It would have been unnecessary to survey departing audience members to gauge their reactions to the screening: during sequences of transsexual pornography, the entirely male audience observed a tangible, agonizing silence broken only by intermittent, derisive, nervous titters (from the boys in the balcony, I’m sure) during the transsexual turkey-shoot finale. To be sure, as a random experiment in cinematic receptivity and education, the screening was an icy, alienating failure, resulting in no catharsis or epiphany. Perhaps if the theater had been sold-out, with unsuspecting viewers piled in shoulder-to-shoulder, unable to make their defensive laughter convincing and unselfconscious, unable to hide their blushing emotions from one another, unable to look down from the screen without their cowardice being judged by an intrusive neighbor, a segment, at least, of the once-uncurious, belligerent audience might have lowered its defenses or burst into revelatory, mass-hypnotic elation, just as worshipful outbursts of laughter occur only in collective spaces, where one’s individuality is irrationally, spontaneously surrendered to the group.
Though the viewing conditions were not optimal that day — they will probably never be ideal — I can nevertheless swear that once in my lifetime I’d not simply seen a queer film, but was in the midst of a queer experience of a film.
Andrew Grossman, “Twelve-Tone Cinema: A Scattershot Notebook on Sexual Atonality” Bright Lights Film Journal Issue 43 (February 2004)
Grossman’s describing a screening in 1999 at the Chinatown Music Palace (located in New York City) of the film Hero Dream, “a low budget, generically macho Hong Kong action film unaccountably interpolated with — in addition to a few prosaic scenes of heterosexual rape and one sequence featuring a nude male bodybuilder — explicit, lengthy, X-rated sexual encounters between male-to-female transsexuals equipped with both penises and breasts.” His thesis is long and complex, too difficult to summarize here; that description, along with the phrase “a scattershot notebook” from this essay’s subtitle, describes Grossman’s work in general, which is provocative, challenging, and wonderful. If you’re like me, you might want to go to his archive of writings from the Bright Lights Film Journal website and just start at the beginning.
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