Alexander Doty finds it particularly interesting that resistance to understanding mainstream texts includes the possibility that queer readings often come from academic and nonacademic gay, lesbians and other queers. In his book Flaming Classics: Queering the Film Canon he wonders if they arent aware of certain codes like using the word queer as a synonym for gay, lesbian or bisexual?
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He says queer is also used as an umbrella term to pull together LGB (and sometimes transsexual) persons to describe a wide range of distinct non-straight positions, etc. and on and on. Wow, is he long-winded and technical on this. Lets get on to what hes proposing.
Arguing against the assumption that only gay films are subject to queer readings, Doty proceeds to give gay meaning to six classics, starting with "Render Unto Cesare: The Queerness of Caligari". He says that the reading of the opening moments of the film with two men (one older, one younger) sitting in a bleak, strangely designed European park has the disturbing element of queer cruising. Let me say that what he proposes might be of interest to a filmmaker or quite possibly, a psychiatrist, but it sure didnt hold my attention very long. After a few pages I was thoroughly confused.
Next, in a chapter titled "My Beautiful Wickedness: The Wizard of Oz as Lesbian Fantasy," Doty says he can find the lesbian fantasy in our all-time favorite, in which the Wicked Witch of the West is a butch dyke. He says that this movie has been a culture touchstone for understanding his changing relationship with gender and sexuality. This essay is a little easier reading, as the author explains what each of the characters (seemingly) taught him.
Early on he saw Dorothys three male companions as being like friends or brothers. In his late teens to early thirties, he became A friend of Dorothy, because he had identified as gay. By this time he also understood camp and changed his feelings about the Cowardly Lion: he was no longer a total embarrassment. Judy had become a faghag because she liked the effeminate, flamboyant Lion. And, Glinda wasnt just like a drag queen, she was one! Finally, he gets on to the WWW, and says, Who else but a predatory butch dyke would spoil Glindas plans for Dorothy? Read on, I cant
Doty says, when queens and comedy come together most people think b*tchy remarks (gays) and sociopolitical humor (lesbians). "The Women," directed by George Cukor, fills in for that chapter on humor. With knowledge of a directors queerness, some readers will construct readings that interpret certain visual and aural codes in their films with reference to specifically queer cultural contexts . . . . For example, part of the way many queer audiences understand the b*tchy comedy of "The Women" has to do with knowing something about the long-standing animosity between Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer; or the fact that George Cukor was gay; or that the director and many of the stars of "Gone With the Wind" were rejects. . . . Well, I can think of a few b*tchy remarks right about now, and they arent funny!
The next chapter is titled "The Queer Aesthete, the Diva, and the Red Shoes." Here, Doty discusses high culture impresarios (gay or otherwise) who represent the archetypal figure of Svengali, a musical genius who mesmerizes both men and women into becoming accomplished performers. He discusses the frequent queerness of the studio art film "The Red Shoes" saying, . . . producer Alexander Korda never understood the success of [the film] as he felt that all men associated with the ballet were a lot of poofs, while the director . . . thought that the ballet was sissies prancing about. He says, Using the diva to express the homosexually feminine, however, often leads the gay aesthete to forget there is a straight woman artist with desires of her own.
The next film up is "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," and it gets a bisexual reading in the chapter titled "Everyones Here For Love: Bisexuality and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." In its very construction [the movie] keeps the narrative events representing the womens emotional commitment to each other running parallel to, and intertwined with, those representing their relationships with men. . . . The films consistent both/and approach to narrative erotics wasnt the case with Anita Looss 1925 novel.
As a buddy comedy, the film complicates and bisexualizes Lorelei and Dorothy. Doty says that "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" is, along with "Sylvia Scarlet," classic American filmmaking at the top of its bisexual form. As for me, Id rather not have to know all that stuff. I liked the movie when I saw it and I identified with both of those gals who were having one hell-of-a time.
The last film on Dotys list is Alfred Hitchcocks "Psycho" in which he asks if Norman Bates is a transvestite or . . . not exactly. Theres even a queer argument about Citizen Kanes dying word, Rosebud.
The author is an Associate Professor in the English Department at Lehigh University. He has written Making Things Perfectly Queer: Interpreting Mass Culture. He is coeditor of Out on Culture: Gay. Lesbian and Queer Essays on Popular Culture.
I found this all way too technical and a great deal of it boring. There were too many references and footnotes to pay attention to. If the whole thing were done with a lighter touch, it might have been a bit more fun to read. I mean, what movie queen wants to sit down and read a dissertation--even if there are a few campy pictures? (Routledge, London, ISBN: 0415-92345-X).
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