Previously at the ICA - Films

Variety film still

ICA Cinematheque: Variety

26 May 2015

Rightly deserving its cult status, Bette Gordon’s first feature is a pure product of its time. A pioneering example of American underground filmmaking, Variety represents a time capsule brought back by its recent rediscovery. Shot on the streets with a minimum budget and boasting a script by influential experimental novelist and punk poet Kathy Acker, the atmosphere of 1980s New York is ingrained in the film, where Gordon delves into social undercurrents to find transgression that fully deserves Nan Goldin and Cookie Mueller’s names in its credits.

The city is dirty and filled with porn theatres, a vision made famous by Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, but Gordon offers no female victims. Instead, the film experiments with gender stereotypes and sexual roles, exploring individual female desires within this urban setting. The film’s heroine finds work in one of these porn theatres, slowly becoming intrigued by the explicit films they screen.

Having been stood up by one of the cinema’s regular patrons, she begins to follow men through the city. Her voyeurism questions the gendered gaze common in many forms of visual culture. Gordon enters into feminist debates surrounding pornography, yet avoids being polemic, considering sexual imagery as a tool for self-exploration. This prompts reflection into the depiction of gender throughout cinema, and demands our interrogation of sexual roles within contemporary society.

Variety, dir. Bette Gordon, UK/WestGermany/US 1983, 99 mins

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