A Monumental Film
“Swoon” (Strand Releasing) is not a new film but it is one that if you haven’t seen it, you should. If you have seen it, now is time for you to revisit. “Swoon” ushered in the age of what was called in 1992 the “new queer cinema”. The movie is based on the scandalous murder trial of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb—a trial that had been written about across America in headlines and had already had a book, “Compulsion” and two movies (Hitchcock’s “Rope” and “Compulsion”) made about it. But the story had never before looked at from the queer point of view. Tom Kalin took the story, studied the facts, and created this beautiful black and white film about what really happened. It stars Craig Chester (“Adam and Steve”) and Daniel Schlachet. I finally succumbed to that little voice inside of me that told me to buy it and I am glad I waited because it now comes as a director’s cut with lots of extras.
This is such a compelling film that I felt obligated to learn everything about the original case and I found myself sitting in the library looking up old articles and newspaper stories.
Tom Kalin gives the truest account of one of the most notorious and infamous crimes of the twentieth century. How was it possible that two rich genius college students who were lovers as well could murder for thrill? Kalin focuses on the homoerotic subplot of the issue and the film brings it out beautifully. Two good boys, superlatively educated from two good Jewish homes committed a crime that rocked America. The elegance of the film and the subtlety of the performances question the gay elements of the case in a way that was never really done before. He even takes the story past the courtroom to show how the perpetrators of this horrific crime met their deaths. A pretty picture it is not—it is brutal and hard to forget. Kalin does not hold back and is indifferent to the martyrdom of positive images concerning same-sex couples and the two young and gay killers. “Swoon” defies generalization and intelligence and stands alone in the canon of queer film. It is audacious, it is stylish. It is provocative and stunning and seductive. It examines manners as if they had never been examined before. Kalin makes no excuses and this film is his monument. Both visionary and haunting, it is not easy to forget and these are what make a movie great. We don’t have many like this and we should be happy that we have “Swoon”. It is among the best of the movies I have ever seen and considering that it is and considering that it still holds up some sixteen years after its original release says something about it.