There is actually a website, where folks can rate movies according to their ranking on the Bechdel Test.
Well, the recent release of a lesbian-themed Hollywood movie, The Kids Are All Right, has inspired me to propose a lesbian adjunct to the Bechdel Test. Let’s call it the Lesbian Litmus…
Okay, here goes... To pass the Lesbian Litmus, a film about lesbians must have:
1) Butch parity. For every lesbian femme character there is a lesbian butch. Not a transgender male. Not a butchy femme. A lesbian butch. This was an ongoing struggle for "The L-Word."
In the book, of course, there is this amazing scene with mirrors, where the sophisticated Shug shows Celie her genitals, and the lesbian sex is framed as a healing alternative to both women’s experiences of violation by men. In Speilberg’s version, there are some chaste kisses on the cheek, and then, just as Celie moves in for the lips, the camera cuts away to hands being placed on shoulders... Oh, come on! Seriously? SHOULDERS? But even that is too much for Spielberg, and the camera cuts away again to a tinkling little Japanese windchime. Fadeout. So now we can just imagine all the fragile, exotic, tinkling little sex that follows… (Footnote: I remember reading somewhere that Tina Turner had been considered for the role of Shug instead of Margaret Avery. I have a feeling she would have ripped Spielberg a new one… as in “What’s windchimes got to do with it?”)
But, as I was saying, lesbian sex for and about lesbians.
3) No “all she needs is a good man.” (The Fox, The Kids Are All Right, The Children’s Hour, Chasing Amy, Kissing Jessica Stein) No “give me a baby” sex. (French Twist) And, help me if I’m forgetting any.
4) No killing off of the lesbian to make it okay (Boys on the Side, The Fox, The Killing of Sister George, original ending of Maedchen in Uniform, Thelma and Louise... who can only justify their lesbian kiss with the fact they are going to be ruptured and shattered cadavers seconds after.)
5) It shouldn't be necessary for the women to be drunk/high. The lesbianism shouldn't be accidental or dismissable because of having been drunk, but clearly chosen. (Claire of the Moon) (Thank you, Karen Escovitz!)
6) The lesbian sex scenes should not be outnumbered or outclassed by heterosex scenes (The Kids Are All Right) (Thanks, again, Karen!)
7) AND NO SEX SCENES WRITTEN OR DIRECTED BY SOME IDIOT WHO STILL CAN’T ACCEPT OR IMAGINE THAT WE DO JUST FINE WITHOUT A PENIS, WITHOUT MALE PORNOGRAPHY, WITHOUT WINDCHIMES, WITHOUT VAMPIRES, WITHOUT INEBRIATION, WITHOUT SUICIDE, AND ESPECIALLY WITHOUT PANDERING TO SOME INTERNALIZED MALE PORNOGRAPHIC GAZE. OKAY?
The Bechdel Test seems to eliminate about half of the big studio films. The Lesbian Litmus looks to me like it will take out about half of the lesbian films. The more assertive lesbians and feminists become the more rarified the cinematic atmosphere…
And now I am going to suggest The Gage Gauge:
The lesbians who are in a primary relationship express an understanding that their intimacy poses a tremendous threat to male dominant institutions, and they derive both pleasure and energy from this understanding and, because of this, seek out opportunities to maximize the radical potential of their lesbianism.
Now, surely, somewhere there must be a lesbian film that ranks on the Gage Gauge…? If not, may I suggest any number of Gage plays for future filmmaking projects? www.carolyngage.com