While everyone hails the new gay cinema, few have questioned the absence of lesbians from this queer wave, perhaps not wanting to spoil the party, or simply riding the inevitable cycle of "men first." The lack of lesbians was perhaps most striking at this years Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival which featured a co-gender double bill on opening night but, unable to muster a feature by a lesbian filmmaker, screened Swoon and La Monja Alferez. True, this may be read as timely theoretical gender play, or it may be a gesture toward unraveling the limits of labeling is a lesbian film only one made by lesbians? Starring lesbians? Or simply about lesbians?
The closing night of the festival, however, did feature a lesbian film, and an extraordinary one at that. Flaming Ears (Rote Ohren Setzen Durch Ashe) from Austria was made by Angela Hans Scheirl, Dietmar Schipek and Ursula Purrer. The film weaves a semblance of a narrative out of the activities of several characters in the burned city of Asche in the year 2700. We follow Spy (Susanna Heilmayr), a comic-strip artist, through her interactions with Volley (Purrer), a pyromaniac on roller skates, and Nun (Scheirl), a deeply romantic necrophiliac dressed in a red vinyl suit.
Shot in Super-8 and blown up to 16mm, the film is yet another fine example of low-budget ingenuity. The trio shared the duties of production and acted in the film as well, passing the camera to whomever was not in the scene at the time. Angela Scheirl explains, "Once or twice we had some friends to help but otherwise we did everything the script, the costumes, the music, the sets, special effects everything. During the making of the film we learned that each of us had a special interest, and we learned that its actually quite helpful to know "this is my task and I will take this responsibility."
By eschewing verisimilitude in favor of a more pop sensibility, the filmmakers turned necessity into a virtue. Recognizing the particular qualities (what others might call limitations) of Super-8, the three based their visual design on bright colors lots of brilliant reds and blues the frequent use of close-ups, and a constantly moving camera. "Using very bright colors and lots of painted setsstressing the artificial works well with Super-8," says Scheirl.
The finished film was blown up to 16mm and the resulting graininess was recognized as yet another aesthetic attribute. The three also used stop-motion photography in places, emphasizing the more science-fiction elements of the story, and a model city which is cut into the story quite skillfully, causing a sense of disorientation. The realization limits the ability to enjoy the film in traditional terms of identification, but also fosters another pleasure, that which comes out of respect for cleverness. In reference to this fantasy world, Scheirl says, "By transferring an idea into a fantasy, the rules are different; everything is turned upside down."
Scheirl is quite conscious of her use of genres in the film, and prefers to make connections to horror films. "Flaming Ears is a horror film in the sense that horror films tend to show emotions not in specific actions or through characters but in the use of symbols. The iconography is the story, builds the story, more than by dialogue," she says.
The film is a mix of genres, and thus the easiest manner of characterizing it seems to be to refer to it as dystopic vision of the future, a vision which is not all that clear. Scheirl recalls some of the responses to the film, which have been mixed, "Some people walk out, and some people say its completely disgusting, the most horrific thing theyve ever seen. The most interesting review was in San Francisco and its a pity I didnt keep it because it was the only bad review in the newspapers where the reviewer wrote, If the future is like that with lesbians doing those things, Im glad the future hasnt come. Its like Blade Runner on estrogen. She was furious, she hated it, and I think that if a film can stir emotions like that, its working." She continues, "I think the best criticism is that some people are frustrated because they couldnt follow the story, its very complicated. You have to either be a detective or you have to see the movie a few times to get it. Or you can fill n the gaps with your own fancy and people have come up with wonderful things but then you have to work, and I think its good to have films where you have to work at it a bit."
When asked whether she would consider herself a feminist, Scheirl replies, "Well, the term is difficult and normally I would not want to call myself that, because some of my worst enemies are feminists, but on the other hand, I think there is some [merit to that] approach. But I also think Im working on a different level. When I say that Im not a political filmmaker, I am referring to politics as being how you organize masses to make the best or change something. But I work on the inside. The themes that I am interested in are violence, sexuality and gender, and these are on a different level than actual politics."
Scheirl also hesitates to take on the mantle of feminism given the denouncement of pleasure which seems to accompany the word. "I dont understand why pleasure is not considered a good thing, and you must include the body and the senses, and sometimes you have to manipulate a little bit, and that is good." When asked about the depiction of lesbian sex in Flaming Ears and the response, Scheirl notes, "In Austria it is different than it is here lesbians are not visible. People still pretend there are no lesbians. So in the review of our film, people will write that it is good, that there are these characters and there is sex and love and hate between them, but they will not mention that it is a lesbian film." When asked what plans for the film were, Scheirl said that she would tale the film to a festival in Vienna, a Murderess Festival. organized by feminists where only films that feature murderesses are screened.