"BIKE BOYS, DRAG QUEENS, AND SUPERSTARS: Avant-Garde, Mass Culture, and Gay Identities" by Juan A. Surez

"BIKE BOYS, DRAG QUEENS, AND SUPERSTARS: Avant-Garde, Mass Culture, and Gay Identities"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A passingly intelligent but disjointed critical examination of the gay ""underground"" cinema movement of the 1960s. Drawing mainly on the work of Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith, and Andy Warhol, Surez (English/Universidad de Murcia, Spain) attempts to frame a slightly new conception of the historical relationship between the avant-garde and mass culture. Instead of a merely oppositional relationship, he sees, especially in these gay underground movies, a dialectical (love-hate, to the layperson) dynamic, as the filmmakers simultaneously embrace pop culture and critique it. For example, in Scorpio Rising, Anger both celebrates motorcycles, movie stars, and doo-wop songs and critiques them as emblems of mass culture's violent, fascistic potential. Surez also details how gay filmmakers have expropriated images from the straight world and given them a gay reading, with drag queens being the classic example. But before Surez can get to these ideas, he feels compelled to labor us with a 50-page history of the European avant-garde, freighted with enough stale Parisian jargon to fuel the entire Yale English department. Then there is an extended, discursive history of the American underground. In fact, the individual filmmakers, although the ostensible subject of the book, are treated almost perfunctorily. Surez has too many other agendas to satisfy. Like the films it sometimes analyzes, flashes of brilliance amidst high and low pretentions, pastiche, and pother.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Indiana Univ.