Queer Notebook 2: What We Learned on Our Summer Vacation

by robbiefreeling
September 5, 2008 6:23 AM
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Chris Wisniewski: There was something almost too easy about our first installment of this Queer Cinema Notebook. Frameline, NewFest, and Outfest provided more than a great excuse to get started; they also offered a glut of LGBT-themed content for us to sift through, debate, and, in a few happy cases, champion. But queer cinema's annual moment in the sun is fleeting, and as the summer stretched on, it became clear that our next installment posed a more serious challenge.

Without a healthy reserve of festival committee-approved offerings to draw upon, what would we write about? For eleven months of the year, Queer Cinema (if there even is such a thing) exists on the margins, and we spent most of this summer, as in most years, wondering where the queer characters were in the first place. (There are, apparently, no gay people in Gotham City, and with audiences, gay and straight alike, swooning over Batman, who noticed that New Queer Cinema trailblazer Tom Kalin delivered his first feature since 1992's Swoon, the alternately captivating and off-putting Savage Grace?)

The more we saw, though, at both the multiplex and the art house, the more we realized that the "mainstream" movies with queer content or subtext were just as thought-provoking as (though more discouraging than) their out-and-proud indie and foreign cousins. So what did we learn on our summer vacation? For starters: Ellen and Portia can get married (hooray!); Lance can dance with the stars, as long as he's dancing with a woman; and Judd Apatow's male protagonists can love each other -- really love each other, man -- as long as they do so in a totally not-gay way.

Michael Koresky: Apatow's certainly a good place to start. Over the past couple of years, his films have been praised for bringing to the surface the inherent homoeroticism of the Hollywood buddy comedy. This is seen by more than a few critics as somehow groundbreaking ("The Rogen-Apatow collaboration has come a long way from the 'You know I know you're gay' riffing in The 40-Year Old Virgin," claims Village Voice's Robert Wilonsky. "At last, they're out of the closet.") But the thing is, they're not out of the closet. At all. So, the question must be posed to Apatow: where are the gay characters?

The very title of Apatow's once-ignored, now-venerated debut and origin myth, Freaks and Geeks, infers a marked interest in social marginalia, a defense of the outcast. But it should be clear at this point that Apatow and Co.'s fascination lies primarily with their own white, hetero selves, and that any conspicuous images of male bonding remain defined as safely straight. For me, Pineapple Express was the last straw: one long gay joke disguised as an enlightened "bromance" (ugh, that word), it's perhaps the ne plus ultra of this new faux-sensitive comedy, in which the acknowledgement of affection between straight men (see also Superbad, Blades of Glory, etc) somehow grants the filmmakers a free pass to indulge in the kind of easy, queasy laughs that wouldn't be out of place in gay-panic epics of the Eighties. To wit, after a feature-length awkward dude courtship, James Franco and Seth Rogen suggestively grind against each other in order to free themselves of duct-tape bondage: Audience go "ewww!"

Click here to read all of the second installment of Queer Notebook on indieWIRE.

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