In this morning’s recitation, our section discussed the rise and definition of independent American filmmaking in the 1980s and 1990s.
We began by watching a short segment from Michael Moore’s “The Awful Truth.” It was noted that this documentary was exactly what Geoff King described as the “Left Independent” film movement. Moore took the stage like a stand-up comedian (or something of a prophet), professing to his audience about the evils of the rich and how easily this crowd could “kick their asses.” Moore introduced a man-on-the-street segment in which he pitted blue-collar workers against Upper East Side elites, asking questions about how to fix toilets, how to change vacuum bags, and the latest stock prices.
Not surprisingly, the rich came out looking foolish. But did they? Moore’s statements were hailed by his audience as one might expect, but to a classroom of liberal urban 20 year olds the message fell flat. Moore’s striking bias was not as convincing as some of his later work such as “Sicko” or “Fahrenheit 9/11” which were doused in facts and personal stories. The shock value that came with his leftist independent filmmaking seemed to undermine its widespread reach – he was preaching to the choir, and only the choir would listen.
Jaap then screened the opening sequence of Gus Van Sant’s “My Own Private Idaho” in which we see the main character prostituting himself to another man. This is what King described as a form of “Queer Independent” filmmaking – narratives centered on LGBTQ culture and nuances.
This scene, through comparison to “Boys Don’t Cry,” lead to a discussion about the outreach of these films. They tackled similar topics that fall out of mainstream narratives but in two different ways. In “My Own Private Idaho” we see a shocking sexual act that is counter to the heteronormative structure of the United States. In “Boys Don’t Cry,” despite Brandon’s gender confusion, all he wants is a monogamous marital relationship with Lana. He wants the heteronormative definition of love and happiness. Despite approaching that goal in an extremely unconventional format, he still strives for the American definition of successful love.
The success of “Boy’s Don’t Cry” at an outlet like the Academy Awards (earning wins and nominations across the board) proves the success of its outreach. The ability to create social change can never be defined, but it’s clear that by sticking to the heteronormative structure of the United States, “Boy’s Don’t Cry” was able to achieve mainstream success despite its unconventional content.