Mandatory Performative Pride Month Post 2024 Edition: Queer Movies

I didn’t really know what to call this one. It is about movies, but I would have wanted to find a better header that capsulates what I’m trying to say here.

But, if I can’t say it succinctly, I’ll just have to use more words.

There’s a wonderful world of queer movies with small budgets. One would hope that they would have access to better financing, but at the same time it is to the benefit of these movies that there is little financial pressure on them to perform well, so the filmmakers can just do whatever. This isn’t how things should work, but it is how they do work. But hey, let’s take a look at some examples of this.

Before we go any further, I would like to remind everyone that these are the views of a very cis-het man, so take them as such.

Here’s my interest in all of this:

Bear with me on this. There were these two guys, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, who in the early 80s figured out that stomach ulcers weren’t caused by stress, but bacteria instead. In order to prove this, they extracted some fluids from a stomach with an ulcer, drank it (yes), and got ulcers themselves. They risked themselves to help all of us.

While openly queer people might have different motivations, they are still helping all of us by exploring themselves in whatever way they do it. How is a cis-het guy being helped by this? Well, even we should understand and emphasize with different kinds of people. We shouldn’t buy into the idea of white heterosexuals being the “normal”. There isn’t anything normal. Being “normal” is so rare that it’s abnormal in itself.

So, while this specific kind of self-exploration is not for me, I appreciate that there are people out there doing it and while they are not doing it for me, I still get to enjoy at least some of what they discover.

These are all cult movies. Little gems to be discovered by those who would appreciate them.

Je Tu Il Elle (I You He She) by Chantal Akerman (1974)

Here’s a little anecdote (sorry, the punchline is going to be bad, but it’s an anecdote, what can you do). My girlfriend called me up and told me she’d be coming over. I told her I’d be home and watching this movie by the legendary Chantal Akerman. She arrived just as a lesbian sex scene was starting. It’s a completely unstylized scene. I assume even being black-and-white was just a budgetary decision. It’s shot on a static camera just sitting there while the two women are going at it. So, she asks about what we are watching. I explain that this is Je Tu Il Elle, Chantal Akerman’s debut feature fictional film and that she’s actually one of the women in the scene.

She sat back to watch, but the scene just kept going. She grabbed the case of the Chantal Akerman collection it’s from and started to look through it. She saw that there’s a disc missing, implying that it’s the one were watching. But the scene just keeps going. At this point she’s thinking I’m trolling her, which wouldn’t be completely out of how we do sometimes play little practical jokes on each other (I mean, I wouldn’t manipulate anyone else to watch lesbian porn, but I know I can do that to her, but this time I wasn’t). She just can’t figure out what I’m up to and I know she doesn’t want to bring it up before she can outsmart me.

But the scene just keeps going. At some point it jsut becomes a kind of game of chicken. Neither of us is bringing up what’s going on while we are watching this very candid scene… which just keeps going.

Well, this is how we learned the scene is actually 20 minutes long. I assume the only cuts in it are because they ran out of film at some points. Of course, my girlfriend didn’t even see the movie preceding that scene.

Anyhow, it’s a very simple movie done on a shoestring budget. There’s only three actors in the whole movie (all of whom went on to have decent careers, which is a rarity for movies like this), and there’s like a dozen credited crew members, some of which I assume rotated in and out. But it works. It’s just so clearly personal and, while I have never descended to self-pity quite this badly, I can relate to her feelings.

The Watermelon Woman by Cheryl Dunye (1996)

Here’s a premise: You try to find someone like you in the history of film, but realize that you can’t. So, you create one and make a movie about it. Dunye came up with a black lesbian, who had a relationship with a white actress back in the silent days and then made a movie about her character discovering this history. Again, none of what is covered in the movie is true, but that doesn’t matter. I kind of like this approach.

Blue by Derek Jarman (1993)

Not the easiest movie to find, since there are plenty of movies simply called Blue and many, many with Blue in the title.

Not sure this should count as a movie, but here we are. At this point Jarman was dying of AIDS and had lost most of his sight. He was only able to see blue, so that’s where this movie comes from. It’s just a specific hue of blue with basically a radioplay accompanying it. In this play he is very openly going through his personal history with the help of people he had collaborated with in the past.

But I’m a Cheerleader by Jamie Babbit (1999)

Megan (played by the now iconic Natasha Lyonne) is suspected of being a lesbian, so her parents sent her to a conversion camp. The result is that she discovers her true self and realizes she is indeed lesbian. I like how the movie is poking fun at a clearly absurd system that can only make sense if you don’t really get (or refuse to understand) how people become gay. And yes, the practice is horrific and should be illegal. It is basically a form of torture. But if there’s nothing else you can do about it, at least you can try to ridicule it.

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