Homotopia is a movie with sophisticated politics that revels in the lowbrow: bimbo revolutionaries, porn movie sexcapades, a Dolly Parton lip-synch, shaky-camera hijinks. While the movie purports to follow a group of queer malcontents as they plan to sabotage a gay marriage celebration, it gives equal attention to the steps and missteps along the way. Chris Vargas, creator of the short films Road Rash, Drive, and Gay Country Line Dance Aerobics, joins forces with direct action activist and emerging academic Eric Stanley to fuse the politics of political organizing with the techniques of d.i.y. feminist videomaking and, perhaps most surprisingly, the clumsiness of gay relational comedy.
I sat down with filmmakers Chris Vargas and Eric Stanley just before Frameline 31 (their movie will screen Saturday, June 23, as part of "Homos by the Bay"), and got so caught up in the festivities that I neglected to ask why so much of my floral-themed purple coiffe got cropped out of her cameo in the movie. But onto the rest of the ideas the movie generates...
Mattilda: Let's start with the beginning, where you have a manifesto that ends, "Love Revolution, Not State Delusion." This invocation of revolution seems both critical and ironic. I wonder if you could talk about that tension between the serious politics and the campy sloganeering?
Eric: I think, historically, that people have argued that a camp aesthetic is by definition apolitical and we started from a place that camp has been and is a really important political strategy, especially in queer struggles and queer visual cultures.
Chris: Yeah, it's self-critical and also allows a lightness which offers an entry point into some serious political dialogue.
Eric: And oftentimes historically, especially in '70s movements, it was all about this masculinist dogma, you know: everyone needs to file in line behind the great male leader and there's very little room for playfulness or for love or passion or any of those things.
Mattilda: This movie appears to be set in San Francisco, and obviously SF in the present day is awash with pro-marriage conversion fever, so it seems a perfect place for a dystopian fable. I thought you got some lovely shots in the gay Castro district that would be hard to plan, like "Sing-Along Evita" at the Castro Theater. Or Pride Cleaners. You even managed to include those ghastly Freedom to Marry stickers, the ones with the stars-and-stripes in a heart shape that say, "We all deserve the freedom to marry!"
Eric: Those stickers have been a keepsake of mine for some time, that kind of gay nationalism is something that terrifies me actually -- you know, what does it mean when this group of people that has been historically and still is incredibly terrorized by the United States government stands at allegiance with all the warmongers and every other horrible person in the United States?
Chris: The rabidness of wanting to be aligned with that kind of colonial patriotism is totally scary.
Mattilda: You also challenge normative ideas of gender by representing all of these different sorts of trans, genderqueer, gender defiant bodies and identities without defining any of them. And I'm wondering if this is part of the love revolution that you're invoking.
Eric: At one of our showings a person in the audience asked, "Why are there only white males in your movie?" I mean to me, obviously there's tons of people that don't identify as white and tons of people that don't identify as male and whatever. And I think it was really interesting in seeing how different people can either enter it, enter the film, or not at all. Like, it was just way too much for some people to even get there.
Chris: We didn't want to condemn one's participation in the medical-industrial complex because they want their bodies to look a certain way or their genders to be read a certain way, but also we didn't want to reproduce that commonly understood expectation that one must inevitably do so in order to be legible as the gender one chooses
Mattilda: You mean challenging that as the one model of success?
Mattilda: And so in some ways do you think that you are invoking failure as a possibility, like maybe this is a place where there is a potential for liberation?
Chris: Absolutely, this failure to pass, this failure to participate in oppressive structures, absolutely failure becomes this place of liberation.
Mattilda blogs at nobodypasses.blogspot.com