This is my first heterosexual movie," says Gregg Araki of The Doom Generation. Released this week, the second instalment of his Teen Apocalypse Trilogy is a wildly provocative stomach-churner of a road movie that satirises the romantic couple-on-the run genre with a surreal splatter-fest of stylised sex and violence. "In the way that Philadelphia and Longtime Companion were gay films for straight people," says Araki, "Doom is a straight movie for gay people."
Confused? You should be. Doom Generation, along with forthcoming releases from Go Fish director Rose Troche and Safe's Todd Haynes, aims to blur the boundaries between gay and straight, identity politics and entertainment. Swapping PC manifestos for a more subtle queering of the mainstream, the generation of young film-makers once grouped under the banner of "New Queer Cinema" is escaping the low- budget, festival-circuit ghetto to introduce its subversive aesthetic to a wider audience.
The term "New Queer Cinema" was coined at the Sundance film festival in 1992 by Ruby Rich, a Village Voice journalist, to describe a bunch of gay directors united by an unapologetic, in-your- face attitude towards their sexuality. Eschewing the red-ribbon liberal rhetoric of the Aids era, these film-makers were less interested in offering a "body count" of positive gay representation than in twisting narrative and generic conventions to explore ideas of social alienation and the construction of identity, in particular "deviancy".
Tom Kahn's 1992 post-modern period piece Swoon used the story of the infamous Twenties child-killers Leopold and Loeb to describe how society pathologises homosexuality in the act of defining it. Haynes's feature Poison had covered similar ground the year before. A queer portmanteau movie, it combined Jean Genet with B-movie sci-fi and rites-of-passage docu-drama to produce an elegant and intellectually rigorous response to hysterical media representations of homosexuality and Aids.
As its original title, Fuck The World, suggests, Araki's first feature was a more visceral reaction to the epidemic. A self-styled "irresponsible movie", 1992's The Living End featured two HIV- positive lovers on the lam. An angry answer to both the homophobia of the right and the fearful PC caution of the left, it was full of explicit unprotected gay sex, S&M and Aids-inspired revenge fantasies, in which Araki's glamorous outlaws fantasised about going to White House to inject Bush with their blood.
These, then, were the main players of New Queer Cinema, although other film-makers were loosely embraced by the label, including more established directors, such as Gus Van Sant and Derek Jarman. Drawing on the legacy of Cocteau, Warhol, Fassbinder and Kenneth Anger these directors employed experimental methods to describe the diversity of their difference.
"What I loved about the New Queer Cinema," Haynes later told journalists, "wasn't that it was gay film-makers making films about gay people. What I loved was the fact that it was a group of films which all had their different stylistic or formal approaches to the stories they were telling. People were thinking about the way we see the world. Whether we're looking at a gay character or a straight character, we will see the world differently."
Unfortunately, this otherwise eclectic group all saw a world without women, their movies reproducing the same male-dominated world of any Hollywood blockbuster. Indeed, it is possible that New Queer Cinema marginalised the female of the species still further. No longer even objects of desire, the few women who made it into these films were figures of parody and revulsion. Off screen the story was the same. New Queer Cinema was a boys club, and only retrospectively were lesbian directors such as Rose Troche added to its roll call of talent.
Mainstream film has always cannibalised the alternative in its search for new subjects and visual styles. …