Two Forgotten Queer Cult Classics

 

In modern day, we can now look at cinema and safely say, for the first time, that we have LGBT+ representation. We must remember, however, that this was not always the case. Whilst we have somewhat of a canon of past queer cinema to look back to, it is still too small. Many ground-breaking queer films have been forgotten across time, and it is our task to trace them back and make them known to today’s world. Let us turn back time, for a moment, to 20th century Italy. Fighting against homophobic ideals promoted by the Catholic church, the films below nevertheless managed to set the imprint of queer identity amidst marginalisation. They are films which deserve to be remembered, restored to the ‘cult classic’ status that they deserve, whether for their pioneering queer themes, or for the entertaining shenanigans that their characters get up to. Here are two of our recommendations.

 

A Gender-Non-Conforming Star of the Silent Era

 

 

In 1915, at the peak of the star system in Italy’s blossoming studio cinema world, Filibus was released. The film centres around the criminal mischief that its lead – the titular Filibus, otherwise known as Baroness Troixmondes – gets up to, which include flirting with and kidnapping a beautiful woman and stealing a pair of diamonds coveted by all the greatest thieves of Italy at the time. By day, Baroness Troixmondes takes advantage of her society’s misogynist stereotypes, playing up to the role of ‘weak woman’ and dazzling Italian high society at extravagant balls and parties. This allows her access into the secrets of this world of the rich. She acts as her own spy, mining for information all whilst keeping up the appearances of a morally pure woman. By night, the Baroness’ criminal alter-ego – Filibus – uses these secrets to elevate themselves even further. They steal from the very men who bathe in their femininity with them by day. Understanding the intricacies of gender constructs in a refreshingly modern way, Filibus makes use of the ridiculousness of stereotypes. They enjoy this process of confusion, of revealing the weakness of the most powerful men of their society. As a member of the nobility, they do not steal for financial gain. Their crimes are a game for them, one that is hilariously entertaining to watch.

Filibus is so clearly a gender-non-conforming protagonist, at a time when the gender binary ran rife in the film world and the real world alike. They are quite literally a Baroness of three worlds. They are a profoundly powerful protagonist, and their success is inherently tied to their awareness of their gender identity, to a form of societal intelligence that is decidedly before its time. Steering clear from any of the tropes that queer villains are plastered with in so much mainstream cinema today, the film urges its audience to revere Filibus. To the modern viewer who now holds a language outside of the gender binary, Filibus is a character who oozes gender envy.

 

 

The film, however, proceeded to be forgotten for almost a century immediately following its release. The only surviving print lives at the EYE Film Institute Netherlands (yes, with Dutch title cards only), with a duplicate at the National Museum of Cinema in Turin. Screened in 1997 by the Cineteca di Bologna as part of the “Cinema Ritrovato” festival, the film made its graceful entry into the contemporary world. Making waves at this time of ‘re-discovery’, LGBT+ film critics praised the film for its pioneering depiction of gender fluidity in the science-fiction genre – which had, at the time, been dominated by gender stereotypes and the ‘male hero who saves the damsel in distress’ trope. Flash-forward to the 21st century, and the film has been digitally restored, available to buy in DVD form through Milestone Films. Aside from its pioneering depiction of gender and sexuality, Filibus has also occupied its role among the first surviving sci-fi and crime films, with its creative use of special effects, framing, and editing. For a queer film to be recognised on this level is no small feat.

 

A Drag Queen Solves a Murder at a Gay Bar

 

 

Released at a time when popular Italian cinema had been consistently clashing with the conservative ideals of the Catholic church, Delitto al Blue Gay (1984), known in English as Cop in Drag, seemed to urge Italian society to keep up with the times. The eleventh and final film in the box-office hit cop comedy series starring Tomas Milian, the film follows Marshal Nico Giraldi as he is tasked to investigate the murder of a drag queen who worked at the Blue Gay, a popular queer cabaret. Tomas, a somewhat macho heterosexual cop, decides to infiltrate the queer community in order to get to the bottom of this mystery. He befriends another drag queen who eventually becomes his crime-solving ‘buddy’ and the two develop a relationship that is as heart-warming as it is hilarious. Moving past the occasional dodgy visual gag, the film deals with its subject matter in a surprisingly mature tone. Through Giraldi’s eyes, we gain an insight into this queer microcosm, and dispel the objectifying myths of homosexuality and drag culture little by little, at the same time as our heterosexual protagonist.

This is not to say that Delitto al Blue Gay is so pioneering in its queer representation, of course. It is, after all, a popular crime film directed at a predominantly straight audience. Perhaps, however, it is precisely because of its status as ‘light entertainment’, as a B-movie comedy, that it is able build such a wide and detailed portrait of 1980s drag culture in Rome. The film feels akin to other cult classics who made use of their genres to talk about marginalised experiences – Hedwig and the Angry Inch and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for example. The film begins with a beautiful lip sync of a song about someone who is neither a ‘man’ nor a ‘woman’ and features a series of visually intricate drag performances throughout. Like Filibus, Delitto as Blue Gay is a piece of entertainment at its most direct and promises both a look into a seldom-explored queer world at the time and a fun ride as you impatiently await the answer to this mysterious murder plot.

Watch Filibus here.

Watch Delitto al Blue Gay here.

 

Article by Miruna Tiberiu.

Miruna Tiberiu is the Managing Editor of GAY45. She is a student at Cambridge University. Tiberiu has written for numerous publications, including The Cambridge Review of Books, and the Cambridge Language Collective. She is the co-founder and co-editor of Cambridge’s first all-queer magazine, Screeve. Tiberiu is currently long-listed for the International News Media Association (INMA)’s “30 Under 30” Awards 2023.

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