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Tom of Finland

CTC 1hrs 55mins
biography drama | 2017, Finland
Overview

Award-winning filmmaker Dome Karukoski brings to screen the life and work of artist Touko Valio Laaksonen (aka Tom of Finland), one of the most influential and celebrated figures of twentieth century gay culture.

Warnings

High impact sexualised imagery and nudity

Director
Dome Karukoski
Original Review
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
Extracted By
Mark Horner
Featuring
Jacob Oftebro, Jessica Grabowsky, Werner Daehn, Pekka Strang

Watch The Trailer

Tom of Finland Trailer #1 (2017) | Movieclips Indie

Storyline (warning: spoilers)

Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen, known by his nom de plume Tom of Finland, is brought above the radar of cultural history in this well-acted biopic. In postwar Helsinki, in conditions of the gravest illegality, Laaksonen produced thousands on thousands of homoerotic fetish illustrations, showing bulgingly endowed leather-clad guys having an unapologetic good time. Tom of Finland’s work reached the liberated US in the 1960s via mail order, and he became a counterculture hero of gay liberation, virtually inventing a whole language of hedonism that influenced Queen, the Village People and the club scene Pekka Strang is very good as Tom; the movie suggests that he was traumatised by his wartime experiences – Finland being a co-belligerent of Hitler’s axis powers. The film shows a perhaps imagined episode of Laaksonen killing a Russian parachutist. But something in his creative alchemy responded to the brutality of Nazis and Soviets in uniform, and then to the uniforms of the police employed to break up cottaging in the parks.

So what was Tom of Finland, ultimately? A gay version of R Crumb? Not exactly. Interestingly, the movie doesn’t locate a happy ending for him in being accepted by the contemporary art establishment: a much-discussed exhibition never happens in this film. Tom of Finland is perhaps closer to the 50s fetish pinup Bettie Page.

Either way, this drama suggests his importance is in something less culturally high-flown: simply being a rock’n’roll standard-bearer for gay men, he was the means by which happiness could be achieved. It is arguably a structural problem that the movie ends just as the HIV-Aids debate begins, with Laaksonen depicted fearing that he will be blamed, and rather earnestly promoting condom use.

Still: an intriguing demonstration of how eroticism in gay culture became overt, while straight porn retains its furtiveness and hiddenness.

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