L.A. Is a Queer Utopia Throughout July Thanks to the ‘Dirty Looks’ Arts Festival
Dirty Looks: On Location, an L.A. arts festival, is doing something unprecedented for the city’s local LGBTQ community. Over the 31 days of July the fest is celebrating L.A.’s vibrant queer culture with an equal number of events. That’s an event every day for the duration of the month, and even more interesting, Dirty Looks is taking the opportunity to highlight some of the many local queer spaces that time (and some residents, too, no doubt) forgot.
A mix of film screenings, performance art, photography programs and reactivations of some of L.A.’s infamous but since-shuttered queer bars, Dirty Looks takes place at Los Angeles venues including Moonlight Rollerway, Silver Platter, Bullet Bar, the Tom of Finland Foundation, The Black Cat, The Plaza and Los Feliz movie theater The Vista.
Three lesbian bars — Redz in Boyle Heights, Plush Pony in El Sereno and North Hollywood’s Moonshadow — will have their doors reopened as part of Dirty Looks, as will Jewel’s Catch One, one of the country’s very first black gay discos (now a nightclub called Union), and two previously infamous Silver Lake queer spots, Cuffs and Circus of Books.
Begun in 2012, Dirty Looks: On Location initially brought film screenings and performances to the queer spaces of New York City. Now, having swapped coasts, the fest is taking on a city that has for decades not gotten the respect it’s due as a birthplace of the country’s queer civil rights movement.
“Every community needs a flagpost, and ours is Stonewall, but that’s largely PR,” says Bradford Nordeen, the founder and curator of Dirty Looks. “If you look back, many cities have uprisings that pre-date Stonewall, sometimes significantly, as with L.A.’s Cooper’s Doughnuts. L.A. is clearly in a cultural moment where its significance is becoming a bit more center stage at present. So if this project helps to clarify some historical aspects to help us get there, I’m all in!”
Regarding the incorporation of shuttered queer spaces into the festival’s programming, Nordeen says it took about six months to get all the venues on board — many of which, due to gentrification, are no longer queer venues. “Two of the lesbian venues we’re bringing back were all in without hesitation, and I think that’s amazing,” he says. And with the others, “you just have to be patient, respectful and persistent.”
Nordeen calls opening night of Dirty Looks: On Location — a 50th anniversary celebration of “A Most Unusual Film Festival,” L.A.’s first gay film festival, originally held in the summer of ‘68 — “a great note to kick things off on.”
So much more is in store, of course. Of the upcoming Dirty Looks parties and events, Nordeen says he’s most looking forward to a few in particular.
“I was so excited when Coaxial proposed screening Rick Castro and Bruce La Bruce’s Hustler White at The Studs (formerly the TomKat and Pussycat), L.A.’s only remaining gay porn theater,” he says. “I’d had the idea to do that very pairing of movie and space about four or so years ago, but never did anything with it. And I’m really stoked for the closing night, which puts Gengoroh Tagame’s hardcore drawings in dialogue with the Tom of Finland Foundation. We’re screening the porn that established his aesthetics throughout the foundation’s many levels and crevices. It should be a night to remember!”