Top ten queer films -- a countdown in honor of Cinema Q
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender cinema is becoming the new norm, according to Denver Film Society programmer Matthew Campbell: Festivals such as Sundance now feature films about LGBT characters who are fully fleshed out and whose stories have less to do with their sexual identity, he points out. Marriage and participation in dominant culture are the themes of the day and the Denver Film Society's annual LGBT festival, Cinema Q, reflects that, Campbell says.
On the surface, this normalization of LGBT identity seems like a good thing, but critics like Michael Warner and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore have been clamoring for what some call an "anti-assimilationist" queer identity -- a cultural practice that resists the expectations of heterosexual culture.
From a film history perspective, as LGBT people blend into mainstream culture, some of the aesthetic characteristics of queer cinema are morphing into pedestrian, Hollywood drivel. Some might say the heyday of queer cinema has ended and the artistic challenges of filmmakers like Kenneth Anger, Su Friedrich, Derek Jarman, Yvonne Rainer and Isaac Julien have been replaced with bland romantic comedies about LGBT couples fitting in.
While equal rights agendas and assimilation appeal to many who want their monogamous relationships legitimized by the church and the state, those who hold onto the values of the sexual revolution, whose desires and practices challenge monogamy and who resist the social impulse to breed in a nuclear family structure often get thrown under the bus or erased entirely from mainstream LGBT advocacy and stories.
And in the process, what's happened to queer cinema -- movies that radically oppose mainstream culture and dominant heterosexuality; movies that challenge the limits of heterosexual monogamy; movies that attempt to revolutionize the aesthetics of cinema to make way for explosions of desire, the destruction of the gender binary and the celebration of unrestrained, ethical sexuality?
If Denver's annual LGBT festival, Cinema Q focuses on LGBT communities that are mainstreaming, what segments of the queer community are being erased in this politic representation? What histories are lost?
In celebration of seventy years of radically queer cinema, we've compiled a list of ten of the most important queer movies of all time. Of course, the practice of narrowing down such a rich history into ten films is something of an absurdity; the queer canon is broad. Nevertheless, here we go....
10) Scorpio Rising
A group of bikers polish their hogs, groom their hair, straighten the leather jackets barely concealing their taut torsos and enter into a death-defying evening of drinking and orgiastic delight. Filled with irreverent Nazi, pagan and Christian iconography and a soundtrack consisting of kitsch 1950s and early '60s rock and roll, Kenneth Anger uses his 1964 film Scorpio Rising to assault post-World War II, middle-class American sensibilities and to advance a decadent and deadly vision of gay sexuality.
9) Un Chant d'Amour
Most famous for his novels and plays, Jean Genet crossed the borders of social acceptability in more ways then one: He was a notorious thief, prisoner and openly gay public figure who aided the Black Panthers and Palestinian revolutionary movements alike. His only film, Un Chant d'Amour, is a bawdy story of prison lust, in which two inmates express love by blowing cigarette smoke through concrete jail walls and contend with a sexually predatory guard, only to lose themselves in a fantasy about frolicking in nature.
Keep reading for more of the top ten queer films.