Characters who desire both men and women are few and far between on the big screen. But there are some glorious exceptions…
BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival runs 19-29 March 2015.
The B in LGBT is not explored in cinema as much as the L, the G and, latterly, the T. But there are some glowing exceptions, some of which are showing at this year’s BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival. This includes new films such as Frangipani (2013), the first queer film from Sri Lanka, and a special screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) at BFI IMAX, a film in which Tim Curry’s Dr Frank N. Furter enjoys bedtime hijinks with both Brad and Janet. The director’s cut of 54(1998/2005), meanwhile, transforms a bowdlerised, bland drama into a queer modern classic. The last film in the list below is also screening at this year’s festival. But what representations of bi characters came before it?
Bisexual men and bisexual women are depicted very differently in cinema. In the worst examples, films can be downright squeamish about their characters’ bisexuality – see (or don’t) Oliver Stone’s timid biopic of Alexander the Great (Colin Farrell played a more interesting bi character in 2005’s A Home at the End of the World). Tinto Brass’s notorious Caligula was far less timid but far more offensive, showing the Roman emperor’s sexuality as just another example of his appalling decadence. Laurence Olivier’s famous, unreciprocated pass at Tony Curtis in the baths in Spartacus (1960) – “My taste,” he hisses, “includes both snails… and oysters” is meant to add to his repulsiveness. Still, things are getting better – if even James Bond is allowed a suggested previous sex life with males, as is hinted in Skyfall (2012), then Hollywood cinema is at least acknowledging other sexualities.
Bi women are even less visible in Hollywood films, particularly before the last couple of decades (a surprising exception being Lauren Bacall’s psychiatrist in 1949’s Young Man with a Horn). Often, if bi females are portrayed at all, they are as monsters (pick any European vampire film at random from the 1960s and 70s) or as titillating sex pots (pick any DVD at random from your sex shop). Sometimes they are just confused young women who think they are lesbians, but ‘change their mind’ after a steamy session with the nearest hunk (as in overwrought 1967 melodrama The Fox). There are exceptions – Angelina Jolie’s career was launched through her charismatic performance as a tragic model in Gia (1998), a superior TV movie.
Some of the films below may not fall under the label ‘bisexual’ in the conventional sense. Is a man who has sex with a man in prison bi? Is a supernatural entity that sleeps with an entire household able to be allocated a sexuality? Perhaps ‘great films in which sexuality is fluid’ is a more accurate description. But either way, the following selection brings together some of the most interesting films in which characters enjoy sex with men and women.