I miss Afterellen.com There, I’ve said it and I will repeat it. I miss the interesting, well written and insightful commentaries. That’s not to say other websites don’t do similar, or are run as well as afterellen was, but still… (I do know it is still technically around, just not in an as updated and enticing format – more commercially focused and less varied in it’s output). Also I would like to clarify that I am lauding the pre-2016 take over by men and TERF’s version of the site. When the writers were amazing and tried so hard to be inclusive of all queer identifying women (which absolutely includes trans women). the site after the take over is something I stay well away from and absolutely do not support in it’s views and attitudes.
I read autostraddle far more sporadically than I read afterellen (I checked it daily). I find it too trendy and not always engaging. This is not necessarily the individual authors faults, sometimes (most times) it’s just not a topic I care about. Also it’s a heifer to search/filter for the content you want to read.
So I am not making a complaint about the site in general, I think it covers a broad readership and has a breadth of articles that AE with it’s smaller crew couldn’t hope to achieve with the same regularity. Having said that, for a “smaller crew” their output was somewhat prodigious.
That said. There is one column that is about watching “classic” Lesbian film and critiquing them, that I just cannot get on board with.
I’m not explaining myself very well.
1990’s (and prior to that date) lesbian content films were indeed problematic on a grand scale, though not necessarily wholesale whether mainstream (ha ha we wished) or the low budget Indie films that were just too earnest for their own good (and/or appalling!). However, they were also what was out there and the amount of dross one watched in order to find the occasional gem was…immense. Let’s be blunt here. These older (not always great, but not always bad either) films were often the first piece of multimedia content that many baby gays came across and saw a version of their potential selves within. In the same way that Pulp novels of the 50-70’s filled in the fictional gap in lesbian representation. Something is always better than nothing, when that is all you’re getting so you can’t afford to be picky.
I think it is the general slamming of ‘classic’ films and the lack of acknowledgement about what’s past is past and how watching these things for the first time in a modern setting, as a baby gay does not always work that bothers me. I get that it’s the opinions of the person watching and reviewing and I have not a single problem with that. It’s just that lack of acknowledgment…and to be honest that seeming lack of even knowing about the history of the films. Why despite their badness they were often lauded and rewatched obsessively.
I don’t mean this in a “young people today…” way (That crap has been being said since Plato and I don’t hold with it). The films should absolutely be held accountable and their problematic natures exposed…but it’s the wholesale commenting on them in a vacuum that does not acknowledge the past that I find troublesome…and irritating. Granted whoever is giving the recommendations is pulling out some of the shittier ones… Nicole Conn I am talking about you. I like bits of “Elena Undone” but the Soulemetry subplot is just crap, let’s be honest here. But then, I really don’t think anybody was watching it for that part of the film anyway…were they?
When I was 11, I saw “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” for the first time. Honestly it blew my mind. For the first time I found myself truly identifying with characters on a deeper more personal level. For the first time I held strong suspicions/hopes about what Ruth and Idgie meant to each other…admittedly I was leary of expressing that hope, partly in case it was just my imagination and partly because none of my friends were looking for that sort of self-validation. I watched that film as many times as I felt I could, and I was relatively secretive about it…and I think slightly ashamed. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was about the film I enjoyed, but I knew that it wasn’t meaning the same thing to other people.
The same with “Boys on the Side”…neither of these films are particularly queer, but they felt pretty radical to my young, sheltered, queer self. I was lucky to see films that were pretty well made overall. If my first queer(ish) film had been something like “Bar Girls” or some such…I might have given up watching straight off the bat.
I went to University and met other queer people and shared queer films. “Everything Relative” was my first truly queer film. Yes as a modern audience, as a young audience it is cringe worthy and not great cinema. However, it’s not completely awful cinema either. It was there, it was needed, it was what was available. I loved it and watched it so many times. I come back to it, despite knowing that it isn’t great and that bits of it make me cringe. I come back to it as an adult in part because of what it meant to me at the time. A sort of queer comfort blanket if you will. (That and for a long time I rather liked Luce..I have grown and moved on since then, but still she still gives me warm fuzzies). “Everything Relative” showed me that Lesbians could be varied (though clearly mostly femme, white, cis and relatively conventionally pretty – I am ignoring Gina’s 70’s throwback hair), they survived and had happy endings, they loved and lost. They had friends…they did uncomfortable improv. and sang around lakes. (I’m pretty sure I was aware that those last points were ONLY happening to the ladies in the film…Thank goodness)
It was what it was.
I completely understand that it doesn’t hold meaning to many people. That to a baby gay it must seem horrifying and unbearably trite. But queer film history is important too, and acknowledging that is important.
At University I went to my first Gay film festival. I saw “But I’m a Cheerleader” on it’s first outing (as it were). There were two of us in the cinema. (Three the second time I went to see it and took a friend) I wasn’t in a small town, I was in Liverpool. A major UK city, with a varied population and great queer nightlife. Yet there were only TWO of us in the cinema.
I think that says rather a lot. About the need and potential secrecy of these events. (It was in 2001-4 – I could not honestly tell you the specific dates)
I also saw “The Children’s Hour” for the first time at that festival. It was both insanely sad but at the same time I left feeling quite good about myself. I felt that we as a society had moved on from that viewpoint. I both love and hate that film.
I saw “DEBS”. I travelled to see “Imagine me and You” because it had limited Theatre release in the UK. I added to my personal watch list and devoured everything queer that I could feasibly lay my hands on. Which admittedly at that time was not as much as I would have liked, but more than I had realistically hoped for.
What I am saying, in an incredibly rambly way, is that to judge classic queer cinema simply on each individual film is to do a great disservice to what those films gave to a community desperately in need of them. I realise I am not particularly referencing older films. I have watched a large body of the work put out prior to the films I have already mentioned, but I wanted to relate it specifically to my own experience, rather than commenting directly on films that were not part of my original foray into queer cinema…that came later.
I just wish that could be acknowledged in between such implicit derision.