‘The Owls’ reunites familiar faces of lesbian cinema
By Nancy Ford
In 1994, an important film hit the big screens that changed the way many lesbians viewed themselves and their world. Go Fish, a gritty, less-pretty portrayal of lesbian culture than the romantic Desert Hearts (1985) and the silly Personal Best (1982), was produced and written by Guin Turner (who also starred) with Rose Troche, who directed. Both went on to make myriad cinematic contributions, including in front of and behind the cameras of Showtime’s hit series The L Word.
Shot in black and white and incorporating highly stylized editing and over-dubbing, Go Fish was lauded for showing lesbians in their natural habitat, dressing as themselves and for themselves, depending on few others but themselves, embracing the theretofore elusive ethos we now call grrl power.
Fast-forward almost 20 years. Another early landmark lesbian filmmaker, Cheryl Dunye, produces and directs The Owls, the story of The Owls, a successful but now-defunct lesbian punk trio that dripped with grrl power. A decade after their peak, The Owls have become (stay with me here) OWLs—older, wiser lesbians, they say. One (Turner) drinks and drugs too much, one (Brodie) masturbates too much, and one (Gornick) worries too much about reproducing with a partner she no longer loves. They fight their personal demons independently, reuniting solely for the purpose of determining what to do with the remains of a drifter/fan they found it necessary to murder one evening following a pool party.
Dunye, actress/director Lisa Gornick, writer/Lesbian Avengers co-founder Sarah Schulman, and Go Fish grads Turner and V.S. Brodie, undeniably older and wiser lesbians in their own right, collaborated to form Parliament Film Collective, the force responsible for the The Owls. Who better than real-life, middle-aged lesbians to ask how much impact their—and our—decisions made in the 1980s and ’90s have on today?
Sadly, though, despite being artfully shot and edited, The Owls less resembles Dunye’s award-winning, clever Watermelon Woman (1996) than it does the disappointing “Who Killed Jenny?” plot of The L Word’s final season.
“Sometimes you get what you fought for politically and creatively in making your mark on lesbian cinema, as I did with The Watermelon Woman,” Dunye pragmatically says of her film. “And then it shoots you in the head, leaving you buried six feet under the lesbian culture that you helped create.”
But with any luck, it also leaves you older and wiser.
2010. First Run Features (firstrunfeatures.com). —Nancy Ford