Flaming Classic series brings queer film analysis to UM

"The Little Mermaid" pool screening on Sept. 3. Photo credit: Shellie Frai
"The Little Mermaid" pool screening on Sept. 3. Photo credit: Shellie Frai

The UC Pool turned into a “dive in” cinema Sept. 3, where more than 100 guests watched Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” projected on 35mm, from the comfort of pool floaties. After the screening, guests watched two drag queens perform their interpretation of the film.

It was all part of of UM’s Flaming Classics, a film and drag performance series hosted by the Cosford Cinema and created by Trae DeLellis, director of the Cosford, and Juan Barquin, Miami New Times film critic.

The series highlights the queer aspects of films and uses drag performance to merge performance art with film art.

“There’s a new amount of repertoire in cinema going on, like older films being shown,” said DeLellis. “It got us thinking, ‘Why weren’t films we like getting represented?’ It felt like it was because of their queerness or because it’s skewed toward more of a feminine audience. We thought there is a place for that and people would be excited about going to see those films.”

The first Flaming Classic series began this summer with the theme of summer camp. The organizers screened “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,” Marilyn Monroe’s famous “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”

“The Little Mermaid” screening is part of their new back-to-school series, called Flaming Classics: Smoking in the Girls Room. Films in this series include, “Saved!” “Heathers” and “Jawbreaker.” This series will be playing until October, when they will introduce their Halloween series, including another Disney classic, “Hocus Pocus.”

Pairing the films with a drag performance was a way to enhance the cinematic experience, Barquin said, especially for those who are too young to go to traditional drag performance venues.

“Queer events throughout Miami often take place in bars, especially if they have drag performances,” he said. “So it limits who can actually go see drag performers. We wanted anyone who can’t get to a bar to be able to see these performers now. It is like a bit of a film education and a bit of a great show.”

The event was cosponsored by the LGBTQ center at the University of Miami. Director Van Bailey said he loved the idea.

“I think sometimes when people think about education for diversity and inclusion, they think about it as a workshop or training,” Bailey said. “Sometimes, it’s just sitting down, watching a movie and having a conversation about gender performance.”

Highlighting the queer aspects of “The Little Mermaid” was a stretch for DeLellis and Barquin, but ‘queer’ – as DeLellis points out – is an umbrella term.

“It’s a very inclusive term,” DeLellis said. “In a way, it’s like with ‘queer’ you can almost talk about anything. It’s not just about sexuality or gender – which it is those things – but it is also about identity and going against the normal.”

A queer analysis of the film is something members of SpectrUM, the undergraduate LGTBQ and allied student organization, find intriguing and beneficial for the community.

“I like the fact that these kinds of discussions bring the queer community together and allow these discussions to be brought to light,” SpectrUM Vice President Earl Generato said. “It’s better to have a discussion as opposed to keeping everyone in the dark.”

“It’s interesting to see if the people that come don’t know that the movie can be read in a queer analysis, and it will be something they can learn,” SpectrUM ally series chair Alexa Skolnik said.

The idea for this series came from a book that DeLellis read in graduate school, “Flaming Classics: Queering the Film Canon” by Alexander Doty.

“The book really influenced me,” DeLellis said. “As a queer person who loves film, you are watching so many films where you don’t see queer people. But that’s the idea I love most: the idea of reading queer and not assuming anything you are given at face value.”

Visit the Cosford Cinema’s website, cosfordcinema.com, to learn more about the series and the date of the next screening, “Heathers”