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Monday, February 4, 2019

Beyond the Canon: Funeral Parade of Roses + The Crying Game

By Willow Maclay

It is no secret that the cinema canon has historically skewed toward lionizing the white, male auteur. Beyond the Canon is a monthly series that seeks to question that history and broaden horizons by pairing one much-loved, highly regarded, canonized classic with a thematically or stylistically-related—and equally brilliant—work by a filmmaker traditionally excluded from that discussion. This month’s double feature pairs Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses (1969) with Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game (1992) on Sat, Feb 16 at 4:15pm.

As a cinematic idea the beautiful, seductive, transgender woman is a subversive contradiction of social and political mores. In cinema, the place of transgender women is usually confined to the occupation of corpses, sex workers or the butt of a joke, with the latter two funneling back into that central position of a dead body. To suggest that trans women hold any other position in the political sphere of cinema is to argue that trans women are worthy of being human, which is an idea that to this day still seems radical. In The Crying Game and Funeral Parade of Roses transgender women do not die. They’re femme-fatales, punks, weirdos and rebels and they look damn good the entire time.

Funeral Parade of Roses and The Crying Game both go to great lengths to introduce their trans and gender non-conforming characters as fixations of beauty. The stunning black and white photography in Roses introduces Eddie, played by Japanese super-star queen Peter, a character loosely based on Oedipus Rex, in the throes of sexual intercourse. The camera glides up her body as she’s being ravished by her lover. The camera catches her face in extreme close-up bursting with orgasm and has the guts to say this person’s body is not only worthy of love, but desirable as well. In The Crying Game, Jaye Davidson’s Dil is given full star treatment with a scene eerily similar to Lady Gaga’s introduction in the most recent incarnation of A Star is Born. Dil sings a song bearing the same name as the film at a gay bar, and Fergus, played by Stephen Rea, has tracked her down in order to tell her that her former boyfriend has passed away. In the dimly lit, smoke and haze of a queer joint Fegus is transfixed. Dil is tall, statuesque, and has beautiful curling hair that cascades over her shoulder like puffy ringlets of chocolate. The camera mostly stares at Dil, because Fergus is too. You can’t look away. She’s a star.

The irony of both Peter and Jaye Davidson being positioned as beautiful transgender women is that in reality they aren’t transgender women, but instead played by androgynous cisgender men, which tangles and knots our perception of gender even further. In these films gender is something that morphs and contradicts societal notions of men and women into something altogether more complicated and evolutionary. This is especially true in Funeral Parade of Roses, which mirrors the breaking down of gendered perception through the destruction of cinematic form.

The Crying Game (1992) courtesy of Photofest

Popular conceptions of cinematic form, in terms of narrative dexterity, camera movement, and the type of bodies that are prized frequently leave minority classes of people on the outside looking in. To correct this, we have to create our own language and a film like Funeral Parade of Roses does this by lighting a metaphorical Molotov cocktail and hurling it on top of cinematic forms of histories past.

This is a film which barely has a narrative and instead mixes surrealism, documentary and near pornography into one fluid, moving beast of gendered transgressions. There is space for characters to not have answers as to why they want to be “queens” in documentary talking head segments, which bend the reality and fiction of the movie. This is a restless form, which clearly indicates that to reach toward a transgender cinematic there has to be a consideration of how violent and stagnant the internal machinations of transgender women actually are. When you attempt to live your own life and express your identity in a society and a political sphere that by and large wants you dead how do you cope? And how do you come to terms with the limitations of your own body in meeting the desires of your own flesh? In Funeral Parade of Roses there are no real answers to these questions, but these problems are at least recognized and wilfully commented on instead of the typical mode of transgender representation in cinema at large, which is usually relegated to carnival theatrics. All that being said, this is an invisible representation. These lead characters you are looking at are still men, and we’re still not on the screen. Can a ghost ever be given flesh?

Join us for Beyond the Canon on Sat, Feb 16 at 4:30pm

Willow Maclay is a freelance writer and film critic living in Canada. She has written for outlets such as The Village Voice and Ebert Voices and is co-author of the upcoming book Corpses, Fools and Monsters: An Examination of Transgender Cinema.

Funeral Parade of Roses (1969) courtesy of Arbelos Films, The Crying Game (1992), courtesy of Photofest
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1 comment:

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