|by Jim Provezano|
|The Best Gay Sports Films
Billy Bean's memoir, Going the Other Way, about his struggles as a closeted pro baseball player, is in development to become a Showtime movie. Set to be produced by the prolific gay team of Craig Zadan and Neil Meron and directed by Six Feet Under executive producer Alan Poul, it promises to be a fascinating look into the world of a gay athlete.
Until that film's on the small screen, however, here are some other notable gay and lesbian sports films. Most are available on DVD or VHS, and, like Bean's memoir, would make great gifts for the athlete or sports fan on your holiday list.
2 Seconds. (Director: Manon Briand, 1998, French). After Laurie (Charlotte Laurier), a bisexual competitive cyclist, loses a slot on a championship team, she becomes a bike messenger while developing a friendship with an eccentric bike-shop owner (Dino Tavarone). Their competitive love of cycling helps Laurie win back her self-esteemand the heart of another woman.
Beautiful Boxer. (Director: Ekachai Uekrongtham, 2004, Thailand). The fascinating real-life story of transgender Mu Thai kickboxer Parinya Charoenphol (known as Nong Toom in Thailand) has become an endearing and action-packed film that follows Nong's life from teenage monk to trainee in a grueling kickboxing camp to eventual fame and success. Nong's struggle to realize her dream of a sex-reassignment operation is met with resentment from athletes, but eventual acceptance from her family and promoter. The lead is played with sincerity by real-life kickboxer Asanee Suwan, and the sports scenes are powerfully authentic, more than compensating for the slightly overdone finale's sentiment.
Bend It Like Beckham. (Director: Gurinder Chadha, 2002, England). Jess (Parminder K. Nagra) is in the closetabout playing soccer, and about her fascination with sports star David Beckham. Her traditional Indian family craves a wedding, and soon. When another female player (Keira Knightley) coaxes Jess to play on a women's team, this lighthearted comedy becomes a hilarious game of hidden identities and confusion. Although the movie nearly brims with sapphic desires, the only real gay character is one of Jess' male soccer pals. While the soccer scenes are a tad overdramatized, the heart of this film is in the right place.
Breaking the Surface. (Director: Steven Hilliard Stern, 1997, United States). If Mario Lopez in Speedos doesn't pique your interest, then the compelling, dramatic, real-life story of the greatest diver in U.S. history should. After being adopted as a Samoan child into a white family, Greg Louganis suffers through the pressure of his father/coach, who pushes him to successbut also away from accepting being gay. There's a lot to cover in one film, but it does show the trials Louganis facedsurviving an abusive romantic/manager relationship; HIV; the now-famous 1988 diving accident; and his subsequent fame of coming out.
Cock and Bull Story. (Director: Billy Hayes, 2003, United States). Dark, brooding, violent, and disturbing: What more could one expect from the author of the autobiographical book Midnight Express? In between bouts of fighting in the ring, Travis (Bret Roberts) battles the corrupting influence of his friend Jacko's (Brian Austin Green) homophobic outbursts, as well as his own pugilistic form of arousal.
Gay Games VI. Sydney 2002. (Producer: Brett Heil, 2002, Australia). Longer than five hours in length, with an array of clear images, unobtrusive background music, and a menu of sport-by-sport options, this DVD marks the first comprehensive coverage of a global gay and lesbian athletic event. Montages for each of the Games' eight days offer a nice appetizer to the extensive footage. Sports features vary in length and depth, a few with informed voiceovers sprinkled with some saucy commentary. Bonus features include a photo gallery and complete competition results.
Iron Ladies. (Director: Yongyooth Thongkonthun, 2003, Thailand). Over-the-top in campy style, this endearing and fun-filled dramatization based on the real-life Thai volleyball team breaks boundariesand a few fingernailsas gay and transgender players rise from maligned underdogs to national champions. The 2004 sequel, Iron Ladies II, furthers their adventures, as one player quits the team, but is lured back for loyalty and love.
Like It Is. (Director: Paul Oremland, 1998, England). Who knew bare-knuckle boxing had such cute young gay guys in its ranks? Steve Bellin real life a featherweight boxing champion in Britainbrings a realistic edge to his character's painfully awkward coming out in a jaded London gay community. Roger Daltrey of The Who captures the manipulative slyness of a wicked club manager.
My Life on Ice. (Directors: Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau, 2001, France). The filmmaking team that brought us the affectionate yet subtle Adventures of Felix offers an even more understated story of a quiet teenager realizing his gay identity. After receiving a video camera as a gift, the handsome Etienne (Jimmy Tavares) sees life through a camera lens. Between bashful interviews and voyeuristic shots of friends and family members, Etienne explores his own identity and even gets some hilarious results while trying to tape himself practicing figure skating. Even his own competition at the French Cup (a real event, with Tavares actually competing) is shown in a way that's beautiful and not sensationalized.
Personal Best. (Director: Robert Towne, 1982, United States). Although a bit dated, this is a groundbreaking lesbian film about an affair between a track star (Mariel Hemingway) and her mentor-competitor (real-life Olympic runner Patrice Donnelly). The film includes scenes from the 1976 Olympic trials and the 1980 Moscow Games qualifying races. The race footage is both compelling and sometimes overtly sensual.
Playmakers. (Directors: Various, 2003, United States). ESPN's fascinating attempt at a dramatic series about a pro football team may be too full of egos, racism, drug abuse, and hyped-up on-field action, but it does include a subplot about closeted gay player Thad Guerwitcz (Daniel Petronijevic). Under pressure from the NFL, ESPN cancelled the series, which should make you even more curious to see it, now out on DVD.
Thin Ice. (Director: Fiona Cunningham-Reid, 1994, United States). This terrific idea for combining a romance with the actual events of 1994's Gay Games IV in New York City also documents the first inclusion of figure skating in the Games and the groundbreaking same-sex doubles competition. Director and co-star Cunningham-Reid also medaled in the skating event captured in this endearing, exciting, and innovative mix of documentary and fiction.
You'll Get Over It. (Director: Fabrice Cazeneuve, 2002, France). In this drama that includes lots of hunky swimmers and the realistically frustrating experience of being outed on a high-school team, a familiar story is given an unusual twist when Vincent (Julien Baumgartner) develops a tense friendship with antijock Benjamin (Jeremie Elkaim). Swimming competition is woven smoothly into the eventually redeeming story line.
Jim Provenzano, author of the novels PINS and Monkey Suits, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 6 June 3, 2005