Sunday, March 29, 2009

23rd London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival: an organic otherness

The Raincoats
A quick recap of the first few days of the festival, which I've only been able to attend sporadically so far.

Opening night on Wednesday featured Karin Babinska's debut Pusinky (Dolls), a road-buddy-teen melodrama of three Czech teenaged girls' disintegrating relationships as they hitch-hike to the promised land of Holland for some summer work. Betrayal, sexual awakening, rivalries, suicide attempts. I felt I'd seen it all before. Indeed, the set-up and events reminded me very much of two films I've viewed in the last six months: the Russian drama Everybody Dies but Me and the German film Beautiful Bitch.

As such, the film felt like a throwback to the bad old days when coming out as a lesbian was treated with a lot of hysterical hand-wringing. And why is it de rigueur in every coming-of-age drama for female friendships to be cast aside? A strange choice for an opening night film. On the plus side, I did snaffle several free chocolate bars laid out between the seats.

Last night I attended the much-anticipated premiere of the Raincoats doc, with added Q and A and live performance. Quite an ambitious undertaking and largely successful, with one big proviso.

Directed by bassist Gina Birch, the Raincoats film (still not sure of the title) combines brilliant archival material from the band's beginnings in the throes of '70s punk with interviews with band members and admirers including Geoff Travis, Chicks on Speed, Peaches and David Thomas of Pere Ubu. The latter's comments, delivered through shut eyes, were amusing, even if he did appear to suggest that they had no memorable songs. He also said something about "an organic otherness" that rang true in unexpected ways.

Among those in the audience were interviewees Viv Albertine of The Slits, just now getting some new material out, and Jane Woodgate of The Mo-Dettes, now establishing herself as a sculptor. Where have all you original punk women been, I asked Viv. "I don't know", she said, before adding that now seems a good time to get back in, as it reminded her of the punk times.

There was so much love in the room. And when a four-piece version of the Raincoats took to the stage, it was to a very supportive hometown crowd. Every cocked up note and false start was greeted with an appreciative cheer. "You are getting the full Raincoats experience" cracked Gina.

Still, I left troubled. You see, while it was delightful to see this band get its due, VERY, VERY late in the day, and while I enjoyed the atmosphere and the gig rocked, what stayed with me was what wasn't said: where was the queer content? Why, at a lesbian and gay film festival, with a panel of mostly lesbians, was there no mention of the L word? Why does this still happen in 2009? I left feeling as if we really had returned to the dark ages, when these things just weren't spoken about and lesbians were invisible. Like the film, a work in progress.

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