Week 4: Avant-Garde

In this week’s readings, the different implications of and inspirations for avant-garde queer cinema are covered. Specifically, Straayer touches on the notion of masquerading, and therefore performing gender as we discussed earlier in class. Suarez and Waugh’s pieces then elaborate on this idea, focusing on specific filmmakers and their works to illustrate how the issue of identity (especially in the queer space) connects to avant-garde aesthetics. All three of these readings reminded me of the film Midnight Cowboy, which I viewed recently in my other cinema studies class. In Suarez’s article, Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising is delved into. Scorpio Rising is depicted as a film which glorifies the biker subculture, aligning it with queer interests. Biker culture typically has a very masculine and traditionally “American” connotation. This is similar to that of the cowboy persona, which is used within Midnight Cowboy by Joe Buck. Throughout the majority of the film, Buck masquerades as a cowboy, continuously grappling with the incongruity of what it means to be a true “cowboy” fulfilling traditional American stereotypes and pursuing his own deviated ideology. The film itself, has a lot of homosexual fearing content, suggesting that Buck may be repressing certain desires. This is then covered up by the idea of an overtly masculine, hero-like, cowboy bravado. What is interesting about Scorpio Rising, is that it by no means uses the biker identity to cover up queer intentions. Instead, it aligns with it, allowing for a unique and successful subversion from stereotypes of sexuality. Waugh’s piece also connects with Midnight Cowboy, discussing Andy Warhol’s filmmaking. A Warhol like film party is featured within the movie, using Warhol acolytes, Viva, Ondine, and Ultra Violet as guest stars within it. Warhol was actually asked to be in the film himself, but declined, nevertheless supporting Viva to play a role functioning as Midnight Cowboy’s version of him. Similar to Anger, Warhol is depicted by Waugh as another artist who most definitely embraced his identity, and amplified his agenda via avant-garde filmmaking. This is intriguing when considering Warhol in the context of Midnight Cowboy, where the possibly queer protagonist consistently rejects homosexuality, while residing in the liberal and diverse city of New York. Attending parties akin to Warhol’s he is submerged in a culture embracing sexuality where art was melded with erotic entertainment. Waugh claims that Warhol utilized the “deployment of power rather than specific genitalia” which is something that Buck focuses on as well, using prostitution as a means to gain stature in a new city, doing so not necessarily to fill his own sexual desires. Despite this similarity, Buck continues to fear being a “swish”, something that Warhol embraced both in his films and daily life. Even so, New York City remains a strong force, pushing Buck to embrace ideologies and dreams that are not normative to his original conceptions of American masculinity. Whether he does so is up for debate, but it is definitely interesting to see this in conjunction with other filmmakers perspectives.

Works Cited:

Straayer, Chris. “Chapter 4: The She-Man: Post-Modern Bi-Sexed Performance in Film and Video.” Deviant Eyes, Deviant Bodies: Sexual Re-Orientation in Film and Video. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996: 79 – 101.

Suarez, Juan A. “Pop, Queer, or Fascist: The Ambiguity of Mass Culture in Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising.” Experimental Cinema: The Film Reader. New York: Routledge, 2002: 115 – 137.

Waugh, Thomas. “Cockteaser.” Pop Out: Queer Warhol. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996: 51 – 77.

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