Valencia: The Movie/s
Dir: Various (like REALLY various)
Cert: 18 • US: 105 min • Radar Productions • June, 2013
Eva Monkey reviews
San Francisco queer outlaw writer Michelle Tea published Valencia in 2000. Her works, mostly memoirs, chart her queer teenage life as a working class suburban goth just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, through to her position as a literary activist as well as founder of queer-feminist spoken word and performance art collective Sister Spit (now publishing under San Francisco’s torch-bearing City Lights). Michelle Tea’s 1990’s outsider memoir, Valencia (named for a street in the Mission District, now gentrified by the horrors of social media start-ups), is a galvanising lesbian punk coming-of-age story, set in a time of aggro, dyke marches, and acting-up.
Valencia: The Movie/s may be that dreaded thing – an experimental movie – yet it is a bloody triumph. A collaboration between different queer filmmakers, with each making a 5-7 minute chapter of the memoir, it’s a nostalgic dirty dream, with the queercore/riot grrrl soundtrack I WISH I had been listening to in the ’90s. With 18 different ‘Michelles’, and 20 different directors crossing racial, geographic, gender, size, and style lines, this is the ultimate in intersectional film-making. Some ‘Michelles’ are blonde, some are trans-men, some are buffalos, and some are Angelina Jolie – it’s a lot. The many Michelles take us on adventures, both measured and frenetic, constantly turning the page and hurling themselves into new situations. The story centres around Michelle, her mercurial on-off girlfriend Iris, and a whole messy queer family. It follows them from romantic entanglements at house parties, to classic fish-out-of-water “queers home for the wedding” tales, via fisting, booze and zinemaking.
Excellently paired at the BFI Flare screening with ‘YOLO’ (Dir. Marie Grahto Sorensen), a brilliantly directed short about paintball toting, lesbian-goth-teenage-vampire-cheerleaders, (yeah, I know), Valencia: The Movie/s’ full throttle possession of the DIY culture (i.e. no money or guidelines from Tea and Goldberg). That means Silas Howard, Cheryl Dunye, Courtney Trouble et al make each chapter their own, allowing Michelle to be inhabited differently and diversely. These myriad ‘Michelles’ mirror the ways we the audience project ourselves into the stories, providing space and legitimacy to our ownership of the Michelles, and our own, hot, dirty, radical queer lives. This multiplicity also gives rise to everyone’s favourite post-screening bar game “Who was the Hottest Iris?” (my money is on the Buffalo, but I am the old-fashioned sort). The film exists in a place slightly out of time, not always the ’90s of the book, but in a special “queer bubble time” which rings so true to those of us who have wrapped ourselves in the ’90s spirit of zines and Haggard 7 inches and DIY values. Michelle’s novels and zines are littered throughout the film, which would be annoying if it weren’t for the feeling that this is not a post modern self-reference, but an earnest attempt at proliferation – queers wearing their heroes on their sleeves, and providing access to their marginalised, photocopied culture.
It’s hard not to feel personally invested in this film. Michelle Tea’s messy, drunk memoirs became a metaphor for so many of us dirty queers, with its bad-choice adventures, stone cold girlfriends, hot bartenders, poetry and sex work. It seems an amalgam of our stumblefuck, car-crash 20s, both in the moment and abstracted, the heartbreaker and the heartbroken, getting by and revelling in regrets.
Valencia: The Movie/s is a true adaptation, not only of the memoir, but of its place, and its agency, in a cultural context. Too often the touchstones of the queer, the weird and the badly behaved are eradicated or ignored. This is us, at our best and at our worst – this is our dream selves, and it is played out, both onscreen and off by us all.