Tag Archives: Queer Representation

Fox and His Friends/ Faustrecht der Freiheit (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1985)

A film that frightened me when I first saw it as a teenager. Richard’s only now seen it. Does it hold up? Made at a time when there was a real dearth of representation, this is a daring work, as queer as a film can be, on many levels. The problem is not homosexuality but bourgeois exploitation, including by gay men. Why hasn’t Fassbinder been canonised by all the young queer boys? We speculate on that and much more in the accompanying podcast.

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

José Arroyo

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1972)


I hadn’t seen THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT for forty years and I remember finding it stagey and alienating then. This weekend I found it so great I saw it twice, and it will probably take me a long time to think through its complexities.

The beauty of it is immediate. It’s filmed by Michael Ballhaus, in one set, in mainly autumnal colours with a painting of Poussin’s MIDAS AND BACCHUS often dominating the background and symbolically commenting on the characters’ situation, just as the dressmaker’s dummies that are carefully arranged in the background, often through room partitions and book-cases in clearly Sirkian frames-within-frames or the symbolic use of dolls or even the design of that dress Marlene is undertaking on Petra’s behalf.. The mise-en-scène is a marvel of slithering long-takes landing with precision on extraordinary compositions, and often more than one within a shot. The dialogue is constant, as in a play, but with this type of mise-en-scène bears less of the weight of communicating meaning and feeling. It’s a film that makes one re-think or think some more or think in better and more complicated ways about the theatrical in film (which I know some of you have already done so).


There are only six characters in the film; Petra von Kant (Marget Cartensen), a celebrated dress designer, once widowed, currently divorcing her second husband; Sidonie (Katrin Schaake), he best friend; her mother (Gisela Fackelday); her daughter (Eva Mattes); her secretary Marlene (the great Irm Herrmann) who we never hear throughout the film but is always in the background; her presence always felt, even when it’s only through us hearing her typing. She sees everything, hears everything, does all the work, is clearly totally besotted with Petra and it is more than suggested that she gets off on Petra treating her abominably; and finally Karin, a married woman, like Marlene of a lower class, with whom Petra will fall madly in love, losing all her bearings and upturning her life.

The film’s five acts go with five different wigs as Petra tries on different identities, philosophises about gender and power and exploitation in different ways until love floors her. Fassbinder’s view of relationships is that it’s all power games with different partners having different degrees of power, in which gender, money and class figure,  but is mainly on how much they’re in love; and that love itself is something that leads to a total loss of control and complete vulnerability. It’s a hyper-romantic view of love and a super-cynical view of relationships. It did make me wonder how lesbians – who flocked to this film in the 70s; there was a real dearth of representation – responded to this film then. And perhaps some of you remember and will tell me.

Aside from the theatrical, the film, like with MERCHANTS OF THE FOUR SEASONS makes me think about the representation of period, but for almost different reasons. The film is clearly set in contemporary times (all the references to air travel) but it looks as if it was set in the late twenties or thirties, perhaps because of the costumes and hairdos, and because they bear so much more weight of signification since the action all takes place indoors. It again seems to be set in a no-time that bears the weight of history (the costumes, the painting), in this case with a particular accent on the patriarchal (the use of dolls, the constant dressing) and the relationships women have had to enact within that order. A truly great film. Now that I’ve seen it twice, I want to see it again.

José Arroyo

Thinking Aloud About Film: Beware of a Holy Whore (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1971)


I’ve been watching all the Fassbinder films I can get my hands on in chronological order and find this the culmination of his early works, a great film about filmmaking to rank alongside Minnelli’s TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN (1962) Godard’s CONTEMPT (1963) or Truffaut’s DAY FOR NIGHT (1973). Richard hasn’t seen a Fassbinder film for two decades and finds it harder to get into. We discuss the structure, the marvellous visual and dramatic handling of a very large cast, the gorgeous glossy look –surprising in Fassbinder films to this point — and snake-like long takes (Michael Ballhaus is the cinematographer), the psycho-sexual power dynamics in the narrative and we admire Hannah Schygulla. A main take-away from this conversation with Richard is how Fassbinder’s early work points to a type of cinema and a type of queer representation that the AIDS pandemic brought an end to and of which QUERELLE might be a nodal point. BEWARE OF A HOLY WHORE is ostensibly based on Fassbinder’s experience of filming WHITY (1971) but it is a difficult film to see at this point and that aspect has largely been left out of the discussion.


The podcast may be listened to here:

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546


José Arroyo

In Conversation with Kacey de Groot on ‘Disclosure’ (Sam Felder, USA, 2020)




Disclosure, not the Demi Moore/ Michael Douglas hit from 1994 but the documentary on the history of representation of trans people currently on Netflix, is a fascinating film that incites conversation. I wanted to talk to Kacey de Groot on it because, as a trans woman and trans activist, she’s in a position to teach us a lot about the issues the film raises. The conversation ranges from the film itself, to other representations in films and television (A Fantastic Woman, Pose, Transparent) to an account of areas of personal experience the film incited on to broader areas relating to the politics of representation. I’m a teacher and listening is part of learning and land learning and teaching are inextricably bound in inexhaustible ways.  The podcast can be listened to here.


In Conversation with Gary Needham on Cruising (William Friedkin, USA,1980)


I can think of no one who knows more about Cruising (William Friedkin, USA, 1980) than Gary Needham. He’s already written extensively on Warhol, Queer TV, Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005) and many aspects of Queer Histories from various historical perspectives, and has recently published, ‘CRUISING IS A PICTURE WE SINCERELY WISH WE DID NOT HAVE TO SHOW’ United Artists, ratings, blind bidding and the controversy of William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980) in his own co-edited collection.


The discussion in the podcast ranges from the film’s production history to New York S&M clubs to Disco Music to Queer Representation and Queer Politics, to ‘New’ American Cinema of the period to the film as a text characterised by incoherence, doubt and ambiguity. The kind of commentary a 40th anniversary re-issue of this still alluring film deserves.

Aside from his scholarly work, one of the reasons I so wanted to talk to Gary about the film was the series of brilliant images related to the film that he had been publishing on Twitter. Gary has kindly provided some of them. Here is a series of images documenting the protests the film sparked during the filming itself and after its release:

Here are a series of images from gay people defending the film:

Here are a series of images referred to in the podcast:

And Gary has also kindly provided two pdf’s of contemporaneous coverage of the film: ‘Cruising, Blueprint for Carnage’: QKPZCB716161002

and an article from Gay News: Cruising, The Lure – The Novel of Death: REVMIB524278205


Lastly, Kevin Heffernan has kindly directed me to a long three hour forty-five minute  podcast on Cruising by Mike White and The Projection Booth Podcast: for those of you who can’t get enough of the film.


José Arroyo