On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Headline Rewind points out other worthwhile films that respond to headlines from the week that was.
News Event: Supreme Court Rulings on DOMA and Prop. 8
I couched last week’s news about Exodus International in the context of Pride Month, and now (at least in Minneapolis), it’s Pride Week. And to last Friday’s laundry list of LGBT victories from the past year, we can add what has arguably been the headline of the week (so well worth the associative filmic rewind!).
Wednesday at last brought two much-anticipated Supreme Court decisions on the cases United States v. Windsor and Perry v. Holingsworth—or rather, a decision and dismissal. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was first signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, and in a 5-4 ruling on the first of those two cases, the Supreme Court has declared DOMA unconstitutional on the grounds that it denies same-sex couples the 5th Amendment rights to equal liberty.
On the heels of this historic decision, which now extends the same federal benefits and legal recognition to same-sex marriages legal at the state level, came the Court’s ruling on California’s Prop. 8 (Perry v. Hollingsworth), which has been met with a mixture of satisfaction and disappointment among proponents of gay marriage. While the ruling that the pro-Prop. 8 petitioners lack standing to bring the case to court constitutes a technical victory for LGBT rights activists, NPR’s Carrie Johnson explains “the court avoids the underlying issues…that means same-sex marriages in California may resume, but the ruling does not have a broader implication across the country.”
To get more coverage and commentary on this week’s developments regarding these major rulings, follow up at the federal level on SCOTUSblog and the New York Times, and at NPR member station KQED for a focus on the Prop. 8 ruling and its implications in California.
Film Recommendation: Weekend by Andrew Haigh
This kind of “partial victory,” as some have dubbed the ruling on Prop. 8, has a certain echo in what I’ve experienced to be the occasional plight of queer cinema. To my own chagrin, I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen something and said “It’s good, for a lesbian film…”—which often means on some level that it’s good because it’s a lesbian (or “gay” or “queer” or choose your label…) film: don’t get me wrong—every time a queer film gets made, it’s a partial victory. But there are a lot of Perry v. Holingsworth queer films out there, leaving me sitting here yearning for more films in success bracket of United States v. Windsor.
So beyond mere connections in content this week, I want to make a gesture at this connection on the level of super-structure, between film industry/genre and political movements, and the challenges they face. At the risk of oversimplifying the parallels in a deeply complicated set of issues, I think this is a particularly appropriate example of how one feels the ripples of the political in the aesthetic, and the aesthetic in the political.
Both LGBT rights activists and a new generation of auteurs of New Queer Cinema are navigating a sometimes-delicate, sometimes-furiously charged balancing act. This interplay finds itself both in grassroots movements seeking to create change on an abstract level and change on a practical level, in films that want to act on a political spectrum while still acting on an aesthetic spectrum, or perhaps acting on those spectrums one through the other. And the kind of national (and international) shifts that create or reflect an environment in which there can be the kind of rulings handed down on Wednesday—these are the kinds of shifts that, arguably, make possible the kind of filmmaking that Andrew Haigh’s minimalist masterpiece Weekend achieves—or perhaps, are made possible by it.
So here is Weekend, a film that does not sacrifice the political to the aesthetic, through sheer force of its ability to operate so beautifully within its commitment to the belief that the personal is political. It premiered at SXSW and swept festival circuits in 2011 (and shook my personal world), garnering well-deserved critical acclaim and enshrinement in the Criterion Collection. While this week’s film is not about marriage per sé, it is a film about relationship, and as Rilke writes in his Letters to a Young Poet, about solitude filled with the possibility of relationship—all shot with an incredibly intimate camera in shifting palettes both stark and lush.
I think Weekend may be for New Queer Cinema what the defeat of DOMA is for LGBT rights—groundbreaking. Why? Because it escapes this rhetoric of “it’s good, for a gay film…”. It’s just undeniably good. Tom Cullen and Chris New star as Russell and Glen, two young gay men in the U.K. who meet and connect in what the Walker Still Dots series pointed out as a modern updating of Brief Encounter; A.O. Scott aptly praised the film as a “perfectly realized, bracing, present tense exploration of sex, intimacy, and love.”
All that being said, Wisconsin Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin issued a statement after this week’s rulings, celebrating the advance of LGBT rights but reminding us that “there is more work to be done.” To my mind, this is not so much a caution as a cause for excitement—this is work that is ready to be done—and Andrew Haigh’s brand of filmmaking is in this same universe of possibility, by being more than partial victory. Weekend heralds a shifting and increasingly nuanced queer aesthetic agenda that will continue to work with and beside this larger queer political agenda.
With so much to celebrate, you may find yourself in need of a breather amidst all the festivities, rainbows, camp, and choruses of “YMCA” this Pride Weekend. Consider giving yourself 97 minutes of beautiful, delicate, heartbreaking (queer) realism.