The Rushes looks into the world of film making. Its two protagonists struggle to put career ahead of romance, but the penis has a way of rising. Best friends since childhood, they get college degrees in film making and begin Hollywood careers. Their long-range goal is to make their own films together, after they get the credentials necessary from working for others, the others tending toward the tyrannical. Everyone works long hours. Sex and romance get squeezed in.
As I read, I wondered how the author knew so much about the film industry. I learned he wrote and directed The Green Plaid Shirt, a 1996 romance/drama about life during the initial onslaught of AIDS.
Question: Carson’s big break into Hollywood comes when he’s hired by Zach, a producer who later berates him with a gay slur. Afterward Zach apologizes and says that when he gets mad he uses the most hurtful remarks he can think of. His apology makes sense to me. He’s basically supportive of gay causes, probably voted for gay marriage in the losing ballot measure in California, but is capable of losing his temper and calling a gay man a “faggot.” By 2040 I figure there will probably be academic conferences about “Faggot Attitude Toward…” just as now there are “queer studies,” when the word “queer” was the worst thing you could call a guy in my high school days. Am I too forgiving of Zach?
Answer: Zach is a poster child for white male privilege. Based on an amalgam of the producers I’ve interacted with in Hollywood, he’s a bully who targets any perceived frailty and then tries to overcompensate for his behavior by giving to liberal causes. He may have a heart, but it’s a calculating one. By the way, philanthropy in Hollywood is often closely tied to tax write-offs and quid pro quo. If I give X amount to charity, it lowers my ridiculously high gross taxable income. Or you give to my favorite charity, and I’ll give to yours.
Calling someone a faggot in this day and age is so lame and all-purpose that it has lost most of its sting. Millennials and teens have decoupled the word from sexuality using it to chastise anyone they consider spineless or annoying. Only right-wingers use it with specificity, but they usually have to follow it up with violence for it to have any impact.
Question: On a scale of one-to-ten, how homophobic is Hollywood? How homophobic is the publishing industry? Years ago, actors and writers were forced to be closeted, just as everyone else was legally forced to be. Was it easier for Rock Hudson, Raymond Burr, and Richard Chamberlin to get their toeholds in Hollywood because being out wasn’t an option at the time, career-wise or life-wise? Today would Edward Albee write Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Would George and Martha be George and Martin? How would George and Martin measure up to George and Martha’s success with audiences?
Answer: Hollywood is at least a six. The publishing industry about the same. The myth that liberals can’t be homophobes, is just that. A myth. In the minds of straight men, to be gay is to lack power (as Roy Cohn famously says in Angels in America). I’m sure Apple’s CEO Tim Cook would beg to differ.
Homophobia is not limited to Hollywood, and being gay is generally regarded a weakness, a fallibility. As being less than. Our stories hold little interest to straights. Our lives make them uncomfortable.
That is changing, particularly with millennials who are casting off labels and boundaries. Maybe not in my lifetime, but the non-binary movement will likely be the norm in about fifty years or so. Hollywood’s homophobia (and racism) in particular. Like everything else in the movie industry, it’s a dollars and cents thing. In large parts of the world, out-gay actors face barriers based on foreign cultures and religions. American coming out stories are specific to us. The conflicts in foreign gay-centric films vary by country of origin.
An openly gay actor can now have a career, just not as a top tier leading man. At least not yet. Back in the Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Tony Perkins era, in the heat of McCarthy mania, it was unthinkable for an actor to be open or out and then romance a woman on screen. But geez, back then Ingrid Bergman was denounced in front of Congress for having a child out of wedlock and didn’t work in the U.S. for a decade. Any out actor was DOA. Sal Mineo more or less came out in in the early sixties and his career immediately went away. Perception, gossip, social media are all contributing factors. And gay people feed into that as well. Recently I read a gay man’s comment deriding the fact that openly queer Ben Whishaw is playing a heterosexual dad in the new Mary Poppins movie. It’s called acting, dude.
Things are getting better, but only when we reach the point that it’s unnecessary to refer to actors as openly gay will we have made significant progress. As for Albee, he might write George and Martin, but it would be a different play. The dynamic between husband and wife is not that same as that between two men, particularly at the time that Virginia Woolf was written. Fears of emasculation are less common with male couples, at least not among those who are comfortable with their sexual orientation. Questions of infidelity and privilege also vary based on the two men involved. Remember, Martha had ambitions for George that he did not fulfill, and she took it personally because the only way she could advance socially was through his ambition. The clash between a George and a Martin would likely be based on competitiveness. Both would likely have their own goals and measure their relative failure/success in relation to their partner’s. There’s a heck of a good story about that just aching to be written.
Question: Outside of metropolitan centers I suspect there are as many gay men with wives as there are out gay men. I once heard a fundamentalist Christian gay man say that in a certain gay social group he “came out about having a wife.” Later, some of the men “came out” to him about also having wives and living closeted lives. They just pretended to be out gays when they came to functions of this group. The father of Jamie, the second protagonist in The Rushes, becomes a fundamentalist Christian when he marries the fundamentalist mother of Jamie’s long-time crush, Owen. Owen is suspended between latent and closeted. His God will reject him if he’s gay, as will everyone else in his circle of family and friends. Is he trapped by religious belief or by a desire to fit into the world he knows? What do you think keeps men in the closet today when not only is gay sex legal but two gay people can legally marry?
Answer: Again, as in Hollywood, the religious community and the banking community, both of which Owen is a part, have clear standards of moral and sexual acceptability. Owen mainly uses religion as an excuse. It’s his mother who terrifies him. He’ll do anything not to upset her. On a professional level, he fears his gayness will be used against him in trying to get ahead in the cutthroat testosterone-heavy banking world. Again, he is tortured by the perception that being gay means being weak, being less than what society sees as “a real man.” His attraction threatens his concept of virility and strength. It’s not only Owen. Even out gay men have internalized those feelings. The obsession with “straight acting” men (or seducing a straight man) feeds directly into that narrative. Many gay men perceive that as a strength, an attractive quality, when in many cases it’s merely a cover for insecurity and insensitivity. Tenderness, romanticism, compatibility, common goals are often secondary considerations.
The underlying problem is misogyny. In most religions, men are the dominant force and women are required to be submissive. Anything that puts a man on a par with a woman is perceived as threatening. Only when women are perceived as equals will that go away. As long as misogyny prevails, homophobia will be its handmaiden.
Question: David, a film school professor, falls in love with student Carson even though nothing indicates Carson will ever be in love with him. David stays in love with Carson over the years but doesn’t let his feelings eat away at him. Do you think many people are capable of maintaining their balance while in love with someone who doesn’t reciprocate? Do fictional characters need to behave as most people do? Do characters need to depart from the norm to be interesting and perhaps to show readers what’s possible? When you wrote David were you thinking he was normative or not?
Answer: People are multi-dimensional. Unrequited love is still love. David lives with it as best he can. Like Jamie, he distracts himself with other men, but they always suffer by comparison. Carson and Owen are David and Jamie’s yardsticks. David’s resigned that his love will not be returned, but the spark of hope lingers. He may find sexual satisfaction in other men, but his affections remain constant. It’s precisely because his feelings are so altruistic that Carson finally succumbs. After being burned by his boyfriend Clete, he realizes that David is one of the good guys and it would be foolish to let him get away. Probably no one else will ever love him unconditionally. Accept him, warts and all. Once he digests that, Carson goes from being slightly annoyed by David’s devotion to being in awe of it. He is seduced by David’s selfless devotion. Curious, Carson starts flirting with him (though admittedly out of competitiveness and jealousy at first), and then finds himself falling for David in a way he’d never anticipated.
In most relationships, it takes a while for trust to be established. But Carson already knows and trusts David. He’s proved himself loyal. He falls in love with him at a point when he’s questioning his goals in life and that includes his view on romantic commitment. His previous relationship was based largely on sexual attraction and mutual ambition. Like his career, it blew up in his face. He is now reassessing his life. David is there giving and asking nothing in return as always, and he suddenly finds that incredibly appealing.
Question: Do you have a novel in progress? A screenplay in progress? Do you see yourself making another film?
Answer: I am almost finished the first draft of a new novel called On the Radio, a romantic murder mystery set in Italy in the eighties and early nineties. No screenplays at the moment, though I think The Rushes would make a terrific mini-series or even a continuing series, since several people have told me they’re curious to see what happens to Carson and Jamie next. To their careers. To their love lives.
Filmmaking is a younger man’s game. I had previously sold screenplays but GPS was my first directing effort. The experience of doing both was worthwhile. First, it proved that I could deliver even given the serious budget and time constraints I faced. I filmed a feature length movie in eleven days, including reshooting one major scene and adding a prologue. But I also learned that the collaborative process requires being pulled in ten directions at once. Some people enjoy that unique kind of pressure. I found it somewhat taxing. And unless you’re a director who has final cut, so many compromises have to be made. Writing fiction allows me to focus and be in total control of my vision. Then, either a publisher bites, or does not. The joy is in the doing. And I can indulge myself. I’m never in the position of having to guarantee a return on someone else’s investment. (GPS more than broke even).
Thank you, Richard, for joining us on Late Last Night Books today.
Richard Natale’s short stories have appeared in such literary journals as Gertrude Press, MCB Quarterly, Wilde Oats, Chelsea Station Magazine, Hollywood Dementia and the anthologies, Image/Out, Happy Hours and Off the Rocks.
His novel CAFE EISENHOWER was an Honorable Mention for the Rainbow Book Awards. Other novels include LOVE ON THE JERSEY SHORE, JUNIOR WILLIS, the YA fantasy adventure THE GOLDEN CITY OF DOUBLOON and the short-story collection, ISLAND FEVER.