Friday, 27 November 2009

325: When Intimacy Goes Wrong

Men kissing. Always good for a laugh. Unfortunately, particularly so among audiences watching serious gay films in the cinema. The scene builds up to a perfectly non-gratuitous kiss between the leads (often played by straight stars, let’s be honest, because gay men kissing gay men might be too much) and then just as lips touch, from somewhere in the audience there will come a giggle or two.
Now, let’s be thankful it’s not a cry of revulsion. Society has moved forward somewhat. But in an entertainment arena if its not turning you on or winning your sympathy then the sight of two men kissing most likely provokes a comic response. Is it because of diffused disgust, puzzlement, anxiety, awkwardness? Is the sight of two men kissing so outside of the normal order it can’t help stimulating laughter? Is it because the power of a same-sex kiss suddenly breaks the audience’s involvement and so like a bad line or cheesy special effect it can’t help but elicit laughs?
Of course, if a same sex kiss is truly intended to be funny then it’s best if it’s between two straight men. The discomfort will then be on the part of the two characters on screen, rather than on the part of the audience trying to parse their own response to two gay men kissing.
Such is the social power of gay kissing, that there are precious few examples of dramatic gay kisses being allowed, let alone funny gay kisses.
The 1982 black comedy “Deathtrap” has a twist about halfway through when Michael Caine and Christopher Reeves are revealed to be gay lovers. The most immediate and shocking way of proving this was by having them suddenly, unexpectedly kiss. In trade circles it became known as the $10 million kiss, since it’s estimated this how much the kiss cost the film in tickets. That’s a lot of audience to risk for the sake of one joke.

Other than in scenes where one man makes a move on another dressed as a woman, same-sex kissing tends to feature as the punchline to jokes about men discussing the boundaries of permissible intimacy. How close can they get, how can they show they like each other as friends? And then it just goes too far, and passionate kissing erupts. It’s usually not intended that these are closeted gay men, trying to sublimate, and never kissing for sexual gratification, but that in almost every instance there’s nothing half-hearted about these kisses.

You’ll notice each time there’s a kiss in the sketches below it gets shrieks, as taboos are broken, and the characters insist that there’s nothing sexual about two men kissing.

from “Fridays” 8 May 1981
“Men Who Hug”

Larry David
Michael Richards
Mark Hamill

Mark Hamill in an ugly suit kisses Michael Richards – not quite the “Star Wars” slash you were looking for?
A bunch of unembarrassed guys (David and Hamill are particularly boobish for contrast) are able to show their appreciation of each other. Although not in a casual urbane Parisian sort of a way.

from “Smith and Jones” (circa 1989-1990?)
Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones

The uptight, nigh-hysterically uncomfortable Griff Rhys Jones is almost a match for Gene Wilder at his best.

from “Exit 57”, 1996
Stephen Colbert as Father
Amy Dearis as Mother/Squirrel
Jodi Lennon as Daughter
Paul Dinello as Boyfriend

An occasional gag from sitcoms is for one character to show another how to put the moves on a potential date. At a particularly embarrassing moment a third character will enter to everyone’s gay-tinged discomfort. Here, it starts off with the inappropriateness of a father asking his daughter’s date if “he got any?”, not with disapproval but with encouragement. And then comes the kiss, which merits a positive evaluation on his daughter’s behalf.
Nothing makes sense and then it keeps being repeated with each element made more emphatic, culminating in the lingering, passionate romantic clinch of the third instance. The audience being left to assume how much further it can be taken in the fourth repetition.

from “Mad TV”, November 1, 2003
Ike Barinholtz and Josh Meyers

Basically the same celebrating athletes joke as Monty Python’s footballers and National Lampoon’s Disco Beaver’s hockey players, and the cartoons about the Football Association’s concern about emotional footballers. Except that here, rather than just a quick visual, the joke builds on the character’s confusion: “What just happened?” followed by much agonising as to whether they are gay. Of course, the fact that this is deliberately a joke, means the show can spend more camera time on men kissing (accompanied by leaping on each other, running their hands through each other’s hair, dancing provocatively), than any gay kiss would receive in any prime time drama.

Over the last five years or so, David Walliams has got a hell of a lot of mileage out of his sexually ambiguous persona, both in sketches, and on chat shows, flirting with other men, fondling them, and occasionally wrestling them to the floor and pulling their underpants off.

And for more crassly teen-oriented fare which I can’t be bothered wasting my typing on, why not search youtube for
“Baseketball” (1998) – Trey Parker and Matt Stone are two good friends affirming their friendship;
“Dude, Where’s My Car?” (2000) – Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott kiss each other in a moment of blithe one-upmanship;
“American Pie 2” (2001) Jason Biggs and Seann William Scott disgustedly forced into kissing each other against their wills to get out of trouble;
“Talledega Nights” (2006) - straight redneck Will Ferrell kisses cultured European gay NASCAR driver Sacha Baron Cohen as a sign of competitive admiration.

There's a lot of it about, you know.

No comments: