The Making of "Monsters"
The queer as producer

by R. Bruce Brasell

from Jump Cut, no. 40, March 1996, pp. 47-54
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1996, 2006

Walter Benjamin, in his 1937 essay on Marxist aesthetics, "The Author as Producer,"[1][open notes in new window] proposes that when approaching a work of art,

"Rather than asking, what is the attitude of a work to the relations of production of its time?... [we should] ask, what is its position in them? (222)"

When critics focus on an artistic work's position in the process of production, they shift the debate in Marxist aesthetics away from just being concerned with a work's political correctness. They also include a discussion of its technique, making the work "accessible to a social, and therefore a materialist analysis." (222)

Though Benjamin is concerned with a Marxist aesthetics and therefore focuses on the proletariat, in a post-neo-Marxist epoch where class has been subsumed by the identity politics of difference, his concerns can be expanded to include all identities (i.e., race, gender, and sexualities, as well as class) which constitute multiple sites of struggle in society. Using Benjamin's basic concepts, I will focus on gay and lesbian identities and their position within the relations of film production in the United States and Canada. John Greyson's 1991 film, THE MAKING OF "MONSTERS," provides an ideal film text for the discussion of how these concerns intersect.

Though my discussion will focus on gay and lesbian identities, I do not mean to imply that it is a privileged identity over the myriad other subject positions which we occupy. Though we live in many differences (e.g., race, sexuality, gender, class), many which are not mutually exclusive, my aim is to consider how the particular difference of gay and lesbian identity is different and to explore its specificities. However, as Trinh T. Minh-ha reminds us,

"Differences do not only exist between outsider and insider — two entities — they are also at work within the outsider or the insider — a single entity."[2]

Therefore, I will explore not only how sexual identity differs from other identities (such as race) and how the sexual identity of gay and lesbian identity differs from other sexual identities (such as heterosexuality), but also how there are different gay and lesbian identities.


What is the relationship between identity formation and social modes of relations? After the Stonewall riots of 1969, one of the ways the emerging gay movement (in both its gay liberation and gay rights forms) distinguished itself from the earlier homophile movement was through the language used to describe itself. The shift from "homosexual" to "gay" signaled a linguistic reflection of a social group's move from accepting an identity defined from without to creating a self-definition. "Homosexual" has served as a "scientific" medical term which emerged out of the sexology movement of the late nineteenth century. It signifies a medical model of homosexuality as a disease, a perspective which many leaders of the homophile movement accepted. In contrast, "gay" as a term for same-sex desire emerged out of the homosexual community itself, the word's positive connotations kidnapped for homosexual signification. "Gay" came to connote pride, self-affirmation, and positive image formation.

Gay liberation and gay rights organizations existed simultaneously for a time, along with the earlier homophile organizations. Just as the gay community did not experience a linear succession from homophile to gay liberation to gay rights, so too there was not a linear progression from the term "homosexual" to "gay." The terms co-existed, as they continue to do so today. What I am arguing is a shift in emphasis. Gay Liberation, a specific historical movement periodized by many from 1969 to 1972, aligned itself with the other New Left movements of its time (many which did not want its camaraderie), seeking to liberate "the homosexual" in all individuals. It focused on patriarchy as the cause of both sexism and homophobia. That movement was eventually overshadowed by its more narrowly defined gay rights counterpart and dissipated during the early seventies.[3] The triumph of a single-issue reformist focus over a multi-issue revolutionary one paralleled the consolidation of "gay" as connoting white middle-class men with a desire for integration into society.

Since the emergence of AIDS another paradigm shift has transpired, with its linguistic reflection being the shift from "gay" to "queer." "Queer" has none of the niceties of "gay" and critiques what "gay" has become over the past two decades. Though queer may at first appear to be just a reclamation of the earlier gay movement's lost radical edge (after all, ACT-UP's zaps on AIDS-related issues have their antecedent in the Gay Liberation Front's zaps on psychiatric and medical issues), there are differences between the two identity formations. Instead of creating positive identities through new terms in reaction to society's negative ones, queer, in a postmodern move, seeks identity formation by raiding society's negative terms, not only reappropriating them but also redefining them in the process. A comparison of the movements' key slogans highlights their differences — "Gay is Good" vs. "We're Here, We're Queer, Get Used to It." Queer represents an "in your face" attitude in its focus on transgressive rather than positive images.

In contradistinction to the failed inclusivity of "gay," "queer" is meant to be an all-inclusive term for sexuality, a signifier undifferentiated by sex, gender, race, class, or other factors. But even the term "queer" exists as a site of struggle for definition. While some view its usage as already drifting toward "white men"[4] (like the term "gay"), others seek to explode its definition even further than same-sex relations, making it a term of "other sexuality," thereby including, for example, heterosexuals who enjoy anal sex. But queerness is based as much on attitude as on sexual practice, on what is done with one's mind as well as with one's body.

This recent paradigm shift affects not only the linguistic terms used to describe the individual, but also the social formation of those individuals. For example, "gay and lesbian" is usually combined with "community," while queer is linked with "nation." While gays seek to be integrated into society or to at least have "separate but equal" structures, queers call for a civil war.

What is queer nationalism? Taking as a postulate that queer is anti-assimilationist, then it represents a position outside "normal" society. But rather than viewing itself as a subculture subsumed within a dominant culture, or a marginal group on the border of a dominant society, it refers to a parallel cultural system, an/other nation. But this does not mean nation in the sense of a geographical area with physically defined boundaries, but rather nation as a discursive formation, an imaginary construct that depends "on an apparatus of cultural fictions"[5] for its existence. If nationalism "invents nations where they do not exist, (Brennan, 49)" then queer nationalism can invent a nation of queers.

Queer nationalism can be viewed as a means to circumvent the cultural dependency of the center/ margin paradigm with its circle model and the culture/ subculture paradigm with its subset model. However, in an age of multinational capitalism, no nation can truly be separate because all nations are bound by "the logic of consumer capitalism."[6] And as any nation may have an unbalanced ratio of exports to imports, resulting in unequally distributed trade with other nations (which, ironically, can be viewed as a cultural/ political/ economic version of sexual "trade" with straights). A queer nation[7] is no exception; it indicates a position of neocolonialism in terms of "straight" cultural hegemony. The notion of a queer nation remains ambivalent, because, though queer attempts to contest, to break down sexual boundaries, nationalism seeks to establish them through the creation of a people with a particular bond.

Benjamin and Brecht both thought in terms of a hierarchy of power, the powerful and the powerless, embodied in the overarching two groups of the class struggle, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. This concept of the oppressor and the oppressed contrasts sharply with the Foucauldian idea of power as a technique of domination, operating in a diffused manner, in which we "are always in the position of simultaneously undergoing and exercising...power."[8] This neo-post-Marxist view sees power as a struggle over the production of knowledge. The site of this struggle is manifold. Therefore, queer identity is not the revolutionary struggle, but rather one site of struggle among many within societies. And just as the film production apparatus represents only one site of a queer struggle, so also that same apparatus has become the site of struggle for other identity groups. In addition, the queer struggle takes place not only with straight society but also the gay and lesbian community.


So what relation exists between the social process of film production and queer nationalism? If "Hollywood" functions as the "normal" mode of film production, then what becomes the abnormal mode? Does an "other" discourse require another mode of production to ensure its "fair" presentation?

Queer filmmaking is not a new art world but rather shares affinities with the already existing alternative cinema practices of women's counter-cinema, black independent cinema, and third cinema because they all emerge from a position of otherness in relation to the Hollywood production paradigm. Manthia Diawara proposes

"the discourse of Blackness as an enabling paradigm for other repressed discourses such as feminism, Gay and Lesbian rights, and minority discourses in totalitarian systems...[because it] is a transforming and transformative space to be filled by freedom-seeking people...[T]he linking of Blackness to the categories of freedom and equality prevents it from ever reaching closure and fixity. The discourse of Blackness is always moving toward the zones of oppression. It is for this reason that it has been used as a model by Feminism, Chicano Studies, and Gay and Lesbian Liberation Movements."[9]

Diawara presents this "enabling" as unidirectional, ignoring the simultaneous presences of similarities and differences when one identity of otherness is compared to another one. As opposed to prioritizing Blackness, or for that matter Queerness, as the overarching paradigm of an identity that can articulate all otherness, we need "an/other" paradigm which acknowledges that within the commonality of otherness live many different others, each with their own unique specificities that differentiate them from one an/other as well as from non-others.

"An/other" identity is open-ended, shifting, fluid — a positionality that has been claimed as descriptive of women, blacks, queers and numerous other identity groups. For example, Stuart Hall views the diaspora experience and the relationship to the past as the primary structuring features of Afro-Caribbean Black identity,[10] criteria he uses to arrive at Black identity as a positionality of fluidity, an/other identity as I have defined it. As will be discussed later, I arrive at the same position for queers, though through a different path. The specificities of each identity group that leads to this common position of otherness are different. Epistemologically, their differences form their unity.

Though an/other film production apparatus exists outside Hollywood, it does not form an internally cohesive group but rather indicates kinds of production unified by a structuring absence, Hollywood. These other modes of film production seek to undermine or ignore Hollywood structures and conventions. They have to operate on the lower end of the film production scale because of their antagonism to the economic, aesthetic, and/or narrative demands of that "normal" market. Just as an/other identity is fluid, so too is an/other mode of film production. This fluidity occurs at both the level of the social relations of film production and also at the discursive level of the films produced. Benjamin warns that

"the bourgeois apparatus of production and publication can assimilate astonishing qualities of revolutionary themes, indeed, can propagate them without calling its own existence, and the existence of the class which owns it, seriously into question." (Benjamin, 229)

Though Benjamin's discussion of "themes" appears to imply political content, if the content of a work operates in a dialectical relationship with its technique, then the term "themes" encompasses the more formal aspects of an artwork as well. Therefore, the discourse of a film is produced through a reading of both its subject matter and style. The Hollywood means of production continually tries to assimilate new forms/ contents for its own ends. Once new forms have been subsumed into the established means of production, the new techniques become old ones and a producer outside the "normal" means of production must search for "new" new ones.

Brecht provides a potential way around the problem of co-optation in his essay "Popularity and Realism" when he states, "There is not only such a thing as being popular, there is also the process of becoming popular."[11] By the time a particular art form becomes popular it has usually solidified its structure, thereby making it easier to co-opt its form. While within an uncompleted stage, still changing shape, the object has a fluidity, which makes it too slippery to be grasped without a struggle. "Becoming popular" is what I would call that slippery form, one positioned within the process of formation rather than at its completion, positioned where experimentation is the norm rather than the exception. The boundary where becoming popular crosses over to being popular is forever shifting, dependent upon the historical context. Today's transgression can quickly become tomorrow's norm. "Becoming popular" reflects an/other filmmaker's position of antagonism in relation to Hollywood.

To guarantee discursive fluidity, filmmakers usually have to operate on a smaller economic scale. Budget constraints often necessitate breaching specialization in order to complete the film with the limited economic resources available. According to Benjamin,

"technical progress is for the author as producer the foundation of his [sic] political progress. In other words, only by transcending the specialization in the process of production that, in the bourgeois view, constitutes its order can one make this production politically useful. (Benjamin, 230)

Filmmakers breach specialization in two ways: combining different roles into one position in the production of a film and exchanging different roles over time in the production of many films.

One way to approach these filmmakers would be to view them through the model usually applied to art cinema and certain Hollywood cinema, auteurism. Auteurism focuses on the film director as the originator of the film text, whether as the artistic personality behind its creation[12] or the organizing structure that stamps it with a unique or distinctive meaning.[13] However, the social relations of an/other film production process are more ambiguous than the term "auteur" implies, with its focus on only one position within that process. But more importantly, auteurism ignores some of the key elements of an/other mode of production that differentiate it from Hollywood. These elements include distribution and spectatorship.

I prefer to approach these filmmakers not as individuals — auteurs — but rather as a group with a specific signifying practice, producers of discourse — discourse not "as groups of signs ...but as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak."[14] An/other mode of film production really refers to m(an)y/other modes of production, categorizable according to the types of audiences attracted to and spectators produced by their discourses.

Benjamin viewed the author not as the creator of an artistic work but rather the producer of an artistic product. As a cultural worker, the author should not only change the subject matter presented through the cultural productive apparatus, but s/he should also activate a transformation in the apparatus itself in order to serve, according to Benjamin and Brecht the class struggle, in my framework the struggle for social change. Brecht coined the term "umfunktionierung," refunctionalization, to describe this process,

"the structural reorganization of the relationship between the stage, the author, and the audience... in order to bring about a more democratic structure of communication. (Mueller, 21)"

According to Benjamin the cultural "apparatus is better the more consumers it is able to turn into producers — that is, readers or spectators into collaborators. (Benjamin, 283)" Benjamin presents Brecht's epic theater as an exemplary case because it "succeeded in changing the functional connection between stage and public, text and performance, director and actor. (Benjamin, 234)"

An/other film production apparatus refunctionalizes the cinema as a means to form, consolidate, provoke, or reflect an/other subject position. This reorganizing of the film production apparatus can occur only through a collaborative effort between the particular identity group and filmmakers. The identity group forms an audience for the exhibition of the filmmaker's films. Because of the non-Hollywood commercial status of this mode of film production, its distribution channels are primarily alternative viewing venues such as not-for-profit theatres, community centers, film festivals, and university classrooms.[15] The filmmakers, in turn, produce discursive film objects that assist in the production of desiring subject positions within the identity group.

For queerness, this means queers function as producers. Queer audiences and queer filmmakers collaborate to produce a queer discourse, one which exists not only during the film viewing process but which also circulates outside in the streets of the lesbian and gay community. One of the primary places that functions as a site for the production of this discourse is lesbian and gay film festivals. In New York City, even though there are two lesbian and gay film festivals, the "mainstream" New Festival and the New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film Festival, many of the same films get screened at both festivals, blurring an easy differentiation between them. The film festival system establishes a space for a spectatorial audience that may not share a common aesthetic taste, but which does share a common desire to see discursive fictions of their lives projected cinematically on the screen. Queer films can be identified not by whether they contain a particular type of imagery or representation, but rather by the presence of a particular type of signification, a signification that is fluid.


So, how do you cinematically signify queerness? In the cinema, the sensual signifiers of the visual and aural levels of perception predominate in determining a film characters identity — touch and smell normally excluded by the nature of the technology. Any character's identity can easily be identified aurally through dialogue; however, visually, sexual identity confounds the notion of cinematic representation because it has no readily available visual signifier. In the late nineteenth century the sexologists sought the physiological root of homosexuality, but ended up defining its principal physical characteristics as the manifestation of cross-gender dressing and/or behavior. This reductive strategy of queer identification which conflates sexual identity with gender is still used today by many Hollywood films.

Because U.S. society presumes an individual's sexual identity as hetero/ straight unless proven otherwise, hetero/ straight identity can be represented in isolation by de facto cultural presumptions, for individuals are not outed as hetero/ straight, only as homo/ gay/ queer. If an individual desires queer identification, the burden of proof rests on that individual's identifying him or herself as such. She/he must do this either aurally or through adopting cultural codes of queer signification which would allow her or him to be read as such. For example, Harry Hay describes how during the twenties and thirties, if a man wore a red necktie or a handkerchief that matched his necktie, "you figured that there was a brother there."[16] But cultural signifiers are forever shifting, as reflected by red neckties becoming a power sign for businessmen during the eighties. In addition, the knowledge of these unique visual signifiers predominately remain the purview of the gay and lesbian community itself, an intracultural means of signification rather than an intercultural one, usually remaining inaccessible to nonmembers of the group.

If the visual reading of the queer body does not provide any identifiable physical characteristics and if visual cultural codes, other than the most reductive ones, have a limited circulation of knowledge, is queer identity dependent upon interactive social relations to be visually readable? Two individuals of the same sex engaged in non-genital/ oral touching is ambiguous, because, after all, some hetero/ straights can (and do) show non-sexual (whatever that term means) affection to the same sex. But can a kiss between two individuals of the same sex really signify queerness either?[17] Or, to be certain, must visual representation include pornographic sex? But straight male pornography often has girl-on-girl sex scenes, in which the straight women (according to the narrative) only "play" with lesbian sex. If sexual behavior cannot guarantee sexual identity, then how does a film signify queer identity?

Because queerness does not have a readily available visual signifier that allows viewers to read its "realness," it problematizes the relationship between the referent and the signifier. Queerness calls into question the relation of appearance to being, as reflected by the surprised expression uttered by some when discovering someone is queer — "You'd never know it to look at her (or him)." Therefore, the queer can be seen as producing a discourse that challenges the visual because it does not manifest itself through physical characteristic, but rather depends on cultural codes that are continually shifting. This identity could become attached to anyone involuntarily, either intentionally or mistakenly. Whites involved in the civil rights movement were called "nigger lovers" by racists. In contrast, "straights" involved with queers risk being labeled "faggots" by homophobics, not "faggot lovers." When outsiders take a position of solidarity with queers, they risk collapsing their own identity into the one with whom they sympathize; they risk being perceived by others as queer too. The mediation of that solidarity appears transparent when compared to solidarities with other types of differences.


John Greyson's 1991 short film THE MAKING OF 'MONSTERS provides within its narrative an illustration of some of the concerns discussed above about queer identities and the social modes of film production. Greyson's film concerns the making of a documentary by fictional black lesbian filmmaker Lotte Lenya (yes, named after the woman who was the greatest interpreter of Kurt Weill's music as well as married to him) about making a made-for-television musical movie titled "Monsters." The TV movie has as its subject matter the murder of a gay man, Joe McQuire, in Toronto's Bellwood Park by a group of teenage boys.

As a result of this multilayered narrative structure, the film reflexively deals with the film production apparatus on three different levels: making a commercial fiction film, making a documentary about making a commercial film, and Greyson's film about making a documentary about making a fictional commercial film. Greyson's film not only explores notions of realism but also functions to confound categories such as documentary and fiction, and this is all done within the context of queer politics.

The film begins as a "straight" documentary in the typical Canada Broadcast Corporation (CBC) style. The viewer realizes something has run amuck when told that Georg Lukács and Brecht, two dead men, are the musical's producer and director respectively. Then Brecht is introduced as a catfish. Eventually the documentary narrative of Lenya's film breaks down completely when, after the shooting for the day has ended, two of the actors in "Monsters" walk into the park singing about the difference between a lover and "tricks." At that point we are in a film that narratively can only be Greyson's film, not Brecht's "Monsters" or Lenya's THE MAKING OF "MONSTERS."

Brecht is not "actually" a catfish, only visually represented by one, for the catfish that we see speaks a Brechtian discourse. He seems to think like Brecht, even if he does not look like the Brecht we see in pictures. Werner Mittenzwei paraphrases Brecht as remarking,

"The living, irreplaceable man [sic]...should not be identical with his portrait and this contradiction should be expressed in the image."[18]

The catfish character calls into question the issue of representation through discrepancies between signifier, signified and referent. For Brecht realism did not reside in "faithfully" representing sensuous reality but in representing — illusionistically or expressionistically — the conditions of life:

"discovering the causal complexes of society/ unmasking the prevailing view of things as the view of those who are in power." (Brecht, 82)

Brecht "defines realism exclusively in terms of its goal, rather than its conventions."[19]

According to Eugene Lunn,

"By accentuating contradictions between everyday appearance and what is historically realizable, Brecht hoped to galvanize his audience into action outside the theater. Art needed to be 'open-ended,' to be completed by the audience, and not 'closed' by the author's reconciliation of contradictions...Brecht's art aimed to assault his audience's passive and fatalistic inertia, its adjustment to the 'course of things.' The shocks of 'estrangement' from "normal" perceptions were urgently needed to encourage active intervention into the historical process."[20]

Just as the character of Brecht does not look human, so too when we are introduced to his goldfish boyfriend Kurt Weill, Weill does not look queer. Greyson appropriates an "abnormal" representation to present Brecht. The question of what is normal is a contradiction Greyson also leaves open and unreconciled in THE MAKING OF "MONSTERS." The widowed lover, nailing his murdered lover's coffin, states, "he was...normal," while the murderers are described as "normal teenage boys" by their parents and neighbors. The queer — the abnormal — is needed to provide the shock to wake us out of the normal, to challenge the society of normalization.

Greyson uses the competing definitions of realism proposed by Lukács and Brecht to structure the style of the film. After the spectator is sutured into a melodramatic narrative reminiscent of the realistic style Lukács advocates, the (normal) narrative is interrupted and made strange (abnormal), thereby providing the spectator with the distance needed to allow for a critical analysis of the scene. This creates an open-ended narrative structure, which confronts the spectator with contradictory emotions through the juxtaposition of the scenes. For example, while washing dishes, Joe McQuire's mother describes her reactions to seeing at the "sentencing hearing" the teenage boys who murdered her son. She states,

"They're all normal. That's the answer to the big riddle...Their boys are normal, and it's normal to kill homosexuals."

This moving melodramatic scene is suddenly ruptured when "Cut" is called. Brecht, whom we learn has been directing the "realistic" scene we were watching, responds by stating that the scene stinks. He describes it as "shallow sentimentality, the mythic mother, guaranteed to make the audience cry." Dialogue which appears "sincere" is constantly undercut, turned in upon itself, through the multilayered structure of the plot. As a result of this strategy, the film places the spectator in a reflexive position of calling into question what s/he hears and sees, a queer position.

The two films within Greyson's film show the two different modes of film production discussed earlier: the normal/ commercial and the abnormal/ alternative. Brecht, within the "normal" social relations of film production, plans to direct a fictional film that contains a call to queer political action through Brechtian devices. But the producer, Lukács, resists the use of this form. Over dinner at a seafood restaurant, Lukács describes to Brecht his plans for shooting the film with "sympathetic realistic characters," his dialogue accompanied by storyboard illustrations. Brecht, however, sets about shooting the film as he desires, infuriating Lukács who eventually fires him.

After relieving Brecht of directorial responsibilities, Lukács begins directing realistically the fag bashing scene in the park, at which point the storyboard illustrations return. While filming the scene Lukács backs into the fish tank holding Brecht, tumbling it over. As the "accident" occurs, a shot of an illustrated storyboard of the incident is inserted. The storyboarding of the "accident" reveals that Brecht's demise was written into the commercial production's script from the beginning. Brecht was directing a film and producing a discourse that could not fit into a "normal" mode of production. His queer filmic discourse was bashed by the commercial production apparatus through which he sought to produce it.

Lenya encounters a similar fate after the "accident" when Lukács fires her and confiscates all of her documentary footage. Though she was operating at the lower end of the film production apparatus, performing all of the production functions herself, she was still dependent upon the "normal" production apparatus for her existence. The demise of Lenya's documentary film serves as a warning that whether one is at the higher or lower end of the production apparatus is irrelevant if one still depends upon the "normal" production apparatus for existence. The production process of a queer film must be anti-assimilationist if it is to survive.

For me, the funniest humor is that which, though funny on the face, contains an underlying, often biting social commentary. The songs in THE MAKING OF "MONSTERS" are full of this kind of humor, as illustrated by the lyrics of the opening song, "I Hate Straights":

"Straights breed babies, straights breed violence, through their churches and through their states. Queers must rise up, fight the monsters. Shout out loud dear, I hate straights."

The song places the concerns of the film-fag bashing-within a queer nationalistic framework; problems do not come from the actions of a few "bad" individuals but rather from the structures of "normal" society itself. As queers, Brecht and Lenya were doomed to fail while working within "normal" modes of film production; a queer one was needed for their success.

Like Brecht and Lenya, Greyson's film was also bashed by a straight cultural apparatus, not the Canadian film apparatus, but the United States' music apparatus. Some of the songs in the film, such as "I Hate Straights," are set to music written by Kurt Weill. When Greyson learned that his film might have wider distribution possibilities than just the festival circuit, he sought to obtain the appropriate broader publishing rights to the music to allow for commercial distribution. Though he had been able to raise the money to purchase the publishing rights, after six months of negotiating, the Weill estate refused to release them, because it apparently did not appreciate Weill being represented in the film by a queer goldfish. Given Brecht's penchant for basing his plays on other texts, as was the case with the musicals he collaborated on with Weill, it is ironic that the Weill estate, in addition to denying the broader publishing rights, also withdrew the festival rights that it had previously granted Greyson. This action by the Weill estates resulted in the film having to be pulled from circulation even in noncommercial distribution channels.[21]

Of the three film productions on which Brecht participated, in THE MAKING OF "MONSTERS" clips are shown only from The Threepenny Opera, the one he sued the film company over for its filmic adaptation of his play. According to Roswitha Mueller, the purpose of Brecht's lawsuit was not to argue for auteurism but rather to show the contradiction which exists between the bourgeois ideology of protecting individual rights (including the artist) and the "actual" social practice of the production of that ideology. As Mueller explains, in Brecht's view,

"the method of cultural production by a group of people, rather than by the traditional "inspired genius,' carried within itself the potential of a more progressive form of cultural production." (Mueller, 20)

Queers as producers form such a group of people. Queer filmmakers, audiences, and films are coming together to produce an/other cultural apparatus, one which will serve queer interest. Instead of taking legal action against the Weill estate for its withdrawal of the previously granted festival rights, Greyson plans to wait for the year 2001 when Weill's music will pass into the public domain. At that time THE MAKING OF "MONSTERS" will finally be able to be re-released, this time with the possibility of commercial exhibition if a distributor is found.

Just as Greyson articulates through the character of Brecht a critique of "normal" modes of film production, he also uses Lenya to articulate a critique of queer nationalism. He sees within queer nationalism some of the same problems of the straight community, as well as the gay and lesbian community. While being wired for an interview, the actor playing Joe McQuire in the musical film sympathetically asks Lenya if the film crew was giving her a hard time with their "straight white males doing their macho bonding number." Later, when discussing a Queer Nation meeting they both attended, he asks her what she thought about it. She responded that she "felt a little out of place with all those gay white males doing their macho bonding number." Queer politics, which was to place women on equal status with men and people of color with whites, faces the same criticism as gay and straight politics on the issues of gender and race.

Yet despite Lenya's ambivalence toward queer nationalism, she sings, "Bash Back, Baby," at the end of the film, accompanied by the actor portraying "the murder victim," Joe McQuire. They sing for queers to bash the courts, the schools, the laws, the cops, the churches, the army, and a whole list of other institutions and states of mind that try to make queers victims. They call for queers to "change the institutions." Though this phrase may appear reformist at first, as the lyrics continue with, "Let's burn the plantation...It's time to riot. Bash back, baby, the street is ours," one realizes that change is meant not in terms of reform, a change of an element, but rather a replacement of the whole-a call to civil war.

Queer identity can be viewed as a two-edged sword, a single blade with two different sides: "being queer" and "becoming queer." "Being queer," flaunting one's abnormality, provides shock value for normality. In Brechtian terms, being queer can be viewed as being a producer of estrangement effects designed to provoke alienation.

On the other hand, "becoming queer" plays off the queer's challenge to visual representation, calling into question the representable, the relation of the signifier and signified to the referent. As discussed earlier, to avoid co-optation, the style of queer films should remain in that slippery formation stage of "becoming popular." "Becoming queer" represents a comparably slippery stage, a continual instability and ability of queer identity to be applied to anyone and to all. As long as "being queer" remains an insult, then "becoming queer" can provide a challenge to normality because it provides uncertainty over who "really" is one. As a result, "becoming queer" has become a site of knowledge struggle as reflected by the wave of denials in response to "outings" over the last few years.

Queerness calls into question the normality of normalness, and queer filmmakers provide a challenge to the "normal" social relations of film production. If "it's normal to kill homosexuals," then abnormality for all becomes the constitutional foundation of a queer nation. If this current social/ political economic system is "normal," then we need queer abnormality to shock us into creating change.

"The time has come, this is the hour
That the murder of my friend
Upon whom as is known my soul depended
That the murder of my Gaveston shall be
Atoned for."
— Brecht's Edward II [22]

"Bash Back, Baby."


1. Walter Benjamin, "The Author as Producer" in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (New York: Schocken Books, 1978), p. 220-238. For further discussion of Benjamin's article see: Terry Eagleton, Marxism and Literary Criticism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), pp. 60-70; Roswitha Mueller, Bertolt Brecht and the Theory of Media (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989), p. 21.

2. Trinh T. Minh-ha, "Outside In Inside Out" in Questions of Third Cinema, ed. Jim Pines and Paul Willemen (London: British Film Institute, 1989), p 147.

3. See for example John D'Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1983) and his forward to the twentieth anniversary edition of Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation, ed. Karla Jay and Allen Young (New York: New York University Press, 1972).

4. See for example Natasha Gray "Bored With the Boys: Cracks in the Queer Coalition," NYQ, No. 26, April 26, 1992, pp. 26-30.

5. Timothy Brennan, "The National Longing for Form" in Nation and Narration, ed. Homi K. Bhabha (New York: Routledge, 1990), pp. 46-47,49.

6. The phrase, of course, is from Fredric Jameson. See his "Postmodernism and Consumer Society" in The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, ed. Hal Foster (Seattle: Bay Press, 1983), pp. 111-125, and "Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," New Left Review 146 (July/August 1984), pp. 53-92.

7. I use the term "queer nation" with small letters to differentiate the concept from the direct action group with the name Queer Nation (with capital letters). The two are not the same thing and should not be mistakenly conflated.

8. Michel Foucault, "Two Lectures" in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Other Writings, 1972-1977, ed. Cohn Gordon, trans. Cohn Gordon, Leo Marshall, John Mepham, Kate Soper (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), p. 98.

9. Manthia Diawara, "The Absent One: The Avant-Garde and the Black Imaginary in Looking For Langston," Wide Angle, Vol. 13, Nos. 3 & 4, July-October 1991, p. 108.

10. Stuart Hall, "Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representation" in Ex-iles: Essays on Caribbean Cinema, Ed. Mbye Chain (Trenton: Africa World Press, 1992), p. 234.

11. Bertolt Brecht, "Against Georg Lukács" in Aesthetics and Politics: The Key Texts of the Classic Debate within German Marxism, ed. Fredric Jameson (New York: Verso, 1977), p. 85.

12. Edward Buscombe, "Ideas of Authorship" in Theories of Authorship, ed. John Caughie (New York: Routledge, 1981), p. 23.

13. Charles Eckert, "The English Cine-structuralists" in Theories of Authorship, ed. John Caughie (New York: Routledge, 1981), p. 155.

14. Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972), p. 49.

15. Sometimes, if the film is a feature, it may be imported into the commercial film distribution market. However, its circulation is typically confined to what can be described as the "boutique" segment of that market-local theatres catering to a particular style of neighborhoods, porno successors to the art house theatre. Many of the films produced through this mode of production-short, non-feature length-are excluded under usual circumstances from entrance into the commercial market because that market has no economic use value for products of their form.

16. Andrea Weiss & Greta Schiller, Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community (Tallahassee: Naiad Press, Inc., 1988), p. 14.

17. Kissing may ultimately not be so innocent as I have assumed. For example, when Gregg Araki's film, The Living End, was sent to a L.A. lab for VHS copies, the lab refused the order because it considered the film pornography, i.e., it dealt with homosexuality and showed two men kissing each other. For network TV concerns over showing a scene of two women kissing see Elizabeth Kolbert, "What's a Network TV Censor To Do?" New York Times, Vol. CXLII, Number 49, 340, May 23, 1993, Section 2, pp. 1, 31.

18. Werner Mittenzwei, "The Brecht-Lukács Debate" in Preserve and Create: Essays in Marxist Literary Criticism, ed. Gaylord C. LeRoy and Ursula Beitz (New York: Humanities Press, 1973), p. 216.

19. Terry Lovell, Pictures of Reality: Aesthetics, Politics, Pleasure (London: British Film Institute Publishing, 1980), p. 77.

20. Eugene Lunn, "Marxism and Art in the Era of Stalin and Hitler: A Comparison of Brecht and Lukács" New German Critique, Vol. 1, no. 3, Fall 1974, pp. 15, 43.

21. Based on conversation with John Greyson, August 1993.

22. Bertolt Brecht, Edward II: A Chronicle Play, trans. Eric Bentley (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1966), p. 41.