Project Proposal

This proposal has jagged edges. At this point, I have three interconnected ideas, all of which broadly involve interrogating the queerness (or lack thereof) in recent lesbian films. I have one film I definitely want to use, but I am still trying to decide if I want to use another as well. I had one initial idea, but based on preliminary research, it has morphed into this ugly polygon with jagged edges. So, if this seems scattered, that’s why.

I definitely want to use Jacob Chase’s 2010 film The Four-Faced Liar. Here is the trailer:

Explaining why I find The Four-Faced Liar intriguing requires a bit of personal context and a lot of casual theorizing: When I first started watching lesbian films and reading lesbian books, I quickly developed a nauseating sense of déjà vu. After the first few, the stories seemed familiar. Because they were. They were exactly the same. I call this shared plot the lesbian Bildungsroman, and it appears in both film and literature. An ostensibly straight girl, who is in a committed relationship, meets an unapologetic lesbian. The two develop a friendship, which quickly develops into something more. The less-than-straight girl eventually gives in to her desire for the lesbian. After a short-lived affair, guilt drives the not-straight girl (because she’s never actually bi, for some reason) back to her boyfriend/husband. There are a few angsty montages, followed by a tearful break-up and a grand romantic gesture, and the two lesbians end up together. I call it a Bildungsroman, regardless the age of the protagonists, because, while not about coming of age, it is about coming into a lesbian identity.

At its most simplified level, The Four-Faced Liar does use the one lesbian plot, but there is something markedly different about it (and I don’t just mean the gratuitous Wuthering Heights references, though those are awesome, too). For the most part, The Four-Faced Liar lacks the internalized homophobia that seems to characterize so many of the lesbian films made for straight audiences (see Morris). The film frames the West Villages as a queer space without presenting that queerness as something exotic.

In a discussion of the film By Hook or By Crook, Halberstam credits the directors with creating “a specifically queer universe” characterized by its “studied indifference to mainstream acceptance and by making subcultural renown rather than Hollywood glamour into the most desirable form of celebrity” (Halberstam 92). By Hook or By Crook is a New Queer Cinema film, a categorization that comes with a very specific set of investments. In many ways, the unapologetic fringe politics of New Queer Cinema seems entirely at odds with more recent lesbian films, which, despite their higher production values, seem to be characterized by horrible scripts, lackluster acting, and the lesbian Bildungsroman plot. But personally, I am intrigued by this idea of the “specifically queer universe” from the New Queer Cinema tradition, of using intertextuality to create a filmic space that is legibly queer.

In an interview with Annamarie Jagose, Michael Warner discusses queer world-making. He draws on the work of Hannah Arendt: “The idea is that the activity we undertake with each other, in a kind of agonistic performance in which what we become depends on the perspectives and interactions of others, brings into being the space of our world, which is then the background against which we understand ourselves and our belonging…. The world made in public action is not an intended or designed world, but one disclosed in practice” (qtd. in Jagose). I came across this interview while searching for articles on world-building (a fruitless search). While I was initially frustrated by the apparent lack of relevance, it eventually occurred to me that cinema itself might function as a public act of world-making, which might speak to the implications of filmic world-building. This is a fairly rough idea that might hold up under further research and scrutiny, but essentially, I am interested in the extent to which filmic world-building might function as world-making.

As I am not fully convinced of the feasibility of the world-building/world-making topic, which has proven more difficult than expected to research so far, I am hanging on to these two other ideas that seems like more manageable projects. The first is the lesbian Bildungsroman concept, and the second would be something about the legacy of New Queer Cinema in a few more recent independent lesbian films. So, keeping this in mind, here are my potential research questions:

  • How does The Four-Faced Liar construct the West Village as a legibly queer space?
  • To what extent does world-building function as world-making?
  • What legacies of New Queer Cinema are at work?

I know that I will need to research the (recent) history of lesbian film. I also need to see what has been written on the legacy of New Queer Cinema. Here is s my preliminary source list:

  • Honig, Bonnie, ed. Feminist Interpretations of Hannah Arendt. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 1995. Print.
  • Jagose, Annamarie. “Queer World Making.” Genders 31 (2000): 5. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.
  • Morris, Bonnie J. “Lesbian Sex at the (Straight) Cineplex.” The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 8.2 (2001): 23-. ProQuest. Web. 17 Mar. 2013.
  • Oswin, Natalie. “Critical Geographies And The Uses Of Sexuality: Deconstructing Queer Space.” Progress In Human Geography 32.1 (2008): 89-103. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 16 Mar. 2013.
  • Pramaggiore, Maria. “Fishing For Girls: Romancing Lesbians In New Queer Cinema.” College Literature 24.1 (1997): 59. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

The first step of my research plan has to be refining the topic to something I know is manageable, so that means more research on world-building and the construction of queer spaces. Hopefully, the comments and feedback I receive on this proposal will help with that. Once I have a better grasp on the exact topic, I need to decide if I want to use a second film and then select that film. At that point, I will be able to do more focused research and craft a specific argument.

Works Cited

Halberstam, Jack. “Lovely and Confusing: By Hook or By Crook and the Transgender Look.” In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York: NYU Press, 2005. 92-6.

Jagose, Annamarie. “Queer World Making.” Genders 31 (2000): 5. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

The Four-Faced Liar. Dir. Jacob Chase. 2010.


2 thoughts on “Project Proposal

  1. katonlee

    Dear Julie,

    Good to know that your project concerns lesbians and New Queer Cinema. It reminds me of the brilliant film By Hook or By Crook.

    I agree with what you have said in the last paragraph of your proposal. Your scope of research is a little bit too big, I think, which may be hard to be managed within just a semester.

    My suggestion is to narrow your scope of research down from several topics to just one, perhaps your favourite one. I can see from your proposal that you are interested in topics of lesbians, The Four-Faced Liar (the film), the construction of queer space, filmic world-building, world-making, lesbian bildungsroman concept and legacy of New Queer Cinema. I think the above topics may be interrelated, but I suggest you first focusing one of them or combining several of them as one to be your core of research and extend to other parts when necessary.

    For instance, as you do like the topics of lesbians, the Four-Faced Liar, the construction of queer space and the legacy of New Queer Cinema, you may combine them as a core research topic. You may carry out a research with the topic that under the legacy of New Queer Cinema, how the film Four-Faced Liar was influenced with regards to the ways/styles/methods of constructing the queer space. Or you may study how the film Four-Faced Liar fits in with the concept of lesbian bildungsroman. Indeed, though I have made these recommendations, I have never watched this film and do not know much about lesbian bildungsroman. I am even not quite sure whether there are really some relationships between New Queer Cinema and the Four-Faced Liar. So here are just some brainstorming suggestions. Take it if it makes sense.

    Hope my suggestions are helpful.

    Looking forward to your final project. It should be great!

    Yours sincerely,
    17th March, 2013

  2. channabach

    your point about what you call the “lesbian Bildungsroman” plot is really interesting, and you are absolutely right that a single plot seems to be repeated over and over in contemporary lesbian films aimed at straight or not-quite-straight (but not (yet?) very queer) audiences. You might want to research why that is: you’re on to something important in your claim that it has something to do with straight audiences.

    Have you seen Puccini for Beginners? It has some interesting connections to Four-Faced Liar with regards to the point you made about banalized or at least normalized queer space. Kissing Jessica Stein also has some similarities.

    One thing you might think about is how queerness and/or lesbianism are represented in these films in relation to community and political/social activism: oftentimes they are individualized and de-linked from radical politics, represented as merely “personal/individual identities” cut off from histories and power. You might think about the ideologies at work in this form of a “lesbian Bildungsroman”.

    I posted a bunch of texts on the Readings page about New Queer Cinema that you may find helpful. B. Ruby Rich also has a great new book out on NQC and its legacy called New Queer Cinema: The Director’s Cut (the Introduction is on the Readings page).

    As for your search for scholarship on queer world-making, check out these folks: José Esteban Muñoz, Lauren Berlant, Michael Warner, Fiona Buckland, and Jafari Allen.

    This is a promising start. Keep going!

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