On Janet Maslin’s Shocking Discovery That “Gay Culture” Existed Before Tom Brokaw Didn’t Write About It


Last night we were pleased to be joined by New York Times critic Janet Maslin, who earlier this week treated us to her review of Boom, the new memoir by Tom Brokaw about life in the 1960s. Generally Maslin appears to have enjoyed the book, which she describes as “a response to the yearning for connection,” essentially an invitation for those of us who were not fortunate enough to have lived through that era to see it through the eyes of Mr. Brokaw, “a canny, perceptive interviewer with an honest interest in what other people have to say.” Still, the book is not without its minor flaws, and one in particular that Maslin pointed to caught our attention: “(The emergence of gay culture,” Maslin notes (and the parenthical is hers), “is notably absent from this book’s panorama.)”

It was with this in mind that we invited Maslin (a former film critic) uptown to screen Different from Others, the recovered fragment of a silent movie initially released in Germany in 1919 but subsequently destroyed by censors. In the film, a promising young concert violinist is blackmailed under Section 175 of the German Penal Code (passed in 1871 and repealed in 1994), which outlawed “unnatural vice between men.” Although the blackmailer is eventually caught and sent to jail, the hero of the movie is also sentenced to jail, at which point he loses his career and reputation, and subsequently (as commonly happened during this time period) killed himself.

After, we spoke with Maslin about whether the film falls outside of the bounds of gay culture as she understands it.

Janet Maslin: Well, I see where you’re headed with this, and while there’s a part of me that wants to admit that “OK, there was clearly some homosexuality before 1968,” I’m not sure you could describe it as “gay.” I mean, did you see any discos or hairdressers? (Laughs.)

TGR: Well, the main character was a musician — does that count?

Janet Maslin: It might, except he’s a classical musician! Is that “gay”? I think not! It’s not like he’s in a boy band or something where you’re like: “so gay.” (Laughs.) Seriously, where’s Madonna? Where’s Cher? Where’s Judy Garland? How can you have a “gay” movie without gay icons? I mean, look at you — you have an entire wall over there filled with pictures of Maria Callas, Greta Garbo, Candy Darling and Marlene Dietrich: how gay is that? Did you see anything like that in the movie? Did you exist as a gay recluse before 1968? Answer? I don’t think so!

TGR: So give us your impressions of the scene with Leonardo da Vinci: would it be fair to call him “gay”?

Janet Maslin: Look, Leonardo da Vinci might have been an artist but he was also a brilliant scientist and as everyone who reads the New York Times knows, you can’t be a gay scientist. Designer yes, architect mayyybee, but scientist? Sorry, but no. It’s just not a rational choice.

TGR: So I guess you would say the the same about Ludwig II, who also featured prominently in the “parade of homosexuals”?

Janet Maslin: Well, yeah — obviously if you’re talking pre-1968, there’s no way you could be a political leader — or God-appointed monarch — and also be gay; it was just unthinkable! Think of it this way: you can’t be an apple and an orange!

TGR: Janet, thanks again for coming all the way up to Washington Heights to clarify that for us. We’ll look forward to talking to you again soon.


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