Friday, February 4, 2022

Butch Camp


Butch Camp
Alessandro De Gaetano

Matt Grabowski (Paul Denniston) is closeted gay man in Chicago. Tired of taking abuse from people at the bank he works for and random bullies on the street, Matt enrolls in Butch Camp, a program designed to turn effeminate gay may in straight passing dudes who won't get harassed on the street.

While the positive representation in Butch Camp was surprising, the film is not without a host of problems. Where Butch Camp displays a lot of sympathy of its cis male characters, trans people and butch lesbians are treated far less charitably. Both groups are played as punch lines, which takes all the fun down several notches.  On the one hand. it was the 1990s and the way we talk about queer people in in popular fiction was undergoing big changes, but if Butch Camp could have just extended a little humanity to its other queer characters it would have gone from a minor footnote in gay cinema to something more substantive.

The titular Butch Camp is actually the weakest part of the film. Comedian, Judy Tenuta, plays Samantha Rottweiler, the camp’s drill sergeant of sorts. Each scene is her wearing some sort of ridiculous outfit and forcing all her effeminate students to act 'tough' and to put them into situations that test their ability to act straight. These scenes feature comedy that is far broader than anything else in the story.They feel almost tacked on to the rest of the film.. Samantha Rottweiler feels like she comes from an entirely different film, which is too bad, because it looks like Tenuta is clearly having a great time.

This Fall on ABC: She just got out of prison and
he falls asleep on wet pavement!

What I did find admirable is how Matt, claims his dignity and becomes more open about being gay. No longer willing to hide or treated as weak Matt gains confident in his identity and is treated with respect for it. The film even features a tender sex scene that is shown as something beautiful and sweet. Underneath all the stereotyping and humor that has not aged well, Butch Camp has a kind heart… as long as you are a gay cis man.

There are a couple scenes in the film that soured things for me. I’m not expecting A+ representation from a movie closing in on being thirty years old, and it is interesting that both these scenes are about subsets of queer culture that exist in direct opposition to gender norms. At one point, Matt ends up in the clutches of some very butch biker dykes who are pointlessly cruel and act more like weird monsters than people. Matt’s boss at the bank is a closeted trans person (cross dresser? Most media conflate the two and Butch Camp is no different.) who is consistently used as a punchline.


The exact reverse of college.

Butch Camp is a strange film to experience as a queer person. On the one hand the tired stereotypes and outdated humor are tough to slog though, but as a comedy from an era that was still less than kind to queer identities, it is interesting and even heartening at times to see the gay characters treated with some kindness and respect. Butch Camp is a better artifact than a comedy.

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