Queer Film Classics Series
Davis, Glyn, Canadian Journal of Film Studies
QUEER FILM CLASSICS SERIES
Edited by Matthew Hays and Thomas Waugh. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press.
Will Aitken, Death in Venice (201 1, 187pp)
Jon Davies, Trash (2009, 173pp)
Shohini Ghosh, Fire (2010, 172pp)
Susan Knabe and Wendy Gay Pearson, Zero Patience (201 1, 181 pp)
Helen Hok-Sze Leung, Farewell My Concubine (2010, 129pp)
José Quiroga, Law of Desire (2009, 155pp)
Noah Tsika, Cods and Monsters (2009, 169pp)
Thomas Waugh and Jason Garrison, Montreal Main (2010, 269pp)
Greg Youmans, Word Is Out (201 1, 189pp)
Reviewed by Glyn Davis
Constructing a Queer Canon
Every ten years, the British Film Institute magazine Sight and Sound publishes a list of the "best films of all time," after canvassing the opinion of a broad array of film critics, theorists, and directors. This canon formation, elaboration, and recalibration began in 1952, and the 2012 list will be unveiled later this year. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) has topped the poll since 1962; the lists are largely populated with unsurprising auteurist choices (Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, Martin Scorsese, and so on). In 2002, in advance of the results of the sixth poll being published, the magazine invited several individuals to write articles nominating particular overlooked or ignored titles for inclusion in the "greatest films" pantheon. Andy Medhurst purposefully rocked the boat by choosing Muriel's Wedding (1994), arguing that P. J. Hogan's comedy-melodrama is "one of the greatest lesbian love stories in film history."1 Medhurst's short, deliriously perverse essay explicitly evoked the possibility of an alternative canon- one more inclusive, more queer, less macho.
The Queer Film Classics series, edited by Matthew Hays and Thomas Waugh, offers up one such vision of a different canon- and a rich and provocative one. Published by Vancouver's Arsenal Pulp Press in an appealingly handsome and generously illustrated format, nine titles from an announced twenty-one are currently available. Three books are being released each year; due to support from particular sources, it is required that one film in three is Canadian, or has some claim to "Canadian-ness" (thus, so far, there are volumes on Fire [Deepa Mehta, 1996], Montreal Main [Frank Vitale, 1974], and Zero Patience [John Greyson, 1993]). Evident in the title of Hays and Waugh's series is its challenge to another British Film Institute canon-forging orthodoxy: the BFI Classics monographs. Admittedly, the films included in the latter book series are much more diverse than those that tend to feature in the Sight and Sound poll; for instance, there are volumes on such queer films as Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945), Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002), Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974), Performance (Donald Cammell/Nicolas Roeg, 1970), Queen Christina (Rouben Mamoulian, 1933), The Servant (Joseph Losey, 1963), and Victim (Basil Dearden, 1961). However, unlike most of these individual texts, each contribution to the Queer Film Classics series directly engages, often at significant length, with the historical and political significance of building a queer cinema canon.
Why might this alternative canon be necessary or useful? Prior to the launch of the Queer Film Classics series, Waugh had engaged with the challenges and value of constructing such a definitive list. In the introduction to The Fruit Machine, a collection of his writings from the 1970s through to the 1990s, Waugh identified the significant work carried out by Richard Dyer in his landmark book Now You See It. First published in 1990, Now You See It offered a largely chronological historical introduction to "films made by lesbians and gay men with lesbian and gay subject-matter," with a somewhat arbitrary cut-off date of 1980.2 Waugh acknowledged that Dyer's project in this book "was a daunting task, but at least a feasible one because it covered a half century of relative scarcity. …