Books

Queer Eye for the Cinema Guy

Harry H. Long

In Fabulous!, Reuter picks all the right films, but if he even understands what makes them gay under the surface, he doesn't explain it well.


Fabulous!

Publisher: Broadway
Length: 192 pages
Subtitle: A Loving, Luscious and Lighthearted Look At Film from the Gay Perspective
Price: $126.96
Author: Donald F. Reuter
US publication date: 2004-01
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The coffee table book has always been the blonde bimbo (or blond himbo) of the publishing world. Splashy and pretty it was also essentially vacuous and served much the same purpose in the home as magazines serve in the dentist's office -- something to occupy a guest while you make the coffee or shake the cocktails, retrieve the KY Jelly and pop a moistened towel into the microwave. They may offer oversized and beautifully reproduced photographs of Greek statuary or the Sistine Chapel ceiling or movie star portraits but they are essentially short on (or entirely free of) text. They are no-brainers that allow you to kick-start conversation. "Personally I think Frank Lloyd Wright is a tad overrated but I'd just love to live at Falling Waters. Would you like a prosciuto and havarti canapé?"

Fabulous! isn't exactly free of text and it's photographs aren't exactly beautifully reproduced on expensive paper ... it isn't even a hardcover volume, but it fully qualifies as a coffee table book by nature of it vacuousness. What purports to be a "lighthearted look at film from the gay perspective" is just the no-brainer one might expect from the author of Gaydar. That teensy novelty volume threatened the reputation of gay men everywhere for non-stop All About Eve-caliber wit; its self-deprecating "humor" made the performances of Stepin Fetchit look positively liberated by comparison. Fabulous! follows suit; it won't make straight people uncomfortable. In that the book follows suit with the amazingly popular (why?) Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, whose fashion-Nazis so smarmily place that week's product placements on the poor shlubs they're charged with that one can continue to despise them even as one picks up a few worthwhile tips.

Now I was certainly not expecting a serious treatise on gay sensibility in films on the order of Parker Tyler's Screening the Sexes or Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet. The title and format argued against that. But I was expecting some substance under the veneer of style and wit -- that's what gay people are known for, as witness, say the works of Cole Porter, Noel Coward, George Cukor, etc., etc. Reuter can't even supply the veneer. Not only is he not amusing but he totally misses the point that the main ingredient in every film he cites is a sense of fun.

Whether the films possess the acid sarcasm of Double Indemnity or Sunset Boulevard, the quirkiness of Bride of Frankenstein, the monumental silliness of The Cobra Woman, the enormous incompetence of Can't Stop the Music or the high romanticism of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, they are fun to watch. Or fun to be devastated by as in Sophie's Choice which is, surprisingly, not listed but which I first saw in a roomful of gay men (and for the record we all thought it was, uh, fabulous). Reuter picks all the right films (I might quibble with him on a few choices), but if he even understands what makes them gay under the surface he does a lousy job explaining it. He states early on that the reasoning will become apparent as one reads the book; foisting the responsibility on the reader is a nice out for a lazy writer.

Devoid of wit. Devoid of perception. There's little to be said in favor of Fabulous! except that it does contain an abundance of factoids. But even these are available from many other sources (the IMDb might well have a claim toward co-authorship) and one is merely left contemplating how many trees were sacrificed for this drek.

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