Tom Kalin’s 1992 film Swoon was a noteworthy entry in the New Queer Cinema canon not because of its subject matter but how Kalin navigated such precarious terrain. A recouping of the Leopold and Loeb murder as an emotionally ambivalent expression of homosexual historicity via a not necessarily unsympathetic character-study timepiece, Swoon purposely created a discomfiting space for viewers used to more conventional true-crime narratives.
Swoon evoked outmoded psychoanalyses and ever-present cultural biases as substitutes for conventional period markers–less interested in verisimilitude, Kalin forced an awkward distance that provoked its viewers to constantly ask why they were watching what they were watching. Was it somehow instructive to have this horrific case dredged up again? Do matters of class, age, or sexuality have any bearing when the enormity of the crime seems to outweigh the social factors surrounding it?
Kalin refused to answer, but he dangled these ideas before his viewers like yarn in front of a kitten; Kalin’s returned now with a possibly even more sensationalistic tale, similarly burdened by psychosexual “abnormality” and drawn in broad period strokes. Savage Grace, his confrontational return to feature-film directing after an absence of more than fifteen years, may also cause viewers to question its maker’s motivations.
Click here to read the rest of Michael Koresky’s review of Savage Grace.