SHOULD I SEE IT?
For those familiar with the film The Celluloid Closet, Daisy Asquith’s Queerama takes a different approach at underscoring many of the same points and themes made in that 1995 documentary.
Asquith’s documenting of LGBTQ+ representation in British entertainment is stylish and clever, binding the music of John Grant and Alison Goldfrapp to some striking visual montages.
A bittersweet film, with some sobering truths underscoring nearly every image.
At 70 minutes, and with how the film is structured, the movie might become repetitive and lose intended impact.
More esoteric and eccentric than some may be anticipating.
The movie has some blind spots when it comes to not only films represented in the final cut, but also there is very little sense of balancing positive representations with negative and damaging ones.
In 1995, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman delivered the groundbreaking documentary The Celluloid Closet. The film, adapted from a lecture series and book of the same name by the late Vito Russo, takes a sobering, objective, and ultimately astonishing look at how gay characters, and the LGBTQ community at large, has been represented in Hollywood since really the advent of the moving picture.
Narrated by Lily Tomlin, over 100 films are included, along with “talking heads,” including Gore Vidal, Susan Sarandon, Tom Hanks, Whoopi Goldberg, Quentin Crisp, Tony Curtis, and more. After it failed to land an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary, HBO premiered it on television and it was nominated for four Emmys, and is still being talked about to this very day.
While many have wondered if we would ever get a sequel, or revisiting of a post-1995 Celluloid Closet documentary, British filmmaker Daisy Asquith has turned to her home country, doing a deep dive into the representations of queer people in the film and television emanating out of the United Kingdom.
At just 70 minutes, Queerama uses a different approach than the now-conventional “sit and get”-style of documentary filmmaking. Asquith uses the work of three editors to cut and paste together a series of montage sequences, all loosely tied around themes introduced by some downright fascinating 1960’s British television documentaries on topics that might as well be called “The Lesbian Among Us” or “Gay Men Walk Alongside You.”
More on that in a moment.
Of course, the subtext behind all of this is heartwrenching and frightening. Homosexuality was decriminalized in Great Britain in 1967, however, by that time, more than 75,000 men had been arrested for offenses such as buggery and indecency. Many had agreed to medically-induced castration, such as legendary mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing, while others had been killed or committed suicide. Though lesbians were also marginalized and faced discrimination, it was not illegal to be a woman in a same-sex relationship.
Dating back to 1919, Asquith culls footage from nearly 100 years, and in lieu of narration or experts discussing the context behind the LGBTQ+ fight for equality in the United Kingdom, she underscores her discoveries with music from queer artists John Grant and Alison Goldfrapp.
At times, the footage is comical and humorous, such as when a BBC host asks people sitting in dark shadows just what it is they do in their lives as “a gay or a lesbian person.” In another scene, an openly gay man is being interviewed, out of the shadows and into the light, and is asked if he would call himself “promiscuous.” With a glean in his eye, and a slight smirk, he says “Yes. Yes I am.”
But never too far from the moments of humor, are sobering images which prove that gay characters have been constantly relegated to “lesser” on screen. Queerama may eventually devolve into a series of clip packages, it needs a little more heft to be as powerful as it sets out to be, but there are alarming moments Asquith captures that should give us, as viewers, great pause.
In one of the few title cards Asquith deploys in her film, another 30,000 men were rounded up and arrested for charges even after the supposed decriminalization.
While 70 minutes is not nearly enough time to accurately tell this story, Queerama hits hard in key sequences, reminding us that, even in 2018, Hollywood and filmmakers around the globe are all still grappling with trying to understand how best to best represent the LGBTQ+ community on screen.
After all, it took us until March 2018 to finally get the first-ever major studio release of an LGBT-themed film, the romantic comedy Love, Simon, which generated decent box office and tremendous critical acclaim.
Queerama leaves some significant films out of its oeuvre, but also reminds us that, though same-sex marriage is legal in more and more countries around the world, these images speak for themselves, and will only continue to do so, until true representation is shared on our screens.
CAST & CREW
Director: Daisy Asquith
Release Date: June 13, 2018 (Seattle theatrical premiere)
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