Bechdel Test Canon: The Yo-Yo Gang and The Lollipop Generation
Reception is important when thinking about movies. So far, the titles I've selected played in a theater at some point, whether on a festival circuit or during a theatrical run. This wasn't always the case with the work of Toronto-based queercore pioneer G.B. Jones. Though her movies were screened at festivals, some also played in galleries or make-shift event spaces.
This speaks to her creative background as an artist, for whom Lexander is doing a retrospective next month. While in art school in Canada during the 1980s, she created a series of pieces based on the Archie comics that manipulated images and word bubbles to reveal the characters' explicitly queer sexual feelings for one another. She would also receive attention for her Tom Girls drawings, which appropriated Tom of Finland's fetish drawings to showcase dyke pin-ups. Her apparent interest in juvenile delinquents prompted her to found the 'zine J.D.s with fellow Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce, which later resulted in a traveling film series. In addition, Jones founded Fifth Column, an influential band that set the stage for riot grrrl and queercore.
You may be able to infer two truths about Jones that inform the production and reception of her movies: 1) she is tremendously well-connected amongst the international art world and independent music scene and 2) her ouevre is hard to obtain. Indeed, The Lollipop Generation is teeming with recognizable cultural figures like Calvin Johnson, Jen Smith, Vaginal Davis, and Joel Gibb, whose band the Hidden Cameras were folded in during a later phase in production.
While it is difficult and expensive to rent or own any of her titles, they are worth seeking out. With the help of a dear friend, I was able to watch 1992's The Yo-Yo Gang and 2008's Lollipop, Jones' first feature-length movie which took her over a decade to complete. I believe they are just as significant to the development and legacy of riot grrrl and queercore as Allan Moyle's Times Square, Lou Adler's Ladies and Gentleman The Fabulous Stains, and Jamie Babbit's Itty Bitty Titty Committee. In fact, I find them far more enjoyable and not prone to the regressive gender stereotyping that especially afflicts the last two titles. If you have the means, I highly recommend staging a rocker grrrl movie night at your home and pairing these movies (which total a little over 90 minutes) with Lucy Thane's documentary She's Real (Worse Than Queer) and selections from Pixelvision filmmaker Sadie Benning.
At first, Yo-Yo and Lollipop seem inscrutable. Jones' preferred film format is Super 8, which is notoriously challenging to edit. Furthermore, to make up for the format's limited sound quality, the dialogue is recorded on a four-track. In addition to Jones' lo-fi aesthetics, her movies eschew a linear narrative, preferring episodic plot development and dropping characters based on real participants of the Toronto, San Francisco, and Olympia scenes into the story without establishing their connections to the group. Add to that a rigorous political ideology that dismisses the assimilationalist aims of many members of the gay and lesbian community and an insistance to be identified as queers, fags, or dykes, and it can be tough for many to digest.
However, I think it's worth parsing out. Ultimately, these films are about the creation of families assembled by young queer misfits and street punks. Many, like Jena von Brücker's Georgie in Lollipop, are forced to leave their parents' houses after coming out. They are also about the sexualization of poor young people, who are often led to sell their bodies in order to survive. This is best illustrated by the ubiquity of junk food and candy, childhood curios which are easy to shoplift from most convenience stores and promise a sugar rush that keeps these kids away from the brink of exhaustion. They also foretell a trip to the dentist that they can't afford.
Though their are sad aspects to this tenuous, nomadic, and potentially dangerous lifestyle, it's to Jones' credit that she doesn't pathologize her subjects too much or force them into endless exploitative tragedies. Instead, she advocates that they are people with complex psychologies and sexual identities. She represents them fairly objectively and regards most of their actions with critical distance. She clearly identifies with them and gives them the upper hand many times, often through appropriation.
Yo-Yo incorporates queercore renditions and ironic references to pop music from the girl group era, as well as the employment of toys as weapons in its central story about two warring girl gangs. Peopled by members of Tribe 8 and Team Dresch, Yo-Yo is meant to serve as a commentary on the pack mentality these all-female bands had to adopt in order to cope with the sexism and misogyny they encountered from bands, venue owners, promoters, label representatives, and audience members while on tour. Lollipop suggests a group of homeless youth can acquire retribution from a slumming pornographer by stealing his camera to document their own lives. These are small victories but ones that, like the movies that depict them, are worth remembering.
Thanks to my friend Curran Nault for providing invaluable information for this post. He is currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin and is working on a dissertation on queercore that I cannot wait to read. I must also acknowledge Soul Ponies and Jenny Woolworth's website, which continue to be great resources for queercore and riot grrrl.
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