Sound And Vision: Jane Schoenbrun

Contributing Writer; The Netherlands
Sound And Vision: Jane Schoenbrun

In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors. This week we look at Lucy Dacus' Night Shift, directed by Jane Schoenbrun.

It is no secret I identify as queer. This part of my identity gives me an advantage when it comes to interpreting works by other queer artists. I have had many conversations with cis straight friends about mainstream or semi-mainstream arthouse films that are big staples in queer culture, where they didn't get 'it', whatever that 'it' was. One of my favorite conversations was with a cis straight friend who found Jane Schoenbrun's We're All Going To The World's Fair tedious and boring. He wasn't watching the same film I was. What I saw was a film that was steeped in queer culture and queer experiences and exploring those through the lens of horror.

We're All Going To The World's Fair is a film that is all about the horror of body dysmorphia, and the (para)social relationships queer people are sometimes limited to when there is no support network to speak off. That this film is going about these themes through creepypastas and other ephemeral internet culture, does not make it less of a queer film. And it is not necessarily a bad thing that my cis straight friend didn't get it. It made We're All Going To The World's Fair into something of a secret handshake. If you are really into this film, there is something going on with you, in regards to sexuality or gender. I would bet on it.

Other signifiers of queer culture that I am quite certain make you not cis or straight? To name two examples: if you are really into The Wizard of Oz, and the music of the members of Boygenius (Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker). Which is why it is no surprise that Jane Schoenbrun, the director of We're All Going to the World's Fair, made a music video for Lucy Dacus, that is absolutely positively steeped in Wizard of Oz-references. The Wizard of Oz is itself a sort of a secret handshake of course, given that gay men last century were often dubbed "Friends of Dorothy", a nickname that even got so infamous that according to legend the FBI researched who this Dorothy was. Because there had to be a big mastermind behind all these homosexual men being all homosexual right? Otherwise it would mean it was... natural?!

Dorothy of course, was Judy Garland's seminal role in The Wizard Of Oz, whose longing for an escape out of a small town, over a rainbow, into a new colorful world, might read as one big metaphor for the queer experience. That is not even going into the fact that the Cowardly Lion is heavily queer coded. Nor the many gay urban legends that tie into The Wizard of Oz, including the false one that this is where the rainbow flag comes from, and the even falser one that it was Judy Garland's death that led to the Stonewall Riots.

It is part of this symbolism that plays into the music video for Lucy Dacus' Night Shift, a harrowingly honest break-up-song. Instead of heartbreak, the music video tells the story of a meet cute between two women, one in a Wicked Witch costume and the other in a Dorothy costume, during a night shift at a Wizard of Oz-convention. A centerpiece of the music video is a towering performance by a drag queen. Other references to The Wizard of Oz abound, as does a sense of queer happiness, a boundless spiritual journey into a new, transformative world.

Jane Schoenbrun knows their queer history, and finds new ways and angles to tell queer stories in the sandbox of genre cinema and geek culture. If We're All Going To The World's Fair tells the story of body dysphoria through creepypastas, then Night Shift tells the story of body euphoria instead. This time through the lens of fan conventions, niche geek conventions often being a safe space for queer people. Schoenbrun gets this. And if people thought We're All Going To The World's Fair was a sedate affair, or looking cheap, two gripes with the film I find short-sighted, Night Shift is here to prove to you that Schoenbrun can do something energetic and expensive looking. I can't wait to see their next film, I Saw the TV Glow, which is another look into fan culture. And who does it feature in the cast, among others? Phoebe Bridgers. I saw what you did there, Schoenbrun.

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