Filmmaker Ira Sachs and journalist and filmmaker Adam Baran’s film series “Queer/Art/Film” features gay and lesbian artists presenting films that, as Sachs says, remind us “there’s no limit of what’s possible, both in terms of content, and in terms of form.” The monthly series, which runs through April, beings tonight at the IFC Center with Justin Bond screening Ken Russell’s The Devils. Other presenters include Antony Hegarty, who’s showing The Lost Films of Charles Ludlam next month, Rodney Evans and Barbara Hammer. Here, Sachs and Baran talk about presenters resembling the films they choose, good art and bad art, and why Lady Gaga owes a lot to Bette Midler.
Why did you pick these artists to present?
IS: We pick artists we like, who are bold, who seem in some way, literally or figuratively, to have been influenced by cinema; people who are queer in some way that seems essential, but without any given criteria for what that means.
AB: And they have to be willing to show up!
IS: True. We are definitely interested in people who don’t shy away from their sexuality — or the cultures that have sprung up around that sexuality — in their work. We hope the series creates a whole new set of heroes for queer artists like ourselves to learn from, and take strength from. We want to expand the canon, and the pantheon of queer artists and heroes.
Were you surprised by any of the movies chosen?
IS: What I’ve noticed is how close the films resemble the artists who choose them. It reminds me of how dog owners so often seem to look exactly like their dogs. The relationship between the work, and the artists has felt organic and essential, as if John Cameron Mitchell is a direct descendant to Joe Orton, or Sarah Schulman is a kissing cousin to Chantal Akerman.
AB: I was surprised during our first cycle that more than one artist wanted to choose a film by Derek Jarman. It tipped me off to the fact that there must be some kind of Jarman revival going on — quite possibly because his films are now largely available on DVD and anyone can just Netflix them. We actually had Matt Wolf, who directed the great Arthur Russell documentary Wild Combination present the film, Blue. Kenny Mellman, who had toyed with showing War Requiem, ended up showing The Bea Arthur CBS Special from the late ’70s, and that was a surprise that actually worked out really well.
What film would each of you pick to show?
IS: I recently made a short film, Last Address, about New York artists who died of AIDS, including Charles Ludlam, David Wojnarowicz, Ethyl Eichelberger, Jack Smith, Ron Vawter and Cookie Mueller. I’d like to do an evening of their films, interviews, performances….
AB: Ira turned me on to a wonderful, neglected film by the French director Patrice Chereau, L’Homme Blesse, that I adore and hope people rediscover in America. I’ve also told Ira on more than one occasion I would love to show Bette Midler’s ’80s concert film Art or Bust, which fills me with glee and tears every time I watch it. The show was Midler’s homage to “art” — emphasis on the quotations. She comes out costumed as a Degas ballerina, and starts pulling fabric over her head and doing Martha Graham moves in the middle of a ballad. It’s wild and very rock ‘n’ roll, and definitely needs to be re-discovered. Bette’s humor and personality is the thing I find so lacking in the new gay icon Lady Gaga, who’s sort of an act without a personality behind it — though she’s working on it. Queens need to come and get schooled by Bette!
How did you two meet?
IS: We met through my boyfriend Boris Torres, a painter who Adam interviewed for Butt magazine, and then we found out that we both are culture vultures, in a very similar way. We like the same kind of stuff, but we not necessarily the same exact things. Adam likes bad art more than I do.
AB: I like good art AND bad art, but my definition of bad art is quite different from Ira’s. He doesn’t like any film that doesn’t totally work or is bad on purpose, but I am quite a fan of camp and can often find something quite fascinating to latch onto in any good or bad movie – a performance from some great queer character actor like Marjorie Main or Edward Everett Horton, or the deliciously awful acting you find in some of the Grand Dame Guignol films of the 60’s and 70’s. My definition of bad art would be Avatar, not Happy Birthday, Gemini. And if you get that reference, date me.