Were the World Mine (Response to a Response)
Author: Hmmm. Well, I might agree that it’s not a patch on The History Boys -
Jack: Which is not a patch on Lindsay Anderson’s If….
Puck: Which is not a patch on Wes Anderson’s Then…,
Author: Um, what?
Puck: That’s the sequel where, years later, Malcolm McDowall and his comrades-in-arms have turned the school into an anarchist commune, and they all live together as one big quirkily dysfunctional family. With Bill Murray.
Jack: Which is not a patch on Wes Craven’s Den, the sequel to Dead Poet’s Society, where the ghost of Robert Sean Leonard haunts that place the kids used to hang out, and comes out at night to murder bearded English teachers in bloody revenge!
Puck: Which is not a patch on John Craven’s Pen, the Christopher Guest style mockumentary set behind the scenes in the cut-throat world of competitive sheep-dog trials, fronted by the UK’s favourite children’s news presenter. And zombie Shep.
Jack: Which is not a patch on John Carter’s Ten, the Barsoomian remake of the Dudley Moore / Bo Derek classic of 70s sexism, but with the one-to-ten scale relating to the number of limbs rather than girly-hotness.
Author: Guys. Guys. If you’re going to defend the film, you might actually address the comment.
Puck: Why? It’s silly. An Allan Bennet play versus a gay teen musical. That’s apples and humblebees!
Jack: Mate, it’s the sorta tosh Joey would come out with. Except with more of a sneer on “popular”.
Puck: And some eye-rolling on “doooooooooomed”.
Jack: And you know that little snorty-sneer thing he does, yeah? That on “tediously”.
Puck: Oh! Oh! And he wouldn’t have been able to say “High School Musical”, “Butlins” or “Steps” without a “fucking” in front of them. Joey would have been all like, “fucking High School fucking Musical fucking Butlins shitwank, motherfucker!”
Jack: He’d have probably used the same examples, right enough. Let’s face it, four chords or more is fucking prog rock to Joey. He thinks Leonard Bernstein equals Leonard Nimoy because neither of them is Leonard Cohen.
Puck: Oh, man, they should totally collaborate! The three Leonards! Together for the first time! That would be awesome!
Author: You are both disturbed individuals. Seriously. You are deeply, deeply disturbed. But, OK, I do think the comparison is… strange.
Puck: Strange? It’s like saying West Side Story isn’t a patch on Last Exit to Brooklyn.
Jack: It’s like saying Escape From New York isn’t a patch on Manhattan.
Puck: It’s like saying -
Author: Yes, we get the point. They’re different idioms, with different aims. If you prefer a thematically rich play to an unashamedly fun musical, that’s fair enough. If you don’t like musicals at all -
Puck: Then you have no soul.
Author: - that’s fair enough -
Puck: Says you.
Author: - but if you treat Were the World Mine as a musical? Even aside from the songs taking their lyrics from sodding Shakespeare, rather than having all the linguistic artistry of your average Eurovision novelty entry, the music in Were the World Mine is quite unconventional compared to the crime-against-humanity that was Steps. (No, I don’t care what you say, Puck. You know I’m with Joey and David on that one.) Or compared to the fairly traditional song-structures of your average Disney or Lloyd Weber. Certainly it pisses all over that “Zack Teflon” vehicle’s sub-Disney croonings. It’s not Sondheim, but it’s not… well… pretty much all the ultimately rather dull songs in Rent, the ones that aren’t “La Vie Boheme”.
Puck: I love that song. [sings] To sodomy! It’s between God and me!
Jack: [sings] To S&M!
All: La Vie Boheme!
Author: Ahem. Yes. Well.
Puck: You know, there could have been more sodomy in it. And maybe some S&M. I mean, Jack fancied Tanner Cohen, and I liked the silver hotpants, but it’s not… you know… steamy.
Author: See, now, I actually quite liked that it wasn’t your typical gay buttonpusher. In fact, I believe the director’s said that he didn’t want to do another queer fleshfest that got most of its entertainment value from the novelty of watching homoeroticism outside of the confines of gay porn. I mean, have you seen Eating Out? No — on second thoughts, let’s not go there. Anyway, the dreaminess rather than steaminess seemed pretty apt to me given the Shakespeare schtick. Slighty artificed in places, slightly stagey.
Puck: It was moonlighty.
Author: I’m not entirely sure what that means, but OK. If there is a “curiously removed” feel, an emotional distance at times, I think it largely comes from the film stock used, to be honest, and maybe from filming in Chicago. Outside the musical numbers, it often has that micro-budget indie movie vibe that comes when you can’t afford the warm-hued locations at the perfect time of year, or the expensive film stock, lighting rigs and post-production — all those things that add up to the super-saturated Hollywood sheen and the immersive engagement it invokes.
Puck: Like Forrest Gump is eye-snuggly-warm.
Jack: Even though it’s shit.
Author: Um, yes. Quite. Sometimes that can make a movie feel… I don’t know… understated, under-directed or under-produced in places — I had the same feeling with “But I’m a Cheerleader” — but I tend to cut a movie like this a lot of slack in that department. I’d rather have an honest labour-of-love like this than the real Hollywood “gay High School Musical” that would have had that gloss.
Puck: There’s a reason I call him Zack Teflon, you know. I think he might have been created by NASA.
Jack: Tell you what though, authorman: I’ll buy the “predictable plotting” thing. As I said… could have used more explosions. More fucking chaos, mate, that’s what it needed.
Puck: Hello! A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Gayboy playing Puck finds real love potion. Shenanigans and high-jinks ensue. But all’s made right in the end, just like Bill the Bard would have it. Jack, you just think every high school movie should end with Malcolm McDowall machine-gunning parents and teachers.
Jack: And your point is? I mean that’s what I call provocative.
Authorman: To be fair, I would say the story pretty much writes itself from the central premise and the idiom it’s in. So, sure, there’s a number of ways you could have turned the narrative into something more meaty. If Timothy had accidentally used the flower to make himself straight, say, fixated on Frankie, the Zelda Williams character.
Puck: Ick! Breeder cooties!
Author: Or if he’d tried to sort out his hetero friend Max’s accidental enchantment with him, but just made things worse. Or if it had all turned into a terribly serious exploration of sexual politics, with the love potion as a metaphor for rohypnol. But, well, some stories have space to sprawl into sub-plots and subtexts, and others just know where they’re going and go there. This is maybe not the most complex -
Jack: Oh, bollocks to complex! Fuck that shit. Who wants another fucking sensitive, fucking intelligent, fucking complex, fucking arsey realist study of the trials and tribulations and all the terrible terrible ordeal involved in coming-of-age as a gay kid in a small town dealing with blah blah fuckety blah? Kill me now. Honestly. You’re the author, so I know you can do it — you’ll just bring me back anyway — so please, fucking blow my fucking head off now, ta much. Who watches that shit?
Author: Well, some of us do actually appreciate more sophisticated treatments of such subje-
Jack: Well, some of us say bollocks to that!
Puck: Some of us want dancing boys. In silver hotpants. Who live happily ever after.
Jack: Yeah, so deal with it, authorman.
Author: Chill, sparky boys. Chill. All I was going to say is that I happen to like works that take a more subtle approach, exploring their themes with more reflection and, perhaps, more relevance in terms of exploring what “is” rather than what “could” or “should” be. The point is, I also think there’s a lot to be said for unashamed diegetic fabulation.
Puck: Diuretic what?
Author: Story with a capital S. Appreciating the intellectual doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the sensational. Not only do both have their place, but the latter is, I would argue, criminally undervalued. Indeed, the argument against the abjection of “shallow sensationalism” — “muso” aesthetics and suchlike — is such a recurrent theme on this blog, I find it surprising that anyone would make a comparison of Were the World Mine and The History Boys, couch it in a rhetoric of “popular entertainment” being “doomed” by its unconscionable disregard for what constitutes “provocative and mature” entertainment, and expect me not to say, Huh?
Puck: “Huh” is the word. Do you have any idea what he’s on about?
Jack: Fuck no. He lost me at “diogenic fabrication”.
Author: Look, the “mature” approach is all very well. You can take a gay kid’s unrequited crush on a straight friend and explore it more subtly, create a work with more thematic complexity. You could even use it as a relatively minor aspect of a work with far wider scope, as Bennet does in The History Boys. The result may well be not just intellectually interesting but honestly affecting. It could be done with as much wit as sensitivity. Being smart doesn’t mean it can’t be accessible, entertaining. But in some respects it will still be, arguably, safe.
Jack: All movies are safe. It’s not like they explode in your face. Or fire chi-blasts at you.
Puck: I don’t think that’s what he means by “safe” here.
Jack: Yeah, cause authorman here knows all about what’s “not safe”. He’s not the one gets blown up whenever -
Puck: But you like getting blown up, Jack.
Jack: Oh, yeah, fair point.
Author What I mean is, that realist idiom is where queer central characters have largely been exiled to in mainstream cinema — for as long as I can remember at least. To the arthouse and indie flicks and the Oscar-loving serious dramas about closets and AIDS and all those Terribly Important Things. See, we can be protagonists (though it took us a good while to even get to that,) but we can’t be heroes.
Puck: Jack’s my hero.
Author: Yes, Puck. True. Not entirely relevant, but true. The point is, we get to be the female lead’s Gay Best Friend in rom-coms and other chick-flicks, maybe even the male lead’s faggot-puppy-in-tow a la Rebel Without a Cause. At most we can maybe flounce around centre-stage in a camp farce like The Birdcage, if we flap our limp-wristed hands amusingly enough. But forget the gay Sam Spade, the gay Wyatt Earp, the gay Dirty Harry, the gay Luke Skywalker, the gay Danny Zucco, the gay romantic hero in any popular idiom you care to mention. Oh, you can have the gay cowboy in a poignant tearjerker about how fucking miserable it is to be a homo in Wyoming, but he’s not gonna be gunning for the guy who shot his Paw. I mean, it’s nice to see gay themes treated seriously and all, but… well… Jack, what do you think of Maurice?
Jack: Maurice?! Maurice is the fucking gay Mandingo!
Author: Me, I wouldn’t put it quite so strongly, but… yeah, there’s an extent to which as soon as the camera puts the queer character centre frame, suddenly it’s all terribly polite and proper, even when its foul-mouthed and filthy-minded. Alan Bennet, Joe Orton, Derek Jarman and such are provocative as fuck. But, you know what? They’re exactly the stuff of cocktail party conversation. A few Telegraph readers might still consider their works inappropriate discussion over the port, but the battle for the bourgeoisie has largely been won. So some latter-day, pill-popping, poppers-snorting Maurice In Massachussets is just going to be a “terribly interesting and insightful” — “edgy, even” — worthy work for the middle classes to fanwank over. And for all its edginess, it’s going to carry the same reactionary message as all the rest: queers can’t be heroes. Jack?
Jack: Fuck that shit.
Author: Thank you, Jack. That’s why movies like The Curiosity of Chance and Were the World Mine are a breath of fresh air, far as I’m concerned. Sure, with both you probably do have to like the idiom itself, and neither is going to give the chattering classes much complexity and subtlety to waffle over, but both are pushing the boundaries far more, I’d argue, than movies which are kicking back in the territory won for them by a previous generation. Sure, from My Beautiful Landerette to My Own Private Idaho and on through to Brokeback Mountain, it’s great to see those serious gay movies that have stomped out into mainstream attention, but I’m damn certain that when I was fourteen I’d have much rather seen a gay Ferris Bueller being the coolest kid in school EVER. Or sung along with a gay Danny and/or a hot male Sandy as they belted out “Summer Nights”.
Jack: You know, some might say homophobia is a good thing if it spared us from that. Didn’t you sound like Tom Waits being tortured even at that age?
Author: Yeah, when people talk about voices breaking they don’t usually mean like Jack Bauer breaking a prisoner. The thing is, both The Curiosity of Chance and Were the World Mine start by dispensing with one steaming big pile of gay cinema cliché, by having their protagonist fully out at the start of the film. They’re gay coming-of-age movies so they do deal with some of the — what did you call it? — “blah blah fuckety blah”, but they refuse to be bound within the (drearily overdone) coming-out narrative. Instead they seek to carve out a queer space in idioms that are overwhelmingly straight: the former is the best 80s high school movie John Hughes never made; the latter is a wonderfully enjoyable teen revenge-fantasy cum rom-com musical. Both with gay heroes. Whereas I can’t remember off-hand a single gay character from any other movie of those types. I mean, I’m trying, but… guys, help me out here.
Jack: Eh… hey, hang on a fucking minute! Mate, I just googled “gay kid” with “high school movie” to try and help you out, and your blog post on The Curiosity of Chance was the first hit. That’s fucked up.
Author: My post. Seriously?!
Author: Shit, that is fucked up. Those aren’t… you know… particularly idiosyncratic phrases, are they? I mean, I didn’t miss a memo where everyone decided to use the phrases “queer youth” and “teen film” instead, did I?
Jack: Mate, we’re figments of your imagination. How the fuck should we know?
Author: Fucking hell. “Gay kid.” “High school movie.” Surely those strings should be splattered all over the interwebs, with the combination used, here and there, in relation to this movie or that. There’s got to be some high school movie with a gay kid in it that rates a write-up on some page with a higher fucking profile than my frickin blog. No?
Puck: There’s a whole four pages of hits.
Jack: And you at the top.
Puck: Maybe Google just likes you.
Author: I know what my hit stats are like. It shouldn’t like me that much.
Puck: Maybe it likes The Curiosity of Chance.
Author: And maybe we need more reasons to use the strings “gay kid” and “high school movie” together. Like maybe we need more high school movies with gay kids. In roles worth noting.
Jack: Maybe you need to write one.
Puck: With us in it.
Author: You never let up, do you?
Puck: I’m persistent.
Author: No, you’re fickle and flighty, easily distracted.
Puck: Am not.
Author: Look! It’s the Goodyear blimp!
[Exit author, while the exiting's good.]