In the run up to summer of 1992 whilst taking a break from A Level English revision, I went with a friend to see a then relatively unknown film called My Own Private Idaho. I had been expecting some light relief after many hours spent learning quotes from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part One, but was surprised instead to discover that the film was a remake of the very same play. However, my other discovery was far more revealing to me – that a whole new queer world was out there which felt like home.
Gus Van Sant is the director of My Own Private Idaho. He is an American independent filmmaker who represents people on the margins who don’t quite fit in. He is also gay and has made a huge contribution to gay representation in film. Some of his films explore gay identities explicitly in all of their diversity, whilst others are more subtle and change the way we look at the male characters on screen.
His most openly gay films include My Own Private Idaho, which stars Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix as rent boys falling in and out of love, and Milk, an emotional biopic of gay rights activist Harvey Milk. However, he is also celebrated as developing the ‘gay gaze’, in which the viewer is encouraged to look at male characters through a gay lens, changing the gender politics of the genre. These films are often considered to be his more pioneering and radical legacy. His remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho, which invites the audience to be voyeurs of Vince Vaughn – the male lead, rather than Anne Heche – the female victim. Also by Van Sant, Good Will Hunting explores various expressions and kinds of male love of men.
So, my queer icon this LGBT History Month is an insightful and tender director who has had a lasting impact – both on queer cinema and also on my own sense of self.
— Richard Anderson-Baguley, Counsellor
This blog is part of a series for LGBT History Month 2022, where members of the Birmingham LGBT Team write about the LGBT people whose lives have influenced and inspired them.