“Same Sex/Different Sex: Queer Identity and Culture” is one of the final installments in L.A. Filmforum’s nearly yearlong Alternative Projections screening series, part of Pacific Standard Time: Art in Los Angeles 1945-1980. Only a few of the shorts in this program were available for preview, but they alone make this evening of vintage, experimental queer fare worth checking out.
I Don’t Know, a 1972 documentary short directed by Penelope Spheeris, tracks the complex, power-imbalanced affair between lesbian Linda and transsexual Jimmy, who longs for a boyfriend. Their relationship crackles on-screen because Linda is clearly in love (“He’s so delicate, so fragile,” she says of Jimmy, “I always have to protect him”), while his attraction to her seems to be that she feeds his narcissism, which fractures just enough for us to glimpse the insecurities beneath his wisecracks and brittle bravado. The argument that true love (even if it’s one-sided) transcends questions of gender, sexuality or genitalia is made from within a purely queer dynamic, and issues of class struggle, social and familial homophobia, police harassment and even hints of low-key sex work all percolate in the background. Spheeris, best known for directing Suburbia, Boys Next Door, Wayne’s World and the Decline of Western Civilization trilogy, is scheduled to appear.
Robert Wade Chatterton’s 1962 fiction short Passion in a Seaside Slum stars Taylor Mead as “the faggot” who cruises a butch, Marine type who looks like he just stepped off the pages of some old soft-core gay stroke rag on the canals of Venice, Calif. Armed with a magic wand that allows him to don all manner of drag, our hero tries on assorted femme guises (including one that makes him look like Olive Oyl) to woo his target, only to be upstaged by an unexpected rival. The clip is an unabashed celebration of cruising, of the kind of old-school lascivious faggotry that has been supplanted by wedding registries and baby carriages. The slightly seedy real life backdrop of ’70s Hollywood in I Don’t Know, and the largely undeveloped terrain behind the canals in Passion, serve as metaphors for queer identity that had not yet been gentrified or commodified.
Chick Strand’s lovely 1979 short Fever Dreams projects poetic texts onto erotic footage of women’s nude bodies as they make love, and the effect is mesmerizing. Meanwhile, the “Lesbian Occupations” public service announcements, which attempt to demystify lesbians for a hetero audience, are utterly charming in their earnest, nonthreatening “We’re just like you …” approach. These clips were produced by the L.A. Women’s Video Center, a collective of video artists including Jerri Allyn, Nancy Angelo, Annette Hunt and Candace Compton.
It’s interesting to juxtapose the lesbian collective’s reaching out to the hetero community with Jimmy’s distancing himself from the gay-rights movement. When Spheeris asks him if he will be attending the upcoming gay-liberation parade, he replies, “Why should I? I wish them a lot of luck. I’m already liberated.”
SAME SEX/DIFFERENT SEX: QUEER IDENTITY AND CULTURE | Sun., April 29, 7:30 p.m. |Spielberg Theatre at the Egyptian | alternativeprojections. com