Reviewed by Stephen Radosh
The film explores the events and circumstances that caused Touko Laaksonen, a rather quiet and introverted ad-man to eventually become the gay icon Tom of Finland. His highly detailed drawings of uber-masculine men often in leather or uniform and all with endowments of amazing proportions, stimulated the fantasies of many a gay man in the 60’s and 70’s, myself included!
Touko was born in Finland in 1920. By the time WWII came around, he understood his sexual identity although he remained closeted during his stint in the army, with the exception of a quickie from time to time during blackouts!
After the war he settled into a flat with his sister. Finland was quite repressive with regards to homosexuality and so he kept his drawings a secret from the world lest they lead him to a prison sentence. Eventually he was convinced to market his works overseas and he found a willing buyer in the American soft porn magazine Physique Pictorial. Once his work appeared on the cover of the magazine he became the idol of gay men not only in America but throughout the world. His images inspired men who heretofore had kept their fetishes a secret to proudly wear their leathers, kilts and uniforms. In short, quiet Touko Laaksonen, who had once been afraid to show his drawings to anyone, had morphed into Tom Of Finland and became an internationally known artist and an early hero of the gay rights movement.
The film is thoroughly captivating right from the start. It never shies away from the homophobia that existed in Finland and the horrible consequences which occurred if one were to be found out and arrested. Nowhere and no one was safe. Whether at a bar or in their own home, gay men of Finland were no more than a pounding door knock away from ruination. Contrasting to this rather grey and melancholic picture of Touko’s homeland is the depiction of Southern California in the 70’s as a golden place of freedom, where beautiful gay men frolicked in swimming pools, openly held hands on the street and had little reason to hide their sexuality. This is wonderfully shown in a scene where the police, in what first appears to be a raid, barge into a house where a group of gay men were enjoying the California sunshine in a way that only gay men can! But they announce that they are actually in search of robbery suspects. It quickly becomes clear that the felons they are looking for are not there and the entire attitude of the police (in stark contrast to their Finnish counterparts) lightens up. One even cracks a small smile when being flattered by the home’s owner. None of this is lost on Touko and he quickly and eagerly adopts America as his home.
TOM OF FINLAND is a bio-pic which, unlike many other contemporary bio-pics, does not gloss over the dark and disturbing parts of Touko’s existence before and after he has gained fame as Tom Of Finland. Whether you are a fan of his art or not, you are certain to be a fan of this film. If you haven’t yet seen this film, or would like to see it again, you can catch it on January 9, at 2:30 at the Regal Cinemas.