50 Years Legal is a documentary created to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK.
I caught up with filmmaker Simon Napier-Bell to talk about pride, shame, and the importance of knowing our history.
What led you to take on this project?
For some years now I’ve been swtiching my career from music to films, it’s not entirely new. My dad was a documentary film maker, so film is an industry I grew up in and worked in before moving into the music business.
I made a documentary about Frank Sinatra, then I made a film about the rock stars who had died aged 27. I was looking for a new project when I realised that it was coming up towards the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation — it seemed to be an obvious subject, I thought I would enjoy making the film and also learn a lot during the process. I found some funding for it, and set out to make it.
As I began interviewing people, I realised that there was so much material, and such a range of different opinions and experiences, that I needed to focus the film on just one point of view.
It was while I was interviewing Peter Tatchell, and also Tom Robinson, that I started to focus in on the period since decriminalisation, and the fight for real equality.
How does your personal story connect with the timeline of the film?
I never found it very necessary to pretend I wasn’t gay. My whole attitude in life was not to care. I really enjoyed the gay clubs of the 60s — that sense of danger and excitement was all part of it. Most people in the entertainment business had similar experiences to me and hadn’t suffered too much prejudice, but it was interesting that other people had vastly different experiences.
It’s an extraordinary cast that you’ve assembled. How difficult was it to get everyone to agree to appear and then schedule the filming required?
I’m a hardened old rock manager, I don’t give up easily.
One thing that went in our favour was that we had the luxury of being able to make the film well in advance of the actual date of the 50th anniversary of decriminalisation. So when I was calling people and asking to speak with them about this subject, I was ahead of anyone else making similar films.
I started with the politicians — they knew who I was and perhaps thought it would be good for their image. Film stars and musicians like being connected to politicians, so once I’d got some of the politicians on board, it just sort of went from there. I never thought I’d get David Hockney, but we did.
Was there anyone that you wanted to appear in the film who you weren’t able to secure?
I asked Neil Tennant, but he doesn’t like talking about being gay. Sandy Toksvig I wanted, but I just couldn’t get hold of her. Graham Norton just had his novel out. I asked Sir Terence Etherton, he’s the Master of the Rolls — one of the most senior legal positions in the country. I would have been wonderful, and he thought about it for a long time, but ultimately decided that it might compromise his position and that he shouldn’t be appearing in a film.
There were some other people where it was just a scheduling thing that we couldn’t make work. Ultimately we had so many people that we couldn’t put any more in — anyone who said no really just made room for someone else.
Why is it important that we talk about this part of our history?
It’s a fascinating piece of history — much of which I didn’t know.
People need to see what people went through during that period of decriminalisation to where we are today. We need to ensure that we don’t let those freedoms go — it has to be fought for.
What do you hope that people feel when watching this film?
There are so many terrible things in the film, but I want people to enjoy watching the film, I want them to be entertained. I want people to feel informed, excited, proud, and also to learn a lot from it.
Were there any of the personal stories shared with you during filming that surprised or shocked you?
I was surprised by the depth of activism. Beneath the surface of everyone that I interviewed, there was a slight anger. There is an element of being gay that involves anger beneath the surface, I have it myself.
Another thing that surprised me was the number of people that felt shame about being gay — people such as Will Young, and Olly Alexander. I’ve never felt shame, to me it’s something that you feel when you’ve done something wrong, you can’t feel shame about being who you are. I haven’t really felt shame, and I haven’t felt proud to be gay. I wouldn’t want to change it. I’m proud to be myself.
I was shocked by the terrible stories — the man who was arrested in the 1950s for being gay. He was sent to a mental hospital and given electric shock treatment, and tablets that made him vomit continuously for days.
The stories of the AIDS period also surprised me. I was very fortunate, I only lost a couple of friends, but some of the people I interviewed — people like Simon Callow — lost a lot more friends, and spent years going to hospitals and funerals.
Then there’s the stories of today — where people are being thrown out of home by their parents for being gay. Shocking.
The opening credits featuring Matthew Richardson are really spectacular — where did you first encounter Matthew Richardson?
On YouTube. I happened to come across the extraordinary videos of his performances. I thought at once that it would make a great way to frame the title sequence. I think they’re beautiful, and have a balletic quality.
Have young gay guys today got it a lot easier?
I don’t think so, being gay is your own fight, your own battle with your inner-self.
It helps enormously to have celebrities, people on television, and politicians who have come out. That’s the bonus that young people have today, they can see other people who are gay, they have role models.
But there are still social pressures. It’s not a breeze.
With marriage equality now achieved in the UK, is the job done for gay activists? Can Gay Pride events now just be a celebration?
The ultimate goal should be to celebrate diversity, not being gay. Ideally we want complete indifference to people being different. We don’t want tolerance, we want indifference. We’re not there yet.
We want to hear your opinion
The men of Edgar Murillo
I caught up with artist Edgar Murillo to admire the men that have been inspiring his work.
When did you discover and begin to explore your passion for art and illustration?
I discovered it from birth. I was born deaf and it was difficult for me to communicate with my family, so I used papers and pencils to draw to be able to communicate something. I draw every day, and I’m very happy.
How would you describe your style of illustration?
Honestly, I don’t know what my style is – I draw different types of drawings and I keep making more drawings with new styles. The important thing is that people like it a lot.
Who are some of your heroes or artistic inspirations?
SilverJow, Kimjunggius, and Nesskain – you must follow him!
Are the men you draw hyper-masculine?
Yes – I’m a pogonophile – I love furry!
The inspiration comes from my imagination, friends, movies, and social networks. The majority of men that I draw are from Barcelona, others from America.
Do you accept commissions?
Not yet. I’m focused on making movies, and several other projects.
What do you expect people to feel when they look at your work?
Hypnotised! Some people have told me that they find my drawings arousing.
“I was walking straight into a trap…”
“I was now earning £12 per day…”
“I wasn’t about to crawl back into the closet…”
“I felt like I had turned a corner…”
How do you masturbate?
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