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A close up photo of two ball performers from Paris is Burning, smiling and kissing towards the camera.

June – Week 4 – Classic Queer Films

This week was the last week of this month’s deep dive into the history of queer cinema. This weekend was also Pride weekend in Paris, meaning the city was gloriously awash in rainbows. And therefore, in honour of Pride weekend, I decided that this was the perfect time to dive into some classic queer films that I really should have seen by now. And that’s exactly what I did. Sort of.

I started the week by finally watching Paris is Burning. This documentary chronicles the ball culture of New York City in the mid to late 80s, and it is considered to be a classic of queer cinema. It was released in 1990, and it was fascinating to see how much of what was then seen as an underground counter-culture is now mainstream. Shade. Fierce. Queen. These words have all entered the mainstream lexicon today. But back in 1990, the film needed explainer sections to educate the audience on the finer points of ball culture.

I also read about the controversy surrounding Paris is Burning, and whether director Jennie Livingston, a cishet white woman, should be telling this story at all. A follow up film called How Do I Look was released in 2006, directed by a ball culture insider, but unfortunately I couldn’t track down a copy of that film. It has now been added to my list for future viewing.

I then shifted gears and watched M├Ądchen in Uniform, a cult classic German film released in 1931. Film historians believe it to be the first explicitly lesbian film to be released, as it tells the story of a young student who falls in love with her teacher. The Nazis later tried to destroy every copy of the film, but thankfully it survived this attempted purge. The film was still heavily censored, however, and outright banned in many countries. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the full version began to be aired with any sort of regularity worldwide.

I then shifted gears once again and finally watched Hedwig and the Angry Inch. This is yet another classic cult film in the history of queer cinema, and I can’t believe it took me this long to see it. It’s a rock musical about a genderqueer rock musician from East Berlin who was screwed out of fame and fortune by her ex-lover and is now hellbent on getting her due. It was over the top, hilarious, and heartbreaking, and it had a killer soundtrack. All in all, it’s exactly the kind of film I love. I see multiple repeat viewings in my future.

At this point, I had plans to watch other classic queer films to close out the week. But then women’s rights got set back 50 years and people lost their lives at Oslo Pride and everything just went to shit. I love Pride weekend. I’ve marched for years and I love every second of it because the atmosphere is always all radiant joy and love. And rainbows. Just so many beautiful rainbows. Pride is supposed to be a party. A celebration. But it was born out of a riot. A riot that came from the seething anger of marginalization, discrimination, and prejudice. This past weekend was yet another reminder that it’s still dangerous to just be yourself. So maybe it’s time for another riot. Don’t get me wrong. I’d much rather party and dance. But I’m also very much done with this shit.

So I ended the week with some comfort viewing. I watched The Prom on Netflix because sometimes you just want to watch Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman camp it up to kick bigotry in the ass. And then I watched Fire Island again because it continues to be my new favourite movie. Happy Pride everyone.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!