Queer Cinema

Queer Cinema

Ariathney Coyne gives a breif run down of LGBT in film

The term ‘New Queer Cinema’ was first coined in 1992 marking the recent surge in films portraying queer protagonists and their multifarious lives. This new wave of filmmaking appeared as an on-screen response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic that had struck during the past decade.

This is not to say that LGBT matters had not previously been addressed in films. For example, Pink Flamingos (1972), which initially caused controversy due to explicit perverse acts, follows the misadventures of Divine, an American transvestite, and Nighthawks (1978) depicts the hardships of a gay schoolteacher in London. It was not until the late 80s and early 90s, however, that a sense of urgency and responsibility seized more filmmakers, driving them to re-classify queers’ representation in cinema.

Certain themes became particularly prominent during this new cinematic movement, including the disapproval of hetero-normative boundaries, graphic sex and an oftentimes rebellious and hateful attitude towards society. The Living End (1992), directed by Gregg Araki, introduces two young gay and HIV-positive men who decide to go on an impromptu road trip with the motto, “Fuck the system”. There is violence, explicit gay sex, contempt for conventional societal values, misery, and occasionally hilarious dialogue – the film translates into a new statement in favour of breaking taboos surrounding the queer experience.

The film translates into a new statement in favour of breaking taboos surrounding the queer experience.

Similarly, Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho (1991), loosely based on Shakespeare’s Henry IV, presents the imbalanced relationship between two young hustlers, Mike, the narcoleptic protagonist and Scott, the object of his desire. They embark on a long and winding journey, passing through crime-ridden streets and desolate landscapes, and all the while presenting the dreadful anguish that arises from unrequited love.

A multitude of other films were produced during that time made a significant impact on queer cinema, including Jennie Livingston’s documentary of New York’s drag scene, Paris is Burning (1991) and Tom Kalin’s Swoon (1992), based on the homosexual relationship between two men involved in a murder case.

In the next years new films were dealing with LGBT issues, but the fervour of the early 90s had faded. Nonetheless, films such as War Kai Wong’s Happy Together (1997) and John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) succeed in sincerely presenting LGBT relationships and with considerable artistry. Meanwhile Boys Don’t Cry (1999) and Monster (2003), both of which are based on true stories, portray the rather dreary lives of a trans-man, concealing his biological identity, and a lesbian prostitute – turned serial killer, respectively.

However, the great “gay-breakthrough” occurred when Brokeback Mountain (2005) and its controversial “gay cowboys” took hold of the silver screen. The film’s tremendous success left a mark on Hollywood, and it was not long before Milk (2008), A Single Man (2009) and The Kids Are All Right (2011) followed, becoming award-winning mainstream successes.

In the meantime, Québécois wunderkind, Xavier Dolan, was directing, writing and starring in his features. Both I Killed My Mother (2009) and Laurence Anyways (2012) involved LGBT protagonists. His artistry and intriguing subject matters soon received considerable attention and admiration, raising him to an elite class of innovative filmmakers at 25. Notably, Dolan has openly expressed disgust towards the Queer Palm award presented at the Cannes Film Festival to distinguished LGBT films, arguing that it emphasizes the extant segregation from “heterosexual” cinema.

One of the most startling and critically acclaimed features released recently was Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013), with an astoundingly intimate portrayal of a lesbian relationship. No doubt this film attributes some of its immense reputation to the extremely graphic and controversial sex-scene, but at its core it illustrates the sexual and intellectual awakening of a young woman in a very natural manner, irrespective of her sexual orientation.

Subsequently, the suspense thriller Stranger by the Lake (2013) was released. It is a voyeuristic film set by the shore of a secluded French lake, where men go to indulge in their oftentimes explicitly depicted homoerotic desires. The film was critically acclaimed and reached a wide audience, not solely because ‘sex sells’, but because it is an elegantly crafted piece of cinema. Moreover, LGBT films such as Lilting (2014) and Pride (2014) gained a substantial viewership across the UK, without the BBFC 18 rating.

It seems apparent that LGBT films will become more prevalent in the coming years, and with a multitude of LGBT film festivals running year-round globally, it seems that filmmakers have more opportunities than ever to present their LGBT-centred work to an audience.

Ultimately, directors involved in queer cinema are posed with a difficult and controversial task. How do they bring this topic to the screen in an interesting and appealing manner? Whether filmmakers choose to depict sensible plot-lines with LGBT characters or display grand acts of sensationalism remains to be seen, and will undoubtedly make an impact on the way we as spectators, and more broadly as a society, view LGBT and its associated issues.

Featured image credit: filmfork-cdn

Ariathney Coyne