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Sustaining Life During the AIDS Crisis: New Queer Cinema and the Biopic

Stamm, Laura (2018) Sustaining Life During the AIDS Crisis: New Queer Cinema and the Biopic. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation examines the discourses of health, crisis, and personal narrative that coalesced during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, and that shaped the responses of queer artists and activists to the pandemic. More specifically, the sexual politics and biopolitical discourses of that moment explain why queer filmmakers would turn to such a conservative film genre as the biopic as viable terrain. Because film scholars have almost uniformly positioned the biopic as a genre reinscribing Western subject formation, it makes sense that critics like B. Ruby Rich might fail to apprehend queer filmmakers’ biographical films as biopics. Since the biopic has such an enduring history from the early studio era to the present, including queer biographical films as part of the genre precludes the separation of queer filmmakers from dominant film history and cinematic conventions established during studio era Hollywood. The cost of this quarantine is a history in which queer films existed and continue to exist independently from a long line of films that inscribe personhood and personal history. However, the biopic’s interest in recording personal histories made it a particularly salient choice for queer filmmakers during the AIDS crisis when they sought to tell stories of damaged lives lost and lived.
Chapter One explores how queer filmmakers John Greyson, Todd Haynes, and Bruce LaBruce responded to the AIDS crisis as precisely a crisis of queer visibility. The case studies of Tom Kalin’s Swoon (1992) and Savage Grace (2007) guide the next chapter’s return to cinema’s biomedical history, as well as psychoanalytic models of suturing, to excavate queer filmmakers’ disruption of normative models of spectatorship. Chapter Three reads Matthew Mishory’s Delphinium (2009) as a new point of entry into Derek Jarman’s cinema in order to understand both filmmakers as part of a queer genealogy. The fourth chapter investigates Elisabeth Subrin’s and Barbara Hammer’s creation and use of queer archives to tell the stories of feminisms—via particular feminists—past. The final chapter discusses the queer biopic’s relationship to People With AIDS (PWA) photography, looking finally to contemporary media practices to reflect upon the current AIDS media landscape.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Stamm, Laurales135@pitt.edules135
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairAnderson, Markandersml@pitt.eduandersml
Committee MemberFischer, Lucylfischer@pitt.edulfischer
Committee MemberHalle, Randallrhalle@pitt.edurhalle
Committee MemberLandy, Marciamlandy@pitt.edumlandy
Date: 27 September 2018
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 26 March 2018
Approval Date: 27 September 2018
Submission Date: 8 August 2018
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 278
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Film Studies
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: AIDS crisis, queer cinema, New Queer Cinema, biopic, genre
Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2018 23:09
Last Modified: 27 Sep 2018 23:09


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