Ahead of the Curve

 

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An appreciative portrait of Franco Stevens and the magazine she founded.

 
Ahead of the Curve

 

When it comes to the many documentaries that look back on LGBT history, the titles released here suggest that the focus on lesbians has been less than they deserve. That being so, a strong welcome is justified for Ahead of the Curve which has at its centre Frances ‘Franco’ Stevens: in 1991 she set up the publication that would prove to be both the best-selling and longest lasting of all lesbian magazines. This took place in America and it had the title ‘Deneuve’ until a certain well-known actress sued on the grounds of that being a trademark infringement. It then became known instead as ‘Curve’.
 
The chief director of this film making her feature debut is Jen Rainin who is the wife of Franco Stevens. In consequence what we get is very much an inside view of the magazine from its founding up to the present day. This comes in addition to an arresting account of the earlier life of Franco Stevens which reveals how an early marriage ended when her husband outed her to the family. In 1997 Stevens had a serious accident that left her disabled and in consequence she sold the magazine. However, her interest in ‘Curve’ continues unabated even as she recognises that its future prospects are in doubt due to the fall-off in readerships for magazines these days. Furthermore, she is very much aware that one cannot afford to take for granted the rights that have been won in America for LGBT people especially in the light of attitudes and events in the Trump era.
 
Early on in the film we see comparatively recent footage of Stevens attending an LGBT conference as a speaker, an illustration in itself of her continued commitment to these issues. With much archive material and reminiscences from people involved in the magazine over the years, the film goes back and forth between past and present, almost too much so at times. Rainin seeks to cram in a lot but this can lead to rather brief comments from devoted readers and staff alike when rather more detailed observations might have been more rewarding even if fewer people had contributed in this way.
 
The film is alert to changing attitudes in the LGBT sphere and even incorporates various comments on whether or not the term ’lesbian’ remains apt. At the start of publication, the word had been proudly placed on the magazine’s cover but more recently was taken off to allow for changing modern views only to be restored once more. However, there is less sense of drama in this history than one might expect save in the episode concerned with the lawsuit over the original title. What does emerge as a constant is the desire by those running the magazine to encourage diversity. In the early days that led to a desire to appeal equally to femme and butch readers while now it seeks to embrace diversity in a broader contemporary sense. The film gets as up-to-date as 2019 and, if its survey of a valuable magazine lacks something when it comes to shaping the material to best effect, this look back at a publication of huge importance is a welcome record. Not one to claim too much, Franco Stevens in her reflections on the magazine modestly expresses the hope that as part of lesbian history in the States it can at the very least be valued as a foundation of some kind.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Franco Stevens, Jen Rainin, Melissa Etheridge, Jewelle Gomez, Lea DeLaria, Andrea Pino-Silva, Kate Kendell, Denice Frohman, Amber Hikes, Kim Katrin Milan, Cal Joy, Anita Lofton, Katie Brown.

 

Dir Jen Rainin with Rivkah Beth Medow, Pro Rikvah Beth Medow, Screenplay Jen Rainin and Jessica Congdon, Ph Svetlana Cvetko and Clare Major, Ed Jessica Congdon, Music Meshell Ndegeocello.

 

Frankly Speaking Films/Wolfe-Together Films.
98 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 1 June 2021. Available on BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 12A.