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Tom of Finland

I think I saw nine feature films plus some shorts at this year’s Provincetown International Film Festival in June—and an excellent bunch of movies it was. This is not a gay-themed festival, but—this being P’town—a healthy proportion (a third?) of the films on offer had an LGBT-theme. I saw four films in that genre that I’d like to bring to your attention – the second appears below.

 

Tom of Finland
Directed by Dome Karukoski

 

From a formal standpoint, this movie follows the formula of your basic biopic—but, hey, it’s a biopic about Tom of Finland (1920–1991), so it’s bound to be unusual. Most readers of this magazine scarcely need reminding that Tom of Finland was the artist who created those exaggerated drawings of big happy boys doing the nasty in every conceivable position, wearing leather accouterments or nothing at all. The film spans the artist’s entire adult life, with actor Pekka Strang aging convincingly from the young Touko Laaksonen serving as a Finnish officer in World War II to his final years, when he was celebrated at conventions of “Tom’s Men” in the U.S. We learn that his interest in drawing men in leather began early on, fueled by wartime sightings of soldiers on or off motorcycles, though he survived as a successful commercial artist after the war. The film presents Laaksonen—“Tom” came much later, an American PR invention—as a cool customer who narrowly escapes detention in Germany when his passport is stolen by a trick. He keeps drawing those naughty pictures even when the risks heat up, eventually sending a few to a gay magazine in L.A., and the rest is history. His mild-mannered demeanor—interrupted by outbursts of guilt or anger over crimes witnessed and committed during the war—contrasts sharply with the wide-eyed, uncomplicated boys who appear in his work. It would be easy to assume that they provided a fantasy world to which a troubled man could escape, but it’s also true that Laaksonen was a shrewd businessman who found a winning formula for success.

 

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