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by Toby Ashraf, Judith Dry, Peter Knegt, Matthew Hammett Knott, Sophie Smith and Erin Whitney
December 19, 2013 12:11 PM
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Que(e)ries: 10 Lowlights For LGBT People and the Movies in 2013

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"
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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29 Comments

  • Katy | December 23, 2013 2:40 PMReply

    GIRLTRASH: All Night Long - the movie is super duper, the cast is amazing, the songs are fun, the FILM ROCKS and POWER UP hopes that everyone reading this will order a copy to support POWER UP and our filmmaking programs that allow filmmakers an opportunity to create and express themselves through POWER UP's dedication and hard work... Thank you, PASS IT ON! get the film for yourself girltrashallnightlong dot com

  • FALLON | December 22, 2013 8:46 PMReply

    I thought they were both (leto and mm) just over the top with everything, which was probably the flaw of direction more than anything else. On the other movies, I didn't have a problem with the sex scenes in Blue at all, except for when Adele started staring back at Lea while she was on her hands and knees and the reverse cowboy scissor stuff which felt porny. It was Adele's performance which felt overwrought to me. It never let up and after a while I was like "stop crying." And the Angela Robinson thing is barely news, but great for you to bring up. Almodovar and Concussion have a B+ on indiewire, so I can't believe these are "low lights" (these lists have to go - they are so self hating - I mean there are only like a few dozen gay films anyway.) And then the only other one I saw was Saving Mr. Banks, and I don't know where they would have even talked about her sexuality. The film was clearly about a traumatic event in her life when she was little and how it effected her writing. And how hard it is to let go of that vision. I thought it was so poignant, and not a biopic so much as a kind of a film about intellectual property and making personal work and what happens when that work is on being combed through and how personally exposing it is. To point out that she was gay would have been sort of tokeny and incidental, so I could go either way on that, but hardly a LOW POINT.

  • Sophie Smith | December 23, 2013 5:11 AM

    It clearly says at the beginning of the article that these are a set of subjective opinions! It even *highlights* the fact that some of these films have had good reviews (from Indiewire and elsewhere). Yes, Indiewire did give "Concussion" a B+ -- does that mean I should fall in line with a critical opinion with which I disagree? Part of the reason I wrote as I did is that everyone is falling over themselves to laud a film I found flawed (for the reasons I explained). Perhaps I should have made clearer just how depressing I find it that the so-called "future of lesbian cinema" is a well-shot but ultimately navel-gazing reflection on the tedium of being rich and white which exploits sex work for its narrative device whilst taking cheap shots at sex workers. It was made all the more disappointing because there was plenty in the film that made clear Passon is capable of far more nuance than she eventually went for. And to suggest that LBGT films should be immune from criticism simply because there are so few of them is patronising codswallop!

  • Catie | December 22, 2013 7:01 PMReply

    Disagree! Gay people are as flawed as straight! Jared Leto played a terribly flawed character brilliantly!

  • JoshK | December 22, 2013 5:15 AMReply

    @Toby Ashraf- the point is that you can't talk about Rayon without taking into account Jared's performance. You can't ignore this nuanced and respectuful portrayal that elevates the character beyond caricature and limit your view on *what could have been* if a lesser actor took the part and didn't manage to work around the sometime faulty script and labeled it as a lowlight of the queer representation.

    She's just a secondary character? Yeah, and I don't see it as a problem since this is Ron's story (like it or not). Her arc is clichey, yeah ..maybe... but so it's fundamentally Ron's. Is it necessarly a bad thing? I don't think so. Not when it still somehow realistic and works so well it left people speechless and in tears and successfully communicate its message. Rayon success with the large majority of the audience isn't a reaction to a straight male playing beautifully a trans or straight people taking pity on the poor victimized queer character - but a reaction to a powerful story and a wonderful portrayal of universal human emotions. Seeing Rayon's flaws just as the umpteenth attempt to portray a lgbt character as weak it's a limited, superficial and cynical view.

    Peter Knegt completely missed the opportunity to regard what is one step forward in Hollywood representation of this kind of characters and use it for the cause.

  • SABINA | December 21, 2013 4:19 PMReply

    An absolutely atrocious article! These 'lowlights' are far-fetched and mostly have nothing in common with mentioned movies/events/personalities. The worst of them all is the part about Saving Mr. Banks. Without any exaggerations, it's probably the most insane s**t I've read this month (pardon my French). The author of this passage didn't understand that this movie about making the Mary Poppins film and it's not a Travers biopic. Her bisexuality doesn't fit into the plot at all. Then, he put homogenization, heteronormativity and his personal (cooked-up) issues with Disney which are completely not connected with the movie itself. P.S. Somebody needs to explain him that Disney company is not obligated to include LGBT characters in their films.

  • MHK | December 22, 2013 5:51 AM

    Pardon your french? Any time. Pardon your reading skills? F*uck no!

    I wasn't asking for a lesbian subplot. A film doesn't have to be *about* someone's sexual orientation in order for it to figure in the narrative. Unless we're talking homosexuality in Hollywood, where it's required to be a theme or an issue, as opposed to part of the texture of a life.

  • SIE C. | December 21, 2013 11:50 AMReply

    Erin's comments lack in much validity when it comes to Blue is the Warmest Color. First she wildly exaggerates the length of the 1st sex scene (outside Adele's dream). She states it is 15 minutes. It is around 7 minutes. Second she says they don't kiss. Actually they repeatedly kiss during those 7 minutes. Not just on the lips, which occurs several times, but on the body. This may also be shocking to Erin but not all lesbians (or all women for that matter) feel the need to talk or giggle or whisper. The first time for many women having sex is about desire being played out. Of course the first sex scene between the two women plays out differently than the last. The first is about physical desire being fulfilled and the last one is about two people who have ended up falling in love expressing they are in love with each other. Simply put, they are similar to most couples who have wild, animalistic sex the first time.

    As for nerves, Adele had slept with someone before. It may have been a man but not every lesbian or bisexual woman has some nervous streak. This notion that she is supposed to feel nervous about her first time with a woman is ridiculous. That is the problem with much of the criticism of the sex scenes. It is people complaining that the sex was not like their sex while discounting the many people who go it reminded me of my sex life. It is people exaggerating the length of scenes. It is people making up nonsense such as Kechiche films it differently which does not hold up under scrutiny. Note to Erin - everyone is different especially when it comes to sex. And for God's sakes, spare the male fantasy crap. It marginalizes and it is a cheap attempt to get validation by calling out the director for their gender.

  • hdbfly | December 21, 2013 8:48 AMReply

    The thing about the sex scenes in BitWC to me was how they were lit: overly. They looked like they were shot in a studio, not in a bedroom. The light was bright, even. No shadows, no nuance. Almost clinically. It was as if it was an examination, by the filmmaker, of how lesbians make love, at least in his head. And there were the wide shots of the actresses going at it that felt to me like the director was saying, 'See! The actresses were really naked and really going at it! Not just a close up here on a hand, there on a mouth, this is full-fledged sex, right?' And I kept thinking about how the actresses felt, if there was a crew on the set, how many lights they used to get it so evenly lit . . . And I kept thinking I wanted to talk to my lesbian friends to see how they felt about these scenes. And I wanted to talk to them partially because the sex scenes seemed so mechanical (and as overwrought as they were over lit), that I needed to know that this wasn't how they made love.

    My distance in the sex scenes was felt with the whole film. The relentless closeups became distancing; we're so close to the characters physically that we can't get close to them emotionally. I was watching and thinking about the actresses and what they were thinking, what they were doing, what the director had asked them to do, rather than identifying with the main character (and I could identify intellectually, having held on to a love-that-couldn't-be even longer than she had . . . ) and empathizing with her.

    And on Rayon in DBC, I felt the same way about the director's attitude to that character as the director toward the women in BitWC. A straight man's idea of what a gay man is, what a transvestite is. See the tragic, fragile little bird, flitting about, well-coiffed and made up always . . . I had heard so much about this performance that I wanted to see the film just because of it. And I guess expected a lot more than I got. Sure, it's a good performance, but are we really to get so excited when a straight man puts on some makeup and a lisp and plays a tragic semi-heroine? Apparently. Because it's happened before, in Kiss of the Spider Woman. Big, manly William Hurt slathers on pancake and mascara, throws on a filmy kimono, and gets a limp wrist and the Oscar is thrown at him months before the awards. But in that film, Raul Julia's character has the arc, the emotional journey, and the more interesting (and nuanced, and difficult) performance. In Philadelphia, Tom Hanks goes gay and gets sick and does opera and not kissing of his love, and the Oscar is his, all his! But Denzel Washington's character has the arc, the emotional (and intellectual) journey, and the more interesting (and nuanced, and difficult) performance. (The same is true in Rain Man, where the impaired guy's role gets all the glory because it's flashy, and (dare I say it?) Tom Cruise has a much better, more nuanced performance because, yep, his character has the dramatic arc, the emotional journey . . . but I digress . . . ).

  • Sie C. | December 21, 2013 11:33 AM

    When someone says they wanted to "talk to my lesbian friends", I cringe. It is like a white person saying I want to talk to my black friends after seeing 12 Years A Slave. Lesbians have sex and, yes, they do have sex with the lights on.

  • Aaron | December 20, 2013 1:18 PMReply

    I would add Taran Killam's creepy turn as an effeminate kidnapper in 12 Years A Slave. While not specifically gay, per se, the implications were there. Glad to see the Cunnilingus Opus included,though. As a queer, I don't find straight culture's curiosity about gay sex acts to be a compliment. Especially when it's performed through fake rubber vaginas.

  • Feralucce | December 20, 2013 12:43 PMReply

    ender's game is a queer story... I guess they were right when they said every reader will take away what they want

  • EMMA | December 20, 2013 11:48 AMReply

    Honestly, I don't understand what's so bad in the representation of Dani in Passion. Yes, she's a bad person in the movie and blackmail Rapace's character into becoming her mistress. And WHERE IS THE PROBLEM? So, filmmakers don't have a right to portray LGBT people as villains, don't they? Is the only way homosexuals should be portrayed in movies is as saint, flawless creatures who have nothing in common with an average human being?

  • Hexar | December 20, 2013 5:31 PM

    Emma, I completely agree with you. I saw Passion and I didn't find it offensive. The person who wrote this list must be one of De Palma's detractors (I'm a fan of De Palma and understand he has a fetish for cliches like the ones on display in Passion). Passion is definitely not a great film or one of De Palma's best, but it's pretty entertaining and not the anti-LGBT film this list tries to portray.

  • Gerard Kennelly | December 20, 2013 3:13 AMReply

    i love Noomi Rapace
    and i hate the way hollywood has wasted her
    .
    DAISY DIAMOND
    GIRL DRAGON TATTOO
    PLAYED WITH FIRE
    KICKED HORNET NEST
    BEYOND
    DEAD MAN DOWN
    SHERLOCK HOLMES 2 guy ritchie
    BABY CALL
    PROMETHEUS ridley scott
    PASSION brian depalma

  • Toby Ashraf | December 20, 2013 12:38 AMReply

    Less to defend a friend and more to get this discussion to the crucial points it was based on; This is NOT a discussion about the quality of acting, Peter's various points (and this column is clearly queer-labelled) is that a) we have a transgender character that is left to various costume changes (true - representation), some sassy one-liners (true - dialogue) and a secondary function as far as the entire story is concerned (all Peter's points here are very true and lead to a very biased identification with a allegedly straight "hero" whose anal sex with a man is nothing but a cheap flashback à la Brokeback Mountain). Now, given that these actors are in these roles, I have to comment that both MacConaughey and Leto actually give stunning performances which is a point one should have acknowledged more. I found it amazing how AIDS, the problem with its medication and its nasty deaths (in the beginning) are portrayed here and find the film and its overall endeavour quite challenging and brave for a film that doesn't only aim at a few. Cinematography and editing are brilliant and the entire film uses a documentary style for a portrayal of a very specific situation that made it into an independent film that (we all know that) was certainly hard to finance. My respect and my admiration goes out to the people who fought for it and maybe it wasn't exactly the perfect example for a thorough critique of queer representation. AND YET, this blog is concerned with independent films (and should be more) and this section is concerned with queer representation in film and elsewhere. It is an important point to make (and many juries have been out so far) that the uncritical assessment of roles that are highly "unnormal" to a maintream audience are further "othered" by giving them prices for the quality of the performance. The bottom line here is clearly a heteronormative view on film production and acting. Was there EVER a gay actor who was so convincing playing straight that he was showered with prices? Is it ever interesting to a studio to have a transgender actor/actress portray a transgender character? The answer is NO. The normal, the status quo is still white and straight and everything apart from that is priceworthy and THAT's the homophobia Peter is trying to tackle and that's something we should discuss more instead of how great or bad Jared Leto was in that film.

  • Joe Mahma | December 19, 2013 10:50 PMReply

    "Rayon rarely extends beyond caricature."

    Meh. I'm not an expert in queen behavior but I'm 51 and both myself and the 29 year old female I saw this movie and had no such issues with Leto's portrayal. And I'd have to agree with Todd Ford's assertion here 100%: "Rayon is Woodroof's ultimate challenge."

    It's a movie, not a book.

  • Beth Hanna | December 19, 2013 4:53 PMReply

    Completely agree with your assessment of "Dallas Buyers Club" and the character of Rayon, Peter. Well put.

  • David Glassman | December 19, 2013 4:08 PMReply

    I am utterly disappointed by every disparaging article IW writes about Leto in DBC. I hope to not see another one any time soon. Would be great if instead of looking at this as a "glass-half-empty" sitch we could see it in a more optimistic way. Another cisgender writer trying to decide on behalf of the trans community what is a positive trans representation on screen and what is not.

  • JoshK | December 19, 2013 3:38 PMReply

    you can watch DBC 10 times but if you keep looking at it superficially you will end up missing the point and therefore missing the chance to enjoy an amazing character/performance.

  • Todd Ford | December 19, 2013 3:23 PMReply

    I think you missed the point of Leto's character Rayon in DBC as well, but I'll try to articulate my reasoning. It is Woodroof's story. His character change needs to be to shed some of his homophobia and accept someone he hates. Rayon is, in a sense, a stereotype of everything he fears in the LGBT world. Rayon is Woodroof's ultimate challenge. I think the character shows great specificity and becomes a distinct human being rather than a stereotypical flaming fairy due to both the writing and Leto. I thought the character of Rayon's lover was also very specific even though we learn little about him--and keeping his character mysterious is actually appropriate given, once again, that this is Woodroof's story and coming to terms with Rayon is already as much as he can handle.

  • Walter | December 19, 2013 2:41 PMReply

    Hah - Almodovar, one of Queer Cinema's greatest icons, made a homophobic movie according to someone who missed the ENTIRE point of 'I'm So Excited'.

    I miss journalism.

  • Walter | December 20, 2013 7:36 PM

    Have y'all actually seen 'I'm So Excited'? The original Spanish title translates to 'Traveling Lovers'. It's a caricature of depravity. An absurdist look at drug use, deception and wealth.

    It's a comedy and I didn't feel like the slapstick and flashiness of the movie was gratuitous at all - especially considering where it comes from. If you're looking for the most straightforward kind of representation of any kind of character, gay or straight, Almodovar probably wouldn't be the guy to check out. All I'm saying is why would he choose to put 'homophobic' characters in a movie being gay himself? Considering the fact that this is even a MILD movie by his standards.

    And you have to really consider what the point of the misogyny in his movies are for. If you could even call it that, seeing as how misogynistic scenes in his movies are usually for showing the wretchedness of violence towards women. I guess it's nice to play the victim but if you don't sit and actually think about movies more superficially than merely looking at the surface, then you'll miss a lot of good POINTS.

    Useful enough or should I keep going?

  • Mo'niquesagent | December 19, 2013 2:51 PM

    Almodovar is also an icon for his female characters but it doesn't mean he hasn't had misogynist moments. Don't give gay directors a free pass on gay representation, Walter.

  • Toby Ashraf | December 19, 2013 2:45 PM

    Very curious to hear what that "point" might be.

    I miss useful comments.

  • woirneoaaaj | December 19, 2013 12:26 PMReply

    Oh my god the sex scenes in Blue again? 15 minutes? It's six, and the second one's maybe two and the first one with the dude is one and a half? Another person who couldn't see themselves in it. Well, that's a shame. Sorry you couldn't see yourself due to the fact that you think Kechiche embodies all men's lust for two women banging. What a bunch of same song groupthink shit. Read B. Ruby Rich.

  • Lisa Nesselson | December 19, 2013 4:20 PM

    RE "" they hardly even kissed during the first nearly-15-minute sex scene, ""
    Unless they added footage for the U.S. release, there are no remotely 15-minute-long sex scenes in this film.
    Well put, WOIRNEOAAAJ.

  • ian | December 19, 2013 12:21 PMReply

    thanks for the DBC spoiler.

  • Gerard Kennelly | December 20, 2013 3:16 AM

    spoiler ?

    there is no cure for AiDS ......yet