Here’s looking at you kid….

Got a fair amount done on my KA essay yesterday, so I forgive myself for spending the evening with my pal TV. At one point IFC was running Velvet Goldmine, followed by Hedwig, while LOGO had The Cockettes on. I spent the morning reading in part The Downtown Book : The New York Art Scene 1974-1984, so by 1 am I had veiwed much glitter and had spent a lot of time in the early 70’s.

In all of these cultural products people are trying to come to grips with a vanished moment, and they are all pulling their referneces from various styles of post-war drag. The hippie genderfuck of the Cockettes bled into glam, which moved into punk. Various cities produced their own inflections and then her we are a s a group of art historians, for lack of a better term, making these things that attempt to both tell the story and ressurect the style. Some of us are witnesses, but more often than not we are the latecomers, trying to express why all this stuff, this prancing around, matters. It matters because in some way it made us: it gave us hope to pursue and reside in our difference. But I think the ultimate truth is that none of this stuff travels well: it is micro culture that draws it’s strength in part from its insularity.

What I think of the films:

I’ll stick by my previous assertions Todd Hayes is a great filmmaker; VG is not a good film. It tries to do too much too earnestly: remake Citizen Kane, tell the story of glam, construct a narrative drama out of quotation, critique Reagan’s America be a musical. The only performer who manages to move the material out of the realm of thesis is Toni Colette.

Hedwig holds up much better perhaps because JCM lived with the material for so long. He doesn’t seem to have come up with a filmic equivalent for the play’s emotional climax however. But do we need the neo-platonism?

The Cockettes: it’s easier with a documentary, in part because you don’t have to take so much responsibility for the narrative you’re constructing (not so true, but let it slide)So many documentaries about gay life have this thematic: It was amazing, we were changing the world, then people began to do somay drugs, fall away, and then came AIDS. True, all of it but I wonder how deeply we’ve come tolook at AIDS as the price one must pay for daring to remake the world. Does this fear lurk at the back of people’s minds now, making it harder and harder for alternative cultures to assert themselves?


  1. people are trying to come to grips with a vanished moment

    i saw “gay sex in the ’70’s” with Dan a few weeks ago and felt the same way. a terrible movie. what is this baby-boomer fascination with thinking everything they do is memorable or important? other generations seemed to have endured the same vanished moment without the masturbation and wringing of hands. this is something i really don’t understand and never have.

  2. Did you happen to see the documentary on the emergence of the American punk scene? Your thoughts of the blurred edges of post-Vietnam angst reminded me of an assertion of the film — that the hippies were the original punks and that what came later was simply a new aesthetic branch.

    In any event, I agree with your thoughts about these films — although I fell for VG until the last thirty minutes, when I nod off.

  3. True, all of it but I wonder how deeply we’ve come tolook at AIDS as the price one must pay for daring to remake the world. Does this fear lurk at the back of people’s minds now, making it harder and harder for alternative cultures to assert themselves?

    i’m reading a really great book about this (somewhat) right now called “policing public sex” by dangerous bedfellows. it’s diving into these more difficult concepts in very interesting ways.

  4. it is micro culture that draws it’s strength in part from its insularity.

    I couldn’t agree with this small statement more. It’s why I have no desire to see RENT ever.

    I haven’t seen Velvet Goldmine, which is weird because I couldn’t wait to see it before it was released in the theaters. My interest is renewed after your comments. I am struck by your referencing a single film as a critique of Reagan’s America. understand that I was born in 1968 which means that my awakening as a keenly politically aware young person and a homo came about at the time Reagan stepped into the White House. I have yet to see a film that manages to serve as a critique of America under that regime in a wholistic though succinct manner. Feel free to point me in the direction of some. I got a strong and encapsulated look at criticism on that period when The Whitney had their 100 years in American Art or whatever that exhibition was called, a few years back. I got to the section on the 80s and saw for the first time all of these pieces of artwork in one place. This body of work, all the text and image that informed me as an emerging artist in college. And I thought to myself, “a ha! so this is why Im such a hopeful cynic, a bitter optimist.” That floor of the museum, while not a narrative per se, was as such an encapsulated critique of the Reagan years the likes of which I have yet to see again. Someone really ought to do it.

    I’m intrigued by your inquiry, deos this fear lurk at the back of people’s minds now, making it harder and harder for alternative cultures to assert themselves? I think it is far less an issue of any group fearing that sort of price or devine retribution than it is now a forgone conclusion that if an alternative social/artistic movement picks up any momentum, it will immediately be conscripted to sell cars and soft drinks to the rest of America and the world. it really started in 1991 when David Geffen got a boner for Kurt Cobain, paving the way for someone as profoundly shallow as Alanis Morisette to misinform an entire generation on the definition of “irony”. But speaking of irony (with the actual meaning), doesn’t a part of you celebrate the rallying of the christian right? art might be dangerous and revolutionary again. oops, there’s that hopeful cynic thing again.

  5. “I worry that no matter how cynical you get, it’s impossible to keep up.” –Lily Tomlin (Jane Wagner)

    It wasn’t just AIDS. It’s all been downhill since Nixon and Vietnam.

    The lies, disappointments, failures, and malfeasance by our elected officials and government as a whole only intensified the lies and disappointments generations got from their parents, schools, and clergy. The first generation protested and revolted in a variety of ways, but after that a sense of resignation and numbness set in.

    The fact that we even entertained the paranoia that our government may have created AIDS for ulterior motives is enough (and a significant portion of the African American community believes this is so) — whether it is true or not, is still keeps the third world third, enriches the rich that own the drug companies, and keeps fags (or at least as many of them) from having sex in the streets.

    There should have been rioting and burning of the cities after the last two elections with its disenfranchised precincts and manipulated results. Instead, the only major rioting we now get is when a city’s sports team loses the championship game.

    I could write more, but my favorite cartoon show is coming on TV right now — back to the set!

  6. Funny you should mention that rioting now only happens when a local multi-billion $ sports franchise wins or loses an “important” game — as late, the entire sports infrastructure seems to me as a very public way of focusing intense emotional energies or allowing people to otherwise act out in ways they’re normally forbidden. The championship parades, the celebratory cheers, the post-victory rioting — it all looks like a very public and condoned mass orgasm, choreographed to resonate and stave off more individual and personal desires or pleasures. If I was a conspiracy theorist, I’d say it’s all a plot by the military-athletic-entertainment complex.

    Don’t be surprised, however, if “young” people don’t seemingly get the larger narrative of the Nixon-Reagan-Bush chicanery (I don’t think I do, myself). To us it simply is the environment we were born into, and all attempts to revolt-subvert were quickly subsumed into the corporate. This is the new normality and we have never known differently.

  7. I too adore Todd Haynes but am not a fan of VG. But rather than think of AIDS as the “price one must pay,” I sort of view it as the Nazi party of the latter half of the 20th century, in that it shattered an entire generation of free-thinkers, anti-establishment types, and underground artists.

  8. I very much agree with you in that the Watergate Scandal actually seems to have innoculated the american eloctorate to acts of governmental malfeasance – the underlying feeling now is not “this is beyond the pale” but rather “they all do it, these guys just got caught”. That and the inflated rhetoric of outragehave served to creater that feelings of hopelessness you talk about.

    We now seem to know more about political wrong doing and yet care about it less.

  9. Hmm this gets discussed in terms of soccer hooliganism.

    I know that when I first worked in an office I got to understand what sports were really for _to have something to argue about that at the base level people really didn’t care about. The one day we talked about politics in the office everyone ended up so angry with eachother that we couldn’t speak for the rest of the day. But we could go on about sports happily without anyone’s feelings really getting hurt.

    As for the Nixon et al legacy take a look at “Rise of the Vulcans” a book that details the back stories of the members of Bush’s cabinet – you’ll find that they go all the way back to Nixon.

  10. The only part of Poison that I think truly works is the suburban section. Safe i think is marvelous, perhaps because it’s not so programmatic in it’s intentions. one of my favorite of his films is Dottie Gets Spanked a short, but brilliant.

  11. Well, VG is critiquing Reagan among the very many things it’s trying to do -it’s not a primary focus.

    I love reading your second paragraph, and I don’t quite know what I could point to as a a full fledged critique of Reagan/Bush.

    One of the things I’ve been thinking about is the shift in the way film has ben described -from experimental to Avante-Garde to underground to what sounds to me like the lily-livered “independent”. The first three had some oppositional bite to them the third means standing along side of – not different from.

  12. Sports do fill that weird gap of meaningless topics to easily draw upon without fear of probing any subject too deep for intra-office banter. And yet I feel that athletics do indeed draw upon deep pools of feeling, as evidenced by Euro-Latin soccer hooliganism. It’s a weird space I remain befuddled by.

    I’ve been meaning to take a look at Vulcans, if only to figure out how Dick Armitage got involved with such a cadre of thugs. He seems to be the only one with any true inkling of duty.

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