Bike Boys, Drag Queens, and Superstars: Avant-Garde, Mass Culture, and Gay Identities in the 1960s Underground Cinema

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9780253210333: Bike Boys, Drag Queens, and Superstars: Avant-Garde, Mass Culture, and Gay Identities in the 1960s Underground Cinema

At the confluence of experimental art and the gay subculture of early 1960s New York, Juan Su rez discovers a postmodern, gay-influenced aesthetic that recycles popular culture. Filmmakers Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith, and Andy Warhol epitomize this sensibility, combining the influences of European avant-garde movements, comic books, rock n roll, camp, film cults, drag performance, fashion, and urban street cultures. Su rez contends that the avant-garde must be understood in relation to dominant modes of artistic and cultural production, including mass culture and the practices and varieties of community. Beginning with the intellectual and institutional history, and the cultural politics, of American underground cinema, Su rez moves to the filmmakers' work Anger's taste for ornamentation, stylistic excess, and hot-rod and motor-cycle subcultures; Smith's interest in 1920s and 40s movie glamour and decaying urban landscapes; and Warhol's explorations of style, fashion, and superstardom.

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About the Author:

JUAN A. SUÁREZ is Assistant Professor of English at the Universidad de Murcia, Spain.

From Kirkus Reviews:

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, Su rez (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. Su rez 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 Su rez 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. Su rez has too many other agendas to satisfy. Like the films it sometimes analyzes, flashes of brilliance amidst high and low pretentions, pastiche, and pother. (14 b&w photos) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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