Van's Video Store In Yellowjackets Is A Crash Course In Queer Cinema

At this point, it's probably not a spoiler to say that a key "Yellowjackets" character is alive and somewhat well. That character is Vanessa "Van" Palmer (Lauren Ambrose and Liv Hewton), and if we're being honest, she's kind of living the best life out of all the show's plane crash survivors. Why is that? Well, she has her own video and DVD rental business, While You Were Streaming, smack dab in the middle of an undisclosed Pennsylvanian town. If you are even the slightest bit familiar with the work we do here at Slash Film dot com, it shouldn't be a surprise that we consider this the best possible fate to have.

What also isn't surprising is that Van has very good taste in movies, and also knows a thing or two about Hollywood's bizarre queer history. That's because While You Were Streaming is filled with Easter eggs to mainstream queer cinema, even if most of them are more subtextual than textual. That's the sign of a true cinephile, baby! For those that didn't have the chance to go frame-by-frame to examine Van's video store, have no fear, because we did the hard work for you.

Sunset Boulevard

Sure, "Sunset Boulevard" might not be the first movie you think of textual queer cinema, but this film's inclusion is perfection. The bulk of the film is about the strange relationship between struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) and aging starlet Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), as well as tackling themes of industry abuse, sexism, and ageism. Like most of director Billy Wilder's films, it is rich with thoughtful points on the state of Hollywood, but on a surface level, it doesn't seem very queer at all.

However, when you read between the lines, it actually makes total sense why Van would have its poster hanging in both her apartment and the store. "Sunset Boulevard" is arguably one of the hallmarks of camp thanks to Swanson's dramatic and wide-ranging performance. In one scene, she can be melancholy before being dramatically angry in the next. As Logo TV once wrote, Norma is "drama for drama's sake," even comparing the character to famously melodramatic drag queen Alyssa Edwards. One can even make the argument that the relationship between Joe and Norma is one that mirrors that of a drag mother and a drag daughter. No matter how you interpret "Sunset Boulevard," it has its own unique mark on queer cinema, and it's great that "Yellowjackets" has acknowledged that.

The Watermelon Woman

Van calls this film a queer classic, and she's absolutely right to do so. Not only does Cheryl Dunye's influential dramedy "The Watermelon Woman" partially take place in a video store, but it also helped shape the style of queer independent films for generations to come. With it finally getting a Criterion Collection release later this year, it's no wonder that Van considers it an essential watch for any curious viewer that comes into her store.

However, for as much of a movie about lesbian identity as it is, it is specifically a film about Black lesbian identity. After all, it primarily centers around a filmmaker exploring what it means to be a Black lesbian in the predominantly white worlds of art and queerness. While TaiVan shippers might rush to connect the film's interracial lesbian relationship to the show, to suggest that would be to downplay how the film approaches the white gaze in both media and sexual relationships. It's safe to assume that Van would know this as well, given how diverse the rest of her collection is.

Other metatextual findings

Of course, these aren't the only movies that have clear connections to LGBTQ+ film history that Van seems to recommend. They just happen to be the most overt in their queerness, both textually and subtextually. While You Were Streaming also spotlights several other movies that have become reclaimed by queer film fans over the years. Howard Deutch's teen classic "Pretty in Pink" and Adrian Lyne's sensual "Flashdance" are featured a couple of times in the episode through their posters — both movies have been reevaluated in recent years as starring closeted queer characters attempting to navigate a strictly heterosexual world. The work of actor and activist Michael Jeter is also subtly honored through the store's inclusion of "The Fisher King."

Just as much as these reclaimed titles spotlight the realities of queer pain, Van's store also makes sure to offer the joys of subtextual queer camp. The 1995 cult hit "Party Girl" is mentioned by a customer, with both the customer and Van commenting on how they want to marry Parker Posey (same). The intensely relatable cringe comedy of "Welcome to the Dollhouse" also seems to be a particular favorite of Van's, as it is actually the first movie we see of hers in the episode. Do we wish that the "Yellowjackets" team stocked Van's video store with more explicitly* queer films? Yeah, but we can't deny that the movies they did pick fit the weird, tumultuous history of queer cinema to a T.

*It also would have been difficult considering two of the most influential queer films, "Heavenly Creatures" and "But I'm a Cheerleader," star "Yellowjackets" leading player Melanie Lynskey.