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Interview: The Movie Queens

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 3, 2007 5:55PM

2007_12moviequeens.jpg Richard Knight, Jr. is film critic for Windy City Times and has interviewed such luminaries as Tippi Hedren and Todd Haynes; David Kodeski is a Neo-Futurist alum currently appearing as Napoleon in Theater Oobleck's new production Spukt. Together they are The Movie Queens. Operating under the motto "Cinema Veri-Gay," this new internet series looks at current and past film offerings from a distinctly queer perspective. Ricky and David dish the dirt about all things movie, saying stuff that would make someone like Kenneth Turan blush with embarrassment. They're joined by their hunky (shirtless) assistant, and Joan Crawford has even been known to stop by.

Chicagoist had the chance to talk to them more about the show, why no one's interested in seeing all the new Hollywood movies about Iraq, and the journalistic protocol for walking out on Robin Williams movies.

Chicagoist: How did you guys come up with the idea for doing the Movie Queens?

Richard Knight, Jr.: I had been working on a gay version of a movie thing for a long time and had looked at various different formats. But what really kickstarted the idea was I wrote a book and collected all my reviews for the last three years for the Windy City Times and went out for some friends for drinks. And a marketing guy saw the subtitle, which was "Movies from a Queer Perspective" and said, "Oh, what's that?" So we started talking about that. And when I first met David and saw his work--at that point he had been working with Ebert on the Ebert and Roeper show for a long time, and we just had great conversations about the movies and I knew it'd be great. The initial idea was to do a gay Ebert/Roeper. And that very quickly became, "No, that's not right. We want to do much more."

David Kodeski: I've experienced this first hand. There were a number of wannabes for that type of show. So I was pretty much against wanting to be a gay Ebert/Roeper because I didn't want it to be that. Or even a Siskel/Ebert.

Richard: Were there really gay versions of Ebert/Roeper?

David: Well, there was this well-known parody they did on ... oh, what was that show? See, this is what happens to me--

Richard: Saturday Night Live? MAD TV?

David: The Wayans Brothers.

Richard: Oh, you're talking about "Men on Film."

David: "Men on Film." Yeah. That was definitely based on Ebert and Roeper. Or Siskel and Ebert actually, because it was quite a bit older. I know that we included that in a clip reel when Gene and Roger were honored by the Museum of Broadcast Communications back in '91 I think it was.

Chicagoist: How did you decide that you wanted to do it as an internet thing? Or is this just a prelude for a move to television?

David: Well that is a very good question. If anybody out there would like to pick up our fine little program, we would not say no. We know that the internet is all-powerful and all-seeing and all-knowing. So to have it out there is a great thing, and it's a good step towards at least getting people to see it. And I have to say, so far the response has been pretty great.

Richard: Tremendous.

David: It's been really tremendous. I have my own internet presence, as small as it might be, but it remains small. Even though I thought I was doing some interesting things out there. But just using the tool of the internet to jumpstart towards something else is what I think we're kind of looking at, at this point.

Richard: I was on TV before! I want to be on TV again!

David: (laughs) Ricky likes being on TV.

Chicagoist: There have been shows like America's Next Top Model which have had crossover success; in other words, they have a core gay audience but a lot of straight people are watching as well. Are you trying for that or are you mostly playing to a gay audience?

David: I would say that everyone's welcome. But it's definitely queercentric because it can't really be much of anything else. However I will say that I go way off the board when it comes to certain movies. They're not necessarily what would be called "queer iconography." Like, I really love giallo. Things like Coffin Joe, and that sort of really odd Euro-horror stuff. Which I think has a certain gay appeal but which has been marginalized in a way. It's more geeky than queer.

Chicagoist: Ricky, what do you think?

Richard: I think dive right in, the water's fine. Absolutely we're gay first. And then if the straights want to come along, we'd love to have ya. Everyone is welcome at Movie Queen Manor.

David: (laughing) The gates are open.

Richard: The gates are open, it's true! You know when people get past the concept, "What do you mean you watch movies from a queer angle, how would that be different?" It's like saying to any cultural or ethnic minority, women--you look at movies differently. African-Americans look at movies differently than white America does. So why wouldn't it be true for homos? And we're just wanting to talk about stuff from our perspective.

Chicagoist: You two have been been Chicago film critics for a long time now, so you probably know a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff and gossip. So I thought I'd give you the chance to dish the dirt about what might be going on in the Chicago film world right now, frustrations you might have or things you think are working.

Richard: David, why don't you handle this one.

David: Well I'm not really at liberty to say. My ten years of experience, that's protected. But there are things that I wish--for example, the Chicago [International] Film Festival. I would be very pleased if it were held earlier in the year. It's tragic. You know Toronto? That should have been Chicago. What happened there should have been Chicago's chance. And it was blown. It happens so late in the year. It's after everything has opened, everywhere. And it's like, who cares? That's sort of my attitude about it. And honestly? I've never even gone.

Chicagoist: Really?

David: Nope. Never needed to.

Richard: I would like to see more of a queer presence, which is very disheartening. But that's cinema in general now. We actually have an upcoming segment on that. "The Broken Promise of Brokeback Mountain." I think Entertainment Weekly just did an article on that. Two years later so few movies have been greenlighted that have queer characters or queer storylines. I would say as far as I'm concerned I don't pay much attention to what's happening locally. I just kind of do my own thing. And all that in-fighting and stuff, I don't really get involved in that.

Chicagoist: Moving on to the current film scene, I'm sure you're both aware that there's going to be a whole truckload of Iraq movies and documentaries coming up--there have already been a ton of documentaries about Iraq but now it's going to be the sort of Hollywood take on Iraq. My question is, do you think people are actually going to go see these movies? Or are these just going to be the kinds of movies that win a lot of Oscars but nobody goes to see?

Richard: I'm going to say neither. I don't think people will go see them and I don't think they're going to win awards.

David: I think I would agree actually. People don't even want to discuss what's going on over there at this point. If they're not going to pay attention and be outraged by what's going on right under their noses, why would they go and see a movie about it?

Richard: Which tends to lecture people. I mean, the main thing about a movie like Rendition is you get to feel good. You can tsk-tsk-tsk over the situation. But you still don't have to do anything about it. Have you seen Lions for Lambs?

Chicagoist: No.

Richard: Well, it's even more heavy-handed. Oh my God. I mean at a cocktail party you might hear the same things in a conversation, but to see it in a movie?

Chicagoist: Do you think the problem is that this is really a subject that needs to be attacked from a documentary point of view instead of through a fictionalized filter?

David: You know what I think? There were not films about Vietnam--there were films that had stuff about Vietnam in them, but there was really no films about Vietnam until years later. That perspective has to happen first. They have to become history. I mean, there have been great documentaries about the subject already. But they really haven't been touted. I mean, there are certain ones that are out there but they're not playing at the multiplexes.

Richard: I agree. You saw a lot of WWII pictures during WWII but they were propaganda films for the most part. It was a different kind of war. With Vietnam and Korea you didn't see movies really until years after.

David: I think it's going to take about a decade of healing, once this thing is finally over. For one thing it's divided this country in such a profound way that to make a movie about it, you really have to be on one side or the other. You can try to be ambiguous but I think it's almost impossible to be ambiguous these days.

Richard: I don't think it's divided the country, but that's just me.

David: You don't think the war's divided the country?!

Richard: I think we've been told it's divided the country. But that's a whole other conversation.

David: I think you're in a little bit of a fantasy world--

Richard: I think there's this small group that's said, "Oh, this is good, let's use it." But that's me being atypical.

Chicagoist: For both of you, what would you say is the best film you've seen this year and what's the worst?

David: You know, it's hard for me to say best and worst. The movie that was the greatest revelation to me, and I got Ricky on this one, was a movie called The Driver's Seat. From the 1970's.

Richard: Do you mean Identikit?

David: Identikit. (laughs) Based on a Muriel Spark novella. And it is just amazing. A film I had never heard of before and just kind of fell across one day as I was going through the internet looking for wacky stuff. And I thought, "Oh, this'll be a great camp romp." Elizabeth Taylor gives a great performance. Strange and mysterious and frustrating, and then when it's all done you want to go right back to the beginning of the film and watch it all over again to see exactly what she does in this movie, it's stunning.

Richard: It's kind of camp too, but in a really cool way.

David: It's pretty damn great. Now the worst thing? Hmm. I'll have to think about it, I'll have to come back to that one.

Richard: Are you talking about the best movie that came out in the theaters this year?

Chicagoist: It could be either.

Richard: Because I'm used to doing like a top ten list of the best G/L, GLBT, alphabet-themed movies every year and this year there were not a lot. I loved this French movie, which I actually didn't see until it played at the film festival called Before I Forget. And I'd never seen any of his other films, this French filmmaker who also stars in his pictures. And I thought it was absolutely a revelation. I just felt so many ways and so many things about that movie. You know, about this aging hustler who's 58, who's been dealing with HIV for 27 years and all his friends are slipping away. And I just can't say enough about that one. I also really, really loved The Hoax, the Richard Gere picture which I think is really underrated. It's one of those movies where I just sit there the whole movie with a smile on my face. It was very entertaining, it was adult, it was made for adults by adults.

David: I have a big disappointment. One I just saw actually, Girl 27. The documentary about the young woman who was raped at the RKO ranch during an MGM party. And I gotta tell you, the subject matter totally fascinated me. You've seen my work, you know that I love getting inside all that stuff, finding out about somebody who's in the shadows. But that guy, the director, was so fucking annoying that I just could almost not watch the film to its conclusion. If it wasn't for her appearing onscreen, and that was a revelatory moment, that was fantastic, but he was such a little ... I don't know what he was. He just chapped my ass in the worst way.

Richard: I had a different reaction, but ...

David: Well. He bugged me. And I had been looking forward to that film ever since I went to Sundance and I didn't have the chance to see that film. So I was waiting for it, and I just saw it last week and I was like, "Oh, man." I wanted it to be so great. I wanted it to be--he just should have left himself out of it. In some way. Because he was so annoying.

Chicagoist: Ricky, what movie did you hate this year?

Richard: I had a first this year. I walked out on a picture, out of the screening room. It was called License to Wed. It was that Robin Williams, Mandy Moore picture.

Chicagoist: Oh God, that looked terrible!

Richard: It was dreadful. And I actually walked out and another critic was in the hallway, and I said, "What is the protocol?" Because you don't know what the line is--

David: Walk out, walk out!

Chicagoist: And at what point did you walk out?

Richard: About forty minutes into it. Pretty far for a romantic comedy. And I don't know. I've been doing this for about three and a half years, I've been writing for many years, and I kind of know what the guidelines are for journalism but for movie criticism I didn't know. So what he said was, "Basically what I think you're supposed to do is call your editor and ask for permission to leave."

David: Really?

Richard: "And then if you do end up writing something about it you need to acknowledge that you left the movie." So I called my editor and said, "I would like your permission to leave." And he said, "Umm, OK. You can have it." It was so insulting in so many ways.

David: You're learning Ricky. You usually love everything.

Richard: I do not love everything! I mean, I'm lucky that I only have to see about two movies a week. The Movie Queens are not going to see everything. And we're also not each going to see everything, because that doesn't happen in real life. You don't both see everything; it's like, "Well I trust you, so I'm going to go." Why do we both have to see the movie? So that was David's first, great, wonderful idea at our first creative session when we brainstormed. It was a huge lightbulb going off over my head.

David: I think watching one of us trying to convince the other that they have to go see something that they just saw is going to be pretty great. I think it's a great idea--even though I came up with it.

Richard: It is a great idea.