As part of their Film Feels Curious season, Birds' Eye View Films have commissioned Kit Bithell to respond to their full Queerious programme, which explores a multitude of desires on screen in ways we all too rarely see in cinema.
As a writer and artist, every piece I make is a process of discovery, something that begins as a gentle thought in my head and slowly grows into a fully formed work; this, in a way, is similar to the experience of queerness. Sexuality and gender are often processes of discovery with no clear endpoint, constantly moving and changing within ourselves and as the world around us changes. The Queerious selection emulates this relationship between discovery, film and queerness. Historically, film has not served queer (or feminist) representations well, and what queer film was made has faced backlash or repression. Queerious brings queer feminist pieces to the forefront that engage with our identities as both personal and political. The films in this selection span from the 80s to modern day, reflecting the evolution of queer theory and feminism over that period. They occasionally contradict and disagree with each other, they show queerness in its expansiveness and welcome us to sit in it, to find ourselves and our queerness, to feel what we are and are not.
I'VE HEARD THE MERMAIDS SINGING by Patricia Rozema (1987)
"Love is a pretty strong word for another woman when you aren't talking about your mother…"
Do you remember your first queer crush? Something confusing and new? Awkward and giddy? In I've Heard The Mermaids Singing, scatter-brained secretary and amateur photographer Polly arrives at her new job to find unexpected feelings developing for her boss, a successful but dissatisfied art curator. Polly's relationship with her sexuality is unclear and varies throughout the film. Her thoughts leave room for many interpretations, but for me, they resonate with the feelings of first discovering queer desire - unsure of what you want and feel. Polly voyeuristically watches the Curator's interactions with her girlfriend, younger butch lesbian, Mary, with curiosity, more than jealousy, as if she is discovering something new. Sheila McCarthy's performance as Polly wraps us up in affection as she is strange and naive but also unendingly earnest. Dreams run through the Queerious selection, and this film is no different as we see Polly's eccentric daydreams imagining scaling skyscrapers, intellectualising in recency dress and conducting orchestras. The film explores the women's desires on several levels; their desire for each other, for success, and for validation, and how this interacts with class and sexual politics.
WAVELENGTHS by Pratibha Parmar (1997)
From the discoveries of I've Heard The Mermaids Singing, to a rediscovery in Wavelengths. At the turn of the millennium, Mona is broken-hearted is convinced to try cyber sex. Complementing Rozema's work, this short is filled with delicious dream sequences and hazy imaginations, balancing a tone that is comedic and yet sexy. Taking us back to the 90s with an iconic soundtrack, bulky TVs, and Internet café's Wavelengths captures a historic change in how it was possible to have sex.
THE GOLD DIGGERS by Sally Potter (1983)
"I search for the secrets of transformations."
In Sally Porter's avant-guard dreamscape Ruby, a debutant who was abandoned by her mother and Celeste, her saviour and an office worker, attempt to interrogate and escape the men in power over them. Questioning and ridiculing the ruling class, Celeste and Ruby pull apart the trappings of capitalism, class, and patriarchy at debutante balls, theatrical performances and office backrooms. Characters are wound in dizzying cycles of time and space as they are chased through their past and present, through stark, abandoned, snowy mountain ranges and harsh, concrete lines of the city that emulate the aesthetics of German expressionism. Queerness may be unspoken in this film but queer imagery saturates this story. Similar to other films in this selection, The Gold Diggers captures glimpses of gender deviance and butch and femme identity, as queerness is presented as a rebellion against capitalism and patriarchy. An interesting insight into 80's feminist thought on capitalism, patriarchy and queerness that goes against the trend in some 80s lesbian feminist circles of excluding butch identity or masculine gender presentation.
ARE YOU STILL WATCHING?(2021)
One of my favourite shorts in the selection, Are You Still Watching? is a vibrant, techno celebration of the wonders of queer imagination in the digital world. Jamie is passing their time in lockdown binging queer media when they start having vivid hallucinations of sexual encounters with queer icons from Sarah Paulson's Nurse Ratched to Cate Blanchette's Carol. Sarcastic, erotic and anarchic, this short explores the delights of imagining sex with others, with yourself and sometimes even sex with a goddess-shaped load of bread.
"I desire her warmth, I desire her compassion, I desire her body. I desire to live again."
The first Indian film depicting a lesbian relationship, Fire faced tremendous resistance upon release. Rahda's husband chooses a life of celibacy after Rahda is unable to have children. Rahda's new sister-in-law, Sita, finds married life is less than she hoped when her husband is more interested in his mistress. As they grow closer, the women begin to question the societal rules that prescribe devotion to these men and find new life in a passionate relationship with each other. Class commentary backgrounds the plot as we see a slice of the functioning of this family's household. Although the women's sex life is at the forefront, this film allows thought-provoking reflections on the place of sex in relation to family duty, religion and tradition for all the characters. An erotic drama, this film balances moments of comedy, sex, and strife as an ode to the great amount of bravery following queer desires and happiness can take.
PASSION by Maja Borg (2021)
"I would like to talk to you about longing…"
An experimental documentary exploring the relationship between BDSM and religion, Passion provides an intensely intimate look into BDSM practitioners' feelings about their relationships with others, themselves and sex. Borg allows us a window into her personal journey after a relationship breakdown as she both affirms her Christian faith and explores BDSM. Sensual and confessional, this piece layers audio of interviews and poetic monologues over black and white visuals of BDSM practice and religious ceremonies. Camera usage is particularly conscious with a mix of staged and unstaged scenes intercut with moments of blackness where Borg invites you to be absorbed by words. Borg does not shy away from the complexities of BDSM practice and religion for queer people but explores with curiosity our sometimes difficult relationships with our desires, where they come from and their boundaries. This is more than just a look at sex practices but an exploration of the feelings of yearning, joy, and guilt they come with. A surprisingly emotive film Passion, shows a visceral look into sex as discovery and worship; of ourselves, of others, of queerness.
ISHTAR by Mia Georgis (2021)
Continuing the exploration of the relationship with religion and queerness in Passion, Mia Georgis' short, Ishtar. A cast of entirely trans and gender non-conforming performers gather for a glorious and messy feast in this heady and dreamlike experimental short. Intoxicating visuals, design and sound form the backbone of this film as we see these queer people revel in decadence. Backgrounded by a grand English garden, Ishtar evokes feelings of reclamation and taking up space; it encompasses taking power in our present and forcing acknowledgement of the repression of queer representation in history, making for a beautiful final film in the Queerious season.
The experience of queerness often feels so indescribable – for many, it is more than simply being LGBTQ+; it is a way of thinking and interacting with others, it is a way the world treats you, and you treat it. These films allow space to explore the sensations and experiences of queerness throughout history, particularly giving voice to people of marginalised genders. The use of dreams and fantasies encourage queer awakenings and discoveries, and explorations of our histories centre queerness and feminism as a form of rebellion. Seeing ourselves on screen when we are so rarely represented can come loaded with baggage; we can feel apprehension as much as excitement. This season shows a range of experiences that encourage whatever feelings you bring to them – be it apprehension or excitement - but ultimately shows that the future belongs to the curious.
A recent Film Production Graduate, Kit has a consistent love for storytelling and creates poetry, articles, screenplays, and art about queerness, disability, and relationships. Kit specialises in their academic work on theories of gendered gaze and queer film and recently wrote their dissertation on lesbian representation in contemporary period dramas. Kit works as a Relationships and Sex Educator in their spare time, encouraging critical engagement with gender, sexuality and media through an intersectional feminist lens.
Instagram: @kit.laurie / Twitter: @KitBithell
Click HERE for where Birds' Eye View's QUEERIOUS selection is playing.