We have had requests…so we decided to give it a try.”
Certainly the timing couldn’t have worked out much better, falling over Capital Pride weekend. Auntie Mame’s life motto also works as a rallying cry to enjoy Pride: “Live! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”
Auntie Mame screens Friday, June 6, and Saturday, June 7, at midnight, at Landmark’s E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW. Tickets are $9. Call 202-452-7672 or visit landmarktheatres.com.