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 Aptly-Named: Twisted
The stories of Charles Dickens have become the stuff of pop-culture mythos. Like Shakespeare, people often quote or allude to the characters and plot twists of Dickens’ writing without even realizing they’ve done so. Maybe that’s why we find it so satisfying when a filmmaker has the chutzpah to take Dickens’ work and reimagine it in a bold new way.
Case in point: Twisted, the 1996 indie drama that reimagined Oliver Twist set in a world of hustlers and drugs. Keivyn McNeill Graves plays Lee, a ten-year-old boy forced taken in by Andre (William Hickey), a low-life gay pimp. Lee’s only protectors are Eddie (Anthony Crivello), one of Andre’s boys turned drug dealer, and Eddie’s boyfriend Angel (David Norona). The pair do their best to shield Lee from the lasciviousness of Fine Art (Jean Loup Wolfman), an associate of Andre that sees the boy’s age in dollar amounts. Fortunately, Angel also knows to call on the services of Shiniqua (Billy Porter), a drag queen ready to bring down Andre and Fine Art with her fabulousness.
Film festival audiences didn’t quite know what to think about Twisted when it debuted, and the movie only ever saw a limited release. Looking at it today, for all its low-budget fraying, it also represents a bold reinvention of the Dickens story with a sexual charge. Porter’s turn as Shiniqua foreshadows his later success with Kinky Boots as well as the magnetism with which he’s become synonymous. Hickey (perhaps best known as the loopy Grandpa in Christmas Vacation) oozes creepy lust, and writer/director Seth Michael Donsky revels in the grittiness of 1990s cityscapes.
Twisted is a film ahead of its time in many ways, and a reminder of the LGBTQ youth homeless crisis both then and now. Amazing how the bones of Dickens’ story still resonate almost 200 years on…especially when mixed with some gayness.
Streams on FilmRise streaming services.