There’s a fine line between a queer musical and a queer music film. It’s subtle but rather distinctive. The first is a film whose plot includes songs pertaining to the story; the latter is a film whose story revolves AROUND music or the music industry itself. Yes, it’s rather confusing because many films have music soundtracks – but aren’t musicals. And there are some films that are both music films AND a musical – including one on this month’s list!
According to IMDb, a music film is one that: “contains significant music-related elements while not actually being a Musical; this may mean a concert, or a story about a band (either fictional or documentary). Subjective.”
So basically: a film with music that is not obviously a musical. Got it? It’s fine if you don’t, but hopefully reviewing the five queer music films below help clear up any lingering confusion.
Two of the queer music films are biopics of famous bands & performers – obviously, they’re both “music” films. One queer music film features drag queens and drag performances. The fourth enters the world of theatre, specifically Bejing Opera, but while it’s equally a historical epic, there’s no question that it’s a queer music film and not a musical. The fifth film is the wonky one – sorry! It’s both a queer music film, but also a queer musical. How can it be both? Well… keep reading to find out!
Since you’re reading this post, you obviously enjoy watching queer and LGBTQ films! But if you also happen to enjoy music films, then I hope you’ll enjoy learning more about these five queer music films.
[Note: Not all of these films have full reviews yet – but they’re added to the quickly growing list of films I plan to tackle soon!]
5 Queer Music Films
Singer Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee), drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and bass guitarist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) take the music world by storm when they form the rock ‘n’ roll band Queen in 1970. Hit songs become instant classics. When Mercury’s increasingly wild lifestyle starts to spiral out of control, Queen soon faces its greatest challenge yet – finding a way to keep the band together amid the success and excess.
What is there to say about Freddie Mercury and the rock ‘n’ roll band Queen that hasn’t already been said – or sung? They captured the world by storm with their music, and now this queer music film recounts the band’s roots – through the lens of Freddie Mercury’s life. Most biopics can feel dry and boring; not “Bohemian Rhapsody”! This film is a colorful explosion of energy and drama, with their music directly in the forefront. Building up to the Live AID performance, shortly after Freedie’s diagnosis of having AIDS and before his early death, the flow of the film truly works to draw us in, captivate us, and yet still create an ending that is fitting to Freddie’s legacy. If you have not yet seen “Bohemian Rhapsody” yet, what are you waiting for?!
Two drag queens, Anthony/”Mitzi” (Hugo Weaving) and Adam/”Feliciaand” (Guy Pearce), and a transgender woman, Bernadette (Terence Stamp) contract to perform a drag show at a resort in Alice Springs, a town in the remote Australian desert. As they head west from Sydney aboard their lavender bus, Priscilla, the three friends come to the forefront of a comedy of errors, encountering a number of strange characters, as well as incidents of homophobia, whilst widening comfort zones and finding new horizons.
What can I say about “Priscilla”? This low-budget, Australian film about three drag queens took the world by storm! It nearly created a riot at the Cannes Film Festival, and eventually won an Oscar for Best Costume Design – and that’s before it was turned into a successful stage musical! But what is it about this queer music film that created such a stir? Part of it is the time. Drag was still a very niche and almost underground art form. Homophobia was still quite rampant world-wide. But there is something special about how three very different drag entertainers band together to push through life’s problems while caravanning across the Australian outback! If you have not yet seen “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen Of the Desert” – what are you waiting for?!
Everyone knows who Liberace is – well, maybe not our youngest generation. Known for his flamboyant flair, costumes, wardrobe and his amazing piano skills, Liberace was a star! And a man who spent most of his life in the closet, despite his flamboyant lifestyle. “Behind The Candelabra” is a TV Movie that chronicles the latter part of Liberace’s life from the discrete romance with his much younger lover, the messy fallout and legal suit afterwards, to the attempt to hide his death from AIDS. This queer music film is extravagant and everyone portrays their role amazingly. Yet something felt missing. While “Behind The Candelabra” is an enjoyable film, it’s a biopic film that is hard to connect with while watching. But if you’re a fan, it’s worth the watch.
Gabriel(Christian Campbell), an aspiring writer of Broadway musicals, meets Mark (John Paul Pitoc), a muscled stripper, who picks him up on the subway. They spend the night trying to find somewhere to be alone… forced to contend with Gabriel’s selfish roommate (Brad Beyer), his irritating best friend (Tori Spelling), and a vicious, jealous drag queen in a gay dance club (Miss Coco Peru). The sun rises on a promising new relationship.
“Trick” is an older film, but quite a delightful one to watch! I recall friends having this on VHS… yes, THAT old! Yet this farcical Rom-Com keeps giving us one crazy twist after another in ways that make us laugh and even smile. It’s a delight to watch, though clearly a small independent film. It truly is a staple of queer cinema, and was far ahead of its time when it was released in 1999. If you’ve never taken time to watch this classic, find yourself a copy today of this queer music film. “Trick” is that enjoyable!
Abandoned by his prostitute mother in 1920, Douzi (Leslie Cheung) was raised by a theater troupe. There he meets Shitou (Fengyi Zhang) and over the following years the two develop an act entitled “Farewell My Concubine” that brings them fame and fortune. When Shitou marries Juxian (Gong Li), Douzi becomes jealous, the beginnings of the acting duo’s explosive breakup and tragic fall take root.
“Farewell My Concubine” has been on my watch list for years now… and after finally taking the time to watch it, I’m not sure why it took so long! This epic queer music film is simply visually & lyrically stunning. However, traditional Beijing Opera (also known as Peking Opera) is VERY different from a lot of other Western opera & theatrical styles, which may be offputting to viewers – alongside the need for subtitles. But this film beautifully weaves together the story of an actual Beijing Opera called “The Hegemon-King Bids His Lady Farewell” (often referred to as “Farewell My Concubine”) and true historical events spanning over 50 years of China’s tumultuous history. The way that all of this is layered upon each other, while telling an epic & captivating story is simply incredible. I strongly encourage everyone to watch “Farewell My Concubine” – it’s THAT good!