News that inspires optimism has been hard to come by of late. The state of politics, though usually abysmal, has become, for me, a quagmire of fatigue and alternative facts. Donald Trump has launched his reign of terror with an anti-abortion executive order, casting darkness and uncertainty across the entire world, while here at home, Mike Baird has unceremoniously fucked off into the sunset after taking a righteous, watery shit on New South Wales.
Naturally I’ve turned to queer films to comfort me. I always feel slightly better about the world when I watch something gay and romantic. I find myself a little emotionally eroded by too much exposure to hetero stories – I can’t really find myself in them, so I need to do a lot of real-time translating. It gets a bit tiring. Sometimes I just want to see people like me having a good time.
After so many years of consuming a media diet that left me spiritually malnourished, I’m glad we have much more nutritious fare to choose from nowadays. I used to have a list of films I’d watch that weren’t necessarily queer, but had massive amounts of subtext, or a gay moment, or something; anything queer-ish that could be my go-to in times of need.
Now I’ve got a list of movies with actual gay characters in them.
I also realise how bad most of them are. So, so bad it hurts. I can understand the queer being a tragic figure in a movie made as late as the ’90s even, but aren’t we tired of lesbians killing themselves out of shame or depression? Aren’t we tired of being martyred like that, of having our romances be insta-doomed as soon as they begin? I’m looking at you, Carol [above].
It’s well known that lesbian cinema has been a relentless cavalcade of death and misery. Sure, you get your three minutes of sexual/spiritual and romantic bliss, but the penalty is DEATH. I really want to watch a movie about lesbians that doesn’t leave me feeling like somebody has been kickboxing my soul.
With that in mind, I dug through an embarrassing number of lesbian-centric films to find ones that didn’t have the following in them:
• Lesbian character is a psycho killer
• Lesbian character is only vacationing in homo-land and returns to hetero-ville at the end
• Lesbian character is murdered
• Lesbian character commits suicide
• Lesbian lovers commit suicide together
• Femme character has an Alternative Lifestyle haircut makeover (bonus: dramatic transition to lumberjack outfit)
There’s a documentary called The Celluloid Closet which examines homosexuality throughout 20th century cinema. It includes a montage of lesbian deaths. So many lesbians have died in movies, they had enough material to make a montage.
There are plenty of stupid, fun movies that don’t have these depressing tropes. The problem is that fun, happy gay stories don’t seem to have much mainstream pull – it seems we still look at the queer character as something a little bit sad.
Speaking of ‘serious’ cinema, most people cite either Blue Is The Warmest Color or Carol as the be-all, end-all of mainstream lesbian cinema. The former has the queer community divided in that some argue it’s voyeuristic garbage and others delight in its raw, unapologetic sexuality.
The latter is taken more seriously as a love story. However, Carol just didn’t cut it for me. I felt like that chemistry between Cate Blanchett’s character and her love interest was non-existent. Both actresses also did that bizarre thing straight women do when they have to kiss each other while pretending to be lesbians – their kisses come across as hesitant and prudish – and I don’t think it helped that the love story was utterly nonsensical to me. I wasn’t moved by the frustration and despair of their love, I was distracted by how passionless it seemed.
I’m not a snob – occasionally I don’t want to bother with thematic coherence and just want to watch a whole lotta cheese. Something like But I’m A Cheerleader or The Incredibly True Adventures Of Two Girls In Love. They’re filled with cheesy gay love, and sometimes that’s perfectly satisfying.
But I’m still waiting for a lesbian blockbuster that defies convention and gives everyone a happy ending. We’ll see.
On Friday February 3, Head over to the Giant Dwarf in Redfern to listen to Queerstories: a diverse lineup of queers telling stories about their lives, hosted by Maeve Marsden. Speakers include Benjamin Law, Simon Hunt (AKA Pauline Pantsdown), Sveta Gilerman (DJ Sveta), Jax Jacki Brown and Liz Duck-Chong. Tickets are available now.
On Saturday February 4, The Bearded Tit is presenting Shanghai Sheba’s Speakeasy. The bar will be transformed into a 1920s speakeasy, where Shanghai Sheba’s famously interactive show will have plenty of crowd participation and prizes for best costume. Tickets at the door.
And for the diary, on Thursday February 23 get down to The Red Rattler in Marrickville to celebrate butch identity and culture at Butch/Stud. The night will feature local and international queer artists, singers, drag kings, diesel dyke poets, and butch and butch-loving performers telling stories of butch/dyke visibility and pride. All are welcome, and tickets are available now.Write a Letter to the Editor