Queering the Queer

A scene at the Gay Pride Parade poignantly captured why there is a need for AVEN and greater awareness about asexuality. As David Jay hands out fliers about AVEN to the crowd, a tough, super buff (presumably gay) man in neon yellow shorts shouts, “I pity your soul!” David turns and asks why – why does he pity his soul? “We’re not hurting anyone”, he says as the man blows him off and walks away with his buddies. Onlookers in the crowd try not to stare at David, but it’s too late. David has been ironically cast as the freak among a parade of self-proclaimed freaks, (re)marginalized not for his sexuality but for his supposedly unnatural lack of sex drive. The violence of the man’s words is painful, but the crowd’s rigid silence, the refusal of anyone to stand with David, tacitly endorses the man’s condemnation towards that which he cannot understand. It is an uneasy reminder of how heterosexual individuals openly condemned homosexual persons fifty years ago (and how some still do) – “I pity your soul!” The exclamation reeks of intolerance, hate, and ignorance.

The scene is uncomfortably familiar in how it so effectively captures that universally experienced sense of ostracization – sticks and stones may break one’s bones, but words hurt even more and even longer. What does one do to move past the verbal violence that ends up, for better or worse, defining our identities? How does one live a free, safe life in spite of, what is at times, palpable hostility?

In this moment, however, the film subtly accuses the now common imperative to openly perform sexual identity, to liberate oneself as a fully sexualized being, as a violent command, yet the demand to confess and exhibit one’s sexual desire is seen to take on discriminatory, if not violent, overtones, as if society insists – “Have sex with the one you love…. OR ELSE.” If we have won the right to have a sexual orientation, doesn’t that also mean that we have also won the right to not take on sexual partners? To have the freedom to choose and to also not choose?

During the question and answer session at the end of the film, an audience member asked David if he had personally experienced more hostility from those within the LGBT community or straight folk. After thinking for a couple minutes, David smartly responded that those who see their sexuality as a key component of their identity have the most difficulty in understanding asexuality. [..]

In recent years, academic queer studies have sought to use its deviant position as a strategic means of queering, or in other words, critiquing hegemonic, heterosexual relations (Judith Butler of course and Lee Edelman comes to mind). Queer studies has become a useful methodology and analytic tool of exploring and revealing the mechanisms of gender relations and normative desire. It seemed to me after watching this film that asexuality can be also used as a means of queering the queer, of critiquing the whole field of gender politics. Since so much of gender theory evolves from sexual politics, it would be fascinating to explore how gender is constructed when not informed by sexuality. How is it different? Can gender be separated from sexuality? So much of gender norms hinge upon the object of sexual desire, but what happens when there is no object of sexual desire? How does that affect one’s positionality in terms of gender? The over-determination of sex and sexual desire in contemporary society has meant that in order to become a full subject, one must be marked as a sexual being, whether as a hetero or homosexual person. (Hence, one is considered a child until he/she has undergone their first sexual encounter.)

So much of life is unrelated to sexual activity, yet the over-determination of sex in the everyday lives of people has led to a particular lack of critical engagement in how sex is valued and used. What I mean by that is sex is taken for granted as a universally structuring force in life that relegates people into certain social compartments – gay, straight, trans, bi, etc – when in fact scholarship has perhaps overvalued its function and thus prevented itself from seeing it in other ways. Engaging in sexual relations is often used as a shorthand signifier for abstract concepts like intimacy, commitment, lust, or as an extreme qualifier; for instance, “it was better than sex.” It seems to me that talk about sex is oftentimes talk about how sex structures our lives, produces identities, or delineate gender codes. But how does sexual activity actually affect relationships? How does sex enable or prevent us from forming bonds with others? [..]

Clearly, sex is more important to some than others. I don’t think there is or will be a universally applicable response to this question, but in all, the film shows how the asexual community is queering commonly held notions on sexual relations, and where it can or can not take us.

This Hungry Owl: A Review of “(A)sexual”, a documentary by Angela Tucker

I just watched this documentary and This Hungry Owl has hit the nail on the head about what struck me most watching it. It’s not a community I’m part of but it’s certainly not one I’m threatened by and whilst I was unsurprised to see people saying dumb, uniformed things on TV about lifestyles outwith the ‘norm’ the scenes at the Pride march made me really sad. The way we wrap up sex (as opposed to sexuality in the political sense) with gender and every other aspect of life frustrates me but I understand it too, biologically and historically. I think it’s interesting though - as David asks in the documentary - to question whether this leads to us being unable to appreciate other forms of intimacy properly. 

That said, I know I’m not asexual personally because I spent most of the documentary trying not to think ‘damn, the head of the asexual movement is really cute..’


(oh, and the sections with Dan Savage also confirmed my suspicion that he’s a total dick.)

Review: Stoker


There are films which are, as the reviewer’s favorite phrase goes, style over substance and there are films where the style *is* the substance.

Stoker is an almost entirely visual film - it could quite easily have no dialogue and be not much worse for it, although when there is dialogue it mostly lyrical, witty and worth the wait. Even the score punctuates the film sparsely but effectively.

This is a film that’s all about watching.

It is dovetailed by India’s monologue about how she sees things no-one else does. It’s voyeuristic in almost every possible sense. The characters watching each other through doors, windows, stolen glances and those long, stalkerish tracking shots at the wake. In Charlie’s case even watching India through the years themselves. 


The symbolism of sneaking a peak at something through locked drawers, photographs and letters is everywhere. 




And of course the way the viewer’s gaze is firmly positioned as the voyeur during both erotic and violent moments, the two blurring into each other on more than one occasion.


Like a lot of my favorite books and films Stoker is pregnant with unsaid things, sexual tensions, violent secrets - the truths (if there are any) are in the gaps between what happens rather than the plot itself. Like the empty seat at the piano it could all just be a mirage, or a specter - like the vampiric connotation of the family name. Everything is submerged between a somnambulistic, dreamy funk - personified in the moments Nicole Kidman’s character half-knows what lies beneath her family, both literally and metaphorically.

I can understand why this film is dividing critics and viewers alike because it’s a strange combination of over-the-top pot boiler and microscopic emotional minutiae at the same time. The performances are all a restrained kind of camp found almost exclusively in old noir thrillers and whilst the cinematography, set and costumes are lush and seductive it’s an iron fist in a velvet glove. It has one foot in ‘pretty’, one foot in ‘difficult’ and a more than slightly dubious moral compass - It’s a lovingly filmed  spider on young girl’s inner thigh. Needles to say it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m happy to say I loved it.

Overall: 9/10

The Future Is Now (Review: Black Mirror & Utopia)

I had planned on writing reviews of both Black Mirror and Utopia separately but I can’t help thinking about one when I think of the other. Two British, dark, dystopian series running concurrently with surely a very similar audience.


On paper Black Mirror covers areas that appeal to me more than Utopia - pop culture, media hysteria, and in particular, Brooker’s obsession with the frisson point between technology and human emotion. Utopia on the other hand sounds at it’s base level like a classic paranoid conspiracy theory. Even the titles would have me gravitating towards Black Mirror first - suggesting it’s as much about who we *are* as who we might become.

And yet Utopia succeeded in almost every way that Black Mirror has near-consistently failed me.

I’m not sure that the issue with Black Mirror lies entirely in the writing - the thing it is sold on - as the uneven execution. The drastic difference in stylistic tempos from episode to episode (and director to director) really is it biggest weakness for me. While ‘The Entire History of You’ (the absolute standout episode of the series for me, and in fairness probably good enough to justify the rest of the episodes on it own), ‘National Anthem’ and ‘Be Right Back’ were all directed with a sure, mature hand ‘White Bear’ and ‘15 Million Merits’ were both so cheap looking and broadly directed that they felt more like slightly off cbeebies shows than anything being broadcast on late night Channel 4. 

That said some of the ideas felt so slight and barely fleshed out (National Anthem surely was not much more than a good Brass Eye sketch?) that they buckled under the weight of the 45 minutes running time.

None of this would bother me if I didn’t think there was something there. Black Mirror is, or at least should be,  exactly the kind of show we need to be producing more of in the UK and it’s frustrating to see it fall short of the mark.

Thankfully this frustration has been greatly salved by Utopia dropping it’s grinning yellow bag of death next to our feet.


What can I say without sounding like a fawning idiot?

Brutal, beautifully filmed and perfectly cast it’s everything I could have hoped for from it, and a little bit more. If I have any criticism it’s that I had hoped for a clean one series and out ending (it was obviously well plotted through a proper story arc so it was definitely possible) and instead it left me feeling a little cheated in the final moments. However, that’s a small price to pay for the series that preceded it.

I won’t say much more in this review because it’s exactly the kind of show that will be spoiled by knowing too much about it so I’l just round off by urging you to catch up with it on 4OD if you haven’t seen it yet.

Black Mirror:

The National Anthem - 6/10

15 Million Merits - 2/10

The Entire History of You - 10/10

Be Right Back - 5/10

White Bear - 3/10

The Waldo Moment - 4/10

Overall: 6/10


Overall: 9/10

Review: Les Miserables


Let’s just start off by saying that the ticket price is worth it for the three minutes that the camera is trained on Anne Hathaway’s face as she re-writes the book on how to perform I Dreamed a Dream alone. The word ‘mesmerizing’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

That out of the way I think this stage to screen adaptation is on the whole an absolute triumph. Taking advantage of the opportunities for both large sweeping vistas and claustrophobic close-ups that the stage cannot offer Tom Hooper has directed this in a way that adds to the stage production rather than simply recreates it. It does at points creep into being a little visually overblown for my taste (Lovely Ladies being most notable) but this is offset by the fact that, being pure melodrama at heart, most of the cast spend the film makeup-less and crying!


I heard some early reports that the soundtrack sounded disappointing and / or bad and having now seen it I can understand why. Much of the score is sung / acted as oposed to belted the way you have to do in the theatre to reach the back. I’m not sure it will be a score I will want to sit and listen to much but performing it this way was so, so much more interesting to watch.

However, as you may have heard, it has to be said that Russel Crowe’s voice is frankly completely honking. It’s such a shame because I was really excited by his casting and while physically he looks the part not only is his singing not up to scratch but he also looks seriously out of his depth much of the time too. This is a *real* shame because not only does he sing two of my favorite songs in the show but , despite Hugh Jackman acting his socks off, it also impacted negatively on the central relationship between Jean Val Jean and Javert for me. (Whilst I’m being critical I also wish they had left the Thénardiers reprise in the sewers while they were looting the dead - it’s such an eerie scene in the stage show and a lovely dark mirror to the earlier number - but that’s a minor grumble.)

Thankfully there was so much else to enjoy (and it’s a credit to how good the rest of the cast were) that this didn’t in any way ruin the film for me. In the past I’ve never been that interested in either the Marius / Cossette plot or Fantine but both of these stories really flourish in the film. Amada Seyfried just gets more adorable by the day and Heart Full Of Love was particularly beautiful despite being a song I’ve never much cared for before. The surprising standout for me though was Aaron Tveit who I literally couldn’t take my eyes off and lit up the scenes centered around the revolution.

So, yes, on the whole an absolute knockout, and as a big fan of the show a huge relief. Do catch it in the cinema if you can. Take a box of tissues and a cold compress when you go though ;)

Review: American Mary


I was lucky enough to see a showing of American Mary on it’s limited release tour at the weekend. Shot in 15 days (!!!) as I found out at the Q&A after this is a very, very strong first time foray into mainstream-release territory for directors the Soska sisters.

Predominantly a (very) black comedy splattered with moments of empathy and pathos. As much as it’s it’s all about blood and horror and ‘horrible’ things it’s not really trying to scare you and it’s surprisingly not that graphic either, well - as these things go. It also has quite a lot to say for itself philosophically which is getting rarer than the dodo in contemporary horror.

Katharine Isabelle (of Ginger Snaps fame) is charismatic and nuanced in the lead role - a role that in less steady hands could have ended up flat out unlike-able. However it was Tristan Risk as Betty Boop obsessive Beatrice that stole the film for me. One of the standout performances of my year I think.


It’s a crying shame it’s got such a limited release because it feels very mainstream friendly - not in the sense of being  ’safe’ but because it’s beautifully shot and feels very accomplished. It could easily have had a major release with the right publicity. Whilst the the film itself is ‘alternative’ in the sense that it features unconventional body modification and lots of latex it’s put together with a  surprisingly sophisticated and mature touch.

I found it to be charming and funny and beautiful to look at. It does have some flaws and there are a few scenes in it that fell a bit flat for me but on the whole I thought it was fantastic and if you can’t catch it in the cinema please snap up the DVD on the 21st.