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Video Sundays: Films by Ronald Chase

Recommended viewing: Two of the earliest post-Stonewall gay films, directed by Ronald Chase.
Kelley Dong
Considered lost for nearly five decades until their rediscovery in 2019, filmmaker Ronald Chase's Cathedral (1971) and Parade (1972) are two of the earliest films about gay lives made after the Stonewall riots of June 28, 1969. The former is an ethereal dedication to gay sexuality, and the latter a talking-head documentary short about San Francisco's first Gay Pride Parade to be organized with permits. Viewed together, the two films form a holistic portrait of the sensuality, spirituality, and solidarity central to the gay rights movement in the aftermath of the Stonewall riots.
Filmed in the St. Chapel in Paris, Chase's Cathedral "[refuses] to see touch, affection, and sensuality only in pornographic terms." The film's display of delicate shadows cast across white sheets invokes a strong sense of spiritual consecration tied to the condemned act. Beneath the superimposed veils of light through church windows, Chase films heavenly bodies entangled with one another in their most intimate form.
The bodies of Parade (1972), on the other hand, move through public space as political subjects. Intended as a "a propaganda piece for straight organizations," the film only showed at a small number of screenings around San Francisco ("Maybe three churches showed it once,” Chase says). Chase reportedly placed the film in a mislabeled box, where it was found much later. In Parade we see footage of San Francisco’s first "official Gay Pride Parade." (An earlier gathering took place in 1970, one year after the Stonewall riots, and according to Chase, was organized by rock band Black Sabbath.) Between the events of the parade, the film cuts to close-up interviews with attendees, who share their often conflicting, contradictory thoughts on the meaning of gay liberation, the treatment of homosexuality as psychosis, and the universality of love. Per Chase's website: "Now, the people in this film are perceived as pioneers—in 1972 they were simply weirdos."
Parade ends with a montage of gay historical figures, including Oscar Wilde, Sappho, Plato, and Gertrude Stein, to the sounds of protesters chanting, "We are everywhere." In a discussion on the film from last year's Frameline44 Pride Showcase, Ronald Chase shares that his reason for making the film, and for ending it with this sequence, was to remind his audience that "always gay people have had a really important presence in the history of the world [...] to convince people that gay people have worth." In their description of the film, Frameline points out that Parade might seem dated, particularly as it features a predominantly white group of Pride attendees. However, today it stands as an important document of some of the first organizing efforts in post-Stonewall gay activism.


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