Bruno started off the period by introducing the idea of feminine masculinity. In particular, we examined Aileen Wournos: The Selling of a Serial Killer by Nick Broomfield. Wournos killed a string of men between 1989-1990 and was coined by the media as the “first female serial killer.” After she was convicted, she was “adopted” in order to make money off of movie deals. Her story was sensationalized, much like that of the Brandon Teena, and thus “Monster” (the Academy Award nominated film starring Charlize Theron) must be looked at as a reproduced fiction and not necessarily true to fact 24/7.
We continued the discussion by defining independent cinema. Most importantly, it seemed, indie movies need to fit a certain niche but also be capable of drawing some box office success. In the 90s, the “indie mode of production” really kicked up, along with the emergence of important female filmmakers like Kimberly Pierce, Miranda July, and Kathryn Bigelow.
Bruno showed us a clip from a film called Happiness. In it, the father is a seemingly normal upper-middle class white man who is secretly a pedophile. His son is having some sort of sexual awakening, wanting to “cum” like his friends, and since the audience is privy to the father’s perversions, it is increasingly uncomfortably to watch as the father suggests that he “show” his son how to masturbate. The scene is both grotesque and laughable, coupled with the dramatic score and the admittedly nerdy looking son crying into his father’s shoulder as the man assures his son that “Some day, son, you will cum.”
The clip was preceded by a presentation of the Cooper article. The presenter brought up the fact that while in the new film Shame there are incestuous relations between the main character and his sister, the main “draw” was Michael Fassbender’s nudity. Similarly, while Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was shot like a traditional love story and should have been seen as such, more emphasis was placed on “the gay factor.” She also asked the class possible reasons why the mutability of sexual identity was such a strong source of debate. She brought up the fact that one of the first things people ask the parents when a child is conceived is the baby to be’s gender. “Is it a boy or a girl?” is, quite possibly, the most fundamental identifier that we have come to accept. So when something so “basic” is called into question, that frightens people.
That brought us into the discussion of Boys Don’t Cry. We talked about masculinity as a performance rather than something genetically inherent, and discussed how Brandon’s ability to define his manhood in his own way (rather than by the brutish means of Tom and John) made him a “better” man than those who actually had penises. The impulse to kill comes from them being “outmanned” by a non-man. In the film, the American dream is crushed and reversed- Brandon (the “sick” one) is Lana’s escape from Falls City (the blessed heartland of America). Pierce employs several methods to help us identify with Brandon; In fact, it becomes impossible not to love him and despise his murderers by the movie’s end. We talked about several instances where the camera aligns itself with Brandon, in both happiness and distress. The scene where he gets caught when paying a traffic ticket is an example of the latter. When Lana bails him out and they run through the jail towards the light at the end of the tunnel, we feel his exhilaration.