New Queer Cinema

Guest Programming Statement
In a 1992 Sight & Sound piece, feminist film critic and programmer B. Ruby Rich coined the term “New Queer Cinema,” referring to a constellation of queer art films released on the festival circuit between 1990 and 1992. These films, which include Jennie Livingston’s documentary Paris Is Burning (1990), Tom Kalin’s dark historical drama Swoon (1992), and Gregg Araki’s The Living End (1992)—an erotic take on the road film—share certain aesthetic and political traits. The impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, for example, is palpable. Whether analogized or directly invoked, AIDS imbues the New Queer canon with reference to activist media from the 1980s; narratives about death, dying, and personal responsibility; and finally, fatalistic storylines and circuitous temporalities wherein there is quite literally no future. Sometimes necessitated by financial constraint, New Queer films are alternately minimalistic and excessive. They are experimental, and often feature marginalized subcultures within the queer community, including themes of marginality and criminality. From ball-walkers to prisoners to male hustlers, New Queer films demonstrate no attempt at “bridge-crossing,” as it were, or rather, no desire to endear straight audiences or even gay and lesbian ones settled on the optics of normative subjectivity. They embody precisely the ethos of queer theory: the resistance and defiance of social, narrative, and aesthetic norms and forms, including identity categories and politics. In an age when ostensibly “queer” representations rely heavily on heteronormative tropes—marriage, monogamy, military, and family—New Queer Cinema functions as a window into a time when queers fought to overturn extant structures, not seek entry and recognition within them. Given its unapologetic eroticism, New Queer Cinema also returns us to an era when the messiness and contradictoriness of sex was at the forefront of queer theory and activism. As Lee Edelman and the late Lauren Berlant remark in their book Sex, or the Unbearable (2013), queer theory, and critical discourse more broadly, now center “on questions of rights (civil, natural, and human), on sovereign power and states of exception, the definition and limits of the human, and on the distribution and control of populations through the categories of citizen and noncitizen. Sex, in this context, [carries] the odor of anachronism, narcissism, or something irreducibly and disconcertingly personal, and any impulse to linger on its place in the social, cultural, and political fields can suggest a stubbornly narrow gaze or a refusal to move on.” Could it be that we have forgotten the role of sex and sexuality in politicizing our social and cultural spaces? Regarding a sexual politics, what can New Queer Cinema teach or remind us?

Two films from the New Queer movement will be screened at Metro Cinema on June 11th and 18th, respectively: Todd Haynes’s Poison (1991) and Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho (1992). Poison, divided into three parts—Hero, Horror, and Homo—was released in January 1991, at the height of American muscular nationalism, Operation Desert Storm, and amid several controversies in popular culture around sex and sexuality in the public sphere. Recall MTV banning Madonna’s “Justify My Love” video and its riotous success as a VHS sale. Poison, which tells the story of the murder of an abusive father, a scientist who discovers the “elixir of human sexuality,” and two prisoners with an uncomfortable past, is deliberately claustrophobic. It gets under your skin and issues a demand to feel something. An emblem of formal and sexual transgression, it kicked off the New Queer movement with its daring cinematic impropriety and experimentality. My Own Private Idaho, on the other hand, takes us into the underground world of male sex work, and the complicated relationship between two hustlers, played by the dashing Keanu Reeves and tragic River Phoenix, who navigate everything from narcolepsy to the boundaries of erotic friendship. Incorporating tableau and other unconventional formal-narrative structures, it proves simultaneously radical and touching; austere, yet profoundly emotive and affective.

 

 

Guest Programmer Biography
Kyler Chittick is an incoming Ph.D. student of political science at the University of Alberta and a research assistant with the Edmonton Queer History Project at MacEwan University. He holds graduate degrees in cinema studies and political theory from the University of Toronto and York University, respectively, and completed an honours B.A. in political science at the U of A in 2016. Prior to his return to Edmonton, Kyler was a doctoral student in the cultural studies interdisciplinary graduate program at Queen’s University, where he was an Ontario Graduate Scholar and a Douglas Sheppard Wilson Fellow in Film Studies. In Kingston, Kyler was a guest curator and programmer with a local arthouse theatre, The Screening Room, and a programming committee member at the annual ReelOut Queer Film & Video Festival. Kyler’s research interests include social and political thought; queer, feminist, and critical race theories; film and media; and finally, censorship and legal studies. His academic work on pornography and popular culture can be found in recent special issues of Synoptique: An Online Journal of Film & Moving Image Studies, while his works of fiction and creative non-fiction appear in local literary magazines such as Glass Buffalo and The Wanderer.