In this essay, I will argue that the films of “New Queer Cinema” were generally misread. I will read two films from the period, My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991) and The Living End (Gregg Araki, 1992), not as defiant and coherent queer responses against the visceral and cultural traumas of the AIDS crisis, but as passive pieces of shrapnel from the epidemic, HIV-positive cinema.
The first section of this essay will map the “state of play” in the early 1990s, outlining the atmosphere of AIDS-beset American gay communities and the simultaneous emergence and identification of “New Queer Cinema”. After summarising the content, style and reception of My Own Private Idaho and The Living End, I will look at the ways both films display some of the non-medical symptoms of AIDS: the way they collapse into the temporal and conceptual schizophrenia of the epidemic they sought to transcend, and the significance and meaning of the road movie genre as container for both films.
The AIDS epidemic came along and ripped open reality, irreparably, irretrievably.
– David B. Feinberg, Queer and Loathing
On average, since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic to the present day, around half of all AIDS cases and AIDS deaths in the United States have been gay men. Of the approximately half a million people who had died of AIDS in the United States to 2002, around two-thirds, or about 330,000, died in the ten years 1986–1995. 100,000 died between 1990–1992. We can estimate, then, that around 50,000 gay American men, most of them concentrated in the urban gay centres of large cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, died in this short period. The early 1990s were years of AIDS-decimation for American gay communities, an atmosphere perhaps best evoked by Andrew Sullivan who wrote in 1990 that deaths-from-AIDS in American gay communities were “ubiquitous” and that such familiarity with death and dying was “unique in modern times”.
Sullivan describes a community alienated from the modern civilisation that surrounded it by medieval experiences of plague: the visceral decay of the dying, and the enormous amounts of “dead [acquaintances and loved ones, who] clutter the address books of the dying as bones once festooned the charnel houses of medieval city-dwellers” (1).
Generally, creative responses to this peak period of the AIDS Crisis leant towards the spectral, the alchemic, the mystical. Playwright Tony Kushner interpreted the period with his two-part Gothic supernatural play “Angels In America” which was first performed in 1993 and which featured dilated temporal and spectral membranes replete with winged angels shattering ceilings in their descent towards gay men dying of AIDS, who were considered, by the angels, to be prophets, and ghosts from random previous decades who communicated with the contemporary living. ACT-UP activist and writer Michelangelo Signorile wrote that “the entire two-year period beginning in 1990 seemed like an Academy Awards production” (2), while activist and writer David B. Feinberg, who died of AIDS in 1994, opened his memoirs with the observation that “the AIDS epidemic came along and ripped open reality, irreparably, irretrievably” (3).
New Queer Cinema 1990–1992
It’s like I’ve fallen through the Looking Glass!
– Jon, The Living End
In her well-known Sight and Sound essay from 1992, B. Ruby Rich described that year as a “watershed” year for independent gay and lesbian filmmaking and the start of a transformative period of queer film spectatorship. The success of many gay-themed films at prestigious film festivals and the momentum generated by their concurrent releases encouraged Rich to coin the term “New Queer Cinema”, describing a movement which she hoped would create a transformative “new queer historiography” that even had the potential to define ’90s cinema (4).
“New Queer Cinema” was widely understood as part of a HIV/AIDS “silver lining” – an accelerated cultural and political evolution of gay identity brought on by the challenges and exposures of the AIDS Crisis which would deliver, after years of civil rights struggles and the traumas of HIV/AIDS, a peaceful and productive gay future. In the films and phenomenon of “New Queer Cinema” Rich observed “a new kind of film and video practice, one which takes up the aesthetic strategies that directors have already learned and applies them to a greater need than art for its own sake” which, according to her, used pastiche as temporal sleight-of-hand to both pay tribute to creative influences and state a bold and subversive political stance.
The Living End is set resolutely in the present. Or is it? Cinematically, it restages the celluloid of the 60s and 70s: early Godard, Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The queer present negotiates with the past, knowing full well that the future is at stake.
Rich’s fellow Sight and Sound contributor Amy Taubin agreed:
The Living End treats the queer-as-criminal theme from a contemporary perspective. … Encouraged by twenty-five years of gay activism made urgent by the Aids [sic] crisis and a right-wing homophobic backlash, queer film-makers have fought back through production of images (5).
“New Queer Cinema”, however, burned relatively brightly but fizzled out relatively quickly. Key filmmakers of “New Queer Cinema”, such as Tom Kalin (Swoon, 1992) and Jennie Livingston (Paris is Burning, 1990) didn’t produce substantial follow-up films, while the increased commercial viability of gay-themed films and gay and lesbian film festivals drained a sense of the special from gay-themed independent film culture during the remainder of the 1990s. In an interview in May 2004, B. Ruby Rich declared “New Queer Cinema” well-and-truly “over”, with gay-themed cinema experiences devolving from the exciting “meeting of political engagement and aesthetic invention” of the early ’90s into a bland “niche market”, a subset of the commercially powerful “Queer Eye” era (6).
“I really want to kiss you, man”: My Own Private Idaho (1991)
Made for two and a half million dollars (7), My Own Private Idaho made around seven million dollars at the U.S. box office, and won several awards at film festivals around the world, mainly for Phoenix’s performance, and Van Sant’s screenplay. It has remained a relatively well-known film, probably due to the subsequent career successes of Van Sant and Reeves, and the enduring pop-mythology of River Phoenix, who died of a drug overdose in 1993.
In My Own Private Idaho, Mike (River Phoenix), sensitive and narcoleptic, and Scott (Keanu Reeves), the brash eldest son of a wealthy family, work as gay street hustlers in the Pacific Northwest. Mike hustles to survive and to escape the no-hope hell of his Midwestern home, a place where his cherished mother is no longer found, and where, we learn, his father is also his brother. As part of the film’s repackaging of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Scott hustles to spite the expectations and reputation of his rich and powerful father, slumming it until his dad drops dead and his inheritance comes due. After various adventures, Mike and Scott set out, in vain, on a search for Mike’s mother, a journey that takes them to Idaho, then to Italy. Along the way, Mike’s emotional attachment to Scott develops, but is rewarded only with friendship. Mike passes out regularly and is usually carried to safety and protected by Scott.
The film is laboriously stylised. Shakespearian rhyming couplets intermingle with grungy Pacific Northwest hustler jive, and scenes featuring medieval style gangs of thieves gathering under bridges to plot their next attack are juxtaposed with cinéma vérité vignettes of (apparently real) gay prostitutes chatting in Seattle cafes about their exploits with tricks. Sex scenes are filmed in quasi stop-motion, in the style of porn magazine photo stories; in other scenes cover models of such magazines laid out on a newsstand come to life and speak directly to the camera. Visual metaphors, such as salmon trying to swim up stream, and old wooden houses that crash out of the sky into splinters occur throughout the film.
My Own Private Idaho received generally positive reviews in the gay media, typified by Planetout.com’s PopcornQ, which called My Own Private Idaho a “deliriously unhinged story” that contains “one of the most beautifully nuanced depictions of naked desire ever captured on film” and which is part of “a cinema that resonates with more than just the facile palliative of happily-ever-after” (8).
“Welcome to The Club, partner”: The Living End (1992)
The Living End was made for just over 20,000 dollars. It was nominated for the 1992 Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and grossed around 600,000 dollars at the U.S. box office. Gregg Araki is one of the only significant “New Queer Cinema” directors who continued making films in this style throughout the 1990s (The Doom Generation, 1995, Nowhere 1997). Neither of The Living End‘s lead actors have enjoyed prolific acting careers.
Jon (Craig Gilmore) is an introverted and frustrated movie writer who finds out he is HIV-positive. Numb from the diagnosis, he drives around the streets, where he encounters Luke (Mike Dytri), an extroverted, sexy hustler who packs a gun and rarely wears a shirt. On the run from gay bashers and the police (Luke has shot three attackers and a cop dead), Jon and Luke set out on a nihilistic road trip to nowhere robbing banks and stealing cars and exploring ennui, freedom, gay sex and romance in the age of AIDS, all under their motto: “Fuck the World!”
As with Idaho, pastiche and genre are deliberately overstated, and the film’s milieu is highly contrived. Jon is writing an article on the “Death of Cinema” and movie posters or movie T-shirts are visible in every other scene. Again, metaphors abound, like cocked and loaded guns jammed into the mouths of HIV-positive gay men at the point of orgasm and stealthy roadside snakes terrorising penis-hating lesbians.
The Living End was also warmly reviewed in the gay press, with the “Sydney Star Observer”, Australia’s main gay newspaper, calling The Living End “a vicious punch in the guts that leaves you uncomfortably winded and unforgettably moved” (9).
Private Salve Cinema
What’s the bet they have a magic cure by tomorrow?
– Luke, The Living End
My Own Private Idaho and The Living End are very private films. Conspicuously addressed to a particular audience and commercially limited by both budget and aesthetics they are not films open to everyone, entries into universal popular culture that could potentially play to random spectators. They are special, personal films that rely on audience identification for much of their impact. Though it is impossible to demonstrate a gay-male-heavy demographic break down of the audiences of these two films, and though the star power of Phoenix and Reeves has no doubt drawn many non-gay male viewers to My Own Private Idaho, the assumption that the two films enjoyed a proportionately large amount of interested gay male viewers on their initial release is, I believe, a reasonable one (10).
As Jane Feuer has noted (regarding the television series Dynasty) for gay male urban subculture the films and phenomenon of “New Queer Cinema” functioned more as ritual rather than as texts: they were enacted rather than consumed (11). My Own Private Idaho was seen widely as a plaintive, effective gay celluloid emissary, with top-selling American gay magazine The Advocate‘s film reviewer David Ehrenstein praising Idaho on the grounds that “Van Sant establishes for queer moviegoers a beachhead in their ongoing struggle for cinematic representation” (12). ACT-UP protesters championed the film in much the same way, waving “Gus Van Sant is a genius” placards outside the 1992 Academy Awards ceremony where the film had failed to receive any Oscar nominations (the protested ceremony was in turn described by Michelangelo Signorile as being “just like a movie, eerily reminiscent of The Day of the Locust”). Katie Mills, in her essay “Revitalizing the Road Genre: The Living End as an AIDS road film” writes that The Living End revealed a “new strategy for constructing a rebel viewing position” and was a “performative space for imaginative revisions of identity and society” (13).
As John Champagne has argued, culturally marginalised groups – such as gay men – cannot define and conceptualise themselves outside the imposed frameworks that contain them. I agree with Champagne, though I would add that once these definitions and conceptions “get going”, they grow a holding cell around themselves. As such, I read these two films not as “imaginative revisions” and “beachheads” in a somehow more appropriate gay male cinematic representation, but, rather, as conservative and obedient objects that utilise a wide selection of gay male stereotypes mined from the iconography of several previous decades.
Idaho‘s Mike is a one-man gay Hall of Fame. He’s a Rechy/Genet hustler outlaw, a cigarette constantly in mouth, living on cola and amphetamines. He’s even dressed as a Dutch sailor at one point, replete with Querelle’s pom-pom hat. He’s also a template-cut of modern day Californian gay, who cherishes his mother but is ambivalent about his father, goes west to go gay, but keeps an elastic umbilical cord to his Midwestern home which he occasionally visits but can no longer relate to.
A sensitive guy who keeps getting knocked down by life, and who’s dressed in cowboy boots with straw-blonde hair falling in his face, he’s the meeting place of every piece of gay iconography from Tennessee Williams and James Dean to Pierre et Gilles and Calvin Klein and back again. Like many of these icons, his sexuality draws freely from both genders. Though masculinised through his self-reliance, virility and dick-oriented profession, Mike is also feminised, carried around in Scott’s arms, travelling as a passenger on the back of Scott’s bike, and obedient and passive to Scott’s initiations. At one point, Mike tells Scott’s Italian girlfriend that he “knows how she feels”.
The Living End‘s Jon and Luke live the cowboy/outlaw dream also, burning around in a stolen car and robbing banks to keep the adventure going. Gravelled LA industrial sites and vast but empty shopping mall car parks stand in for tumbleweed desert scapes. Like Mike, Luke constantly has a cigarette between his lips, though he never lights it, admitting he doesn’t even smoke. The pair pack an intimidatingly large gun and both seem to know the language of both the night and the street. They’re split halves of a bifurcated central character, with Jon’s interiority and tentative sexuality complemented by Luke’s extroversion and buff, brassy sexiness.
Punk and the sexual revolution, movements that nurtured early gay liberation, inform much of The Living End. The legal strife and social hostility of gay life of the 1970s and early 1980s is echoed by the pair’s frequent run-ins with the cops, gay bashers, and intolerant heterosexuals who just think the guys are weird. The fact that they are pretty much the only gay male characters in the film codes their same-sex love affair as a defiant, pioneering act – an act of sexual revolution. As with Idaho‘s Mike, however, the contemporary milieu of their film and the conspicuous youth of the actors ensures that they are simultaneously coded as up-to-the-minute modern gay guys, peers of the gay men in the audience.
Tellingly, though, a missing element in the otherwise historically comprehensive bricolage of Mike, Luke and Jon’s identities is the gay face of the AIDS Crisis. This face is present in both films, but only in shadowy form, and those who wear it are made conspicuously distinct from the central characters.
In My Own Private Idaho, gay men from the “AIDS Generation” are framed as mouldy, decaying “others” who behave with cartoonish decadence and appear to have stepped out of either a museum or an asylum. Tellingly, such figures are foreigners – blow-ins from some strange faraway place. Mike’s tricks are invariably decadent middle-aged European men, lonely and solitary creatures who dress and act floridly and who have bizarre, sometimes non-carnal sexual eccentricities. One of Mike’s tricks caresses himself grotesquely with gnarled, bejewelled hands while a semi-nude Mike scrubs the kitchen sink clean, while another dances a kind of a ballet with a lampshade. All seem to inhabit run down hotel rooms, where they lurk among peeling paint and the pasty yellow glow of bare bulbs.
In The Living End older gay men don’t exist at all. They’re not even referred to in dialogue, image or theme. Gay men of the “AIDS generation” are avoided like, well, the plague.
Meanwhile, the central gay characters in Idaho and The Living End are handsome, vital, and in visibly perfect health, even HIV-positive Jon and Luke. Jon and Luke’s HIV-positive status is perfunctory: a starting point that actually frees them sexually and most every other way. As Paul Burston commented, “this couple of anti-heroes’ antibody status is of [no] greater consequence than the fact that they wear stressed leather jackets” (14). Their HIV-positive status is what timestamps the film, and gives it a greased shortcut to socio-political significance. Neither character becomes symptomatic or even appears to fear this happening in the future, and the film famously finishes with both characters still healthy and alive, avoiding the hospital-gurney melodrama of other early-1990s “AIDS films” such as Longtime Companion (Norman René, 1990) which Araki said he wanted to counter. HIV ultimately has just a cameo appearance in The Living End, triggering a new life of irresponsible adventure for Jon and Luke (“we gotta grab life by the balls and go for it” says Luke) which then becomes the main drive of the film.
My Own Private Idaho leaves HIV completely out of the picture, an especially unrealistic omission in a film about gay hustlers living and (sex-) working in urban America in the early 1990s. Yet narcoleptic Mike’s affliction seems convenient, expedient. His well-being is made conspicuously tenuous as he keeps convulsing and collapsing, but he always gets back up again, full of beans and ready to start over. Mike’s narcolepsy can be read as efficient strategic symbolism, romantically coding Mike as a corn-belt Saint Sebastian without having to reckon with the complex and threatening actualities of HIV infection. As Amy Taubin noted, “Mike is literally the most unconscious character ever to hit the screen … Mike’s absence of consciousness is what saves his soul” (15).
In this way, gay identities in the two films mirror their anxieties, confusions and crossed lines of comprehension regarding HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS, at the time, almost invariably resulted in certain death, but was also the object which gay identity gathered around. There was a simultaneous need for stirring and subversive HIV/AIDS political activism, as well as comfort and normalisation in the face of a mortal threat.
In both films, symbolic affliction which gives complexity and sympathy to character without causing any real physical harm is used to construct a gay identity that is psychically complex as a result of illness and circumstance, but not under any serious physical threat. When Mike keeps collapsing then getting up again to pursue his romantic love for Scott we may see a little bit of a fable here that gay men dropping lifelessly – a sadly common occurrence at the time – wasn’t the end of gayness, but rather, something that could be overcome, willed out of existence by the power of love, friendship and a car or airplane tickets. In The Living End, magically benign HIV infection is the key to a white-knuckle life of passion and direction. In this light, how do we view these two films as polemic gut-punches and resonant gay romances that forged, apparently, new and brave paths of post-AIDS gay cinema representation? In my opinion, they are prime examples of precisely the opposite: expressions of tentative, ambiguous practices of post-AIDS gay male spectatorship, contrived and protected practices that simultaneously acknowledge and deny HIV/AIDS which we might term safe-scopophilia.
Driving in Reverse
I’m a connoisseur of roads.
– Mike, My Own Private Idaho
The relentless deployment of the road movie genre in both films seems far from incidental. My Own Private Idaho and The Living End are overt road movies. The road is a central, fleshed-out character in both films. In Idaho, a particular road that Mike says he “knows” bookends the film and is returned to in a number of scenes. At one point Mike ascribes a face to it, and later ponders whether it has an end, or whether it runs all the way around the world.
Gregg Araki described The Living End as being “mostly set on the road. It’s like a Hope/Crosby movie … in which Crosby fucks Hope” (16). Both films were praised for their unconventional treatment of narrative and genre, specifically, the road movie format. It was argued, mainly, that the “queering” of the road movie genre by these films was something excitingly transgressive and subversive, even transcendent. In B. Ruby Rich’s words:
There are traces in [“New Queer Cinema” films] of appropriation and pastiche, irony, as well as a reworking of history with social constructionism very much in mind. Definitively breaking with older humanist approaches … these works are irreverent, energetic, alternatively minimalist and excessive. Above all, they’re full of pleasure. They’re here, they’re queer, get hip to them (17).
And, according to Katie Mills, The Living End “breaks the laws of stories about outlaws [and] rebels against the road movie genre itself in its aim to revitalize the power of cinematic story-telling in an AIDS era” (18).
This (mis)use and subversion of the road movie genre was seen as a spit in the face of Hollywood codes, which had long bristled gay movie going culture with its apparent misrepresentations of gay identity through suicidal, murderous or in some other way unstable and negative gay characters. “New Queer Cinema” was partly read as the manifestation of this distrust of representation and an act of creative and socio-political defiance. The liberation of “going West” and the freedom of movement of the road were key aesthetic elements of much of “New Queer Cinema” and the early ’90s starburst of exciting new gay identities that “New Queer Cinema” was part of.
What I would argue, though, is that movement in “New Queer Cinema” was backwards movement, a conservative trip into the past rather than a transgressive movement ahead through a bricolage of new codes and meanings. I read this backwards movement as a collapse back into safe familiarity, the taking of shelter in a comfort zone. Proximal defence is a psychological term describing the “curling up like an armadillo” response to extreme stress, terror and jeopardy. In proximal defence, the problem object or incident is dealt with by doing whatever can be rationally expected to minimise vulnerability (19). My reading of these two films observes proximal defence in response to the AIDS Crisis operating within the films, and also among critics and audiences.
The manically mobile characters of My Own Private Idaho and The Living End are in search of domesticity and closure, not adventure and aperture, the goals of Thelma, Louise, Thunderbolt, Lightfoot and so on. Sensing failure and feeling despondent at the end of My Own Private Idaho, Mike laments that “this road will never end. It probably goes all around the world”. The characters of these films only move when their safe haven becomes unstable, and they flee in search of comfort and acceptance – continual movement is neither their goal nor their passion. Mike is in search of his mother; Luke and Jon are in search of an alternative to a HIV-warped suburban life. They aren’t drifters as much as they’re aspirants, and they aren’t really hustlers as much as they’re hopeless queer romantics embedded with an air of tragedy from being below the poverty line. At least in the two films being discussed here, “New Queer Cinema” was, among other things, a cinema of romantic longing disguised by a cool veneer of swaggering and some bulletless Gen-X shoot-em-up.
The road trips of My Own Private Idaho and The Living End aren’t adventures that go awry, as in the traditional narrative of road movies, but are, rather, embedded with gloom from the outset. Mike, the offspring of incest, bumps from place to place in his work as a hustler, before he and Scott randomly legitimise their roaming with a search for Mike’s mother. Jon and Luke’s travels are the manifestation of their anarchistic, aimless nihilism, drifting about in search of nothing in particular, their greatest problem – HIV infection – already present before the car’s keys are turned in the ignition. Neither film contains particularly significant plot points which thwart or generate action within the narrative or which facilitate character development or change. Ostensibly movies about journeys, they’re actually films about ennui and permanence, with characters that are superficially expansive and mobile, but who are actually old-fashioned conservatives, glued into place.
During the AIDS Crisis, gay identities suffered from a surfeit of captivity. Though a majority of gay men were uninfected, tens of thousands of gay men had died, were dying or were incapacitated with illness. Additionally, the psychic and sociopolitical impact of the AIDS Crisis on most gay men was forceful. Previously seen as tempestuous free spirits or radical fringe dwellers, gay men were, in the early ’90s, hostage – physically, psychically and biologically – to a most constricting and morbid captor. The AIDS Crisis pushed homosexuality into a space that offered little freedom of movement. While the mainstream media and some sections of the “general public” welded the distinctions between “gay” and “AIDS” into one conflated idea of doom, gay culture itself moulded to a new shape around the epidemic, with AIDS-oriented organisations like ACT-UP and Queer Nation providing a politically active and self-aware infrastructure for gay culture that still exists today.
In this context, we can re-read Rich’s list of observations about the films of “New Queer Cinema”, that they were “irreverent, energetic, alternatively minimalist and excessive [and] above all … full of pleasure” and see a list of all the adjectives that couldn’t be applied to the gay experience of the AIDS Crisis years. What could be more antithetical to the heavy atmosphere of early 1990s gay America than the pioneering spirit of the outlaw West, a spirit celebrated by the road movie, and appropriated by the actually non-road movie films of “New Queer Cinema”? My Own Private Idaho and The Living End used the stock elements of the road movie genre primarily as symbolic shorthand, they are cheer-up gifts brought to the beds of the sick.
Popular gay male cinephilia is famously nostalgic and reverent of old Hollywood tradition. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939) and the oeuvres of MGM divas are timeless gay male favourites, while comparatively modern genres like science fiction, slasher films and so on don’t have any real foothold in traditional gay male film culture. Film identities – whether the characters concerned be identifiably gay or not – that are useful for gay culture tend to look and act in pre-1980s ways. Cowboy, outlaw and hustler iconography are meaningful, if guilty, gay cultural pleasures which got short shrift during the AIDS Crisis because of their comparative frivolity and air of promiscuous decadence. The sad young (subliminally homosexual) man, personified on screen and off by James Dean, was a safe and celebrated gay icon before the AIDS Crisis made such dreamy, self-destructive passivity illness-like and unfashionable. Chips of these icons were picked up by gay filmmakers and gay film goers in the early ’90s and combined with future-projected wishes of power over HIV/AIDS to create a fantastical super-iconography that was simultaneously nostalgic and enterprising and which suggested that pre-AIDS gay memories could leapfrog the period of AIDS into a contiguous future.
This article was refereed.
- Andrew Sullivan, “Gay Life, Gay Death”, The New Republic, December 1990.
- Michelangelo Signorile, Queer in America: Sex, the Media and the Closets of Power, Abacus Books, London, 1993.
- David B. Feinberg, Queer and Loathing: Rants and Raves of a Raging AIDS Clone, Penguin Books, New York, 1994.
- B. Ruby Rich, “New Queer Cinema”, Sight and Sound, Vol. 2, Issue 5, September 1992.
- Amy Taubin, “Objects of Desire”, Sight and Sound, Vol. 1, Issue 9, January 1992.
- Jennie Rose, “The Last Refuge of Democracy: A Talk with B. Ruby Rich”, Greencine.com, May 7 2004.
- US dollars, as in the rest of this essay except where specified (see endnote 10).
- Elizabeth Pincus, planetout.com PopcornQ Movies.
- Tony Magnusson, “Unstable Boyfriends and Troubled Men”, Sydney Star Observer, Friday April 2, 1993.
- I remember attending a Sydney screening of My Own Private Idaho in 1991 with a group of gay and gay-familiar friends. We watched the film to the end, but at least three other patrons walked out within the first hour, one yelling “ten dollars worth of shit” on his frustrated way out the door (ten Australian dollars being the average movie ticket price at the time). Additionally, the placards of dozens of gay male protesters who picketed the 1992 Academy Awards ceremony that proclaimed Gus van Sant a genius, Idaho a masterpiece, and its lack of any Oscar nominations proof of Hollywood homophobia suggests that the film was embraced by gay-male culture more so than other identifiable populations.
- Jane Feuer, Seeing Through the Eighties: Television and Reaganism, Duke University Press, Durham, 1995
- David Ehrenstein, “XX” The Advocate, September 1991.
- Katie Mills, in S. Cohan, S. and I.R. Kark, The Road Movie Book, Routledge, London, 1997.
- Paul Burston, “What Are You Looking At? Queer Sex, Style and Cinema”, Cassell, London, 1995.
- Taubin, “Objects of Desire”.
- Rich, “New Queer Cinema”.
- Mills, “The Road Movie Book”.
- Tom Pyszczynski, Sheldon Solomon, and Jeff Greenberg, “In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror”, American Psychological Association, Washington D.C. 2002, p. 98.