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Film and Book Reviews

 

The following are book and film reviews written by the students of Queen’s University Gender Studies Class "GNDS 215: Introduction to Sexual and Gender Diversity" . These represent the winning reviews from each year.

 

 

Film reviews

2011

Bloomington (2010)

 

Written and Directed by: Fernanda Cardoso

 

Review by: Zoe Kavoukian-Scharf

The film Bloomington, written and directed by Fernanda Cardoso, depicts the development of a romantic relationship between a student named Jackie Kirk and a psychology professor named Catherine Stark. Upon having met, the two women are attracted to one another and begin an intense and passionate relationship. Although the filmmaker’s initial goal may have been to represent queer women, after examining the content of the film I feel as though it in fact elicits a closeting effect. The filmmaker’s choice in creating two characters who idealize the "acceptable" Western gay identity based on white able-bodied privilege, serves to legitimize the lesbian relationship to a normative Western audience. Because both Catherine and Jackie uphold particular standards of normalcy (read: white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, upper-class privilege), society is more willing to accept their perceived ’deviant’ behaviour, including their queer desire. Thus, their privileged social location has enabled their queer identities to “pass.”  Dominant discourse, media and culture at large perpetuate what constitutes an “acceptable queer.” In order to challenge these perceptions, the media must begin to represent the diversity of the queer community.     

The filmmaker devalues the true essence of their lesbian relationship by creating a number of circumstances where the audience seriously questions the motivation of the two women’s relationship. Towards the end of the film both women pursue relationships with men and the film pathologizes Catherine and Jackie’s relationship by eliciting the notion that both women were involved in order to satisfy some internal need or want aside from pursuing sexual desires. In addition, the plot suggests that the root cause of their breakup was due to their apprehension towards admitting their lesbian relationship in public, which has the ultimate negative effect of making it seem as if it were something to hide.     

Overall, I believe the filmmakers of Bloomington were simply trying to appease a primarily white, privileged and heterosexual audience by reinforcing pre-existing Western stereotypes regarding queer people and culture.

 

 

 

 

2010

 

The following films were all shown in 2010 at Kingston’s Reelout Film Festival.

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Dare

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Directed by Adam Salky/2009/USA/100min

Review by Romany Craig

The film Dare appears to be a typical mainstream teen movie following a good girl turned bad as she gains the interest of the popular jock. This movie takes the perspective of three teens in their last semester of high school. Alexa, the main female star is an aspiring actress who is told by a prominent actor that her ability to act is blocked by the fact that she “hasn’t lived.” Meanwhile this same actor applauds Johnny, her performance partner and popular jock, for his ability to connect with the emotion of the character. Alexa takes it upon herself to “break free” of her good girl image and live life.

The main issues brought up by this film center around sexual orientations and rejections of conventional identifying processes related to sexuality. Through this film images of compulsory heterosexuality are challenged and problematized as the hero of the story, Johnny, remains free from labels of gay/straight. By presenting the multiple subject positions of Johnny primarily we are able to see the ways in which identities are interactional accomplishments, not coherent wholes. Although not entirely radical, failing to reflect diverse class, race and political discourses, this film offers a good starting point for exposure and reflection on the topic of sexual diversity. By presenting a non-heterosexual hero who defies binary categorization I believe this film is progressive in is staging of queer theory to mainstream audiences.

And Then Came Lola

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Directed by Ellen Seldler & Megan Siler/2009/USA/70mins

Loves Games: And Then Came Lola and the Making of Subversive Lesbian Spaces

Review by Kaleigh Alkenbrack

In 1998, an experimental film by Tom Tykwer, Run Lola Run[4] generated new possibilities for viewers on several levels. Not only did the film push the limits of life, love, and time, but the movie also explored the possibilities of cinema [5]. However, Ellen Seidler and Megan Siler have changed the rules of the game yet again with And Then Came Lola [1], a lighthearted and sexy lesbian take on Tykwer’s classic. In fact, And Then Came Lola takes up the main principle, form, theme, and narrative systems of Run Lola Run and transforms them to create a playful but subversive space for lesbian subjectivities. With the use of celebration, humour, and eroticism, Seidler and Siler deny the patriarchal and heteronormative tendencies of mainstream popular culture, and instead portray a woman-centered world in which traditional gender roles are bent. However, while the subversive and pleasurable potential of the film cannot be denied, questions remain as to how white privilege enables this type of queer world-making. Nevertheless, this romantic comedy is sure to win over audiences with its fairy tale charm and witty script.

Like Tykwer’s Run Lola Run, the plot of And Then Came Lola revolves around a female character named Lola, who has three chances to race against the clock and rescue her lover. However, instead of saving her boyfriend from certain death, Seidler and Siler’s Lola (Ashleigh Sumner) must deliver photographs to her lesbian lover Casey (Jill Bennett) before their design deal is cancelled and Casey’s heart is stolen. This plot denies the common heterosexist plot formula found in mainstream depictions of lesbianism which involves “the struggle for control of the central female character by competing female and male love interests” [3]. Typically, the wicked lesbian competitor is ultimately defeated and the man wins the woman, suggesting that “the true sexual definition of a woman is heterosexual and that she gets that definition from a man” [3]. However, Seidler and Siler flip around this traditional plot which uses gayness to reinforce heterosexuality, and instead demonstrate through homoerotic fantasies that women can find fulfillment in places other than a patriarchal heterosexual coupling.

Although And Then Came Lola creates a subversive space for lesbian subjectivities, it is important to question the factors that enable Seidler and Siler to do so. Does whiteness permit this subversive space to be created?  Is white privilege reinscribed in the film?  According to Margot Francis, “whiteness is a currency that gives the respectability necessary to perform as queer” [2]. In order to have their messages heard, queer artists often elide issues of race, and it may be argued that And Then Came Lola depends on whiteness to reach viewers. While there are racialized women in And Then Came Lola, the main characters are white and their white privilege goes unquestioned. The whiteness that is both everywhere and nowhere in And Then Came Lola makes the exploration of subversive sexualities a viable activity.  ★★★★☆

Ferron: Girl on a Road

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Directed by Gerry Rogers/2009/Canada/77min

Review by Hannah Searson

Ferron: Girl on a Road, directed by Gerry Rogers, celebrates the reclamation of queer space in music and on film, while also interrogating representations of dominant gender norms. Ferron offers and reflects on her own experience as a lesbian Indian/ French Canadian folk singer while using music as her medium of public resistance. Rogers frames this documentary film as a concert that is intertwined with reflections and backstage interviews about Ferron’s life as a lesbian, Indian/ French Canadian musician from the perspectives of Ferron and her other band members. Throughout these conversations a dialogue begins to form that unravels fragments of Ferron’s identities that are expressed within her music. The film takes place as Ferron reunites with her band after ten years to get together and make music for a three concert tour. Ferron: Girl on a Road is both a celebration of this iconic folk singer, and in fact quite comedic at times, specifically when Ferron confesses to eating a hash brownie and being high for her first big concert. However critical reflection also takes place in which Ferron invites her viewers to share with her personal and intimate experiences regarding her painful childhood, native shame and the hardships she faced while she negotiated her identity at different times throughout her experiences with a major record label in the music industry.

Using music as a medium for public resistance, Ferron: Girl on a Road challenges the heteronormative space of the music industry and critically engages with discussions on sexuality, generation, poverty, race and class while interrogating visible collective identities. Although the film avoids critical discussion on the topic of colonialism and sexuality, Ferron: Girl on a Road contributes to a comprehensive understanding of queer representations as multiple and fluid. The film serves as a subcultural and archival text that engages not only with her fans, but a wider audience and generations, whom like Ferron, cannot hear themselves in the music.

College Boys Live

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 Directed by George O’Donnell/2009/USA/90mins

College Boys Live Does this film disrupt or reinforce cultural ideals?

Review by Scout Bremner

College Boys Live gives the viewer a chance to explore real life examples of the discourses surrounding sexual and gender diversity. Although the film’s queer content certainly disrupts mainstream culture, I suggest that the film and the website not only disrupts, but also has the potential to reinforce cultural norms/ ideals especially because there is a link to commoditization of gay identity.  Furthermore, while the house may liberate the men, it also exploits them; their identity, their sexuality, and their bodies by making spectacle of them.

There are three ways to understand the film as liberating. First, it allows us to view and understand the complexity of various queer identities and their narratives as we are exposed to the personal struggles of identity formation as well as queer theory in practice. Second, it presents an alternative lifestyle, a queer subculture, producing a space to challenge heteronormative constructs of family and community. Last, it presents openness to sexuality, which potentially speaks as a means of agency and a way to challenge heteronormative constructs. On the other hand we can also understand the film as exploitive. We can’t ignore the fact that this specific subculture exits and survives only because it is a business from which Zac, founder and house owner, is profiting. The ways in which queer lifestyle is portrayed in the film perhaps doesn’t present a fair representation of queerness, and instead exotifies and makes a spectacle of it. We also have to question if the residents are participating in these (possibly) pornographic activities (ie naked chatting) on their own terms, if not this could dissolve their agency.

The film walks on a fine line between liberation and exploitation and deciding which side of the line it belongs is ultimately up to the viewer. Above all else, the film allows the viewer to experience how complicated and fluid queer issues can be. The film spotlights queer issues and gives the viewer a chance to consider whether it disrupts or reinforces cultural ideals.  Although there may be controversy in the film’s portrayal of gay life, it is, in the end another opposition to heteronormativity.

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1. And then Came Lola. Dir. Ellen Seidler and Megan Siler. 2009. Film.

2. Francis, Margot. “The Lesbian National Parks and Servies: Reading Sex, Race, and the Nation in Artistic Performance.” Canadian Women’s Studies, 20. 2 (2000): 131-136.

3. Hollinger, Karen. “Theorizing Mainstream Female Spectatorship: The Case of the Popular Lesbian Film.” Cinema Journal 37. 2 (1998): 3-17.

4. Run Lola Run. Dir. Tom Tykwer. 1998. Film.

5. Whalen, Tom. “Reviews: Run Lola Run.” Film Quarterly, 53. 3 (2000): 33-40.

All references for this section