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Virtual fabulousness.

There's no such thing as progress in the arts. Let's get that myth out of the way right from the start. Movies progress, they evolve, but none of these things guarantee they'll get better. You can nurture talent, but you can't predict it. So there's no reason to assume that the quality of gay and lesbian films 30 years down the road will be some great advance on what we've got today. Indeed, are gay films today so much better than they were 25 or 30 years ago? The much-hyped New Queer Cinema (circa Sundance 1992) has borne pretty meager fruit--it's still more potential than achievement. What's improved are the climate and the numbers; the ease with which queer cinema can now be produced; the volume that speaks of a great buried need finally finding an outlet; and the withering of fear, which has enabled filmmakers to explore their sexuality and sensibilities with greater frankness and sophistication. These are wonderful changes, but they don't necessarily have anything to do with art. Thirty years ago, pre-Stonewall, you could see Pier Paolo Pasolini's Teorema with omnisexual Terence Stamp or Joe Dallesandro, as a hustler in Paul Morrissey's Andy Warhol's Flesh, and a few years later Peter Finch planted his famous kiss on Murray Head's lips in Sunday Bloody Sunday; you would be hard-pressed to find three homoerotic movies from 1997 that are their equals as films. It's filmmakers, not liberation movements, who make movies--and a great director may be born today (for which we have to tip our hat to heterosexuality) who may knock our gay socks off with the best movie of 2027.

Who will he or she be, and what kind of images will we be watching? It's hard to imagine that anyone will still be making anguished coming-out stories--at least not in the United States. (This could be a bold new trend in Iranian movies, however.) Let us hope, at least, that the AIDS drama will by then be as historical as hoopskirts. And what of the drag comedies that are the staple of Hollywood when it lusts after the crossover dollar? Will we still be as titillated by these cross-dressing tropes, or will they seem hopelessly retro? The larger question is whether gay and lesbian lifestyles will be so assimilated into mainstream culture that the need for a cinema constructed out of identity politics will seem superfluous.

Imagine the 30-year-old filmmaker of 2027, the very model of the well-adjusted 21st-century queer, who has grown up on a steady diet of gay cinematic images in a culture that caters its advertising to the gay pocketbook: It's unlikely that he will fashion his identity in the subversive oppositional style of late-20th-century gay cinema. As Daniel Harris bemoans in The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture, this will be a generation that will have few queens, for the concept of camp, born in opposition to a hostile straight culture, will have gasped its last sibilant breath. But the flip side of camp--the pressure on filmmakers to create homogenized positive images--may also subside.

And glory be the day when we no longer have to march to the drumroll of gay pride, for that will be the day we are out of danger. For as experience has proved, the strenuous insistence on affirmative images (however necessary) is a giveaway that pride doesn't come matter-of-factly but requires as much hard work as the acquisition of a fine set of pecs. In the postrevolution era, movies (and movements) can lay down their armature and breathe free.

But don't hold your utopian breath for Hollywood to abandon its macho bias. For one thing, its dependence on the foreign market is only going to increase, and there will always be huge pockets of the world (and pockets of America) where the old orthodoxy (patriarchal, religious, puritanical) holds sway.

Given the way Hollywood films are going--toward mega-event movies with $200-million budgets--the question isn't whether there will be a more fluid, relaxed depiction of sexual orientation in Hollywood product but whether there will be any recognizable human interaction at all. We may be going to the movies 30 years from now the way people go to amusement parks, for a roller-coaster ride. And when that happens the gap between what we now think of as Hollywood and what we now call the independents will become a chasm.

Essentially, there will be two species of movie (if not more) and an audience even more fragmented than today's. Or perhaps, as the media explores the possibilities of the interactive, every movie will have its own alternative versions. Thus, you will be presented with a choice of seeing a gay or straight edition of your summer blockbuster movie. In option B the Keanu Reeves of the future doesn't ride into the sunset with Sandra Bullock but with Leonardo DiCaprio. If the studios want to maximize their captive audience, they would be wise to pursue a double-your-pleasure, double-your-fun philosophy. Let a thousand flowers bloom on the CD-ROM movies of the future.

I have friends who think there will be no such thing as gay cinema in the future, that everything will melt together in a bisexual puddle. I doubt it. For one thing, you can always count on a sizable number of the artists making movies to be gay. The challenge will be finding stories that don't depend on oppression for their dramatic charge. This isn't simple. Look what happened to a lot of Eastern European directors who thrived artistically under the Soviet yoke--the pressure to find metaphorical, subversive ways to fight the system often yielded creative brilliance.

There are some artists who need the fuel of protest to thrive; take away their rage, and creativity withers. (It happened to some filmmakers in Spain, who lost their edge when Franco died.) If we ever do get to the point where homosexuality is no longer socially contested (and it may take more than 30 years to get to that place), then gay cinema will truly die, and no one will need to mourn its passing.

In the meantime, I look forward to what our best gay filmmakers are going to make in the coming three decades. There will always be wads of bad gay movies. (Why should queer cinema be any different from cinema in general?) But there are visionaries we can count on to show us new and glorious sights: What will emerge from Gus Van Sant and Christopher Munch, from Pedro Almodevar and Andre Techine, from Su Friedrich and Jennie Livingston, from Todd Haynes and John Greyson and Tsai Ming-liang in Taiwan? From newcomers like Ira Sachs (The Delta) and Richard Kwietniowski (whose Love and Death on Long Island you'll get to see soon)? The hope of movies lies in filmmakers who will take us to places we've never been. The advantage of queer cinema is its relative newness: There's still so much virgin territory to explore.

Predicting the future is a mug's game; it can only make you look foolish. But one thing you can bet on: Porn will still be around. In my dream (or is it a nightmare?) we will be glued to headsets (sort of like those gizmos in Strange Days) that will hurl us into a pornographic virtual reality that's both awesome and scary. Imagine being projected into the bed of your fantasy sex object with a tactile reality that is now unfathomable.

Imagine a future generation trapped in the onanistic embrace of its fantasies made flesh. This could do more damage to our flesh-and-blood sex lives than any obstacle the fundamentalists have put in our path. How will our fallible, all-too-human selves be able to compete with the pornographic perfection of these screen hunks, whom you will be able to customize digitally to conform to your most private fetish?

In the brave new world of the feelies, sex will be safe not only of disease but of all emotional connection. As the possibilities of virtual reality become concrete, we may find ourselves confronted with questions about the nature of reality--gay or otherwise--we never dreamed we'd face. And our best gay filmmakers will no doubt be making movies wrestling with that very dilemma. Welcome to the virtual fabulousness of the future of gay cinema, and fasten your seat belts.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:the quality of gay films
Author:Ansen, David
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Oct 14, 1997
Words:1382
Previous Article:The threat of mediocrity.
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