Sunday, November 21, 2010

What is Butch?

Butch blogger Sinclair Sexsmith has invited me to be part of the Sugarbutch Chronicles Butch Symposium #1. Since Sinclair very flatteringly included me on last year’s list (#74) I feel not only indebted, but, as you can imagine, invested in maintaining my status and credibility. Read on below for my response to Sinclair’s Symposium #1 prompt:
“What is butch? How do you define butch? What do you love about it? What does it mean to you?”
I’ve been pondering this prompt for the past few weeks and trying to muster my creativity to say something original on the topic. As the proprietor of, obviously butch is a meaningful category for me.

Though there are also times in my life where I feel somewhat jaded and tired of having this discussion.

One of the things I often say (when I am interested in talking about butch identity) is that I think both butch and femme are concepts which people have very idiosyncratic understandings of — we are not always on the same page in our ideas of what it means to be butch. Whether talking about outward characteristics and mannerisms; more seemingly internal personality traits such as qualities of sensitivity, vulnerability; what we do in bed; etc. Much to talk about, no wonder I get weary of the conversation sometimes.

I do believe that the dialogues we feel so compelled to create around butch identity arise out of a deep desire to be understood (and to understand ourselves). We have a need for community, a need for heroes. And a need for the validation that can help us retain our sanity and self-esteem in a culture that rarely offers us affirming recognition and is far more likely to give us questioning looks, overt criticism, or a hard time about using a public bathroom.

Having grown up as a gender non-conforming child, and navigating life as a gender-trans adult, my butch identity has been a way of naming myself and proclaiming who I am — so that I might embrace these qualities and think of myself as a hero instead of an awkward, self-conscious mistake of nature.

I’m writing this on the weekend of Transgender Day of Remembrance and have been immersed in thoughts of Gwen Araujo — the transgender teen who was murdered here in the Bay Area in October 2002. I have come to know Gwen posthumously through the activism of her mother, Sylvia Guerrero.

The first time I saw Sylvia speak, at the first San Francisco Trans March in 2004, I remember experiencing an indescribable feeling of sadness and joy as Sylvia publicly expressed her love and compassion and support for her daughter. She proudly praised Gwen’s unique beauty. She righteously denounced not just Gwen’s murderers, but all of the people whose ignorance and fear prevented them from appreciating who Gwen was. Thinking back on this experience I remember wishing that Sylvia (who is in fact younger than I am) were my mother in that moment.

It would have been wonderful to have felt more understood by my parents when they were alive. To make up for that particular disappointment though, I am now having the spectacularly uplifting experience of feeling understood by my children.

In the intimacy of being a parent — being seen and loved by my kids who totally get me and embrace me for exactly who I am — I feel more deeply understood than I ever imagined possible. And I’m that much more hopeful for the future, as the kids of genderqueer people come of age and make the world a place of greater understanding for us all.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Chuck Gorder (May 1, 1919 — November 16, 2010)

I feel compelled to write about my stepfather, Chuck who passed away on Tuesday morning at the age of 91. He was an amazing man and had a tremendous influence on me. I am always grateful to him for instilling and encouraging my passion for classic Hollywood cinema. From a very early age I used to flip through his big stack of 8x10 movie stills from the films of 1935 (the year he worked as an usher at the University Theater — now known as the Varsity — in Dinkytown near the University of Minnesota East Bank campus). *Cited in 1999 City Pages article about me and my career as a film historian.

When I went to visit him a few weeks ago I recorded some of our conversations. He was speaking very slowly because of his recent stroke, but was really philosophical and so profound. I transcribed some of it last night as I was writing his obituary. It comes off very literary — almost like it was written, but this is literally what he said as he was reflecting on how hard it was to be approaching the end of his life in such a compromised state:
“I’ve lived a pretty full life. Had some good times, and some rotten ones… And so there’s nothing to be done. We continue to love each other and there’s no help for it. But there’s to be no weeping and wailing. It’s as though there’s nothing left to do… So I suppose it’s a funny kind of business where it just kind of persists. And neither life nor any resemblance to life is there. But you still can’t write it off, can you? You still can’t put a dot at the end of the sentence. I say, you still can’t put a dot at the end of the sentence.”
May his memory be for a blessing. Period.

NOTE: Here is the link to the obituary I wrote for Chuck, published in his hometown paper, the Albert Lea Tribune.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Get "Trailers, Schmailers" on DVD!

You're wondering what to get Bubbe and Zayde for Hanukkah?

Here's a nice little tchotchke they're sure to love!

I curated this program of classic Jewish movie trailers for the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in 1997 and am finally making it available on DVD just in time for Hanukkah (yes, just barely in time it's true).

Trailers, Schmailers is an 82-minute program of more than 30 Jewish coming attractions from 1937-1997 in color and glorious black and white (these are the original trailers, transferred from original 35mm prints). From the Marx Brothers to Fiddler On The Roof, this feature-length compilation of Jewish film trailers offers a compact glimpse at the history of Jews in American cinema. These original coming attractions trailers offer a unique insight into the relationship between Hollywood’s studio marketing departments and the growing visibility of Jews in American life. Trailers Schmailers includes playful spotlights on Woody Allen and Barbra Streisand, an overview of films about New York Jewish life, a look at the evolution of films about the holocaust, and much, much, more.

Esteemed Jewish film critic Michael Fox called Trailers, Schmailers: "Terrific" on its premiere at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. At the Jerusalem International Film Festival it was hailed as: “Wonderfully amusing. Everyone leaves the film with a smile.”

Click thru to the Trailers, Schmailers website to see the list of trailers included in the collection and more details. The DVD is available to individuals for just $24.95; there's also an institutional rate option (which includes public performance rights — for JCCs, libraries and community groups) for $72. It really does make a great program to generate discussion about Jewish representation in cinema — or just to create lively dialogue about memories of the Jewish films that have been most important to each of us over the years.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Blue Diary at PFA's Radical Light

My 1997 short film, Blue Diary is screening at the Pacific Film Archive on the 21st as part of the PFA's series, "Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area." I will be in attendance and am particularly excited to see all the other work in the program — come on out! Below is the PFA program note:
Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area

Sunday, November 21, 2010
5:15 p.m. 1990–1999

Artists in Person

By the 1990s, many Bay Area filmmakers were products of Bay Area film programs, with some, such as Sandra Davis, Jay Rosenblatt, and Greta Snider, going on to teach. Dominic Angerame continued to run Canyon Cinema, a distributor of experimental cinema; Scott Stark founded Flicker, which documents alternative cinema online; and Jenni Olson programmed for the local lesbian and gay film festival. These were artists who spent a lot of time viewing and thinking about cinema, which nurtured an interest in the particularities of the medium. For Greta Snider and the collaborative group silt, this included hand processing their film. Scott Stark and Jay Rosenblatt found new meaning in footage they found or collected while Kerry Laitala recontextualized antique medical slides. Cauleen Smith fabricated a personal history in her collage film, and Jenni Olson contrasted a recollection of a one-night stand with San Francisco’s urban landscape. In their films, Angerame, Davis, and Timoleon Wilkins each beautifully evoked a specific place.

Short of Breath (Jay Rosenblatt, 1990, 10 mins, Color). Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (by Kelly Gabron) (Cauleen Smith, 1991–, 5 mins, Color). Au Sud (To the South, Sandra Davis, 1991-99, 6.5 mins, From artist). Premonition (Dominic Angerame, 1995, 10 mins, B&W). Shadow of the Son (silt, 1995, 7 mins, Color, Super 8mm, From the artists). Flight (Greta Snider, 1996, 5 mins, Silent, B&W). Secure the Shadow (Kerry Laitala, 1997, 9 mins, Color, From the artist). Lake of the Spirits (Timoleon Wilkins, 1998, 7 mins, Color). Blue Diary (Jenni Olson, 1997, 6 mins, Color, PFA print). Noema (Scott Stark, 1998, 10 mins, Color).

• (Total running time: c. 80 mins, 16mm, From Canyon Cinema, unless indicated otherwise)
Click HERE for full details and tickets!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Kids Are All Right DVD Box Art = Less Lesbionic

Look! It's the classic de-gaying marketing campaign strategy in action on the DVD release of THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. (The DVD comes out November 16th and I'm not complaining, just saying). The recipe: Add the opposite sex character into the key-art to demonstrate greater appeal to straight audiences (the original movie poster was just the image you see at the bottom here — of all the characters seated around the table). 

At least this design choice has a fully legitimate rationale behind it — Mark Rufallo is terrific and is a full lead character in the film.

Unlike the ultimate example — Samuel Goldwyn Company's original theatrical poster for DESERTS HEARTS (featuring the addition of two straight minor characters to help the lesbians in the middle seem less lesbionic). An offense rectified by the Wolfe 20th Anniversary DVD re-release box art (below) which showcases the stars, Patricia Charbonneau and Helen Shaver, alone together as they ought to have been in the first place. 

And as I always say: Please go ahead and buy your DVDs from Wolfe Video: Your trusted community source for LGBT movies since 1985.