I don’t know who said it first, but there is a popular self-help meme that says you are a writer as long as you write. It doesn’t matter whether you’re afforded the opportunity to write what you wish to write for a living, or whether you partake as nothing more than a hobby or on the side. Fictional novels, investigative journalism, personal blog or whatever other form, it doesn’t matter as you sit down at your keyboard or notebook – you are a writer as long as you write.
However, what if what you want to write is film criticism on Australian cinema? And, even further down the cinematic family tree, Australian queer cinema at that? It’s hard to paint a rosy picture when you audience is one for whom the discourse is often around what’s wrong with the industry rather than on the films themselves, when multiple online archives of queer arts culture have been unceremoniously dumped from the internet without even so much as a warning, and when much of the discussion around queer entertainment is often left to the fringes of film coverage or packaged with lazy brand awareness for easier clicks.
‘Top Ten Gay Sex Scenes Since Brokeback Mountain [Ang Lee, 2005]!’
‘Celebrate Mardi Gras with These Eight Queer Movies on Netflix!’
In my relatively brief time as a professional film critic (a decade), I have definitely seen the way queer work is covered in the media change quite dramatically: from the sorts of titles given the space to be talked about, to the types of voices offered the opportunity to discuss and the ideas they are granted the space and freedom to put forward. And, of course, the dichotomy is not lost on me that queer arts coverage struggles at a time when there is more of it than ever before. It’s easy to be discouraged. To write is one thing, but to be read and appreciated is another.
Although today’s podcasts and specialty outlets can afford writers interested in works with queer themes and aimed at LGBTQIA+ audiences a space in which to engage, it’s particularly important to acknowledge the consistent and longstanding history of Metro in this space. Not to completely toot the horn of the magazine I have been granted the opportunity to write for – except we’re totally going to toot that horn; we’re not savages – but it’s true that Metro offers a place for increasingly-little-seen long-form critical assessments of queer art that do not have a home anywhere else.
Since my first review in Metro six years ago, I have covered a variety of queer film and television titles – right up until the magazine’s recent coverage of the ABC’s Riot (Jeffrey Walker, 2018; M197), about the gay-rights movement in 1970s Australia. With the Mardi Gras celebrations inspired by those titular riots seeing more and more corporate trappings, and with detailed reviews of products like Riot sadly in short supply, having my words on these topics appear in print have made each of my endeavours worth it.
Certainly, it’s been hard to come by similar takes on films like Teenage Kicks (Craig Boreham, 2016; M190), a movie that I did not like, but which offered me – and, I hope, the reader – a portal into coming-of-age stories about Aussie-born queers. Likewise, the trance-like documentary Ecco Homo (Richard Lowenstein & Lynn-Maree Milburn, 2015), which obviously had minimal commercial prospects (it never received a traditional theatrical release), was relegated mostly to capsule reviews on the back of its local festival screenings. So I took on this film rich in potential themes for anyone interested in its subject, Melbourne’s own queer underground rock muse Peter Vanessa ‘Troy’ Davies (M187).
And how rare and exciting it was to be a part of Metro’s powerful 186th issue built around the evolving portrayals of queer stories on screen across the Asia-Pacific region – undoubtedly a rare endeavour demonstrating Metro’s ongoing commitment to the causes of representation and discourse. My own contribution revolved around Australia’s LGBTQIA+ products upon the twenty-first birthday of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliott, 1994). Titled ‘After Priscilla: Queer Cinema Twenty-one Years On’, it dove into a litany of works from arthouse gem Head On (Ana Kokkinos, 1998) and TV soap Home and Away to sequin-studded biopic Carlotta (Samantha Lang, 2014). The piece holds a particular significance for me because it allowed me to not only immerse myself in the breadth of Australian queer content in all of its forms, but also be among an edition that highlighted such worthy takes on queer subject matter – the likes of which all too often go ignored.
In Metro, at least, journalistic drive and critical insight into queer film and television aren’t just novelties but requirements, because to lack them is to miss out on some of the most interesting cinematic works being produced. For this writer, the magazine is a reminder that, even if we pick up the (metaphorical) pen only on the rare occasion, our words are still valued and championed – and, moreover, that queer filmmakers’ visions remain a vital asset to our culture and are worth exploring.