Who needs Pride when June is shaping up to be a non-stop celebration of all things queer cinema? Not only is there an LGBT blogathon happening now over at YAM Magazine, but one starts next week over at Garbo Laughs, and as of today Fandor is hosting its own LGBT “festival” that I put together!
Frameline Film Festival, the longest running LGBT film festival kicks off today here in San Francisco, and to coincide I was asked by Keyframe: the Fandor Blog to curate my own queer film “festival” out of films from their archive. I specifically set the goal of seeking out films beyond the site’s genre tag and of finding ways to include not only a wide variety of film types (features, shorts, documentaries, etc) but to demonstrate my firm belief that “queer cinema” can and does involve much more than the simple inclusion of a prominent LGBT character or storyline. It turned out to be an intensely pleasurable experience, and I’m very happy with how it all came out. It gave me a both chance to revisit some old favorites (Happy Together, And Then There Were None) and make some really wonderful new discoveries (Mike Kuchar’s The Secret of Wendel Samson, Doris Wishman’s Let Me Die a Woman). Please check it out! And if you’re not already familiar with Fandor and its streaming services, you can try it out a no-obligations free trial for two weeks. But don’t just take my word for it–let Roger Ebert tell you what a great service it is!
And as my submission to the YAM Magazine LGBT Blogathon, I include (and expand upon) the notes of a Mark Rappaport double bill that ended up getting cut from the Keyframe article.
RE-ROUTE OF THE PAST: A MARK RAPPAPORT DOUBLE BILL
In an insightful interview with filmmaker and scholar Mark Rappaport, Jonathan Rosenbaum claims that Rappaport “virtually invented a new form of film criticism” with his witty and erudite documentaries Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (USA, 1992) and The Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender (USA, 1997). Indeed, both films serve as wickedly clever and irreverent re-readings of orthodox–and resolutely heteronormative–film histories. The aim of these two films is to reveal the queer resonances subtly (or often not-so-subtly) embedded within classic cinema. In the wake of Rock Hudson’s very public coming out and death from AIDs in 1985, Rappaport scans back through the actor’s extensive filmography, and begins to reveal that far from being some unknown secret, Hudson’s closeted sexuality seems to manifest itself in countless ways throughout his decades-spanning filmography. “It’s not like it wasn’t up there on the screen,” narrator Eric Farr intones in the introduction of the film, “if you watched the films carefully.” The was vividly re-confirmed for me at a screening of Sirk’s glorious Written on the Wind at the Castro Theatre just last week: early on in the film, Hudson sullenly looks on Robert Stack courts Lauren Bacall, and Stack suddenly commands “go look in the closet!” The audience spontaneously erupted in affectionate laughter and applause. The situation reoccurred several times throughout the evening.
The Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender is more ambitious in its scope, unmasking the queerness in a diverse array of Hollywood and European films made before 1970 or so (I’ll always love it for introducing me to the whacky little gem Desert Fury–as I wrote, the film has to be seen to be believed!). The film also details the sexually ambiguous screen personas of a diverse array of actors, ranging from matinee idols–and rumored lovers–Cary Grant and Randolph Scott to comedians like Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, and Danny Kaye, and on to supporting characters such as Walter Brennan and the “sissies” of 1930’s Hollywood cinema such as Eric Blore and Edward Everett Horton. Of course there’s quite a bit of taking clips and quips out of context, and much of the effect comes from the narrator’s coy lead-ons that color the viewer’s perception, but that’s a great part of the charm and campy fun of it all. But it’s Rappaport’s consistent daring to go there is what makes his films so illuminating and, sometimes, truly profound.
Rappaport’s presentation of the material has proved to be a stumbling block for some–the flat, uncharismatic Farr featured in Home Movies is widely reviled, and I’ve read dismissals of the lo-fi, home video aspect films. But the lo-fi quality is exactly what I find most endearing about Rappaport’s entire enterprise–it’s like partaking in the obsessions of a slightly mad but brilliant cinephile nestled in their darkened bedroom, poring over stacks of VHS and dupes taped off of TCM (or AMC, back in the day) and then scanning and rescanning through beloved old films until they seem to be revealing their long-held secrets. As a queer viewer myself, I view these films as dazzling displays of queer bricolage, of cobbling together disparite elements that reveal and/or create new narratives to serve our own purposes, and manipulate them until they begin tell our own stories and mirror our own desires and dreams. And as Rappaport reveals, it wasn’t all that difficult to do–the latent queer impulses were always there, we just had to be on the lookout for them.
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