Edinburgh International Film Festival diary, 20 August
The missing link between Taxi Driver and Riot Grrrl, Bette Gordon’s New York indie cult classic Variety celebrates its 40th Anniversary at the festival today, with Gordon on hand for a post-screening Q&A. Co-written by punk author Kathy Acker (who’d later encourage Kathleen Hanna to form the band Bikini Kill), it’s a subversive character study of a woman who works in a porn cinema and finds her own sexual fantasies piqued by the films and the all-male clientele. The latter feel entitled to hit on her in passive-aggressive ways, much like Travis Bickle does with the seen-it-all-before porn cinema employee in Scorsese’s aforementioned classic.
Variety’s protagonist Christine (Sandy McLeod) is no victim though. Her willingness to explore her awakened sexuality highlights the double standard of men who can’t handle women taking charge of their own bodies. It’s a thematically evergreen film in that way, but it’s also a remarkable snap-shot of New York’s scuzzy downtown art scene from which much indie talent emerged.
That’s hardly surprising. Gordon is part of the same post-punk, cross-pollinating “No Wave” era as Jim Jarmusch, Sonic Youth, Jean-Michel Basquiat and her pal and future photography star Nan Goldin, who co-stars here as a version of herself. But just check the credits of everyone else: McLeod went on to direct music videos for Talking Heads; John Lurie (who does the jazzy score) starred in several Jarmusch films; cinematographer Tom DeCillo made the early Brad Pitt cult hit Johnny Suede, and playing Christine’s porn cinema colleague is future Steven Soderbergh and Paul Thomas Anderson regular Luis Guzmán (in his first role). Then there’s production assistant Christine Vachon, who has shaped the American indie film scene as much as anyone, producing all of Todd Haynes’ movies and many, many more, including Past Lives, also screening at the festival today. Forty years on, it’s only right that Gordon gets her due.
Variety, with a Q&A with Bette Gordon, screens at the Edinburgh International Film Festival today. For more information and tickets, visit: https://www.eif.co.uk/edinburgh-international-film-festival