The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives
This charming documentary weaves together first person interviews, archival photographs and footage, and fiction into a fascinating history of lesbianism in Canada.
The filmmakers interviewed nine Canadian women who became lesbians in the 50s and 60s, and the footage of these interviews is interspersed with photographs of the women in their younger days. Many of them first became aware of lesbianism by reading dime-store potboilers in which two women become lovers, only to suffer tragic ends. The film shows the book covers of this pulp fiction, which had lurid titles like "Queer Patterns" and "Women's Barracks" ("The frank story of a French girl soldier"). To see these hilarious gems is reason enough to view the movie.
Just as interesting, and for me more compelling, were the interviews with the women, who ranged in age from forties to seventies. They describe the butch/femme subculture they discovered in the gay bars of Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, and the confusion some of them felt at not fitting into either stereotype. They tell of being discriminated against in the world at large and even in their own gays bars, where they were subject to frequent police raids. A black singer from Montreal gleefully recalls women falling over themselves to be with her, but a First Nations woman grimly relates the racism she faced in white establishments, and how she was more accepted in seedy working class bars.
One of the most tongue-in-cheek fun aspects of the film is that it is intercut with a 50s fictional love story of its own. This is the tale of small town Laura, who moves to the big city and meets the cool and experienced Mitch - butch name, but every inch a woman! In continuing segments, Mitch buys Laura a drink, takes her back to her apartment, and plies her with creme de menthe; the two end up in bed. Each vignette ends with a screenshot of the two looking at the camera, which then fades into a mock paperback book cover. As the movie draws to a close, Laura is lying in bed, Mitch perched on the edge; they look towards the camera and fade into an illustration as the narrator concludes:
"Laura thought she would be caught in a hideous trap of warped desires. Instead she found that her wildest dreams had come true. Now she knew what she was for sure: a lesbian!"
"Forbidden Love" (1992) was directed by Aerlyn Wiessman and Lynne Fernie and produced by the National Film Board of Canada, and clocks in at 84 minutes. Highly recommended.