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How Quentin Tarantino acknowledges gay porn in The Hateful Eight | LGBTPost

How Quentin Tarantino acknowledges gay porn in The Hateful Eight

Pictured: Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kurt Russell in ‘The Hateful Eight’

In his latest genre mash-up, The Hateful Eight, that sly-boots sadomasochist of the big screen, Quentin Tarantino, gives one of the treacherous characters in his epic 70mm outlaw western the maverick name “Joe Gage.” This must be the first time a legendary director of gay male pornography (Gage is best known for the ‘80s trilogy Kansas City Trucking Company, L.A. Tool & Die, and El Paso Wrecking Crew) received a snap of a jimmy hat as a salute from a mainstream Hollywood director.

But this is not the first time Tarantino put on kinky boots. His game-changing 1994 film Pulp Fiction was rife with disturbing gay content: Pre-transition actor Alexis Arquette appeared in an early sequence as one of a group of quasi-gay L.A. preppies who are slaughtered by Jules and Vinnie (Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta). Later in that film, Tarantino played with gay S&M subculture in the sequence where black gangster Marsellus (Ving Rhames) was humiliated by a pair of white racist sodomites. The degrading horror of male butt-fucking was such that Marsellus forgave his beef with the obviously-named Butch (Bruce Willis) in exchange for keeping the secret of his “unmanning.” (The buggerers not only boast a Confederate flag, they kept a leather-hooded Gimp on a leash.)

It wasn’t only Marsellus who got “medieval.” Pulp Fiction’s old-fashioned, shameful gay male sex (limited to rape and depravity) is part of the hipster, frat-boy snarkiness with which Tarantino has changed modern film history.

But the covert and snide reference to gay porn culture is part of the problem that makes The Hateful Eight odious. Tarantino doesn’t even allow his Joe Gage character the allure of same-sex attraction. He’s just a villain. Michael Madsen acts the role with admirable subtlety but he’s just a subtle non-entity, same as the rest of the cast: Kurt Russell’s John Wayne pastiche, Channing Tatum’s tight-pantsed hooligan and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s gruesome harridan whose not given enough psychological detail to match her role model: Mercedes McCambridge’s classic Western dykes in Johnny Guitar (1954) and Giant (1956). 

Tarantino exploits gay porn—and repressed gayness—in the same vein that he notoriously exploits race. (The Hateful Eight discharges the most excessive racist language in Hollywood history.) There’s none of Taraninto’s usual pop music anachronisms—like say, Village People’s “Macho Man” or Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax”—to ties things together.

Joe Gage’s porn might be explored for its sexual candor in recognizing taboos that part of gay male fantasy or appreciated for its formal properties—the tension-filled seductions that fulfill the idea of “duration” and the documentary realism of Closed Set, his orgiastic 1981 opus patterned after Jean-Luc Godard’s One Plus One.

Yet, Tarantino denies Gage the truly cinema-savvy recognition that was apparent when film scholar Thom Andersen titled his 2003 history of Los Angeles film imagery Los Angeles Plays Itself. Andersen deliberately—puckishly—evoked the 1972 Fred Halstead porn film L.A. Plays Itself, an artifact from the era when pornography and art films sometimes blurred. (L.A. Plays Itself was renowned as one of the only gay porn films in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art and further distinguished by its extraordinary, unauthorized soundtrack of classic British punk rock tracks—in the tradition of Scorpio Rising.)

Disreputable pioneers Gage and Halstead are noted for taking gay male lust seriously—as both lust and as culture. In The Hateful Eight, Tarantino references it for a joke.

The Hateful Eight opens Dec. 25 in theaters. Watch the trailer below:


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