Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Dance Party: Killing Me Softly With This Song

Ontkean went on to Twin Peaks, Hamlin to L.A. Law. Jackson, late of Charlie's Angels, went on to Scarecrow and Mrs. King.

A birthday and an award ceremony intersected, in my own peculiar mind, with the biggest news of the week, and the result is this week's Dance Party.  Be forewarned:  not only doesn't it dance, it barely moves.  But the number has some importance in my life, and it helped gay cinema a bit too.
With gay couplings in the news, thanks to the president's endorsement, I've been thinking of one of the first films I encountered which included such relationships. 

I had no idea who Harry Hamlin was when I first saw him in Making Love. Fourteen years later, I worked with him onstage at The Shakespeare Theatre Company.  I never told him the importance his film had in my life.
The theme song from Making Love was co-written by Burt Bacharach, who, along with his former partner Hal David, won this year's Gershwin Award, given by the Library of Congress.  Everybody knows the music of Bacharach & David, even if they don't know they do, as their tunes dominated the pop charts during most of the 1960s and 70s. 
Bacharach & David provided the soundtrack for a generation.
This week's Dance Party, though, was written in the early 80s, when the team had parted ways. 
Burt Bacharach and Carol Bayer Sager won the
Oscar and Grammy for "Arthur's Theme."
"Making Love" was nominated for a Golden
Globe, but lost to "Up Where We Belong," from
An Officer And A Gentleman.

Here, Burt provided lyrics (he was usually a composer) in partnership with his squeeze at the time, Carol Bayer Sager.  The song was a fairly big hit for Roberta Flack (in fact, it marked her last appearance in the Top 40 to date), but has not retained the staying power of her other, bigger hits.
Roberta Flack had bigger hits, but
none affected me as much.

The song is the theme song from Making Love, which was released in 1982 and which some consider to be a landmark film.  I can't quite agree with that, but I will admit that it was a significant step in the evolution of the gay cinema. And it was certainly a landmark for me
The poster looks like Ingmar Bergman.
The actual film was more

I remember seeing the film in the theatre, with my friend Scott, and we were both greatly affected by seeing gay men on screen who were neither flamboyant nor freakish.  But the film is so friggin' earnest that it's a bit colorless.  This was one of the first attempts by a major studio to put gay subject matter in the neighborhood cineplex, and 20th Century Fox's timidity was showing. 
The screen lovers.

By today's standards, the film is completely inoffensive, but in 1982, Hollywood was scared.  The atrocious reaction which Al Pacino's film Cruising had aroused two years earlier made all the majors skittish about gay content, so Making Love is as inoffensive as possible.  A couple of scenes, for example, took place in gay bars, and I wondered at the time, where were the Bette Davis Drag Queens? 
1980's Cruising was a crushing indictment of the gay leather scene and garnered massive protests in the gay community.
Director Arthur Hiller did a bang-up job making the gay subculture in Making Love seem normal and non-threatening, and palatable for the public at large.  His film includes a comforting grandmotherly figure, over-played by Wendy Hiller, and the gay boys indulge in sports and BBQs, with nary a showtune in sight.
Kate Jackson and Michael Ontkean
previously played spouses in TV's
The Rookies.

Making Love was not a box office success, and its place in gay cinematic history is overshadowed by the next big Hollywood film to place homosexuality center stage, Longtime Companion.  
This early AIDS
film garnered Oscar love.  In
comparison, Making Love seems
like an episode of thirtysomething.

But when I see the film now, it still catches me in the throat.  The theme song is pretty languid and definitively soppy, but it reminds me of a pretty significant part of my youth.  I recognize the tortured leading character, played by Michael Ontkean, as well as the hedonist played by Harry Hamlin.  I was both of them.
Harry Hamlin was warned not to play gay, that it would halt his career before it really started. Four years later, he was the star of the hottest series on TV, and the most desired man in America.
I even recognize those streets in West Hollywood where some of the film takes place.  Mostly, though, I recognize the confusion of feelings, and the ashamed secrecy in which I lived much of my life during that period. 

President Obama's recognition of gay relationships, plus Burt Bacharach's Gershwin award (and the coincidence that Burt turns 84 Saturday), gives me the opportunity to share a song, and a film, which made an impact on my life.  It's a bit grainy, just like my memory: