Gregory Woods and Tim Franks

Ministry Letters

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In the days when 'musical' was a code word for male homosexuality - 'Is he musical?', 'Mmm, very !' - a man's relationship with music could be as revealing and compromising as the biomechanics of his sexual acts. Not only to have certain tastes, but to have 'taste' at all, could be construed as a suspiciously unmanly condition. Moreover, almost from the moment when the postStonewall gay identity was invented in the late 1960s it has been partially defined - even if ironically - in terms of a relationship with musical cinema. The drag queens, hustlers and other gay riff-raff who rioted outside the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, New York, on successive nights in June 1969, thereby giving spectacular birth to the gay liberation era, were not merely protesting against the routine brutality and corruption of both the police and a Mafia-controlled ghetto of gay bars; they were also, if only symbolically, mourning Judy Garland, who had been buried on the morning before the first riot. The pivotal moment in recent gay political history fortuitously coincided with the demise of one of the subculture's favourite musical divas.1

Since the late nineteenth century, homosexual men have been stereotyped as aesthetes and sissies whose appreciation for the arts usurps that of women and diverts them from a proper engagement with the manliness of real life. This excessive allegiance to the arts is regarded as unnatural and effeminate: Oscar Wilde is the key case in point. In cinema history, the representation of such unmanly men has concentrated, first, on physicality - aspects of bodily demeanour and dress sense - and, second, on manner of speech. But there is a further association with one division of the arts in particular: music.

Especially in its sentimental modes, classical music has been used as a sign of the knowing emotionalism of a man who has such a problematic relationship with the quotidian that he seems both superior to the domesticated mundanity of matrimony and insufficiently physical for the energetic rituals of homosocial bonding. Generally, cinema associates classical music with the figure of the cultured older homosexual man. Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971) presents us with a key example of this type in the doctor (Peter Finch) who repeatedly plays the aria 'Soave sia il vento', from Mozart's Cost fan tutte, on his gramophone while looking out through his French windows at a sculpture created by his bisexual boyfriend. But it is in another film from 1971, Death in Venice, that classical music and the man-boy model of Socratic, homoerotic desire are most insistently associated - the more so, since the director Luchino Visconti refigures Thomas Mann's protagonist as a composer rather than a writer.2

The role of the (artistic) homosexual man as a cultural and emotional educator of (philistine) heterosexual men is often enhanced by reference to the former's taste for the sheer unmanliness of classical music, especially opera, and especially opera as sung by the great divas. There is a good example of this process in Tomás Guitiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío's Strawberry and Chocolate (1993). On the occasion of (heterosexual) David's first visit to (homosexual) Diego's apartment, Diego says 'I'll put on some music so the neighbours can't hear us ... What do you prefer? Maria Callas? Teresa Stratas? Renata Tebaldi?'. Without waiting for a response from David, who appears never to have heard of the divas named, Diego puts on Callas. Later, after a row between the two men, David goes back to his hostel and retunes his transistor radio to a station playing an operatic aria. His first lesson in emotional openness seems to have taken place.

In a similar, though more extended, scene in Philadelphia (1993), gay Andy Beckett (Tom Hanks) plays opera for the edification of his straight attorney Joe Miller (Denzel Washington). They are supposed to be rehearsing for Andy's appearance in the witness box the next morning, but Andy is distracted - all the more so when his apartment is filled with the music he puts on: Maria Callas singing 'La mamma morta' from Umberto Giordano's opera, Andrea Chenier. (This is about as far as one can get from the blue-collar straightness of Bruce Springsteen, who sings 'Streets of Philadelphia' over the opening credits.) Rather than respond to a point that Joe makes, Andy asks: 'Do you mind this music? Do you like opera?' Ignoring Joe's evident irritation, Andy says, 'This is my favourite aria' and goes on to explicate it as it runs its course. He translates some lines, paraphrases others and interjects his own comments. Meanwhile, he wanders round the room with his eyes closed, towing with him the scaffold on which his intravenous drip is suspended. Filmed from above through reddening light, he looks both ill and increasingly strange. Throughout Andy's commentary on the aria, Joe stares at him uncomprehendingly; the moment the music stops he hurriedly gathers his things together, saying 'Jeez, I'd better get out of here' - as if Andy had been coming on to him. He flees to his own home to kiss his sleeping daughter and to lie next to his wife on their marital bed. Over this sequence the Callas aria is repeated in part, thereby transferring the intensity of Andy Beckett's queer emotionalism to the safer arena of the nuclear family's home. Now, at last, the film's intended mass audience can participate in an unthreatening appreciation of the music.

Whether Andy had been coming out or coming on to Joe would be immaterial, for the effect on Joe is much the same. The fact is that this scene is as close as Philadelphia dares come to the differentiating queerness of the queer. In contrast to the meticulous detail with which it attempts to simulate the bodily effects of AIDS on Tom Hanks - weight loss, hair loss, visible lesions - the film has to pantomime homosexuality by any means other than a male-male kiss (let alone a sex scene).3 Opera seems to have been chosen as a way of conveying the sheer otherness of strange tastes. To the presumed audience of 'middle America' it must seem reassuringly foreign.

Classical music will efficiently convey an impression of intellect and - not always compatibly - emotional sensitivity in any character who is shown to appreciate it. From past use, it seems less suited to the dynamics of post-liberationist pursuit-of-happiness representations of gay men than to sentimental or tragic scenarios. Whereas up until the mid-twentieth century homosexual men were often represented as figures in a tragedy, in the 1970s and 1980s discursive models changed. Suddenly, the homosexual lifestyle was more likely to be associated with musical comedy. At the point where 'gay in the old-fashioned sense' and 'gay in the new sense' coincide, the liberation of gay experience demands musical styles more accessible and upbeat than classical music is generally believed to offer. It also demands music that is youthful and sexy.

Although Judy Garland is mythically associated with the birth of gay liberation, the true siren song style of the gaylib era was disco. Except when drag queens were performing, the real gay clubs were discotheques. Subsequently, mainstream filmmakers have taken it for granted that, where required, a disco soundtrack will automatically evoke gay associations.4 The anglophone remake of the La Cage aux folles films (1978-86), The Birdcage (1996), is framed within two soundtrack performances of 'We Are Family', the first over the credits and opening scene, the second at the end of the narrative while the conservative senator is being smuggled out of the gay club disguised as a woman. In the first instance, the track is heard, as it were, straight; by the end, however, it is rubbing in the senator's humiliation by underlining his association with a homosexual family - and doing so in the gay musical language of disco.

Disco has been anachronistically refigured, in one way or another, in a number of films, to underline the gayness of a given sequence, and perhaps to re-establish a connection with the crucial gay liberation period. Isaac Julien's homage to the gay African-American poet Langston Hughes, Looking for Langston (1989), gives the interwar Harlem Renaissance the look of a 1980s advertising campaign and explicitly comes up to date in its closing scene as thugs invade a gay-friendly dance club and the jazz soundtrack is usurped by the 1980s disco number 'Can You Feel It?' In the closing minutes of Norman Rene's Longtime Companion (1990) disco is revisited again, this time in an ironically 'classical' rendition of the Village People's 'YMCA' at an AIDS benefit. And the hero(in)es of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) take off on their garish liberation of the outback with the Village People's 'Go West' blaring from the sound system on their bus.

However, notwithstanding disco's crucial influence on the styles of gay liberation, it is the Broadway/Hollywood musical that has prevailed as the gayest of the musical indicators of gayness. Indeed, in Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss (1998), the gay protagonist Billy goes so far as to speak of a 'show-tunes gene' that makes men gay.5 There is a comfortable logic to the humour of the transformation scenes in Mrs Doubtfire (1993), when the heterosexual man (Robin Williams) has to consult a homosexual man (Harvey Fierstein) on how to 'become' a woman, or at least how to perform the role. It comes as no surprise that cross-dressing soon leads to the singing of show tunes: in drag as Barbra Streisand, Williams sings 'Don't Rain on My Parade' from Funny Girl (1968). Once masculinity is compromised, by women's clothing if not by homosexuality itself, the tongue and throat will adapt to perverse practices: the singing of show tunes.

Jeffrey (1995) operates according to the same not entirely unserious hypothesis. One of the central characters, Darius, is a dancer in a Broadway production of Cats. As often as not, he is seen in his feline costume; indeed, even after his AIDS-related death he rematerialises in a pristine, white version of his Cats-suit. Before this, when discussing the kind of memorial ritual he envisages for himself, he says (with an appropriate flourish): 'At my memorial I want Liza!' (meaning Minnelli, of course). He adds: 'I want the Winter Garden. I do. I want all the other Cats to come out and to sing "Darius" to the tune of "Memory": "Darius, we all thought you were fabulous!"' When Jeffrey objects to this frivolity (as he sees it), Darius responds with a quiet reproach: 'Well, I like it. I mean, cute guys and Liza and dish. It's not a cure for AIDS, Jeffrey, but it's the opposite of AIDS.'

Later, the troubled Jeffrey - who has foresworn sexual involvement because of the prospect of contracting AIDS, only to fall in love with an HIV-positive man - goes to consult a priest, who himself turns out to be a gay stereotype with an addiction to musicals. This distinctly irreverend Father attempts to seduce Jeffrey. In the ensuing argument, Jeffrey angrily asks why God imposed the AIDS epidemic on humanity. The priest responds by showing him the sleeve of the LP of My Fair Lady, on which George Bernard Shaw is caricatured as a puppeteer. He explains 'You got your idea of God where most gay kids get it: My Fair Lady, original cast! See? George Bernard Shaw, up in the clouds, manipulating Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews on strings. It was your parents' album, you were little, you thought it was a picture of God.' Jeffrey does not demur; indeed, he tentatively seems to agree ('Yeah?') or to defer to the priest's better knowledge. The priest continues: 'Well, you're almost there, because God is on this record! Lerner and Loewe! . . . I'm telling you - the only times I really feel the presence of God are when I'm having sex and during a great Broadway musical.' He then leads Jeffrey to the confessional box, which is lined with the posters for Broadway shows.

Cinema refers to itself - and to film musicals in particular - to establish gay character. The ambiguous or undefined male is pinned down to a particular identity by observation of his tastes in cinema and music; and, of all possible preferences, a liking for the musical is the most compromisingly queer. This process is clearly exemplified in the British film Beautiful Thing (1995), in which Jamie, a sixteen-year-old on a London housing estate, is hoping to make love with the boy next door, Ste, also sixteen. This desire is framed by references to The Sound of Music (1965).6 Initially the boys, who are lounging together on Jamie's bed, are invited by Jamie's mother to join her and her boyfriend; they are watching the musical in an adjacent room. However, Jamie, who is fast approaching the fateful moment when his homosexuality will no longer be limited to watching his mother's favourite movies but will become actively physical, turns her down. For all that he is familiar and comfortable with a certain level of camp, at the moment he is more interested in the unequivocal virility of his soccer-playing neighbour.

Jamie's taste in films is no less definitive of his sexual identity than are the sexual events whereby he loses his virginity. Not the least of his oddities is that he seems to have nothing to learn. Negotiating his way through his first seduction, he already possesses the sensibilities of a middle-aged queen. Indeed, he is the essentialist gay man, already more or less fully formed. Without ever having to learn from some gay cliché how to be a gay cliché himself, he performs the role admirably before he has ever touched any penis other than his own. As if young gay men appeared as fully-formed queens in some process of culturally viviparous materialisation, Jamie is, from the start, everything he will ever become.

The nub of this process of identification is inappropriate consumption. Like the body itself when it becomes the object of homosexual desire, the consumed product has somehow achieved an appeal beyond its intended audience.7 It is not merely that Jamie is inappropriately more interested in camp cultural texts than in football and girls, but that incongruity is a key structural component of camp itself. As Esther Newton wrote in a 1972 essay: 'Camp usually depends on the perception or creation of incongruous juxtapositions. Either way, the homosexual "creates" the camp, by pointing out the incongruity or by devising it.'8 In

Beautiful Thing the juxtaposition is between the text and its consumer (schoolboy and The Sound of Music) but only until homosexuality enters the equation (gay schoolboy and The Sound of Music) whereupon the juxtaposition ceases to be incongruous. In other words, what might be inappropriate for a straight boy turns out to be entirely natural for a gay boy. When Jamie and Ste make love for the first time, the soundtrack wells up, not unpredictably, with 'Sixteen, Going on Seventeen'. Beautiful Thing ends with Jamie and Ste slow-dancing in public to the Mamas and Papas, defying the predominantly anti-gay community around them with as close a demonstration of togetherness as propriety allows, yet with sufficient sentiment to satisfy the demands of a pro-gay cinema audience for a happy ending. By contrast with the frenetic athleticism of the dancing in club/disco scenes - which often stands in for the unfilmable sex that, implicitly, follows on from it - slow dancing signifies the emotional physicality of not mere sex but love-making.9

The joke that functions as the driving premise of In and Out (1997) is that, come what may, (the essence of) gayness will out. It may not do so in literal terms, with homosexual intercourse, but all manner of lesser signals will give the secret homo away, even if he remain chaste. These signals may be physical -such as the tilt of a wrist or the lilt of a mincing gait - or they may reside in aspects of the personality: in passivity (say) or sensitivity, or in matters of aesthetic taste. Paradoxically, the show tunes gene is repeatedly represented as the defining taste of the essentialised gay man - gay men like musicals inherently. They are born to dance - and yet the individual character is inherently performative: performance is character, and nowhere is this more true than in the musical. What it boils down to, in this film, is that even the most comfortably closeted man who does not even, himself, know he is gay will have dedicated his inner life to Barbra Streisand.

Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) sends out signals from the very start of the narrative, not only in his fastidious dress sense and demonstrative gestures, but also - very sketchily presented, at first - in his apparent musical tastes. In the first scene after the opening credits, Ethel Merman's version of 'Everything's Coming Up Roses' (from the Broadway musical Gypsy) is playing in the background as Howard and his fiancée Emily (Joan Cusack) are preparing to watch the Oscars ceremony on television. When his bedside radio alarm goes off the next morning, it plays the Village People's 'Macho Man'. A show tune - some might say the show tune - and a standard of post-Stonewall gay disco; no music could make a less ambiguous statement about ambiguous sexuality.

Clearly in a state of doubt about himself, and anxious to dispel those doubts before his imminent wedding, Howard listens to his self-help audiotape Be A Man: Exploring Your Masculinity. After a few preliminary rules on how to behave like a man, the tape comes to the point: 'We come to the most critical area of masculine behaviour: dancing.' Diana Ross begins to sing her version of 'I Will Survive' as the voice continues: "Yes. Truly manly men do not dance . . . under any circumstances. This will be your ultimate test. At all costs avoid rhythm, grace and pleasure. Whatever you do, do not dance.' The joke is that, throughout this speech, the music is gathering pace and volume and Howard's body is involuntarily beginning to move to the imperative of the disco beat. No matter how intensely his conscious mind attends to the spoken message, it cannot overrule his body's commitment to the pleasures of dance. The voice reaches its admonitory climax - 'Feel the fever of the disco beat! . . . Whatever you do, do not dance!' - just as the music gets into its thundering stride, whereupon the body of the gay man overrides all self-restraint and hurls itself into the frenzy of the dance. To compound the joke, although Howard has dressed 'like a real man' for his lesson, his jeans, T-shirt and plaid shirt are identical to the predominant gay 'clone' look of the 1970s (all he lacks is the moustache) - and, indeed, his dancing is itself very seventies. Why, he even does 'the bump' against a wall.

But it is Howard's deeply ingrained Barbraphilia that betrays his true essence.10 At his bachelor party his straight male friends give him a copy of Funny Girl, reminding him that last year he made them watch all of Streisand's movies. When one of them criticises Yentl (1983), Howard attacks him physically. Later, when Howard protests to a gay television reporter (Tom Selleck) that he is not gay, the latter quickly asks him 'what was Streisand's eighth album?' Howard's response is so immediate as to seem instinctive or inborn: 'Color Me Barbra . . . Everyone knows that!' The evidence is definitive.

Howard finally comes out at the most inconvenient yet the most urgent moment: during his own wedding. When the distraught Emily flees from the body of the church into a private room, Howard follows her. Among the recriminations that ensue, Emily comes to the point: 'I loved you and believed you and pretended not to notice the Streisand thing!' Bursting back into the church, she shouts to the congregation: 'Does anybody here know how many times I've had to watch Funny Lady?' Thinking she is criticising that particular film rather than his obsessive interest in Streisand in general, Howard automatically interjects an irrelevant defence of Streisand's sequel to the more successful Funny Girl: 'It was a sequel. She was under contract.' For Emily this is the last straw. She yells the unutterable - 'Fuck Barbra Streisand! And you!" - and then applies a thoroughly manly fist to Howard's less than sturdy jaw. It is in the name of Streisand that the gay man's prospects as a husband are consigned to oblivion.

This convention of identifying gay men by reference to their love of musicals is parodied in the show-stopping number 'I Am Super', towards the end of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999), performed by the middle-aged queen, Big Gay Al. Surrounded by all the panoply of high musical (fountains, fireworks and so forth), Al's costume keeps spontaneously changing; at each change he wears less, until at the end of the song he is naked. His nakedness coincides with his finishing the sentence that has hung incomplete throughout the number. The lyrics keep narrowly avoiding the word 'gay'. Its refrain is repeatedly deflected from this key word ('Everything is super when you're -/Don't you think I look nice in this hat?') until the last line, 'Everything is super when you're - gay', at which point Al is revealed. The irony is, of course, that he was never concealed in the first place. It is inconceivable that he could hide his gayness. What is being addressed in such instances is the failure of the closet. We are invited to laugh at the inability of characters like Al and Howard Brackett to maintain invisibility. For them, the closet is unsustainable. Such men come 'out' only because they cannot stay 'in'. This inability to repress their essential selves is presented as a flaw. Coming out is demoted from a positive act of self-identification, empowering to the individual and challenging to society, to an admission of the already obvious. If the queen cannot be silenced, the non-gay audience can at least have the satisfaction of claiming that they knew about him already.

Since the 1990s, gay subcultures have produced numerous examples of camp in the face of adversity. When Jeffrey (in Jeffrey) is confronted by three armed homophobes and they ask him what weapons he has, he replies: 'Irony. Adjectives. Eyebrows' before getting beaten up. Lying on the sidewalk, he sings the refrain of George and Ira Gershwin's 'Nice Work', accompanied by a woman who is leaning out of a nearby window. A stock character of AIDS movies is the dying queen who manages to maintain her regal campness even when most ravaged. The characters in conventional musical comedy overcome obstacles to fulfillment, performatively, by bursting into song. Similarly, a gay man's best response to homophobic attack or to AIDS may be an unexpectedly jarring performance.

The useful absurdity of the musical is exploited to such ends in Zero Patience (1993), to challenge predominant views about AIDS.11 The principle of making a musical about the epidemic is more or less summarised by Darius's remark, quoted earlier, in Jeffrey: 'Cute guys and Liza and dish. It's not a cure for AIDS, Jeffrey, but it's the opposite of AIDS.' It clearly makes sense to invoke the concept of camp when describing the defensive use of 'inappropriate' humour in the face of tragedy. Camp humour was one of gay people's principal defences against institutional homophobia throughout the twentieth century (and is often compared with Jewish humour in this respect). From the earliest days of the epidemic, the funerals of out gay men who had died as a consequence of having AIDS were often staged as mini festivals of camp celebration, filling the dullest churches and crematoria, not only with disco discs and show tunes, but also with mourners dressed accordingly. Darius's hope for a flamboyantly glamorous funeral is part of a general subcultural tendency.12

Since Zero Patience is a musical about viral transmission by anal intercourse, the film's two most memorable images, for all that they are paradoxical, are entirely in keeping with this central theme: the singing anuses in 'The Butthole Duet' and the singing virus in 'HIV's Scheherazade'. The former, a duet about anal sex, is 'sung' by the respective anuses of Sir Richard Burton, the nineteenth-century explorer and sexologist, and Gaetan Dugas, the 'Patient Zero' alluded to in the musical's title, a man burdened by some commentators with the blame for the catastrophic early 'spread' of AIDS among gay men in the West.13 This duet between Burton's fear and Zero's desire, by making the gay anus a singing mouth, takes the association between gayness and performative self-expression to an extreme. By locating the gay voice in the rectum, Zero Patience affirms a sexualised aesthetic to which other films of the 1990s have only felt able to allude.14

In the later song, HIV is played by the actor/musician/activist Michael Callen, himself HIV-positive at the time of filming. It was he who, with Richard Berkowitz, wrote the booklet How to Have Sex in an Epidemic (1983), generally credited as the source of the concept of safer sex. Performing this number in aquatic drag, Callen represents a bodying-forth of the idea of a specifically gay plague. HIV, the reason for the development of safer sex, is embodied by the originator of safer sex, Callen, in a low-budget parody of the irrational glamour of Esther Williams. So the virus looks like a gay man in declining health, cross-dressing as a camp icon from Hollywood musicals. Following all the cinematic principles we have been outlining in this essay, this is how you can tell a gay plague from a straight one.


1. This is not the place - there is not the space - to enumerate all the references to Judy Garland and/or The Wizard of Oz (1939) in contemporary gay films. We do notice, however, that one of the sets of 'Word Magnets for Gays' produced by the Fridge Fun! company of Guerneville, California, includes - as well as essentials like 'leather', 'lust' and '69' - the endlessly permutable 'Dorothy', 'Toto', 'Wizard' and 'Oz'.

2. By contrast, a far more radical deployment of romantic classical music's potential for emotional emphasis and camp embellishment is demonstrated in Desperate Remedies (1993), in which repeated use of Giuseppe Verdi's overture to La forza del destino achieves a precise 'match' with the film's extravagant sets and costumes and its histrionic acting styles. The music is as beautiful and flamboyant as the frocks - yet also as impractical as they are as inappropriate to the muddy reality of life in nineteenth-century New Zealand. Classical music is used to quieter, though not dissimilar, effect in the legendary erotic film Pink Narcissus (1971), the stylistic influence of which piece affects every aspect of Desperate Remedies.

3. Philadelphia was by no means the first or worst offender in this respect. Even in those film musicals of the 1970s in which sexuality is represented as being so 'divinely' decadent - in tentative, if misguided, acknowledgement of the liberatory, but anti-decadent, principles of gay liberation - sex itself cannot be presented in any but the coyest manner: slow dancing (Cabaret, 1972), or stylised (and comical) love-making by figures in silhouette, or swimming (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975). Indeed, these two supposedly liberated and liberating films cannot muster a single male-male kiss between them. Neither Milos Forman's Hair (1979) nor Blake Edwards' Victor/Victoria (1982) adds so much as a peck on the cheek to the reckoning.

4. For a discussion of disco and gay male culture see Richard Dyer, 'In defence of disco', in Richard Dyer, Only Entertainment (London; New York: Routledge, 1992): 149-58; and Richard Dyer, 'Getting over the rainbow: identity and pleasure in gay cultural politics', in Dyer, Only Entertainment: 159-72.

5. Correspondingly, it might be argued that there must be a 'gay gene' that makes gay/bisexual men write show tunes. Think of Leonard Bernstein, Noël Coward, Lorenz Hart, Ivor Novello, Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim.

6. In a 1976 reading, Richard Dyer speaks of The Sound of Music as going 'directly into a world where women are caught between asserted individuality and strong pressures on role conformity, where much pleasure must be invested in trivial items, and where the horizons are such as let only endurance, the ability to go on, make immediate sense as a life-project. The question is whether it simply celebrates these attitudes . . . or else also locks its female audience more inexorably into trivia and endurance.' Dyer, Only Entertainment: 59. The same attractions and the same dilemma are likely to dictate, in part, the film's reception by gay audiences, although the extent to which this is the case may have changed in the years since Dyer wrote this essay. One of the successes of the 1999 London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival was Sing-a-long-a Sound of Music, a mass karaoke screening of the movie. For further discussion see Ian Conrich's article 'Musical Performance and the Cult Film Experience' in this collection.

7. One of the things that makes musicals so easy to parody is that they are full of inappropriate responses. Many parodies play on the inappropriate nature of musical drama to topics which are so serious that they seem to demand high tragedy, or objective documentary at least. We are thinking of 'Springtime for Hitler' in Mel Brooks's The Producers (1968), 'Every Sperm is Sacred' in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983), the elephant-man musical in The Tall Guy (1989) and virtually the entirety of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999). It is hard to see how the parodies are any less appropriate to their chosen topics than many 'straight' musical numbers. After all, 'Food, Glorious Food', in Oliver!, is a chirpy, up-beat number belted out by starving Victorian orphans; Zero Patience is a musical comedy about AIDS and so on. This is not to say, of course, that the musical cannot handle anything other than romantic comedy - Evita, Miss Saigon and Les Miserables demonstrate the capacity of the genre to function beyond the rather fluffy limits to which it is sometimes assumed to be confined - but, rather, that the questionably appropriate response of some musicals is a feature of the genre.

8. Esther Newton, 'Role models', in Fabio Cleto (ed.), Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject, A Reader (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999): 103.

9. Traditional ballroom dancing carries an especially refreshing, romantic charge when two men 'incongruously' partner each other - as Valentino (Rudolf Nureyev) and Nijinsky (Anthony Dowell) do, tangoing together with such panache in Ken Russell's Valentino (1977); or as Tom Hanks and Antonio Banderas do, in full dress naval uniform, as pristine as the film's performative chastity, in Philadelphia; or as the two lovers eventually do, winsomely tuxedoed, in Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss (1998).

10. Streisand began her career in the Lion's Head and Bon Soir, gay clubs in Greenwich Village. Bette Midler went one better by beginning her career in New York's notorious Continental Baths, along with her accompanist Barry Manilow.

11. It is difficult to imagine a successful musical comedy about cancer with singing tumours. Yet the stage show AIDS! The Musical! (1991) included dancers in the roles of the opportunistic infections Karposis Sarcoma (sic) and Retinitis. For another example of the AIDS-musical genre, see Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau's film Jeanne et le garçon formidable (1997).

12. The planning of the music for an AIDS memorial service is a common scene in gay fiction/film. The choice is almost invariably between disco, show tunes and opera. These are the Closing Numbers in the title of Stephen Walker's 1993 film about AIDS.

13. See Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic (New York; London: Penguin, 1988).

14. The song counters anti-sexual discourses with its own explicit references to Leo Bersani's classic essay 'Is the rectum a grave?', in Douglas Crimp (ed.), AIDS: Cultural Analysis, Cultural Activism (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988): 197-222.


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