Classic Lesbian Films of the ’90s

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Classic Lesbian Films of the ’90s

better. Gangster moll lesbianism attempts butch-femme realism. It’s lesbian MacGyver movie making at its finest: all those crazy Wakowski brothers needed was an elevator, a mouth harp and an anal bead light cord to make lesbian movie magic and to turn film noir a lovely shade of lavender. Eat that, The Matrix! Thanks to Susie Bright's abstract expressionist sex scene, we’re all in for a bumpy ride. But don't worry, it's 1996 and we all have black leather jackets and know how to “pretend smoke” in that expensive "Chicago bar." Plus, that stock "plumbing snake scene" in the bathroom gave us a gritty new euphemism for lesbian sex.


Lesbians are only interested in one thing: boobs and money.

Watermelon Woman (1997)

Thank you director Cheryl Dunye for making a thoughtful film challenging young lesbians in libraries everywhere to embrace the critical process of “archival research.” I think we all learned how important it is to think of ourselves as both historical subjects and sexual objects, and to consider the ways that race and ethnicity inform our personal lives. If it wasn’t for you, racism and ethnicity in the lesbian community would still exist!

Better Than Chocolate (1999)

This movie has always confounded me. While in graduate school, I received a VHS copy as a gift for letting an out-of-town dyke stranger descend on my pad. At the time, this was akin to getting a sweater from my mom or a handbag from my sister. After repeated, distracted viewings, I finally realized BTC offers an array of assertive lesbian hairstyles and demonstrates that all lesbian art — be it plant life, body painting or horrid DVD cover art — has the potential to be mildly expressive, at best. An unrequited tranny lesbian plotline never looked so good — or Canadian. Ever!

Better Than Chocolate

Eat your heart out, Swoosie Kurtz.

As you can see, the '90s were a critical decade for the formation of a lesbian North American cinema, and for the formation of a lesbian North American identity. Is this "too real" for you? Sorry, but I'm not apologizing. We lesbians like our movies hard-hitting, politically charged and erotically vacant, so you're just gonna have to deal! As we continue to search for our "realistic representations of lesbianism," why don't we just relax and have some fun with our bodies, our past selves? And in the meantime, can someone please tell me — realistically — why it is that I can't ever find a femme with the voice of Jennifer Tilly, the scholastic achievement of Cheryl Dunye and the alcoholic tolerance of an early Guinevere Turner?

Oh, wait… Have I?


Comments [100]

beauty's picture

Sorry about the bad links

Sorry about the bad links above. Here are youtube clips of both movies if anyone is interested:

Aimee and Jaguar:


Julia Watson's picture

I couldn't get through Aimee

I couldn't get through Aimee & Jaguar either. Oups

Robin Rigby's picture

"Bar Girls" is atrocious.

"Bar Girls" is atrocious. Avoid at all costs. I've never seen "Claire of the Moon" but have heard that it's awful, which is why I've avoided it.

Robin Rigby's picture

I'm showing "Fire" at lesbian

I'm showing "Fire" at lesbian movie night in a couple of weeks. I love the secondary characters of the grandmother and the servant. They bring a lot of fun to the mix.

I thought "Aimee & Jaguar" was dull, dull, dull. Couldn't finish watching it.

Robin Rigby's picture

Per IMDB "Mercy" was released

Per IMDB "Mercy" was released in 2000. I've never heard of it. Adding it to my Netflix now.

mysticsmb's picture

Yes, Petra (and Ellen to a

Yes, Petra (and Ellen to a slightly lesser extent) was super sexy--I'd never really seen her before. The film was a letdown overall though, and I think it was released in 2000 or 2001.

Professor C's picture



mysticsmb's picture

Mmmm....loved FIRE. Forgot

Mmmm....loved FIRE. Forgot about it, so thanks for reminding me!

mysticsmb's picture

Bar Girls: worst. EVER.

Bar Girls: worst. EVER.

Julia Watson's picture

OMG. I had totally forgotten

OMG. I had totally forgotten about Bar Girls. SOOOO bad. I remember being excited about the kissing scenes when I first watched that as a teenager, though.

Erin Blackwell's picture

"Go Fish" co-produced by

"Go Fish" co-produced by Guinevere Turner & Rose Troche, who maxed out their credit cards & went on to L Word fabulousness. GT starred & RT directed.

Tex's picture

You be careful up there,

You be careful up there, sweets! Don't want to have to come up there and wait on you if you break something Smile

I'm in Colorado working with pleasure thrown in. We need some of your snow here - I can't snowshoe for lack of. Goodness, I understand about the SUV - me too! I'm working out of my Wrangler - and it's not a young cowboy by any means. And, lord have mercy, it's like riding a horse!

Are you still contemplating doing that piece along the border? Or are you watching the economic situation before embarking on a big project like that?

Personally, doing much better Wink You know me, I can't stay out of kilter long.....just not my style!

(Whisper) You know what you should do with that mink!


Twitter Time @kdhales

Erin Blackwell's picture

"Claire of the Moon" is

"Claire of the Moon" is second only to "Bar Girls" as most-embarrassing-to-be-a-dyke-while-sitting-through-this-hogwash flick. GAWD AWFUL. and don't forget "the MAKING of Claire of the Moon"...

Sabrina's picture

Tex, wherever you are is

Tex, wherever you are is definitely somewhere!

Wow, we were your first huh?

Missed you too! L.A. was desperately needed and fantastic. Of course still searching for an SUV and planning more fundraisers...into eternity I fear.

I'm back to the ice(fell down twice today, but who's counting?) coating my driveway and that darn mink. Yes, I did say mink and that creature has cramped my lifestyle a bit here in the woods. I now understand a phrase like, "mean as a mink". Do you know anymore?


smagerts's picture

"Mercy" with Peta Wilson and

"Mercy" with Peta Wilson and Ellen Barkin...Not really a gay film, but Peta is hot in a few lesbian scenes..worth watching just to see Peta Wilson in action with Ellen Barkin

Tex's picture

You were cute as a bug in

You were cute as a bug in this movie - all those curls! TIAOTGIL was my first...

How was L.A.? Missed you....

Middle of nowhere,


Twitter Time @kdhales

Rockets's picture

Just wanted to say - thanks

Just wanted to say - thanks for the list... I'd never seen most of those movies. I watched Go Fish last night and actually enjoyed it.

I'll be a gay trivia superstar someday... someday...

beauty's picture

Missing are my two favorite

Missing are my two favorite lesbian films [probably two of my favorite films of all time]: cinematically beautiful, gorgeous women, excellent character development and substantive plots. You can’t get better than that:

Fire (1996) [set & made in India where it was banned / Deepa Mehta (need I say more?)] [spoiler]

Aimee and Jaguar (1999) [based on true story / Germany’s entry to Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film]:

Grace Moon's picture

hey what about that aweful kd

hey what about that aweful kd lang movie salmonberry's was that pre-90s... doesn't it get grandmothered in to your top picks?

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Sabrina's picture

Good to be back!

Good to be back!

peacekitty's picture

Hi Sabrina. :) Nice to see

Hi Sabrina. Smile Nice to see you again.

"Fight Prime Time. Read a Book"

Sabrina's picture

Hi there Prof, great recap of

Hi there Prof, great recap of 90's queer cinema. I had the good fortune of being in True Adventures and our film did very well thanks to Go Fish which opened doors commercially for queer cinema(at that time) in the larger film world. We were distributed by both Fineline and Miramax which was quite unusual too.

JukeboxLuke's picture

This must be about Frances,

This must be about Frances, the butchy bookstore owner, and Judy, the Gertrude Stein-loving, "taupe & lime" pairing transwoman. They share these fantastic open mouthed moments of connection but both are too flustered and awkward to follow through. Brilliant!

Xanadu's picture

I've only ever seen three

I've only ever seen three lesbian movies - I really need to expand my viewing repertoire ...

High Art (Loved Radha Mitchell)
Kissing Jessica Stein (Frustrating, but cute)
Desert Hearts (Patricia Charbonneau just radiates hotness)

Professor C's picture

oo thanks for the Incredibly

oo thanks for the Incredibly True summary. The Leaves of Grass bit endears me to it once again.

oh, and i spelled Wachowski wrong so thanks for getting it right...

Professor C's picture

Yes, Watermelon Woman is

Yes, Watermelon Woman is genius--it's so smart!

Julia Watson's picture

I thought CotM was painfully

I thought CotM was painfully hokey. But I remember watching Watermelon Woman in a queer theory class at UCSD and thinking it was the best lesbo film I had ever seen up to that point.

Steph H's picture

LOVE that film!

LOVE that film!

Steph H's picture

Yep, I remember Claire of the

Yep, I remember Claire of the Moon. I found it a bit contrived but still enjoyed it.

Tex's picture

Coyote Ugly!

Coyote Ugly!

Twitter Time @kdhales

mysticsmb's picture

Ok, tell us how you really

Ok, tell us how you really feel Julia! Smile

I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I kinda dug the grungy East Village mise en scene and questions raised about art, etc. and fortunately the tragic aspects had nothing to do with the character being lesbian.

Rusty's picture

Anyone remember Claire of the

Anyone remember Claire of the Moon (1992)? I'm pretty sure I enjoyed it at the time, but I have no idea how it held up. Of the ones listed by the Prof, Watermelon Woman is my favorite.

"When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will." ~ Pollyanna

Julia Watson's picture

I miss that godawful vampire

I miss that godawful vampire show with Christina Cox on Lifetime. She was so much fun to lust over from week to week.

Robin Rigby's picture

Professor, you don't remember

Professor, you don't remember TITAOTGIL? Laurel Holloman was a working class teenager living with her two gay aunts who falls for the rich girl in school. The best part was Laurel reading Leaves of Grass while smoking pot and saying "crotch" over and over again and giggling about it.

"Bound" is smoking hot and showed us what the Wachowskis could do. They took that talent to a whole new level in "The Matrix" and the film world will owe them for that forever. But "Bound" is way hotter. Jennifer Tilly's voice though- like fingernails on a chalkboard. Ouch!

The body painting scene in "Better Than Chocolate" may well be the sexiest thing every put on a movie screen. What lesbian hasn't had a crush on Christina Cox ever since that movie came out? *whimper*

Robin Rigby's picture

I do not understand your love

I do not understand your love for that film. Minnie, you're right on- "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing" is awesome. "When Night is Falling" pales in comparison.

Let me go public with what I've been saying for years right here- I am tired of The Protesting Straight Girl genre of lesbian filmmaking. You know the PSG- "When Night is Falling" is a good example. Straight girl meets lesbian. Straight girl falls for lesbian. Straight girl denies her attraction to lesbian. Straight girl sleeps with lesbian. Straight girl still denies her gayness. Straight girl finally gives in. "Desert Hearts" was the first but it's 25 years on now and time to give up on this fantasy and make lesbian films for lesbians who are not afraid to be out.

Julia Watson's picture

I confess to having an enormo

I confess to having an enormo FILFy crush on Piper Perabo. I'll watch anything with her in it. And I mean anything (most recently, that silly chihuahua movie).

Julia Watson's picture

Ugh. I loathed High

Ugh. I loathed High Art.

That one got on my last tragic lesbian nerve.

Rockets's picture

"An unrequited tranny lesbian

"An unrequited tranny lesbian plotline never looked so good — or Canadian."

WHAT does this mean! *please note jolly sense of sarcasm* lol
(wonders if she's a 10-footer Canadian...)

mysticsmb's picture

Kind of a pre-Tibette couple

Kind of a pre-Tibette couple if you think about it Smile

minniesota's picture

I loved Patrica Rozema's 1987

I loved Patrica Rozema's 1987 film, "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." Would love to see that one again. Sheila McCarthy was delightful in that film.

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

lucia_2008's picture

When Night Is Falling was

When Night Is Falling was very good. is good!!!

Tex's picture

You're right, Steph! I forgot

You're right, Steph! I forgot about the money...... Wink

Twitter Time @kdhales

mysticsmb's picture

OMG yes! I don't even

OMG yes! I don't even remember the number of times I saw WHEN NIGHT IS FALLING when it was originally released to the theatres. S-E-X-Y! What an auteur Patricia Rozema is! She was originally scheduled to write and direct the HBO version of Grey Gardens, starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange (what casting!), but is now only listed as the writer--too bad.

Steph H's picture

"Lost and Delirious"! Yeah,

"Lost and Delirious"! Yeah, I liked that!

Am with you on Bound - it's a cracking film.

mysticsmb's picture

Another glaring omission:

Another glaring omission: HIGH ART

A bit of a downer, but incredible performances by Ally Sheedy (who knew?), who should have gotten an Oscar nod, Patricia Clarkson and Radha Mitchell (I believe this was her film debut).

Steph H's picture

Or is it 3???? ;-)

Or is it 3???? Wink

Tex's picture

Lesbians are only interested

Lesbians are only interested in one thing: boobs and money

I do believe that's TWO THINGS no matter how you look at it/them! Wink

Twitter Time @kdhales

Julia Watson's picture

Glaring omission: When Night

Glaring omission: When Night is Falling (1995)!

peacekitty's picture

Thanks Professor!! Bound is

Thanks Professor!! Bound is one of my favorite movies. I also loved Better Than Chocolate.

Did you see "Lost and Delirious?" I loved Piper Perabo in that.

"Fight Prime Time. Read a Book"

Lake's picture

2 thumbs up for

2 thumbs up for Bound!!!!!!!!! OMG it's HOT!!

Thanks for the reminder on the films....I need to watch some of them again!