January 13

Week 1- Queer Theories/Queer Movies Introductions and Syllabus Review:

– Setting the stage for queer cinema: art, politics, and transformed categories

-history, selections from Celluloid Closet.

– Screening of It Wasn’t Love (dir. Sadie Benning, 1992; 19 min)

– For 1/20 WATCH: Pink Flamingos (dir. John Waters, 1972, 93 min). Screening after class in Meyer, 4:15.

And Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story   on youtube


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4 Responses to January 13

  1. Elyse Kraft says:

    Queer cinema describes a group of films that contain queer themes or created by queer filmmakers. In order to understand queer cinema, it is important to understand the term “queer” and the root of queer theory. In class, we defined “queer” as a reclaimed term that represents an identity that rejects normative labels such as “gay” and “straight”. Aaron (2004) describes queer as representing the “non-fixity of gender expression and the non-fixity of both straight and gay sexuality” (5). Queer theory notes that structure is at the root of social domination and critiques these social boundaries and the mechanisms that create these boundaries. Aaron describes films that fall under the category of “New Queer Cinema” as having elements of defiance, some of which include “giving voice to the marginalized”, and embracing the faults of the characters (p.4).

    Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story is queer because of the method used to tell the story of Karen Carpenter’s struggles. The director of the film, Todd Haynes, is a major player in the New Queer Cinema movement and his telling of the story contains certain characteristics of defiance frequently used to describe the movement. Aaron notes that one of the levels of defiance seen in NQC is that the films are “unapologetic about their characters’ faults or, rather crimes”. In Superstar, Karen’s issues are frequently highlighted and her struggle with anorexia is the main element of the film. Aaron also notes that films in the movement “defy the sanctity of the past, especially the homophobic past” (p.4). In Superstar, Haynes presents various instances of queerness that are not present in other reviews of Karen Carpenter’s life. For example, when Karen accuses her brother Richard of having a secret, viewers on left wondering about his sexual orientation. Additionally, Haynes highlights an encounter where Karen believes that the man who she eventually marries is her brother. This encounter implies a queerness of the relationship between Karen and her brother Richard.

    Superstar and Pink Flamingos imply different things about the nuclear family and straight life. Superstar implies that the pressures of a normal, nuclear family can lead to negative results. Throughout the film, it was clear that the pressures felt by Karen from her family played a major role in her anorexia. These situations reinforced the idea that whether a family is “nuclear” is less importance than how a family operates. In Pink Flamingos, Babs lives in a non-nuclear family. This “lifestyle” is assumed to be one of the elements that contribute to her title as the “filfthiest person alive”. Although the way Babs and her family operate is intended to add to the shock value of the film, there is an implication that straight life would be less filthy than the current situation. In reality, any other type of family would be less filthy than Babs’ family and the way a family operates is the most important factor.

  2. Alyx Smagacz says:

    The movie Pink Flamingos was definitely queer. It was hard to tell if the main character was a woman or a man dressed as a woman. This film was definitely not mainstream and it was very controversial as far as the sexual scenes and the extreme situations that the characters were in. For someone who is sheltered from these types of things, this film was quite disturbing. However, seeing that the history of queer cinema had the gay or lesbian characters portrayed as villains who always lost or died in the end, this film did have the gender questionable character sort of a shady character, but who won the battle of being the dirtiest person alive in the end and got what she wanted without being punished.
    For the video Superstar, I don’t quite understand how it would be categorized as a queer film due to the lack of any gay or lesbian type interactions or situations. The only description of queer that it may follow is the fact that it was not a mainstream video. The readings from New Queer Cinema and Queer Theory seem to focus on the different aspects of sexuality and gender that queer categorizes, but does not spend much time defining any other characteristics. This video was very interesting and I liked the use of dolls as characters, which is not something that is used often.

  3. Kaneja Muganda says:

    Kaneja Muganda
    Topics: Queer Cinema
    What is “Queer Cinema”?
    In the first chapter of our New Queer Cinema book Michele Aaron breaks down this idea of NQC into four main parts. The first is the unapologetic characteristics of the characters displayed in these various NQC films. Superstar displays this crucial part throughout the whole film. The story is translated through the use of barbie dolls. Todd Haynes seemed to believe that using barbie dolls potentially eases some of the ridicule he may have received for directing this film. This unapologetic trait most of the characters possess in NQC films are geared toward their faults and/or crimes. The directors of these films are not afraid to exploit the characters if they feel they have a story to tell.

    In Karen Carpenter’s case, the audience saw a real inside view of how dynamic her family life style was. Her family made it their supreme goal to produce a successful pop star out of Karen. They were extremely ruthless, giving her strict demands and forcing her to keep a lean yet unhealthy figure. The viewers are constantly reminded that can fame sometimes lead to torture. Symbolism is shown through the salad platters and weight scales, basically impossible to dismiss. As for living a straight life, I believe Karen was too involved in her career to live a normal life. She experimented with a variety of things just to make sure she could perform to her highest abilities, including pills and eating disorders. I’m not sure she was ever content with the way she lived so I would not say she lived a “straight life”.

    The Pink Flamingo, in my opinion, is the most erotic and sex-driven movie I’ve ever seen. There was a lot of cinematic convention throughout the film. Every scene within the camera lens was based around crime and sex, two things Aaron talks about in the first chapter. Our protagonist Divine, played by Babs Johnson, is driven to commit the most evil and cruel crimes. There is a lot of death and random sex scenes throughout the film which has the ability to label this movie “queer.” The characters are seen as nasty, evil, erotic, cruel and violent individuals. These are the type of characters audience members dislike and despise. Queer movies are not concerned about audience reactions. On the contrary, I believe they thrive on the fact that most movie critics will find their films problematic.

  4. Alex Andorfer says:

    One of Hairspray’s best scenes is when Penny, a lower-middle class white person, with an absolutely crazy mother and a black male character she meets on a dance show reveal their relationship to the black kid’s mother. The mother is not disgusted, shocked nor dissenting of their love. Rather she thinks of their connection as a gift, and though they will have many obstacles to overcome, given the time period which Hairspray is set – the 1960s – she is on the whole happy to see two young people in love, especially a love that will make a statement to society. Hairspray celebrates the idea that love and friendship can exist over racial barriers. That relations between two people should not be forbidden because of outward characteristics. This idea is wholly prevalent in many works of queer cinema as well.

    Fannon presents the idea that black characters in cinema are held under the scrutiny of a white gaze. In other words, white viewers have a preconceived notion of what it means to have a dark phenotype. Fannon writes “For not only must the black man be black; he must be black in relation to the white man” (110). Socialization and cultural norms have further enshrined this notion of blackness in the white viewer’s mind. Thus, when a white person watched a movie with a black character, he or she understands the narrative with white consciousness of black living. The spectator constantly watches the black character with these ideas in mind. Fannon describes some of these ideas on page 129, “the Negro’s sui generis odor… the Negro’s sui generis good nature… the Negro’s sui generis gullibility…” Fannon’s idea of “to-be-looked-at-ness” deviates from Mulvey’s concept of the gaze because Fanon emphasizes the role of the spectator. He believes that they are a slave of their own appearance, that they see themselves as the Negro under watch of the white eye.

    In Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the American GI is portrayed as a black “hunk of a man” ready to take Hansel away from oppressive Berlin. However, the character soon proves to be unreliable and leaves who is then Hedwig in her trailer park home for another gay man. The idea of the crazed black man that can’t be depended on isn’t a new concept. It is what present in many cultural works. American popular culture has an obsession with black masculinity. There seems to be a everlasting portrayal of black men in the media. Not just their physical body, but what the body represents: hypersexuality, ill intentions, slum lifestyles. This view of the black character is obviously seen through a white person’s cultural lens.

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