Here’s my response to controversial queer film ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’, peppered with links from The Huffington Post – which are all worth a read if you’re looking for an LGBT/artistic headache.
It was my birthday last week. My girl arranged a lovely day out for us by researching lots of options and locations and writing them out on slips of paper. She took me to a coffee shop in Waterloo which was un-intimidatingly cool [no Starbucks for this 25 year old] and we planned our day out by arranging the slips in a timeline.
Our agenda included:
•A stroll by the Thames and the South Bank [my favourite place in all of London];
•Lunch at Borough Market;
•A drink with K in Kensington;
•A trip to the cinema to see ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’.
Of course. What lesbian’s birthday would be complete without a trip to the cinema to see this film with their girlfriend?
I’ve been very keen to see ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’. I love French cinema and lesbians and dyed hair – sign me UP! I got the original graphic novel for Christmas which is very lovely. So we were going to go watch the film and enjoy our gayness (and a bag of minstrels).
However, we would not enjoy subtitled dyke drama that evening.
Despite meeting K at the pub at 4pm for drinks, we missed our film at 8pm. That is because the ale at K’s local is strong. Also, the whiskey is lethal and I think someone else was paying (stuff got blurry after the fourth IPA). Despite failing on the cinema front it was a great end to the birthday outing. My girl bonded with a one of my best friends over what a ridiculous mess I am. We simply lost track of time, along with my motor skills and my basic human decency – shouting about dental dams in a nice pub is not acceptable, apparently. So we drunkenly skipped the film, stumbled home, got pizza and collapsed in a drunken heap around 11pm.
I can’t decide if I was disappointed to miss ‘Blue’. We had been looking forward to it for some time but when it came to the question “another drink or go catch the tube to Soho?” I suddenly felt very shy at the prospect of sitting in the cinema watching a queer film with my girlfriend. Or maybe I was just hopelessly drunk and couldn’t face getting on the tube.
We still haven’t found a time to go and see the film following the boozefest/bonding session/cinematic fail. I’m not gutted. I don’t think I want to watch this film in the cinema. The most significant piece of queer cinema in months and I don’t want to see it? What’s going on?
Before we proceed there are three things you should know about me (just in case you haven’t already grasped these facts from my internet shoutings):
•I am gay. So gay. I’m so out and proud that I’m sure my friends are subtly trying to coax me back in. I am out and outspoken. I love queer culture and queer art.
•I love sex. Not just having it, but discussing it. At length. I love talking about sex and sexual expression. Few things make me squeamish, if any. I will happily watch anything graphic with an objective eye.
•I’m a director with a penchant for bold, challenging and uncompromising performance. My dissertation on staging graphic sex and violence is the highlight of my academic career, followed shortly by chaining two women together for a physical performance I devised.
Back to the task at hand; why, as a gay, sex-positive director, did I not want to go and see this film?
There has been much controversy regarding the sex scenes in ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’. Director Abdellatif Kechiche has been criticised on a selection of fronts; for being a man and assuming he had the audacity to direct lesbian sex, for including ‘non-official-lesbian-sex-acts’, for not consulting lesbians when making this movie. How very dare he! The nerve of that man, busting in there and assuming he could show women enjoying themselves without having adequate netherjunk. Julie Maroh, creator of the graphic novel has criticised Kechiche’s portrayal of lesbian sex and stated that he repeatedly refused to consult with ladygays on the matter. As a director I am happy to admit there are things I don’t know. But considering it, would I seek out a committee of gay men to help if I directed a play on a male gay romance? Or chat with straight men and women for help to direct a heterosexual sex scene? The argument follows that despite my experience with menfolk, I couldn’t possibly know how to depict a truly satisfying straight fuck because I haven’t personally had one.
Ouch. Sorry exes.
I’ve directed sex scenes. Several. In fact one friend, who saw a play of mine, couldn’t stop talking with his girlfriend about how good the sex scenes were. I know what I’m doing. And all on my own. As a director I need to take my own path with a show (blame my authority issues) and I can understand Kechiche’s need, however stubborn, to go his own way. And therefore he understands that he must be prepared to fall on his artistic sword. But would chatting with a lesbian help him realise his own vision or help him make a more honest film? Or would he just know how one woman likes to do other women? Isn’t love and sex universally understood? Its the interplay between bodies – doesn’t matter what the bodies look like. We all fall in love, we all feel desire (for the most part). Are we encouraging a too precious approach to lesbianism – its not a specialist subject that one must qualify in to be truly gay. No. I like being naked with women; I am gay. That’s it. No examinations, no licences. Being a gay woman does not mean I am in any way more qualified to direct something about gay women. I am not an authority on gayness. Directors can imagine what they like, express themselves how they see fit through their work. Kechiche has made a choice – maybe not a widely respected or praised choice. But he’s made one.
Next, there’s the whole “lesbians don’t do that” argument that’s been flitting around, some like the way the sex was depicted, some do not, as shown in this lovely video of reactions by witty hipster lesbians. This, in itself is an issue of representation of lesbians – who gave these guys the authority to speak for the lesbian community? Or, or, we could just make decisions based on personal preferences and not say we speak on behalf of all gays everywhere. The question of ‘lesbian authenticity’ is insulting. What makes sex ‘lesbian’? Or ‘authentic’? Isn’t it two women making each other feel good? The rest is details. There has been discussion of rimming and reverse cowgirl scissoring and if this is ‘lesbian’. They’re both women aren’t they? Therefore it is lesbian sex. They are fictitious women, true, and portrayed by two straight actresses, but these actresses derive their characterisation from what they understand as lesbian. More importantly they derive their characterisation from what they know as women enjoying sex.
I cannot understand what my opinion is amongst all these opinions. Admittedly I am yet to watch the film for myself. I’m still not googling show times at the local cinema. I remain utterly stuck – why am I not seeing this film?!
Time to bring in the philosopher.
My housemate and profound theatrewife E reminded me that as co-founders of our own theatre company, we tackle the question of representation and sex in all our work. For us, as individuals, sex is art. Art can, must, be as intellectually and physically satisfying as sex. And vice versa. We have the artistic sweet spot well and truly hit – seriously. Our dating lives revolve on the quest for the sexual equivalent of the high we get when making theatre. If you’re asking us what makes good sex or good representation of sex, then it is this: it must be as satisfying as art. Artistic representation of sex, which satisfies both our aesthetic and sexual needs is really tough. It exists, but its rare. With regards to ‘Blue’, creating a piece of art, which features sex so explicitly, has to hit both of these sweet spots. It has to be beautiful, worthy and arousing. I’m not talking about pornography. Something that literally switches you on. This is very hard to achieve.
With queer cinema, there is a third sweet spot. Cinematic depictions of lesbian sex must be
As a gay audience we feel the need to be represented honestly and be portrayed with worth. We are still protesting for our sexuality – our right to be seen and therefore to be free to be ourselves. Cinema, literature and art are hallmarks of the picket line, a way to communicate to a mass audience, a form of increasing our visibility. These expressions carry responsibility with them. Another artistic stipulation to consider when making queer art. Whether Kechiche has acknowledged or rejected this burden is up for debate.
I am nervous to see ‘Blue’ in the cinema in public. I don’t know how I’ll react, or how I should react. Should I feel outraged as a feminist and lesbian – or will I be turned on and subsequently feel guilty because I’m aroused by acts which have been slated by the gay community. Or worse, will I watch the sex scenes, realise that’s how I have sex and conclude that I have betrayed the sisterhood by just following my sexual urges? Or will the director in me claw at my companion’s thigh simply because the lighting is just not right? Maybe I won’t care. Maybe I’ll wish I spent the ticket price on a frozen yoghurt and a copy of Diva magazine. There are too many opinions and standpoints to choose from and I feel as a lesbian I am expected to have one. So many vocal women have preceded this dyke in their registering of ‘gay opinion’ that I am exhausted and cannot prepare myself for battle. I don’t understand why I’m fighting. Why I need to. All I’m actually doing is sitting down in a dark room with strangers and watching a film with my girlfriend. This is supposed to be something fun to celebrate my birthday. I am not a soapbox for the gay community (no, really).
I want to experience ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ as a consumer, not a sexual activist. I want my reaction to be private, personal and huddled under my duvet with a cup of tea.
I shan’t be going to the cinema.
I want to see the film but I’ll wait for the DVD to come out.