Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.
The Kinky: Mapplethorpe – The Director’s Cut
Movies often have bumpy journeys to the screen, especially when dealing with sexual subject matter. Today’s case in point: Mapplethorpe, the 2018 biopic of the titular artist, a man that specialized in homoerotic visuals. The film, directed by Ondi Timoner, underwent key edits after disputes arose between the director and producers. Ultimately, the movie played the festival circuit before disappearing into a lukewarm reception.
Flash forward to 2021, and Timoner finally had the opportunity to release her cut of the film. In short, it’s much better. Matt Smith plays Robert Mapplethorpe, the ultra-ambitious, egotistical, and temperamental photographer. He arrives in New York, makes friends with Patti Smith and (Marianne Rendón), comes out as gay, and proceeds to make a career out of photographing celebrities and hardcore BDSM situations in black and white.
The plotting feels like general, by-the-numbers biopic filmmaking. This new version of the film, however, focuses more on Mapplethorpe’s artistic drive which pushes him to the brink of madness…and just about drags everyone around him to the loony bin too. It also attributes much of the photog’s fascination with sex and S&M to his Catholic upbringing. Few movies of any kind have the courage to call out the hypersexual imagery found in churches all over the world: artwork depicts Jesus as almost naked on the cross, not to mention getting bound, whipped, and beaten into submission. For Mapplethorpe, Timoner argues, eroticism, bondage, and religion became fused. His body of work sanctifies homoerotic, kinky sex as a holy thing.
In the title role, Matt Smith gives a fine performance, emphasizing Mapplethorpe’s personality contradictions and selfish impulses. He and Timoner don’t hesitate to depict the artist as manipulative, opportunistic, and fetishistic of race. He’s not at all a character we want to root for, but he’s not boring either. The interplay between Mapplethorpe and Smith also create some of the film’s most intriguing moments. These two people recognize each other’s gifts and personality flaws. Their conversations read with a peculiar subtext, as if to say you’re ridiculous, but I get it.
Mapplethorpe: The Director’s Cut may not be a great film, but it improves its theatrical predecessor in fundamental ways. It also makes thoughtful observations about how artists relate to one another, and how sexual religious iconography influenced one of the most interesting queer artists of his day. For Robert Mapplethorpe, a kinky career began in church.
Streams on Amazon, Kanopy & VUDU.
Mapplethorpe is a forgettable movie.
How do I know? Saw it and forgot I saw it.
I have different thought. As a child I wanted go to church to see 1/2 naked man on the cross because it meant acceptance.
The one good thing I learned at church was that God gave us a brain and expects us to use it. I did, left the church, met my partner of 57 years, married 15 years, lived the American dream!
It’s interesting to contemplate how many famous gay men are or were very devout Catholics:
Luisa Isabel Álvarez de Toledo, 21st Duchess of Medina Sidonia
Louis de Bussy d’Amboise
David Berger (theologian)
Cecchino dei Bracci
Wim van de Camp
Charles II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua and Montferrat
John C. Chenoweth
Adele Goodman Clark
François Louis, Prince of Conti
Marquis de Custine
Thomas Anthony Dooley III
Lord Alfred Douglas
Pier Luigi Farnese, Duke of Parma
Febo di Poggio
Prince Egon von Fürstenberg
John Wayne Gacy
Federico García Lorca
Ann Louise Gilligan
Alastair Hugh Graham
Armand de Gramont, Comte de Guiche
Élisabeth de Gramont
John Gray (poet)
Henry III of France
Mary E. Hunt
Ruth Hunt, Baroness Hunt of Bethnal Green
Johannes, 11th Prince of Thurn and Taxis
Marsha P. Johnson
Stefan Kaufmann (politician)
James Loney (peace activist)
Philippe, Chevalier de Lorraine
Ludwig II of Bavaria
Archduke Ludwig Viktor of Austria
Sydney Magruder Washington
John J. McNeill
Gian Gastone de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany
Benjamín Medrano Quezada
Ryan Murphy (writer)
Ed Murray (Washington politician)
Peter Solis Nery
Francisco Correa Netto
Pat Patterson (wrestler)
Prince Pierre, Duke of Valentinois
Christopher Price (broadcaster)
Juan Ramírez de Lucas
Thomas Roberts (television journalist)
Yves Saint Laurent (designer)
Norman St John-Stevas
Charles Warren Stoddard
Alice B. Toklas
Pier Vittorio Tondelli
Evan Morgan, 2nd Viscount Tredegar
Louis Joseph, Duke of Vendôme
Johann Joachim Winckelmann