Time Out Reviews I

Yes, more reviews that were published in Time Out during 1995-97. Most of them are still available in good bookshops or bargain basements, you just have to hunt around.



'Immortal Invisible' claims to be the first book to bring together the minds and talents of film-makers, academics and activists to mull over films 'by and for' lesbians. That must account for the hefty price tag.

I have to stop at this juncture and make a point. The majority of this collection concerns itself with a handful of lesbian-orientated films that have been analysed to death, although I admit the authors try to take a different tack. Hilary Hinds tackles the tabloid and broadsheet response to that old potato 'Oranges...' while Lizzie Thynne grapples with the 'Freudian and Lancanian systems' of the 'non-phallic language' in 'Anne Trister' (1986) and Penny Florence wrestles with the effects of the production process on 'Portrait Of A Marriage' (1990). Of course, 'Desert Hearts' (1985) is dissected once more, but this time from the perspective of the rivalry between Vivian and Frances for Cay's attentions within the framework of 'romantic convention'. Oh, there's nothing like a contemporary motif, eh?

Not content with still shining a torch up our own backsides a decade on, more recent films are included, such as Louise Allen's text on 'Salmonberries' (1991) - which over-stretches the point that black = butch and white = femme - and 'She Must Be Seeing Things' (1988), which describes 'brutal scenes of lesbian sadomasochism... [and] mindless role-playing' and repeats the hypothesis of attributing roles to ethnicity proposed by Allen. There are some heavily-worded appraisals in 'Immortal Invisible' - particularly the essay on the truly incomprehensible Monika Treut - but over all, it's a curiously valuable read. Gaps do appear in the fog of time courtesy of the blazing glare cast on 'Girl's Camp', a thrilling take on the pornographic images of 'Ripley Undressed' and the editor's own chapter on lesbian spectatorship. I eagerly anticipate the next ten years, when every film critique book published will contain seemingly eternal evaluations of 'Go Fish'...

Useful link Pink Lesbian Movies


FAMILY OUTING A Guide For Parents of Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals Ed. Joy Dickens (Publ. Peter Owen)

Baruch Spinoza (Dutch philosopher b.1632) has been quoted within the opening chapter as saying 'Do not weep. Do not wax indignant. Understand.' To that end, Joy Dickens (a co-founder of Parents' Friend) has clumped together a heap of testimonials from parents of lesbian, gay and bisexual offspring, to prove that they are 'much nicer than many young people.' Well, the cover says 'lesbians, gays and bisexuals' but in fact, 'parents with lesbian daughters were, as always, reluctant to write' (a comment which remains sadly unclarified) and numerous parents write of their son coming out as bisexual, not gay.

No matter. The apotheosis is a guide that enables parents to counter the 'shock and disbelief' when their boy (or girl) has turned out queer. And a fine effort it is too, despite the fact that the tales of woe turned to gaiety are repetitive. The quintessential elements in 90% of these stories are that the child comes out, the parents feel angry, devastated or 'bereaved', the mother gets a pamphlet from Parents' Friend which they read, and Poof! Love, understanding and acceptance. There is a strand of religious fervour woven throughout the book (readers are blessed and prayed for) which seemed a trifle erm... 'queer' unless you notice the reading list contains a number of books by Christians. Further, the continual references to 'non-heterosexual children' made me feel a tad perturbed because the term denies an identity, and the insinuation that there are 'a vast number of opportunities... and they cost little in monetary terms' (oh goody, now there'll be no need to fork out for that wedding frock!) grates just a little. The clues may not add up to much, and I have no desire to belittle the work that Parents' Friend does, but I don't believe this book would do much to change my Mother's mind.

Useful link London LG Switchboard


Love Cries, Cruel Passions, Strange Desires Ed. P. Blazey, V. Dawson T. Herber (Publ. Angus Roberston)

Silly me! I constantly forget that lesbians and gay men have fantasies about fucking their opposite sex! Sorry, but it does nowt to curl my toes. Prompted by an author who claimed she was 'not actually a lesbian but fucks women to kill time while waiting for the right man', I flicked rapidly to 'Drosophila' - seemingly a tale of a biologist whose garden is ravished by fruit flies and whose love life is crumbling towards acrimonious oblivion. I had a slight problem with her solution (letting fruit flies crawl over her bits until she bursts into 'millions of multi-coloured non-pareils'), but that was nothing. Her obsession with having sex 'stripped of its normal ornamentation' with insects paled quick smart when she found her 'mound of Venus' covered in maggots. Sorry again, but that's a turn off scaling major proportions. Still, I battled on, thinking maybe I am just too critical about what constitutes erotica.

Well, no - at least, not when it came to 'Love Cries...' You'd have to have a strong stomach to handle some of the stories or an equally steadfast attitude to cope with the banality of the rest. Oh, there are some gems in here such as 'Mountain Oysters' (the cautionary tale of a knife-wielding siren) and 'Schooling' (in which a young lad is taught how to relish sex), but on the whole, I was terribly disappointed. What a waste of a fabulous book cover! If you really couldn't give two hoots about what shape or style your sex appears in, then 'Love Cries...' might just be the ticket. If you are a little more particular (not just about who does what and how but about literary aptitude as well) then it might be advisable to give it a wide berth.

Useful link Sex Panic!


Damn Fine Art by Cherry Smyth (Publ. Cassell)

I really didn't want to read this. Art schmart I thought. It didn't help that the review copy wasn't a book, but a huge sheaf of A3 photocopied sheets which rendered the artwork tenebrous. Not ideal circumstances for a fair critique but I ploughed on and was pleasantly astounded.

Smyth starts by acknowledging her own caveat, conceding that a critique of lesbian art as 'queer' had limited vision. Instead, she has provided a thorough interlocution on art in all of its diverse forms, from sculpture and oils to cartoons and photography. Usually, you can take or leave art (you either like whatever is on the wall or you reject it as a pile of crap) but the real virtuoso here is Smyth, who has honed her forté for art appreciation. I understand why she has been quiet for a while now: she has obviously poured her heart into 'Damn Fine Art'. Whereas many art critics use capricious words in sentences of 100 words or more, Smyth makes the art truly accessible. Her superlative flair for description is virtually flawless, so much so that you don't really need to examine the reproductions. If you do, you'll find that her writing is constantly far more breath-taking than the works on exhibit. It might have helped if Cassell had not just pushed out the boat but arranged a flotilla of colour plates and not concentrated on a fancy but almost illegible typeset for the pull-out quotes.

You may not recognise many of the artists or the work Smyth concentrates on (Nicola Tyson, Lucinda Oestreicher, Patricia Hurl, Leone Macdonald, Jaya Schürch, Lisa Kokin, Leslie Bostrom and Linda Dement among them) but it proves that Smyth's research is as tight as her writing. In addition, her grasp of the historical - whether in the world of art, politics or literature - is reliably firm. Smyth is no longer just a critic. She has worked her way to sovereign connoisseur and 'Damn Fine Art' is her crowning glory.


CRAVE Laura Adele-Marsh (Publ. Wet and Wanton Press)

Since the demise of Sheba Press, not long after it tried to butt-plug a hole in the lesbian erotica market, there has been a dearth of decent new material. Like the proverbial one-night stand, the odd collection has come and gone but not left a forwarding number. Now, a collective based in Scotland called Wet and Wanton have clutched the sheets, arched their back and screamed out a literary orgasm. And just as with real sex, it has unintentional humour, bad language and the odd wet patch.

Wet & Wanton want lesbians to 'enjoy a tongue-in-cheek romp' through the world of taboo lesbian sex, to wit sex with men and a smidgen of S&M. The books will be 'purely to entertain' and by golly, 'Crave' certainly does that. My reservation is that the stories of passion laid bare here have fallen into the trap of becoming a tad too cliched to be believable. You don't have to use words like 'lust stem' or 'sex juice' to get the reader flushed or moist. Including phrases like 'I became a river of moisture' or 'my erect clitoris is reaching for the sky' or 'as the sexy bass pumped, so did I' may unfortunately be dismissed as a risible attempt at erotica, and sentences such as 'I ache to bury my tongue into the scent that is turning me into a craving she-wolf' may only cause dykes to wet their facial cheeks rather than their buttock cheeks.

If 'Crave' fails anywhere, it is because it is the work of a solo writer. Reading tales of passion by one person has the drawback that you notice the same grammatical idiosyncrasies, similar themes and uniform descriptions. There is an apparent thread of obsession with the high life (Armani, lobster, champagne and silk) that runs through many of the stories, a penchant for light SM and adoration for Annie Lennox. I don't know whether it's a personal choice of Ms. Adele-Marsh to surround so many commonly used words in quotes ('bar-dyke', 'ballet', 'rough' etc), or combine that with italics ('handcuffs' or 'hard hat') but it is quite irritating and unnecessary.

I think 'Crave' is a fantastic book and well worth the money, but probably for all the wrong reasons. It's dialogue is funny when it's meant to be sexy, the sex scenes are sometimes hilarious when they should be horny, and the characters are two-dimensional when they should have magnificent cleavage. I'm positive that as Wet & Wanton commission more writers who have varied experience, vivid imagination and a flair for dialogue and description, they will corner the market in books that are packed with 'passionate and enthusiastic' lesbian sex. More strength to their collective elbow.

All © 1992-2001 Megan Radclyffe

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