A trend in cultural studies that reclaims a derogatory term referencing homosexuality in order to challenge essentialist ideas of fixed gender identities, sexual preferences, and all forms of ‘normality’, both homo—and hetero-, as well as to promote and celebrate a subversive ‘queering’ of all cultural texts. The philosopher Judith Butler’s Bodies That Matter is widely regarded as a founding text of queer theory. In film studies, the development of queer theory and queer cultural politics has gone hand-in-hand with the rise of poststructuralism and postmodernism within the discipline, and with the establishment of New Queer Cinema. Three trends may be identified in queer film theory. First, reflection on and analysis of films, videos, and writings by self-identified queer artists and filmmakers; second, ‘queering the canon’ by means of queer readings of such classic films as Das Kabinett des Dr Caligari/The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Robert Wiene, Germany, 1919), The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, US, 1939), Brief Encounter (David Lean, GB, 1945), and Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1951) (see canon) as well as of the performances and personae of certain stars (Bette Davis and Marlene Dietrich, for example); and third, critical endorsement or re-evaluation of films, old and new, that embody and celebrate pastiche, excess and camp, and demolish gender and sexual stereotypes. While now established in many film studies curricula, queer film theory emerged from the worlds of independent cinema, film festivals, and film criticism as much as from film studies scholarship. Its increased academic currency since the 1990s has taken place in concert with the rise of queer cinema; and it maintains its allegiance to sexual politics, cultural politics, and social change, continuing to offer both political and theoretical purchase for radical sexual communities.
NEW QUEER CINEMA
A diverse body of ‘queer’ films (see queer theory), beginning in the 1980s and ongoing, that are regarded as constituting a break with earlier representations of homosexuality in cinema. Coined in 1992 by Ruby Rich, the term signals a turning away from notions of negative stereotypes and positive images of gays and gayness in films, and a move towards cinematic explorations of the perverse and the deviant within the sexual domain; and/or celebrations of intertextuality, pastiche, irony, and irreverence. Early examples of the genre were independent films and videos that were at first confined largely to film festivals, including Tongues Untied (Marlon Riggs, US, 1989), Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingstone, US, 1990), Edward II (Derek Jarman, UK, 1991), Young Soul Rebels (Isaac Julien, UK/France/Germany/Spain, 1991), and My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, US, 1991). The term was soon (and in some quarters controversially) extended to more mainstream queer films, such as The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliot, Australia/UK, 1994), Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberley Peirce, US, 1999), the work of Todd Haynes, including Far from Heaven (US, 2002) and Carol (UK/US, 2015), and Ang Lee’s highly successful queer western, Brokeback Mountain (US, 2005). In World cinema, the work of such filmmakers as Pedro Almodóvar (for example La mala educación/Bad Education (Spain, 2004)) and Wong Kar-wai (for example Chun gwong cha sit/Happy Together (Hong Kong, 1997)) has also been included in the queer cinema canon.
In film studies, critical debate around New Queer Cinema remains an integral part of queer film theory. For example, scholarly comment on the award-winning Boys Don’t Cry centres on such issues as the notion of a queer gaze, and the tension between the film’s mainstream approach to plot and characterization on the one hand and its queer theme on the other. See also postmodernism; sexuality; transgender.
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