16 JULY 1994, Page 39


Go Fish ('18', selected cinemas) Gypsy ('U', MGM, Shaftesbury Avenue)

Crumbling dykes

Mark Steyn

I'm not a lecturer in lesbian film studies or anything, but it seems to me that, before Go Fish, most lesbian movies broadly endorsed the line taken by Woody Allen in Love and Death. 'There are many different lands of love,' Diane Keaton tells him. The love between a man and a woman, the love between a mother and a child . . . ' 'Don't forget the love between two women,' says Woody, excitedly. 'That's my favourite.' I looked up the video of Desert Hearts — the last big Sapphic sizzler — and, judging from the sources of the most enthusiastic quotes, Woody is not alone: 'Contains one of the most emotionally charged sex scenes I have ever witnessed' — Neil Norman (Evening Standard). 'I don't know how many sex scenes Neil's been called upon to witness (makes him sound like a Notary Pubic) but on screen heterosexual sex is like a football match Where you've only got cameras at one end of the pitch. Female nipples, thighs, but- tocks and pubes are lovingly lingered over by the director. Then the man disrobes and suddenly the foreground is littered with artfully positioned bedknobs and broom- sticks. At least in lesbian vampire movies, both parties are pulling their weight. Go Fish has its own little joke at lezzie exploitation scenes. One of the leading ladies is in bed with someone, as the cam- era pulls back from her companion's taut bare midriff, revealing the flawless alabaster of the torso, the pert, erect nip- Ples . .. At this point, just as Woody and Neil, and I are dribbling all over our pop- corn, we see the face and realise that it's a man. When the real sex scene between the Principals eventually gets going, it's the most inventive and extraordinary thing in the film — a blur of erotic if imprecise close-ups, as if the camera is running over the couple like an exploratory hand.

Written and produced by Rose Troche and Guinevere Turner, directed by Rose and starring Guinevere, Go Fish is a lan- guid portrait of a slow-burn courtship between Max (Miss Turner, an offhand Geena Davis) and Ely, a string-haired old hang-over from the Seventies. It's shot in grainy black-and-white, which reminds you of Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It, and it's incredibly badly dubbed, which reminds you of Europorn favourites like Reform School Sluts on the Lam. When the lesbian who sleeps with a man is asked by one of her sisters Did you just want some dick?' the mouth sound she made for 'dick' looked more like `meatloaf. You wonder if it wasn't dubbed into English from the original Slovakian, but no, it's as all-Ameri- can as you can get. Plot-wise, it seems to have been dubbed into gay from the origi- nal straight — an uneventful boy-meets-girl romance relocated among 20-something lesbians. There's more invention in the per- functory `oh-this-pipphole-bra-really-suits- you-ja?' shopping expedition plots of soft porn. But the measured tempo gradually draws you in, and it's kinda fun to hang out with girls who just lounge about, eat pasta and talk about nothing but having sex with each other. I found myself thinking, 'Gee, I wish I was a lesbian, and I could get to have sex with women without any of the unpleasant penile business.' From diving in muffs to muffing in dives — 'muffing' in the old theatrical sense of 'blundering in', that is. Gypsy charts the decline of a small-time vaudeville act from the Orpheum Circuit to an accidental booking in a sleazy burlesque house that's a stripper short. On stage, it's the greatest of all American musicals — and also the most American. It fuses two Broadway gen- res: the dramatic ambitions of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical play, but set to the sass and swank of a jazzy, colloquial musical comedy score (Jule Styne's music, Stephen Sondheim's lyrics). The last film version (1962) was a traves- ty. This one is faithful as hell, and just as disappointing. Although Better Midler suits the all-consuming stage mother more than Ros Russell, somehow the energy which makes Madam Rose one of the greatest figures in American drama bleeds Hey! Are you illiterate or something?' away on screen. But do go and see it, if only to keep this genre alive; there hasn't been a proper musical hit — where people walk down the street and start singing — since Grease. For three decades, musicals were a cinematic staple. It's sobering to think these days there are more lesbian movies than musical movies.