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At Outfest 2010, In with the Old & In with the New

At Outfest 2010, In with the Old & In with the New

As the juries and special guests handed out the awards for this year’s Outfest, LA’s LGBT Film Festival, we were constantly reminded that the landscape of queer film has been changing and is still changing.

As people in the film industry continue to ask about the role and relevance of queer film and queer film festivals, many films in Outfest’s 2010 lineup showed why it is important to support, foster, and create LGBT/queer film. I’ve heard many contend that Outfest’s closer “Spork,” which screened outdoors last night at the Ford Amphitheater, is pushing the boundaries of queer cinema in one of the directions it should be pushed. Ned Farr’s multiple award winner “A Marine Story” and Steve Clark Hall’s doc “Out of Annapolis” both tackled the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy that prohibits gay military personnel from serving openly. Docs like “Le Tigre: On Tour,” “Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields,” and “The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls” celebrated LGBT musical artists, while “Florent: Queen of the Meat Market” and “An Ordinary Couple” were popular studies of LGBT history told through the stories of men who have lived through it.

Aside from its lineup of new films that explore LGBT history, Outfest is home to the only film preservation program that exclusively preserves and archives queer film and video, the Outfest Legacy Project, a partnership between Outfest and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. In addition to providing these (often rare) films to the public and using film and video in the collection for education and community outreach, the project tries to salvage, restore, and archive footage in danger of being lost. Currently, with the initiative celebrating its fifth anniversary, Legacy Project manager Kristin Pepe asked five queer artists to choose films from the archive to present to Outfest audiences. I’ll profile two of those re-screened films below, putting them side-by-side to two films (both currently without U.S. distributors) from Outfest’s 4 in Focus directors, which spotlights new directing talent.

Student/Teacher Love/Lust: “Mädchen in Uniform” and “La Robe du Soir”

In the 1958 remake of the Weimar era 1931 film “Mädchen in Uniform” by Géza von Radványi, Lili Palmer plays the teacher to German film star Romy Schneider’s student Manuela (this was the German belle’s first mature role…and what a role it is). After the final shot faded, my viewing partner turned to me and said, “That was the gayest film I’ve seen at the festival.” Though the original film is left in fragments mostly seen on VHS, this recently recovered print of the 50’s remake shows off the brilliant cinematography and fantastic display of blatant homoeroticism in an all-girls Catholic school. As filmmaker/film historian Jenni Olson noted when presenting the film as her choice for the series, “Mädchen in Uniform” started the trend of schoolgirls-fawning-over-teachers in lesbian film. Wolfe has acquired the rights to distribute DVDs from the new “Mädchen” print, with a release date set for this fall.

Another schoolgirl/teacher story, Myriam Aziza’s “La robe du soir (The Evening Dress)” also played to enthusiastic audiences this week. The film stars French chanteuse Lio as Ms. Solenska, a slightly raunchy teacher who has all of her students under her thumb. One student in particular, the tomboy Juliette (Alba Gaia Bellugi) is particularly struck by Ms. Solenska, and is motivated by schoolgirl lust and jealousy to go to all ends to make something out of this relationship with her French teacher. In an interview with indieWIRE, Aziza explained her motivation for making the film, “I…wanted to say something about the power a teacher can have on pupils when the line between education and seduction becomes blurred. More or less, some teachers play with it in order to fill a narcissistic wound.” What results is a refreshingly new take on this old story, with bold characters and a deft directorial hand by the French director (who cut her teeth in the documentary world).

Queer Stories, Queer Forms: “Hustler White” and “Open”

In the Legacy Project’s only sold-out screening (audience members took advantage of the standing-room only accommodations), Rick Castro and Bruce LaBruce’s 1996 West Hollywood romp “Hustler White” showed off the queerest in queer film. Introducing the film, Le Tigre’s JD Samson spoke of the film’s impact on her own experimental filmmaking and the way it helped her find her place as a young punk when she was living in New York. The film, made “by hook or by crook” for almost no money, follows an anthropologist (LaBruce) just appointed to a post at UCLA who is studying hustlers. He takes on a subject-muse in Monty (former Madonna boyfriend Tony Ward), and the two explore the hustler scene along Santa Monica Boulevard. Made with the cooperation of hustlers and their clients, it includes several enthralling fetish sex scenes. The film’s verisimilitude was made possible through the photographic work of Castro, who in the Q&A at Outfest explained he met many of his actors as a photographer documenting hustlers along Santa Monica and would listen to their “hustler yarns” in the years prior to making this film.

It may be true that “Hustler White” has not much in common with Jake Yuzna’s debut film, but “Open,” which won awards at the Berlinale and at the Tel Aviv LGBT fest, is also an astute practice in queer aesthetics. The film tells the tales of Gene and Jay, a trans-female pandrogynous couple based on the life of Genesis P-Orridge of Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle, and a trans-man and his boyfriend. In his iW interview, Yuzna noted his inspirations for the film, “I’ve always been interested in alternatives to conventional society and culture.  From the situationist international to COUM transmissions.  Groups and artists who are exploring other options of living and being.  I wanted to create a film that showcased this diversity of humanity.  Both the people who are still living in the fringes of culture, as well as those exploring new frontiers of love, sex, and identity.”

The resulting film is queer in all regards, a true intervention into conventional love stories in its narrative, in its style, in its acting, and in its editing. It’s a jarring portrayal of love with a beautiful soundtrack. Just another example of what can be gained by curating, watching, and encouraging queer arts — acts whose value Outfest reminded us of all too well.

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