By Jack Rabbit
TORCH SONG TRILOGY Director: Paul Bogart, 1988
Performers: Harvey Fierstein, Anne Bancroft, Matthew Broderick, Brian Kerwin, Karen Young
Hollywood's portrayals of homosexuals are generally unflattering. Gay characters tend to fall into three categories: sexual psychopaths, whom we are to fear; clownish sissies, at whom we are to laugh; tragic victims of unrequited love, whom we are to pity. The prevalence of these stereotypes in mainstream cinema is unfortunate for young gays and lesbians, who are starved for suitable role models and for messages of affirmation. There are, however, a few movies that present more positive (and more accurate) depictions of homosexuals. TORCH SONG TRILOGY is one of those movies.
TRILOGY's star and screenwriter is well-known gay activist Harvey Fierstein. Fierstein is dedicated to making homosexuals, and homosexuality, familiar -- and therefore less frightening -- to America at large. Pursuit of this admirable goal has led Fierstein to take some less-than-admirable roles, including a brief but insulting appearance as a "fag" caricature in INDEPENDENCE DAY. In TRILOGY, Fierstein plays Arnold, a loud-mouthed and opinionated transvestite -- a character whom Mr. and Mrs. Middle-Class America might well find distasteful, if not downright scary. But as we catch glimpses of Arnold's life over the twenty year span of the story, and hear (through his frequent asides to the camera) Arnold's considerable wit and wisdom, we begin to recognize him as a person of great integrity and courage -- and as someone not so different from ourselves as at first we thought. By the time TRILOGY turns from a light romantic comedy into something more grave and serious, the audience are all solidly behind Arnold.
In TORCH SONG TRILOGY, Fierstein addresses a wide spectrum of issues that gay teenagers face: the guilt and self-doubt homosexuality can cause; the anxiety about rejection by parents and friends; the fear of abuse and violence in our homophobic society; the difficulty of finding a suitable partner in a world where gays feel compelled to hide their sexuality. And while he never suggests that these problems are easily overcome, he shows us that they are not insurmountable.
Quite an accomplishment, Harvey.