«A thesis submitted to the University of East Anglia for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy By Shane Brown School of Film, Television and Media ©This ...»
DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS
A Comparative Analysis of Representations of Male Queerness and Male-Male
Intimacy in the Films of Europe and America, 1912-1934
A thesis submitted to the University of East Anglia for the degree of Doctor of
School of Film, Television and Media
©This copy of the thesis has been supplied on condition that anyone who consults it is
understood to recognise that its copyright rests with the author and that use of any information derived there from must be in accordance with current UK Copyright Law. In addition, any quotation or extract must include full attribution.
This thesis, therefore, compares the representations of male queerness and male-male intimacy in the films of America and Europe during the period 1912 to 1934, and does so by placing these films within the social and cultural context in which they were made. This allows us to understand not how modern audiences read them, but how they were understood by audiences when they were initially released. While previous studies have concentrated on a relatively small group of films, this thesis looks far beyond this and, although it does re-examine these core works, it also explores previously neglected films, those that have only recently been rediscovered and, 2|Page through a study of newspaper articles, reviews and advertisements, films that are now lost. This approach has produced some surprising conclusions, not least that, aside from the core group of European “gay-themed” films (Vingarne, Anders als die Andern, Michael and Geschlecht in Fesseln), it is in America that queer characters were dealt with more sensitively and with more compassion in the films of this period.
It has also been possible to re-examine friendships or relationships on film that were previously regarded as having a homosexual subtext and, instead, demonstrate that these were actually representations of the “romantic friendship” popular in the late nineteenth century in America or the comradeship experienced by those that served in the battlefields of World War I.
Chapter Two Fig. 2.1: Rudolph Valentino publicity shot 79 Fig. 2.2: Valentino as photographed by Helen MacGregor 80 Fig. 2.3: Advertisement from Motion Picture Classic magazine 83 Chapter Four
A piece of work such as a thesis is only possible with the support and encouragement of others. Many people have helped with this thesis, some unknowingly. I would like
to thank the following:
My supervisors, Professor Yvonne Tasker and Professor Mark Jancovich, for their time, support and encouragement.
The Arts & Humanities Research Council who provided funding for this thesis.
The Swedish National Archive of Recorded Sound and Moving Images (SLBA), the British Film Institute (BFI), the Deutsche Kinemathek and Ned Thanhouser for making available films and ancillary materials.
Dr Rayna Denison for supervising my BA dissertation, a piece of work that was the starting point for this thesis, and for her support during the writing of this thesis.
William Frost and Netty White for their support, encouragement and friendship.
Peter Kramer. I have never been taught by Peter, nor do I know him particularly well.
However, he was Admissions Officer back in early 2005 when I applied to undertake a BA degree. I was a mature student with no recent experience in education, and with low A-Level grades. Despite this, Peter took a chance and accepted me on to the course, from which I have never looked back and for which I am eternally thankful.
Over the last three years, many people on online forums and groups have talked to me about my work, suggested films I might want to consider, and even provided me with a few of them.
I do not even know the real names of most of these people, but I thank them wholeheartedly for the encouragement, time and support.
In late 1894 or early 1895, a film was produced which attempted to link sound with the moving image for possibly the first time. Directed by William K Dickson, the film, just seventeen seconds long, shows a violinist playing into a large recording horn
while “two men clasp each other and dance in circles” (Benshoff and Griffin, 2006:
21). Vito Russo, in his groundbreaking book The Celluloid Closet incorrectly names the film as The Gay Brothers, and both the book and the documentary of the same name suggests homosexual content due to the two men dancing together in the film (Russo, 1987: 6).1 However, the reason for two men dancing, rather than a man and a woman, seemingly has no relation to sexuality. Anthony Slide states that the “two men provided the movement for the moving picture not because they were sexually attracted to each other but simply because there were no female employees at the Edison laboratory; even the secretaries were male, confirmed an Edison historian” (Slide 1999: 25). Despite this, Dickson’s short experimental film was (albeit inadvertently) the very first to feature queer images on the screen. Queer cinema was born.
Dickson’s experimental film can effectively act as a microcosm for everything that is In recent years, the film (which has no formal title) has been referred to as the Dickson Experimental Sound Film.
7|Page to follow within this thesis. It demonstrates the importance of placing a film within its historic and cultural context, and that original intentions can often only be revealed by doing this. However, at the same time, knowing what the filmmakers intended, and that it had nothing to do with sexuality, does not prevent a film from being read as “queer” either at the time of release or at a later date.
“Queer cinema” is, after all, one of those strange terms: difficult to give a concrete definition,but we “know it when we see it”. Geoffrey Nowell-Smith describes it as a bringing together “in a single field a large number of manifestations of homosexuality in the cinema, from explicit to implicit, from pornography to the most respectable mainstream, all of which could be seen as in some way challenging the heterosexual norm” (Nowell-Smith, 1996: 756). While this is a useful definition, it is also one which merely scratches the surface of what queer cinema is or can be. It is a relatively modern term (Nowell-Smith’s definition comes under the heading of “New Concepts in Cinema” in The Oxford History of World Cinema) and has evolved considerably over its short lifetime, such that queer cinema surely now goes beyond “manifestations of homosexuality” in film in order to include many forms of otherness within representations of gender and sexuality. The term “queer” may encompass homosexuals, bisexuals, asexuals, transvestites, hermaphrodites and more but, more importantly, it also resists this simplistic pigeonholing, allowing for a less rigid and more fluid examination of both human sexuality and gender roles.
This use of the term “queer” in order to provide a resistance to pigeon-holing is discussed by Eve Sedgwick in her 1993 book Tendencies, one of the key early works of “queer theory”. Here she states that “queer” can refer to “the open mesh of 8|Page possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically” (Sedgwick, 1993: 8). This description, one of three that she offers, clearly sees a moving away from the overlyrestrictive terms of “gay”, “lesbian”, “bisexual” and others. These terms have had a pigeon-holing effect, resulting in individuals identifying themselves through a “best fit” scenario that is at odds with the realities of often-fluid human sexuality. The term “queer” ultimately seeks to avoid this, and is most often used to denote individuals or qualities that do not fit within the boundaries of heteronormativity. This has a twofold effect. On the one hand, it removes the need for, and usage of, the restrictive identifiers of “gay”, “lesbian”, and so on, but on the other hand there is still a process of identification at work here: queerness clearly denotes anything other than heteronormativity, and is therefore a classification in itself.
The use of an over-arching term that is used to describe any sexual orientation or gender behaviour that is not heterosexual and/or heteronormative in place of the various categories of orientation that have been used for over a hundred years might, in the first instance, appear to be a step backwards rather than forwards. This in turn takes us back to the argument of normal versus abnormal, one which is not far removed from the terminology that will be referred to time and again within this
gender behaviour which does not fit within society’s norms.
However, Foucault suggests that the naming of that behaviour in itself provides
Foucault argues that the negativity of sexual discourse nonetheless involved a naming, calling into being the category of homosexuality and ultimately providing power to those on both sides of the arguments surrounding it. The term “queer”, however, was not adopted by psychiatrists, the medical profession, and lawmakers, but by the queer community itself. This term, that was most often used as an abusive or negative term towards gays and lesbians just a couple of decades ago (and certainly when I was still at school), has been reclaimed by the very elements of society that were attacked by it, and that reclamation and the discourse surrounding it is in itself a symbol of power and unity, rejecting the negative place assigned to queerness as the “other” of heteronormativity.
It is important to make clear that the word “queer” is not used in connection to just sexual behaviour, and this is another way in which its meaning is different to that of “homosexual”. Luhmann writes that “if heterosexuality commonly assumes a congruence among a sexed body, its gender identity, and its (different sex) object choice, homosexuality’s only variation is that the object choice is same sex” 10 | P a g e (Luhmann, 1998: 123n4). Therefore, homosexuality can, and most often, refers simply to the choice of same-sex partner, and rarely looks beyond that. She goes on to argue that the term “queer” allows for more than this: “Queer aims to spoil and transgress coherent (and essential) gender configurations and the desire for a neat arrangement for dichotomous sexual and gendered difference, central to both heterosexual and homosexual identities. But beyond suggesting gender fluidity, queer theory also insists on the complications of the two: without gender, sexuality is nothing” (Luhmann, 1998: 123). Gender and sexuality are combined and, as will be shown within my thesis, it is essential to keep this in mind when looking for and discussing queerness within film. It is not straightforward to pinpoint where a discussion of gender representation ends and one of sexuality begins. The Dickson Experimental Sound Film is therefore queer not because the two men dancing together are homosexual, but because they challenge and disrupt gender norms.