Combustible Celluloid
 
With: Marlon Riggs, Michael Bell, Kerrigan Black, Blackberri, Djola Bernard Branner, Ben Callet, Gerald Davis, Kenneth R. Dixson, Larry Duckette, Gideon Ferebee, Brian Freeman, Gene Garth, Essex Hemphill, A.J. Honey, Paul Horrey, David Hunter, Wayson Jones, David Barron Kirkland, Richard Medford, Cornelius Moore, Bryant Navy, Willi Ninja, Michael Otis, Christopher Prince, Timothy Riena, Taalib-Din Shakir, Ron Simmons, Darnell Stephens-Durio, Robert D. Taylor, Britt Tennell, Arvid Williams
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Marlon Riggs
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 55
Date: 02/20/2019
IMDB

Tongues Untied (1989)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Gay Attention

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Marlon Riggs (1957-1994) was an artist, filmmaker, and gay rights activist based largely in the Bay Area, and he deserves to be better known as the groundbreaker that he was. His second film, Tongues Untied (1993) is being re-released in theaters for its 30th anniversary, and, perhaps as a testament to Riggs's talent, or perhaps due to the shameful way things are, the film has aged hardly at all. It can best be described as an experimental documentary, playing a little like a performance art piece, with poets reading their poems, and strange, staccato image- and sound-editing accompanying them. It describes the way a black, gay man didn't seem to fit anywhere (and perhaps still doesn't). It explores the prevalence of white faces in gay erotica — and the creation of the white fantasy as the ideal of gayness — as well as the sting of things like Eddie Murphy concerts and Spike Lee's School Daze denigrating homosexuality. In one moment, Riggs describes an encounter with another black man on the street who could have been gay, but something made them each avert their eyes from one another. Amusingly, the movie also contains a sort of mini comic training film on the meanings of different "snaps." Shot on 1980s video, Tongues Untied may look a little cut-rate today, and it may take a moment to draw modern audiences in, but once it does, it remains as penetrating and as profound as it ever was, perhaps even more so, now that so many more people are (hopefully) awake and willing to hear about these kinds of tragedies. (Note: while running for president, Pat Buchanan cited this film as an example of how President George H. W. Bush was using taxpayer's money to fund "pornographic art.")

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