Thursday, April 29, 2010

Docu Drama

Watched Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema last night. I suppose I can't be too surprised. I've been on a documentary kick lately (which is atypical) and I can't help but furrow my brow at the sloppy handle of recent narratologies. Linnearity is a hard thing to discern when you're painting broad strokes of a subject that spans years - much like the film last night which runs from Fireworks (1947) to Tarnation (2006)[a gamut that actually showcases little cinematic progression if you get to the heart of these titles' tactic of performativity] or my other recent watch, the leaden Chris and Don: A Love Story. Decades slip by without any narratorial address or reference (Fabulous all but bypasses the 50s) or leap back and forth 2004, then 1998, off to 2006, but don't forget 1999.

I don't watch documentaries because of their artlessness. Ever since television began dictating the format of factual entertainment, I've frequently regarded most documentaries as either an A&E special that I have to pay to see or a visual equivalent to an audio book - a historical account cut down to the nuts and bolts.

Perhaps this is what most offends me about these cinematic accounts. Watching Fabulous!, a film about a movement in which I hold great stake both experiential and academic, the elision of so many important details occasioned many a wince. The film engages in a tidy narrativising of events like the censorship case around Flaming Creatures bypassing a mention of Jack Smith or the film's actual content (Fabulous! seems to take at surface value the nudity that the Supreme Court found so objectionable). Smith is a seminal figure in this movement toward Queer self-representation and performativity. They naturally transition from Smith (or, rather, the seemingly autonomous Flaming Creatures) to Warhol, and, as usual, Warhol gets all the credit. There's no Boys in the Sand, no Rosa Von Praunheim, no Bruce LaBruce, even. Marcus Hu has to bring up Barbara Hammer, but even that feels tacked on (at the film's end they flash a poster for Nitrate Kisses when discussing contemporary documentary output!).

These elisions of political content are further problematized by the elision of recent, straight-to-dvd or on-demand gay narrative features. Eating Out is not mentioned and, sad as it is, films like Eating Out and Latter Days are hugely influential films to the development (deterioration may be a better word) of contemporary gay cinema. Fabulous! ultimately feels like naive fantasy. Or it feels like a filler piece, a social vanity project to warm up to the politics of the gay festival circuit that has crushed the life out of gay themed film by taking it to market, selling personal narratives out to appeal to product sponsors like Absolut. Just glance at successful contemporary gay products. Only Rupaul's Drag Race springs readily to my mind. There, week after week, sponsors are fatuously plugged and absolute elixirs are consumed in the interior illusions lounge.

Mention Eating Out. It's an embarrassment, but its a necessary point if this object is meant as a tutorial, or - better yet - a call to affect change. B. Ruby Rich cheers on the new school of queer youths going through Filmmaking programs with a hopeful eye towards the future. But perhaps the narrowed eyes of the Outfest representative, who chimes in about the normative rom-coms that swelled after the ponderous pictured offered through the New Queer Cinema in the late 90s. He sites Don Roos as the promising future of queer cinema. If that's the case, or if this movie has any indication of the way we engage with or learn from our collective past, we're all in trouble.


Blogger Simon said...

Documentaries can be really great, if you are untainted by the cyncicism of reality TV. So, yeah.

7:32 PM  
Blogger wasitworthit said...

Yes, yes. The overt statement above was a provocation, to be sure, but the documentary in this day and age gleans too greatly from these tv sources with very little regard for form. I am interested in documentaries that take the extra step to merge content and form. I think of experimentalists (naturally) like Chick Strand, Naomi Uman, Thom Anderson and perhaps even Nick Broomfield.

9:52 AM  

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