Still from "Paris is Burning" (1990) Jennie Livingston

New Queer Cinema: Theory, Politics, and Transgression

Instructor: Paige Sweet
BISR Central
68 Jay Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Emerging in the cultural-political turmoil of the 1990s, New Queer Cinema offered representations of gay and lesbian life that have often been described by a single word: defiant. According to film scholar, B. Ruby Rich, four elements converged to produce New Queer Cinema: AIDS, Reagan, camcorders, and cheap (New York City) rent. Equally important in this period of cinematic innovation was the embracing of the term “queer” to signify a resistance to normative codes of gender and sexuality. Whether in the stories told or in the form of their telling, filmmakers deployed new media technologies and a range of aesthetic practices to depict queerness on its own terms in ways that had not previously been seen, especially in popular cinema. In this course we will consider how the charged cultural and political climate of the 1990s contributed to the critical and artistic changes of New Queer Cinema. How did a defiantly queer orientation challenge both the homophobia of mainstream cinema and the “homo-normative” imperatives of gay culture?

We will begin by asking: what exactly is “new” about New Queer Cinema? What, exactly, is queer about it? How does this category gather together such disparate films as Todd Haynes’ Poison, Marlon Rigg’s Tongues Untied, Nancy Meckler’s Sister, My Sister, Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together, Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning, Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia, and Cheryl Dunye’s Watermelon Woman (among so many others)? What concepts from feminist film and critical race theory inform the politics of queer cinema? We will then explore how New Queer Cinema borrows and adapts conventions from art house cinema, the American avant garde, and popular film. Did this conjunction of filmmaking practices lead to new looking relations? What kind of (new?) queer spectator position becomes available to view these films? We will also investigate links to third cinema—that is the anti-colonial films that emerged in Latin America and inspired political filmmakers around the world—to ask about what makes a film queer? Must a queer film be politically significant? How can we produce a queer reading of film? Lastly, we will reflect on films that have been made over the past few years to assess the ways they draw on earlier examples of New Queer Cinema, as well as the ways that they diverge in terms of filmmaking techniques and storytelling practices.

A suggested list of films to watch will be distributed on the first day of class. We will screen short clips from these films in class to discuss alongside the course readings.

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm
June 10 — July 01, 2019
4 weeks

$315.00

Registration Open

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