A cinematic essay by queer film historian Jenni Olson, The Royal Road is a mixture of 16mm footage of California, and Olson’s voiceover musings. Vaguely themed around the titular Royal Road – aka El Camino Real – a historic highway connecting California’s 21 religious missions, Olson’s narration takes in her thoughts about growing up a ‘gender dysphoric tomboy’ and her deep desires for a series of women, as well as her ideas about California’s history – most notably the collective US blind spot surrounding the Mexican-America War – and her need for nostalgia. There’s also thoughts about classic cinema – from Sunset Boulevard to Vertigo – as well as various other things.
The Royal Road is a film that some will find oddly mesmeric, while others will think the whole thing is dull and self-indulgent. Unfortunately, I came down more on the latter side. There’s a stream of consciousness quality to the piece, where it jumps from subject to subject in an often seemingly random fashion. There’s an attempt to bring it together thematically – how personal history and world history merge, and how the urban environment and individual emotion come together – but the overall sensation is one of random thoughts that are less coherent that the film might hope. [Read more…]