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Book Reviews

The View from Here: Conversations with Gay and Lesbian Filmmakers

by Matthew Hays

The question of whether identity politics have a role to play in art or literature is a contentious one, inspiring strong sentiment on both sides of the argument. Montreal-based journalist Matthew Hays poses that question, and others, in The View from Here, a superb collection of interviews with 37 influential gay and lesbian screenwriters, directors, and producers.

The answers Hays secures from his subjects are as varied as the interviewees themselves. Some, like Gregg Araki, suggest that a gay or lesbian identity may provide a critical “outsider” perspective, but also oppose the notion of being “labelled” based on their sexual orientation. Others, notably the documentarians, acknowledge that their queer identity is an integral part not only of the way they see their work, but of the work itself. Arthur Dong, whose License to Kill is a documentary about a fatal gay-bashing told from the point of view of the convicted murderers, sees his work as activism and art, an attempt to reach bigots as well as illustrating the bigotry itself.

In the absence of one monolithic artistic characteristic of gay and lesbian filmmakers, what then is the point of a collection like The View from Here? Hays answers the question in the introduction by pointing out that the expectation itself is absurd. While no one would expect artists from religious or racial minorities to agree on everything, for example, their perspective still informs their culture.

Hays’ interview technique is deft and masterful, turning what might easily have become a dense sequence of exclusive in-crowd conversations, appealing only to hardcore film scholars or gay historians, into a valuable, witty, and often humorous look at where much of mainstream culture actually comes from, and who’s making it.