Torch Song Trilogy (1988)
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If you even claim to know gay people you should see this film. I used to help run a youth group for under 25s dealing with their sexuality and we screened this film four times in two years.
I have seen this film more times than almost any other film and it still never fails to move me. Take your Kleenex, this'll make you cry! :o)
WATCH IT -- IT'S EXCELLENT!
The movie version is done much more realistically, and it works! Things that are merely discussed in the play are shown to viewers. The cast is wonderfully realistic (Brian Kerwin is a bit stiff, but it works for the character of Ed.) and the script is just as good as the stage play. So many books and plays are adapted into something that is barely recognizable, but Fierstein makes his own script into something even more special.
The story benefits from the larger scope allowed by the movie.
We get to SEE the drag club, the bars, Arnold's (bunny-motif) apartment, Ed's country house and other locations merely hinted at in the play. The scenes that take place during and after the visit to the country house are somewhat confusing on stage, performed in a huge bed, but are beautifully edited in the movie. Best of all is Arnold's best friend, Murray, only talked about in the stage production. But in the movie, he's brought to magnificent life by Ken Page, filling the screen with his usual warmth and wit.
Harvey Fierstein has said that he hopes TST is like an Indian dress, made beautiful by all the little mirrors that decorate it. And truly, it is seeing and hearing *ourselves* that makes this script sparkle. You don't have to be a female impersonator to understand love and loss and laughter. This is NOT just a movie for gay men.
My other favourite scene in this film is the lovely seduction of Arnold by Ed to the tunes of Rod Stewart. In fact every time I hear the song "Maggie" I think of this scene with Arnold's nervousness and bashful coyness. And I saw in the DVD edition that the street where Broderick's Alan is beaten to death was also one where the unprovoked murder of gay people is a reality - this makes the last part of the ambulance scene where Arnold is barely able to walk after seeing Alan's bloodied body, almost real.
I think this is the best gay file ever made. It is certainly dated, with the corporate imposed restrictions on the showing of gayness, but the story is so beautifully crafted. You realise how pathetic commercial fests aimed at straight people like "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" is after seeing this: the message Harvey Firstein wrote in 1983 is still relevant today.
Sidebar: It just hit me this time around that I am the reincarnation of Arnold Beckoff...and I'm not even Jewish! Oi! =)
Our first introduction to Arnold Beckoff (Benji Schulman in this scene) is his mother finding him in her closet at age six, wearing her clothes and make-up. This sets the tone for their relationship throughout the movie, as Arnold (Harvey Fierstein) and his mother (Anne Bancroft) have a wonderfully portrayed love-hate relationship throughout the film. The movie follows a grown-up Arnold through the major relationships in his life: Ed (Brian Kerwin), a closeted school teacher who leaves Arnold to marry a woman; Alan (Matthew Broderick, graduating from the role of David in the stage play), a model who loves Arnold as much as Arnold loves him, but who is murdered by bat-wielding thugs; David (Eddie Castrodad), the son Arnold adopts following Alan's death; and ultimately Arnold's mother, with whom he attempts to have an honest relationship despite her openly disapproval of him. Things come to a head with his mother during a visit to the cemetery where she cruelly berates Arnold for praying over Alan's grave, telling him that he has no right to compare his "playing around with a little boy," to her "thirty-five year marriage." Arnold's response to her ultimately becomes the catalyst through which they work out their differences.
Fierstein's desire for integrity in his story is apparent throughout the movie. The script neither shies away from, nor pretties up difficult issues. The characters are fully developed, and each acts from an internal logic that is readily understandable to the viewer, whether or not we agree with their choices. The humor doesn't take away from the seriousness of the themes covered, but rather serves as a contrast to highlight them.
The acting is exemplary. Fierstein is brilliant as Arnold, but then, he had plenty of practice. Anne Bancroft gives an edgy performance as a mother who wants to love her son, but has trouble accepting him for what he is. In spite of her unforgivable cruelty to her son in the graveyard, you do forgive her when she tells Arnold, "You shut me out of your life and then blamed me for not being there!" She then goes on to share her own wisdom on loss with him, healing the breach for once and all. Matthew Broderick gives a wonderful performance in a part with little screen time, but huge impact. His portrayal of Alan's love for Arnold is real, and as satisfying a romance as one could want to see on the big screen. Brian Kerwin plays Ed's confusion to perfection.
This movie was among the first to offer up gay characters who are honest and unashamed about their sexuality. That alone would make it a must see, but this movie is also highly entertaining, sparkling with humor, wit, and unforgettable drag scenes. A movie that should be watched every so often to remind us that, no matter what clothes you wear, all of us are the same underneath.
Fierstein is Arnold Beckoff who knew from early childhood he was a gay kid and took life as it came. In fact he became a drag entertainer of note and seems to be doing quite well at it, making a living, much to the consternation of his mother Anne Bancroft. I saw Estelle Getty do this on Broadway and I wouldn't want to split hairs on the differences between the two actresses. Like so many of her generation, Bancroft just thinks being gay is a phase that her son will grow out of. Of course by his mid thirties you'd think she would have a clue. As on Broadway the scenes between Mrs. Beckoff and her son have the real meat of the play.
As you might have guessed Torch Song Trilogy had its beginnings in the gay cabaret scene and through the persistence of Harvey Fierstein it got to Broadway. On stage the various scenes which are more segmented than in the film version are punctuated by a cabaret singers doing various torch song ballads to put a coda on what the audience had just seen. Here the torch songs are relegated to background music, the best kind of background music to be sure. Harvey himself however does perform in his drag character.
The one true love of his life is Brian Kerwin who can't quite accept himself as gay. He's comfortable being 'bisexual', but as Fierstein so accurately points out, he'd like to meet just one bisexual who is open with his boyfriends, but keeps his women a big old secret.
Kerwin is always an interesting player to watch. He got his first notice as the hayseed deputy on the Sheriff Lobo series and he's spent the rest of his career making sure he was NEVER cast in that kind of part again. As the troubled love of Harvey's life, Kerwin certainly proves he's more than a hayseed. Because Kerwin won't be true to himself, Harvey looks for love elsewhere. Harvey's not capable of closeted behavior, the closet would be death for him.
Matthew Broderick plays Alan the young male model who Harvey falls for and he's as winning here as he is in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. In fact he's a gay Ferris Bueller who probably did spend time trying to get into adult gay clubs and knew all the places where they'd wink and let him in. His tragic end at the hands of a gang of homophobic street thugs is something I saw all too much of in my working life at Crime Victims Board.
Torch Song Trilogy transfers quite well from the stage to the screen and with Harvey Fierstein helping with the transfer, we'd expect nothing less. He kept the film true to the vision of gay male life that he saw and lived. I still remember he and I were both witnesses at the gay rights hearings in New York City back when Torch Song Trilogy had just finished its Broadway run. His words there were among the most inspiring.
So this review is dedicated to the author and star of Torch Song Trilogy who has never slackened in his dedication for Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Rights and gives of himself and his talents to his people. From your fellow Brooklynite Harvey, with love.
But beyond any politics or social significance this is also a very well acted, funny and moving look at one man, Arnold, (played by the unique and charismatic Harvey Firestein, who wrote the play and screenplay) as he looks for love – both romantic and familial in a sometimes very cold world. If Firestein's performance can occasionally feel theatrical, it's also entirely appropriate for the starting-to-age drag queen performer he plays. What's wonderful is how Firestein always keeps the humanity under Arnold's occasional flamboyance very alive, as does Anne Bancroft as his 'difficult' mother. Later in her career Bancroft could tend towards theatricality on screen as well, but she tones it down just enough to feel real here, and anyway, lets face it, next to a drag queen, who is more innately dramatic than a Jewish mother? (I grew up with one, trust me).
Matthew Broderick and Brian Kerwin also do very good work in support, Broderick as a sexy but understated young man totally at ease with his sexuality, and Kerwin as a confused bi- sexual trying to work out his. While never rising to the level of a great film (the direction is very straightforward and bland, there's almost a TV movie look to it, it never completely surpasses it's theatrical origins), it's certainly a good, touching, human, and important one – although to a generation growing up with the reality of gay marriage and deeper integration of gay people into society, some of the historical importance may be lost. But not the essential, timeless embrace of kindness, love, respect and understanding
I found it on VHS maybe 12 years ago and I have no idea how many times I've watched it. All I can say is that my copy is all but unwatchable by now. Once in a while I get the urge to "visit old friends" and I just have to see the film again. To say it in a few words: I love it I love it I love it! Harvey Fierstein is fantastic and unique! Anne Bancroft is a mother that sends chills along your spine - but you can't help loving her just the way Arnold does. Don't miss this film!
In the interim I had read the play. On the stage, TST was an experimental piece with minimal sets, lots of overlapping dialogue (something that works well on the stage but is hard to do on film), and a running time of nearly four hours. So when I saw that the film's running time was just two hours, I prepared myself for a hack job. But Fierstein himself adapted his own play to the screen; I should have known better. The end result is, you might say, a "compressed" version of the play: Fierstein made a good many judicious cuts in the dialogue, leaving only the choicest bits, and the finished product shines like a well-cut diamond.
TST tells the story of ten years in the life of Arnold Beckoff (Fierstein), a female impersonator in New York City with a romantic nature; surrounded by men looking for sex, Arnold is looking for love, and it can be cold out there in the big city.
Yet he does find love, and more than once. The first time in the person of a *bisexual* schoolteacher named Ed Reese (winningly played by Brian Kerwin), who ultimately can't make up his mind which bed he wants to sleep in. Ed isn't a bad guy, but he is terrified of being gay and tries desperately to make a life with his girlfriend Laurel (Karen Young in a brilliant, funny-sad performance), in the end succeeding only in hurting both Laurel and Arnold, who drops him.
Arnold's next love interest literally falls into his lap. Onstage at the club, Arnold is heckled by a bunch of young men who are very drunk, and one of them, upon being confronted, responds by passing out. Arnold takes him home to sleep it off. The young man, by name Alan Simon, barely out of his teens, is brilliantly played here by the indecently beautiful Matthew Broderick. Looking down at the sleeping boy, Arnold says, "If you have an IQ of over 30, then there is no God." When Alan awakens Arnold serves him breakfast, gives him directions to the subway, and locks himself in the bathroom until the kid leaves. But what he does not know is that Alan has developed a huge crush on Arnold, and he pursues him quite openly until Arnold's defenses crumble.
Arnold's love life goes on with more than its share of triumphs and tragedies. Running on a parallel track is his relationship with his mother (Anne Bancroft, sensational as always), on the surface your typical New York Jewish Mother who hovers over her kids and has a gift for laying on the guilt. But there is more to her than that. Arnold loves her and is frustrated by her in equal measure; she has never accepted him for who he is and constantly makes references to the mythical *wife* he will *someday* have.
Arnold's journey of love and loss and reconciliation climaxes with a final confrontation with his mother in which he finally lays down the law: "There's nothing I need from anyone except for love and respect and anyone who can't give me those two things has no place in my life!"
Condensing a four hour play into a two hour movie seems an impossible task, but Fierstein and Company pull it off brilliantly, and the end product is a warm and winning film, often funny and sometimes tragic, but always real. And the best part is that Hollywood did not insist on putting a name star in the lead. The part was written by Fierstein for Fierstein because on some level Arnold IS Harvey, and it's perfect for his rubbery, funny face which reflects every emotion he feels, and while he starts out considering himself somewhat less than attractive, by the end of the film, he has gained considerable dignity and is almost handsome.
A joy to watch from start to finish.
The fact that I'm gay may make the film especially poignant for me, but it surely would appeal to a wider audience.
The script and acting are excellent, particularly Anne Bancroft.
Torch Song Trilogy is really a great movie. True and realistic, about the love between men.
Torch Song Trilogy is an excellent movie. It's a combination of 3 plays Harvey Fierstein wrote in the 1970s. I was fortunate to see the world premiere of 2 of them in San Francisco at Theatre Rhinoceros. The combination into a single movie makes for a very powerful movie.
I'm told that Matthew Broderick agreed to be Harvey Fierstein's lover in this movie (he even kisses Harvey in the movie) in gratitude for Harvey's giving him a break on the Broadway stage when Torch Song was first performed as a play. (In the original play, Matthew Broderick plays the son.)
It was a very courageous thing for Matthew Broderick, at the height of his career, to play a gay character and especially to kiss another guy, knowing that he would be dropped from all the teen heart-throb magazines and would lose a ton of movie roles.
Between Harvey and Matthew, this is a film well worth seeing.
figure-heads on the documentary, "The Celluloid Closet". This is the
film based on his play and based on his life. It is an endearing and
engaging comedy-drama with one of the most decent hearts of any film
made about the experience of being gay. It deals honestly and openly
with the life of Arnold (played by Fierstein), his family, his lovers
and his career as a "female impersonater" or "drag queen". Neither term
adequately sums up Arnold as he and his inner muse, Virginia Ham, are
much more than simply stereotypes. Not that there's no humour, this is a
laugh-out-loud funny film. Its set in the early seventies and ends in
the early eighties. The journey takes us from extraordinary, unexpected
joys through devastating tragedies into the everyday world of coping and
living life. Its a film pre-AIDS, which attempts to give us a vision of
life before this epidemic. Its a beautiful film with a committed and
excellent cast. Its political in the way more films should be, by
dealing with everyday life and the ways in which we can live and be
ourselves and help
When I was a teenager I had some problems being gay. I did not accept myself but since I watched Torch Song Trilogy I feel pride in myself every day.
I love every minute from the film but there is a part very special to me, when Arnold explained his mother why his boyfriend was murdered.
You will love it. Please if you have any chance, watch it. You will not regret it.