It truly was the year of the gay cowboy. A movie about two American ranch hands who fell in love on Brokeback Mountain won our hearts. Then Big Brother got into the act with its own real-life gay cowboy who had the whole nation talking.
The year opened with the hype around Brokeback Mountain, and the love story of two cowboys’ desperate love for each other was a hit across the world. The iconic photo of Jake Gyllenhaal wrapped up in Heath Ledger’s arms made the pair poster boys for same-sex lovers everywhere.
When it came time for the Oscars, though, Brokeback found itself in a particularly queer race for the golden gongs. While it won an armful, Ledger lost Best Actor to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s spot-on portrayal of gay literary legend, Truman Capote, and Felicity Huffman was another leading contender as a male-to-female trannie in Transamerica.
The legacy of Brokeback Mountain continued when it was revealed Adam Sutton, a gay Central Coast horse wrangler, was Ledger’s inspiration for the role. When Sutton told his own tale of coming out on ABC-TV’s Australian Story it attracted over a million viewers -“ one of the most discussed episodes of the year.
Big Brother then roped in a gay cowboy of their own with David Graham. When David came out to his housemates and the nation it was one of the most public and dramatic real-life coming-outs Australian television had ever witnessed.
This was also the year Australian TV celebrated 50 years, and among all the backslapping and celebrations it was time to reflect on how far queer Australia had come. There was a lot of looking back to the glory days of Number 96, Prisoner and Mardi Gras telecasts, and only a few current highlights to speak of.
Cable TV finally delivered what it had been promising for a decade with a dedicated gay and lesbian channel on the Canadian imported Out TV. More local content is said to be on the way. And Will & Grace finally bowed out, leaving behind a very different TV landscape from the one it inherited back in 1998.
Mardi Gras came and went in February. Its arts highlights included Thief River, New York cabaret act Kiki & Herb, Kylie: An Exhibition and Sing-A-Long-A Sound Of Music. Jimmy Somerville’s show at the State Theatre proved the years had only added a depth and range to his incredible voice.
Darren Hayes’s voice was impressive as ever at the Opera House, but asking him about his sexuality in a Sydney Star Observer interview caused a furore, as debate raged in the straight press over the appropriateness of the question. Within months, however, Hayes took matters into his own hands and came out on his website.
There was a minor galaxy of stars who dropped into town for shows and spoke to the Star, including Broadway greats Mandy Patinkin and Faith Prince, comic legends Lily Tomlin and Joan Rivers, Aussie pop goddess Olivia Newton-John and Hollywood sweetheart Debbie Reynolds. The incredible Chita Rivera was in a class of her own, and the same could be said of Diana Ross and The Former Ladies of the Supremes, but not in the same complimentary way.
Judith Lucy returned after too long an absence and showered us with laughs, while Hugh Jackman came home and brought The Boy From Oz with him, with every sequin and feather in town, but minus that kiss.
Rent finally made it to the big screen, all its queer themes and AIDS suffering intact, but it proved a disappointment on every front. Another Broadway classic Dreamgirls also previewed on the screen and, while much better than Rent, was still only a mixed bag of delights. The Devil Wears Prada, in all its fashion finery, camp characters, bitchy one-liners and iced-steel performance from Meryl Streep, kept the box office ringing for months. Shortbus also took mainstream cinema to a new level with its frank and explicit forms, adding new meaning to the term self-satisfaction.
It was also a strong year for musical theatre. While there was not a lot of it, what there was was mainly good and, by and large, a hit at the box office, not to mention with a decidedly queer taste.
The story of legendary lesbian diva Dusty Springfield was given the jukebox musical treatment in Dusty -“ The Original Pop Diva, and Tamsin Carroll’s performance in the title role proved a star truly was born. Rock singer iOTA won deserved raves as the entire season of Hedwig And The Angry Inch sold out within days. Eurobeat was silly fun, Urinetown proved dark and fascinating, Elegies was small but packed a punch, while Titanic: The Musical was impressive, won critical acclaim and didn’t deserve to sink so quickly at the box-office.
The musical sensation of the year was Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert. The beloved 1994 drag road movie was given a multi-million-dollar stage makeover, and the gamble proved a success. While the show is still in need of script and score tinkering, everyone has been unanimous on one topic -“ Tony Sheldon’s performance as Bernadette is the triumph of an extraordinary career.
Barrie Kosky’s The Lost Echo had the town divided but lining up to see the epic work regardless. Caroline O’Connor was brilliant again in the return of End Of The Rainbow, while Wayne Tunk proved the most prolific young gay playwright in town, turning out a range of works including Birthdays, Christmas And Other Family Disasters and The Bridesmaid Must Die.
The year ended with the phenomenon that is Holding The Man. The beloved 1995 book by Tim Conigrave made its way to the stage, and with performances by Luke Edmonds and Matt Zeremes, it explored the love story of Tim and John from their school days until death. It also reminded us of a time in gay life that happened only a decade ago but is now beginning to fade into history. Holding The Man‘s finely-performed, touching, dramatic, funny and very Australian tale of two men in love proved a very good way to end the year.