A Lesbian Landmark: Stacie Passon’s Concussion

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by Noah Tsika – Assistant Professor of Media Studies at Queens College, City University of New York

Nearly 20 years after her groundbreaking queer film Go Fish first galvanized audiences at the Sundance Film Festival, Rose Troche has produced the powerfully erotic Concussion, the debut feature of Stacie Passon, who both wrote and directed it. If Go Fish, famous as the first lesbian feature film to screen in competition at Sundance, is exemplary of the New Queer Cinema movement of the early 1990s — meaning that it depicts same-sex erotic contact with daring and discrepant stylistic devices, from overlapping dialogue tracks to terrifically self-conscious moments that shatter the proverbial fourth wall – -then Concussion is clearly the product of a separate time and of far more conservative filmmaking techniques.

Impeccably shot (the cinematography is by David Kruta), Concussion unfolds in formally consistent fashion, like a high-toned advertisement for luxury living; one could eat off the pristine digital images. Unlike the necessarily messy, grainy NQC films to which it owes an undeniable debt, Concussion isn’t concerned with overtly critiquing the claims made by and on behalf of lesbians. It doesn’t bristle in the face of homophobia. In fact, for the film’s wealthy, white, East Coast lesbians, heterosexism seems so alien as to require no comment. Like Lisa Cholodenko’s 2010 film The Kids Are All Right, Concussion presupposes a wide and unquestioning public acceptance of lesbian marriage (or at least of an extrajudicial approximation thereof). At no point in the film must a character “defend” her decision to raise children with another woman, or define her sexual orientation identity beyond a few rote, audience-pleasing jokes. Straight men and women living in the suburbs of New York are seemingly so comfortable around their lesbian friends — particularly around the film’s central couple, Abby and Kate (played by Robin Weigert and Julie Fain Lawrence) — that they can tease the topic of same-sex desire, the men by selfishly requesting a “hot” lesbian coming-out narrative, the women by wondering out loud if lesbians are staring at their asses. Vanity, in all its forms, is a currency in Concussion, one of several recent American films (Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said is another) that subtly skewer the pretensions of impossibly privileged people.

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