Highly sexualised gay imagery may have resulted in the art of Touko Valio Laaksonen (Tom of Finland) being banned but, in time, it also made him one of the most influential and celebrated figures of twentieth century gay culture.
Furtive, illegal post-war sexual encounters by trained draughtsman Laaksonen (Pekka Strang – Dogs Don’t Wear Pants, Kites Over Helsinki) were offset by the detailed drawings of sexual fanstasies involving highly muscular, well endowed men in uniform. Encouraged by new partner Veli (Lauri Tilkanen – TV’s Deadwind, Hooked), black-market distribution in Helsinki eventually led to discovery in LA and New York. As times changed and gay liberation took hold, so the newly labeled Tom of Finland and his art came to epitomise the new sexual freedom.
It’s a respectful if slow, episodic treatment by director Dome Karukoski (Heart of a Lion, Tolkien) of Laaksonen’s life from the Finnish military to struggling with his sexuality whilst living with his sister, Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky – 8-pallo, Once Where We Walked). But, with its move to the US and English, Tom of Finland, whilst celebrating the art and the artist, becomes too rushed and superficial without any exploration of the issues of sexual politics and rise of AIDS in the late 1970s/early 1980s.