Boys' Shorts: The New Queer Cinema
1993 Directed by Stephen Cummins, Laurie Lynd, Marlon Riggs, Christopher Newby, Michael Mayson, Mark Christopher.
REVIEWED By Pamela Bruce, Fri., Feb. 18, 1994
Six better-than-average short works by filmmakers from Australia, Canada, England and the U.S. are showcased here, all sharing the common denominator of concern about what it means to be gay in today's world of AIDS, homophobia, and the quest to remain true in fulfilling the desire for sexual liberation. The horror of hatred and the unknown are evoked through expressionistic, stunning black-and-white cinematography in both Cummins's “Resonance” and Newby's “Relax.” More a statement than a narrative, Cummins's film deals with the subject of gay-bashing with a choreography conceived in violence, yet a trajectory that systematically blurs the fine line between macho posturing and erotic expression. Stylistically reminiscent of David Lynch's Eraserhead and Elephant Man, Newby's work is infused with surrealistic, frightening fantasies of a young man as he waits for the results of his HIV test over a period of about two weeks. For anyone who has lost a loved one to a terminal illness, the sobering link of sorrow and grief readily transcends into the subject of Lynd's “R.S.V.P.”, where, with minimal dialogue, the death of a man from AIDS forms an emotional, psychic bond between surviving friends, family, and lover through an almost synchronous radio broadcast of Jessye Norman's recording of “Le Spectre de la Rose” from Berlioz's Nuits d'Ete playing all across Canada. The extremity of be-all-you-can-be militancy is in your face with Riggs's (Tongues Untied) film “Anthem,” whose positive message of gay African-American pride becomes lost in a messy collage that saturates the viewer with cock rings and Vaseline awashed in hip-hop rhetorical, revolutionary, flag-waving poetics. Another black director, Mayson, also handles the issues of a gay black men, this time, one who wants to come out, but whose roommate is homophobic in “Billy Turner's Secret.” Of all the films, this one is the closest (i.e., safest) in style to a mainstream Hollywood film. The real gem in this six-pack of shorts is Christopher's “The Dead Boy's Club,” where a strange mixture of thematics from The Wizard of Oz and a Twilight Zone episode comes to mind. The narrative concerns a young man fresh off the farm who comes to New York to visit his older, sophisticated cousin whose lover has just died of AIDS. The young man -- who is on the verge of coming out, but just not sure of how, when, or where -- is offered the dead lover's shoes (which just happen to be his size) by his older cousin. The young man wears the shoes, assumes the spirit of the deceased, and is magically transported back to the hedonistic heights of 1970s gay disco life as Thelma Houston coos and pleads “Don't Leave Me This Way.” Despite their diversity in style, however, all six features and their respective directors produce a cinematic fresh air that bodes well for more queer cinema to come.