Film Gay Politics

On Alexander and Uncle Tom…

The other day I was watching BBC Breakfast and they got their film critic on to talk about the premiere of Oliver Stone’s new film Alexander. Now Alexander has not got terribly good reviews and they showed a few clips of the director and some of the actors talking about why it’s been such a flop in the States. Oliver Stone’s opinion was that America had trouble with the idea of a general who had a long-standing homosexual relationship. Apparently in some parts of the States they wouldn’t even show it in theatres. As a consequence Stone decided to re-edit the film for the DVD release—presumably to remove some of the gay stuff.
To give you a bit of the context, here are some articles around the film:

Anyway, after seeing the interviews, BBC Breakfast dragged out their critic. And they asked him if it was true that the film was only rejected because of the gay stuff. And the critic said (and I paraphrase), Well, I hope that’s not the case. But in my opinion, if anything the film needed to be more gay—you know—camped up a bit! A bit more glam!
Nnngh! Nngh! Grrr! Nnngh! I mean for Christ’s sake—this is a film about a man who led armies across all of the known world—who pushed his people beyond the limits of that worldand who did it all in his twenties. This was an epic leader! This was one hell of a man! Why is it so extraordinary to want to represent this hero of Macedonia seriously? Some cultures thought he was a monster of enormous proportions. Other cultures idolised him. Classical academics who are not generally prone to hyperbolae referred to him as “undoubtedly the greatest general of his race and probably of antiquity”. This isn’t some made up piece of modern hokum like Gladiator was – nor is it an attempt to represent an ancient literary work and mythological tradition like Troy. Why on earth would you want to ‘camp it up’?
Now, I’ve now gone and seen the film. I was determined to see it and pretty determined to enjoy it and to find value in it. But I can report that it is not a particularly good film. It has really good bits in it if you’re prepared for the crap, but it’s badly structured and clumsy and has obviously been hacked to pieces for time. Whole sections of the life of Alexander are excised or put in briefly as flashbacks, some characters are hammy beyond belief and for some extraordinary reason everyone in Macedonia speaks with an Irish accent. I mean, I could go on all day with the things that are wrong with it.
But there are things that it’s been criticised for unfairly, and—worse—reactions from audiences and critics that demean themselves and our culture. Whenever Alexander was seen to be interested in someone malethis epic leader and warrior became suddenly subject to titters and giggles from the auditorium. Because it’s apparently laughable—embarrassing even—to imagine that a great warrior could have been more interested in men than women. The sincerity of the feeling that Alexander evidences is apparently ludicrous to these people. That’s why they need the film ‘camped up’ a bit—because most of the modern western world appears to be prudish or infantile when it comes to sex and feeling, and completely unprepared to deal with different cultural morays or with the representation of a character who managed to be larger than any of them will ever be, while also fucking men.
Having been in the auditorium with these reactions, I think I can state right-out that there is homophobia in the way this film has been received. I think that’s true. It’s only one reason that the film has failed of course—there are dozens of others—but it’s certainly one of them. And in experiencing people’s reaction to the film, I’m reminded more and more that the successes in gay rights over the last ten years or so have also ushered in an Uncle Tom-ish culture of the desexualised, non-threatening and funny little poof who is apologetically grateful for the positive reaction he can get from straight people by being entertaining. I’m increasingly angry about the way that we’ve petitioned for rights by turning everything about ourselves that could be possibly considered threatening into some kind of joke. Alexander the Great was no man’s bloody pet.
You can find out more about Alexander the Great at these various sites:

11 replies on “On Alexander and Uncle Tom…”

‘…and for some extraordinary reason everyone in Macedonia speaks with an Irish accent’. And for an even more extraordinary reason everyone speaks in English.
Seriously, why not an Irish accent? Would it have been ok for you if everyone used RP? Would that have required an extraordinary reason or wouldn’t you have noticed?
Maybe Irish accents have connotations for the British that might prove a little distracting.
I think you’re on the ball (so to speak) about the Uncle Tomism. Who was data normalisation for, remind me?
Your preview page needs work, by the way.

I haven’t seen the movie, so I don’t really have a valid opinion about it, but I just wanted to say that even if the movie isn’t put together very well, that isn’t necessarily the reason why it flopped in the United States either. There are plenty of aweful movies that were succesful in the United States and the reason this one wasn’t might very well have to do with homophobia. Especially considering that the only thing I ever heard about the movie had to do with the “controversy” surrounding Alexander’s gayness. I can’t imagine very many straight people uncomfortable about differences in sexaulity being pumped up about going to see Alexander like they would be about any other Greek Gladier/Troy-type movie after the press it’s been getting.

Well I think the reason I specifically mentioned the Irish accents was because the vast majority of people in the film aren’t Irish. If it was their normal speaking voice (as it presumably is for Colin Farrell – who normally fakes an American accent of one kind or another to fit in with American films) then it would seem perfectly reasonable. But to specifically choose to make most of your American actors in a film about the Hellenistic Mediterranean made primarily for the American market speak in an Irish accent is a bit strange, surely?

So you didn’t laugh at Hephaestion’s Pythonesque death scene?
My primary problem with the movie besides the historical inaccuracies and weak structure was the fact that there is no relationship between Alexander and Hephaestion. Watch it again, if you can bear it.
Hephaestion, the central emotional focus of Alexander’s life, gets 10 lines in a three hour movie. His primary purpose in the film is to serve as a set piece while Farrell delivers lengthy monologues expressing values Alexander did not hold. I was waiting for him to promise to create a national health care system for the Bactrian children when elected to the Asian Presidency. After these 20 minute ordeals, Hephaestion says something like, “I love you,” and then he walks away. Also, why doesn’t Stone show the darker Alexander? A protagonist who has 30,000 civilians put to the sword and sells another 50,000 into slavery after the battle of Tyre wouldn’t give him crystal clear heroic qualities, I guess.
Stone starts the relationship too early, makes Leto wear tons of historically incorrect mascara, and forces Leto to have eternally stringy wet hair. I fully understand why Alexander prefers to leave their relationship at a simple hug. Hephaestion is never shown in his proper role as logistician, and he never does anything useful.
The death epitomizes unintentional B movie comedy. Hephaestion was not poisoned, and the real Alexander was beside himself with grief for three days. He wouldn’t even let go of the body for 24 hours. Yet there goes Farrell, monologging while staring out the window, as Leto flops around like a fish out of water on the bed behind him. Ferrel’s reaction is to finish his monologue two minutes after Hephaestion’s death, turn around, looked surprised, get angry, and then run out of the room to strangle his wife. I laughed out loud with everyone else, so you can’t say the giggles are homophobia.
It is a painful movie to watch, and when the emotional climax of your film has the opposite effect of what you intended, you should consider a graceful retirement from making movies. Stone worked on this film for more than a decade, and he delivered a flop. The history channel made a better movie about Alexander as part of the film’s promotional campaign. This film has finally put me off Stone, and don’t get me started on the constant camera blurs. At least I got to laugh at Kilmer for trying to sport an Irish accent.

l need to state again that the film is not good. Not going to deny that at all. And I’m not going to say that it failed simply because people were homophobic. It failed for a hell of a lot of reasons. I’m not even sure that the gay stuff was the main reason it failed. But it was a factor – you only have to see that theatres in the States refused to show it because of the gay content to know that it had some kind of effect.
I’m more interested in the sniggers in the auditorium to everything to do with man-on-man action – all through the film – and the apparent inability of critic or many audiences to reconcile power and masculinity with poofdom.

links for 2005-01-09 | weblog | On Alexander and Uncle Tom… There are still far too many people out there who think that Alexander couldn’t have been gay because he was a murderous bastard and effective leader, rather than a camp…

uncle tom
Check out Tom’s great rant about Alexander and the limits of “gay rights” discourse: I think I can state right-out that there is homophobia in the way this film has been received. I think that’s true. It’s only one reason…
Of course, Homosexuality is a powerful weapon of mass destruction, investigated by the US military… What’s not macho about that? Heh. Turn a whole army into Alexanders, why not…
I blame Living TV – it seems almost entirely based round ‘Look at the funny poof’ telly. But then again, maybe we’re just in the ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ stage of things, and we can look forward to some really balanced portrayals over the next ten years… Is there a single ‘incedentally gay’ character around at the moment, where the gayness is only mentioned in passing and not a central plotpoint?
Strangely, us ladies don’t seem to have the same problem: probably because girls getting it on is a huge box office draw…

The movie was terrible. Really awful. I’ve seen worse movies before but none of them were as long. The only redeeming moments were the scenes between Alexander and Hephaestion, except for the glaringly obvious flaw that, to my recollection, they didn’t kiss even once.

The reason why this movie was so bad is because it is really bad!
Oliver Stone should not blame ppl for his own dismal failure!

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