Since 2016, James McColl and Beth Highgate-Betts have talked about LGBTQIA+ films in the fun and informative LGBTQ Review. We chatted to Beth and James about why they started, their fave reviews and Cher…
D&CFilm: You have a great rapport and seem to really enjoy talking about films together. How did LGBTQ Review come about?
James: Well I do remember Beth saying ‘the LGBTQ Review, no one’s taken that name, isn’t it weird?’ They liked it because it rhymed.
Beth: That does sound like me.
James: They wanted to do something with that and I thought it would be interesting as a challenge to see if we could do it. Because I’d done some stuff where I had to present to the camera and it was definitely a skill I didn’t have, so I thought it would be interesting to see if it was any better with two of us, just on a practical level. I think you can tell in the videos that I still don’t really have that skill, I will just never have good eye line.
Beth: I remember it was difficult to find LGBTQIA+ films at the time. We used to go in HMV a lot and the LGBT section would all look like porn, all of the covers of the 10 DVDs in that section would just be two topless people writhing around.
James: Yeah, good times.
Beth: So, I thought we could probably find some different ones. Also, I think honestly, I’d just come out when we started it, and I thought maybe us talking about gay stuff every week would make me better at talking about it. Didn’t work at all, but here we are.
James: I did think in the beginning, we’d just talk about the five gay films, despite having studied film at University and us both making films, there was like a big blank spot for us.
The first few are very giddy and we’re just like ‘this is fun’, and as then the years go on, we’re trying to take it more seriously or talk about it in a way that holds more importance.
D&CFilm: How do you decide on what films to review?
Beth: We have a lot scheduled, ones that people suggest in the YouTube comments or on Twitter, and then we also swap them for new releases and things like that. It’s basically just things that I want to watch.
James: Yeah, a lot of it is Beth guiding me through things, they’ll have like a peripheral knowledge of a lot of films or TV shows and it’s a good excuse to watch them. A lot of it is like an education. We talk a lot about our 90s/00s education and being denied any with Section 28, so we look at a lot of 90s of films that we wouldn’t have been shown.
D&CFilm: What’s been your favourite review?
Beth: A Beautiful Thing?
James: That’s what I was thinking of. It would have been so helpful for us both to have seen that film when we were younger.
Beth: Yeah, it is the best one, highly recommend if anyone hasn’t seen it.
D&CFilm: You both seem to understand each other’s tastes. Has anything shocked you – or at least made your eyes go wide about something the other liked or didn’t like?
Beth: Definitely, but I can’t think of anything specific, James definitely says ‘I really liked this’ about films a lot and I’m like ‘…ok”.
James: City of Books? Beth hated that and I liked it more before we talked about it.
Beth: That does happen a lot.
James: But that’s what’s useful about talking about the films, it’s not necessarily like popping peoples bubble of excitement, it’s more like ‘oh have you considered this?’ There were huge chunks of that which I hadn’t considered. It’s a really useful process, but I don’t know how much of that, my realisations, makes it into the actual videos.
Beth: I don’t think our epiphanies ever make it in. Which is good, because there are a lot things I watched as a closeted teenager that we review now and I’m like ‘oh no, this isn’t good.’
James: I guess I’m shocked when they’re like ‘that was a 5 out of 5 or a 4.5 and above on the scale’.
Beth: I like a lot of things.
James: I guess it’s just because we’re not like particularly emotive people…
Beth: Oh my god yeah, tone, we’ve still got to work on tone. But we’re always pretty united on controversial bits of films, there’s not really been a big thing that we differ on to that extent.
James: We have a fairly similar taste.
D&CFilm: As you’ve been doing this have you noticed a change in the tone of films and TV in their depiction of LGBTQIA+ character in film and TV?
Beth: Slowly. I feel like it’s happening right now. There’s not been much of a shift, but with The Mitchel’s vs The Machines and things like that, that’s what I’ve noticed. Some films will just have gay characters now and they won’t come out and there won’t be a lot of drama and no one will throw any bibles at them.
James: What’s been interesting, because we’ve done it on and off for 5-6 years, when we were talking about it originally it was with DVDs and now it’s all streaming. But the main difference is that we just had what was available and now everything is kind of available.
Beth: That is true, distribution has definitely improved. Although queer movies that do well at film festivals often still don’t get or struggle to get picked up for release, like The Miseducation of Cameron Post.
James: The majority of the stuff we’ve reviewed I wouldn’t say was like mainstream stuff. So it’s interesting when we do the bigger releases, and you can look at them and the star power and what they had and you can see why they succeeded. But there’s still a huge push that is needed to get them seen. TV is much better.
Beth: Yeah for sure, although again that’s mostly on streaming. I think it’s interesting with TV because you’re seeing the shift into actually talking about gender identity stuff now as well with shows like Feel Good, which you don’t really get in films.
D&CFilm: Reviewing LGBTQIA+ films, especially the way you do, is such fun, but you’re also highlighting visibility and relatability, is there a social role for film reviews as well as for film?
Beth: I don’t know if what we do is film reviews, I don’t think it is. I think it was a name that rhymed in 2016, but yeah, I don’t think we review film. We did, maybe, we were all excitable and giddy in the beginning and then there was definitely a shift at a point where we became careful, Also, we made some films and you realise how difficult everything is.
James: Yeah, we still haven’t found quite the right terminology for it, we say ‘showcase’ quite a lot, which I think is closer than ‘review’. We both review stuff outside of this and this is not the same.
Beth: It’s a chat about films basically, but there isn’t a good way to say that.
James: The important bit of it for me is that we’re not just picking random films and reviewing them, we are picking films that we either want to showcase or we know we will like and we want to champion and shout about.
Beth: I think there is definitely a social space for film reviews, the internet has shown us that.
James: So many of these films are driven by fans that are seeing themselves in them, and that’s why social critique is so important for these types of films and TV. And why they have life beyond a one-time viewing. In that way it is really important, and maybe that’s where we fit in, in that we are able to extend the conversation.
Beth: Plus, it is still pretty hard to find LGBTQIA+ films, streaming services have made it a lot easier, but if you google it, there is still only really 10 that come up and there are so many incredibly diverse LGBTQIA+ films out there. I think that’s why we try to review a bit of everything.
D&CFilm: The Cher Scale of Gayness – where did that come from and can you explain it?
Beth: The Cher scale of gayness is a recent thing we’ve incorporated into reviews because we often watch LGBTQIA+ films that turn out to not be very gay. Which is great, it’s a good thing that gay people are just in films like all the straight characters ever. But I don’t think it’s helpful to be an LGBTQIA+ review that suggests films that aren’t gay at all. So, having a scale, at least then you know how gay it is.
And Cher is a gay icon, but she’s also not gay. If we had a scale from something not gay at all at one end and something very gay at the other, then it defiantly leans into stereotyping and it’s just a bit icky.
James: So we just fit the films on the Cher trajectory, with 1 being not gay at all: Sonny and Cher, and 10 being the gayest it could be: Cher’s one woman show of West Side story.
Beth: Which is the gayest thing of all time, look it up if you haven’t seen it, it’s a treat.
D&CFilm: What do you hope people get out of your reviews?
James: That’s a difficult question, a lot of the early ones at least were for us. Just to watch the films, but also to educate ourselves. Well I speak for myself, to educate myself.
Beth: Yeah, I did it to educate you as well.
James: I’m sure you did. That was how it started anyway, but when you see certain videos get a lot of views, like 10k, 15k, you start thinking about it in a different way. I think there’s just a frustration if you see something really great and no ones talking about it, you just want to be like ‘well why is no one talking about this? Please talk about this. Let’s talk about this!’ A lot of why we do it comes from that feeling ‘this is great and no one seems to care.’ If it didn’t have James Franco and Sean Penn in it, no one’s going to see it.
Beth: That’s a very good answer. I think it’s just good to have lots of different people talk about gay stuff on the internet, right?
James: Unless you want to make money.
Beth: Yeah, then it’s very bad. But I think at the start at least, I was thinking about it as a thing I would have wanted to see when I was growing up. A thing that would have been helpful to me. Here are these two, sort of useless people, struggling to talk about gay stuff in films and for me personally, talking about being gay. Things are a lot better now, but there are still young people in rural communities or small towns, like the ones we grew up in, and they’re still struggling and maybe they can’t be open about who they are yet. But they can see us, and find a film that they relate to. Relating to people is really important, I talk about it a lot in the reviews, and sure, to some extent we can all relate to whoever no matter our differences. But actually seeing yourself on screen, seeing your journey, your experience, or having a character feel the way you felt at a certain point in time, it’s a really powerful thing. And you don’t realise you’re not experiencing that until you see it for the first time.
D&CFilm: What next for LGBTQ Review?
Beth: A podcast. We’re going to keep producing weekly videos, but we’re also working on a longer format which we’re going to launch as a podcast. We’ve recorded a couple now, and we’re just working on formatting and all that fun stuff. The records have gone really well and I think our conversations make a lot more sense in a longer format. We do need a new name though, before we put the first one out…
James: Well I feel like we’re always in flux in some way, we’re always going to change it or there’s some issue, or one of us goes to another country, whatever it might be. So, I think we’re always trying to find what we would like to do with it next.
The most fun part of the videos is just having people talk about the film, and we lose so much of that in the edit, it’ll be a better for being longer. It’ll be a more interesting thing. Plus, you won’t have to focus on my weird eye line or us fiddling with our hair…
Beth: Or me looking at my own muscles.
James: Yeah. I mean you can still do that, but no one will see it.
Beth: I won’t stop. I can’t.
The LGBTQ Review uploads new videos every Thursday on YouTube.
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