A Queer Art Canon: JP Larocque and Batman Returns

Let’s make a canon! And let’s fill it with queer art, or queer-ish art, or art that has no idea how queer it is. Queer art is often secret art: black-market, whispered-about, read-between-the-lines art. And since secret art can be hard to find, let’s shine a light on a few of our favourite things so all our friends can see them.

We’ll call it a canon, because it sounds Weighty and Important and Serious, but we also won’t be too serious about it. We won’t make The Canon, just a canon. Each month, we’ll chat with a different queer-about-town and ask them to submit something to the canon. And they’ll tell us what that book or play or movie or TV episode or sculpture or poem or dance piece or opera or photograph or painting or performance art piece or anything else means to them and why they think it deserves a spot in our illustrious canon. 

This month, we talked to writer, director, and comedian JP Larocque about Tim Burton’s Batman Returns.

So, what are we talking about today?

I was torn between two works. One is Isaac Julien’s film Looking for Langston. The other is Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. (laughs) Looking for Langston is a meditation on the life of Langston Hughes. It uses fragments of Langston’s poetry, newsreel footage, staged dramatic scenes, it echoes specific photographs and art pieces, it quotes other African American artists—James Baldwin, Essex Hemphill… Hughes had a really public life, but he was gay and he didn’t talk about it. So, this entire film is about weaving a gay African American experience through subtext. It’s a really, really beautiful film. And obviously, there’s Batman Returns

Ya! Oh my god, lets talk about Batman Returns!

I saw Batman Returns way too young, in the theatre, with my Dad.

It’s scary!

You have people getting gored in the face, you have The Penguin, and at one point he bites a guy’s nose and all the blood is gushing down and the Ice Queen gets pushed off a building… There’s a lot of dark stuff. And also, it’s incredibly sexual. I feel like that movie is split into two. There’s the Danny DeVito Penguin half, which is OK. And then there’s Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, which had such a massive impact on me as a gay baby. She’s so empowered and sexy and dynamic, from the PVC suit to how she carried herself. And she blossoms from this really put-upon secretary to being meaningfully actualized as Catwoman.

Its a great check-in on where feminism was at in 1992.

When Catwoman saves the woman in the alleyway, and she takes the thug down and then the woman’s like “Oh, thank you!” And she grabs her neck and she’s like “Oh, poor you, always waiting for a Batman to save you! I am Catwoman, hear me roar!

The way that they repeat the scenes of her coming home and talking to her cat

Which is somewhat triggering for me! (laughs)

Ill fight for Danny DeVitos performance in that movie too.

They were playing it at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and I went with a guy. Every time Danny DeVito was on the screen, we would make out. Every time Michelle Pfeiffer was on the screen, I was like “OK, shh, shh, shh, this is really important!” The other thing that I love about that movie is the reveal ballroom scene when Bruce and Selina are dancing…

Ugh, yes! Perfect!

That scene is so iconic that Chris Nolan in Dark Knight Rises had a little quote of it.

Although, that version of it

It was horrible. But in the scene in the ballroom in Batman Returns, the reveal to each other was super sexy. The whole “Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it, a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.”

The little pistol in her garter!

“No hard feelings.” “Semi-hard, I’d say.” When I’d watch it on VHS and I was like a teen, I was like, wait a minute, that’s about an erection! Batman has an erection! What I’ve always loved about Batman and Catwoman in that movie is that they’re highly dysfunctional really scary people. But they love each other? But still couldn’t make it work? I feel like the template for all my future relationships were fashioned on that scene. I loved Catwoman so much as a little boy that I actually wrote in a notebook a sequel to it with a Catman—Catboy, I think it was, because it was me.

In full leather

Oh god, yeah, absolutely! When I’d play it in the schoolyard, I was always Catwoman. Honestly, if I met a guy and the two of us were to slow dance and then reveal something to each other that was mildly disturbing, but also married us in a certain way, that would be the happiest moment of my life. Cause I’m generally attracted to really dour, grumpy dudes who are basically Batman. And I guess those guys are attracted to Catwomen. Or Catmen. Catboys! (laughs) That’s me!

What do you think Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman can bring to the children? What can we still learn from her?

She was such a tremendously sex-positive character. And there’s something about that journey, coming into your own, finding liberation within sexuality. And the outfit that she wears and how sexual and beautiful and fetishy it is. I actually have that Catwoman mask hanging in my bedroom. And my nieces came over and one of them put it on and was running around and woofing—cause she thought it was a dog. And then after the fact, my sister was like “You might just wanna put that somewhere else…” And I was like “No, it’s not a sex mask! I just love Catwoman!”

It’s never come out in that context?

No one’s ever asked me! (laughs)

Johnnie Walker

Johnnie Walker is a writer of many plays, a hoster of many burlesques, and a maker of many jokes. Follow him on twitter @handsomejohnnie

Read all posts by Johnnie Walker

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