JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

copyright 2010, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 52, summer 2010

Surveillance, space and performance:
informing interstitial subjectivities in Head On

by Evangelos Tziallas

The Persephone myth is one of the most famous and enduring stories from ancient Greek mythology. Persephone, a half goddess, was stolen by Hades, God of the underworld, and then spent six months above ground and six months beneath. The myth allegorically explained the changing of the seasons, but over the years it has also been used to symbolize duality. In this context, near the end of Head On, a two-spirited[1][open endnotes in new window] character named Toula (also known as Johnny when not being Toula) refers to Ari, the film’s protagonist, as Persephone, both symbolizing Ari’s constantly negotiated identity and solidifying his inescapable relationship to space. Toula uses the myth to bind Ari to his Greek heritage and criticize what she sees as cowardice fluidity. Toula dares to and takes pleasure in transgressing her ethnic, gendered and sexual identities and their “respective” spaces. Ari, conversely, echoes the Persephone myth by endlessly traversing through space, mirroring and losing himself in his surroundings, embodying Pratibha Parmar’s summary of the life of queer first and second generation immigrants:

“Because of our lived experience of racism and homophobia, we locate ourselves not within any one community but the spaces between these communities.”[2]

Head On is both a “day in the life of” and “coming of age” film. It tells the story of Ari, a second generation Greek-Australian unemployed, ego-centric, narcissistic, transient gay 19 year old. The film, based on Christos Tsiolkas’ 1995 book Loaded, was adapted to screen by Ana Kokkinos and gives audiences a brief look into its protagonist’s daily life. What stands out about the film is Kokkinos’ visual translation of the defining role that space played in the narrative of Tsiolkas’ novel. The novel has four main sections—North, East, South, and West, with Tsiolkas giving an account of what these regions in Melbourne represent for Ari.[3] Ari travels through an almost baffling number of locations within an approximate 24 hour period (although it is more like 30 hours); the film begins with Ari dancing at a wedding and ending with him dancing on a deserted dock at dawn the next day. In between these dances, Ari travels through backalleys, markets, industrial zones, clubs, bars, coffee shops, and various homes of friends and family. Since Ari must constantly negotiate his presence through performance, the film uses space to emphasize the constructed and relational nature of gay sexuality, Greek ethnicity, and Australian nationality. Ari’s chameleon-like behavior does not segregate desire from duty or ethnicity from sexuality but marks their oscillating and complimentary presence. Parts of himself are dispersed throughout the spaces he moves through, so that we see overlapping relations between the private sphere, the public arena, and various liminal “semi-publics”—in all of which Ari acts as performative interlocutor.

The film was released in 1998 and screened at Cannes, L.A Outfest, San Francisco International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and nominated for numerous Australian Film Institute Awards. The film was also a domestic box-office hit,[4] in part by capitalizing on

“Dimitrides’ existing star-status from his film and television work…[and his ability to bring in a] loyal male, female, Anglo and non-Anglo audience to the cinemas to see a film about a gay ‘wog’ boy.”[5]

Staring Australian heartthrob Alex Dimitriades, the film used the actor’s previous popularity and scene of brief full frontal nudity to diversify its appeal, removing it from the realm of “indie-ethnic,” or “gay” film and positioning it as viably mainstream. Its unapologetic and graphic representations, along with its edgy, gritty aesthetics also place the film within the tradition of New Queer Cinema,[6] a trend the film tries almost too hard to mold itself after. Aesthetically Head On is not a nuanced film, but a loud one; Kokkinos does not attempt to hide, subdue or minimize the intricacies of balancing multiple and intertwined identities. Kokkinos was criticized for jamming “too much” into the film, yet this is precisely the point of the film. It portrays and communicates the intense, compacted “too muchness” of trying schizophrenically to be two or three different people at the same time, of trying simultaneously to segregate and integrate various identities, cultures, and people—keeping those conditions fulfilled and those people content—while concurrently attempting to please yourself and chart your own course. The fast paced editing, Ari’s inability to stay in one place, a mix of pyrotechnic and “natural” lighting, multiple supporting characters, sex, drugs, and throbbing techno music juxtaposed against patterned traditional Greek music/dancing—all these get thrown together. The narrative and cinematic elements combine to offer a glimpse into an overcrowded, suffocating world, a world which Ari ultimately cannot escape, leaving him in a state of unstable, transient jouissaunce.

A surprising amount has been written on the film by various critics and academics referring to its interplay between ethnicity, sexuality and nationality, discourses that I also will discuss, but most salient to me is Head On’s emphasis on space and performance. The film is exemplary in the way it highlights the role surveillance plays in forming queer subjectivities. Michel Foucault has demonstrated the many ways that surveillance has shaped Western society; although not explicitly addressed in his The History of Sexaulity Vol. 1, surveillance has played a particularly important role in shaping Western sexuality and homosexuality via (most importantly medical/psychiatric) discourse. Head On’s director’s emphasis on space, performance. and tension between visibility and invisibility situates her film as a critique of mid and late 1990s queer discourse, in which “visibility” replaced action, egalitarian/assimilative politics (gay marriage, etc.) replaced social activism, and queer lifestyles were co-opted by corporate luring of the “pink dollar.” Ari stands as a figure who is offered increased visibility, yet he feels oppressed by this visibility and is uncomfortable with the type of visibility is being offered: a “wog,” embedded in middle class family life. The film stands as a portrait of queer culture under intense negotiation. Ari’s frenzied fluidity, in conjunction with the film’s “grunge” aesthetics, situates him within traumatic spaces undergoing revision: post-AIDS/New Queer Cinema, yet pre-post-9/11 “sexceptionalism.”[7] The film questions what kind of spaces will be left for someone who is “queer.”

An emphasis on migration and diaspora foregrounds movement and space as the script’s narrative paradigm. The film opens with a slow montage of black and white pictures of immigrants (presumably Greek immigrants) landing in (presumably) Australia. Images of mothers, fathers and their children standing in front of a large ship poignantly communicate a feeling of displacement. From the opening montage, Kokkinos foregrounds the importance of family, and its relation to identity as a result of the immigrants’ displacement. The use of black and white photos signifies history and memory, and when combined with the non-diegetic music and dissolves, creates a sense of nostalgia. Kokkinos’ concern is less about how Greekness is part of or integrated into gay identity than how queer migrant youths fit themselves into the paradox of “tradition;” an issue intensified by a sense of displacement. The opening sequence has been constructed to appear as though one were flipping through a family album. However, if we understand the film as a glimpse into Ari’s life, a life bent on continually searching for “himself,” what does the opening montage tell us about Ari? How do these pictures fit into this search? If these pictures are supposed to be where Ari searches for himself, for his identity via a shared or familial past, what does his invisibility in these captured memories tell us about his search?

Kokkinos transitions from the photo montage to a present day wedding, linking the past with the present, the family with tradition, and Greekness with the continuity of the Greek family. It is no surprise then that we are introduced to Ari performing the first of his many dances, stressing dancing as a performative act, relative to its spatial location. Ari is full of energy, dancing with passion and exuberance, spiraling his way into the middle. Once at the center, he has achieved a necessary visible presence. He then makes his way outside the concentric circle to the margins. Ari stands outside of the circle, enviously staring in, watching the bride and groom now make their way into the privileged center with all eyes watching. Money gets pinned to their clothes: a Greek tradition meant to bring good fortune to the new couple. Ari dances to fit in, but trying and pretending only get you so far. He is now literally and figuratively on the margins with the heterosexual couple symbolizing the pinnacle of where his spiraling movements were supposed to lead him eventually: heterosexual marriage. Kokkinos blends frenzied dancing, a fetishistic close-up of a garter being removed, use of money as a costume, and loud music to turn the celebration of marriage into a public spectacle, the excesses of which are meant to disavow unspoken anxieties.

Frustrated by his inability to fall into the symbolic order and recognizing his marginality, Ari removes pieces of his “costume” and makes his way into queer territory. He loosens his tie, removing what seems like a noose around his neck, along with his lapel flower, tossing it on the floor. A close-up shot of it hitting the floor visually codes it as a missed bridal bouquet. Ari will not be the next one to get married; he will not carry on tradition. The bright lights, saturated colors, and loud noises disappear when Ari leaves and takes a right-hand turn down a dark back-alley. Ari is enveloped by shadow and silence. While the grandness of the banquet hall was subverted with medium close-ups and close-ups of Ari, emphasizing his feelings of claustrophobia, the dark alley’s narrowness is positioned as a potentially open, explorative, yet isolated queer space by a static long-shot and long-take of Ari walking through this space. Ari enters a public bathroom near the end of this alley, a bathroom the film suggests he has visited many times before; it is a known cruising ground. Upon entering he finds a bulky man using the facilities and moves next to him, cupping his behind. The film then cuts away to Ari the next morning in bed masturbating, using last night’s sexual encounter as a masturbatory fantasy, presumably continuing on in his mind the events that the film transitioned out from. For Ari, the danger and thrill of anonymous sex is what turns him on, and not necessarily the body he is interacting with. Queer public space, although allowing for exploration, ultimately dictates performance as well. The banquet hall mandated dancing; the bathroom, sex. The spectacle of the Greek wedding space visually and aurally overcompensates for the invisibility and silence of the queer space and actions.

Kokkinos begins the film with creating a connected, yet somewhat binary spatial and performative relation. At the same time, she demonstrates how the binary is both permeable and interrelated. Throughout the film, this permeability will play a key role in constructing identity as interplay under a form of social surveillance. Papanikolaou takes up this point in discussing the film:

“As Ari fluidly moves between queer spaces and Greek places, the boundaries between the two become more and more porous. This strategy ends up showing how the Greek places contain within them a queer element, which may be disavowed, ostracized or simply hidden, yet it is strategically positioned and plays a role in their semiotic construction.”[8]

Despite the ethnic diaspora’s sense of detachment, the privilege of heterosexual uniformity and an open cultural continuum allow these dispersed individuals to openly unite as respectable members of capitalist order. Queer identity and sexuality, however, remain on the margins, segregated in the dark annals of the urban public space. Although diaspora is a term usually referring to a particular ethnicity or nationality (with the first major study on diaspora being done on the Greeks), Daniel Harris has argued that gays and lesbians:

“are, by definition, an utterly nondescript diaspora, dispersed through every class and region of the country, a hidden fraternity united solely by something as subjective as our erotic fantasies. Because we are the only invisible minority, we must invent from scratch those missing physical features that enable us to spot our imperceptible compatriots.”[9]

In this encounter in a men’s room, it is not so much gesture or performance that signals the other man in the bathroom as queer (although his jeans and leather jacket do suggest he is a “bear”). Rather, his location and glances within this culturally understood queer space make his desire quite clear. Lacking a written, oral or visual institutionalized history, an ingrained social upbringing, or physical marks, queer identity has been understood as a spatially defined, performative practice, supported primarily by the act of looking.

Later in domestic space, and after we see a sensual, yet gratuitous, full-frontal nude shot, we see Ari wrap a towel around his waist and head into his brother’s kitchen. Here we are introduced to Ari’s brother, his girlfriend, and their roommate Sean. The kitchen represents for Ari a perfect accommodating space—with a gay, a Greek, and an Anglo. Here Ari is temporarily at ease, although he never lets his guard completely down as suggested by his discomfort when his brother affectionately wraps his arms around him. Such discomfort with affection indicates an anxiety about crossing the line from fraternal/heterosexual “fun” to “gay,” a moment which Kokkinos uses to underscore a disavowed desire to touch as an intimate, if not necessarily sexual, aspect of fraternal relations, so important in Mediterranean cultures. The apartment’s space is marked as a typical left-wing student dwelling; it is messy, cluttered, “organic,” has minimal furniture and is filled with activist posters promoting racial and sexual equality. The mise-en-scene constructs both space and Ari’s brother as Ari’s antithesis. His brother, although dating an Anglo woman, Janet, will carry on Greek tradition and the politically activist spirit of his elders. Upon preparing to leave, Ari is stopped by Sean who offers him a joint. In Sean’s bedroom, the men sit in close proximity, gazing back and forth at each other, sharing a phallically suggestive marijuana cigarette. Thus begins the gay “dance”—coded and suggestive linguistic and bodily movements which quietly tap into an unspoken energy, something Kokkinos stressed when Ari first exited the bedroom with a towel wrapped around him and was introduced to Sean. Their eye contact acted as a silent language, an understanding further supported by Janet’s glance.

It is no surprise that only after Ari is introduced to Sean does Kokkinos introduce one of the film’s central motifs: surveillance. After introducing Ari to Sean, his brother answers the phone. Their mother is on the other end inquiring about Ari’s whereabouts, forcing Ari’s brother to lie on his behalf. Thus begins a prominent theme in the film: familial surveillance. While mocking Ari, Sean also points to the increased level of familial surveillance that children from migrant families chafe under, especially queer children. Kokkinos establishes the family as a conservative panoptic entity, or at least as the parents attempt to maintain it. After leaving Sean, Ari returns home only to be interrogated by his father and mother as to his whereabouts. His mother is concerned that they will become the “laughing stock of the neighborhood,” inserting Ari’s behavior into a wider system of synoptic gazing. When Ari informs his mother that Peter (Panayoti, Ari’s brother) “rang first thing” in the morning, his mother replies, “That was hours ago, Ari. My God.” His mother wants to know what he’s doing at all times. Ari and Sean continue their conversation at a local bar and over lunch. Sean tries to understand Ari’s elusive behavior and is confused as to why Greek children need to live a double a life, mocking the lie Greek children tell their parents. Ari tells Sean that the younger generation must lie to gain a sense of power. This is where Head On and Kokkinos make an important interjection into queer identity politics. In emphasizing space and performance, the film makes explicit the role surveillance plays in constructing queer sexuality, and most importantly, an ethnic-queer identity.

Queer critics have used Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality Volume 1 to discuss the social-construction of Western queer identities, yet the important role surveillance has and continues to play in forming Western queer sexuality have been seemly downplayed. For Foucault, the “homosexual” as a category was discovered through psychiatric discourse. What was once a sexual act between men now became

“a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.”[10]

Foucault countered the “repressive hypothesis” by suggesting that Western culture was obsessed with the religious act of “confession,” an act that eventually transformed this private act of revealing one’s interiority into discourse. Thus, through medical-psychiatric surveillance, concepts of normalcy and deviancy were produced, with the homosexual as deviant and the heterosexual as normal. In transforming the act of sodomy into a signifier of deviant identity, the homosexual was constructed across a gendered axis and understood through both sexual and gendered deviant behavior.[11] However, this new form of sexual regulation

“demanded constant, attentive, and curious presences for its exercise; it presupposed proximities; it proceeded through examination and insistent observation.”[12]

Sexuality requires surveillance. Examination requires a balance between monitoring and discourse, between looking and talking.

Surveillance is thus inherent in sexual discursive practices and continues to play an important role in shaping gay identity. Discipline & Punish was published prior to The History of Sexuality Volume 1 and throughout the latter, we can see how Foucault’s understanding of surveillance shaped his understanding of Western sexuality. In discussing the supportive relationships between the surveyor (medical examiner, psychiatrist, pedagogical reporter, parent) and surveyed (patient, child, etc.) Foucault writes about

“the pleasure that comes of exercising a power that questions, monitors, watches, spies, searches out, palpates, brings to light; and on the other hand, the pleasure that kindles at having to evade this power, flee from it, fool it, or travesty it.”[13]

Here, one could even argue that Foucault’s experience as a gay man influenced his account of modern Western sexuality. Foucault has set up a conditional relationship, one based on a balance between hiding and performing, between searching and dodging. If the homosexual was discovered through discourse and understood as a discernable “type,” then evasion, cryptology and “play” became integral characteristics of homosexuality. If the homosexual was effeminate, he must hide his potential inclinations to feminine behavior; if his/her eyes were attracted to the same sex, extra emphasis was placed on regulating this urge, lest it “give away” one’s internal desire and expose one’s self as “a homosexual.”

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]

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,

“one can speak of the formation of a disciplinary society…that stretches from the enclosed disciplines, a sort of social ‘quarantine,’ to an indefinitely generalized mechanism of ‘panoticism.’”[14]

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.[15]

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,”[16] 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:

“Gender is an identity tenuously constituted in time, instituted in an exterior space through a stylized repetition of acts. The effect of gender is produced through the stylization of the body and, hence, must be understood as the mundane way in which bodily gestures, movements and styles of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self.”[17]

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.”[18] 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

“closets become our performance spaces. As sites of passing for straight, they allow us to be simultaneously (queer) inside and (straight) outside, a highly transgressive double position.”[19]

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:

“What is the closet? It is the ultimate interior, the place where interiority starts. It is a dark space at the heart of the home. It is not a place where you live, but where you store the clothes in which you appear. It contains the building blocks for your social constructions, such as your clothes.”[20]

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.’”[21] However, “for most homosexuals the 1930s through to the 1950s were characterized by the very real fear of exposure, blackmail and imprisonment.”[22] A 1948 English publication offered some “don’ts” to gay men:

“Don’t commit to writing any admission as to your inclinations…don’t be too meticulous in the matter of your own clothes…don’t allow your voice or intonation to display feminine inflection – cultivate a masculine tone and method of expression….”[23]

By following the fashion conventions of the time[24] and wearing sub-culturally understood attire which blended with mainstream fashion,[25] 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.[26] By playing the game according to this rule, gay men

“devised a variety of tactics that allowed them to move about freely, to appropriate for themselves spaces that were not marked as gay, and to construct gay space in the midst of, yet invisible to, the dominant culture.”[27]

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 critique 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:

“Find a girl. Get married. Then it doesn’t matter what you do.”

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

“a performance initiated as such by the speech act of a silence—not a particular silence, but a silence that accrues particularity by fits and starts, in relation to the discourse that surrounds and differentially constitutes it.”[28]

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

“many ‘objective’ observers who lean toward the homo end of the homosocial spectrum, the collective rituals of male homosociality are blatantly and inescapably homoerotic.”[29]

This enclosed homosocial Greek space also aligns it with Australian “mateship” and its relation to national masculine identity.[30] 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,

“Sexual looking is, of course, a highly charged activity in out culture, all the more so for the same-sex look that ventures outside of certain carefully controlled areas.”[31]

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,”[32] 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.”[33] 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.

Ari is forced to confront the tension between privilege and oppression when he watches a second generation Greek-Australian officer physically assault and verbally humiliate Toula. After leaving the bouzouki, Ari and Toula are arrested on suspicion of drug possession and are locked in a bright white interrogation room. The room’s blinding whiteness is almost oppressive, both foreshadowing the events to come and standing as a visual metaphor for the way “whiteness” acts as a sign of repressive authority and power. Here, the state-authority’s power is understood as an inherent practice of surveillance, with a long standing violent and invasive history[34] of police surveillance and homophobic state-morality now graphically visualized on the screen. This pivotal scene points to how, although not as excessively violent as it was in the past, the state still punishes sexual transgression. A young Greek police officer and a slightly older Anglo officer enter the room. The older police officer goes over to Ari and puts him in a choke hold which, as Hunn has noted, “rearticulates the earlier scene in which Ari is caught in the embrace of another patriarch, Toula’s father,”[35] but also by Ari’s father during their dance in the kitchen. Ari is forced to confront his fear of the consequences of being “out,” as well as the privileged pleasure he has received as a result of being able to slide under the radar of institutional social surveillance.

The scene reinforces Ari’s up-to-now partaking in the privileges of heterosexual performance, homosocial bonding and patriarchy. He experiences the known punishments for traversing the fine and blurred line. Both he and Toula must disrobe, an order aimed at humiliating them and rendering them unable to use masquerade. When Toula gets down to her underwear, she refuses to remove any more clothing and yells out in Greek, “Den ene sosto (this isn’t right)!” The Greek officer, under the enraged gaze of the xenophobic and homophobic Anglo officer, goes over to Toula and punches her, rips off her clothes, and berates her by yelling, “Your parents should have drowned you!” He calls her a “cunt” and a “whore.” Ari stands to the side and is forced to watch Toula be beaten. He dare not help her, lest it give the Anglo officer provocation to attack him. Covering his genitals, Ari feels shame, the very feeling the Anglo officer wanted to elicit, yet the gesture also symbolizes castration. Ari is rendered powerless; the organ which gave him confidence and bravado has failed him. Under the sadistic gaze of the Anglo officer, an embodied gaze which signifies omnipresent state moral policing, Ari seems a coward, with all of the officers’ hatred displaced onto Toula’s body. As Judith Butler has argued,

“We regularly punish those who fail to do their gender right.”[36]

Toula’s stripping goes further than simple humiliation; the police want a coerced confession of an essentialist understanding of gender.

Kokkinos also uses this graphic scene to expose patriarchal power as oppressive to women and femininity. Patriarchal disgust for femininity was previously hinted at by Betty when she and Ari were together intimately. She implicitly refers to Ari’s gay desire after he fails to succeed at going down on her. Ari insinuates that he likes men, but Betty takes pride that he “doesn’t act like a faggot.” Ari responds that he is “still a man” because he does not “take it up the ass.” Betty retorts, “Of course you do, you’re Greek. We all do.” She suggests that all Greek women get it in the ass. By desiring men, she implies, he inevitably takes a subordinate social position by way of queer sexuality’s association with physical penetration. Her claim also exposes masculine heterosexuality’s hypocrisy: you are not gay unless you take it in the ass. Giving it does not count.

To return to the scene at the police station, it is not only violent but it also points to the layered potential aspects of one’s identity. The young Greek officer pushes his ethnic affiliation into the background and his national/Anglo identity into the foreground. Kokkinos uses his scene as a way to construct characters who have an essentialist understanding of race, in that the young Greek officer here is appropriating “whiteness” or an Anglo identity. As Richard Dyer points out in his study White, “whiteness” is about a constellation of power discourses projected onto the corporeal “white” body.[37]

Here, the young Greek officer is being conditioned to appropriate the power discourses related to “whiteness,” enacted through and predicated on the oppression of others. (In an earlier sequence with Sean, Ari tells him that Anglo women see a Greek man as a “hairy back.”) As Dyer points out:

“Whiteness is only racial when it is ‘marked’ by the presence of the truly raced, that is, non-white subject.”[38]

Ari and Toula are, of course, white looking, but not as white as the Anglo officer. They are marked in comparison to the Anglo body, which is unmarked. In this jail sequence, however, Kokkinos displaces emphasis on the body as the locus of racial discourse by pointing to its fluidity and its construction within a power-discourse matrix. The young Greek officer erases his inferior position by submitting to and mimicking Anglo authority.

The officer’s pleasure lies not in watching Toula being beaten but in his ability to control and change the behavior of “others,” in this case, that of the young Greek officer. His surveillant gaze conditions the young Greek officer’s behavior to conform to his desire, the desire to see an “other” turn on and vilify what should be an ally. The Anglo officer demonstrates Stuart Hall’s belief that “they [have] the power to make us see and experience ourselves as ‘Other.’”[39] The racial surveillance gaze is internalized by the “other” who incorporate it as a filter through which they see themselves. Toula attempted to leverage her Greekness to forge an allegiance but failed to do so. The two friends have been betrayed; they may be gay/queer, but they are still Greek and regardless of their sexuality, that, in their culture, is still supposed to mean something. The young Greek officer recognizes that if he rejects the Anglo officer’s orders, he himself will be punished; therefore, the punishment he exercises on Toula is a way of displacing it from him onto a further “othered.”

Upon leaving the police station, Toula dumps Ari and heads home, leaving Ari to make his way to the gay club alone. The only public manifestation of a queer defined space in Head On is the 3 Faces club, referring to the multiple personas queers appropriate both within and outside of the club space. Queer spaces, although interrelated and integrated within the urban landscape are consistently depicted as abject or alienating.[40] The film’s cinematography creates a tension between the cramped and claustrophobic Greek-defined spaces[41] and the various urban spaces which are understood as queer. Kokkinos allows for moments of disruption and shapes the spaces as permeable, such as Ari’s and Johnnie’s bedrooms functioning as “queer” spaces while located within their parents’ homes, which are marked as “heterosexual.”

Despite this, the mise-en-scene still retains a degree of alienation. Ari uses the urban landscape as a sexual playground, as an open space to escape his home, yet he is consistently framed in an alienating matter, subverting the space’s suggestion of openness, as now too open. Such an ironic vision of urban freedom encapsulates Jon Binnie’s belief that

“queer cultures could be considered as anti-diasporic in the sense that diaspora depends on some notion of a homeland.”[42]

The escape from home in search of “home” produces as sense of homelessness. This visual critique of Ari’s quest continues as the exterior of 3 Faces is graffitied and the interior has an aura of individual display rather than communal gathering. Ari travels around the city listening to techno music, music which represents his affiliation with Anglo and queer culture but also isolates him within his own head: he even wears his headphones while receiving oral sex from the stockboy. This sense of isolation is continued inside 3 Faces, where the similarly styled music functions as the only connective conduit with Ari’s drug intake only compounding his isolation. Compared to the rigidity and focus required in Greek dancing, his bodily movements in the gay club seems lucid and free, yet these motions themselves still conform to his surroundings. He is still constrained, for he is performing in accordance with the rules of another group’s space. 3 Faces comes off as just as alienating as the various public queer spaces Ari has traversed.

The film quickly cuts to the backroom of the club where the camera tracks alongside Ari, revealing little cubicle-like spaces covered by transparent curtains, with the curtain calling out its own uselessness. It is meant to feign modesty. People here do not want to hide; they want to be looked at. A red-lit, subjective close-up tracking shot of Ari flying backwards down the backroom corridor connotes Ari’s descent into oblivion. At the end of this emotional free-fall is Sean, and it is in his gaze where Ari confronts himself. Sean is Kokkinos’ replacement of Anglo-xenophobic patriarchy with tolerance and affection. Sean’s warmth contrasts with the Anglo police officer’s coldness, yet his kind gaze disturbs Ari, as it symbolizes everything Ari stubbornly seeks to reject. As Bennett argues, Ari

“rejects a position of acceptance within the good multiculturalism of Australian identity: represented by Sean’s whiteness and his openly liberal attitudes that run through the course of the film.”[43]

The two begin to kiss passionately and then and head back to Sean’s home.

Ari’s anxieties about his sexuality are revealed in this climactic scene at Sean’s place, leading to a moment of emotional awareness and catharsis. Sean stops kissing Ari, says he is falling in love with him, and then proceeds to perform oral sex. Sean’s ability to “fall in love” with someone within the span of a day is suspect; perhaps someone might like a potential partner after a day, but love someone? To me, his declaration suggests fetishism, possibly ethnic fetishism, or lustful conflation for a rugged, sexy bad-boy. On Ari’s part, as we know from a previous sequence, Ari tells Toula that he can only feel love while having sex and that once he has an orgasm, love is gone. Ari discloses his emotional conflict as he equates love with lust, aligning his conflation with Sean’s. Prior to Sean moving onto his knees, Ari’s face unintentionally confesses his internal anxiety; he fears he will end up making Sean hate him. Love means stability and Ari is a sexual flaneur. Love means dedication, maturity, and dependence, all the things Ari does not want and cannot be. Sean offers Ari a way out, but Ari does not want that way of life.

As Sean performs oral sex on Ari, the camera focuses on Ari’s conflicted facial features, revealing his personal tension around physical pleasure versus emotional attachment. This is not a random sex encounter for Ari since now emotions are attached. When he comes, his feelings do not immediately dissipate. Ari’s irritation over his inability to focus on his sexual pleasure is complimented by the camera slowly zooming in and tightening the frame around Ari, which subjectively communicates Ari’s feelings of claustrophobia. Ari becomes frustrated and uses his hands to forcibly rock Sean’s head harder and faster, combining his need to come and his need to control. Sean’s “discomfort is made apparent though the sound of gagging”[44] and, unable to breathe, he pulls away. Infuriated by Ari’s disrespectful treatment, Sean throws him on the bed and repeatedly hits him, yelling at Ari to look at him; Sean wants Ari to confront himself through him. After being thrown out of Sean’s bedroom, Ari sits naked against the wall, quietly crying and whispering to himself, “I’m sorry.” Who is he addressing the apology to? Sean? God? Himself?  This is the only moment of emotional release that the script allots Ari, yet instead of following the “coming-of-age” narrative ending, whereby the character comes to a realization leading to maturity, Ari heads to the docks for another pickup, placing himself within the same trajectory he followed prior to this emotional confession.

This moment of attempted catharsis also has a relation to a previous scene where Ari shoots up, in that both sequences suggest his sense of guilt and awareness of his inability to confront himself. When shooting up, images of his father and black and white photographs of both his parents protesting are intercut into the narrative. The (possibly subjective) intercutting suggests a sense of guilt about not fitting into the Greek family that he would suppress via drugs, a feeling Kokkinos replicates here with with a darkly lit close-up during his verbal confession and emotional catharsis, and then a long shot expressing his isolation. Instead of using drugs to suppress his feelings, he will again use sex, returning back to public cruising grounds. In this way, Head On’s ending is a contemporary revision of the “sad gay man” narrative so popular in the 1970s and 1980s but presented here with more complexity than was afforded to queer characters of the past. Here, it is not so much blanket “social oppression” that makes the gay man sad but a constellation of forces, with Kokkinos leaving open the possibility of sadness becoming a form of resistance.

The final sequence completes the film’s cycle with Ari returning to a hybrid, liminal space of queerness and Greekness, where his jouissaunce is solidified in his own interstitial existence. Throughout the film, Ari performs Greek dancing five times: with his family in his home, at the wedding, at the Greek bouzouki, briefly at his aunt’s house, and one final time at the end of the film. Each of the dances highlights performance within a different spatial and cultural context. At the end of the film, the dance is performed for himself. This dance is Ari’s moment of true confession. The once rigid and enforced movements become a symbol of freedom, an understanding and acceptance of his ghostlike fluidity and the pleasures involved in performance and evasiveness. His Greek dance is performed on the docks, between the Melbourne skyline and the garage, which was the setting to his most recent sexual encounter. Indeed, Kokkinos’ canted framing of Ari places him at a “queered-border,” evoking Hamid Nacify’s concept of “border consciousness”:

“Border consciousness emerge[s] from being situated at the border, where multiple determinants of race, class, gender, and membership in divergent, even antagonistic, historical and national identities intersect. As a result, border consciousness, like exilic liminality, is theoretically against binarism and duality and for a third optique, which is multiperspectival and tolerant of ambiguity, ambivalence, and chaos.”[45]

The dock is a site of ethnic immigration, gay cruising and national border permeability (import/export). All these resonances coincide with Ari’s voice-over, establishing the space as both transient and a gateway:

“I’m a sailor and a whore and I will be until the end of the world.”

As the sailor perpetually traverses the seas, and the prostitute the streets, Ari will continue his journey searching for some vague object of desire—that thing which unknowingly drives and compels him to keep moving. Is it home he seeks? Understanding? Forgiveness? Salvation? The ending is too ambiguous to specify what his goal is, and this is both the film’s failing and power.

Perhaps this why I chose to write about this particular film in that I, and perhaps many others, can identify with Ari’s feelings but not necessarily his actions. To me, Head On is a film that manages to communicate a feeling of dislocation through its narrative, dialogue and aesthetics. It manages to capture a sense of contemporary schizophrenia and disillusionment that goes beyond its queer and ethnic politics; this is perhaps why it has managed to find a mainstream audience. In many ways, I identify with Ari. I too am gay and Greek and live in a country that is part of the British Commonwealth (Canada). Yet in many respects Ari is the complete opposite of me. I have had a job since I was fifteen (I actually dropped out of Greek school to work and make money), and I am currently working on a doctorate. Even though I too come from a working class background, I choose to be ambitious and push forward rather than wallow in self-destruction. I think what I see in Ari is an energy. On the surface, he is a deluded loser, and yet there is something about his “fuck this shit” attitude that touches me at my core. Although I would never choose to live life his way and cannot really identify with his actions, I can understand his frustration with oscillating between alienation and claustrophobia, between living as “Greek,” “Canadian” (in his case Australian) and “Gay.” I too understand the pleasure and fear involved in constantly being watched, constantly having to watch myself and “others.” Like Ari, I live within an experience of ceaseless and diffused surveillance and voyeurism. I can understand the insanity that comes when worlds collide and frustration when worlds are kept separate.

Ari rejects everything, but where does that leave him? He can see through bourgeois ideology as consumerist, fantasy bullshit, but he is still unemployed, unemployable, racist, violent, narcissistic and irresponsible. Ari feels Anglo culture’s social gaze, but rather than resisting, he simply refracts this gaze onto others, like the pedestrians he yells at as he zooms by in his cousin’s car. Often his gaze mirrors the more oppressive one of the young Greek police officer. Ari complains that racism hinders his ability to find a job, but it does not seem to hinder others. I should say that one of my personal criticisms of the film is Kokkinos’ lack of direct engagement with issues of class, racism and sexuality. As a result, it seems that while Ari may verbally speak accurately about these issues, it is probably his overall “anti-conformist” attitude which keeps him unemployed.

Ari, for me, stands as an interesting figure in queer cinematic history. He is a catalyst of discourse, a figure Kokkinos uses to play with notions of queer and ethnic constructions of subjectivity and resistance in late 1990s global Western culture. This has been a culture based on instant gratification, mobility, surface value over substance and hyper-individuality, characteristics Ari embodies that propel him towards self-destruction. Kokkinos goes beyond looking at racial/ethnic/queer interplays. She configures Ari as a young person disillusioned by the revolt so popular in the mid-1990s. He was an 80s child who was promised wealth, success, and class mobility and was told that gays equaled AIDS and family was everything. But his life slowly implodes under the weight of impossible demands and social lies. This is an important moment between “post-closet” and gay marriage, between invisibility and almost hyper-visibility brought about the 1990s focus on visibility and the boom of digital/global culture. This was after KD Lang but before Brokeback Mountain. As Rosemary Hennessy argues about gayness in the mid 1990s:

“Not only is much recent gay visibility aimed at producing new and potentially lucrative markets, but as in most marketing strategies, money, not liberation, is the bottom line.”[46]

The film is critical of an historical development when queer culture merged with consumerist culture; in the film, that moment is represented by Ari’s overconsumption of sex and drugs—which leaves him alone, isolated and homeless. In achieving visibility, gay culture has become subservient to and poached by[47] conservative market forces and its usual output of conservative/safe representations. What options are available to Ari at the film’s end? He can either give in and assimilate or continue on this trajectory and end up an addicted, possibly HIV positive, jobless, homeless outcast, who is pushed further into the margins. For all of the fluidity and permeability of the gay urban lifestyle, it is this haunting dichotomy Kokkinos leaves us with at the end to ponder about Ari and ourselves.

Notes

Very special thanks to John Greyson, Julia Lesage and Chuck Kleinhans for their generous support and feedback.

1. I think “two-spirited” here is more fitting as “transsexual, or trans-vestite, does not capture the character’s energy and goal. She is not dressing as a woman, she is channeling her dead mother’s, Toula’s, energy both paying homage to her and using said energy as supportive force for her unrepentant, transgressive identity.

2. Parmar, 5.

3. See Deborah Hunn’s discussion from pages 114-118.

4. Aquilia, 107.

5. Ibid, 105.

6. See Papanikolaou’s discussion of “New Queer Greece” and Head On’s relationship to New Queer Cinema.

7. Puar’s term for how U.S. gay activism post-9/11, copied the perplexing U.S. conservative rhetoric of scapegoating “the Muslim” and their attitudes towards sex and sexuality as inferior/antithetical to that of the United States.

8. Papanikolaou, 192.

9. Harris, 35.

10. Foucault, 1978, 43.

11. See the first two chapters of Katz’s The Invention of Heterosexuality for a detailed discussion.

12. Ibid., 44.

13. Ibid., 45.

13b. For a more thorough and in depth explanation of this phenomenon, see Thomas Waugh’s final chapter “Law, Science, and Politics” in Hard to Imagine, specifically his discussion of state surveillance in public toilets beginning on page 372.

14. Foucault, 1995, 216.

15. Ibid., 201.

16. Ibid., 214.

17. Butler, 191.

18. Ibid., 190.

19. Taylor, 15.

20. Betsky, 16.

21. Cole, 31.

22. Ibid, 59.

23. Ibid. as quoted in Cole, 59.

24. Ibid., 60.

25. Ibid., 32.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid,. 61.

28. Kosofsky-Sedgwick, 3.

29. Waugh, 2004, 131.

30. Bennett, 64-65.

31. Waugh, 1993, 151.

32. Bennett, 73.

33. Waugh, 2004, 133.

34. See John Greyson’s brief discussion of police/institutional surveillance of gay culture and sexuality and his use of video surveillance in his film Urinal (1988) as way to re-articulate police surveillance practices of creating “peepholes in washroom ceilings in order to do live surveillance,” further emphasizing the public bathroom’s liminality as a battleground.  The bathroom is, after all, a space which antithetically blends sex’s signification of the private with the public. (338)

35. Hunn, 124.

36. Butler, 190.

37. See the first chapter of Dyer’s White for a look at the historical construction of white skin as a signifier of particular ideologies.

38. Ibid., 14.

39. Hall, 394.

40. A sentiment also noted by Julianne Pidduck. See pg 282 of her concluding chapter in Richard Dyer’s “Now You See It.”

41. On page 192, Papanikolaou has argues that the “house, cafes, bars, Greek kafenia” often have characters “crammed into small rooms full of furniture and mementos, talking about interiors and interacting because they cannot avoid each other’s presence.”

42. Binnie, 82.

43. Bennett, 74.

44. Bennett, 74.

45. Nacify, 589.

46. Hennessy, 32.

47. In the South Park episode “South Park Is Gay!” “metrosexuality,” a style of dress influenced by gay culture (which is itself influenced by European design (see Shaun Cole’s 5th chapter “Tight Trousers: Italian Styling in the 1960s”), has de-masculinized the men of South Park, infuriating Mr. Garrison, who blames the television show, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The episode is critical of how gay culture has been appropriated into the capitalist machine, whereby queer style has been emptied of all its meaning and cultural significance, and packaged and sold by multi-national conglomerates as vacuous products, destroying a part of queer culture.

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