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Thomas Beard and Douglas Crimp on queer cinema before Stonewall


In the brand-spankin’-new April issue of Artforum, Douglas Crimp talks with Thomas Beard about “New Direction: Queer Cinema Before Stonewall,” an upcoming film series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York. In the excerpt below, the two discuss the historical use of Stonewall as a marker of periodization is queer and gay cinema. You can read the full interview here.

TB: The use of Stonewall as a fulcrum is, on some level, arbitrary here. Obviously, there are many other crucial episodes in the history of gay and trans liberation that predate Stonewall—like the Compton’s Cafeteria riot in San Francisco in 1966. But the efflorescence of gay cinema that one finds in the 1970s, and which continues through the present day, definitely made that moment in the summer of 1969 a reasonable endpoint for the series.

DC: Stonewall is such a convention at this point that we can’t not use it. At the same time, every time we use it, we reinforce the convention. Many historians are working to complicate the myth of Stonewall as an absolute divide between the notion of queer-as-abject before Stonewall and gay-is-good after Stonewall. That’s something I imagine you want to do too.

When, for you, does gay film start—films that we recognize as “gay” rather than “queer”? Who do you think of as the immediate post-Stonewall gay filmmakers?

TB: Well, in the German New Wave alone you have Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Ulrike Ottinger, Rosa von Praunheim, and Werner Schroeter. But I think there’s also a continuity. Consider James Bidgood’s Pink Narcissus, which began production years before Stonewall but was only released shortly after it [in 1971], or for that matter a filmmaker like Curt McDowell, whose first films in the ’70s are very much related to the earlier stylings of George Kuchar. The political event of Stonewall does not in and of itself signal a new kind of filmmaking, but it is followed by, say, The Boys in the Band [1970].

DC: Although Boys in the Band is a pre-Stonewall stage play.

TB: True. But although the divide isn’t clear-cut, the ’70s are still legible to me as a distinct moment: the era of Dyketactics [1974], of Je tu il elle [1976], of Nighthawks [1978]. However, hinging on Stonewall means we’re also thinking of a very Western idea of what constitutes gay liberation. That’s something else that’s been on my mind as I’ve organized the series.

Image: Still from Hitchcock’s Rope (1948). Via