Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss

USA 1998

Reviewed by Peter Matthews


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Los Angeles, the present. Billy Collier, a 26-year-old gay photographer, is broke and tired of being the "other woman" in his relationship with the already partnered Fernando. His best friend Georgiana proposes he realise a long-cherished dream of shooting a photo series recreating great screen kisses from Hollywood's golden era using drag queens. Perry, a more successful photographer, will be his financial backer. Needing a romantic male lead, Billy spots waiter Gabriel and soon becomes infatuated, but Gabriel claims to be straight. At an exhibition, the celebrated artist Rex Webster invites Gabriel to test for a modelling job in Catalina. Gabriel asks Billy back to his apartment for beers, but their cosy evening is interrupted by a phone argument between Gabriel and his girlfriend Natalie.

Billy and Gabriel's first photo shoot goes well. Later, the two begin to have sex, but Gabriel can't go through with it. He curtly informs Billy that he's accepted the modelling gig. Billy follows him to Catalina while Perry follows Billy to stop him making a fool of himself. Billy finds Gabriel at a party thrown by Rex, but another model, Brad, shows up, and he and Gabriel walk off arm in arm. Billy throws his camera into the ocean. Perry confesses he once longed for Billy in the same way Billy desires Gabriel and then kisses him. Some time later, Billy holds an exhibition called "Hollywood Screen Kiss" featuring Polaroids of his friends where he meets a young admirer named Joshua.


The gay romantic comedy Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss gets listed in the credits as a "Tommy O'Haver Trifle", and that's certainly the word for it. The movie is so slender and ephemeral you emerge from the theatre thinking, can this dinky tale of the average fag-in-the-street and his crush on an unobtainable blue-eyed hunk really be all there is? Perhaps the film doesn't resemble a layered trifle so much as a spongy meringue. It's difficult to explain why gay audiences remain so eager to gobble up these light-headed confections, as if the slightest hint of gravitas automatically stigmatises a picture as boring and straight. Billy belongs in the same pipsqueak class as Jeffrey and Beautiful Thing, both of which proved how gay subjects can be marketed for the multiplex crowd. That's progress as long as you don't mind movies whose flat obviousness emulates the style of television soaps and sitcoms. What raises this debut feature a notch or two above the competition is that O'Haver shows signs of being a film-maker.

Here one-dimensionality is arguably part of the concept, with a few scenes attaining the perky modernist look of such 50s sex farces as Pillow Talk or The Girl Can't Help It. O'Haver, cinematographer Mark Mervis and production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone swathe interiors such as Billy's apartment in vibrant pop colours that lend the film the graphic simplicity of a comic book (an effect heightened by the use of shallow space, which seems to turn the actors into bluntly scissored cut-outs). But what is all this witty stylisation in aid of? On the one hand, it comes across as a pastiche of the clean-scrubbed Hollywood fantasies with which our hero (who has Doris Day dreams of monogamy and white-picket fences) is meant to be sated. But on the other, squaresville is affirmed as what every normal gay guy supposedly inwardly craves.

While that may be true, the film barely registers the bottomless irony of it - and indeed, there are any number of promising ideas that die for lack of oxygen. Having Billy cast himself and his inamorato Gabriel as the lovers in a variety of screen genres is a pretty mouldy gimmick to begin with. But given the slack way the director stages these set pieces, you can't even tell for sure which movies are being spoofed. O'Haver's obscurantist rendering of a Fred-and-Ginger number boils down to a few apathetic twirls while a drag-queen chorus frisks randomly in the background. A more philosophical theme that gets mooted is the artist's growth from innocence to experience, represented by neophyte photographer Billy, his spiritual mentor Perry and an oily Warholian/Hockneyesque character named Rex Webster.

But there's one brilliantly astute sequence that lifts the film clear above itself. A boozy evening of mutual confession at Billy's leads to Gabriel's ostensibly idle request to stay the night. From that moment, the atmosphere is charged with an erotic tension that mounts until it becomes claustrophobic and terrible. Perched directly over the bed where the chaste couple lie apart, the camera simply watches and waits as they creep together by agonising millimetres. First, a hand brushes accidentally against a back; then, a shoulder arches outwards to meet it - finally, an arm pinions a chest to seal the deal. The scene is a small classic because, whether homo or hetero, we've all been in that bed. For a minute or so, this flyspeck movie gets transformed into triumphant cinéma vérité.


David Moseley
Tommy O'Haver
Director of Photography
Mark Mervis
Jeff Betancourt
Production Designer
Franco-Giacomo Carbone
Alan Ari Lazar
©Revolutionary Eye LLC.
Production Company
A Revolutionary Eye production
Line Producer
Irene Turner
Meredith Scott Lynn
Irene Turner
Associate Producer
Marcus Hu
Production Co-ordinators
Janne Hammel
Andrew Colón
Post-production Supervisor
Eddie Schmidt
Assistant Directors
Matthew R. Eyraud
Jennifer Nahas
Yorgos Varagoulis
John Driscoll
Megan O'Haver
Script Supervisor
Jane K. Lemon
Robert McGee
Projected Effects
Bill Hansard (H.E.I.)
Art Director
Ioannis Papadopoulis
Billy's Art Work
Garen Hagobian
Rex Webster's Art Work
Norman Stephens
Costume Designer
Julia Bartholomew
Key Make-up/Hair
Francie Paull
Cinema Research Corporation
Music Supervisor
Robin Urdang
Associate Music Supervisor
Rita Johnson
Music Editor
Alan Ari Lazar
"Blue 'n' Groovy" by Dorsey, Gould, performed by Parafin Jack Flash Ltd; "Cuban Love Song" by Jimmy McHugh, Herbert Stothart, Dorothy Fields, performed by Xavier Cugat; "Love Me or Leave Me" by Walter Donaldson, Gus Kahn, performed by Nina Simone; "Frenesi" by Alberto Dominguez, performed by Xavier Cugat; "Think" by John Medeski, performed by Medeski Martin and Wood; "Kenny" by John Medeski, Wood, performed by Medeski Martin and Wood; "Border Ska" by David Lowery, performed by Camper van Beethoven; "This Is My Song" by Charles Chaplin, performed by Petula Clark; "Do What You Wanna" by/performed by Ramsey Lewis; "Lady" by Bert Kaempfert, Larry Kusik, Herbert Rehbein, Charles Singleton, performed by Bert Kaempfert; "Are You Still There?" by/performed by The Cavelords; "She Calls Herself Georgina" by/performed by Carmine D. Giovinazzo; "Happy Heart" by James Last, Jackie Rae, performed by Petula Clark; "Jim's Dog" by M. Turner, J. White, W. Ellis, performed by Dirty Three; "The Love Slave of Catalina" by Alan Ari Lazar, Tommy O'Haver, performed by Tonya Kelly
Michelle Spears
Joseph McKee
Sound Supervisor
Chris Tyng
Sound Mixer
John H. Gilman
Re-recording Mixers
Yuri Reese
Patrick Giraudi
Supervising Sound Editor
Scott Schirle
Sound Editor
Jeff Bennett
Abbie Lefevre
Tommy O'Haver
Eddie Schmidt
Drag Co-ordinator
Spike Trevino
Sean P. Hayes
Billy Collier
Brad Rowe
Richard Ganoung
Meredith Scott Lynn
Matthew Ashford
Christopher Bradley
Armando Valdes-Kennedy
Carmine D. Giovinazzo
Kimiko Gelman
Niles Jenson
Les Borsay
Annabelle Gurwitch
gallery owner
Holly Woodlawn
Paul Bartel
Rex Webster
Mr Dan
drag queen
Chad Boardman
Rodney Chester
Eric Davenport
drag chorus
Mark Anderson
Shanti Reinhardt
Ju-Ju, the performance artist
Kiff Scholl
Rio, the performance artist
Shawn Nicholson
young Billy
Jaime Spencer
Kent Bartlett
Michelle Karén
Billy's mom
Aaron Wilde
Chris Jungblut
Bonnie Biehl
Connie Rogers
Jason-Shane Scott
Kim Campoli
Mark Conley
Robbie Cain
Metro Tartan Distributors
8,341 feet
92 minutes 41 seconds
Colour by
Anamorphic [Panavision]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011