by Kaucyila Brooke
Cut, no. 42, December 1998, pp. 50-57
HOW TO (DE)PERSONALIZE YOUR LIFESTYLE
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
For the last four summers, during several smoggy weeks in early July,[open notes in new window] I have made a daily trip down the heavily trafficked Sunset Boulevard to the edge of the nice part of West Hollywood to the Directors Guild of America for the annual queer film festival. There is usually a big line of cars turning left into the side street, then another line up of cars waiting to get into the underground parking. I am usually impatient because I'm usually late. On this particular evening, in mid July, 1995,1 meet a friend for dinner before the screening and she is maneuvering us through the gridlock in her sport utility vehicle. I am insulated from the stagnant heat within the comfort of leather seats and darkly tinted windows. An impatient driver in a red Mazda Miata honks his horn, revs his motor and yells, "Get out of the way, you fucking faggots!" as he passes us. I barely hear him over the air conditioning and the stereo system. "Was he talking to us?" I say. "If he was he got it wrong," she says. "We're fucking dykes!"
We enter the cool, subterranean zone and my friend points out an empty unidentified but reserved parking space. "That's Jodie Foster's parking space," she says. "You know, she has an office in this building, but it is a big secret." We park and walk through the poured cement structure and enter the gold-flecked mirrored elevator. We emerge into the marble lobby of the DGA. At the information desk a representative of GLAAD (Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) displays the kd Lang/Cindy Crawford cover of Vanity Fair. She asserts that the cover is sexploitative and gender stereotyped. We say we think it's hot and go to get a cup of coffee.
In L.A.'s endless grid, the evidence of a centralized community is fugitive. Within this metropolis lies the closeted Hollywood — the same city where Rock Hudson hid his gay life and his battle with AIDS. OUT ON THE SCREEN is a small non-profit organization in a factory town of simulated narrative identities. Originally called the Gay and Lesbian Media Coalition (GLMC), the organization began in 1982 as an outgrowth of the Film and Television Archives at UCLA. Larry Home, a UCLA film program graduate, and Bob Rosen of the Archive decided that it was time for L.A. to have an international gay and lesbian film festival. The first two festivals were called the First and the Second Annual Gay and Lesbian Media Festival. By 1985 the name of the festival had changed to the '85 L.A. International Gay & Lesbian Film/ Video Festival and had expanded to include film screenings at a Hollywood theater, video screenings at the American Film Institute and a two-day conference still held at UCLA's Melnitz Auditorium, the original venue. By 1986 the GLMC had become a non-profit organization completely separate from the umbrella of UCLA.
In 1995 the GLMC changed the name of its festival to OUT ON THE SCREEN to reflect its unique relationship to the entertainment industry. Some in the restructured organization felt the need to avoid the clumsy sounding title of the previous years festival. Hence the festival name was changed from the 12th Annual L.A. International Gay & Lesbian Film & Video Festival to the catchy and corporate sounding OUTFEST: The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Dropping the number, the words annual, video and international from the title also signaled a change in focus away from experimental and international media and towards narrative films. A member of the new and expanded board even arranged to have an animated logo with a music sting created by a title house. At the beginning of every screening festival goers giggled at the gold lettered logo with the moving specular highlight that appeared out of the filmic void and announced itself with the grandiosity comparable to the Dolby or THX stinger often seen in commercial cinema houses. The catchy title and commercial focus are the ways the L.A. test hopes to distinguish itself from the other 45 plus U.S. gay and lesbian film festivals now in existence.
The recent changes in structure indicate the organization's interest in increased professionalization. In the lingo of non-profits, OUT ON THE SCREEN has progressed from a founder driven organization to a shared leadership organization. Whereas Larry Horne functioned as both administrator, fundraiser and film programmer, Morgan Rumpf the current executive director has a background in non-profit management and little experience or expertise in the arts. Programming decisions are the responsibility of the festival programmers. The board of directors has increased in size from ten people who included the staff and the director to its current sixteen without the inclusion of staff. The board has been stacked with industry executives, producers and writers to provide independent queer filmmakers with support and entrance into the mainstream film industry. The 1995 festival included networking parties for the filmmakers in attendance. This professionalism spilled onto the floor of the theaters where special seats were set aside for the artists and board members. Even the dimming of the lights didn't ebb the flow of business cards as the opening credits began to roll.
Clearly, shrinking public grants for the arts in these conservative times and the expectation that non-profits will shift their support base to corporations and individual donors motivates these changes. The festival received no NEA funding for the last four years. Four years ago, 40% of the festival funding was from grants as compared to last year's 17%. Corporate support has grown proportionately over the last three years. The effect of this industry networking on the festival programming is to have less experimental and activist work screened. There were fewer video activists and avant-garde artists in attendance and fewer still who could look to OUTFEST as a venue to screen their work.
OUT ON THE SCREEN has determined that New York and San Francisco audiences are more hungry for experimental work and that LA audiences expect higher production values. The demand for high production values will exclude activist work, which by its very nature is roughly produced and often anti-aesthetic by design. When I interviewed Morgan Rumpf in the staff offices, he told me several times that the organization is committed to presenting quality programming. In this case, the vagueness of the word quality ultimately narrows the spectrum of artistic production and promotes a conservative agenda.
CHARBONNEAU, WILSONVILLE, OREGON
This will be the first Christmas I have spent with my family in twenty years. I stopped going home in the seventies when it became more and more uncomfortable to leave my lesbian community behind and enter the cozy world of husbands, children and homeownership. I had become a visitor at the primary site of family intimacy and the ignorance and the disinterest in the particular cultural experience of my life consistently produced alienation and depression for me. But now my father is alone and I worry how he will survive without my mother. Putting my own comfort and expectations aside I honor his request for a family Christmas together.
I receive a letter from him with instructions for the gift giving. My father suggests that we do whatever we want for our immediate family — "spoil em rotten, if you like" — but that we are not responsible for anyone other than whom he has selected for us. I have apparently drawn, by proxy, the name of my youngest nephew, and it is suggested that I spend no more than $25.00 on this gift. I think, well, that's too bad that he's controlling everything so much, but on the other hand, maybe it's a relief because I don't know what all my nephews and nieces like anyway. I figure that I'll give presents to my two sisters, my brother and my father. I decide that it would be nice to give them photographs. It is, after all, what I do. Well, it's not exactly what I do; Ireally don't think they'd appreciate photo and text strip narratives that investigate lesbian culture. ! remember that I've got all those images of abandoned railroad buildings, granges, grain elevators, and bowling alleys from Central Oregon. I'll matte them and they'll be good Oregon gifts for my Oregon family.
We are gathered at my father's place in the planned community of Charbonneau in Wilsonville, Oregon. Charbonneau was one of the first of these controlled developments in the Portland area. My parents moved there in 1973 after everyone had grown and my mother's arthritis made it impossible for her to negotiate the stairs in the family home. Conveniently located next to Interstate 5 (but isolated from either urban or suburban shopping centers or services), Charbonneau has grown to include condominiums, apartments, million dollar "streets of dreams" and a retirement center for its aging residents. The housing development was named for Toussaint Charbonneau, the French explorer who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their westward scouting expedition to what would become know as the Oregon Territory. The nostalgic invocation of pioneer authenticity is further embellished by such street names as Sacajawea Way, French Prairie Road, and Boones Bend Road.
We are gathered in the living room. It is Christmas eve and everyone is bringing the presents to put under the tree and I'm teasing everyone with, "Oh look, this is for you, so and so," and my brother remarks paternalistically, which just irritates the shit out of me, "We understood and I think your sisters did too that immediate family meant our spouses and children. So we didn't get you a present. I mean we did because we drew your name." I say, in a controlled voice, that I understood the instructions differently. But I am close to tears, and I am so fucking angry at their insensitivity. So I go to the bedroom to do something else, and the tears rush out and my sister walks by, and my other sister pops in, and they are hugging me and asking what's up, and I say something vague about how its just a hard time of year for me. But I don't say that I'm upset because they don't consider me their immediate family. I don't want to be petty.
Christmas morning after breakfast I take on the role of Santa Clause. I watch my sisters and my brother exchange gifts with their families. My Dad has made an effort and given me a few extra things. I am excited about the presents that I'm giving everyone. Unfortunately, they don't know what to think about these pictures of old buildings or why anyone would photograph the facade of a bowling alley at sunset. Later I talk to my lover on the phone and she sympathizes. She says her family never likes the photographs that she gives them either. I describe the "immediate family scenario," and she says she is so happy to be away from the family Christmas this year. I say, "I dunno, honey, I just think that Christmas is for Heterosexuals." She laughs and says she wishes she had that on a T-shirt.
It is the day after Christmas, and after dinner my other nephew and I are discussing what film to go and see. He asks me if I've seen HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS. He says he thinks Jodie Foster is a really great actress and a wonderful director. I'm ready to blow my top because I haven't said what I really think about anything for three days, which is unusual for me. My brother is standing nearby and says, "Oh you and Hinckely, I know what you see in Jodie Foster." My nephew doesn't really get my brother's sarcasm and just repeats, "No, I just think she's such a good director". I begin attacking my nephew (whom I adore) for his ideas. "How can you say that? Did you see that horrible film NELL that she made?" "You didn't like that?" he says, "I thought it was wonderful. What didn't you like about it?" Which I can't really answer because I didn't see it, and I'm in it now and I can't admit that I didn't see it. "It was horrible schlock," I say. "Films about women who can't speak are always popular. She'll probably get an award for it because films about mute women always do well. Think of JOHNNY BEL!NDA!" I say this, knowing full well that he's never even heard of the film or seen it because he doesn't like films that aren't in color. I go on, "No one in Hollywood respects her anyway because she is such a closet case."
Everything is out of control. Now I am assuming a phony attitude as if I am somehow part of Hollywood people in the know or even care what the supposed people in Hollywood think. "I didn't know that she was gay," he says. "Yeah," I say, "and in Los Angeles people resent her for making such heterosexual films and not coming out. At the Dyke march this last year everyone was chanting, 'We're here! We're queer! We don't see Jodie Foster!"
Now I've done it! I've come home for a family Christmas and after three days of attempted conformity I've just said "closet case," "dyke," identified myself as a "dyke marcher" and "queer." To which my brother responds, "Well, it wouldn't do anything for you even if she did come out." Which I actually agree with, and I'm aware that this whole interlude in the kitchen is directed at my brother, not my nephew, and he has just lit the powder keg. At a loss for any response, I raise my voice and pronounce, "You don't know anything about my life!" and storm (because there is no better way to describe it) out of the kitchen dramatically, down the hallway and close the door behind me to the guest bedroom.
WEST HOLLYWOOD, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Initially the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Media Coalition Film Festival was shown at UCLA's Melnitz auditorium, in other small theaters, and alternative art spaces that were spread throughout Hollywood and West Hollywood. In 1988 it moved to Hollywood and the smoky glass and steel building of the Directors Guild of America. This was perceived as a coup which not only legitimized queer film/video festival but provided the advantage of comfortable viewing in a building that housed three screening rooms, secure parking, and was located in a good neighborhood. The festival feels that this venue is perfect for its programming. It features a small forty seat theater (which they think is perfect for screening videotape) to a mid-size for documentary and short films to a large theater usually reserved for narrative feature films. Apparently the audience is happy with the DGA, and the festival administrators are pleased to have the event in one location.
In particular, the audience likes the lobby for it creates the possibilities for meeting interesting people, cruising, or having a cup of coffee to discuss the films with other festival goers. The staff of OUTFEST observed that multiple communities of queers in L.A. become spatially adjacent as they wait in line for the different programs. For example, they suggested, a program oriented toward gay and lesbian teenagers may be letting out at the same time that the leather community might be lining up. In a city which affords little opportunity for street culture, the lobby of the DGA during the festival becomes one of the few places where one can experience something like a public community space.
Ironically though, the lobby is private property where the OUT ON THE SCREEN audience is protected from the threatening circumstances that potentially accompany being out on the street. The DGA is located in a relatively wealthy section of the city where the absence of street life forces reliance on the automobile. The hermetically sealed, air-conditioned interior of the physical building embodies the contemporary search for bourgeois security in the city of Los Angeles. Here public street life becomes replaced with the privately owned space of the supermall and multiplex theater.
In "The World In A Shopping Mall," Margaret Crawford points out that mall builders have carefully studied the spending patterns of their presumed consumers, focusing on ethnic composition, income levels and changing regional tastes. Managers are constantly adjusting the mix of shops and entertainment to update and refine consumer profile. As she says,
The mall then produces itself for this ideal consumer.
Last year, for the first time in the history of the festival, OUT ON THE SCREEN hired CommSciences to conduct an audience survey. At first look, this interest in the composition of their audience seems an admirable effort on the part of OUT ON THE SCREEN to identify and potentially expand the communities it reaches. However, the survey is actually motivated by the desire to market the festival to the entertainment industry and its other sponsors. The OUTFEST '96 Sponsorship Packet outlines the demographic profile of "the highly affluent lesbian and gay audience." It goes on to say:
The profile statistics also indicate that the age group falls between twenty six to forty five, gender is split 59% male, 41% female, and that 75% of the audience is white.
The structural changes and the reorientation toward the entertainment market has affected the festival's accessibility to the communities that lie beyond West Hollywood (significantly known as the Boys Town of greater Los Angeles). Because the move to the DGA venue increased the cost of festival passes, many working-class lesbians, Latinos, and African Americans, who have formed strong gay and lesbian communities in sections of the city outside West Hollywood, were ultimately excluded from participation in the festival. Lawrence Knopp describes the urban privatization in his essay, "Sexuality and Urban Space":
Three to four times a week I drive north on Interstate 5 about 35 miles from my apartment in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, to teach at an art college in the suburban town of Valencia, California. Cal Arts is an experimental school that was established in the early seventies by Walt Disney to have an integrated approach to all the arts. Like other art schools, the students are constantly pushing the edges of everything-from their chosen artistic discipline, to their social behavior to their style of dress. Because of the cost of a private education, the students tend to be white and privileged although in recent years monies have been found for minority scholarships, and the racial diversity of both the faculty and student body is changing. Cal Arts was the site of the Feminist Studio Art Program started by Judy Chicago and Mimi Shapiro, and in recent years the faculty and students have had a number of out spoken queer artists and activists.
There is an uncomfortable fit between the local community and the "weirdos" at the art school. Valencia/ Newhall was begun as a planned community in the early seventies to provide housing for those Southern California residents taking part of the white flight exodus from the post-Watts-riot Los Angeles. Students from Cal Arts are not always welcome at local businesses because of the nonconformity of their appearance. Students of color have had difficulty writing checks at local grocery stores. The local teenagers come to Cal Arts parties seeking bohemian, wild experiments and sometimes harass students.
It's Valentine's day and I have big plans with my lover after my day of teaching. I am deeply steeped in a lecture about the Representation of the Family in (primarily) American Photography after World War Two. I critique the Family of Man exhibition and book for its totalizing view of the nuclear family, for the sentimentalization of motherhood and for the gender stereotyping. I discuss the 1991 exhibition at MOMA, "The Pleasures and Tenors of Domestic Space," and talk about how its continued investigation of the dysfunctioning heterosexual family left the family unexamined as a political structure. I end my lecture finally by looking at work from the 70s that interrogates the family and re-represents it as a political rather than a personal/private institution.
At a faculty meeting I line up Valentine candies on the table in front of me while we discuss enrollment. I always feel uncomfortable when we talk about numbers and faculty lines and the cost per student. I mean I am a teacher for godssake, not a salesperson, and I want to think that education is more than a sales pitch for popularity. So I make a few comments about recruitment; we all do. But mostly I am lining up the pink, red and white Valentine m&ms and little message hearts and thinking about getting home in time for romance.
I don't remember ever having had a special Valentine's dinner date before. But now I have a new lover and she says Valentine's Day is her very favorite holiday. She has planned a special dinner and I'm game to try this traditional romance thing. I keep thinking about the gift I have to give her and anticipating her excitement as I put it around her wrist. I feel like I am revisiting all the heterosexual rituals that I had dismissed as a young anarchist and later as a feminist. My new lover treats me like a lady. And though I'm a bit awkward about the whole thing, I'm more willing to experiment with gender roles these days.
The meeting is finally over. My dean had just a few more things to bring up. I say that I need to go because I have plans. He says that he does too.
It is a dark and rainy. I wander through the parking lot in a haze of sugared distraction. I'm thinking about what I might wear to excite my lover. I drive out of the parking lot, and rather than cross multiple lanes of traffic I very deliberately take the safer route and turn right down to the stop light where I plan to make a U turn. I get to the light, stop, make my U turn, and plow my front bumper into the driver's door of a new white Mustang GT.
We pull over to the side of the road and stop the cars. I get out and a big blond young man gets out of the driver's seat. Then ! see a young woman get out, and she's shaking and I'm apologizing all over the place. She starts crying and saying that she's shook up because she was badly hurt in an accident a year ago. He is very sweetly reassuring her that every thing is OK, that no one is hurt, and he holds her while she cries. I notice a baby's head in the back seat in one of those car seats and I say, "!s the baby okay?" and he says "Yes, the baby is fine," and this beautiful young blond woman reaches into the car and picks up the adorable blond baby which she holds close to her body while her husband and I investigate the cars for damage.
I have run smack into the family. Blond, young and suburban. I am worried about my insurance and hope they will let me pay them off. I explain that I am faculty at the Art School to make myself seem trustworthy and contextualize my eccentric clothing. He explains that he works for U.P.S. and he had just picked his wife up from her job at the hospital down the road. I know this is hokey but I want to be them. I say this to my lover when I see her later, in between, "Are you okay?" and "Oh, honey, you must have been so frightened." She says, "You mean you want to go straight?" I say. "No, I wanted to be them all simultaneously." And I will never be them. Maybe I'm not really "okay." I will never be young and married, blond and gentle and hopeful, driving a beautiful white mustang through Valencia. Instead my car is plowing my life into theirs. I have lost my critical distance.
WEST HOLLYWOOD, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
"Smirnoff presents OUTFEST '96" announces itself from banners up and down Sunset Boulevard and throughout West Hollywood. The opening night reception features free Smirnoff vodka martinis. During the introductory remarks at the beginning of each night's programming, the administration of OUT ON THE SCREEN remind the "gay community" of our good fortune to have such prestigious and solid sponsorship for the film festival this year. Entering the DGA, one passes under a large commercial banner spelling out SMIRNOFF in giant logo red letters. Anyone not-in-the-know driving by must think it's a corporate convention.
Filmmakers, film theorists and film viewers visit and smoke outside under the banner and joke with people waiting in long slow ticket lines. We suggest, "If you let everyone know that you are related to Mr. Smirnoff or even better just tell them that you are Mr. fucking Smirnoff or fucking Mr. Smirnoff, the line would move a little quicker." In Hollywood, it's all about who you are and who you know. I try to drink one of the Vodka martinis. I can't do it. "Presented by Smirnoff' is now designed as part of the festival logo, and everywhere you see the OUTFEST '96 logo you see "presented by Smirnoff" over the number "96." It's on the membership badge I wear around my neck. There I am Kaucyila Brooke "presented by Smirnoff."
Starting with OUTFEST '96 we also need to thank Coors Light. Each evening the staff of OUTFEST carefully points out that Coors has changed their politics around Gays and Lesbians due to "the boycott," and I keep wondering what about their policies towards Latinos and their support of the Contras? Did they make some kind of reparation to the Sandinistas? Or don't we the festival goers care about that? And for that matter, I don't know a thing about the other sponsor, American Airlines and their employee policies, but each night I thank the triumvirate of Smirnoff, Coors Light (with their new and improved politics), and American Airlines for presenting and sponsoring gay and lesbian culture. And if I forget to say my prayers before I enter the dream narratives of cinematic jouissance, the festival staff reminds me proudly that we are supported by smirnoffcoorslightamericanairlines, and the company logos flash across the screen, and all my Vance Packard paranoia about Hidden Persuaders are lulled to sleep by the comfort of the darkened theater and the security of being surrounded by "my people."
There are more stars in attendance this year than ever before. A friend points out Lilly Tomlin. My girlfriend says, "Oh my God, it's DavidfuckingGeffen 'out' at the film festival! Look at the boys surrounding him!" and most importantly kd lang is there listening to The Murmurs play after one of the evening lesbian feature narrative film screenings, which they say are so abundant this year. But, of course, we still don't see Jodie Foster, and obviously nobody really cares about it because that was last year's dyke march slogan anyway. I don't recognize many people in the audience this year except people that my friend the Hollywood scriptwriter has introduced me to at parties at her house. I don't see the experimental video artist in her funky '70s hip bohemian clothes, don't see any members or former members of Paper Tiger TV, I don't see the dyke who produced video with teenage mothers from South Central LA, and I don't see straight artist friends who produce and write critically about experimental media. I see glamorous women and handsome men in designer clothing.
We drink our way through Hennessy Martini Coors Light Smirnoff up to the Closing Night Film and Reception. We wait through more thanks to our sponsors to see LATE BLOOMERS, which is a narrative feature about two middle age women in suburban who fall in love and get married. It could be good. The filmmakers, the Dyer sisters, are in attendance and they say that they didn't make a political film. They say it is a film about family or what family should be. I get edgy, which isn't difficult to do by the end of this extended trade fair for DINKS. A few young cultural activists are sitting behind me and they mutter, "What would be so bad about making a political film for christssakes?"
Then a representative from The Freedom to Marry Coalition steps up to the podium and gives a boilerplate speech about the importance of the marriage issue and ends by pounding her fist on the podium while she says, "When we have won this battle we will have won the WAR!" I groan, and the muttering behind me turns into an animated conversation in the lobby after the movie. We complain about assimilationist politics. We agree that one conservative issue should not galvanize an entire cultural movement. I blurt out, "Maybe we should think more about divorce!" but I'm not really sure what I'm trying to say. Later my lover tells me that she's convinced that I said that because I'm not over my last break up. I tell her not to personalize it, and my irritation at the whole bogus commodified issue lashes out and hurts her feelings. We finish off the evening and the festival, embattled in a slightly too loud "discussion" about what we mean by commitment over a plate of Pad Thai at a late night Thai restaurant.
I. In writing about the locational politics of Los Angeles's own Gay and Lesbian film festival, it is my intention to disrupt a linear description of the festival's history with other spatially determined events of my life. I'm interested in the position of a festival participant, the conditions of getting to and from the event, the actual physical impact of the building which houses the event, and the position of the same person as a participant at a family ritual existing within the predetermined space of a planned housing community.
2. Outfest '97 expanded beyond the Directors Guild to includes screenings at the Harmony Gold and Laemelle's Sunset 5. Both theaters are within walking distance of one another. Taking advantage of the unusual opportunity to be out on the street, I walked the estimated eight minute walk down Sunset Boulevard to the Harmony Gold Theatre. Having ample time to get there, I sauntered leisurely in my silver vintage dress accented by spectacular footwear of matching silver colored Doc Marten high-top boots. Once again the Doppler effect of the angry taunt "faggot" screamed out from a passing vehicle misnamed me and confirmed that threats and verbal harassment are more than paranoid fantasies. The festival does keep changing its relation to the screen and the street and therefore the participants' experiences of its relation to Los Angeles.
3. Margaret Crawford, "The World in a Shopping Mall," in Michael Sorkin, ed., Variations on a Theme Park (New York: Hill and Wang, 1992), p.10
4. Lawrence Knoop, "Sexuality and Urban Space: A Framework for Analysis", in David Bell & Gill Valentine, eds., Mapping Desire: Geographies of Sexualities (London and New York: Routledge, l995), p. 158
5. During the opening night of OUTFEST '97 at the historic and prestigious downtown movie palace, the Los Angeles Theatre, a small but determined band of politically concerned community organizers waved signs and shouted slogans warning festival goers against trusting the supposedly changed political policies of Coors Brewing Company. They continued to protest throughout the duration of the festival by picketing, distributing leaflets and writing letters to the local gay press.