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new queer cinema

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  1.  
  2. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies Copyright © 2006 Duke University Press. All rights reserved.
  3. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 12.1 (2006) 135-146
  4.        
  5. Still New, Still Queer, Still Cinema?
  6. James Morrison
  7. Queer Cinema: The Film Reader , Edited by Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin, New York: Routledge, 2004. viii + 242 pp.
  8. New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader , Edited by Michele Aaron, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004. xiii + 204 pp.
  9. --------
  10. Queer Cinema Is Back!"—so trumpeted the cover of the Advocate on April 26, 2005, a full five years after B Ruby Rich, who coined the phrase New Queer Cinema, had declared the co-opting of the movement into "just another niche market" by the dominant culture.1 The brash pronouncement from the only national gay and lesbian newsmagazine in America followed the appearance the year before of a movie called Eating Out, a college comedy said to herald the new wave, and the cover features the film's three young male stars arrayed in comely poses with the usual combination of lean beefcake, distended biceps, hooded goo-goo eyes, high-fashion grunge, and carefully applied hair gel. As an added bonus, one of the three is even really queer, the accompanying text advises us; the other two are just "playing gay," and they recall that experience in their interviews with a semihysterical pseudoequanimity that whisks you right back to those unmourned days of yore when Michael Ontkean and Harry Hamlin in 1982 talked about their screen kiss in Making Love with a weird mix of laid-back bonhomie and outright panic. If this is what queer cinema amounts to, then one can only wish that it had [End Page 135] stayed away, and Rich's concern that it has devolved into just another product line is well founded.
  11.  
  12. What had seemed to be a movement, Rich wrote in her cranky elegy, turned out to be only a moment, that brief window of a few years when the energies of queer theory, the furies of AIDS activism, the legacies of independent and avant-garde filmmaking, and the schisms of postmodern identity politics came together in a bluster of cultural production fierce enough to persuade the devoutest skeptic that something was afoot. The wave of queer texts over a period of months in 1991 and 1992 included Poison, Swoon, Paris Is Burning, Tongues Untied, Edward II, My Own Private Idaho, The Living End, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dyke, R.S.V.P., Mano Destra, Flaming Ears, Young Soul Rebels, The Making of Monsters, The Meeting of Two Queens, and, for a few years, dozens more—films, videos, multimedia performances dedicated so fervently to realizing certain facets of poststructural theory in artistic and political practice that their ancillary effects of demonstrating revived capacities for outrageousness and renewed abilities to outrage in modern media seemed only by-products of a larger commitment.
  13.  
  14. New Queer Cinema was not the first film movement to find inspiration in theory, but, drawing on a particularly vehement strain of social constructionism, it was the first to make questions of sexual identity its defining influence, and probably for that reason it existed from the start in a relation to dominant culture more fraught than that of most vanguard movements. Emerging from an oppositional politics, it arose in a popular medium, raising from the outset concerns among its partisans about its ability to retain an adversarial, critical position. No movement can stay "new" for long, but the question of whether this one could stay queer, against the forces of Hollywood, was a pressing one from Rich's first—and decidedly more optimistic—essay on the subject in 1992.2 That cinema itself, in the years since Rich wrote that essay, has faced challenges to its primacy from video and digital media is a circumstance that could only exacerbate such definitional problems.
  15.  
  16. Two new books on queer cinema gather a heady range of writing on the topic into complementary volumes that serve alternately, and in varying ways, as manifestos, calls to arms, and postmortems. Both take up at length, from various perspectives, the fate of queer media as defined in relation to what they tend to portray as an all-embracing "mainstream" culture. Queer Cinema: The Film Reader situates the aesthetics and politics of queer media in the context of gay and lesbian cinema as a whole, while New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader locates them in the framework of the movement as such. These differing aspirations produce [End Page 136] surprisingly different approaches. For Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin, the editors of Queer Cinema, queer as a concept is most notable for its breadth; it is an umbrella term encompassing dissident sexualities throughout history and, indeed, nominating them more productively than they were ever named in their own time: "Queer can be used to describe any sexuality not defined as heterosexual procreative monogamy. . . . It works to describe such sexual desires even before the coining of the terms homosexual and heterosexual" (QC, 1–2). For Michele Aaron, the editor of New Queer Cinema, queer is a specific product of exigencies of social activism of the late 1980s and early 1990s, "with AIDS accelerating its urgency" and New Queer Cinema arising as an "art-full manifestation" of its practices (NQC, 6). Thus New Queer Cinema takes up concerns specific to the movement, including the role of AIDS representations, the careers of representative filmmakers such as Todd Haynes and Gregg Araki, the issue of lesbian parity, and the relation of New Queer Cinema to black filmmaking, Third Cinema, and nationality in general—not to mention more fundamental questions, such as whether New Queer Cinema is or was a movement, properly speaking, to begin with. New Queer Cinema reprints Rich's seminal 1992 essay, as does Queer Cinema, but this is virtually the only point of overlap between the anthologies. For the rest, Queer Cinema pursues its agenda of queering the classics. Of the fourteen essays—several of them already well known and one dating back to the 1970s—only four deal with texts outside the putative mainstream: Rich's essay, Thomas Waugh's article on "physique cinema" from 1945 to 1969, Andrea Weiss's piece on "lesbian independent film," and Janet Staiger's treatment of "underground cinema" in the early 1960s. The remainders deal with queer encodings, decodings, and rereadings of mostly canonical texts and auteurs.
  17.  
  18. On the question of where queer aesthetics and politics should or do stand in relation to that alleged mainstream, the two books stake out distinct positions, though neither can be boiled down to assimilationist versus segregationist standpoints. Queer Cinema would have us see the extent to which queer sensibilities have pervaded twentieth-century culture in America, while New Queer Cinema emphasizes the movement's oppositional stance, its self-defined marginality, its outright defiance of the claims, norms, tenets, and protocols of straight culture. Benshoff and Griffin, in their introduction, concede that "for many people 'queer' is simply the latest trendy word used to describe homosexuals" (QC, 1)—and Benshoff, significantly, contributes an article to Aaron's collection, a reception study of spectators' responses to queer elements of The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) using online postings as evidence, that finds a high degree of homophobia and ignorance of queer theory among that film's viewers, which suggests that queer as [End Page 137] a concept has yet to be embraced by the masses. In their anthology Benshoff and Griffin highlight the continuing spectacle of mass evasion, avoidance, or repression of queerness, however overt its presence may be in the texts in question. The book continues a time-honored project of lesbian and gay studies, that of revealing the profound queer influence in culture and calling for mainstream recognition and acceptance.
  19.  
  20. In New Queer Cinema—with its emphasis on the transgressive perspectives of queer cultures, denaturalizing, antiessentialist, decentered—the mainstream is posited as a monolithic force that either could absorb queer energies in one fell swoop or has already done so. As Aaron writes, "Queer's defiance is leveled at mainstream homophobic society" (NQC, 7). In fact, though, Aaron herself speaks of this mainstream in her introduction with relative equanimity, if not triumphalism (a position qualified in her own contribution to the collection), especially by comparison to the attitudes of many of the book's other contributors. Arguing that New Queer Cinema has helped expose how cinema as such is "rooted in queer practices," Aaron suggests that the movement
  21.  
  22.     has encouraged mainstream culture to harness cinema's queer potential. This is not just another way of describing Hollywood's flirtation with queer imagery but, instead, represents a shift from the disavowal to the avowal, the open affirmation, of queer implications. . . . No longer does popular culture have to seem to render queer configurations safe—through, for example, humour, homophobia (or other memos of heterosexuality) and, especially, closure.
  23.  
  24. (NQC, 10)
  25.  
  26. Yet there is more than enough residual anger and self-styled abjection in this book to counter Aaron's optimism. As she points out herself, New Queer Cinema "must be contested that it can endure, it must remain marginal that it can flirt effectively with the centre" (NQC, 11).
  27.  
  28. Throughout Aaron's anthology this agon gives rise to plenty of inveterate flirting and produces, on the whole, a narrative of a sort not unknown in accounts of cultural trends, in which the movement is constantly dying, thriving, or being reborn, with the "mainstream" typically serving as the agent of these evolutions and an epitome of that otherwise absent "centre." In her article "AIDS and New Queer Cinema," Monica B. Pearl notes that "one of the many important things that ACT UP . . . did was to disrupt and challenge the representations of AIDS, and of people living with AIDS, in the mainstream media" (NQC, 25). In his case study of Haynes's career, Michael DeAngelis argues that, using "a variety of [End Page 138] cinematic forms, Haynes 'queers' heterosexual, mainstream narrative cinema by making whatever might be familiar or normal about it strange" (NQC, 42). Meanwhile, according to Glyn Davis in a corresponding study of Araki, that director's uses of camp are "more subtly textured and layered than mainstream cinema's campness" (NQC, 63). In a chapter on lesbian films Anat Pick declares that one problem with New Queer Cinema "lies in the discourses of postmodernity, which hungrily appropriate 'marginal' positions and redistribute them to a mainstream public" (NQC, 106)—an untimely pseudoinclusiveness, for Pick, that neutralizes real differences. Ros Jennings and Loykie Lominé's investigation of queer Australian film finds that "preconceived notions of the relationship of the mainstream to the margins became destabilized" (NQC, 146) by the hijinks of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994). And Helen Hok-Sze Leung, in her essay "New Queer Cinema and Third Cinema," points out that "the queer politics of New Queer Cinema is particularly vulnerable to mainstream recuperation" (NQC, 157) when it accedes to the precommodified "civil rights" agendas of a standardized liberalism.
  29.  
  30. While it is hardly news that the politics of marginalization shape queer representation, it is clear that the mainstream produced in and through these transactions is at one and the same time the world we made but never owned and the club we would not want to join if it would have us for a member. This ambivalence has everything to do, in turn, with the complex politics of queer theory itself, recalling Judith Butler's claim—as cited in New Queer Cinema—that we are always implicated in the regimes of power we oppose because they are, according to Butler, key to the constitution of all subjectivities (see NQC, 123). Another founding claim of queer theory, cited in Queer Cinema, shows that queer theory existed in a troubled relation to the mainstream from the first: "Gender is in no way a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts proceed; rather, it is an identity tenuously constituted in time—an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts" (Butler, quoted in QC, 139).
  31.  
  32. One can see how this identity could be both constituted and instituted, but the question remains whether it is what we create or what is forced on us, or both, and whether this account speaks to what gender is or what we should understand it to be, even what we should make it in order to abrogate the force of oppressive definitions—in which case, since the world at large might not subscribe precisely to this account, some persuasion might be necessary. Along similar lines, one could observe of the mainstream projected by queer film theory, at least in these two books, that it manages to be both monstrously homeostatic and lustrously mercurial, readily absorbing oppositional energies into its own ruthlessly homogenizing [End Page 139] system without ever batting its vitreous, Cyclops-like eye, while becoming easily destabilized by the likes of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
  33.  
  34. In fact, mainstreams fairly routinely enact both such processes simultaneously, not just because they are innately contradictory but because, as queer film theory is uniquely positioned to recognize, they do not exist, except as constructs, any more than gender or power itself exists except as behavior, belief, code, presumption, language, or law. This is by no means to suggest that such constructs cannot have either debilitating effects on queer cultural production or, for that matter, enabling ones—as they demonstrably do. Indeed, in a still highly capital-intensive sphere of cultural production like filmmaking, these constructs often appear to be the factors that determine access and value. It may be the pressures of real-world exigencies and show-biz power games that prevent queer film theory from adopting wholeheartedly the strict antilogocentrism of poststructuralism itself; the word may already be triumphantly decentered, but where the image is concerned, apparently, the studio still rules the roost. Such truisms, validated on every page of the trade papers, are also strangely legitimated by much of the work of these two anthologies, which devote little space to queer production outside commercial networks. With rare, notable exceptions like Julianne Pidduck's excellent piece on queer video or Leung's fine essay on queer Third Cinema (both in New Queer Cinema), the underlying assumption is that these networks threaten to commodify and endanger authentic queer expression but are still where the real action is.
  35.  
  36. In practice, though the threat of commodification looms large throughout both collections, clear examples of its most dire consequences for queer cinema are difficult to trace in either. An instructive case in point is the career of Gus Van Sant, whose film My Own Private Idaho (1991) is cited as a watershed of the movement. Perhaps no filmmaker associated with New Queer Cinema has achieved such a degree of mainstream success, at least through the vehicle of Good Will Hunting (1997), a film that became a wide popular hit and an Oscar winner. Van Sant could be called the quintessential queer American filmmaker, to the extent that his career encompasses stints in the indie trenches, including work that in the queer tradition assaults liberal assumptions as intemperately as it subverts conservative pieties, and his style steeps offhand parody and pastiche in brazen melodrama and blithely transgressive aesthetics, treated with a flatness of affect that is decidedly post-Warhol and more incidentally postmodern. More casual in formal terms than those of other important queer filmmakers, Van Sant's films remain as skeptical as most work from the movement both of the political value of self-reflexive formalism and of the more familiar tradition of social critique at the [End Page 140] level of content. This description of Van Sant's work is as valid for Mala Noche, his beautiful 16mm postbeat, pregrunge queer cri de coeur of 1985 that stands as a key precursor of New Queer Cinema, as it is for My Own Private Idaho and Good Will Hunting.
  37.  
  38. What Van Sant's career suggests about the fate of queer filmmaking in the straight mainstream is perhaps just what we already knew: that the mainstream isn't always so straight, while queer cinema isn't always as queer as some might wish, or isn't queer at all in the manner that others might like it to be, and the center and the margins, highly permeable constructs themselves, exist only in constantly shifting relations to one another. If Van Sant's characteristic styles, tones, and sensibilities are what mark his work as queer, they are as evident in his Hollywood outings as in his indie forays. For Rich, My Own Private Idaho made Van Sant the rightful heir to Rainer Werner Fassbinder, but it also recruited two quasi-mainstream stars, Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix—both stuck between the legacies of James Dean and their roles as reluctant teenybopper idols—to "play gay" well before it became so lusciously fashionable to do so. Good Will Hunting could justifiably be seen as little more than a smarmy sellout, the death knell of New Queer Cinema, but its blankly avid feeling for the homoeroticism of hetero buddies (part Howard Hawks, part Larry Clark) and its weirdly arch fetishism of working-class toughs undeniably brought a streak of sheer queer right smack into the heart of the Cineplex, evident if nowhere else in the movie's mass production of fantasies about the film's male stars (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) as lovers.
  39.  
  40. One of the main aspirations of queer cinema, as of queer theory itself, is to enlarge representation of and inquiry into modern dissident sexual identities beyond a nexus of lesbian and gay, so it seems a bit unfair to accuse queer filmmakers of selling out or colluding with the enemy when they circumvent explicit gay or lesbian representation. In his essay DeAngelis defends Haynes's work against just such charges as follows: "The ability to move beyond such matters as gay sexual representation and content enables Haynes to hypothesize the structure of queer desire more dynamically" (NQC, 51). In context, DeAngelis is warding off assaults from gay critics who, in his view, bring a realist aesthetic inappropriately to bear on Haynes's self-reflexive postmodernism. But especially after Far from Heaven (2002)—a film DeAngelis does not mention—the question of whether contemporary gay filmmaking queers the mainstream or whether it mainstreams (and neutralizes) queer cultures seems inescapable when we think about this director's work. Of the first wave of films from New Queer Cinema, Poison (1991), Haynes's first feature, is the most challenging formally and perhaps the most sophisticated thematically, channeling the spirits of Jean Genet, Fassbinder, and Pier Paolo [End Page 141] Pasolini while tempering its forthright avant-gardist odium with spurts of abject lyricism and brainy camp. Poison and Safe (1995), Haynes's second feature, both express a distinctive mix of anger and tenderness that seems very much a product of the age of AIDS—which, especially for gay men who reached adulthood as the disease first emerged, often meant simultaneous experiences of rage about being so violently discounted and of grief at the ubiquitous losses. For two films that never mention AIDS, Poison and Safe convey this complex feeling as powerfully as any films of that time.
  41.  
  42. In "AIDS and New Queer Cinema" Pearl argues that "much of AIDS representation follows the course of the virus itself—or what the virus is perceived to be doing, according to scientific narratives and metaphors" (NQC, 24). Haynes elsewhere has asserted that his own work has emerged almost entirely in response to the cultural politics of AIDS:
  43.  
  44.     As opposed to feeling part of a current cinematic movement among gay filmmakers, I would think that my films are more uniformly affected right now by AIDS than they are by what's happening among other gay filmmakers at this moment, and it's arguable that their films and perhaps even mainstream Hollywood films are equally affected by AIDS: maybe that's actually the thing that we are all, in various ways, working out.3
  45.  
  46. Pearl does not draw the possible conclusion of her argument, that the ebb in queer filmmaking in America follows a dearth of public attention to AIDS in the United States, but it is worth noting that as Haynes's films have gained in popularity with his subsequent features Velvet Goldmine (1998) and especially Far from Heaven, both at least dubiously mainstream works, they have turned away from this initial concern with the effects of the virus on queer subjectivities—and that this deviation coincided with a decline in AIDS awareness in the culture more generally. Yet even Haynes's first two films broach the topic of AIDS only allegorically. Such indirection was hardly unknown in the culture at large in the early 1990s in thematizations of AIDS, but Haynes's approaches in these films are not by any means adopted in the name of discretion or reticence. They are pursued in a spirit of revolt, as efforts to find alternative ways of framing the discourse, neither internalizing normative attitudes nor becoming, themselves, poisoned by polemical rounds of repudiation. They are, profoundly, films bent on intervention in crucial dialogues perceived, for all their continuing importance, to have struck an impasse.
  47.  
  48. Because Haynes's four features (as well as his shorter works) all concern the relation of queerness to a self-defined mainstream, one could argue that they [End Page 142] all pursue implications of power and social relations after AIDS, when advances of 1970s liberationism lost ground to reactionary 1980s legislations meant to isolate the "gay community" from the "general population" (in the terms of art of that time). Poison refuses such insulation from the first by means of a tripartite structure that intermingles one segment of overtly queer content with two stories that simulate straight narratives from a militantly queer vantage point. Safe dispenses with gay content only to bring that vantage point into harsh relief, systematically deconstructing heterosexualist ideology, while Velvet Goldmine asks how a cultural manifestation as devoutly queer as 1970s glam rock can still be subject to fierce disavowals by the very mainstream that initially embraced it. Far from Heaven filters a Sirkean melodrama of the 1950s through a contemporary queer sensibility to expose how queer those conventions always already were—perhaps most tellingly in their own strategies of denial. As DeAngelis suggests, Haynes's work is less important for its representation of gay experience than for its assertions of a new kind of queer agency in cultural production.
  49.  
  50. Like so much queer film theory—and in keeping with the theoretical inclinations of New Queer Cinema—Haynes's movies are really engaged in the project of theorizing the mainstream. In his case study that follows DeAngelis's essay on Haynes, Davis cites Araki as a proponent of queer camp insofar as he places "an emphasis on performance, which exposes the supposed 'naturalness' of everyday behavior and identity as a sham" (NQC, 59). Yet Araki's films explicitly reject stereotypical tokens of camp taste ("disco music, Joan Crawford, drag shows," as one character in his film Totally F***ed Up [1993] contemptuously recites; "I hate fuckin' Bette Midler!"), while Haynes's films remain fascinated by kitsch, melodrama, and other traditional repositories of camp iconography, pursuing much the kind of connection between gay, queer, and camp styles that interests so many of the contributors to Queer Cinema. In "Reclaiming the Discourse of Camp" Moe Meyer makes this connection most explicit: "Camp, or queer parody, has become an activist strategy for organizations such as ACT UP and Queer Nation" that made its way back into queer media as a "suppressed and denied oppositional critique embodied in the signifying practices that processually constitute queer identities" (QC, 137). To account for what he sees as the politicization of camp, Meyer seeks to reclaim it not just from mainstream appropriations but even from queers of the new order, who deride it as a holdover from the dark ages—the aesthetic of the closet—and the province of opera queens and show-tune divas. But Meyer's conception of the transactions between margin and center is determined by his sense of how mutually implicated these terms really are—a complex understanding that points in new directions for queer film theory: [End Page 143]
  51.  
  52.     The bourgeois camp cognoscente "liberates" the queer's oppositional signifying practices from their queer identity and substitutes himself as signified. But because the queer constitutes him-/herself processually, the un-queer is now unwittingly performing the queer. The final effect is the reproduction of the queer's aura by the un-queer camp liberator who has been transformed into a drag queen with no other choice but to lip-synch the discourse of the Other.
  53.  
  54. (QC, 148)
  55.  
  56. As Meyer's argument makes clear, cultural origin can be as difficult to pinpoint as cultural influence is to parse, and the effects of these confusions, far from always signaling a simple defeat or an easy triumph, can be not just productive but empowering to queer culture.
  57.  
  58. Unlike New Queer Cinema, Queer Cinema shows a continuing fascination with camp as an influence on queer identities. Over half of the contributions concern some manifestation of the subject, from investigations of occulted queerness in classical Hollywood texts (in essays by Benshoff and Griffin as well as by Alexander Doty, Brett Farmer, and Richard Dyer), to considerations of queer response to mainstream texts (like Henry Jenkins's treatment of Star Trek fandom), to Dyer's classic study "Judy Garland and Gay Men," to Jack Babuscio's "Camp and the Gay Sensibility," to Meyer's fine piece.4 The different positions on camp that are staked out by these two books reveal most clearly the books' underlying disagreements about the larger social roles and positions of queer cultures as such.
  59.  
  60. In the last essay of New Queer Cinema, "The New Queer Spectator," Aaron sums up the current state of queer in a coda that most contributors to both books probably would support:
  61.  
  62.     What we must not forget . . . is that the critical power of queerness, its sheer force, is not to do with content so much as its stance. . . . Queer demands a rethink. . . . As queerness moves into the centre of mainstream production, it inevitably loses its edge. As long as this edge—this critical questioning, this anti-conservatism, this antagonistic impulse—exists and thrives elsewhere, then all manifestations of a (new) queer culture can be welcomed unhesitatingly.
  63.  
  64. (NQC, 198)
  65.  
  66. Yet one need only turn aside from that omnipresent mainstream, after all, to find that questions concerning the vitality of queer cultures may be framed very differently from how they are in both of these books. A thriving contingent of makers continues to produce reams of valuable work unencumbered by anxiety about the [End Page 144] mainstream, for the simple reason that this work is being made not as a rehearsal for the putative big time but as media art for an immediate audience. Overall, in Queer Cinema and New Queer Cinema, the role of video and digital technologies in enabling new forms of queer expression is undertreated, even though one could argue that the alternative forms (and to call them "alternative" is already to bow to that mainstream) found on view in dozens of works showcased annually in the fifty-seven queer film and video festivals across the United States (as of January 2004) are far closer to the practices of New Queer Cinema than the half dozen or so that the mainstream deigns to cough up in an average year.
  67.  
  68. To note only one such work, an extraordinary piece called Video Remains (2004), by Alexandra Juhasz, could be cited as having a cultural power and a social resonance equal, say, to those of Marlon Riggs's Tongues Untied (1990). Juhasz's connection to New Queer Cinema is certified by her role as producer of The Watermelon Woman (1996), a relatively high-profile entry in the movement's first wave. Reverting to a more intimate mode of address, Video Remains mixes 1992 footage, of an antic, impassioned, melancholy, brittle, and campy monologue by a friend of the artist who is dying of AIDS, with more recent material from the artist's life and from focus groups in the present in which queer and straight teenagers discuss their own conceptions of AIDS in the most alarmingly complacent and frankly ignorant terms. The work itself, poised between rueful benediction and disappointed anger, expresses provisional gratitude for video's capacity to record what would otherwise have escaped chronicling, as well as a sense of desolation—though without didacticism or recrimination—over how little of the change these records might have effected has actually come about. A delicate chronicle of the death of a movement—as many films of New Queer Cinema's first wave in its mode of embittered nostalgia and high dudgeon already were—Video Remains is also a testament to the persistence of that movement's spirit, but if you anticipate its appearance at your local Cineplex, you may have some time to wait.
  69.  
  70. I recall (fondly, it now seems, though the experience appeared to have none of the makings of nostalgia at the time) being a member of ACT UP in North Carolina in the early 1990s. Because our chapter was located in the heart of Jesse Helms country, in the inmost den of what was then Burroughs Wellcome, many of us felt that we were somehow at the center of the crisis, which gave our activism a special urgency; perhaps because it was also tied unofficially to the emerging queer studies program at Duke University, however, we spent a lot of time talking about the proper relationship in our activism of "theory" and "practice." Did we really agree on what we were trying to achieve, or were we being speciously pragmatic, acting out of naive presumptions about the nature of social power? [End Page 145] In the end, these debates divided us not into theoreticians and practitioners—because we all wanted to think about our actions and we all wanted to get things done—but into those who projected some of us as ineffectual pointy-heads and those who projected others as unthinking rabble-rousers.
  71.  
  72. Similar divisions were not uncommon among these organizations throughout the 1990s—related debates led to the split between ACT UP and Queer Nation—and in reading these two books, I was reminded of such disputes. The stakes may be different now, but the styles are similar, which suggests that at least some of the main issues the movement took up remain, at some level, going concerns. Most of the contributors to New Queer Cinema aspire to preserve radical queer cultural practices that will, in turn, radicalize the dominant culture of which they are part. Many of the essays in Queer Cinema imply that queer production is, and always has been, an entrenched part of culture that requires only increased visibility and a wider berth. As in the conflicts between ACT UP's practical, quasi-assimilationist style of activism and Queer Nation's hypertheorized and self-professedly more radical ones, it is easy to see what such positions have in common, even if it is just as easy to see why they should be so difficult to reconcile. Both of these books ask, in different ways, a question that can be framed in a manner that harks back to the heyday of queer politics: how to have theory—especially queer theory—in a mainstream? Though both collections would benefit from a fuller theory of what this mainstream is, and what we want to do to it or with it, the answers they provide in practice continue to have an excitement of their own, even beyond the further work they will make possible.
  73. James Morrison is author of the memoir Broken Fever: Reflections of Gay Boyhood (2001), among other books, and is editing a collection of essays on the films of Todd Haynes. He teaches at Claremont McKenna College.
  74. Endnotes
  75.  
  76. 1. B Ruby Rich, "Queer and Present Danger," Sight and Sound 10, no. 2 (2000): 22–24.
  77.  
  78. 2. B Ruby Rich, "The New Queer Cinema," Sight and Sound 2, no. 5 (1992): 32.
  79.  
  80. 3. "An Interview with Todd Haynes," in Michael William Saunders, Imps of the Perverse: Gay Monsters in Film (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998), 134. Saunders conducted this interview in 1995.
  81.  
  82. 4. This might be the place to note a problem that besets the Routledge series of film readers, in which Queer Cinema is an entry: presumably for reasons of space, essays are routinely reprinted in expurgated form, as many of the pieces collected here are. Convenient as it is to have related pieces gathered in one place under the rubric of an important topic, the logic of reprinting truncated versions of essays that are readily available in their complete forms remains debatable.
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  84.  
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