things to think about

today i am thinking about: The Killing of Sister George
April 11, 2011, 5:36 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

So in my ongoing desire to watch as many lez movies as possible, as well as having in my life for the first time a projector and a big wall, I have started a screening series. (Let me know if you want on the mailing list!) of LEZ MOVIES. I just had the first night, dealing with themes of consent – and the main feature was The Killing of Sister George, directed by Bob Aldrich, from 1968.

A classic of lez cinema, it is a brutal story about an old butch (George), her childlike femme lover (Alice, but goes by Childie), the pain they inflict on each other, and losing the thing that defines you. The old butch is an actress, playing a character named Sister George on a cheery show about a charming British village – a character that, despite her popularity, is about to be killed off by the BBC brass for her (the actress’) increasingly bad behavior, including molesting nuns and storming off the set. We watch this all unravel – her job and her relationship simultaneously – through the lens of her and Childie’s incredibly sadistic, dangerous, power game relationship.

On some level, this is one of those movies that is about the suffering gay characters and the miserable lives they lead. The movie itself is claustrophobic and unrelenting; everyone is drinking, fighting, and violently shaming each other. George is a monster, but she’s a monster I love – she says what she thinks, she acts outrageously, and she holds onto her right to be exactly herself at great personal loss.

A lot of old (and not-so-old) lez films end with suffering – the “gay one” dies or is punished terribly for their desires, even if they are unconsummated. George at least gets to live out her desires – and in fact lives them out no matter whether or not it is a good idea that she does so – but the cost is still very high. It’s that classic question, right: is being exactly yourself worth the high cost society extracts?

My girlfriend and I were getting dressed the other night for dinner and we were both having a hard time of it. I had the wrong cardigan and bowtie. Her hair wasn’t right. We are both stylish and exacting people and neither of us really felt satisfied with how we looked. It got me to thinking about armor – about the way in which we gear up to face a world that does not really want us. I try very hard not to let my choices be influenced by a hostile world, but it doesn’t work – even if those choices are just things like fashion, which is essentially how I tell the world to step off, because I might be queer, but I am FABULOUS and you probably want to be like me.

I am so afraid of being dismissed for being too fat, too queer, too lost. This is in part, I think, because I now live in a world where if I am the right kind of queer homosexual, I actually do have a route to legitimacy. The possibility of conformity makes it much harder to refuse it. Sometimes I find it easier to police myself than rage against the machine that produces a world telling me I’m not okay. Look just so! Dress impeccably! Be better than those people around you who are more conventional!

Sister George is such an anti-hero. She lives in a world where she is always in trouble. She’s drunk most of the time. I can’t quite call her a role model – but I want to. She found a way to be this bold troublemaker and hold her ground in a world that absolutely wants her to recant. She takes it too far – she is absolutely uncontrollable – but she is also constantly defending her right to be herself, even if the world punishes her for it.

I wonder what happened to George after the film ends. I wonder if she made it, if she found another job, if she ever found love again. I wonder if she floated away on a sea of alcohol and woe, falling into a haze she couldn’t get out of. I wonder if her spark, her mean streak, and her unwillingness to compromise actually carried her through – and I wonder how I can find that spark in myself, if a little less cruelly, and have the courage of my convictions. What else would George have wanted?