Writer and film historian Lee Gambin runs Cinemaniacs, a film collective in Melbourne that hosts monthly screenings, panels, and discussions.
Matthew Wade spoke with him about the importance of the group, his favourite queer films, and what queer fans can anticipate during the latter half of the year.
When did you first realise you loved film?
Such a tricky question to answer. To be brutally honest, I have no idea. It just is what it is. I fell in love with movies as a child and would obsess over them and be invested in all kinds of movies from all eras.
Horror would primarily be my core go-to genre, however I would embrace everything. I feel that all self-titled movie fans need to love all kinds of movies, and I want to champion that ethos forever.
I guess a number of things: my books on ecological horror, seventies movie musicals, and the monographs of Cujo and The Howling. Also the creation of Cinemaniacs, writing for various institutions such as Fangoria, doing audio commentaries for companies such as Kino Lorber, and more.
It’s all been amazing and it all just comes from a place of hard work and dedication to celebrating, documenting, and analysing film history.
When it comes to queer film, do you have a favourite?
For me, my favourite queer characters generally come from thirties movies all the way through to early eighties movies, [as I like] seeing how queer characters have transitioned throughout the decades. I adore pre-code movies and movies from the early Production Code period, where a lot of queer content came from the sissy helper characters as played by great character actors like Franklin Panghorn and Tyrell Davies.
Then I really love the queer villains that would pop up in various films like Laura or Strangers on a Train. A favourite of all time would be Vincente Minnelli’s Tea and Sympathy which deals with a young sensitive boy being alienated by his peers because he is suspected of being queer. A beautiful poignant story.
How was Cinemaniacs started, and why is it important to you?
It came from a group of movie fans wanting to screen movies and do it with an educational bent, it was a push for community building and to celebrate these movies with a great deal of respect and love. I am so proud of the group. My team is amazing.
Also, the fact that we have guest speakers, panels, video interviews from people who worked on the movies, and a sense of film culture embedded in our screenings makes me super proud. I just want us to continue because I feel that everyone who comes along feels warm, welcomed, and part of what really is a true community.
Has the film collective screened many queer films to date?
We have screened Cruising and I did a lecture on gay visibility in film during that period, as well as screening the amazing protest footage that ACT UP sent us—the “stop the movie Cruising” campaign. We have also screened films that have major gay subtext in them such as the horror film A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and The Boys Next Door.
I think people need to start thinking outside of what makes a movie “queer”. For instance, Cruising can be considered a gay film, but it most certainly can be considered a slasher film, a police procedural, an American Giallo, and so forth. I think Cinemaniacs’ programming is beyond the idea of “queer” programming or “black” programming or “women’s” programming – we love movies and present them in a far more interesting context in their presentation.
What films can people look forward to in the American Giallo-themed latter half of this year?
The Fan has excellent gay subtext. Michel Biehn plays a queer man who obsesses over movies and theatre and the “object of his warped affection” is Lauren Bacall. It is incredible. Also, Night School has a lascivious lesbian school teacher in there, who is great.
What’s on your agenda for the remainder of the year?
I’m working on two books – one on the making of John Carpenter’s Christine and one on very special episodes from TV sitcoms which will feature queer themed episodes from such shows like The Golden Girls, Blossom, and Gimme A Break.
Do you have a film recommendation for our younger readers?
If we are sticking to queer themes, perhaps they need to go back and watch a lot of stuff that really made an incredible impact on visibility – films like The Strange One, Rope, Victim, Suddenly, Last Summer, and so many more.