CRUSEV’s Glyn Davis organised and contributed to a panel for this year’s Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) conference. Here’s his report on the event.
I put together a panel for this year’s Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) conference, which took place in Chicago from 22nd to 26th March. The panel was titled ‘Cruising the Seventies: Glancing Backwards at Queer Cinema’, and was comprised of talks by Assistant Professor Greg Youmans (Western Washington University – pictured), Professor Bill Marshall (University of Stirling) and myself, with Associate Professor Richard T. Rodriguez (University of California Riverside) as a respondent. Whereas the focus of the HERA-funded project ‘Cruising the Seventies’ is on Europe, this panel expanded the parameters of investigation to also include the United States. The panel was sponsored by SCMS’s Queer Caucus.
Greg Youmans’ paper, ‘Locating the 1970s: Sex and Cinema at Druid Heights’, focused on a particular geographical location, and its role in the history of sexual representation in the United States. Located deep in the woods of Marin County, California, the artist colony known as Druid Heights was a countercultural mecca in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as a haven for young lesbian feminists who journeyed there to visit the older poet Elsa Gidlow, who died in 1986. Since then, however, most of the structures have fallen into decay and disrepair.
Films shot at Druid Heights include James Broughton’s experimental short ‘The Bed’ (1968), sequences of the Mariposa Film Group’s ‘Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives’ (1977), and sections of the Mitchell Brothers’ pornographic feature ‘The Grafenberg Spot’ (1985). Together these films trace the history of sexual politics across the “long 1970s”, from the hippie counterculture of the late 1960s through the explosion of gay lifestyles and politics in the 1970s to the exhausted, post-liberation ethos and conservative backlash of the early 1980s. Greg’s paper explored the films’ competing cinematic visions of sexual liberation. In part, he did this through juxtaposing his own video footage with content from the original films, attempting to recreate or unearth traces of the past through his camera.
Bill Marshall’s talk, ‘Lional Soukaz: Historicity and Time’, discussed one specific film by Soukaz: his four-part documentary on queer history, ‘Race d’Ep!’ (1979). Bill focused in particular on the fourth part of the film, ‘Royal Opera’, which takes the form of a philosophical dialogue of sorts between a straight middle-class executive (played by porn star Piotr Stanislas) and a ‘folle’ or queer (played by Soukaz’s collaborator and theorist Guy Hocquenghem). ‘Royal Opera’ is particularly self-conscious about space and time: made on the cusp of the 1970s/1980s, it follows the pair through a Paris marked by the spatial history of same-sex desire. Bill’s talk connected Soukaz’s film-making practice to the 1970s context in Paris – before the opening of the first gay bar in the Marais, the AIDS crisis, and the creation of an equal age of consent – and to arguments made by Hocquenghem in his book ‘La Derive homosexuelle’ (1977) about queerness, marginality, and social acceptability.
As with the preceding papers, my own talk, ‘Hanging out in Derek Jarman’s warehouse’, also looked at the relationships between sexuality, space and the moving image. The different London warehouse spaces that the artist, filmmaker and author Derek Jarman occupied during the 1970s – at Upper Ground, Bankside, and Butler’s Wharf, all located along the south bank of the Thames – were introduced: Jarman lived and worked in these places, his studio doubling as his home. All of these spaces were inhabited legitimately – rent was paid to landlords – but the state of their upkeep was variable, at worst rudimentary. Their shabby state, I argued, served as a generative geography for Jarman: he turned the run-down locations into sanctuaries, othered spaces, in which a queer demimonde of artists and personalities gathered, socialized, and fostered each other’s work. The queer model of sociality and creativity supported by these warehouse studios, I suggested, was not only fleeting but is difficult to account for within existing understandings of both film-making and artistic practice. Attempting to capture that model allows us to think through ways in which, potentially, similar modes of creativity and interaction might be fostered in the present.
Richard T. Rodriguez’s response to the panel, ‘Looking back, thinking forward’, provided a fitting conclusion, and served as a provocative prompt for audience discussion. Richard drew attention to the historian Antoinette Burton’s insistence on “the need for archive stories – narratives about how archives are created, drawn upon, and experienced by those who use them to write history.” Lionel Soukaz, Derek Jarman, and the filmmakers associated with Druid Heights, said Richard, provide us with rich archive stories that enable us to do a queer history of 1970s cinema that teases out the overlooked elements of that era: they illuminate a rich temporal moment that does more than set the stage for future decades of queer filmmaking, but also illustrates a dynamic interplay between film culture and cultural politics.