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.
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.