The Birdcage’s 25th Anniversary reminds me of an uncomfortable night sitting in a darkened movie theatre on a hot and steamy evening in Cairns, Far North Queensland in 1996 – with my parents of all people, sitting next to me.
A total accident that could only have happened in regional Queensland in the mid 90’s when the internet wasn’t really a thing yet and researching a movie you hadn’t heard about but had free tickets to just wasn’t a thing you could do!
If you had free tickets to the movies, you went to the movies!
And so that’s how the three of us ended up at the Cairns premier of The Birdcage and by the end of the first minute… I’m tense, to say the least.
Kill me now, please
I mean, I’m watching six drag queens absolutely slay their performance of the iconic Sister Sledge song “We Are Family” but all I can think about is the fact that mum is next to me, with dad next to her and me, – their closeted gay son who couldn’t ever imagine uttering those life changing words – “Mum and Dad, I’m Gay” – cringing next to them.
Also, absolutely knowing that there definitely wasn’t a God because if there was, she’d have let the ground open and swallow me up, right there and then.
But it didn’t happen, dang it, which lead into the next extremely tense moment – THE KISS ON THE LIPS between Armand and Val.
I mean sure, it was a fatherly kiss between parent and child but that fact wasn’t immediately clear and the groan that rose from every single straight man in the audience, including Dad was deafening – to my hyper sensitive ears at least.
But then, something miraculous and amazing happened!
By the time the credits rolled, the lights came up and the vision of Gene Hackman in that stunning silver dress and huge blonde wig was etched into your memory forever, everyone in the audience was smiling and buzzy, including my folks!
The Birdcage made my coming out easier
I truly believe this movie made my coming out 18 months later possible and may have even encouraged my parents to prompt that coming out – an absolutely huge legacy for this small-town closeted gay kid from Queensland, who was pretty convinced he was doomed to a half life of lies and misery, and children.
Watching it back recently, I was also struck by how the movie discusses and makes fun of what was considered “manly” – a concept I still struggle with as a 40-ish year old gay man, who was considered ‘soft’ or ‘emotional’ as a kid and as a young man in his early 20’s.
I find myself reflecting on those themes again now, while we in Australia are having long overdue discussions about what masculinity should look like.
I’ve realised as I’ve gotten older and more self aware that these qualities that saw me being bullied by manly males for being ‘soft’ or ‘emotional’ are exactly the same qualities that, as an adult, have made me a better type of man because I have the ability to be empathetic to others – which means I can be there to support my family and friends when they need me most.
The Birdcage’s 25th Anniversary is a good excuse
So, treat yourself to a re-watch of this timeless classic that has aged very well and is worth another look at, even if it’s just for the surprising cast members you forgot were in it!
Including Christine Baranski and her long dancers legs stepping through a dance routine with Robin Williams or the sight of Dan Futterman playing the sometimes cruel Val and remembering that some time later he played the role of ‘coming out of the closet Barry’, Karen Walker’s gay cousin in Will and Grace!
The Birdcage, including the French original and its sequel, are available to watch on Stan.