LGBTIQ FILM HISTORY

9 Queer Films Remastered by NSFA

The NFSA has digitised, restored and remastered the 9 short films made by gay fim maker Stephen Cummins.
FUSE  |  Film & TV

The remastered works of Stephen Cummins will premiere at the Mardi Gras Film Festival during Sydney WorldPride on 21 February 2023 and screen at Arc Cinema in Canberra at the NFSA in Canberra on 26 March 2023.

GAY BODIES IN PUBLIC SPACES

Head and shoulders shot of two young men (Simon Hunt and Stephen Cummins) side by side looking directly at camera.

Stephen Cummins’ 9 short films – created between 1984 and 1995 – map the changing politics of representation of the human body during that decade.

While his initial Super 8 experiments used the body as landscape and canvas, an increasing political consciousness as a gay man saw him examine the gay body in public space, interrogating the limitations of freedom of movement and then experiencing the consequences of demanding that freedom.

While always concerned with the multiple meanings of film representation, he moved from a predominantly aesthetic viewpoint to a later perspective that saw (and experienced) all art as political.

LE CORPS IMAGÉ

Born in Armidale, NSW in 1960, Stephen moved to Sydney in the early 80s and enrolled at Sydney College of the Arts.

His student films Breathbeat, Blue Movie (both 1984) and Deadpan (1985) reflected the sensibility of the Sculpture Department in which filmmaking practice was housed, hinting at a contained eroticism in the framing of the naked body as a sculptural element and already displaying his signature relationship with dance and gesture as forms of storytelling.

These elements all came together in Le Corps Imagé (1987). Examining the way that fine art and fashion photography draw from cultural representations – an act of both reading and writing – Stephen saw projecting those images back onto the moving bodies of the performers as one of reclamation, with the performers controlling the final image through movement.

Classical Greek male torsos merge into ambiguous gender zones as they are projected onto women’s bodies, a large cock emits from Michelangelo’s David, a crowd of 1950s film spectators wearing 3D glasses jostle as their body/screen rewrites the image. 

The film went on to win the Grand Prix award at the International Festival Of Young Cinema in Montreal, and the Medal of Honour at the Brussels Film Festival.

READ MORE & SEE FILM CLIPS

ELEVATION

n 1986, Stephen began to receive funding to curate and tour collections of Australian short films internationally. We became friends in Berlin, where I was living, and thereafter I became his composer and frequent creative collaborator.

Where his earlier films both reflected and critiqued ‘traditional’ coded homoeroticism in cinema, 1989’s Elevation more directly examined the limitations placed on gay male sexuality in the public eye.

Two men meet and kiss passionately in an elevator, enduring the disdain of a disapproving public, and then imagine a utopia where their sexuality could be celebrated.

Elevation reflected Stephen’s shift towards a more overt narrative form.

RESONANCE

The decriminalisation of male homosexual sex gathered pace across Australia throughout the 1980s and in 1989 was at the parliamentary debate stage in Western Australia, one of the last holdouts.

Stephen was invited to join a group art project in which filmmakers made 30-second films to be screened on late-night Perth television, during commercial breaks. His short film Taste the Difference showed performers Chris Ryan and Herb Robertson passionately kissing in close-up, with the film’s title emblazoned across the image in the final seconds. Although it was approved by the federal advertising standards body, it was banned by the television station manager, who claimed that it was not banned because it was 2 men kissing, but because the kiss itself was too explicit.

With increased visibility came violence. After an evening spent sketching out ideas for a new film at my place, Stephen was severely bashed on his way home by a group of men screaming 'faggot' and other slurs at him. The initial film idea transformed into Resonance (1991), which begins with an act of violence, and then uses dance and performance to show a process of healing from this event:

READ MORE & SEE FILM CLIPS

The Stephen Cummins Retrospective

Mardi Gras Film Festival during Sydney WorldPride 21 February 2023
Arc Cinema at the NFSA in Canberra on 26 March.

 

 



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