A man's world: Ari and Johnny play poker in the kaffenio's backroom.
Ari looks at his father through the beaded curtain.
Reverse shot of the kaffenio’s front room.
Ari locks eyes with the stock-boy.
Reverse shot of the stock-boy returning his gaze.
A medium close-up shot marks Ari's gaze as an invitation for sex.
The reverse shot marks the stock-boy’s gaze as accepting.
In the marketís back alley, Ari stares upward during orgasm.
The camera pulls up over the top of the wall, revealing a thin border between legitimate and illegitimate.
At 3 Faces, Ari stares up during a subjective shot of him falling to the back wall.
... as way to symbolize his brief removal from the series of gazes which constitute his existence. Here, for example, Ari has an orgasm during masturbation.
Ari stares upward when shooting up heroin.
Ari has an orgasm during an encounter with an older Greek man.
Ari has an orgasm as Sean performs oral sex.
In the film's only scene of cross-generational homosexuality, Ari has sex with an older man that plays out a number of power dynamics. Here, Ari catches the older man’s glance.
Ari forcefully rejects emotional contact.
At the bouzouki: Ari uses Ariabi to code his performance as heterosexual, while using the danceís heterosexual excess and eroticism to seduce Sean.
Ari stares at Sean, Ari's true object of desire.
Sean returns Ariís gaze.
At the bouzouki, Ari performs solo.
Toula touches Ariís face, marking their emotional association with physical contact. Ari stares back, clearly angry, but less at Toulaís transgression and more at the disruption to his closeted performance. She is visible, compromising Ariís invisibility.
This complex relation between hiding and showing, between cryptic and expressive communication, between the internal and the external, integrates surveillance as part of the spatial practice of gay identity, especially in the formation and maintenance of the closet. Gay subjectivity, and in particular, closeted subjectivity, are inherently surveillant subjectivities. In the 1950’s, homosexuality was equated with espionage. The homosexual looked and acted like the heterosexual, but had ulterior motives. In the 1970’s, gay liberation brought upon harsher state-surveillance whereby public spaces, especially public toilets, were put under increased surveillance in order to catch, and therefore, deter, homosexual activity.[13b][open endnotes in new window]
Surveillance for Foucault is integrated into various institutions, creating what he referred to as a disciplinarian society, a society where citizens began to monitor their own thoughts and actions. According to Foucault,
Panopticism is the term used by Foucault to refer to the diffused presence of indirect surveillance throughout society, taken from his study of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, a prison design which would have kept inmates “caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers”: that of self-surveillance.
In modern Western constructions of homosexual identities, the policing and institutionalization of sex and sexuality has leveraged self-surveillance as the structure defining “the closet.” Social surveillance has mobilized a “faceless gaze that transformed the whole social body into a field of perception,” where the policing of sexuality was felt and tacitly understood through the gaze of the average person, giving birth to an understanding of performance, situated across a gendered axis. The social surveillance gaze has altered behavior. As Judith Butler concludes:
For Butler, gender is a discursive practice lacking a “truth;” it is a series of regulated practices enforced by society based on a “tacit collective agreement.” In the case of gay identity, one’s interior desire would supposedly manifest itself through exterior gestures, requiring a balance between self-surveillance and performance. Prior to the closet being named as such by gay liberation activists in the 1970s, the closet was already in effect but simply unnamed. In combining queer sexuality with Butler’s notion of performance, Africa Taylor argues that
Self-monitoring and regulation of actions, thoughts, movements, gestures, speech and gazing became an understood yet unspoken practice, forming “the closet,” defining gay sexuality as a spatial practice. Different settings allowed for different methods of expression, whereby performance was contingent on one’s surroundings.
In Queer Space, Aaron Betsky formulates an understanding of gay identity as a spatial practice by poetically allegorizing “the closet” as a physical closet:
This interior space is where one kept the various “costumes” used to perform and masquerade, to evade the spotlight of social-sexual surveillance. In his survey study of gay men’s dress in the 20th century, Shaun Cole discusses how “effeminacy and effeminate styles of dressing have been associated with homosexuality for as long as homosexuality has had a name,” whereby “effeminacy attracted ‘men’ by utilizing an established ‘cultural script.’” However, “for most homosexuals the 1930s through to the 1950s were characterized by the very real fear of exposure, blackmail and imprisonment.” A 1948 English publication offered some “don’ts” to gay men:
By following the fashion conventions of the time and wearing sub-culturally understood attire which blended with mainstream fashion, gay men were able to conform and perform. Social surveillance could only detect exterior expressions, such as wearing a red necktie, which during the early part of the twentieth century was a known signifier of homosexuality. By playing the game according to this rule, gay men
As gay culture developed, gay fashion changed as well, forging a larger and louder dichotomy between “gay” and “not gay.” And as gay culture continues to become part of the “mainstream,” gay identity overshadows gay sexuality. In recent contemporary accounts, gay identity and subjectivity are placed under “gaydar,” a socially constructed system of visual judgment, meant to determine one’s inner sexual desire, based on culturally determined indicators: “stylishness,” a desire to shop, excessive grooming practices, are all socially construed signs of “being gay.” The term “gaydar” itself highlights the surveillant nature of gay sexuality. In merging together “gay” and “radar,” society and gay men turn their gaze into “radar,” while closeted men, in the hopes of staying “under the radar,” place themselves under more scrupulous self-surveillance.
Constant self-surveillance is required in the disciplinarian society. Letting your guard down in the wrong place at the wrong time could expose you, a common theme in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (1995). The closet, then, is a “hiding” space, a hidden, invisible, mobile space, which gay liberation activists equated with a prison. Gay liberation would compel queer individuals to free themselves from this dark confine through confessing their interior desire and essentially appropriate a new (politicized) identity. To remove oneself from the closet was to free oneself from surveillance, to lay to rest relentless self-monitoring and the monitoring of one’s surroundings; it was meant to end performance. The concept of the closet was criticized for upholding a heterosexist view of sexuality, privileging heterosexuality as natural, unspoken and unmarked, and “gay” as marked, as other or “alternative,” upholding a dichotomy of unified identities. The privilege associated with heterosexuality continues in contemporary “out” culture with value attributed to those who are “straight acting;” “straight acting” meaning “masculine.” Despite openly exposing and acknowledging heterosexuality and masculinity as performances, social and sexual value and privilege are attributed to those who continue to uphold their disavowed invisibility.
In Head On, Kokkinos dares to re-articulate this hierarchical dichotomy, using Ari and Toula as assemblages, rather than whole identities, and encapsulating Butler’s sense of discursiveness by mobilizing space as the central node that creates gravitational pulls.
In a scene where Ari has his aunt read his “future,” Kokkinos combines surveillance, ethnicity and sexuality to a critique of patriarchal privilege. Such a critique permeates her adaptation. When Ari pays a visit to his cousin Joe to drop off some drugs, his aunt performs a traditional “Greek coffee reading.” Upon drinking the coffee, the cup is turned upside-down allowing the dregs to ooze down the cup’s walls. Deciphering the images created is a form of clairvoyance in which the formation of patterns in the coffee mug are said to reveal one’s future. His aunt, “discovering” certain information that should be kept secret, instructs her children to leave the room. She then tells Ari:
It is not his sexuality or even the sexual practices which bothers her, but rather the breaking of tradition and continuity. The aunt recognizes and does not question Ari’s sexual desire, but simply tells him to remain silent and take advantage of the privilege patriarchy affords him. She instructs Ari to continue to perform the closet, which Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick understands as
The aunt’s instructions imply a quiet understanding of sexual relations amongst men as already being inscribed within gender and spatial discourses. Certain aspects of Greek culture grant Ari the ability to segregate a man’s duty in the familial home and his taking pleasure outside the home. A long-standing feminist critique of the family has dealt with the patriarchal privilege that endows men with an unchallenged right to come and go as they please without having to explain their whereabouts. Ari, still a youth and still under patriarchal power, is still watched, monitored and forced to explain, yet he can be freed from this familial surveillance by following traditional order and beginning his own family.
While white queer culture has emphasized coming out as a way to free one’s self from surveillance, ironically here the “ethnic” queer can be freed from surveillance by continuing to remain in the closet. If a homosexual man obtains a docile wife and produces offspring, both the social and personal disciplinarian gazes will be subdued and the new family leveraged as a form of proof. This form of social shielding has, of course, been mocked within queer culture. For example, a brief glimpse of gay pornography’s obsession with institutionalized heterosexuality’s lies reveals how costumes and props such as fraternity letters, army fatigues, or a wedding ring are queered as masquerade by way of their excessive social presence and currency.
Kokkinos’ understanding of patriarchal privilege is informed by performance, spatial segregation and unspoken queer desire comes through clearly in an important yet seemingly trivial sequence in a Greek kaffenio. The Greek kaffenio is a regular location for Greek men’s homosocial relations; it is a semi-private space, usually requiring some sort of membership (monetary, invitation) and presents an interesting intersection between the public and private, between duty and pleasure. Here, men can throw off the shackles of their “oppression” and bond amongst themselves over coffee and backgammon, producing a culture where pleasure and desire are related to both proximity and interaction with the same sex. Men preferring the company of men over women validates Tom Waugh’s belief that to
This enclosed homosocial Greek space also aligns it with Australian “mateship” and its relation to national masculine identity. A spatial division between the illicit “back” and legitimate “front” upholds the privilege of performed surface and subservience of interior desire. Phallic power is frontally located, but in the hidden back, in the “annals” of the space is where the fun really happens. Kokkinos does not present the kaffenio as a dichotomized space; the front and back are connected through an open hallway, separated by a “curtain” of beads, rather than a closed door, highlighting the kaffenio’s permeability. The space’s complex relation to performance and its queer subtext is only further articulated by Ari’s and Johnny’s presence within the space.
If gay sexuality is constantly under surveillance and co-exists with and within surveillant discourses, this relation produces a language moving across a similar visual axis, producing an important linkage between queer and ethnic diasporic discourses. Surveillance in this instance produces a form of voyeurism, a system of watching others in both a disciplinary and pleasurable way. The gaze that searches and monitors is met with its mirror reflection, yet the gaze that searches for similarity and pleasure is simultaneously communicated within the disciplinary/monitoring gaze. Performance can communicate one thing while the eyes—although watching one’s self and scouting for other disciplinarian glances—search for another pair of eyes that stare for just a fraction too long. This play of glances is, of course, dependent on one’s spatial surroundings. Looking within a gay-defined space signals specific interest amongst a sea of openly sexualized glances, while within a “non-gay” defined space, the gaze seeks “gay” as interest within a sea of uninterested or potentially threatening gazes. As Thomas Waugh notes,
Patterns of gazing are exceptionally important in gay culture and its importance is formally emphasized in gay cinema. Looking is the way Ari communicates throughout the film, and that language spoken by his eyes is spatially specific. After picking up and shooting up, Ari passes through the back-alley of a market place, locking eyes with an Asian stock-boy. A series of increasingly tighter framed shot-reverse shots emphasize the stares as a coded language of queer desire. The two men move to a more secluded part of the alley where Ari pushes the man to his knees. An above-head shot shows Ari staring up into the sky as he orgasms, with the camera pulling back revealing the top part of the wall, which thinly separates the queer sex act from the multicultural market space. Throughout the film, Ari, when reaching a level of intense pleasure from drugs or orgasm, looks upwards towards the sky/ceiling as way to symbolize a brief removal from the series of gazes which constitute his existence. By looking upwards, he is not looking forward or back over his shoulder.
One of the most important displays of queer gazing occurs at the Greek bouzouki, where an older Greek man and Ari lock onto each other’s glances, eventually leading to a sexual encounter in the club’s back-alley. Within this Greek establishment, their glances communicate desire within a potentially hostile space; after fighting with his cousin Joe in the bathroom, Ari heads to the back alley and finds the same older man peeing against a wall. The alley’s darkness and the older man’s action (urinating) are comparable to Ari’s first sexual encounter after leaving the wedding. Both are separate yet proximate extensions of the “Greek” space, and both spaces are enshrouded in darkness and silence. In this instance, however, the sex is neither random, nor does it transpire in a known cruising ground. It is a scheduled meeting in a tacitly recognized space. The glance in the bouzouki not only said, “I’m gay" and “I’m interested,” but also, “Meet me in the back-alley.” The benefit of having the exterior urban space as a queer meeting ground is that it is always conveniently located in relation to where one is or has to go. On the surface, urban space is “heterosexual”; underneath, it is queer.
Similar to the film’s first encounter, no names are exchanged and no personal details given. The old, hyper-masculine Greek man, “who is signaled as a first-generation migrant by his densely bearded face,” is doubly read as a gay “daddy,” merging two separate cultural appearances. His “daddyness” adds to his ethnic appeal and vice versa, giving him a versatile presence. Ari is forced onto his knees, mirroring, yet transposing the roles between him and the stock-boy. Now it is the older first-generation male controlling and overpowering the youthful twink. This coupling manages to subvert typical Anglo queer culture, whereby the older “daddy” services the younger boy, while the setup also plays with tropes of ancient Greek ephebian coupling, minus the mentoring and education attached to such a relationship. However, this particular scene stands as a right of passage, since it is the film’s only moment of cross-generational homosexuality. In that way, the scene also replicates the film’s lack of interracial interaction, in that never does someone from the older Greek generation speak to someone who is non-Greek.
The scene also has a certain intergenerational hostility that seems particularly apt in relation to other plot developments. In particular, here the older man forcefully comes in Ari’s mouth, telling him not to “spill any of it.” Symbolically, this sexual encounter comes off as a form of quasi-impregnation, in that the old generation is passing on his seed to the younger generation. Furious over being emasculated and used for the other’s pleasure, Ari forces the older man to jerk him off, re-asserting his power over his sexual conquests.
Ari returns to the bouziki and puts on a public performance, which serves as both seduction and performative validation. The sexually charged nature of the dance is emphasized on the film’s DVD cover, warning individuals that the narrative contains “Explicit Greek Dancing.” Here, Ari’s dance is neither private nor within a Greek-only context, but a performance for many different types of gazes; the bouzouki is a public space, marked as Greek, yet open to the general public. The dance acts as a form of self-validation; he proves to himself that he can deceive, while seducing Sean, who’s in the audience. Throughout the film, Ari appropriates Greek dancing as a way to queer and re-signify the dance as a form of heterosexual, rather than “ethnic” performance. He uses dance as a way to simultaneously satisfy his ethnic/familial duty and as a way to perform “heterosexuality.” Greek dancing is a performance of masculinity, a way to show off one’s skills and masculine sexuality. In this sequence Ari uses yet subverts this “show” by coyly seducing Sean who watches at the periphery. Ari uses his brother’s friend, Ariabi, as an object for his performance and then ditches her to perform solo during a male-only dance, where a group of men kneel and clap as Ari flaunts his skills. Both Sean and Ariabi watch from the outskirts of the dance floor, and when Ari sticks his hand out for support, both grasp and pull him up from the floor. He has seduced them both.
In the film, Greek dancing sometimes indicates cultural compliance, a performance that Ari may do as a form of submission. Prior to a family dinner, Ari enters the living room and sees his sister and mother dancing to English music. He joins them. Then his father comes in and changes it to Greek music. The patriarch has entered the room; the music change re-articulates the space as “Greek” and therefore under his authority. Ari complains but then complies and dances to the Greek music. He is uncomfortable with Greek culture, but forces a performance to appease his father. Ari’s mother seems to be a more integrated individual, speaking English to her children, while Ari’s father speaks only Greek to both her and his children. Ari forces himself to dance and is rewarded with physical intimacy and a sense of accomplishment; he has momentarily managed to make his father happy. Greekness here is linked with conformity. One’s desire does not matter; it is what one does that counts. When the family goes to sit down and eat, the father literally “breaks bread” with his son, a gesture of peace or a truce between the two, encapsulating the younger generation’s negotiating tradition and sharing in the kind of privilege that comes with following order.
Dancing can also be used as a performance of resistance, as when Toula disrupts the bouzouki’s heterosexual order. She defiantly transgresses the physical and metaphysical border, trespassing into a tacitly accepted “heterosexual” space. After being picked up off the dance floor, Johnny enters the bouzouki as Toula, vividly disrupting the space’s “queer silence.” Upon her entrance, the music and crowd go silent, echoing the silence of the queer spaces. Toula tells the band to continue playing their Greek music and moves towards the center of the dance floor, overtaking Ari and the opening sequence’s heterosexual married couple’s position as the center of attention and performs a Greek dance. In this instance, she performs insubordination, rather than conformity, openly challenging, rather than adhering to, the “deceptive performance of belonging.” She turns towards the audience and stands inside the empty dance space but at the margins, returning the spectators’ gazes. Her defiant “outness” and exhibitionism are how she uses performance as a form of pleasure, in contrast to Ari’s closeted attitude, creating a tension between the pleasures, privileges and dangers of out culture versus the closet.
Toula is not a privileged character. Rather, her purposeful agitation against proper order stands as a constant reminder to Ari of the consequences of losing what little privilege he has. Within the Greek immigrant community, following heterosexual order confers privilege, something Kokkinos makes explicit when, at Ari’s aunt’s house, Joe tells Ari’s father about his engagement and is subsequently rewarded with money, something Kokkinos emphasized earlier in the opening wedding scene. In a later scene at the bouziki, Ari asks Joe (his cousin), “Since when did you want to marry Dina?” That question indicates Joe’s assimilation into bourgeois, heterosexual order and Ari clearly indicates he thinks Joe has picked duty and privilege over desire. That question also subtly questions Joe’s sexuality. As Johnny (rather than Toula), he is able to be part of the homosocial gathering at the kaffenio, but as Toula, she is rejected everywhere, relegated to the confines of her bedroom. When she attempts to leave the clearly demarcated space of her bedroom as Toula, her father berates her with insults. She appears at the club so as to punish Ari for deserting her that evening, and shows her anger by attending a restricted location that unofficially bars her.