Saturday, June 22, 2024

10 Queer Films To Watch On The Criterion Channel During Pride Month 2024

Since its launch in 2019, The Criterion Channel has repeatedly proven itself to be one of the most significant and diverse sites of cinematic exploration. Long or short, indie or blockbuster, old and new, there’s something for anyone and everyone. They have consistently been home to a vast collection of LGBTQ+ cinema, from its earliest roots in the silent era to its radical emergence following the dissolution of the production code to the New Queer Cinema movement of the 1990s to today’s current climate of introspection and expression.

As a film archivist who has worked hands-on with the world’s most extensive collection of LGBTQ moving images at the UCLA Film Archive, I have compiled a list of ten films I would recommend during this year’s Pride Month, all of which can be found on The Criterion Channel at the time of this post going up. This list is far from exhaustive, but will hopefully serve as a jumping-off point for anyone looking to learn more about the colorful history of queer cinema.

“Portrait Of Jason” (1967)
Dir. Shirley Clark
Led by director Shirley Clarke, a film crew filmed hustler and performer Jason Holliday for twelve straight hours in a Chelsea Hotel penthouse, selected a little over ninety minutes of their conversation, and turned it into one of the most influential films of the 1960s. Called “the most extraordinary film I’ve seen in my life” by Ingmar Bergman, the film consists mainly of both wild and mundane stories from Jason’s own life as a Black gay man in mid-century America, evoking his insatiable desire to one day perform his own act on the stage and become a star. As the film goes on and Holliday smokes more joints and drinks more whiskey, he becomes more and more exhausted and understandably delirious, and the conversation turns personal between him and the filmmakers. The film is an emblematic example of “cinema verité” and calls into question the ethics of documentary filmmaking, especially with such a vulnerable subject desperate for someone to listen to him.

“Tricia’s Wedding” (1971)
Tricia's Wedding
Dir. Milton Miron (a.k.a Sebastian)
The Cockettes, a psychedelic troupe of flamboyant, gender-fluid drag artists, parody the real-life C-SPAN broadcasted wedding of first-daughter Tricia Nixon and all its elitist, heteronormative WASP-y glory. The half-hour film, to put it lightly, is a grotesque orgy of unabashed silliness, where no world figure is too precious for mockery and profanity abounds. Though far from the greatest work of art on this list, it’s a helluva ride demonstrating the changing tides of amateur filmmaking that allowed once-neglected communities to showcase themselves as artists and stars.

“Querelle” (1982)
Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Upon his death at only 37, Rainer Werner Fassbinder left behind one of the richest, most compelling filmographies of any director in world cinema. Often harkening back to Germany’s Weimar era and considering the impact of WWII and Nazism on Germany decades after the fact, his films reject the notion of “good” and “evil” and relish in the perverse. His “Querelle,” based on the novel by Jean Genet, transcends genre and can only be described as a “gay fantasia” of camp and eroticism. The seaside-set tale about sailors, a brothel, and murder is one of cinema’s most visually striking gems and serves as an early predecessor to the movement of New Queer Cinema.

“The Times Of Harvey Milk” (1984)
Dir. Rob Epstein
Narrated by the singular voice of Harvey Fierstein, this film, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1985, follows the pioneering San Francisco city supervisor before, during, and after his historic tenure. The film showcases the vast changes that the gay community underwent during this time to become more politically activated, particularly in response to the climate of fear-mongering by conservative America. Milk, the film highlights, fought tooth and nail to make it to where he ended up and used his voice to bring much-needed attention and support to the struggles of the community that supported him.

“Desert Hearts” (1985)
Dir. Donna Deitch
Considering queer films, especially from the twentieth century, often subjected their lead characters to tragedy or depravity, “Desert Hearts” is like a breath of fresh air, or more appropriately: a cool drink in an arid desert. When a university professor arrives in Reno to obtain a fast-tracked divorce from her husband, she is immediately spellbound by another woman who lives a free-spirited life, unconcerned with the perceptions of others. The story is simple: the women fall in love and turn to one another while facing adversity from the community. Radically for the era, and even for today’s cinema, the film has a happy ending that would have been an essential reassurance of optimism for queer audiences in 1985 who rarely saw such depictions of their relationships onscreen.

“Common Threads: Stories From The Quilt” (1989)
Dir. Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman 
Fair warning: this movie will make you cry. Another entry directed by Rob Epstein, “Common Threads,” tells the story of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, which memorializes over 100,000 AIDS victims through panels constructed by friends and family of the deceased. In the film, family members recount the lives of their loved ones whom they lost to AIDS through both joyful memories and heartbreaking tragedy. The film is an incredibly moving time capsule of an era that devastated the LGBTQ+ community. Still, it manages to focus mainly on the positive, highlighting the bravery of those who faced the disease and the generosity of those who stood by them.

“Vive l’amour” (1994)
Dir. Tsai Ming-liang
Even for the experienced filmgoer, the works of Tsai Ming-Liang may be among the most daunting, impenetrable collections of films one could hope to dive into. Tsai’s films often deal with urban alienation and the futility of connection. This is especially true of “Vive l’amour,” arguably his most “watchable” film for the casual filmgoer. In the film, three young people wander in and out of a vacant apartment in Taipei and form some sort of relationship while trying to avoid one another. It’s hard to convey the essence of the film in the written word. Tsai Ming-liang’s films require an awful lot of patience from their audience. Still, the emotional catharsis one can experience while enduring his ultra-long takes and glacial pacing is unlike any other filmmaker’s and is worth any discomfort.

“The Watermelon Woman” (1996)
Dir. Cheryl Dunye
Cheryl Dune was the first Black lesbian to direct a feature film in the United States and did so through a meta-commentary about queer film fandom and the history of Black representation in Hollywood movies. The film ultimately serves as a depiction of how queer fans of film, TV, and any form of culture have had to look for themselves wherever they can, in the margins, between the lines, and behind the scenes. The film blurs the line between fiction and reality, as well as the past and the present, resulting in a story that has the ability to remain relevant and poignant for years to come.

“Water Lilies” (2007)
Water Lilies
Dir. Céline Sciamma
Céline Sciamma’s debut feature film takes place in the world of competitive synchronized swimming, where three teenage girls navigate the trials and tribulations of emerging sexuality, boys, and relationships with each other. Starring Sciamma’s future “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” collaborator, Adèle Haenel, the film offers a bleak but down-to-earth portrayal of the loneliness of modern-day girlhood and the hopelessness found in the search for one’s identity.

“Lingua Franca” (2019)
Lingua Franca
Dir. Isabel Sandoval
Isabel Sandoval’s third feature film, “Lingua Franca,” is an understated portrait of a trans woman’s unique experience of living fully in one identity while concealing another. Starring Sandoval in the lead role, the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival and established Sandoval as one of the vital filmmaking voices of the twenty-first century. The film is incredibly patient with its principal characters and demonstrates the struggle of keeping trust in oneself when you’re unsure if you can trust anyone else.

What do you think of this list? Are there any films you have not seen yet? Do you have any recommended watches for Pride Month? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account.

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Eve O’Dea
Eve O’Dea
M.A. student of film preservation. Contributor to In Session Film. Old Hollywood enthusiast.

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