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Posts Tagged ‘Touko Laaksonen’

Pekka Strong as Tom of Finland

“TOM OF FINLAND” My rating: B

115 minutes | No MPAA rating

“Tom of Finland” is a film biography of Touko Laaksonen (1920-1991), the Finnish artist whose beefcake drawings of leather-clad macho men are among the most recognizable icons of gay culture.

But as much as it is an artist’s biography, Dome Karukoski’s film is a thumbnail history of the rise of homosexual self-awareness and self-assertion over several decades.

We meet Toko Laaksonen (Pekka Strong) as a soldier in World War II, part of a Finnish anti-aircraft unit charged with shooting down Russian planes.  In fact Laaksonen would be haunted throughout his life by the memory of knifing to death a young Soviet parachutist.

After the war Laaksonen lives with his sister Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky), who helps him land  a job with an advertising agency. In his off hours, though, Laaksonen indulges in a secret (and, given the draconian aspect of Finnish law, wildly illegal) project.

A first-rate craftsman and draftsman, Laaksonen produces drawings of impossibly handsome, heavily-muscled and  fantastically hung hunks. These preening Adonis’s are often clad in leather jackets and ass-less chaps evoking a Marlon Brando/”Wild One” look (although Laaksonen also had a fascination with Nazi regalia, once saying that the Germans “had the best uniforms.”)

Initially these masturbatory fantasies are shown only to close friends, particularly participants in a weekly “poker game” who begin showing up in elaborate cycle regalia inspired by the artwork.

Showing these costumed gents dancing is about the extent of “Tom of Finland’s” sexual adventurousness. The film has no sex scenes, barely a man-on-man kiss. The emphasis is less on personal romance — though Laaksonen has a decades-long relationship with the supportive Veli (Lauri Tilkanen) — than on the slow advance of gay consciousness despite steady persecution.

Strong’s Laaksonen is nothing at all like the men in his drawings. He is tall and thin, with a receding chin, sunken chest, flabby stomach and an indifferent mustache.  He looks more like underground cartoonist R. Crumb (who was surely influenced by Laaksonen’s work) than a Kenneth Anger fantasy.

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