LOS ANGELES — After three years in New York City, queer film and performance platform Dirty Looks will be bringing their roving On Location festival to Los Angeles this summer. Throughout the month of July, they will stage 31 daily events around the city at sites of “queer cultural exchange.” Hyperallergic is giving away three pairs of festival passes that will get you and a friend into all of the events. (Please see the bottom of this post to enter the contest.)
The festival is intended not only to celebrate contemporary queer culture in Los Angeles, but to focus on important yet forgotten spaces and communities that have historically been excluded from dominant queer narratives. They’ve assembled a diverse curatorial committee of 13 Angelenos to organize the program including artists and musicians Marvin Astorga + Young Joon Kwak, film curator Bret Berg, the Women’s Center for Creative Work, and writer/performer Raquel Gutiérrez, among others.
“There’s a distinct history in LA in terms of queer activism. New York had Stonewall [site of the 1969 riots that were a pivotal event in the Gay Rights Movement], but there’s so much history here that predates Stonewall,” Bradford Nordeen, Dirty Looks Creative Director told Hyperallergic.
Part of that history is “A Most Unusual Film Festival,” Los Angeles’s first gay film festival which took place in the summer of 1968 at the Park Theater off MacArthur Park, right next to Langer’s Delicatessen. “The LA Times wouldn’t print ‘homosexual’ [in an ad], so the organizers threatened to sue,” explains Nordeen. More than just porn, the festival featured a range of what Nordeen calls “homosocial content,” including Shirley Clarke’s 1967 documentary The Story of Jason about a gay African American hustler, as well as works by avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas. To commemorate the festival’s 50th anniversary, Dirty Looks will kick off with a screening of two films included in the original lineup, Andy Warhol’s My Hustler, and Jerovi by José Rodríguez-Soltero, both from 1965.
In addition to influential events like “A Most Unusual Festival,” Dirty Looks On Location will shed light on seminal, but shuttered spaces for the queer community. After living in Los Angeles in the mid-aughts, Nordeen relocated to New York, recently coming back to Los Angeles only to find many of the venues he had frequented were gone. “When I decided to move back, that LA had drastically shifted,” he said. “All these place I went to on the reg closed and became brunch spots.”
Events centered around these spaces include a commemorative intervention at the former site of the Plush Pony, a Latinx lesbian bar in El Sereno memorialized in photos by Laura Aguilar, who passed away earlier this year. They will also be holding a screening of the complete works of performance artist and filmmaker Xandra Ibarra (also known as La Chica Boom) at the former site of Redz, another Latinx lesbian bar in Boyle Heights that closed in 2015 after 50 years. Silver Lake’s Circus of Books, an adult bookstore and gay cruising spot, will be closing this year after 57 years; however, the owners’ daughter, Rachel Mason, has been working on a documentary about the space, where a works-in-progress screening will be held along with a conversation with the owners, Karen and Barry Mason.
Despite the closure of many of these spaces, one that is still extant is the Bullet Bar, recognized as Los Angeles’s longest-running gay-operated bar. (“Bars are gay church,” quipped Nordeen.) Located on the former site of another gay bar, The Hanged Man, this North Hollywood watering hole will host a screening of gay porn dating back to 1971, the year the Hanged Man opened.
As queer culture becomes more accepted, the mainstream narrative focuses on an increasingly narrow segment of the LGBT population. “This seemed like a great opportunity, not only to talk about histories that get discussed, but a lot of cultural histories that don’t land in history books because they’re not white,” explained Nordeen. To this end, they’ll be premiering the debut documentary film from artist, dancer, and musician Brontez Purnell, “Unstoppable Feat: The Dances of Ed Mock,” which tells the story of the African American dancer and choreographer who died of AIDS in 1986. Before it closed in 2015, Jewel’s Catch One was the first club for gay African Americans in Los Angeles, and Union Nightclub (on the former site of JCO), will honor its legacy with a night of video/film by artist Cole Jupiter James and artist and musician Elliot Reed.
Although the month-long series is indeed a celebration of queer life and culture, it is balanced with a thoughtful consideration of struggles, both historical and contemporary. “One of the reasons it takes place in July, is that lots of corporate dollars are going to celebrations of queer culture in inauthentic ways [during June’s Gay Pride],” Nordeen explained. “Maintaining senses of community in the face of global capitalism is an integral part of the project.”
The committee’s main responsibilities will be to shape policy goals, stimulate arts philanthropy, and advocate for the expansion of federal backing of the cultural sector.
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