I am resolutely and firmly opposed to the proposition that Donna Summer is a retro holdover. She is for me very much connected to the here-and-now. Sure, she ruled the disco era, but the Summer I will miss is the one who continued to make music right up until her death on May 17. I didn’t grow up listening to her music on my parents’ record player, but I did hear her plenty on dancefloors during the last decade. When I think of her, I think of dancing to “Crayons” at Crews & Tangos in 2008. I think of Ill Nana DiverseCity Dance Company’s choreography to “Bad Girls” at last month’s Feminist Porn Awards. And I remember that I most recently heard “I Feel Love” played at Buddies in March.
With that in mind, I’d like to send a virtual slap to commenter Anonymous 4:47pm on that unnamed gay-gossip and pointless-bitchery website I like who, on the day Summer died, wrote, “Next! Everyone gets old sooner or later. She’s not my era, so cry away, eldergays . . . I can’t relate.”
Next yourself, honey. That mindset, that you need to relate to everything, takes away your chance to feel the thrill of discovering the amazing or unexpected.
I like to deliberately step out of my own zone of things I relate to. It’s a principle I applied to this year’s Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival. Film as a medium should take you away to somewhere new. But with the many screenings on offer at Inside Out, it’s so easy to pick an itinerary of only films you relate to. The Inside Out program guide actually encourages this, for example, by grouping short films together into Boy Shorts and Lady Shorts programs. I purposely checked out a night of Lady Shorts and saw some great things I would never have seen otherwise. I didn’t relate to the characters or stories, but I took them on their own terms and was entertained. Ditto Margarita, a Canadian feature about a Mexican nanny who forms a tight bond with the teen she looks after while trying to elicit commitment from her commitment-phobic lawyer girlfriend. Cue lesbian sex, fear of deportation and iPhone drama. Christine Horne as the lawyer girlfriend manages to find some sympathetic notes in a character I was ready to dismiss. And it’s fair to say nothing in there really has anything to do with my life. Still, I ultimately found it a moving film about chosen family. It did what every good movie should do: took me into its world and entertained me.
When I checked out one of the Boy Shorts nights, expecting to find cinematic comfort food in relatable characters, I was left surprisingly wanting. A comedy about gays on Fire Island, Half-Share, offered up lame stereotypes, silly sight gags and a forced plot. It felt dated in a bad way, not in a fun, retro way, and reinforced the worst clichés about queer film festivals.
On the upside, nothing prepared me for The Crown Jewels, a bizarrely beautiful feature-length Swedish film with themes of interracial sex, classism, fantasy, pathos and howl-out-loud humour. The Crown Jewels was a wildcard flick for me, and knowing nothing about it going in really let the film work its magic.
Inside Out is at its best when films you’ve seen still rattle around in your brain days after you’ve seen them. I wonder what Anonymous 4:47pm would make of The Crown Jewels, though I can guess what he would think about the Inside Out opening gala, at which DJ Shane Percy played the entire 17 minutes and 47 seconds of Summer’s “MacArthur Park” suite.
Dancing around and singing with folks who don’t remember the ’80s, let alone the ’70s, says something lovely to me about the power music and film have to bring us together. After mourning a singer who has been part of all our lives and gathering together in the dark to watch something unexpected flash across the screen, I relate really well to many people I didn’t much relate to before.