Review of THE VIEW FROM HERE BY MATTHEW HAYS
In The View from Here: Conversations with Gay and Lesbian Filmmakers, Matthew Hays explores some of the unique challenges, motivations, and opportunities connected to being a gay director or screenwriter. His subjects range from the mainstream and well known, such Gus Van Sant, Pedro Almodovar, and John Waters, to lesser known creators with only a single film to their name, and with each he asks pointed questions about the process and experiences that informed their films.
Surprising is the number of documentarians included; this weight is felt especially in the beginning of the book and suggests that the filmmakers’ desires are often to inform or provoke as much or more than to tell a story. Hays circles around issues, asking similar questions to multiple filmmakers. This technique offers broad if not deep responses to questions about what it’s like to work independently versus within the studio system, how politics influence films and films influence politics, and how the landscape of gay and lesbian films has changed over time. Ultimately, the approach shows that these artists, like their films, are as varied and disparate as can be imagined. For each who thinks that Brokeback Mountain is a sign of growing acceptance, for instance, there is another who sees it in a negative light. Particularly striking is Randal Kleiser’s perceptive but depressing dissection of the movie’s reception:
[Being gay] is not shown as something that is a good choice or can work out, and that’s probably why audiences liked it. [Middle America] saw the film as their point of view rather than a happy movie where everyone ends up living these long lives and having great relationships.
Insights like this—which challenged my personal view of Brokeback Mountain as a cautionary tale against prejudice—can prompt a reevaluation of readers’ own film interpretations and are sprinkled throughout the text. And, though the filmmakers are interviewed solo (or, in some cases, with their filmmaking partners), Hays’s focus on defined themes suggests a conversation between artists.
However, this strength is also the book’s weakness. How important is it, really, to ask each porn-related filmmaker for his or her view on the movie Boogie Nights? And at 350 plus pages, reading the interviews back to back eventually begins feeling a bit repetitive and tedious. The View from Here is a worthwhile read for both film aficionados and those interested in how marginalized people are depicted in culture in general. It’s a book better appreciated if read slowly, though, savoring each interview in its own right.
Originally appeared in Enfuse, a Colorado-based arts, culture, music, and literature publication with additional offices in San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, and Vancouver.