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Tom Of Finland’ Paints Portrait Of Gay Artist

Biopic is Finland’s official entry for best foreign film Oscar

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Kino Lorber

One of the models that inspires the homoerotic art in "Tom of Finland."

The new film "Tom of Finland," opening Friday at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas, looks to the artist whose erotic drawings influenced the fantasies of a generation of gay men.

Touko Laaksonen is better known to the world by his pseudonym Tom of Finland. As an artist working over four decades starting in the 1950s, he created meticulously shaded drawings of hyper-masculine, leather-clad men. His homoerotic art developed a cult following before finding an unlikely publisher in California during the 1970s sexual revolution.

The film tries to provide a context for Laaksonen's art. It shows him as a soldier and depicts a traumatic war memory. It then shows the repressive society he returned to in Finland after the war. Since he did not feel comfortable living an openly gay life in a country where homosexuality was illegal until 1971, he channeled some of his sexual passion into his art. But that art — depicting impossibly buff men in skin-tight, if any, clothes — could be classified as "promotion" of homosexuality in Finland and was a crime until 1999.

We see the culture shock he experiences when he makes a trip to America, California in particular, and sees men displaying affection openly in public. He finally finds a publisher in California, a man who mainly published religious books, and Laaksonen points out that his work is "sacred" to him.

Laaksonen's life and art definitely merit attention. But filmmaker Dome Karukoski employs a paint-by-numbers approach that fails to mine the material for all its richness. Karukoski strives to celebrate Laaksonen’s life and art and delivers something that's not necessarily bad, but rather it's just bland and uninspired. Those are words that you’d never use to describe Tom of Finland or his art.

"Tom of Finland" (in English and Finnish with subtitles) has not been rated by the MPAA but it contains graphic sexual material, nudity, language.

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The new film "Tom of Finland" (opening Friday at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas) looks to the artist whose erotic drawings influenced the fantasies of a generation of gay men.

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