The landmark Pioneers of Queer Cinema retrospective, presented by The UCLA Film & Television Archive, IndieCollect, and Outfest, continues in Los Angeles this weekend, with two nights of free screenings and in-person conversations with filmmaker Zackary Drucker, Barbara Hammer’s widow, Florrie Burke, Oscar-winner Rob Epstein, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch creator, actor and filmmaker John Cameron Micthell.
Friday, March 11th at 7:30pm: Fireworks / Seascape / At Least You Know You Exist / Nitrate Kisses. In-person: Q&A with filmmaker Zackary Drucker; Florrie Burke, widow of Barbara Hammer.
Saturday, March 12th at 7:30pm: Changes / Coming Out / The Times of Harvey Milk. In-person: filmmaker Rob Epstein. Q&A moderated by actor and filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell.
Kenneth Anger’s hypnotic and poetically erotic short Fireworks, produced in 1947, is the earliest film in the Pioneers of Queer Cinema program. With beautifully rendered suggestive scenes of gay cruising, an early public screening of the work led to the owner of the Coronet Theater being charged with obscenity by the LAPD vice squad. As John Trenz acknowledges in the program notes, “Anger is central to the development of the underground tradition of queer cinema; his concerns with personal identity, self-disclosure, and subversive desire seem to predate contemporary gay filmmakers that represent gay youth anomie through a direct critical gay voice, especially Gregg Araki and Sadie Benning. If Anger’s film is less explicit in its sexual politics than his contemporaries today, the underground distribution and reception of Fireworks speaks to the notoriety that can be achieved by young queer filmmakers through defiant and deviant approaches to production and distribution.”
Fireworks will play alongside the most recent film in the series, Zackary Drucker’s At Least You Know You Exist from 2011. Featuring legendary activist and performer Flawless Sabrina, the captivating and beautifully layered experimental short intimately explores the interaction between these two figures, shot in Flawless Sabrina’s East 73rd Street Manhattan apartment. Drucker told The Queer Review that she is thrilled that the film is part of Pioneers of Queer Cinema. “As a cinema lover I’m deeply influenced by New Queer Cinema, Barbara Hammer, Kenneth Anger, Marlon Riggs, and Julie Dash. As a teenager in the 90s I was a voracious consumer of anything experimental and queer, so to be in a program like this with the only film made in the 21st century is an astounding honor.”
“Flawless is a contemporary of the other filmmakers”, Drucker continues, “so it’s thanks to her in my mind that the film has been included. She’s among her peers in a program like this and I’m along for the ride as a young person who helped make it happen. She and I really collaborated to make At Least You Know You Exist and it was her favorite film. While those filmmakers were creating experimental narratives about their lives, Flawless was an artist in the medium of life. Like so many of our trans and non-binary elders, they did not have the tools of cultural production, they were the subjects but they were not the authors. Creating At Least You Know You Exist was an opportunity for Flawless to be a co-creator and to be behind the camera. Anytime I’m on camera it’s her filming.”
“The UCLA Film and Television Archive and the Legacy Project in particular are spaces that I champion”, adds Drucker, “and it was so generous of them to restore At Least You Know You Exist. The previous version of it was from me projecting the film onto the wall and filming that projected image, so for all these years that was how I was showing it. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I gave them all of my film prints, because we found a few reels under Flawless’ bed when we were cleaning out her apartment. I’m so grateful for their efforts to preserve our history.”
At Least You Know You Exist plays alongside lesbian filmmaker and artist Barbara Hammer’s debut feature, Nitrate Kisses (1992). Described as “an archeological dig of unexplored queer histories, and a commemoration of shared experience across various LGBTQ+ communities” by K.J. Relth-Miller in her program notes for the series. “Hammer and her camera spend time with a mixed-race gay male couple; a younger pair who are both women of color; folks from the S&M community; and an older lesbian couple”, she continues, going on to contextualize Hammer’s significance in queer cinema. “Capturing subjects considered verboten—joyous lesbian sensuality, female sexual pleasure, aging, death and dying, menstruation—Hammer boldly confronted normative representations of women and characterizations of gender expression, commanding and claiming space for a new lesbian aesthetic and sensibility in experimental film that has and continues to inspire generations of artists across myriad layers of identification. Her inclusion of queer women in works both traditionally documentative and those more performative allowed for not just increased visibility of lesbian culture in their day, but also an invaluable archive of the ever-evolving political and social objectives of communities often rendered invisible.”
Mike Kuchar’s Seascapes (1984) completes the evening’s programming on Friday, March 11th. For Nathan Rulf, writing in the series program notes, it is a “gorgeous work of ancient and echoing meanings. With images rolling in like gentle waves, in sunburned impressions around the lithe body of a young man alone at some æternal juncture of sand, sky and surf, the tracks of time and man are read in etched shapes. Curving sand and skin run ruddy against a wash of sea and sky. Powerful forces caress each other while wind stirs dark hair, and pink sand turns black around new flesh. Does contrast create us? In the book of the beach, we write and are written upon. In these deep waters, the erotic regard for this muscled young soul suggests that sexuality is humanity.”
Rob Epstein’s Oscar-winning 1984 documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk, was added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 2012. The film plays Pioneers of Queer Cinema on Saturday, March 12th with Epstein in attendance for a Q&A moderated by John Cameron Mitchell. In the program notes for the series Todd Wiener describes the film as a “powerful record of the beloved activist/politician’s inspirational life and work, which illuminates not only a key period in the struggle for gay rights but also universal themes of resilience in the face of oppression. Through deep archival biographical material and emotion-filled reminiscences of friends and colleagues, Epstein reveals an intimate and complex portrait of the many sides of Milk (including his irreverent sense of humor). From Milk’s improbable, heroic rise to his horrific, senseless murder, Epstein’s work serves as a potent and unwavering eyewitness to history.”
The Times of Harvey Milk will play alongside two remarkable documentary shorts from the early 1970s, Changes by Pat Rocco and Arthur J. Bressan, Jr.’s Coming Out. Jenni Olson, who has been instrumental in ensuring the preservation and restoration of Bressan’s films, reflects on Coming Out, “Like Gay USA, Bressan’s subsequent feature-length documentation of the Gay Freedom Day parades of 1977, this 1972 short offers up a thrilling collective portrait of gay liberation. Ecstatic celebrants fill the streets as we hear on the soundtrack a series of vibrant interviews with attendees who speak of their lives and their loves. We hear primarily from gay people (sharing the joys and struggles of being gay) along with a smattering of straights (one woman describes how she prays for the homosexuals as they go by, while a straight male ally vehemently expresses his support saying, “they’re human; they’re just like anybody else”). Bressan would also go on to incorporate this footage (as well as Lilli Vincenz’s Gay and Proud footage of the first parade) into Gay USA.”
Gay filmmaker and activist Pat Rocco’s Changes, which makes for a fascinating companion piece to Chase Joynt’s Sundance 2022 hit Framing Agnes, opens with a cisgender heterosexual male interviewer questioning a young trans woman about her life. Despite the questions being intrusive, they are posed more with curiosity than judgment, and the subject has the upper hand throughout, remaining patient and calm, she charms the interviewer and the viewer with her warm, intelligent, and matter-of-fact responses. The second half of the film sees her set free from her inquisitor, joyfully strolling through the streets of LA and the paths of Griffith Park, where she reclines topless by the water, a proud and confident trans woman. The film’s original song, performed by Rocco, plays on the soundtrack with lyrics such as “gender is a pretender, change the offender”.
The diverse survey spans seven decades and comprises documentaries, narrative, and experimental features and shorts, drawing primarily from the collection of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project, the world’s largest publicly accessible archive of LGBTQ moving image media. The series offers audiences a chance to see seminal works exploring sexuality and gender identity that are now part the queer film canon on the big screen alongside lesser known and rarely shown titles by influential creators. Read more about the full Pioneers of Queer Cinema program.
By James Kleinmann
Pioneers of Queer Cinema runs February 18th – March 28th 2022. All below screenings are in-person at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024. Click on the film titles for more details and to register for free tickets while available. Envisioned as a North American tour, the series is available to venues to screen these rarities, new restorations and venerated classics.
Schedule and guest speakers subject to change.
Fireworks / Seascape / At Least You Know You Exist / Nitrate Kisses, March 11th at 7:30pm. In-person: Q&A with filmmaker Zackary Drucker; Florrie Burke, widow of Barbara Hammer.
Changes / Coming Out / The Times of Harvey Milk, March 12th at 7:30pm. In-person: filmmaker Rob Epstein. Q&A moderated by actor and filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell.
A Comedy in Six Unnatural Acts / The Watermelon Woman, March 14th at 7:30pm. In-person: filmmaker Jan Oxenberg. Video Q&A with filmmaker Cheryl Dunye.
Jerovi / Testament / Confessions / My Hustler, March 18th at 7:30pm. In-person: Intro by Bradford Nordeen, Creative Director of Dirty Looks INC.
Blackstar / Choosing Children, March 20th at 7pm. Video intro by filmmaker Mimi (Kim) Klausner.
Behind Every Good Man / Dottie Gets Spanked / Parting Glances, March 21st at 7:30pm.
Blue Diary / Memento Mori / Desert Hearts, March 28th at 7:30pm. In-person: Q&A with filmmakers Jim Hubbard, Jenni Olson, moderated by Kirsten Schaffer, Executive Director of Women in Film. Q&A with filmmaker Donna Deitch, moderated by Merynn Johns.