Critical dialogue
Cineaste on gays and film

by Cineaste editors and Thomas Waugh

from Jump Cut, no. 18, August 1978, pp. 34-35
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1978, 2005

Cineaste defends record

by Gary Crowdus, Editor-in-Chief, Cineaste
Danny Georgakas, Ruth McCormick and Lenny Rubenstein, Editors

We would like to correct some misleading information about our magazine printed in JUMP CUT #16. We refer to statements by Tom Waugh about the gay coverage in Cineaste.

Waugh's greatest distortion occurs when he states:

"I thought it was shocking that Cineaste ran their survey on 'Pornography and the Left,' and they invited comments from five or six 'authorities' and it never occurred to them to ask an openly gay person for his or her opinion."

Quite apart from how Waugh divined what was going on in our collective editorial mind (he is not in contact with any of us), had he read the introduction more carefully, he might have noted that we polled many persons and were disappointed that we received only five replies, all of which were printed. "Authorities" is a loaded word invented by Waugh. Our invitation was sent to "a wide range of filmmakers, critics, writers, cultural publications, and organizations on the left." Furthermore, we ended our introduction with an invitation for reader comment and reaction - an invitation Waugh never accepted. Unfortunately for Waugh's mind-reading attempt, we did ask gay people to respond. Doubly unfortunate for Waugh's reputation as film critic and gay activist, one of the five people who did respond is, to use his paraphrasing, "an openly gay person."

The second distortion of Cineaste's editorial policies occurs when Waugh calls us homophobic-by-default because we have been silent on the gay question. We think Waugh must not be a regular reader of Cineaste. Gay themes in film have been part of our normal coverage for years, and we have a number of gays who write for us on a regular basis. More to the point Waugh probably wants us to raise: In the past year a number of gay writers have approached us about films or books they wanted to review from the standpoint of the gay movement. We have commissioned a number of pieces with these writers, and the first of them would have appeared almost simultaneously with Waugh's offhand critique if the writers had not failed to meet their deadlines.

Rather than being homophobic, we have been writing to gay activists whose work we respect, asking them to refer us to gay writers who work within the Marxist perspective. This kind of searching for contributors goes on all the time. Cineaste, however, is not a political party or a pre-party formation. We do not issue formal position papers on political issues.

We feel it is necessary to raise a counter-critique to Waugh and JUMP CUT editor Chuck Kleinhans, who worked with him on the preparation of this special section. To Waugh, we suggest that if he were so distressed about what he perceived as our homophobia that he could, at the very least, have contacted us before making a public statement so full of inaccuracies. Had we replied in a manner which confirmed his fears, he would have had facts to deal with rather than suppositions. Had we replied in a manner he deemed positive, he would have been able to assist us in locating additional gay writers and thus advanced his goal of expanding gay coverage within the leftist film milieu.

We believe Kleinhans should do some research and correspondence before printing charges against a magazine that smaller minds might see as a rival. This is particularly true in that the one Waugh article was a series of tapes and letters edited by Kleinhans and the other charge was presented in a parenthesis. The question of what role magazines like JUMP CUT and Cineaste should play in relationship to activist movements of all kinds is too important to be dealt with in the offhand and gossipy manner displayed in this special section.

Room for improvement

by Thomas Waugh

First of all let me correct the impression that I am not a regular Cineaste reader. On the contrary, I am a devoted fan and last year listed ten Cineaste articles as required reading for my students. Please accept the sincere if belated homage of a film studies teacher to one of the most vital and useful publications in the business. No one is happier than I to hear of your efforts to beef up your gay consciousness. I'm sorry that my criticism was found lacking in the constructive spirit which should have been directed towards a journal I admire so much, and which did, I hope, inform my earlier, similar criticism of JUMP CUT itself.

Cineaste may be right that I should not have presumed to know its collective editorial mind. Nevertheless, the substance of my criticism remains the same. Rather than "it never occurred to them to ask an openly gay person for his or her opinion," I should have stated that "Cineaste's survey of opinions on porno and the left did not include that of an openly gay person," a no less serious charge as far as I'm concerned.

Nothing is changed by the tantalizing news that one of the six commentators in the survey is gay: rereading the piece has strengthened my feeling that a specifically gay perspective is conspicuously absent. The Secret Homosexual is functioning in no way as a gay spokesperson. I assume that Cineaste readers have better things to do than pry between the lines into the closets of Cineaste writers. Furthermore, my refusal to fag-spot your copy has no bearing whatsoever on my credentials as a gay activist or film scholar.

I invite Cineaste's Secret Homosexual to come out, and challenge the continuing homophobic complacency of the Left, which in this case has only been perpetuated by her/his anonymity. The same for the number of gays who write for Cineaste "on a regular basis."

Incidentally, Cineaste's introduction to the survey clearly expresses disappointment that "we didn't receive more contributions from women" and does not mention gays.

Lesbians and gay men, as well as other oppressed minorities, have the right to the support of the Left. Cineaste's "normal coverage" of gay themes has unfortunately been altogether too "normal" and significantly short of the level of affirmative action that is required. A systematic rereading of the five issues that predated my criticism reveals a very passive, sporadic pattern of references to the gay problematic, which does little to inflect the preponderant silence. A few perceptive or supportive references were made in those issues. But they reflect an overwhelmingly straight point of view and are by and large begrudging in their solidarity with our struggle.

I'm curious, by the way, why Cineaste's letter does not respond to my specific criticism of Ruth McCormick's misuse of the gay vernacular in her review of Fassbinder's FOX AND HIS FRIENDS (7:2). This review is a good example of the well-intentioned but half-hearted (dare I say "stiff-wristed") support we have had from Cineaste. It makes no reference, for example, to the active controversy surrounding the film in the gay community. The only unequivocal example of real support I found in the five issues I reread was a short news item on the imprisonment of Soviet director Sergei Parajanov for homosexuality (VII-2). Cineaste is right to be actively recruiting gay contributors to improve this record.

In any case, as I stated, Cineaste's silence, its homophobia-by-default in those five issues, was ultimately much more oppressive than any shortcomings within the pattern of occasional references you call "normal coverage."

Item 1: The fanzine treatment of Bertolucci's 1900 (7:4), including the very interviews which gave us the director's ground-breaking concept of "mature sexuality" and his categorization of unsympathetic critics in terms of their capacity for anal orgasm. I consider the omission of any commentary on Bertolucci's (homo)sexual politics on a par with leaving race out of a coverage of BIRTH OF A NATION.

Item 2: Other films dealt with in the last seven issues (7:1 to 8:3) in articles, reviews, or capsule reviews, without adequate attention to significant gay texts (or lacunae), noteworthy gay characterizations, or flagrantly homophobic material of various kinds: CROSS OF IRON, SLAPSTICK, THE TENANT, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, PUMPING IRON, SHAMPOO, Hollywood Babylon (the book), FUNNY LADY, BARRY LYNDON, FAREWELL MY LOVELY, MILESTONES, THE TURNING POINT, ONE SINGS THE OTHER DOESN'T, and, astonishingly, LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR. Obviously, the list of the films that could have been covered and the articles that could have been written is much longer.

It is true that I was encouraged by the higher visibility of the gay problematic in the issue (8:2), which appeared just after the gay men's special section of JUMP CUT had gone to press. However, even there, I still felt a crying need for an identifiable gay perspective. For example, the interview with Vilgot Sjöman and the article on Fassbinder both acknowledged the gay movement's criticisms of films by these directors. But in both cases those criticisms were dismissed curtly and uncomprehendingly. Secondly, the article on the loosening of sexual censorship in Portugal made no reference whatsoever to the burgeoning gay movement there and in Spain, a direct result of the phenomenon under discussion.

The capsule reviews in this issue are also of interest. With SHORT EYES, you indirectly acknowledged but failed to comment on what is surely a significant gay text, and with A SPECIAL DAY you passed over a gay text which is nothing less than a milestone in the popular cinematic portrayal of our struggle: This film, to my knowledge, is the first in the entire "fascist" genre to state correctly and unequivocally the actual historical link between homosexuality and fascism, i.e., homosexuals as victims. However, if you missed the boat there, you get full marks for your fine putdown of Ken Russell's clumsily disguised homophobia in VALENTINO, the best evidence of your avowed New Leaf up to that point.

With the last issue (8:3) Cineaste's image has got better fast. One or two perceptive sentences in Leonard Quart's fine piece on 1900 partially atone for your earlier oversights. A comment in Peter Biskind's review of JULIA pinpoints quite deftly that film's suppression of its own homoerotic text. The topper, however, was Dan Georgakas' dazzlingly astute and unsentimental review of Pasolini's SALO. Although I personally might qualify some of the nuances in his speculation that Pasolini's gayness "allowed him to use sodomy as a metaphor more freely then a heterosexual director or writer would dare," the article is by far the best treatment I've seen of this last masterwork by the great gay director.

Cineaste has certainly come a long way since Georgakas wisecracked in an earlier capsule review that B arbet Schroeder's MAITRESSE was of interest to "stout hearts and perverts only." I shall be following your continued progress with great interest and support.