Creating the canon 

By Karen Herland

These images grace covers of the first three volumes in the Arsenal Pulp Press series and are from <strong>Gods and Monters, Trash</strong>, and <em>Law of Desire</em> (from top to bottom). Magnifying glass

These images grace covers of the first three volumes in the Arsenal Pulp Press series and are from Gods and Monters, Trash, and Law of Desire (from top to bottom).

When Arsenal Pulp Press launched the first three titles of a planned 21-volume series on queer films, Matt Hays understood just how far the study of sexuality and culture had come.

As a student in 1990, Hays registered for Sexual Orientation and Representation taught by Tom Waugh and Robert K. Martin, an experience he describes as ‘intense’.

“I remember at the time that a philosophy professor wrote a letter of protest, suggesting that a course that examined homosexuality in culture should not be allowed to be taught at Concordia, or anywhere for that matter.”

Flash forward two decades and Hays now works alongside his former professor as a part-time instructor at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. The pair are co-editing the Queer Film Classics series. Waugh holds the Concordia Research Chair in Documentary Film and in Sexual Representation and has been instrumental in developing the university’s cross–disciplinary minor in sexuality studies. Hays says Waugh has become a mentor and friend.

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The series looks at titles spanning 1950 to 2005, each volume focusing on a different influential film and placing it within its social and historical context. “I think it’s difficult for some younger people to imagine just how much resistance there was to the idea of queer liberation,” said Hays.

The two developed the idea based on a series of accessible, yet scholarly volumes published through the British Film Institute that include perspectives as diverse as Salman Rushdie’s take on The Wizard of Oz and Camille Paglia’s musings on The Birds.

They opened up the call for submissions on numerous academic, film and queer listserves. “We got a number of fascinating and worthwhile ideas. The writers themselves suggested the titles, and then made passionate arguments for why their films warranted an entire book,” said Hays.

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Waugh and Hays whittled the proposals down to a manageable number, taking gender, race and geographic diversity into account, including a variety of sexual orientations as well as a strong Canadian presence. They also made a deliberate attempt not to over-represent box office blockbusters. “We did get a Brokeback Mountain proposal but we felt that that film, as beautiful and important as it is, has been granted a great deal of space and thought. We liked the idea of drawing attention to films that haven’t necessarily been given their due.”

The final list spanning eight countries and ranging from gritty documentaries to glittery musicals (because, really, could this happen without at least one glittery musical?) will easily provide something for everyone with a passing interest in queer theory, film theory and popular culture. It’s already gained the attention of the Village Voice’s columnist Michael Musto, who wrote about his appreciation for the series earlier this year.

Hays could see enough material to warrant adding more films to the series down the line, but acknowledges they have their hands full with the current pace of three books a year.


Concordia University