Cancelled: Deep Throat Drive-In at Dromana Drive-In

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Seasoned party-throwers are taking over the Dromana Drive-In for a mash-up of queer, feminist and erotic cinema. Along the way, they’ll subvert the misogyny in classic films including The Night, The Prowler, Lolita, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and Mean Girls.

Update (June 3): This event was changed to reflect Rising's cancellation.

Willoh Weiland and James Brennan know how to throw a party. Since 2017, the Hobart-based artists have directed Mona Foma’s epic late-night bash Faux Mo – eight hours of dance and live music incorporating cabaret performers, artists and community groups ranging from brass bands to bodybuilders. In 2015, as creative directors of Aphids, the couple orchestrated a funeral service for the discontinued Nokia 3310, culminating in a vodka-fuelled death metal karaoke session and the interment of the mobile phone beneath a 15-tonne monolith. Elsewhere, Weiland’s solo work has involved parades, VR goggles, disco balls and blindfolded table tennis games.

These events are as much about creating a sense of ritual as getting loose. By cultivating an uncanny, carnivalesque world, Weiland and Brennan find they’re able to draw the audience further into their experiments. In Deep Throat Drive-In – a new experiential video work and night of music that the couple developed alongside pioneering queer cinematographer Sandi Sissel – the drive-in cinema plays a similarly disarming and disorienting role.

“The drive-in has its own rules,” Brennan explains. “It’s not like being in the outside world.” The heritage-listed Dromana Drive-In on the Mornington Peninsula, where the show will take place, is like a sealed time capsule. Its mid-century aesthetic has been preserved right down to the speaker stands in the parking lot, the jukebox in the American-style diner, and the festoon lighting round the big screen.

“Stepping inside the drive-in triggers a new set of social and spatial relationships,” Brennan says. “There are cars, but no traffic lights. There are people all around you, but you can choose to stay in your bubble – and there’s rewards for that: hot pashes, hot films. It feels like a place where you can let your hair down but no one is going to get in your face about it.”

Once you’ve arrived in this hermetic, disinhibiting environment, Brennan says, “you are taken into a world of our design”. As you tune in your radio to the drive-in’s FM frequency, the voice of Sandi Sissel crackles into focus. Playing the narrator – named “Deep Throat” in reference to “the secret-teller and rule-breaker of the Watergate scandal”, according to Weiland, as well as the 1972 porno – Sissel guides you through an alternative history of film.

Over her nearly 50-year career, Sissel has had an unusually comprehensive view of the industry. She’s dabbled in sitcoms, action movies and cinéma-vérité, alongside directors such as Peter Weir, Wes Craven and Mira Nair – as well as small, independent producers – shooting everywhere from slums and war zones to Hollywood studios. “Sandi has given us such incredible insight into the history of cinema through her work,” Weiland says.

These insights span some of the artform’s failures, as well as its possibilities. While mainstream cinema has, historically, presented a fairly narrow range of experience, it’s also proven capable of genuine transgression. Before Stonewall, for instance, a 1984 documentary Sissel worked on with director Greta Schiller, spun a prehistory of queer culture in America from what was, until then, a gaping hole in the archives. But even great moments in film often paper over darker stories that occurred out of frame.

For Sissel, Weiland and Brennan, these shortcomings typically have a lot to do with who was running the production. “I worked on many films where I was the only woman on set,” says Sissel, who in 1994 became the second woman ever inducted to the prestigious American Society of Cinematographers. “That was a voice that was unheard for many, many years.” And, the artists acknowledge, it’s just one of cinema’s countless neglected voices.

Deep Throat Drive-In aims to counter this imbalance. It will, as Weiland says, explore “how to get through the male/female-gaze binary” in collaboration with a “curatorial body of artists who are queer, gender diverse and from a range of backgrounds”.

By cutting up moments from the canon – from the first fumbling forays into erotic features to troubling auteur classics such as Lolita – and stitching them back together, the artists draw untold stories from the screen, reconstructing film history as they’d like to see it.

“These are not films seen in the way that you would usually see them,” says Brennan. “They’re broken down and mixed together in a sort of Frankenstein body. And this Frankenstein body we’re hoping to build is one that we think is more appropriate and more powerful and beautiful than the body that’s been shown in the cinema to date.”

Their creation will play simultaneously across each of Dromana Drive-In’s three screens, paired with live footage captured on the night and a score by Brennan (whose musical background includes an opera, a death-metal-gamelan project, and an EP on Future Classic’s club-focused imprint Risky Disco) that looks at “what mischief is to be had by messing with film sound conventions”.

The classic drive-in setting means you’ll be able to wander round with a drink, eat some popcorn in your car, lounge on the bonnet, unfold a line of deck chairs or even have a dance (there’ll be a line-up of mostly Melbourne musicians). “And we hope people leave feeling exhilarated and exhausted, full of all the popcorn and sweat and sex they can handle – and I don’t just mean on the screen,” Brennan says. “And they head back to town… or they don’t. Where do they go from there? Who knows.”

“A motel in Frankston,” Weiland suggests, slyly.

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