Today, I thought to myself, “What better blog entry than one focused on a film that only five other people in the whole nation have seen? Better make it an extra long entry, too!” Eh – Nobody reads blogs on the weekend anyway.
Let’s first say that Disney’s space-epic shows both its age and its creakiness. At age four, I loved it. To be fair to me and it, the film didn’t have a bad start. A small group of space explorers, about to end 18 months of failed exploration for intelligent life, happen upon a ghost ship. Long thought lost, they explore the U.S.S. Cygnus and find Dr. Hans Reinhardt, the only survivor of a crew of hundreds.
The film had some lofty ambitions. It tried to cross Dante’s Inferno with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Somewhere, quite early in production, the film producers envisioned a meditation on good, evil, death, and rebirth.
After the opening sequences, however, the movie’s timing goes to shit. Everybody involved, from director to actors, suddenly show themselves wanting the film to be over as soon as possible. The Black Hole had glimmers of some grand ideas, but poor execution, horrific writing, and mediocre acting left it flat.
If you have never seen this movie, in other words, you aren’t missing much. Only the truly nostalgic can bare it (kind of like tv’s Wonder Woman or Charlie’s Angels, but without the hair. Yvette Mimieux’s character, Kate McCray, had a disappointingly sensible seventies perm.).
Disney’s aesthetic and writing failures didn’t surprise me. What I did notice this time around, though, was just how queer this film seems as an adult. First, there are all the queer actors associated with it: Anthony Perkins, Roddy McDowall, and Joseph Bottoms. Okay, granted, I don’t have any real sense of Bottoms actual sexuality, but my third-grade sense of humor leads me to make presumptions based on his name. He also appeared to wear tons of eye-shadow for this movie. I am not sayin’, I am just sayin’.
This film’s dialogue also had more queer sexual innuendo than an original Little Mermaid poster. In particular, Anthony Perkins’ character, Alex Durant, falls head-over-heals for the slightly-murderous (though I always argued misunderstood) Dr. Hans Reinhardt. Take a look at some sample dialogue:
Kate (Concerned and Confused): Alex, I am beginning to feel that you want to go with him.
Alex (dreamy-eyed): On a glorious pilgrimage straight into what might be the mind of God? I do. I do.
Later in the film, the pick up with the conversation again:
Kate (Still Concerned, Always Confused): Alex, I won’t have you throwing your life away for this.
Alex (with a quasi erection): He can do it. I know he can.
Kate (with horror!): Oh, God, Alex!
Alex: There’s entirely different world beyond that black hole. A point where time and space as we know it no longer exists. We will be the first to see it, to explore it, to experience it.
[Yeah, Alex, who hasn’t been promised that at some visit to a gay bar?]
Harry: Damn it all, Dan. If we wait for Alex, it may be too late. Don’t you see? He’s hypnotized by that man!
Don’t fret, like 90 percent of queer driven characters in film, Alex came to an unhappy demise. Sliced up by Reinhardt’s robot guard, Maximilian, Alex and his queer inclinations go down in a fiery blaze.
Speaking of the robots, they make homo-lusting-Alex look like, well, a Disney character. I am not sure why seventies’ Sci-Fi dictated that robots needed fey tendencies, but they sure reigned supreme (I am looking at you, C-3PO). In the case of The Black Hole, real-life-queer-boy Roddy McDowall voiced the epicene robot V.I.N.Cent. Like any good queer, he seemed to only speak in well-crafted epigrams.
I do have some half-baked ideas about the love of these Sci-Fi fuss-bots. Perhaps my theories stretch things a bit. Still, given that popular culture presented queer folk as not quite human, it must have made sense at some unconscious level to use the same queer markers for characters that really weren’t human. Characters that allegedly don’t have a sexuality or are supposed to be “neutered” (like robots) end up being coded as queer. Not having a sexuality and having a desire for somebody of the same-sex often get conflated in our society.
In this film, Maximilian, a giant, red, longer than-he-is-wide, cyclops robot stands as the threat of queer sexuality. Reinhardt spends an unhealthy amount of time with his one-eyed monster, which he named Maximilian. The real first name of the actor who played Reinhardt, coincidentally, was also Maximilian. Dr. Reinhardt, heal thy self!
In the end sequence of the film, Maximilian and Reinhardt encounter each other in the middle of the black hole. For some reason, Reinhardt suddenly has long flowing hair that we had not seen entering the singularity. Robot and doctor embrace (no, I am not kidding), with Maximilian topping, and then merge together into a single individual. From that point on, they reign jointly over hell.
The film-makers imply that Reinhardt pays for his life-time of perverse desires (ambition, cheating death) with an eternity of perversion brought about by same-sex (though robotic) rape. The threat of same-sex sex symbolizes the most violent and horrific end.
Maximilian riding Reinhardt like a birthday-pony does not stand alone as the only same-sex rape reference in the film. In a pivotal scene, robot B.O.B., voiced by Slim Pickens, testifies about his abuse at the hands of Maximilian’s predecessor. “He had his revenge,” he shakily tells V.I.N.Cent., “He did things to me that I sure don’t like to think about.” We are only left guessing.
Phallic-domed Max gets around more, though. During the climatic battle, Maximilian locks V.I.N.Cent. into an embrace. During the scene, Max literally shakes with, um, delight? Ecstasy? Meanwhile, V.I.N.Cent.’s head goes from being entirely withdrawn, to out, to fully extended.
V.I.N.Cent.’s final escape involves his own phallic turnabout. He extends his long boring tool and drills away at Maximilian until the bigger robot submits. One doesn’t have to be Freud to see what’s going on there.
In the midst of all this cloaked sexual violence, B.O.B. and V.I.N.Cent. have a plutonic love affair. They talk openly of their admiration for each other and sense of partnership. In the classic tradition of on-screen buddy films, however, the love between B.O.B. and V.I.N.Cent. remains untainted by the vulgar suggestions of sex (contrasted with evil Maximilian). Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the two male robots could show affection to each other as dueling partners. In the end, of course, one still has to die.
Such are the things that I contemplate on a Saturday morning. I will end, though, with a special thanks to V.U.B.O.Q. He thoughtfully sent me a Boston-welcome present of the nifty knitted cap (modeled below). Some universal concerns exist that GayProf won’t hack the chilly Boston winter. Rest assured, I am tough.
I appreciate that cap for the warmth and also because it will be perfect to toss up in the air a-la-Mary-Richards. Thanks again, VUBOQ!!