We watched the film version of William Yang’s “Friends of Dorothy” last night. While Neil Armfield’s recent film adaption of Tim Conigrave’s “Holding the Man” was beautifully acted, directed and conceived, and the two films are totally different in genre, I much prefer Yang’s account of that moment in history to the recent adaptations of “Holding the Man”.
Conigrave’s book and its adaptations certainly touch on the importance of community politics, festivity and subcultural life, (but very briefly, and less and less so in the stage and film iterations I might say). But as touching, moving and heart-wrenching as Holding the Man is, it is the sort of representation oriented around loving couples, family drama and romantic loss that today’s homonormative context wants and likes to tell itself.
Community politics and popular culture are all but jettisoned from the film version of Holding the Man … (though from memory there was at least a brief reference to the Mardi Gras party in the opening scene of the theatre production. Nothing like that survived the final cut of the film. One threeway in a sauna is the only reference to australia’s gay sexual subculture and it is framed diegetically as a distraction/problem).
There are loving couples, romance and loss in Yang’s “Friends of Dorothy” too, and Yang doest shy away from the personal significance of loving relationships between men in couples (thruples, etc). But what Yang captures that Holding the Man doesn’t is the collective creativity of a subculture, community and scene that made modern gay life in Sydney what it is, (or rather, was). More than any love story, that’s the account that needs remembering and passing on.
Tragic love stories are just that: tragic, tear-jerking, and beholden to a private version of intimacy that is ultimately a very small part of the story. There’s much more to be remembered about gay life in this town and much more to be said about what makes our history unique.
Holding the Man is an important story to remember, but let’s not forget what was dynamic and important and much more powerfully found among Friends of Dorothy