Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

Introduction: A Short, Personal History of Lesbian and Gay Experimental Cinema

Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

Introduction: A Short, Personal History of Lesbian and Gay Experimental Cinema

Article excerpt


In 1974, when I was first deciding that I actually could become a filmmaker, experimental filmmakers provided the only role models available for being an openly gay filmmaker. In fact, it seemed that gay filmmakers formed the very foundation of experimental filmmaking, at least in the United States.

Trying to re-imagine the mid- to late-1970s landscape of lesbian/gay experimental film as seen by a student at the San Francisco Art Institute seems like an archeological dig through my sand-covered memory. To my mind, the most prominent gay filmmaker at the time was Kenneth Anger. Fireworks (1947) captured the thrill, the danger, the glory of coming out so perfectly and joyously that it renders all subsequent coming out films unnecessary. Scorpio Rising (1963) defined a hot, rough-andtumble homosexuality and, through its use of rock and roll songs, insisted on its very centrality to American popular culture. Although one can argue that all Anger's films come out of a gay sensibility, Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965) is the only other of his films that could be called homoerotic. James Broughton's work, which since the 40s, had contained elements of homoeroticism and homosensibility in spite of his frequent bouts of heterosexuality, burst into full gay bloom in his personal and filmic collaboration with Joel Singer. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat in nearly orgasmic anticipation as the vibrating double images of Broughton were "coming / wholy together / totally together / in toto together." In one of the great ironies, perhaps the most forthright depiction of gay sex was the eyepopping, mind-blowing, double-projection Christmas on Earth (1963), made by Barbara Rubin, a 16-year-old who later embraced Orthodox Judaism, had 7 children and died in childbirth.

In addition there were a number of older films, made by gay and straight and people of undetermined sexuality that had a great impact on the landscape: the film known formally as Dickson Experimental Sound Film (the lovely film of two men waltzing made by W.K.L. Dickson for the Edison Co. around 1895), Watson and Webber's Lot in Sodom (1933), Willard Maas's coy and breathtaking Geography of the Body (1943), rumors of Alia Nazimova's Salome (1923), Shirley Clarke's tortured Portrait of Jason (1967) and Jean Genet's extraordinary depiction of imprisoned love and desire Un Chant D'Amour (1950).

It is crucial not to forget that although there was a strong sense in the late 70s that gay film was everywhere important, much of it was impossible to see. Most of Warhol's films had been withdrawn from circulation. The only way to see Warhol was when Ondine showed his personal copies of The Chelsea Girls (1966), The Loves of Ondine (1968) and Vinyl (1965). Those screenings were wondrous affairs because Ondine was the very embodiment of the perfect homosexual: witty, trenchant, sarcastic, unstoppably honest, uncontrollably sexual and potentially dangerous. The Paul Morrissey/Andy Warhol films were around, but they, while campy, were more critique of heterosexuality than overtly gay and, really, quite pallid in comparison to real Warhol films. The felt absence was the chance to see Blow Job (1963) or My Hustler (1965). Further, Gregory Markopolous and Robert Beavers had decamped to Europe. Their work was impossible to see. Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures (1963) may still have been in circulation, but his films became increasingly difficult, then impossible to see until their rather recent preservation and re-release.

In addition to this, back in Pittsburgh, Roger Jacoby was making his glorious, hand-processed films with Ondine, including L'Amico Fried's Glamorous Friends (1976), Dream Sphinx Opera (1974) and the incomparable Kunst Life (1975) (in which Ondine, as the Knight, prone and unable to stand plaintively cries to his squire, "Martin, Martin, why won't you make love to me? Is it the armor?"). George and Mike Kuchar separately and together were churning out their camp classics. …

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