Week 4-John Burns-Avant-Garde

I was struck by the ambiguity present in these readings on avant-garde cinema. The readings explore different queer avant-garde works, but they all seem to be unified by a murky subjectivity. I found this refusal to pick a point of view an inherently queer one, because queer culture is ultimately a widespread one open to many readings. I was especially interested by Andy Warhol and Kenneth Anger’s embrace of popular culture. Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising seems to straddle the line between embracing popular culture and rejecting it. Suarez explains that, “While remaining torn between the positive and negative connotations of the popular forms it assimilates, Anger’s main film depicts a gay situationism of sorts, a deviation (détournement) or perversion (in both its etymological and sexual meanings) of popular objects that engenders a murmur of dissent” (132). It seems that the film cannot make up its mind about the negative nature of popular culture, but its “perversion” hints at something queerly subversive. Andy Warhol’s films seem to hint at this queer subversion of popular culture in their refusal to be one thing. Some of his films playfully toyed the line between art and pornography. Waugh says that to gay audiences viewing his films, “…Warhol was an artist brilliantly manipulating the art market and the film industry to produce sexy funny movies, teasing the legal and cultural establishment as skillfully as he was teasing his horny, voyeuristic fans” (66). Warhol towed the lines of what was allowed and, in doing so, blurred the lines between highbrow and lowbrow culture. His films were art and erotic entertainment. Both Kenneth Anger and Andy Warhol ended up subverting and embracing popular culture with their queer artwork. The queer community’s push and pull with mass culture is still going on today.

Works Cited
Suarez, John. “Pop, Queer, or Fascist?” Experimental Cinema, The Film Reader, edited by Wheeler Winston Dixon and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, Routledge, 2002, pp. 115-137.

Waugh, Thomas. “Cockteaser.” Pop Out: Queer Warhol, edited by Jennifer Doyle and Jonathan Flatley and José Esteban Munoz, Duke University Press, 1996, pp. 51-77.


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