The 2021 edition of Cinema St. Louis’ annual queer film festival, QFest St. Louis, will be hosted exclusively online from April 16-25. In the meantime, from March 26-April 8, the Webster University Film Series and QFest St. Louis are presenting a special selection outside the official lineup: Chris McKim’s acclaimed new documentary Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker with a Q&A featuring the film’s production team. Virtual tickets can be purchased here, with proceeds going directly to the Webster University Film Series. Details about the lineup for QFest St. Louis 2021 are available on Cinema St. Louis’ website and QFest St. Louis’ social-media pages (Facebook: QFestSTL / Twitter: @QFestSTL / Instagram: @qfeststl).
[The following is a transcript of a video introduction to the film by Lens critic and QFest St. Louis co-programmer Joshua Ray. You can watch the full video here.]
The provocative subtitle of Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker comes from the title of one of its subject’s best-known works. David Wojnarowicz’s multimedia collage features a male same-sex couple painted on a map, planked by four of the artist’s nude photographs of similar couples. In between the two bottom photographs lies a scrap of torn paper. On it, one crudely drawn figure appears to sexually penetrate another, stating, “Fuck You Faggot Fucker.”
Its integration into the piece is emblematic of Wojnarowicz’s art as a whole: a physical act of reclamation is transmuted into a political one. Found on the streets of pre-Disney-fied New York City – a pilgrimage site for freaks, artists, and the underprivileged during the 1980s – the paper scrap implies the violent malice toward queer identity that continues to this day, but Wojnarowicz contextualizes it. For better or worse, he reclaims the unspeakable word as a inescapable part of queer idenity, deflecting the incoming hate as outgoing power.
As made apparent by this radically and passionately told film chronicling Wojnarowicz’s life and work during one of the most turbulent of modern times for queer folks, director Chris McKim innately understands the ethos of the artist. McKim, whose work includes documentaries on other complicated icons of the queer community, Big Freida and Tammy Faye Baker, mimics the explosive collision of spoken and written word, photography, pencil, paint, and found materials in Wojnarowicz’s art. Although the kind of media alchemy that the firebrand creator cooked up in his work has a similar modus operandi to that of most documentarians, McKim presents a verve, tenacity, and energy in the construction of his cinematic mixed-media piece similar to his subject’s. His choices here do just as much work in painting a portrait of the artist as the details they document.
Maybe with David Wojnarowicz, the form has just found some ideal content: a subject who works in the genre’s most common construction. However, that conceptual oroborus is secondary to what would make the artist a prime choice for cinematic exploration: He was defiantly outspoken, occasionally contradictory, unabashedly queer, and always himself. His rise and fall and rise again – surrounded by well-known figureheads of the time like Fran Liebowitz and Gracie Mansion, whose recollections appear here – coincide with the iconoclastic era that saw queer people finding seats at the table before a ravaging plague began striking them down in their prime.
By its end, the film is as much the artist’s story as it is the saga of the AIDS crisis in America, the ignorance that enabled its unending death march, and those who rallied against that system. McKim, however, carefully avoids hoisting his subject up as a Gump-ian marker of history. Wojnarowicz was a figure born out of and tied to a specific era, but as Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker demonstrates, the impact of his life and art continues to reverberate today.