Camp can represent a bold gesture of pride and defiance, a frivolous flight of fancy, a (bad) taste for stylistic excess, a shared sense of carefully cultivated humour that crosses generations… and more!
One the one hand it cannot be easily pigeonholed, but on the other it is laden with cliché. As a mainstay of queer readings of our emerging community over many decades, its enduring consistency deserves an honourable mention. As 2017 provides a moment for reflection, and a celebration of LGBT history in the UK since significant legal changes 50 years ago, the Winks and Nudges strand at BFI Flare explores some of the big camp hitters that have stood the test of time, and at least one that hasn’t.
We are screening a collection of perennial favourites, each chosen by a different Flare programmer. A landmark camp film lobbied for fiercely by Brian Robinson is Can’t Stop the Music (1980). Produced by camp legend Allan Carr, of Grease (1978) fame, this extraordinarily trashy musical tells the pseudo-autobiographical tale of how the Village People were formed. It’s a jaw-dropping disco frenzy, and this is a unique opportunity to see the dancing cowboys, leather-men, cops and construction workers rollerskate towards you on the enormous IMAX screen.
I have chosen Barbarella for its exemplary lesson in kitsch camp. It has legions of cult comic and sci-fi fans and has influenced a phenomenal amount of artists, musicians, designers and filmmakers since it floated in from outer space in 1968. With costumes from Paco Rabanne, its stylishness combined the 60s trend for sci-fi aesthetics with a new desire for camp materials – particularly colourful plastics and transparent macs. Jane Fonda’s endearing star turn perfectly embodies the French comic-book icon in a movie that’s brimming with gay and bisexual elements.
Starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, gold-digger musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) has been chosen by Emma Smart, and it’s about as classic as camp gets. To top it off our Flare screening is a sing-a-long event, so you can get right into the ‘tennis anyone’ spirit of the key scene featuring the gorgeous homoerotic gymnastics of several dozen male athletes wearing nothing but buff coloured pants. They basically ignore Jane Russell’s pleas for attention to do a big, bottoms-up dance routine in sequence with each other.
Mommie Dearest (1981) is Michael Blyth’s choice and is a very popular tell-all tale of Joan Crawford behind closed doors in her declining years. Faye Dunaway is simply amazing as Joan, constantly on the brink of a breakdown but keeping up appearances to an unhinged degree. Joan’s camp legend has burned bright since Mildred Pierce (1945), all the way to Trog (1970), and was cemented by this film and the controversial book of the same name by Joan’s daughter.
There are a few tickets remaining for all of the above and, if your whistle has been whetted, come on down to the free party with a kitsch camp theme on the 24 March, hosted by Jonathan Kemp and Sadie Lee.