Political Film Newsletter #26

The life of bisexual Oscar Wilde, focusing on his affection for young adult men and the consequences of his desire to fulfill his destiny, is passionately portrayed in the British film Wilde. Directed by Brian Gilbert, the film pits Oscar Wilde against the Marquess of Queensberry, whose son is devoted to Wilde. Vexed by slanderous accusations around London by the Marquess, Wilde responds to a written note, accusing him of being a “sodomite,” by filing a libel suit, whereupon much of his private life becomes a matter of court record. Since the court proceedings suggest the truth of the facts broadcast by the Marquess, Wilde loses the suit and next is charged with the criminal offense of indecent behavior. He receives the maximum sentence, two years of hard labor, which so overtaxes his strength that his life is greatly shortened, and the world is soon deprived of one of the greatest wits since Shakespeare. The film shows the folly of a homophobic morality that somehow arose in nineteenth century England despite the Biblical David and Jonathan, secular teachings of Socrates, and the flowering of the Renaissance superstars Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. The film, of course, is more than a biography of one person but a paradigm of the struggle between proponents of malevolent hate and the polymorphous impulse to love—the way in which powerful but small-minded homophobes destroy the careers and shorten the lives of some of the greatest contributors to civilization. Oscar Wilde, in short, is portrayed as the first gay rights advocate. This is the first film of 1998 nominated in the category of HUMAN RIGHTS. MH

Some forty years ago, Allen Ginsberg’s Howl urged Americans to wake up and face the realities of injustice. Similarly, Warren Beatty uses the medium of poetry to expose what he considers the hypocrisies of the Democratic Party of the Clinton era. Fed up with Beltway bullshit, Senator Bulworth of California arranges to have himself assassinated while lampooning the way in which the moneyed interests prevail over the people. However, he so enjoys his role as national curmudgeon that he decides to abort the assassination in order to continue exposing why the Democrats do nothing for African Americans (they do not contribute enough campaign money and cannot vote Republican anyway), for health care (the insurance companies, happily benefiting from the present system, make hefty campaign contributions to keep it that way), etc. Using the vehicle of rap music, Senator Bulworth is on the same wavelength as Eddie Murphy’s The Distinguished Gentleman, in which the protagonist satirizes Washington D.C. politics as the biggest con game in the world. Beatty’s Don Quixote tilts so many windmills so quickly that filmviewers will have to see Bulworth several times to take complete notes on all the syllabus of errors, most of which deal with the plight of African Americans. MH


DEMOCRACY Four Days in September
Primary Colors
Wag the Dog
EXPOSÉ Four Days in September
PEACE The Boxer
Men with Guns

To nominate 1998 films in these four categories, write to the above address or send email.