Cohan directly takes on the fascinating paradoxes presented by studio-era, “classic” Hollywood musicals: how can they be considered both wholesome famCohan directly takes on the fascinating paradoxes presented by studio-era, “classic” Hollywood musicals: how can they be considered both wholesome family fare and longtime objects of gay fetishization? Mainstream yet niche? Canonized yet marginalized? Primarily interested in those glossy MGM musicals of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s both major (Singin’ in the Rain, Meet Me in St. Louis) and much more minor (I Love Melvin, Esther Williams’s whole filmography), Cohan’s strategy in making sense of the “incongruity” of these mass “entertainments” is via that ever-amorphous concept of “camp.” What is interesting is that Cohan is interested in demonstrating that camp readings do not just apply to a consideration of the long-acknowledged relationship gay men have had with these films, but, rather counterintuitively, are also the source of their reputations for wholesome family-friendly fare.
The book’s introductory chapter features deep theoretical and historical engagement, but I appreciate how overall Cohan never loses sight of the fact that these films—and a camp sensibility in general—generally pivot upon pleasure, humor, and, in his own words, “fun, though not with the intent of trivializing." Thankfully, this recognition is reflected in his writing and analytical style (how many times have I sighed over theoretical readings of topics like “pleasure” and found the objects of scrutiny hopelessly wrung of any such thing? TOO MANY).
Each chapter centers a different facet of Cohan’s overarching thesis, ranging from the groups of “sissy” chorus boys always seeming to accompany glamorous female stars during their musical numbers, Judy Garland’s eternal but polyvalent persona and star appeal, the ambiguous “camp masculinity” of Gene Kelly, the non-heterosexual figures crucial to the storied “Freed Unit,” etc, etc. I was also particularly interested in his final chapters which consider the intricacies of nostalgia inherent in the That’s Entertainment! series, as well as the much more daunting task of making some kind of sense of Judy Garland internet tribute websites and message boards and the complexities that go along with the legacy of a beloved—and incredibly complicated figure. Certainly a diverse range of topics, but all, in the end, demonstrating how viewers are required to constantly “negotiate the incongruous cultural dualisms” deliberately embedded within these films, and the importance of considering camp when doing so.
[This is a condensed version of a review posted on my blog, Queer Modernisms. The full version, which deals more extensively with Cohan's theorization of camp, can be found here.]...more
A collection of Rich's essays on a number of important feminist and/or queer filmmakers, ranging from the classical era (Deren, Riefenstahl, MaedchenA collection of Rich's essays on a number of important feminist and/or queer filmmakers, ranging from the classical era (Deren, Riefenstahl, Maedchen in Uniform) to luminaries of the 60's and 70's underground, avant-garde, and foreign cinemas (Akerman, Rainer, Schneemann, Michelle Citron, the still-sadly-obscure Sara Gomez, etc), many whom Rich played an active part in establishing critical reputations for in the US. But ostensibly functioning as introductions to the essays are Rich's remembrances and memories on the circumstances that led to these specific essays being written, which turn out to not only revealing peeks into important historical moments, but often veer into (generally good-natured) gossip, which makes for reading that is often as delightful as it is insightful--something which is not always a given with a book with the word "theories" in the title....more
Full of fascinating insights and observations by the master cinematographer, and the images are endlessly gorgeous and evocative (not that I can imagiFull of fascinating insights and observations by the master cinematographer, and the images are endlessly gorgeous and evocative (not that I can imagine one could expect otherwise)....more
The essay "It's In His Kiss!: Vampirism as Homosexuality, Homosexuality as Vampirism" has now proven to be ground zero for several papers I have reseaThe essay "It's In His Kiss!: Vampirism as Homosexuality, Homosexuality as Vampirism" has now proven to be ground zero for several papers I have researched and written, ranging from Nightwood to Twilight, and I've always meant to read some of the other chapters (ranging from camp to "queer noir" to Rock Hudson to Fassbinder to porn) as well. One of these days....more
That grand, unwieldy masterpiece of film-criticism-as-camp. Both fun and bewildering, and often at the same time. Tyler is one of film criticism's pioThat grand, unwieldy masterpiece of film-criticism-as-camp. Both fun and bewildering, and often at the same time. Tyler is one of film criticism's pioneers and iconoclasts whose turn for rediscovery is long overdue. ...more
Important early work on the subject, not only by Dyer (who would quickly establish himself as one of the pioneering giants of the field) but from bothImportant early work on the subject, not only by Dyer (who would quickly establish himself as one of the pioneering giants of the field) but from both both Sheldon and Babuscio. Sheldon's contribution is invaluable in the sense of "observing from ground zero," writing at the same moment lesbian filmmaking was just starting to really establish itself, and Dyer's work is a foundation that much of his subsequent work would build upon and expand. Didn't have a chance to give Babuscio's section a look, however, since it was outside of my immediate research interests, but would like to return at some point to see how it stands up next to Parker Tyler's masterpiece of film-analysis-as-camp from just several years before, Screening the Sexes: Homosexuality in the Movies.
"Because, as gays, we grew up isolated not only from our heterosexual peers but also from each other, we turned to the mass media for information and ideas about ourselves. Until recently, films have been just about the only widely accessible source of such ideas, and we have had, unfortunately, to rely on them a good deal."...more
Reread this as it was the main textbook of a Queer Film undergrad class I helped out with last semester, and my initial reaction was more or less confReread this as it was the main textbook of a Queer Film undergrad class I helped out with last semester, and my initial reaction was more or less confirmed: when analyzing LGBTQ representation in classic Hollywood and other early cinemas Russo is as enlightening as he fun to read, but when he gets to post-Code representation he goes into Righteous Anger mode and it just all starts getting very numbing and increasingly unnuanced. For some reason Russo can locate endless resistance and subversiveness in the Sissies and Bulldykes in old Hollywood musicals and comedies, but something like Suddenly Last Summer or The Boys in the Band are pegged as an irredeemable exercise in negative stereotyping—I just don't buy that line of thinking and so I didn't even bother revisiting the last chapter or two.
I also have mixed feelings because Celluloid Closet is widely hailed as the first study of its kind, while the late, great and now-forgotten Parker Tyler's Screening the Sexes: Homosexuality in the Movies is hardly ever ever remembered, though it was written nearly a decade earlier. Not that it's hard to see why this is the case: where Russo is Serious and Scholarly, Tyler is, characteristically, campy, tongue-in-cheek and can at times be baffling in regards to its allusions and in-jokes—in many ways Richard Dyer's Now You See It and Richard Barrios's Screened Out: Playing Gay in Hollywood from Edison to Stonewall are nice medians, as rigorous as Russo but retaining Tyler's sense of fun.
But it can't be denied that The Celluloid Closet serves as a good primer on queer film—it certainly was mine, and I'll always appreciate it for that. ...more