In the 60 years or so of queer cinema, one theme has remained constant: a desire to see people like us on the silver screen. As Lisa Ades and Lesli Klainberg's Independent Film Channel (IFC) documentary, Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema, asserts, we have not yet hit the golden age of LGBT film. But we're moving steadily in the right direction.
Fabulous!, which airs 10 p.m., Sunday, July 16 on IFC, charts the timeline of queer cinema, from the early days of physique films to the much-hyped mainstream blockbusters like Brokeback Mountain, chronologically. Ades and Klainberg, the out producer of the Ellen DeGeneres documentary The Real Ellen Story, as well as In the Company of Women, take viewers through the days of the production ban on homosexuality in movies, Stonewall and its affects on queer cinema, the AIDS crisis and the commercialization of all things gay in popular media. And they do it all in just 80 minutes.
Along the way, Fabulous! catches up with queer filmmakers like Donna Deitch, Todd Haynes, Rose Troche and John Waters, who all produced seminal works over the years that have helped to reflect and define queer identity in America.
The film begins with the idea of visual recognition, of seeing people who looked and acted gay on the big screen. Out actor Jane Lynch of The L Word and countless feature films, summed up the how integral queer cinema can be for gays and lesbians looking to simply belong. “For the longest time, I couldn't put a name on who I was. I didn't have an image of anybody else who was like me and it was torturous,” Lynch says.
Lesbian actor Nina Landey of the queer film Treading Water goes on to describe a sense of feeling at home seeing gay and lesbian characters for the first time. Both women seem to sum up the gravity and importance of queer cinema in their all too brief interviews.
All too brief because as in so many LGBT endeavors that highlight the contributions of both gays and lesbians, women seem to be overshadowed by men. Perhaps there are more men making queer films, or perhaps there is more of a market for male-dominated gay cinema, which would account for the disproportionate time spent on documenting the rise of queer cinema for a male audience. At any rate, many contemporary lesbian films such as But I'm a Cheerleader, High Art and Better Than Chocolate, don't even merit a nod in this documentary.
Ades and Klainberg introduce viewers to the beginning of queer cinema with a look at Kenneth Anger's 1947 film Fireworks. Noted LGBT film historian B. Ruby Rich postulates that at that time, gays and lesbians had little in the way of queer film to help them shape their identities, but what they did have–physique films for men and pulp novels for women- fed their sexual fantasies.
But queer cinema was a dangerous proposition up to the 1970s. Filmgoers would be arrested at movie theaters and few filmmakers felt safe making gay movies. Out of the way art house cinemas began showing avant garde queer films like Andy Warhol's 1963 silent film Blow Job, but lesbian audiences would have to wait another decade before having their own piece of cinematic cake.