This thesis explores the role that genre plays in the aesthetics of queer cinema, specifically, the ‘New Queer Cinema’ of the 1990s. Much of the scholarly work on New Queer Cinema examines it with recourse to political and historical factors such as the AIDS crisis, with which the film movement coincided. I argue for a consideration of New Queer Cinema’s aesthetic dimensions. I situate New Queer Cinema as a particularly concentrated expression of what I call the ‘queer parodic.’ The queer parodic is an umbrella term I have coined in order to account for the varied ways in which queer filmmaking parodies, mimics or alludes to the conventions and stereotypes of mainstream, heteronormative film culture.
Queer aesthetic strategies such as camp, trash, and drag are all expressions of the queer parodic, each subverting and engaging a specific presupposition. Camp replaces the concept of a stable identity and subjectivity with ‘the gesture,’ the over-the-top, histrionic flourish, the trash aesthetic tears down and reconstitutes conventional concepts of taste, while drag is critical of the immutability of gender. These aesthetics are not necessarily ‘owned’ by queer creativity, but tend to be employed often in queer artistic and cultural practices. In elucidating the features and history of these aesthetics, I argue that the assertion that New Queer Cinema marks a drastic shift in queer filmmaking because of the AIDS crisis has been overemphasised.
Most of the films that constitute New Queer Cinema tend to be parodies of Hollywood film genres, or in some cases, a parody of a particular mainstream film. These films, which include Poison (Todd Haynes, 1991), The Living End (Gregg Araki, 1992), Swoon (Tom Kalin, 1992), My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991) and Zero Patience (John Greyson, 1993) are never absent from any list of films that comprise the New Queer Cinema corpus. Poison employs three different narratives and three different genres (the documentary, the horror film and the prison movie); The Living End and My Own Private Idaho engage and play with the buddy movie genre and road movies, while Zero Patience uses the film musical. The generic play inherent to the aesthetics of all of these films is a significant strategy for their filmmakers to assert a position for queer cinema in relation to mainstream film.
This dissertation closely analyses Poison, The Living End and My Own Private Idaho and Edward II in order to chart the aesthetic parameters of New Queer Cinema and the manner in which the filmmakers implement the queer parodic. The methodology for this thesis is primarily grounded in aesthetic analysis, but is also complemented by genre theory, auteur theory and socio-cultural approaches to screen studies. I utilise the concept of the queer parodic to analyse film through a discussion of New Queer Cinema in relation to mainstream film genres, but also to situate New Queer Cinema as part of a queer cultural continuum. The first three chapters of the thesis focus primarily on the afore-mentioned films from the movement of New Queer Cinema, while the last three chapters will investigate the extent to which the queer parodic operates outside of the temporal and spatial parameters of 1990s North American cinema. A study of what might constitute elements of an ‘Old Queer Cinema’ is conducted in order to trace the aesthetic genealogy of New Queer Cinema, while European queer films by directors such as Derek Jarman, Pedro Almodóvar and Neil Jordan are also analysed in terms of their queer parodic practices. The concluding chapter examines the legacy of New Queer Cinema, determining that while the queer parodic is still extant, many of its aesthetic strategies and thematic concerns have been problematically co-opted by mainstream cinema.
The aims of the thesis are met by interrogating and specifying how the parodic deconstruction of identity and generic categories intersect and relate to one another, while also outlining the extent to which queer films and their filmmakers have produced, represented and asserted queerness through the subversive appropriation of popular cinematic genres.