Tuesday, August 27, 2019 at 7pm
Catherine Gund and Zoe Leonard's Keep Your Laws off My Body + José Rodríguez Soltero's Dialogue with Che

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Presented with Pinko

Keep Your Laws off My Body, Catherine Gund and Zoe Leonard, 1989, digital projection, 14 mins
Dialogue with Che, José Rodríguez Soltero, 1968, digital restoration of 16mm double projection, 53 mins

In his 1993 essay “The AIDS Crisis Is Ridiculous,” Gregg Bordowitz draws out the rich and unexpected correspondences between Charles Ludlam’s avant-camp Theatre of the Ridiculous and AIDS activist videos like Catherine Gund and Zoe Leonard’s Keep Your Laws off My Body. “Images of two lesbians having sex are juxtaposed with shots of uniformed police officers at an ACT UP demonstration,” writes Bordowitz of their tape. “More romantic than ridiculous, the slow pans caressing the women's flesh reveal that this material was shot by the two women. Stiff, overdressed, stuffy, and nervous, the lines of uniformed cops stare in one direction; sometimes they look directly into the camera. The alternating presence and absence of the lesbian lovers and the legion of law enforcement officers in the same frame creates a nervous tension. It's frightening to see the imposing figures of the police present at the scene of lesbian lust. It's funny to see the dumbfounded police lined up like toy soldiers when confronted with lesbian desire.” Punctuating these sequences, Gund and Leonard have emblazoned text across the screen detailing American laws against obscenity, pornography, abortion, sodomy, and sex work.

Bordowitz’s central question—of how the queer aesthetic strategies of the past might be placed meaningfully in conversation with the struggles of the present—could also be asked of the double bill presented here, which continues with a new digital restoration of José Rodríguez Soltero’s Dialogue with Che. All but forgotten prior to a flowering of new interest in the 21st century, Rodríguez Soltero was a notable participant in both the underground cinema and liberation movements of the long 1960s; he may be the only figure of the period who made films with both habitués of Andy Warhol’s Factory as well as the Young Lords. These worlds collide in Dialogue with Che, which uses a dual projection format, inspired by Warhol’s Chelsea Girls, to present a dramatized account of Che Guevara’s imprisonment and execution. Rodríguez Soltero cast artist and performer Rolando Peña as the late guerrilla leader, who appears early on in a tableau vivant imitating widely circulated press photos of Guevara’s corpse surrounded by the Bolivian military. Soon, however, Peña rises and sits atop the table to read from Guevara’s writings and engage in an extended, impromptu discussion with an off-camera Rodríguez Soltero on the nature of revolutionary action (an early alternate title of the piece: Che Is Alive). The film concludes with a Brechtian re-enactment of Che’s murder—Young Lords members play his captors, joined by puckish Warhol superstar Taylor Mead as a CIA agent who recites the US Marine Corp’s Rifleman’s Creed. Shuttling between improvised longueurs and shocks of theatricalized violence, the resulting film reads like something in between Warhol’s faux-brutal Vinyl and the dystopian minimalism of Robert Kramer’s Ice.

“As a politically committed Latin artist, he may have felt that the queer underground was too evasive, which is why he moved sideways from it,” argues scholar Juan A. Suárez. “But as a queer man, left political cinema may have felt too straight—despite the occasional homoerotic visual jokes in Dialogue. Separately, each type of film erased a fundamental part of who he was. At the time, it may have been impossible to bring together his two realms of interest—the macropolitics of anti-imperialism and the micropolitics of sexuality...Rodríguez Soltero’s attempt to manage a synthesis between these, at the time, divergent agendas may have estranged him from both the underground and the political scenes, which is, perhaps, why he eventually chose to drop out altogether. But his work, buried for decades, funny, articulate, and accomplished, remains a testimony to the complexities of the 1960s avant-garde and to his extraordinary gifts as a filmmaker.”

Tickets - $8, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 6:30pm.