Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

31 May 2018

Cinema Q

I decided to make this list after reading yet another critique of how Call Me by Your Name. The author of this particular think-piece was bemoaning the lack of queer cinema. What he meant was that although we have more films with representations of gay people in them, and even (I think he said this) more films about gay topics, we don't have filmmakers who are using the kinds of queer filmmaking techniques pioneered by Derek Jarman.

Pariah
In the first place, I don't really see how this is remotely true – Saint Laurent and Cemetery of Splendour and Moonlight and Carol simply were not that long ago, and each of them is plainly using queer techniques. As, for that matter, is Call Me by Your Name.

The main critique I read of Call Me by Your Name was, of course, that it didn't have enough sex in it. I can't say I really disagree. Although I thought the film was very sexy, the novel is explicit in ways that the film seemed occasionally to avoid. Not that Call Me by Your Name isn't sexy; it obviously is. And there are plenty of quite explicit sequences in it. But it seems to shy away slightly from gay sex. I don't need to make excuses for that, and I don't particularly care to. I rather agree. This bothered me a lot about Moonlight, too, even though I also loved that film.

God's Own Country
I think what irks me when I read takedowns of Call Me by Your Name by queer critics is that they always seem to want the movie to do everything. Call Me by Your Name is too romantic, and it doesn't deal with homophobia, and there's not enough sex, and it's set in the 1980s, and it doesn't deal with HIV/AIDS, and it's too bisexual, and it's about two males, and it doesn't take place in the U.S., and it's not about me. Theses writers seem to be really furious that every gay film doesn't include all the things. Which leads them to hate, say, Love, Simon, for not being the queer teenage breakthrough film they've been looking for forever, or to complain: where is the Moonlight for ladies?

Signature Move
Do we need more films about queer people? Yeah. Do we need more films about queer women in particular? Yeah. Do we need more movies about trans and gender-nonconforming folks? You know we do. Do I want to watch more stories about queer people that don't end in tragedy? For sure.
 
But every film about queer people doesn't need to do all things, and my first reaction whenever I read complaints like the ones about Call Me by Your Name is Oh! You don't see enough movies about queer people. Because it turns out they are there. Did you want a movie about a young woman developing an attraction to other women and developing superpowers at the same time? You should see Thelma. Were you interested in watching more explicit gay sex as part of the film's narrative? You should see Beach Rats. Were you interested in homophobia and its effects on both sex and love? You should see God's Own Country. Did you want to see a movie about a girl falling in love with a gender-nonconforming person in Chicago? You should see Princess Cyd. Were you interested in HIV and its effects on the queer community? You should see 120 Beats per Minute. Did you want a pure fantasy about a teenager meeting another queer teenager and developing a relationship? You should see Handsome Devil. Were you wanting a movie about a transwoman dealing with homophobia and grief? I hope you saw A Fantastic Woman. And these were just the films released in 2017.

120 Beats per Minute
My point is that these films exist. We're just not watching them. And then we're complaining that the ones that we do watch don't do all the things we want them to do. All the critiques I read of Call Me by Your Name were tinged with this complaint. But it's not this enough. And I wished it did more of this. That's cool. It's totally valid. Call Me by Your Name was doing its own, particular, Luca Guadagnino–James Ivory thing. Ivory has been making movies since the early 1960s and he sees the world a certain way, and Guadagnino has particular interests as a filmmaker related to sensuality and nature and food. I loved this film, and I loved it for what it was... and I also understand not loving it for those same reasons. But to move from there to complain about the state of queer filmmaking is, to my mind, ignorant. Watch more queer movies and you'll see that there are lots more queer stories out there. I can't think of a better time for queer cinema than right now – and maybe that's because I recently saw 120 Beats per Minute, which was easily one of the best movies of 2017 and is unquestionably the best film about AIDS I've ever seen. It actually just might be objectively the best film about AIDS ever made.

So, I want to inaugurate a Cinema Q list. A long list of movies about LGBTQI topics and queer people for every year. The list will be annual and will link to whatever comments I've written about it. I am imagining this as a resource, but also as a kind of memory bank. I will update this list continually when I know about a queer film or when someone messages me a recommendation.

The female Moonlight, incidentally, was called Pariah. Did you see it?