Milk ‘n Che: The Avant Docs
February 23, 2009
This is more of a shout out then I usually perform. Simply to say: hey guys, there are some great docs about these revolutionaries to keep in mind. They came first. Not better. Not even so much different. Just another frame. Different languages. More to consider.
1) Last night I re-watched Rob Epstein’s Academy Award winning (1984) The Times of Harvey Milk after watching Sean Penn win another Academy Award for the same themes/man/murder. I first saw it (most likely) in 1985 in a packed auditorium in college. You could have cut the tension and excitement with a knife. It was the first public representation of gay culture at my preppy, uptight alma mater: a place where my friends and I were attempting to introduce queer activism and studies (not yet so-named) in quiet ways that would not endanger our two out friends. The ONLY out man and woman at my college… Hmm. The effects of visibility, while easily unmade through intellectual acts of criticality, can not be overemphasized. There was a time when gay life, gay politics, gay men were quieted and invisible. And then we/they organized and documented our critique, rage, lives, and demands. And then many died of AIDS. Another story. More video. Images, even documentaries, mean differently when and where you see them (again). The meanings of martyrs change over time and across media: nostalgia, commodity, lesson, enrager, quieter.
2) Last week, I also got to see Leandro Katz’s El Dia Que Me Quieras (“The Day You’ll Love Me”) where he also eloquently registers the changing meanings of radical images across time and context by interviewing Freddy Alborts, the photographer who took the iconographic images of Che that traveled the world, and were re-contextualized as signs of radical power, loss, and heroism. In 1999, Jeffrey Skoler discusses Katz’s film raising concerns about “the growing commodification of icons of the ‘age of revolution.'” Change and change again.
I’ve written about both of the recent narrative, Hollywood features about these image-men in these pages. And I think they’re both great: introducing them to new audiences in acceptable languages that can still win prizes. But let us not forget the powerful ways that documentarians and avant-garde artists lead the way, set the stage, get there faster, harder, smarter, bolder, angrier, and more poeticly, too. We learn about radical culture only through Hollywood to our own peril.