Jesse's Reviews > The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies

The Celluloid Closet by Vito Russo
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Jul 26, 11

bookshelves: cinema, classic-hollywood, for-class, my-film-books, queer-film, queer-history, read-in-2011
Read in February, 2011 — I own a copy, read count: 2

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 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.
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