Little Joe Magazine, David Hockney, and True Tales of the Queer Cinema

08/13/2010 1:57 PM |

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In 1946, Lionel Trilling remarked, “To the general lowering of the status of literature and of the interest in it, the innumerable ‘little magazines’ have been a natural and heroic response […] they have done their work, they have kept our culture from being cautious or settled, or merely sociological, or merely pious.”

As “little magazines” (which are a collective effort) give way to more casual blogs (which are generally not), it’s nice to see Little Joe, “a magazine about cinema and queers, mostly,” which is, I think, a natural and heroic response to general culture malaise and will contribute, in its way, to keeping our culture from becoming cautious or settled, not to mention merely pious.

The magazine, which will be co-hosting a screening of Jack Hazan’s A Bigger Splash tonight at Light Industry, offers incisive writing on subject matter that is too often bogged down by halting academic jargon.

(The conspicuous exception to the magazine’s generally sharp prose is Ryan Powell’s essay ‘Nowhere Home: Radical Gay Rurality in Song of the Loon,’ which features sentences like, “Loon is a product of a liberationist dialectic which eschews urban economic development and gay institutionalization within the already heterocentric conditions of the metropolitan for a more radical notion of refusing metronormative terms with a pronounced avowal of gay rural living,” but which actually says some interesting stuff, in an involuted way. Admittedly, the neologist in me is tickled by “metronormative.”)

The chef d’oeuvre of Little Joe’s first issue is an essay by William E. Jones on Fred Halsted. Jones is a contemporary experimentalist whose work frequently uses or is in dialogue with gay porn; Halsted is to gay porn what Melvin Van Peebles is to blaxsploitation. So the article, which is interesting in and of itself, is also fascinating because you vaguely sense that you’re watching some weird Oedipal drama play out: death of the father by way of appropriation of his biography. Among other interesting tidbits, Jones traces how Chantal Akerman funded her first two films with money she stole from the a gay porn movie house where she worked, which movie house was, for the entire time Akerman was working there, showing Halsted’s first film, L.A. Plays Itself. So, basically, Halsted’s first movie underwrote Akerman’s first two movies. Jones points out that, owing to the distribution deal Halsted cut, Akerman may very well have made more money off L.A. than the director himself did.

Another interesting essay in Little Joe, by Stuart Henderson, concerns the use of gay characters in William Friedkin’s Cruising and Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo, both released in 1980. The essay is really bracing and insightful and seems just way too smart to have been written by a guy who, according to his byline, “is writing a thesis on the history of the Hollywood sequel.” (Although, I dunno, maybe that could be interesting in Henderson’s hands; he seems resourceful.)

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Little Joe also features an interview with Jack Hazen about A Bigger Splash, which is a fiction film starring David Hockney that was mostly made out of documentary footage of David Hockney. Tentatively chronicling the dissolution of a major love affair in Hockney’s life, A Bigger Splash is an easy movie to get lost in. The Hockney painting which the film is named after shows a pool in the immediate aftermath of someone diving in: part of the mystery of the painting is that you don’t see the person who caused the event you’re witnessing. The film feels similarly structured by absence: Hockney’s old lover is removing himself from the picture, while Hockney himself can often seem unnervingly not present.

A Bigger Splash probably represents a major event in the history of queerness on film. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was moved by this quote from Hazan’s interview: “In this film our characters are gay and they behave normally—as a heterosexual couple would act. Which was novel to people. Back then, people didn’t know how gay people behaved with each other, even what a gay relationship was. Young boys used to turn up at David’s doorstep and thank him for the movie.”