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The sleazy film professor

"The role of critics is more important than ever," says American film academic and critic B. Ruby Rich. She has even been central to promoting LGBT films to a wide audience.


The American film professor, critic and editor B. Ruby Rich is the originator of the term "New Queer Cinema", which denotes the emergence of independent films with LGBT themes in the late eighties and early nineties. Ny Tid met Rich at Filmens Hus in Oslo when she recently attended a seminar under the auspices of the Norwegian Film Club Association, where the theme was just queer film.

"There was a strong will to innovate at the time," she says of the film wave, which includes Todd Haynes' Poison, Laurie Lynds RSVP, Derek Jarmans Edward II and Gregg Arakis The Living End. The direction emerged at a time marked by challenges – with politicians like Reagan, Bush and Thatcher at the helm, and the outbreak of AIDS – but also helpful technical innovations, not least the video format. Although the films belonged to the narrower arthouse segment, they became the starting point for films with quirky themes to eventually find their way into the more commercial landscape.

“I think these films opened up a market that still exists. Look at the success of Call Me By Your Name – a film that in no way excuses that it is a gay film, »Rich says to Ny Tid. She also points to Ang Lees Brokeback Mountain (2005) and TV series The L Word (2004 – 2009) as key contributors to this transition.

The critic as curator

The New Queer Cinema label was important in its own right to give discrete movies a place on the movie map, and consequently Rich's role in this context should not be denied. What does she even think about the importance of film critics? “We are meant to think that the critics' time is over, as absolutely everyone has got a voice on the web. However, I think critics are more important than ever, because of the massive amount of so-called content available. This should be the golden age of critics! We have a necessary job to do, beyond just giving the dice. We need to guide people in what is worthy of attention – and point out what values ​​are at stake, ”she says. “With the increased volume of productions to consider, the workload has multiplied. At the same time, it has – possibly – become more difficult to get people to listen to us. But without critics, they are completely left to sales departments and marketing campaigns. ”

Å being a critic is on a show too and a curator role? "Absolutely! And I don't believe in objectivity either, ”Rich replies. She likes to use the critic role to promote and fight for selected films. "It's hard for me to write about something I don't love or hate – I'm too bored with what's falling between these extremes. Also, I think it is important to remind people that all these opinions are shaped by perceptions that are not necessarily visible. Taste hides ideology – and the pursuit of taste has real consequences. Including who gets the opportunity to travel to festivals and watch movies before others, and to write about them. ”

Collective experiences have something magical about them, not unlike what one can experience in the church.

In doing so, she has already suggested an answer to my follow-up question about whether niche film festivals – such as LGBT festivals – still matter. "No type of festival has to defend its very existence as often and emphatically as LGBT festivals," she says. Sorry, maybe the question was rude? "Not at all, that's a common question: Why do you still need the festivals, now that such films have 'broken through'? I would say that within the LGBT environment, a new generation is born every four years. People are so colored by recent events and their own childhood experiences that new issues, new needs and new vulnerabilities are constantly emerging. Then it is necessary to have arenas where you can come together in a community, ”says Rich. “I came to Oslo straight from a homse and reading film festival in St. Petersburg. There, it was very clear that the discs need such an annual meeting place, where they can feel belonging despite all the resistance and oppression. There is no doubt that the festival needs to exist. ”

Under-represented stories

She says that she herself is shaped by her own cinema experiences and consequently has great faith in the power of film media – and, to a lesser extent, the TV medium. "Is there ever something magical that arises in collective cinema experiences, which is not so different from what one can experience in the church? You can pray or hear a sermon in their living room, but something happens when people gather in a room. We also educate children in schools, rather than letting them sit at home with each screen. It is in groups that both subjectivation and unity are created. "

She adds that LGBT film festivals create safe arenas to challenge members' attitudes and perceptions. In line with this, the skewed characters in the New Queer Cinema films were not merely portrayed as sympathetic – but rather more complex. "If a white man watches a movie about a white man who kills a woman, he basically won't feel associated with the action. He belongs to the majority, which has what is called 'narrative diversity': one is represented in a number of stories, and the perception of one's own group will not be harmed by one narrative. On the other hand, if one has 'narrative scarcity', one story will suddenly represent everyone. That means more is at stake. ”

Rich is concerned that film criticism has a political function.

Films are often criticized if minority representatives are portrayed as unsympathetic. But are not purely positive descriptions also degrading, since it does not mean that these groups are portrayed with complexity? "It's a matter of who gets to make the movies. Do minorities make their own films, or do they rely on the generous willingness of a director and screenwriter to represent them in their films? If you make a movie about other than the group you belong to yourself, you may need an 'authentic audience'. There is always an audience with personal knowledge of the group – without necessarily being consulted, ”says Rich. "Filmmaker Isaac Julian used to say that he spoke 'from', not 'on behalf of', in response to so-called behalfism. By that, he meant that he could only speak from his own position and experience. "

Rich is concerned that film criticism has a political function, but is not particularly impressed with how it is practiced today. "Newspapers usually place cultural material far away from the political. But I think culture is deeply political. " Likewise, she does not think that American filmmakers are sufficiently aware of their social responsibility – not even in the documentary genre. "I'm more worried than ever on behalf of the documentary. Like the Democratic Party of the United States, documentary filmmakers are adept at critique and historical analysis. But no one knows what to do next. I feel like I've been sounding the alarm for three years now. We are seeing a global rise of fascism – for example in the United States, Germany, Italy, Hungary and Brazil. This is obviously not stopped by filmmakers, film critics or the media in general. We need new tools, because those that have been used so far no longer seem to reach people. This is my driving force at the moment. But I do not have the answer myself to what these tools should be. "

Aleksander Huser
Aleksander Huser
Huser is a regular film critic in Ny Tid.

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