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FILMS NOT QUITE DEPICTING GREEK LOVE

 

The decision to include or exclude a particular film from the website's list of films depicting Greek love on the grounds of relevance is often difficult and unavoidably a little arbitrary. It is necessary to draw a line somewhere, otherwise every film depicting close bonding between men and boys would end up being included, which would greatly dilute the meaning of inclusion. From there, one might without a firm line end up including every film in which men and boys interact at all.

Presented here is a list of some of the films suggested for inclusion on that list by readers, but which the editor decided should be nevertheless be excluded from it. The main grounds for including a film in what follows is that the editor agrees that it is a near miss in terms of depicting pederasty. Another grounds is that a review has been written and linked which interprets a film as depicting Greek love, and is therefore of Greek love interest in its own right (despite the editor himself thinking this interpretation over-stated).

Typically, the films here depict the sort of intimate friendships between men and unrelated boys that are the main subject of Steven Adrian Freeman's excellent book Special Friendships. The most common reason why they have been excluded from the main list is that, however emotionally intense the relationship between a man and unrelated boy in the film is depicted as being, no hint is given that it had a sexual underpinning (unless one takes the line that all such relationships have one to some degree ipso facto). In defence of his decision to exclude some other films, the editor would point out that depicting suspicions of pederasty is not the same as depicting pederasty itself.

Readers are most welcome to explain in comments why the editor is wrong to have included or excluded any particular film from the main list.

Black Adder II: Bells, Mandie Fletcher, Great Britain, tv, 1986, 30 minutes. Asher Archive. This BBC comedy series is about Edmund, Lord Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson), a courtier trying to win the favour of Queen Elizabeth I. In this first episode, a young woman (Gabrielle Glaister) comes to Blackadder disguised as “Bob” a boy, seeking service. Nothing will mitigate the lust Blackadder is disturbed to find he has for his new page until he discovers the truth, leading within minutes to sex and engagement between them.

Burning Secret, Andrew Birkin, Great Britain, 1988, 106 minutes. Asher Archive. Edmund (David Eberts), an American diplomat's lonely 12-year-old son, falls for a suave German baron (Klaus Maria Brandauer) staying in their hotel, only to be jilted for his own mother. Finally, it transpires that the baron was toying with them both. No suspicion of pederasty is raised, which is credible in the film's 1920s setting, but the rationale for a viewer's suspicion rests on more than today's jaundiced thinking or the beauty of the boy; the latter's passion on the cusp of puberty is hard to disassociate from Greek love.

The Lost Boys, Andrew Birkin, Great Britain, 1978, 270 minutes. A brilliantly-acted, beautifully crafted, thoroughly researched and convincing account of the relationship between J.M. Barrie (Ian Holm) and the five Llewelyn-Davies boys, beginning in 1897 and giving rise to the fictional Peter Pan. This was unquestionably a love affair between a man and some boys, and it is widely and reasonably presumed that there was an erotic underpinning to his passion that would make it Greek, but nothing sexual is implied and the director was probably right in guessing in his book on the same subject that Barrie was not conscious of sexual attraction to the boys.

The Man Without a Face, Mel Gibson, USA, 1993, 115 minutes. 14-year-old Chuck (Nick Stahl) forms an intense bond with Justin McLeod (Gibson) a disfigured writer he persuades to tutor him. The 1972 novel on which it is based depicted Greek love, with some kind of consummation implied towards the end. The film twists the plot for a much more bigoted age by having the tutor run out of town on completely unfounded suspicions of pederasty.

The Police (Season 2: Episode 3 of the series Screen One), Ian Knox, Great Britain: BBC, tv, 1990, 85 minutes. Review. An ironic story in which a brilliantly manipulative boy of 11, Edgar (Guy Faulkner), forms a private police force out of his classmates, initially just to entrap bullies, but which goes on to cause the suicide of a teacher who had told Edgar off, Edgar successfully explaining the suicide to the real police as caused by the man’s attempted seduction of him. Pederasty itself is not depicted; the film is included here for its important depiction of the effects of public hysteria about it.

Il sapore del grano (The Flavor of Corn), Gianni Da Campo, Italy, 1986, 93 minutes. Asher Archive. Lorenzo (Lorenzo Lena), a first-year schoolteacher in an Italian village, develops a close friendship with one of his students, a 12-year-old named Duilio (Marco Mestriner) who has intense feelings for him.  When their friendship is questioned by Duilio's suspicious stepmother, Lorenzo is brought to a crisis of conscience.

Shane, George Stevens, USA, 1953, 118 minutes. Review. Ten-year-old Joey Starrett (Brandon deWilde) is smitten by Shane, a wandering gunslinger attempting to trade his lawless past for a respectable job working for Joey's family. Joey's infatuation with the mystery of Shane's quiet manly code only deepens as Shane has to wrestle with the need to modernize versus the need to stand and fight.

La Tutora (The Tutor), Ivan Noel, Argentina, 114 minutes. Mona comes to look after two wild 11-year-old orphans, Ángel (Valentino Vinco) and Ema on an estate in rural Argentina, and poisons their world with her sexual hysteria, especially her belief that Ángel's strangeness is the outcome of sexual abuse by a gardener he loved and who is apparently dead. A dark, beautifully-made film inspired by Henry James's novella, The Turn of the Screw.

4:30, Royston Tan, Singapore, 2005, 93 minutes. Lonely 11-year-old boy Xiao Wu (Xiao Li Yuan) has been left in his apartment by his neglectful businesswoman mother, who has entrusted her son to the care of their Korean tenant Jung, a suicidal alcoholic. Desperate for love and attention, Xiao Wu makes many attempts to connect with the equally lonely Jung and even keeps a journal that documents his early morning observations of the Korean man.

 

Alphabetical listing by English names of films with other names in their original languages

The Flavor of Corn: Il sapore del grano
The Tutor: La Tutora

 

 

Comments

Comments of general interest will be collected at Letters To The Editor (some editing may be involved)

Helen,  15 March 2022

I haven't seen all of these films, but it seems to be a pattern that the ambiguity arises in those cases where the boy's affection is not requited by the man in a way that strongly implies an "erotic" element, especially a conscious one. Is it enough for the boy alone to fall in love with a man for it to count as "pederasty?" Even boys not "in love" manipulate and experiment with their attractiveness, consciously or not, in their relations with men, who themselves may be unaware of the "erotics" of it all.

The term "pederasty" itself is biased in this regard, entailing erotic attraction for the boy and remaining neutral with respect to the boy's feelings. (That there is no word corresponding to "pederast" for the boy in such relationships is pointed out by Tony's older friend David in Angus Stewart's Sandel, incidentally!)

Certainly the tale of a man obsessed by a boy who may dislike or never even meet him would quality as "pederastic;" we would not rule out Death in Venice, I presume. Should we not similarly qualify films in which the bonding of the boy alone takes on a romantic or erotic character?

 

Editor,  16 March 2022

These are excellent observations, Helen, and very much to the point. The home page of this website has always made it clear that the reason for its general preference for the term "Greek love" rather than "pederasty" is not from any intention of limiting itself to only the romantic manifestations of pederasty. As used here, the "love" in "Greek love" is simply "eros", one of the OED definitions of love.

The reason for preferring "Greek love" is precisely because a boy in a love affair with a man is not being a pederast, but he can be partaking of Greek love just as much as the man. Indeed, as you have pointed out, sometimes it is only the boy who yearns for the love affair to take off. It was never intended that films depicting this should be excluded, and there are in fact several on the main list, for example Alone with Mr Carter, Ausente, Blue Jeans, En tu ausencia, Whole New Thing and 17 anni.

No films are on this page because it was only the boy in them who was in love. They are here because it is not clear that the feelings of either boy or man had an erotic underpinning, even if one may reasonably guess that was likely.

I thank you for drawing my attention to the mistake of departing from the website's usual practice by using "pederasty" rather than "Greek love" in the headings of these listings. It is being corrected forthwith.

 

Sam Hall16 March 2022

I think a strong argument can be made for Burning Secret qualifying as a Greek love story. The boy's love for the baron is unequivocally that of boy desiring to enter a Greek love relationship. He's grown up in a culture that ensures his complete ignorance of the subject, so of course he has no real conscious idea of what he's yearning for so strongly - he just knows he wants the baron, body and soul. Also, the jealousy toward his mother, the violent emotional reactions to being cast aside (the orgasmic asthma attack thrown in just to make sure we didn't miss the point) -- I can't see how it can be interpreted as anything other than thwarted Greek love.

Compare that to an included film like Jet Boy -- which I found of much lesser Greek love relevance or interest. Sure, the boy works as a prostitute at the beginning. But he doesn't like it and the entire film then showcases how a REAL friendship between man and boy could never have a skerrick of sexual content.

 

Editor, 17 March 2022 

All this is true. Jet Boy offers only a shallow and negative stereotype. Its only brief moment of truth about Greek love is when Nathan offers himself to Boon, showing that he at least (though perhaps not the script-writer) has grasped the obvious: that man/boy sex (despite being misused in the rest of the film) offers the surest and fastest means of cementing a man/boy relationship. Otherwise, it offers no insight whatsoever into Greek love.

I agree that Burning Secret, a much better film in every way, is of far greater interest to anyone who wishes to understand Greek love. It is true that if the boy Edmund had been brought up in a society in which knowledge of it was widespread enough to seep down to the young, it is barely conceivable he would not have seen his love clearly in those terms.

Of all the films on this list, Burning Secret comes closest to having made it to inclusion on the main list. Nevertheless, in terms of drawing the line, one cannot prove that Edmund’s feelings had an erotic underpinning, while it is was made clear that Nathan in Jet Boy had sex with men. I would conclude from the comparison that Burning Secret shows why this secondary list is of great value for anyone who would like to see how Greek love works.

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Anonymous 93,  7 April 2022

Suggested addition:

Nachttocht, Nick van den Boezem, The Netherlands, TV, 1982, 63 minutes. 12-year-old Thomas, the son of a single mother, adores his 23-year-old rowing coach and enjoys a warm friendship with the young man, depicted with definite romantic/erotic undertones. Then one night Thomas finds his beloved coach in bed with his mother, which sends the boy into a tailspin.


Editor, 8 April 2022

Thank you so much for this expert contribution, duly added above.

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Anonymous 93, 8 May 2022

Below are 3 short films for possible inclusion to the 'not quite' list:
These Things Take Time, Jerell Rosales, United States, 2018, 19 min. Eight-year-old Zander, falls in unrequited love with Mr. Wiley, his third-grade teacher, and experiences his first heartbreak.
Alex and the Handyman, Nicholas Colia, United States, 2017, 14 minutes. Precocious nine-year-old Alex develops a crush on the 25-year-old handyman working in the mansion where he lives.
Mani, Ashkan Mehri, Iran, 2020, 16 minutes. Mani, a 12-year-old boy, is in love with his family's chauffeur, whom Mani discovers is having a secret affair with his mother.


Editor, 9 May 2022

Many thanks for these three gems. Having just watched These Things Take Time, I think it's very sweet, but doesn't belong on either list. By contrast, the other two I've put on the main list of films depicting Greek love.

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