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10 Lowlights For LGBT People and the Movies in 2013

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by Toby Ashraf, Judith Dry, Peter Knegt, Matthew Hammett Knott, Sophie Smith and Erin Whitney
December 30, 2013 10:50 AM
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Dallas Buyers Club

Two weeks ago, this column reflected on the many positive reasons that 2013 was a landmark year for queer cinema and queers in cinema. In the spirit of community, we opened things up to a half-dozen or so contributors, asking them for some of their own personal highlights in that regard. Well, as things go, for every step forward there's usually a couple steps back. So once again we asked around -- this time about some of the things folks weren't so appreciative of when it came to queers and the movies this past year.

The results are listed below in alphabetical order, and keep in mind that everything is subjective. One particularly divisive film is on both this list and the positive-oriented one, while two others were widely acclaimed by queer and straight critics alike, so we fully expect and respect some disagreement. But with that in mind, here's our list. Please feel to free to challenge them, or just add your own lowlights, in the comments section:

Angela Robinson and POWER UP break up
This is a lowlight for me for so many reasons. 13 years ago this month. The Professional Organization of Women in Entertainment Reaching Up (POWER UP) was founded. A non-profit, its aim was to improve the visibility of queer women in film both by funding their projects and by recruiting and mentoring young women across a variety of roles. These are laudable goals which remain ever-necessary and which produced the likes of Jamie Babbit’s "Itty Bitty Titty Committee" (2007). Despite this, POWER UP has been mired in controversy almost since its inception. The latest development is the rift between Angela Robinson (whose feature film "D.E.B.S." started life as a POWER UP funded short) and Stacy Codikow, the organization’s founder. Robinson released a statement in October cutting all ties with POWER UP, and disassociating herself with the recently released "Girltrash: All Night Long." Robinson wrote the film and was involved in every step of its production, but cited working with Codikow as "the worst experience" of her career and refused to condone the final cut. Whatever went on here, it’s sad to watch an institution with such great aims eat itself from the inside. It’s sad too because Robinson is a marvelous filmmaker. She is playful, self-aware and wonderfully funny. I want to see the film that she was happy to release, but it looks like interpersonal politics mean that might never happen. [Sophie Smith]

Concussion

"Concussion"
Stacie Passon’s “Concussion” was one of the films I couldn’t wait to see in 2013. This was not least because it was produced by Rose Troche, who has done so much for queer visibility in cinema. But its plot also promised much: affluent suburban housewife Abby is hit by her son’s baseball and in the fallout confronts her wife’s ebbing desire by taking up as a high-class call girl. The first 20 minutes or so lived up to expectations: a quick-witted script was complimented by slick cinematography and an immediately captivating performance from Robin Weigert. For me, however, this promise didn’t just stall, it took some deeply uncomfortable turns. Abby’s first encounter with sex work is as client, and it is ostensibly not "high-class." The meeting is "dirty" – as Abby herself consistently reiterates when recounting it - the woman a druggie who – dear God! – offered Abby a hit herself. Perhaps this was meant as a satirical jab at the hypocrisy of middle-class morality when it comes to things like this, but if so, it was neither convincing nor sufficiently developed: instead it just seemed that Passon was reassuring her audience that hers was a story about safe, sexy sex-work, not the grotty kind poor people do. Not once did the film confront the particularities or peculiarities of its own conceit: Abby remains seemingly unchanged by selling her body multiple times, to women of various ages –in one instance young enough to be her daughter. She might as well have bought a Ferrari for all the film does to draw out the nuances of this as a mid-life crisis.  We got nothing, either, on the central relationship between the two women; Abby’s wife and their marriage were thinly drawn to the point of vacuous.  The whole thing made me wonder if “Concussion” was a slightly half-hearted exploration of Passon’s own privileged frustrations: a happy escape from quotidian nuisance, but not a story she was burning to tell. This thought seemed further buttressed when she revealed in the Q&A that no, she hadn’t researched sex-work, save to confirm that this sort of polished variety did exist. Curiously, both Passon and Weigert suggested an adequate explanation for this was that Abby herself was a novice in such affairs: this is fine, until Abby stops being a novice and starts being a jobbing call-girl, and yet her story continues to be told by people who have done no research into how those experiences might affect her, positively or otherwise. Critics have variously heralded “Concussion” as a brave new direction in lesbian filmmaking, a ‘merciless satire’ and a film to rival the output of Bergman: I have no doubt Passon is capable of these things, but for me this film belied a disappointing lack of development.  It didn’t challenge itself, and the audience was left unchallenged because of this. [Sophie Smith]

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