DC's

The blog of author Dennis Cooper

New Queer Cinema (1985 – 1998) Day *

* (rerun)

filmstrip

 

‘In the United States the gay and lesbian cinema that emerged in the 1970s emphasized documentary and experimental work. On the West Coast in 1971, Milton Miron’s documentary Tricia’s Wedding (1971) captured the The Cockettes for posterity, and Jim Bidgood’s Pink Narcissus (1971) updated experimental cinema for the new era. Jan Oxenberg’s A Comedy in Six Unnatural Acts (1975) became a classic of lesbian cinema. In the Bay Area, the filmmakers Curt McDowell (a friend and disciple of George Kuchar) and Barbara Hammer created an aesthetic for the gay and lesbian scene exploding around them in Thundercrack! (1975) and Dyketactics (1974). In 1977 the landmark documentary Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives was (collectively) released. It was made while Harvey Milk was still alive and the Castro district’s baths were still steaming.

‘Despite such West Coast classics, gay cinema would become most firmly based in New York City, the storied metropolis, where it flourished amid other subcultural arts and figures of its time, from Allen Ginsberg to Frank O’Hara, from Langston Hughes to Djuna Barnes. In fact the history of New York City ought to be viewed in terms of its gay and lesbian history as much as its Italian or Puerto Rican or Irish or Jewish history; gay men and lesbians too were immigrants, part of the great domestic migration that left the heartland for the coasts in search of a better life.

‘Audiences had long looked to European cinema for sexual sophistication, and that continued to be the case even after Stonewall, as a gay and lesbian cinema developed there. In 1971 Sunday Bloody Sunday was John Schlesinger’s coming out; in 1978 Ron Peck’s Night Hawks uncovered gay London. Stephen Frears’s gutsy gay films My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and Prick Up Your Ears (1987) opened an era of frankness barely rivaled since. In Germany, R. W. Fassbinder, Ulrike Ottinger, and Frank Ripploh (Taxi Zum Klo, 1980) were all in their prime. In 1981, when Vito Russo published Celluloid Closet, the field was already changing: an independent American cinema was about to end the binarism of U.S. filmmaking.

‘When Christine Vachon started out, she said, “there were extremely experimental films and there were Hollywood films, but there wasn’t a whole lot in between.” Not a lot, no, but there was one. At Sundance in 1988 I was escorted up a rickety staircase to the Egyptian Theater and settled into a folding chair next to the projection booth by the festival’s director Tony Safford. It was there I saw the world premiere of John Waters’s Hairspray, the film that brought his radically outré sensibility to a mainstream audience. The crowd went crazy, and Hairspray won the jury’s grand prize. Waters predates the New Queer Cinema by decades; he’s a creature of the hippie past, the countercultural revolution, a pre-Stonewall era of shock and awe. He’s an indelible part of nqc prehistory, a patron saint presiding over its doings, chuckling at its follies, applauding its successes.

‘John Waters was there first. He and his films were formed by the nutty, exuberant prelapsarian days of the 1970s, after gay liberation, before aids. The trademark Waters style, with its camp sensibility and impatience with both heteronormativity and homonormativity, is well reflected in the New Queer Cinema, as if its traits were lying in wait all that time like a recessive gene. A shout-out, then, to the ever-young daddy of us all, the one with the Maybelline moustache, Mr. Waters.

‘If the emergence of an American independent cinema is the fertile ground from which the New Queer Cinema will soon leap, then the year 1985 is as close to its defining moment as any. It was in that year that Susan Seidelman’s Desperately Seeking Susan and Donna Deitch’s Desert Hearts thrilled a new generation of lesbian audiences and filmmakers and showed it was possible to make a sexy movie that could be empowering to women and even lesbians, and actually play in theaters, something not taken for granted at the time.

‘Four other American independent features, all released in the mid-1980s, stand out as precursors to the early New Queer Cinema: Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames (1983), Gus Van Sant’s Mala Noche (1985), Bill Sherwood’s Parting Glances (1986), and Sheila McLaughlin’s She Must Be Seeing Things (1987). All four blazed a trail of formal innovation, queer sexuality, and eccentric narrative that deeply informed the early nqc filmmakers. All four were low-budget broadsides issued to the world by communities of outsiders, laying claim to a new and authentically queer way of being: sexual, a/political, courageous, and, not incidentally, urban.

‘Lizzie Borden was part of a downtown radical art world that included Adele Bertei, Cookie Mueller, Kathryn Bigelow, and a host of others. Her Born in Flames was an exercise in utopian imagining, set in the near future with women battling an indifferent state. The women of Radio Ragazza and Radio Phoenix swing into action, fight the powers that be, form bike brigades, and even blow up the transmission tower on the roof of the World Trade Center. Conceived during the heyday of feminism, it starred Honey, the African American leader of Radio Phoenix and Borden’s partner at the time. Honey’s face dominated the posters for the film, plastered all over the plywood construction walls of lower Manhattan, beaming out at passersby with a defiant, irresistible gaze. Released when Ronald and Nancy Reagan inhabited the White House, Born in Flames offered a vision of a different world. The soundtrack came straight out of punk, bands like the Red Crayons and Honey’s own music. With a stirring vision of political organizing and militancy, it was a vicarious experience of battling power in some alternative — and sexy — universe.

‘At the same time, across the country, Gus Van Sant was back in Portland after trying to break into the film industry in L.A. He turned to low-budget filmmaking instead, with his debut feature Mala Noche, based on the autobiographical novel by Portland’s native son Walt Curtis. Filmed in atmospheric black-and- white, it focuses on a skid-row universe populated by the eponymous Walt, a down-and- out Anglo store clerk, and the desperate young Mexican workers he meets, lusts after, and tries to get into his bed with $15 offers. One of the few films to look at the erotic economics of gay cross-race, cross-class desire, it had a creative intensity at least as powerful as its sexual charge. A gritty style and a loopy nonlinear narrative defied the bland viewer-friendly movies of the time, appealing instead to a band of subcultural adventurers. By example, Mala Noche announced how tame gay representations had been and suggested the potential of the medium to capture life as lived, off-screen, if only filmmakers would dare.

‘More conventional in form but no less radical in subjects and themes, Bill Sherwood’s Parting Glances constructed a very different slice-of- life piece of evidence. Steve Buscemi was Nick, an acerbic no-illusions gay man living with aids in a tiny New York City apartment, tended to by his ex-lover. It was Buscemi’s first starring role, and Sherwood was the first to bring the quotidian realities of aids to the screen, presenting the horrors of the illness with a matter-of- fact clarity that was the exact opposite of the hysterical demonizing in the newspaper headlines, television news, and government propaganda of the time. It was a hugely important film for the city’s gay community, shot in 1984 and released in 1986, one year prior to the founding of the aids Coalition to Unleash Power (act up). Its qualities were those of early independent film: unrepresented communities, low-budget rough-hewn production, characters who appeared in daily life but never yet in movies. A gay man with aids certainly fit the bill, especially one who was full of opinions on New York’s bars and relationships and hangers-on. He was full of catty cynicism and wary romanticism, with dreams and despair to match. Just like us.

‘Equally revelatory was the representation of lesbian desire drawn by Sheila McLaughlin’s She Must Be Seeing Things, which drew its themes from her own life and from the seventeenth-century legend of Catalina de Erauso (the “Lieutenant Nun”), its style from the taboo-breaking work of performances in a storefront theater in the East Village, near where McLaughlin herself lived. The wow Café’s Lois Weaver starred as Jo, a filmmaker having trouble keeping her girlfriend happy, her life on track, and her cash-strapped film in production. Sheila Dabney, a member of the repertory company founded by the famed Cuban lesbian playwright Irene Fornes, played her paranoid girlfriend Agatha, convinced that Jo is cheating on her with a man in her crew.

‘Remarkably for a film that today appears so innocent, She Must Be Seeing Things endured the kinds of fights that erupted in the nqc years. It was denounced by a cadre of antiporn feminists, including Sheila Jeffreys of Great Britain. In the United States it divided the crowd by ideology, for it arrived at the height of the feminist “Sex Wars.” McLaughlin’s film became a case in point for both sides and helped lead the way to the new queer representations that lurked just around the corner.

‘All four films were shot in 16mm, a sign of their predigital era. All made on a shoestring budget, they departed from established aesthetics by going for a rough urban look, using friends as actors, using borrowed apartments or lofts for locations, even borrowing passersby for demonstrations and rallies. All four struck a blow for the outcasts, the subcultural heroes and heroines who’d been waiting so long in the wings. Life goes on. Bill Sherwood died in 1990 of complications from aids without ever getting to make another film. Sheila McLaughlin stopped making films; she lives in the same East Village apartment where she shot her film, but today she’s one of New York’s best acupuncturists and a terrific photographer. Lizzie Borden made two more films and now lives in L.A., but Honey, her star and lifelong friend, died of congestive heart failure in the spring of 2010.’ — B. Ruby Rich

 

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Stills

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Further

Gus Van Sant
Barbara Hammer
Donna Deitch
Bill Sherwood
Su Friedrich
Cecilia Dougherty
Pedro Almodovar
Todd Haynes
Isaac Julien
Matthias Müller
Tom Rubnitz
Derek Jarman
Sadie Benning
Christopher Munch
GB Jones
Tom Kalin
Sally Potter
Gregg Araki
John Greyson
Todd Verow
Rose Troche
Tom Chomont
Steve McLean
Bruce La Bruce
John Waters
Guy Maddin
Rosa Von Praunheim
Maria Maggenti
Cheryl Dunye
Wong Kar-Wai
Alex Sichel
Stephen Winter
Francois Ozon
Mike Hoolboom

 

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Show

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Gus Van Sant Mala Noche (1985)
Mala Noche (also known as Bad Night) is a 1985 American drama film written and directed by Gus Van Sant, based on an autobiographical novel by the Oregon poet Walt Curtis. The movie was shot in 16 mm, mostly black-and-white. Mala Noche is the first feature film by Gus Van Sant. It was shot entirely on location in Portland, Oregon. The story follows relationship between Walt (Tim Streeter), a homosexual store clerk, and two younger Mexican boys, Johnny (Doug Cooeyate) and Roberto Pepper (Ray Monge). Walt and his female friend (Nyla McCarthy) convince them to come over for dinner, but Johnny and Pepper have to return to their cheap hotel because another friend is locked out. Walt makes his first pass at Johnny by offering him $15 to sleep with him. Johnny refuses and runs to his hotel room, leaving Pepper locked out with nowhere to spend the night but Walt’s. Settling for second best, Walt lays down next to Pepper and allows him on top for sex. The next morning, Walt is full of regret as he realizes that Pepper probably feels like he has just out-manned Walt, on top of stealing his $10 during his stay. However, he does not give up on trying to win over Johnny. The film progresses from there into not always clearly-defined relationships, unbalanced by age, language, race, sexuality, and money.’ — IMDb


Trailer


Excerpt

 

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Barbara Hammer Optic Nerve (1985)
Optic Nerve is a powerful personal reflection on aging and family. “Hammer employs film footage which through optical printing and manipulation is layered to create a compelling meditation on her visit to her grandmother in a nursing home. The sense of sight becomes a constantly evolving process of reseeing images retrieved from the past and fused into the eternal present of the projected image.’ — John Hanhardt


the entire film

 

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Donna Deitch Desert Hearts (1985)
‘To Reno (in 1959) comes a mid-thirtyish New York teacher, her hair in a bun and her nerves in shreds, in search of a divorce from a stultified marriage. She puts up at a local ranch, and it’s not long before she is succumbing to the advances of a much younger woman, though not without resistance. Suspicions that the film will simply be a period piece, viewed through the modern lens of post-feminist wishful thinking, are soon allayed however. Redneck Reno might still adhere to the old frontier notions of anything-goes morality, but it still harbours enough of the puritan spirit to make life uncomfortable for lesbians. Moreover, the ranch is more of an emotional snake-pit than first appears. Deitch is well served by Shaver as the teacher and Charbonneau as the young seducer. Best of all, however, is the way the movie dignifies all its characters. There is also an incendiary consummation of the affair, and Patsy Cline on the soundtrack; two features which had this paleneck by the throat.’ — Time Out (NY)


Trailer

 

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Bill Sherwood Parting Glances (1986)
‘PARTING GLANCES, Bill Sherwood’s warm, moving debut feature, shouldered its way into the bourgeoning independent film scene of the mid-1980s. The film instantly established its place in the hearts of gay moviegoers, achieved significant mainstream success and launched the career of Steve Buscemi. Noted for its nuanced and unapologetic depiction of queer lives, PARTING GLANCES was also historic for its attention to the omnipresence of AIDS in gay life of the time. Already a catastrophe in the gay community but still poorly understood by many Americans, the disease was granted a fully dimensional, human face through this wise, quirky, often heartrending story.’ — Outfest


Trailer


Excerpt

 

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Su Friedrich Damned If You Don’t (1987)
‘DAMNED IF YOU DON’T is Friedrich’s subversive and ecstatic response to her Catholic upbringing. Blending conventional narrative technique and impressionistic camerawork, symbols and voice-overs, the film creates an intimate study of sexual expression and repression. Featuring Peggy Healy as a young nun tormented by her desire for the sultry and irresistible Ela Trojan.’ — Fandor


Excerpt


Excerpt

 

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Cecilia Dougherty Claudia (1987)
‘And what of girls, lesbians, the ultimate stereotypes? Claudia opens with a distant bay, oil derricks in a chemical haze, landscape littered with industrial debris. An ‘establishing shot,’ establishing nothing but itself: A hallucinatory science fiction beauty in which to indulge. Car in the driveway, mundane but for the sublime glide along its metal. Woman’s body on a bed. Indecipherable murmurings, some sex. As if it’s forbidden, impossible, to see your own body, ‘Girl,’ searching the mirror for something you call your ‘self.” — Laurie Weeks


Excerpt

 

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Pedro Almodovar Law of Desire (1987)
‘Pedro Almodóvar’s Law of Desire is a very strange movie, perpetually stuck between genres and never quite settling into any one mode for long enough to make a real impact. It’s often entertaining — and even more often so bizarre that it’s at least hard to look away — but in the end only isolated moments linger beyond the ephemeral moment. It’s a dark comedy that isn’t actually very funny, a melodrama so ridiculous it challenges even daytime soap standards of believability, a half-hearted murder thriller whose villain is one of the film’s goofiest characters. And so on… Through all this wackiness, Almodóvar never quite dismisses the possibility that he actually means for this to be a moving drama, but then he’ll follow up a genuinely touching moment of emotional depth with something so silly that it becomes impossible to take anything here seriously. It’s a confused (and confusing) pastiche, and admittedly a rather fun whirlwind.’ — Only the Cinema


Trailer


Excerpt

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Todd Haynes Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988)
‘Openly gay, experimental filmmaker Todd Haynes burst upon the scene two years after his graduation from Brown University with his now-infamous 43-minute cult treasure “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story” (1987). Seizing upon the inspired gimmick of using Barbie and Ken dolls to sympathetically recount the story of the pop star’s death from anorexia, he spent months making miniature dishes, chairs, costumes, Kleenex and Ex-Lax boxes, and Carpenters’ records to create the film’s intricate, doll-size mise-en-scene. The result was both audacious and accomplished as the dolls seemingly ceased to be dolls leaving the audience weeping for the tragic singer. Unfortunately, Richard Carpenter’s enmity for the film (which made him look like a selfish jerk) led to the serving of a “cease and desist” order in 1989, and despite the director’s offer “to only show the film in clinics and schools, with all money going to the Karen Carpenter memorial fund for anorexia research,” Superstar remains buried, one of the few films in modern America that could not be seen by the general public until now.’ — collaged


the entire film

 

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Isaac Julien Looking for Langston (1989)
‘A poetic visual fantasy of the lives of black gay men in ’20s Harlem, shot in beautiful monochrome and packed with startling images of dream and desire. Scenes alternate between a dark, smoky club where men in formals dance and cruise, windswept beaches, secluded bedrooms, and scary alleyways where the same men make love, while the poetry of Langston Hughes and contemporary black gay writer Essex Hemphill meditates on the aesthetics of sexual desire. It may sound painfully arty, but the images are fresh and exciting enough to sweep away any such reservations.’ — Time Out (London)

Watch an excerpt here

 

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Matthias Mueller and Owen O’Toole The Flamethrowers (1989)
‘It began in 1988, when Owen found a damaged print of Pather Panchali at a university film library in Cambridge, Ma. and refilmed parts of the 16mm reel onto 3 rolls of Plus-X super8 film. Owen and Matthias Mueller (of Alte Kinder, Bielefeld) had recently met at a film festival in Montreal, Matthias got involved in Owen’s Filmers Almanac project, and a transatlantic friendship ensued. Owen sent this old/new footage to Matthias with 3 unexposed rolls of black and white film, asking him and the other members of Alte Kinder (Maija-Lene Rettig, Christiane Heuwinkel, Thomas Lauks) to respond on film, to make a second section for a film tentatively called The Flamethrowers, the title of a novel by Argentinian Roberto Arlt, about a crazy secret society that tries to take over their country with threats of poison gas attacks. A few months later, Owen visited Bielefeld and witnessed the last edits on Alte Kinder’s work and the 2 sections were presented on 3 projectors at a festival called INTERCOM. Matthias was also showing work by Schmelzdahin in his touring program at that time, and he and Owen agreed that Schmelzdahin should be asked to participate in The Flamethrowers, that the piece was partly an homage to their work (burying, hand processing, chemically treating film). So the material was sent to Jurgen Reble in Bonn, and he and Jochen Lempert and Paul Mueller made a 3rd section to the film. All of the material came back to Matthias, who used his remarkable talent at re-filming multiple super8 projectors to master this definitive version, digitized from 16mm blow-up print.’ — collaged


the entire film

 

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Tom Rubnitz Pickle Surprise (1989)
‘Tom Rubnitz was a video artist most often associated with the New York East Village drag queen scene of the late 1980s. His video tapes were mainly inspired by pop culture and Las Vegas style shows. A number of his works featured RuPaul and members of the B-52’s. He also made the 1987 documentary Wigstock: The Movie about the annual drag queen festival. Tom lived in New York City with his life-partner Curtis Irwin and their two persian cats. He died of an AIDS-related illness in 1992.’ — BlackoutSTR


Excerpt

 

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Derek Jarman The Garden (1990)
‘A nearly wordless visual narrative intercuts two main stories and a couple of minor ones. A woman, perhaps the Madonna, brings forth her baby to a crowd of intrusive paparazzi; she tries to flee them. Two men who are lovers marry and are arrested by the powers that be. The men are mocked and pilloried, tarred, feathered, and beaten. Loose in this contemporary world of electrical-power transmission lines is also Jesus. The elements, particularly fire and water, content with political power, which is intolerant and murderous.’ — IMDb


Trailer

 

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Sadie Benning A Place Called Lovely (1991)
‘“Nicky is seven. His parents are older and meaner.” A Place Called Lovely (1991) show Sadie Benning’s increasing grace in handling both her PixelVision camera and her environment poetically, with a fluidity that suggests she’s now able to sing as well as speak and write with her camera-stylo. Some of the anger persists, to be sure, and with good reason. But when, in Jollies, she begins to delve into her own past — including accounts of early sexual feelings and experiences both gay and straight — she seems to take a more balanced view of her life. It may be significant that A Place Called Lovely, the most lyrical and wide-ranging of all her works to date, doesn’t address lesbianism directly. It is full of related ruminations about gender and childhood, however, as well as thoughts about violence and pain — all the things she freely admits scare or trouble her, from the act of putting on lipstick to the shower murder in Psycho, from gun ads in a tabloid to a fiery car accident she witnessed.’ — Jonathan Rosenbaum

Watch an excerpt here

 

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Christopher Munch The Hours and Times (1991)
‘It is the spring of 1963, in a few months The Beatles will conquer America, and John Lennon is taking vacation with his famous band’s manager, Brian Epstein, in Barcelona. Speculation has surrounded their holiday together for many decades now. Epstein was gay and in love with Lennon, that much is known for sure. The question of whether or not the two men ever slept together will never be answered with certainty as historical accounts disagree and both of the principals are no longer with us. The Hours and Times, a short 1991 film by Christopher Munch, is a delightful flight of fancy that explores what could have happened. This tantalizing hypothesis makes for an interesting curiosity in the queer cinema canon.’ — Cinema Queer


Trailer

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GB Jones The Yo-Yo Gang (1992)
The Yo-Yo Gang is a thirty-minute ‘Exploitation film’ about girl gangs released in 1992. Directed by G.B. Jones, this ‘no budget film’ follows the exploits of two girl gangs, the “Yo-Yo Gang” and the “Skateboard Bitches”, as a gangwar erupts between them. The tag line for the film reads: “Gang girls frequently out-curse, out-fight and out-sex every boys’ gang around”. In between fighting, the film features scenes of the girls getting tattooed, piercing each other’s ears, beating up boys, playing arcade games, riding scooters and talking on the phone. The film was made using Super 8mm film format. It was shot in Toronto, Ontario, and San Francisco, California.’ — collaged


Trailer

 

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Tom Kalin Swoon (1992)
‘Made at the height of the AIDS crisis and before gay marriage and gays in the military, Kalin’s Swoon is a take on the infamous Leopold and Loeb true crime story from the early 1920s, in which a pair of young, wealthy men kidnapped and murdered a teenager. Kalin reclaimed and explored the gay indenties of the perpetrators in this stylish indie. Produced by Christine Vachon, it debuted at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival and was swiftly labeled as part of the New Queer Cinema movement, a bold burst of films (Poison, Paris is Burning, The Living End and others) that emerged in the 80s and 90s exploring the lives of gays and lesbians on the margins of society.’ — FSLC


Trailer

 

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Sally Potter Orlando (1992)
‘Directed with sly grace and quiet elegance by Sally Potter, it is not about a story or a plot, but about a vision of human existence. What does it mean to be born as a woman, or a man? To be born at one time instead of another? To be born into wealth, or into poverty, or into the traditions of a particular nation? Most of us will never know. We are stuck with ourselves, and as long as we live, will always see through the same eyes and interpret with the same sensibility. Yes, we can learn and develop, but so much of what makes us ourselves is implanted at an early age, and won’t budge.’ — Roger Ebert


Excerpt

 

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Gregg Araki Totally F***ed Up (1993)
‘Godard has always been among Araki’s biggest influences, and, indeed, Totally F***ed Up has been called his Masculin Féminin. Vivre Sa Vie is also evoked via the film’s segmented structure, yet the biggest stylistic shadow here may be Katzelmacher, during which Fassbinder similarly propped a batch of young outsiders against the wall of society and watched the resulting wreckage. The characters try to flee into their own self-contained universes, complete with self-contained slang (jacking off to Randy becomes “shooting tadpoles at the moon”), but the world is always breaking in, inevitably in the form of emotional pain. Randy’s tentative romance with a potential Mr. Right (Alan Boyce) provides the film not only with the closest it has to a narrative, but also with Araki’s sense (also shared with Fassbinder) that coming to terms with your sexuality doesn’t necessarily shield you from the agonies that often come with relationships. After all, this is a film where a bootleg Nine Inch Nails video is reason enough to betray another person’s affections.’ — Slant Magazine


Excerpt


Excerpt

 

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John Greyson Zero Patience (1993)
‘The early 90s was a time of much agitprop in the first wave of the new queer cinema. Zero Patience, as it subverted musical conventions, was one of the most outrageous examples. A group of ACT UP activists sing about their HIV status before breaking into an elaborate production number about the greed of pharmaceutical companies. A trio of naked men trill an a-capella number about “When you pop a boner in the shower” to Burton, who is doing undercover research in a gay bath house, his video camera doubling as his phallus. A stuffed African monkey in the museum comes to life as a leather-clad lesbian to demand, in song, why she is blamed for transmitting AIDS to humans. Finally, the famed drag performer (and then-longtime AIDS survivor) Michael Callan appears on a microscope slide as HIV herself to exonerate Patient Zero.’ — Cinema Queer


the entirety


Excerpt

 

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Todd Verow Preen (1994)
‘Todd Verow’s long lost first feature shot on a PXL Fisher Price kid’s video camera (which recorded black and white, high contrast, pixalated video on audio cassette tapes) captures a group of San Francisco 20-something models, drag queens, musicians and artists in the early 1990’s. It was Verow’s reaction to working on the first season of MTV’s Real World that spurned him to create PREEN, something just a bit more real. “Verow’s PREEN makes Richard Linklater’s SLACKERS look like a bunch of shiny happy people holding hands” – San Francisco BAY GUARDIAN.’ — collaged


Trailer

 

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Rose Troche Go Fish (1994)
Go Fish faces two ways. On the one hand, it aspires to an ethic of separatist purity, imagining a world made up of gay women, which in practical terms has meant accepting male money and male help only when there was no alternative. On the other, however, it tries to makes no assumptions about lesbian lives, and to be open-minded about the most basic questions. Some sequences of Go Fish are like helpful insets in a magazine article designed for a general readership: Did you know? – Playing the field can be fun, but there’s nothing wrong with monogamy if it suits you – You can sleep with a man once in a while and still be a dyke, if you want to be – Getting a crewcut doesn’t make you a different person in bed, unless you want it to. The film is ingenuous, disarming and occasionally very wooden.’ — The Independent


Trailer


Excerpt

 

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Tom Chomont Spider Jan. 16 (1994)
‘At the intersection of eroticism, mysticism, and the everyday one finds Tom Chomont. As filmmaker/curator Jim Hubbard notes, “Chomont’s films offer a lyric depiction of the ordinary world, but at the same time reveal an unabashedly spiritual and sexualized parallel universe. His incomparable technique of offsetting color positive and high contrast black-and-white negative creates a subtly beautiful, otherworldly aura.” Chomont completed approximately 40 short films. He suffered from Parkinson’s during the last decades of his life; a time in which he also produced a wide range of video works. These later pieces include documents of his struggles with illness as well as his immersion in ritual S&M; culture. While outwardly quite different from his earlier work, characteristically, they transcend their striking subject matter and point to the spiritual aspects of our physical existence.’ — UCLA Film and Television Archive


the entire film

 

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Steve McLean Postcards from America (1994)
‘New York multi-media artist and gay activist David Wojnarowicz died in 1992, but his faith in writer/director McLean, the adapter of his autobiographical writings, is vindicated by this arresting first feature. Framing three periods in the life of an American outsider, the film moves nimbly between a troubled New Jersey childhood as young David (Olmo Tighe) finds himself caught between an abusive father and long-suffering mother; an adolescence spent on sidewalks where the teenage David (Michael Tighe) hustles for a living; and anguished maturity in which the adult David (Lyons) discovers the thrill of anonymous sex on the open road, before facing the shadow of AIDS. With its feel for the American landscape pitched between Kerouac and Gus Van Sant, the film’s immersion in low-life Americana seems so authentic it’s a surprise to learn that this is the work of a British movie-maker – McLean’s background in music video and art direction tells in the sheer visual assurance. Piercing and provocative, McLean’s determinedly cinematic vision announces him as, potentially, a key British independent of the ’90s.’ — Time Out (NY)


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Bruce La Bruce Super 8½ (1994)
‘With LaBruce, Stacy Friedrich, Mikey Mike, Chris Teen, Vaginal Creme Davis, Richard Kern. LaBruce’s quasi-autobiographical sophomore effort tells the story of “Bruce,” a porn auteur with avant-garde ambitions. Though he’d made a name for himself with movies like Pay Him as He Lays and My Hustler, Myself, Bruce finds his star fading and his career on the wane; like Marcello Mastroianni in Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2, he’s a frustrated director, and like Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8, his passions are the stuff of his undoing. Offering Bruce his last chance at fame is Googie, an up-and-coming art-film darling with designs to exploit his ailing reputation as a way to cement her own. LaBruce delivers this decline-and-fall saga with insouciant wit, all while aggressively lifting elements from film history (“There’s no copyright on a good line,” Bruce muses). Acutely self-aware and replete with hardcore action, this may be the most meta-cinematic blue movie ever made.’ — MoMA


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John Waters Serial Mom (1994)
‘1994’s SERIAL MOM, budgeted at a reported $14 million, was and probably still is John Waters’ most expensive effort, and yet he still injected quite a bit of his personality and obsessions (I’ve heard Savoy Pictures execs tried to have the ending changed because they felt it was “too John Waters”). It’s set, as are all Waters’ films, in his hometown of Baltimore, and readers of Waters’ books SHOCK VALUE and CRACKPOT will recognize many of his favorite pastimes played out here, including his penchant for sitting in on high-profile murder trials. But unlike early no-budget Waters works such as MONDO TRASHO and PINK FLAMINGOS, SERIAL MOM actually looks and feels like a real movie, and nor does it go the crassly commercial route like his later films CRY-BABY and PECKER. SERIAL MOM can also be viewed as one of the key films in a subgenre unique to the year 1994, which also saw the releases of LOVE AND A .45 and NATURAL BORN KILLERS, both of which pitilessly examined the murder chick popular back then. For those who don’t remember, that time gave us the Amy Fisher, Lorena Bobbitt and Tonya Harding scandals, all avidly followed by an extremely accommodating media, not to mention the beginnings of the O.J. Simpson case and the inception of serial killer trading cards. Sounds like perfect material for a John Waters movie, and indeed it is.’ — Fright


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Guy Maddin Sissy-Boy Slap-Party (1995)
‘Raw, half-naked violence explodes across the screen in a gritty tableaux of sweaty brutality in Guy Maddin‘s short film Sissy-Boy Slap-Party, a film for which a title was never more accurate. Sailors in repose on an island paradise seemingly have no worries of war or danger — until a playful gesture is interpreted as an act of willful aggression. Soon, the innocent act of slight slapping becomes a relentless and unforgiving orgy of open-palmed face-smacking. Sissy-Boy Slap-Party lends itself easily to comparison’s to Jack Smith‘s legendary Flaming Creatures, from the loose plot structure to the washed-out exposures to the faux B-movie set and costuming to the homoerotic action. But, the film really takes a departure from its inspiration through Maddin’s ecstatic and frantic editing when the slap party begins in earnest. The film has a terrific rhythm to it as Maddin speeds up the editing to hyperkinetic speeds, but knows to periodically slow down on the cutting, allowing the audience to catch its breath before the action ramps back up again. Thus, the film has a very engaging rhythmic flow over its 6-minute runtime.’ — Underground Film Journal


the entire film

 

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Rosa von Praunheim Neurosia: Fifty Years of Perversion (1995)
‘Neurosia is the autobiography of the director Rosa von Praunheim. The movie begins with Rosa presenting his autobiography in a movie theater. Before the film begins, he is shot. But – his body gets lost. A female journalist from a TV station begins researching the life of Rosa. In the course of the movie she speaks to lots of aquaintances, shows short clips from Rosas old movies. Her main aim is to provide sensational and shocking details from Rosas life. It turns out that nearly everybody had some reason to kill Rosa. At the end of the movie, she discovers Rosa at a boat where he is kept prisoner by some of his old enemies. She frees him, and the movie ends.’ — IMDb


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Maria Maggenti The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love (1995)
‘This coming-of-age story about two teen girls who discover their love for one another is both poignant and funny, yet always tasteful. The casting and direction gives us characters that look like ordinary people, as opposed to the usual pretty-boy/girl fare that prompts our eyes to love the characters even before we know what they’re about. For instance, Randy has to grow on you during the movie–she is not a particularly adorable young lady in her actions and attitudes, neither does she have the looks of a classic beauty. The result is, when girlfriend Evie (Nicole Ari Parker) calls her “beautiful” when they are finally alone together, we know she means it on the deepest levels, we believe her immediately, and even see Randy through her eyes.’ — deverman


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Cheryl Dunye The Watermelon Woman (1996)
The Watermelon Woman is a 1996 feature film by filmmaker Cheryl Dunye about Cheryl, a young black lesbian working a day job in a video store while trying to make a film about a black actress from the 1930s known for playing the stereotypical “mammy” roles relegated to black actresses during the period. It was the first feature film directed by a black lesbian. The Watermelon Woman was Dunye’s first feature film and the first by a black lesbian. It was made on a budget of $300,000, financed by a $31,500 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a fundraiser, and donations from friends of Dunye.’ — collaged


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Wong Kar Wai Happy Together (1997)
‘The seemingly aimless melancholic meanderings of Wong Kar Wai (Wáng Jia-wèi) were extended into the world of gay romance with his Happy Together (Chun Guang Zha Xie, 1997). Whether this was a step forward of backward for Wong remains to be seen. Like his earlier efforts along these general lines, this film didn’t have much of a goal or clear-cut narrative movement other than to follow for awhile the sufferings of people in the throes of romantic heartbreak. Except, of course, this time we are dealing with a gay couple, which to me changes the tune somewhat.’ — Film Sufi


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Alex Sichel All Over Me (1997)
‘With its coming-of-age theme and exploration of teenage sexuality, All Over Me drew comparisons from critics to other films, in particular Larry Clark’s Kids and Maria Maggenti’s The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love, both from 1995. Although similarities were noted, All Over Me was praised for its differences to these two films. E! called it gentler than Kids, and Muskewitz said All Over Me was less exploitative than that film. Emanual Levy described it as the far more interesting and complex of the two. Ron Wells said “thank god it’s not Kids” and Bernstein said that “comparison misses the point”. When comparing it to The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love, Emanuel Levy called All Over Me “much more accomplished”. SplicedWire called it “an ideal companion feature for Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse, another female-centred coming-of-age film from the mid-1990s.’ — collaged


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Stephen Winter Chocolate Babies (1997)
‘Welcome to the front lines of AIDS activism, where the latest enemy raids are being run by a band of unlikely warriors: two drag queens, an HIV-positive man with tiny gemstones dotting his bald head, and his HIV-positive sister. These self-proclaimed “black faggots with a political agenda” launch street assaults on conservative politicians who won’t support a hospice in their New York City neighborhood, but when they also manage to infiltrate the office of one such official, a city councilman who, it turns out, is deep in the closet, the action sets in motion unexpected events that begin to pull the group apart. In addition to introducing a memorable gallery of characters — most of whom are vividly realized by a fiery cast — screenwriter-director Stephen Winter’s film plays with issues of identity: who we are and who we pretend to be. Its characters get so absorbed in their roles — drag queen, undercover activist, closeted councilman — that they lose sight of their more basic identities: brother, friend, lover. Winter offers no easy answers to political dilemmas, only a warning that much of what is important in life may be lost when the political consumes the personal.’ — Robert Faires, The Austin Chronicle


the entire film

 

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François Ozon Scènes de lit (1997)
‘Seven brief scenes, each with a couple, explore the surprises and the changes of heart that can occur during sexual encounters. Only one of the seven couples has been in bed together before; several are strangers or new acquaintances. A prostitute and her john, an older woman and a youth who follows her home, two women friends, a gay man with a straight man, a man with distinctive ideas about soap and water, a woman who wants the light left on, and a Spanish-speaking woman with a French-speaking man make for an array of possibilities and unanticipated consequences.’ — IMDb


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Mike Hoolboom Panic Bodies (1998)
‘We have come to expect only the dazzling and uncommon from the prolific, prodigiously talented, and frequently transgressive Mike Hoolboom, perhaps the most important Canadian experimental filmmaker of his generation, and the startlingly beautiful Panic Bodies delivers the potent goods. Like much of Hoolboom’s gorgeous, unsettling recent work, Panic Bodies is infused with an AIDS-era horror at the body under siege, with a palpable sense of wonder and revulsion at our flesh-and-blood corporeality, at ‘being a stranger in your own skin.’ The film’s multi-levelled meditation on morality moves from rage to reverie, and unfolds in six often-hallucinatory episodes: Positiv, a multi-screen monologue about AIDS; A Boy’s Life, a masturbatory revel; Eternity, a reflection on Disneyland and death, 1+1+1 a devilish, pixillated black comedy; Moucle’s Island, a nostalgic lesbian idyll; and the concluding, elegiac Passing On.’ — Jim Sinclair, Pacific Cinematheque


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p.s. Hey. Here’s your weekend. Lots to watch and read, if you’re so inclined. Have excellent ones!

4 Comments

  1. Love this trip down Gay Memory Lane!

    Bill Sherwood only lived to make one film, but “Parting Glances” is such a fucking masterpiece it has the impact of 20 films.

    Tom Chomont was the nicest of Gregory Markopoulos’ boyfriends. He was a considerable talent with a unique speaking voice. I hope there are tapes of him somewhere.

    Miss Derek Jarman somethin’ awful.

  2. Good to revisit this one! So many of my old favorites are here.

    Hope the movie selection on the flight back is reasonably distracting. I finally saw Dead Center. I know Shane Carruth didn’t direct it, but it has more than a whiff of his approach. I didn’t like the central idea, but enjoyed the execution; usually it’s the other way round for me.

    Bill

  3. I was on a UK punk tip earlier this year, having just read Jordan’s illuminating autobiography Defying Gravity. Her memories of Jarman shooting Jubilee during those heady days spurred me to give that film a rewatch, and I find it to be a more essential document than ever. He captured this country’s malaise with an unforgiving accuracy.

  4. MyNeighbourJohnTurturro

    November 4, 2019 at 4:39 am

    Ooh, love this. The Garden and Happy Together would be my picks for sure. Derek Jarman is one of my very, very favourite filmmakers/artists/all-round dude. Jubilee was very important to me as a young teenager, saw it at just the right age. Happy Together just moves me, what a beautiful film. Wow. This was such an exciting period. Hope you’re good.

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