Key filmmakers: Todd Haynes, Derek Jarman, Jennie Livingston, Tom Kalin
Key dates: 1990-1995
What is it? Coined by Sight & Sound writer and film professor B. Ruby Rich, the term ‘New Queer Cinema’ suggests that there was an Old Queer Cinema too. And there was. The groundwork had been laid for bold new voices in gay cinema like Derek Jarman, Todd Haynes and Tom Kalin by Kenneth Anger (Scorpio Rising), Jan Oxenberg (A Comedy In Six Unnatural Acts), Gus Van Sant (Mala Noche) and Bill Sherwood. The latter’s AIDS-haunted romcom Parting Glances, which offered Steve Buscemi his first major film role, was a breakthrough for gay cinema. It was set around New York’s vibrant LGBT scene and dealt with the disease with humour and the kind of unblinking honesty that would characterise much of this unofficial movement.
There was no Forrest Gump-style coyness in tackling the AIDS epidemic, but neither did Sherwood’s heirs fill their films with tragedy and heartache. There were more parties than funerals. Key movies include Haynes’ three-stranded Poison, Gregg Araki’s nihilistic road pic The Living End and Tom Kalin’s Swoon which followed Hitchcock’s Rope in capturing murderous yuppies Leopold and Loeb on film. These films were low-budget, often black-and-white affairs with small casts and minimal locations – Mumblecore without the mumbling – and didn’t aim to justify, varnish or in any way.
What to watch: Paris Is Burning (1990) (pictured top), Young Soul Rebels (1991), The Hours And Times (1991), The Living End (1992), Swoon (1992)
What did it influence? Paris Is Burning brought voguing to the attention of Madonna and a million drunk wedding dancefloors. More importantly, New Queer Cinema helped push gay culture towards the mainstream (or vice versa) and get films with LGBT themes financed. Kimberly Peirce’s Boys Don't Cry, Andrew Haigh’s Weekend and Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall all owe it a debt.
Trivia: With his last words, Derek Jarman was reported to have wished the world “be filled with white fluffy duckies”.
What to say: “New Queer Cinema produced complex work that didn't simply create new gay heroes as subjects. It dealt with the politics of representation, it ventured into transgressive themes [and] challenged simple ideas about victimhood and subjugation” – Todd Haynes.
What not to say: “I like Scorpio Rising but I prefer the sequel, The Scorpio King.”