MM Serra on whether Johnny Minotaur is art or obscene teen-exploitation
MM Serra is struggling to find a New York City venue bold enough to exhibit Charles Henri Ford's 1971 surrealist memoir film, Johnny Minotaur. Nobody wants to bite. This experimental classic examines teen sexuality with explicit homoerotic imagery. Several institutions refuse to show it because curators believe the performers look like minors and that the film violates basic standards of decency, she says.
Serra, executive director of The Film-Makers Cooperative, will be at the Sie FilmCenter this Saturday night to present a new print of this controversial film as part of the Denver Film Society's four-day Sex Shop Cinema series. She speaks with Westword about her programming work, 21st century censorship and why Denver has been friendlier to Johnny Minotaur than New York's art establishment.
Westword: Talk about who you are and what you do?
MM Serra: First, let's start with my name. It's MM. I initial my first name. MM stands for Mary Magdalene. I initial my name, because it's a given name. It's Italian and working class. When I was a child, I was ashamed of the name, because the woman was trashed as "other." I think it's a very empowering name now. It puts me outside the heteronormative, Catholic system. It allows me to ask questions and to believe in personal vision. It shapes my life and directs my creative process and the jobs I do.
One of my jobs is running the New American Cinema group at The Film-Makers Cooperative, in New York. That organization started as part of the global counter-culture movement. The organization was against the product film. It was very political. It believed that anyone and everyone can make a film. It was incorporated July 14, 1961, in New York City, and it had 22 artists like Shirley Clarke, Emile de Antonio, Jonas Mekas and Adolfas Mekas.
Jonas Mekas had written a manifesto that said the organization should distribute and promote films with alternative visions. These films were outside the product film; they were not traditional narrative cinema. They can tell stories, but the stories can be personal, and their narrative structure doesn't have to be linear. It can be vertical; it can be poetic, a poetic, personal expression, experimental in form, aesthetics and content.
Talk about Johnny Minotaur and why are you bringing it back?
Johnny Minotaur, the film I'm showing at the Denver Film Society, we preserved it because it's an experimental documentary. It's poetic. It's based on filmmaker Charles Henri Ford's diary. It blurs boundaries between fiction, truth and personal vision. Henri Ford was there before there was a gay rights movement. This film is still important in terms of pre-and-early gay cinema. That's why we preserved it. We have had the only print in existence.