‘Burning Blue’: High-flying gay love in the Navy

Burning Blue” might be called the gay “Top Gun,” but since Kelly McGillis was in the original, maybe the “out ‘Top Gun’” is more appropriate. Or “Top Gun” meets “Yossi and Jagger.”

Yes, it’s another story of love in the military.

Director and co-writer (with Helene Kvale) DMW Greer says the story is based on his own experiences in the 1980s, before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” triggered witch-hunts that made things even worse for gays in the service.

The movie takes place in the latter period, starting in 1995 when Dan (Trent Ford) helps conceal the night blindness of his best buddy, Will (Morgan Spector), which costs the Navy a plane. Dan exchanges glances with Matt (Rob Mayes) at Matt’s wedding but they don’t act on their attraction until five years later, when the story resumes.

During a vacation in New York City, Matt acts as Dan’s tour guide. They wind up in a straight bar where a woman picks them up and takes them to another bar to dance. Although we later find out the second bar is gay, Dan, Matt and two of their shipmates leave with women. Dan and Matt exchange more glances while having sex with their female pickups in the same bed.

Matt has a fight with his wife and Dan breaks up with his fiancée of eight years, leaving Will the only happy hetero in this bromantic triangle that puts the “men” in a ménage à trois. Will loves Dan more than Matt does, but in a nonsexual way, adding a bi angle to the triangle.

Shaving his “beard” moves Dan higher on the suspicion list of John Cokely (Michael Sirow), a government queer hunter who’s infiltrated the unit on the pretext of investigating a series of training accidents that have cost the Navy men and machines.

Another fellow officer, Charlie (William Lee Scott), is used for comic relief, but he’s also very careful to use gender-neutral pronouns when discussing his private life.

If “Burning Blue” has any credibility it’s lost when Dan is formally accused of being gay and sent before a tribunal consisting of two admirals (because what else do they have to do all day?) — his own father and Will’s father!

Fortunately the repeal of DADT, after it caused the discharge of over 14,000 LGBTs, has relegated this era to the history books, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good movies to be made about it. “Burning Blue” isn’t one of them.

Perhaps Greer thought discretion was needed to attract mainstream audiences, which suggests he hasn’t been to the movies since before “Brokeback Mountain.” Aside from some language, the (PG-13) hetero sex scene and one kiss between two men, “Burning Blue” could be shown in a Baptist church! (They would also approve of the way one character is smote after be- ing smitten.)

I’m not asking for porn, but early in the film there are several scenes of hugging, wrestling and even campy dancing that show what’s acceptable between men as long as they’re straight. Against this background the limited actual gay activity is easily overlooked, which will frustrate gay viewers and confuse straights.

Greer has made good use of stock footage of planes and a carrier to suggest the settings on a miniscule budget, but the script isn’t strong enough to smooth over the compromises this requires. While a lack of one kind of diversity may be the film’s point, Greer’s sailors are almost all as white as their dress uniforms.

Even though the film was finished in 2011, it’s taken “Burning Blue” three years to reach theaters and Video on Demand. That Lionsgate decided to release it may indicate they’re looking for a new niche audience because Tyler Perry’s box office receipts have been dwindling. There are many better films they could have chosen for their experiment.


Getting a theatrical run starting June 13 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinemas after debuting at last fall’s Out on Film is “Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia.” What we said then bears repeating:

There was always more to Gore Vidal (1925-2011) than just being gay, as there was to his 19th-century counterpart, Oscar Wilde. Nicholas Wrathall’s documentary gives a balanced, entertaining look at all facets of the novelist (“The City and the Pillar,” “Myra Breckinridge”), politician, revisionist historian and social commentator who believed in “socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor.” Interviews are shown from various periods of Vidal’s life, along with clips of his TV appearances with famous sparring partners William F. Buckley and Norman Mailer. He cites a boy he met in prep school as the love of his life, and curiously, describes the more than half a century he spent with Howard Auster, who’s buried next to him, as a nonsexual relationship. Queer in every sense of the word, Vidal was never dull. Neither is this film.


Speaking of Out on Film, they’re having a special Stonewall Month screening of Jennifer M. Kroot’s documentary, “To Be Takei” at 7:30 p.m. June 18 at the Phillip Rush Center. It’s like an expanded version of the profile PBS did recently of George Takei on “Pioneers of Television,” but with much more participation by his husband, Brad Altman Takei, and more plugs for his Broadway-bound musical, “Allegiance,” about his family’s ex- periences in Japanese-American internment camps during World War II. Redress for that shameful chapter has been one of Takei’s political causes, joined by LGBT rights after Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed a California gay marriage bill in 2005 and Takei officially came out. With over 7 million Facebook followers, the beloved actor-activist has a built- in audience for this delightful portrait.


‘Burning Blue’
Opens June 6 at the AMC Southlake Pavilion 24 also available on most Video On Demand platforms

‘Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia’
Opens June 13
 at Landmark Midtown Art Cinemas www.landmarktheatres.com/ Market/Atlanta/Atlanta_Frameset.htm

‘To Be Takei’
Sponsored by Out on Film and Atlanta Pride,  7:30 p.m., June 18
, Phillip Rush Center