11.19.2007

5 Stinky Thoughts on Querelle (1982) - The Queer Film Blogathon

StinkyLulu offers the following "5 Stinky Thoughts" as my contribution to the Queer Movie Blogathon instigated by Queering The Apparatus:

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Thought #1: Each...
...and every film that StinkyLulu contemplated in preparation for this event illuminated one aspect of what StinkyLulu so treasures about queer film: Female Trouble's garish, gaudy sloppiness; Poison's giddy genre games; Parting Glances's smart, sexy subterfuge; Shortbus's explicit, passionate, acrobatic and memorably musical perversions; Bell Book & Candle's oblique curves; Law of Desire's puddling heat; The Queen (1968)'s heart-stopping theatricality; Watermelon Woman's meta-cinematic marvels; The Times of Harvey Milk's lost moment in time; Cruising's buttfuck homo panic; Myra Breckenridge's buttfuck gender panic...it's a dizzying merry-go-round of faggots and trannies and queers --- OH MY!!! Yet, even as each of these titles gives its own distinctively heady whiff of the pungent power of queer cinema, only one film -- in StinkyLulu's experience -- delivers the full wallop of the complete bouquet: Rainer Werner Fassbinder's queerest conundrum, Querelle (1982).

Thought #2: Man...
...whatta a man, whatta a mighty -- Fassbinder's Querelle (like the Genet novel from which it riffs promiscuously) presents a sweaty meditation on a diverse range of eroticized masculinities, arranged in constellation as a testosterone-soaked backdrop for the narrative's shooting star: the sailor/cipher Querelle (a breathtakingly beautiful Brad Davis). Fassbinder populates his film's landscape with tawdry two-bit Tom of Finland knockoffs to underscore that Querelle exists as an active object of/for penetration, which -- in the film's brilliant distillation -- operates as a synedochic gesture of masculine abjection, objectification and transcendence (video). Everyone wants to fuck Querelle. Or kill him. Or both. The journey of the film follows Querelle as he intuitively reconfigures himself to perform himself within the roles constructed by the film's various, salacious gazes. As Querelle, Brad Davis -- in a performance that's equal parts dim-witted pout, adolescent arrogance, and penitent surrender -- offers an astonishing portrait of a man "becoming" more than "coming" out into a different, and differently dangerous, self...

Thought #3: Kills...

...me that the film is so easily mistaken for a "kill the faggot" movie (example 1, 2). Yes, there's a lot of death and violence there, and the film does end with a hopelessness that's chilling, but Fassbinder does something with this narrative that's resoundingly profound: at its core, Fassbinder's Querelle reminds us that queerness itself is a matter of life and death. The "choice" to express one's queerness is mortally dangerous, the choice not to -- perhaps more so. For me, Querelle is Fassbinder's homage to his queer forefathers (Genet of the novel, Wilde of the "each man kills" epigram), an acknowledgment of the deadly stakes of queer erotic -- and queer aesthetic -- self expression. This homage is perhaps the part of the film that's most elusive to contemporary audiences, the overlay of homo=death being a bit too much to bear. Indeed, Fassbinder's Querelle arrived in the early 1980s -- right as Vito Russo's influential Celluloid Closet thesis (film wants gays and lesbians dead) started to take hold and just as the apocalyptic onslaught of the early AIDS era began to be felt and at the same time of the filmmaker's now mysterious death and not long before Brad Davis's own HIV-related passing. A mournful caul yet surrounds Querelle, somehow obscuring Fassbinder's shocking lucidity about the queer condition: that the costs of living queerly might be high, but the costs of not doing so are equally grim. It's this stark poignancy that I admire so about Querelle, this vivid, life-&-death portrait of the queer conundrum...

Thought #4: The Thing...

...that gets me every time, though -- even as I'm wrestling in the pit of Querelle's queer conundrum -- is just how darkly humorous Fassbinder made this film to be. It's basically a comedy. See, every time it gets all superhorny or superprofound, Fassbinder ruins the moment with a brilliantly sloppy joke. The film's intense imagery is so conspicuous that it's easy to get all hopped up about -- oh -- Brad Davis getting plowed, or to get all grim about the violence, the misogyny, the racism. But, truth be told, every seam of the film is sutured with brutal irony, simply riven with courageous camp. From the genius goof of the voiceover, to the phallic scenography, to the silly fight choreography, to the fact of Jeanne Moreau's cabaret act. The whole film is a deep dark camp joke, albeit layered with porno-spiritual overtones, and laden with life-&-death consequences. BUT just such a mix is -- to me -- the absolute essence of queer film.

Thought #5: He Loves.

Indeed, that StinkyLulu - he does love this film. Fassbinder's Querelle is hard work, to be sure, but there's a generous, tender, truthfulness amidst the shocking camp, hypertheatricality, lurid violence, terrorizing sexuality, and roiling despair -- something worth hacking through your own fears and judgments to get to, I promise. Of course, StinkyLulu's a bit biased: Querelle happens also to be the first film to truly shake StinkyLu's proto-cinephiliac foundations. When I saw it for the first time, in a college class twenty years ago, Fassbinder's Querelle was "the" film to fundamentally inspire me to think deep and hard. I had been watching movies carefully, thoughtfully, adventurously for ten years already, but Querelle was the first film to truly demand that I start engaging film as I had previously only engaged literature and theatre: as a mode of creative, aesthetic, intellectual, spiritual self-inquiry. So, Fassbinder's Querelle -- in a very specific way -- "took" my cinematic innocence (which was hardly naive at the time), insisting that I begin to understand that movies would no longer just be diverting commodities but essential waystations on my path to myself

So, lovely reader, do you have any thoughts on the queerness of Querelle?
Do tell... And be sure to check out the sweaty queer cinematic action
over at the
Queer Movie Blogathon HUB @ Queering The Apparatus

5 comments:

criticlasm said...

You do make me want to see this again, since the last time I was basically a walking stick with large round plaid glasses--1987.

I think part of the homo-panic around this movie could be Genet's own thief/outlaw/homosex idea(l)s. Certainly, it's easy to discard it as another kill the fag narrative, or as a product of the time in which the writer was writing (as a thief and a criminal, and at a time when homosexuality was viewed as the same). Genet, though, is one of the first to say "yes, this is me, what of it?"-- He certainly loves to shock. I don't know Fassbinder all that well, but he seems to me the perfect filmmaker for this material.

Wierdly, I was watching "rebel without a cause", and was struck at the ending of the speech in the observatory, about man being alone and destined for destruction. More and more it makes me think that Genet is also a product of the nihilism of his time. Or, more accurately, someone who can take that nihilism and argue for his own desire--a window for him to crawl through and steal what he needs. Interesting. I'll have to watch it again soon.

Although, who can ever get that song out of their head? Hee. La did da, dee da dee da

JA said...

All beautifully put, Stinky. I haven't really given Querelle enough of a deep dive into; I do find myself so tremendously distracted every time by the Brad Davis prettiness. But it's definitely a film I'll watch many times to come, and perhaps one of these times I'll set the horniness aside. ;-)

NATHANIEL R said...

i obviously wasn't ready for this film when i first saw it: horrified me!

StinkyLulu said...

Well, yeah: most of the queer films I love are pretty horrifying, so that might be just me...

thombeau said...

I saw this at the cinema when it first came out---yes, I'm that old!---and it sorta blew my mind!

The fact that it was Fassbinder's final film gives it an added...something.

There are some interesting thoughts on Querelle in Edmund White's Genet bio, including Genet's feelings about it. Unfortunately, I can't remember any of them right now. It's because I'm old.