Disclosure, not the Demi Moore/ Michael Douglas hit from 1994 but the documentary on the history of representation of trans people currently on Netflix, is a fascinating film that incites conversation. I wanted to talk to Kacey de Groot on it because, as a trans woman and trans activist, she’s in a position to teach us a lot about the issues the film raises. The conversation ranges from the film itself, to other representations in films and television (A Fantastic Woman, Pose, Transparent) to an account of areas of personal experience the film incited on to broader areas relating to the politics of representation. I’m a teacher and listening is part of learning and land learning and teaching are inextricably bound in inexhaustible ways. The podcast can be listened to here.
In Conversation With…Professor John Mercer on: Rock Hudson; the work of Mark Rappaport and François Reichenbach, currently available to see on the Henri platform of the Cinémathèque Françaisse; as well as on fragments of queer visual histories.
I had been so excited by what I thought was a discovery of two films by François Reichenbach — Last Spring and Nus masculins, both from 1954, — on the Henri platform of the Cinémathèque Française that I wanted to talk to someone about them. Along with the Reichenbach, Henri was also showing Mark Rappaport’s Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (1992) so I thought John Mercer, with his work on Rock Hudson and his knowledge of histories of queer visual representation would be ideally placed to discuss the significance of all of these works, which if you listen to the above, will see that did indeed turn out to be the case, and for which I express my thanks.
Rappaport is of course now a famous filmmaker and celebrated as a pioneering video essayist. J. Hoberman wrote of Mike Rapapport’s Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, quite briefly but beautifully I think, in an article for The Village Voice which you can see below:
I knew of Reichenbach as an award-winning documentarian, and I had seen L’Amérique insolite (1961), so I knew that his work had very considerably queer overtones. But I had never seen these two films and I was bowled over by them, seeing them as part of a matrix of confluences of queer mid-century visual imagery that connected Cocteau, Genet and Anger with Reichenbach and in turn connected Reichenbach with later filmmakers such as Derek Jarman and Isaac Julien. It turns out that Last Spring was not as little know as I initially thought, with Julianne Pidduck having written this below in the updated version of Richard Dyer’s Now You See It: Studies in Lesbian and Gay Film, crediting Thomas Waugh with ‘discovering’ Last Spring at the Kinsey Institute:
and Waugh himself writing on the film in his Hard to Imagine: Gay Male Eroticism in Photography and Film from their Beginnings to Stonewall:
I made two trailers to help publicise the Cinémathèque screenings of the films, which I include here because I hope they evoke their flavour; and which will at least allow you to look at some of the imagery contained in them. You can see them below:
Nus masculins( 1954):
and Late Spring (1954):
I also made an ad for the podcast at the very top with John Mercer, which will also hopefully evoke some of the flavour of Rappaport’s Rock Hudson’s Home Movies:
Both Rappaport’s work and particularly Reichenbach’s deserve to be better known,
Late Spring is now on youtube and can be seen here:
When I was growing up, everything I heard or read about THE BOYS IN THE BAND was terrible. Recently, after the Broadway revival, it was meant to be ´period´and wonderful. I´d never seen the film until now and found it a difficult and unpleasant watch, an experience I’ve written about here. When I had the opportunity to talk to Gary Needham about CRUISING, I also took the opportunity to ask him about THE BOYS IN THE BAND. Gary’s work on queer cultures is by now extensive and wide-ranging:
His is the voice of reason; thoughtful and considered on the initial reception of the film, its relation to the play and its subsequent afterlife. I come across as quite brattish. It makes for a lively conversation, one that references a range of films, from Pillow Talk (Michael Gordon, 1959) to My Hustler (Andy Warhol/Chuck Wein, 1965) to The Queen (Frank Simon, 1968) to Philadelphia (Jonathan Demme, 1993). We discuss the film’s uses of camp, Friedkin’s interest in sub-cultures, the stageyness or not of the mise-en-scène, the possible classist dimension of the film, and Tom Waugh’s argument on the duality of sound and image in My Hustler in relation to the hustler and the queen with the hustler afforded the image and the queen given power over the sound. The discussion can be listened to here:
If you’re interested in further exploring The Boys in the Band, I highly recommend Matt Bell’s The Boys in the Band: Flashpoints of Cinema, History, and Queer Politics as a wonderful addition to Gary’s insights and as a possible corrective to my contributions:
Matt Bell has also written a very interesting piece on the 2018 Broadway revival (and its various contexts) for The Huffington Post called ‘Taking Pride in The Boys in the Band‘ that can be accessed here.
As with the podcast on Cruising, Gary has kindly made available a range of resources:
An entire issue of After Dark, featuring an interview with Leonard Frey where the actor discusses the filming of Boys in the Band, and the strong possibility that it might result in a better film than play: After Dark (Boys in the Band)
An ad for the San Francisco production with an invitation to the cast paty: YEQWMD727018207
Various reviews and ads for other touring productions:
Images from the film (and the play — you can see Natalie Wood in the centre below):
…and perhaps the greatest find is this episode of Emerald City, where the great Arthur Bell — whose columns in The Village Voice in the early 80s were so important to me personally — interviews Robert La Tourneaux on the 10th anniversary of the release of the film. Bell talks about how he didn’t like the film then or now but how he still acknowledged the ‘piercing moments of truth’. La Tourneaux is frank about hustling and equally frank about how appearing in the film affected his career giving concrete examples of how his mere appearance in the film was reason for people like Bob Evans to not even see him for roles much less interview or audition, and this from the horse’s mouth. A fascinating show, with the ads in between the interview being at least as fascinating as the interview itself. It can be seen here:
I can think of no one who knows more about Cruising (William Friedkin, USA, 1980) than Gary Needham. He’s already written extensively on Warhol, Queer TV, Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005) and many aspects of Queer Histories from various historical perspectives, and has recently published, ‘CRUISING IS A PICTURE WE SINCERELY WISH WE DID NOT HAVE TO SHOW’ United Artists, ratings, blind bidding and the controversy of William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980) in his own co-edited collection.
The discussion in the podcast ranges from the film’s production history to New York S&M clubs to Disco Music to Queer Representation and Queer Politics, to ‘New’ American Cinema of the period to the film as a text characterised by incoherence, doubt and ambiguity. The kind of commentary a 40th anniversary re-issue of this still alluring film deserves.
Aside from his scholarly work, one of the reasons I so wanted to talk to Gary about the film was the series of brilliant images related to the film that he had been publishing on Twitter. Gary has kindly provided some of them. Here is a series of images documenting the protests the film sparked during the filming itself and after its release:
Here are a series of images from gay people defending the film:
Here are a series of images referred to in the podcast:
And Gary has also kindly provided two pdf’s of contemporaneous coverage of the film: ‘Cruising, Blueprint for Carnage’: QKPZCB716161002
and an article from Gay News: Cruising, The Lure – The Novel of Death: REVMIB524278205
Lastly, Kevin Heffernan has kindly directed me to a long three hour forty-five minute podcast on Cruising by Mike White and The Projection Booth Podcast: for those of you who can’t get enough of the film.
Great fun to chat to librarian extraordinaire on her favourite subject, Fredric March: two time Oscar winner; recipient of the very first Tony award; in his time considered one of the great actors of his generation; headliner of films that continue to be seen and appreciated —The Best Years of Our Lives, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Nothing Sacred, etc — yet now relatively forgotten. In the podcast, Nicky and I discuss who is Fredric March? Why is he significant? Why might he have been forgotten? Why should he still be remembered?
There´s a moment in Billy Wilder´s Fedora, where Henry Fonda appears to award Fedora her an honorary oscar and mentions how he envied those great stars who had once worked with her, beginning with Fredric March, a moment that sparked the idea for this podcast.
I have written on some of Fredric March´s lesser known films and those interested can follow up by clicking the hyperlink on:
If you want to see what a female gaze looks like, what queer cinema by women might feel like to see, what a combination of porn and poetry might evoke, have a look at Albertina Carri´s ‘The Daughters of Fire,’ currently playing on
‘it´s so sensational that I asked Professor Deborah Shaw, a specialist in Latin American cinema from the University of Portsmouth to join me in a discussion of this great film so we could mull it over together. We also discuss ‘Barbie también puede eStar triste/ Barbie can also be sad’, an extraordinary stop-motion queer short using Barbie dolls to dissect and critique gender under patriarchy. The two films together are proof of a major new voice in world cinema, one worth watching and talking about. The Barbie film can be accessed freely on Carri’s Vimeo channel by clicking on this link.
In the podcast we discuss how female-centric The Daughters of Fire is and how unusual that is in cinema. It´s a film about women, 95% of the cast and crew were female, and the film seems deliberately designed for a female gaze. Its success is evident by how we both felt: as if we were seeing something new, something we´d never seen before.
We discuss the film in relation to pornography. Can it void patriarchal norms? Can porn be rendered poetic and what would that look and feel like? Does the film succeed? The film defies many norms. Scenes that might not seem so unusual in an interior urban metropolitan setting make even more of an impact as they are set in the natural rural setting of Patagonia.
We also discuss The Daughter of Fire as a ‘Road’ movie: our protagonists set out on a journey, meet more people, give expression to themselves. The film laudably makes it difficult to generalise about female desire or female sexuality because each woman in the film is so different. What matters is each character´s pleasure.The film transcends a lot of the codes that have been used previously in relation to lesbian culture.
Is there a discourse on nation in The Daughters of Fire? What is the relationship in the film between people, community, nation?
We also discuss whether queer culture in its present form erases lesbianism or whether the relative lack of attention the film´s been getting is due to Anglo-centrism. Anyone working on queer theory would have a field day with the film. What is porn? What is female pleasure? How do we escape the patriarchy. Sexuality is seen as fluid, butch/femme is de-centred. We discuss how the film is trying to find a way to say something that requires a new or different form.
‘The problem is never the representation of the body but how those bodies become territory and landscape in front of the camera`, the film´s narrator tells us. How can cinema show female bodies without objectification? If it does´t objectify does it then cease to be pornography?
We both agree that The Daughters of Fire and Barbie Can Also be Sad are individually major works and together announce a major voice in the cinema, a major artist: Albertina Carri.
We hope you see the film, and if you do, you may want to check that there are no children in the room.
I´m a teacher. Few things make me happier than to see students doing well after graduation. And it positively gladdened my heart to see the life that Finn Jackson Ballard has made for himself in Berlin: a PhD in Film Studies, a historian of Berlin queer cultures of the last century with a focus on the Weimar period, a tour guide non-pareil, now himself a teacher and Lecturer. I first met Finn when he was Eimear: brilliant, soft-spoken, brave; mindful of the ways she spoke and conscious of the various effects speech might have on others. I remember meeting Eimear for coffee when she first told me she was transitioning and feeling somewhat like my mother when I first came out to her: I foresaw trouble, danger, possibly a gory death in some ditch. Unlike my mother, I did not say this, and tried to find a way to be supportive but careful. Had she thought everything through? She had.
There´s a wonderful moment in Almodóvar´s All About My Mother where Agrado, a trans person played by Antonia San Juan, gets on stage and tells the audience how much her various body parts had cost. Most of what makes her ‘her’ is artificial. But she ends by saying that one is most authentic, most true to oneself, the closer one gets to the person they imagined themselves to be. It´s telling that a gentle man, a man who is gentle, is Finn´s choice.
The podcast below took place in Finn´s apartment in Berlin, late-night, with his dogs sprawled around us, occasionally biting on some squeaky toy. I´ve wanted to keep the atmosphere, the flow, the ways conversation reveals as it meanders so I´ve not cut anything.
Like many people my age, I feel a bit at sea on trans issues. I want to be helpful but know I also need to change entrenched ways of thinking: to be better informed. We all need to be really, and few people are as knowledgeable and articulate on the issue as Finn.
In the podcast (below, at the bottom) we talk about adolescence and being disassociated from one´s body; hormones, chest surgery, the processes involved in getting closer to the idea of who one wants to be; screenings, psychological evaluations; how it´s a bit like going through puberty again, looking in the mirror constantly to spot gradual changes; how life became easier once people saw him as a man rather than as a trans person; how privileged he feels at having an experience and insight into how it is to live as a woman; how more comfortable he feels with the effeminate rather than feminine. We talk of Northern Ireland and Berlin; we reflect on gender, how theory enable ways of being; how history helps to develop those ideas; the importance of ‘ancestors’; and much more.
Listening back, I´m even more appreciative of his kindness, his knowledge, his openness, his sense of adventure, the lilting accent, the way his answers to my questions are both free-flowing and thought through, precise. We can all learn a lot from Finn. I certainly did.
I´m an admirer of John Gibbs’ work on the ´Long Take,´on mise-en-scène, and on style-based criticism; on his careful consideration of the implications of various choices on film style; on the ways style and meaning intersect. It´s work that often requires reading of the text in conjunction with viewing, usually before and after, and occasionally even multiple times thereafter. His videographic criticism seems a natural extension of his previous practice in prose: observant, detailed, precise.
I´ve found that, like his scholarly work in prose, his videographic criticism similarly enhances my understanding and appreciation of film style in general and the particular works his video essays explore, sometimes in ways that prove truly illuminating. As John says, it´s a means of extending both the methods and subjects of style-based criticism but with perhaps a different kind of relationship with an audience, more immediate and with a wider reach.
I was keen to talk to him about all of this and in the podcast above we discuss how videographic criticism offers new possibilities to engage with the rich texture of movies and to extend methods of style-based criticism. We explore non-linear, non-hierarchical approaches to film history, how they present new possibilities of dealing with detailed analysis of film whilst also offering greater access to criticism and the potential for a wider audience. We chat about how good video essays enable the works to speak for themselves whilst simultaneously providing particular types of analyses to criticism, new tools for teaching, and different means through which students may achieve excellence. John mentions how videographic criticism often construct a journey of point of view through an experience, more like a filmmaker than an essayist in a traditional sense and some of the these forms invite a different kind of engagement, particularly considering the different kinds of practices going on — part of the excitement — and their relationship to found footage filmmaking, gallery art practice etc.
The conversation refers to particular works of videographic criticism by John Gibbs (including his collaborations with Douglas Pye) and you can see them below.
Below is the second part of a two-part podcast with Ginette Vincendeau on Jean Gabin, which picks up a little before the first part ended. Once Gabin returned to top stardom in France in ´54/55, what values did he represent/signify? Does he mean something different in France than abroad? What is it and why? Is it true he didn´t make any good films after ‘Touchez-pas au grisby’ and ‘French Can Can’? What is the significance of him being cast with co-stars so much younger than himself like Bardot and Danièle Delorme? What does ´La France Gabinisée´and ‘La Gabinisation de la France’ mean. I ask the questions but it is Ginette´s answers that fascinate and illuminate.
I am grateful to Will Straw who brought to my attention the special issue of Schnock which featured Gabin and which asserted, in ways that are visualised below, that ´Gabin´means something different at home and abroad and that at home he signifies a particular type of Frenchness. This lead me to ask Ginette about it and she brought up Jean-Laurent Cassely´s book, No fake: Contre-histoire de notre quête dáuthenticité, and the concept of ‘Gabinisation’, as well as Ginette´s noting of how often ‘Gabin’ is turned into a verb: Gabinise, Gabiniser…
Will also brought up the interview with Nicolas Pariser in the October 2019 issue of Cahiers du cinéma, which I ask Ginette to comment on in the podcast:
My rough translation is as follows: ‘Those films from the 50s where Gabin tells off young people are cinema´s absolute evil. In Rue des prairies, he bawls out Marie-José Nat because she does nothing and wakes up late. I have a bit of an extreme thesis: I think May ´68 was because of Gabin. He became unbearable at a certain moment. The cinema I love exploded that reactionary schema. And astonishingly we find nostalgia for 50s cinema were the old explain life to the young in quite a few contemporary French Films’
I am also grateful to Nicky Smith for noting the difference in ages between Gabin and his female co-stars, and how this trope recurred in so many films. This lead to an interesting discussion with Ginette on this issue where Ginette notes how strong that trope is in French cinema in general, can be seen in the thirties in films like Arlette et ses papas (Henri Roussel, 1934) , and continues on quite late and in various cultural forms(e.g. Serge Gainsbourg Lemon Incest).
You can follow up on all of these issues through Ginette´s books below:
Furthermore, I have blogged on some of Gabin´s later films, some mentioned in the podcast, and if you want to pursue that further you can click on the hyperlinks below.
The first of two podcasts with the great Ginette Vincendeau on the great Jean Gabin. I´ve always been a fan of Gabin´s but my interest in him was revived by the ‘Jean Gabin: The Man With Blue Eyes’ retrospective curated by Edouard Waintrop at the 1919 Il Cinema Ritrovatto in Bologna, where aside from more familiar classics like Pépé le Moko (Julien Duvivier) and Le plaisir (Max Ophüls, 1951), I also had the opportunity to see Coeur de Lilas (Anatole Litvak, 1931), De haut en bas (George W. Pabst), Au-delà des grilles (René Clément, 1948), La Marie du port(Marcel Carné, 1949), and others.
I wanted to talk about all of this and find out more about Gabin. And who knows more about Gabin than Ginette Vincendeau? Ginette is Professor in Film Studies at King´s College London. As you can see from some of her various books above, she´s written on French Cinema of the 1930s, on Gabin specifically, on Gabin films in particular (Pépé le Moko), on directors Gabin worked with (Renoir) stars and stardom in French Cinema, texts in context in French cinema, etc. No one of my acquaintance knows more about Gabin and few are as much fun to talk to.
This above, the first of two podcast, covers the period up to 1954, where after a fallow post-war period Gabin once again re-emerged as a top box-office attraction. Who was Jean Gabin? How did he become a star? What did he represent in the 1930s and how is that significant in terms of class and national identity? How central is he to 1930s French Cinema. Was he allied to the Popular Front? There´s a narrative of failure around Gabin´s post-war career. Does that narrative hold up to scrutiny? These questions and others are discussed in this first podcast. The second will deal with the period from 1954 to his death in 1976.
Some of my blogging and podcasting on Gabin films of this period, mostly arising from he viewing in Ritrovato, can be found by clicking the hyperlinks above and below:
Julie Lobalzo Wright has written a fascinating book on the concept of crossover stardom and what it tells us about popular male music stars in American Cinema. The book is now on paperback and thus accessible. Julie is also involved in various events around the musicals season at the BFI this Autumn, the highlights of which are: A study day on musicals at NFT3 on October 26th; and a talk on her book on November 4th at the BFI Reubens Library. This matrix of events is the context for the wide-ranging and enthusiastic conversation which you can listen to above, one that touches on, amongst other things, stardom, the musical, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, Kris Kristofferson, Justin Timberlake, Barbara Streisand, various versions of A Star is Born, stardom over time, and changes in the musical genre right up to the live network screenings of shows such as Hairspray and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Joaquín Aras is an artist and filmmaker from Buenos Aires. His work is on show alongside that of María Agustina Fernández Raggio and Paula Monzillo at the What It Became Is Not What It Is Now exhibition curated by Louise Hobson and currently on show at Grand Union until the 9th of November. Aras also screened Snuff 1976 at The Electric Cinema in Birmingham. Snuff 1976 is a reworking of the original ´snuff´/horror/ soft core porn’ American exploitation film shot in Argentina just at the time when a military dictatorship was coming into power and beginning to commit the atrocities this period in Argentine history will forever be remembered for. The film was advertised as ‘A movie that could only have been made in South America, where life is cheap’.
This is a wide-ranging conversation that touches on: film history; what is centre/ periphery in relation to how film cultures circulate?; how does one reconstruct popular memory?; film preservation; the connection between Snuff 1976, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and the Manson murders; and Aras´ ongoing attempts to give voice and expression to those areas related to history and popular memory currently occluded, bypassed, sometimes even lost or erased.
Joaquín and I also discuss the relationship of his work to the video essay, how his choices of what to focus on are contextual and specific to Argentina. We discuss the relationship of guest and host in the horror film and what the work of Levinas and Derrida can bring to an understanding of that relationship. We also talk about how memory might be a great way to challenge historicity. A conversation worth hearing and a show worth watching. Details of the exhibition are below:
Those of you interested in issues of film history and popular memory might want to follow up by reading Annette Kuhn´s foundational work in these areas:
An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory. London: I.B. Tauris, 2002. Published in the US as Dreaming of Fred and Ginger: Cinema and Cultural Memory. New York: New York University Press.
Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination. London: Verso, 1995; rev edn, 2002.
A conversation with David Greven, distinguished Hitchcock scholar, author of Intimate Violence: Hitchcock, Sex and Queer Theory, Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin and many other books (see images below) which took place at the Under Capricorn +70 Conference at King´s College, London. We talk of Hitchcock as a queer filmmaker, how his works undermine gender roles and expectations. We discuss David´s explorations of the intersection of Queer Theory and Hitchcock and what he´s learned by bringing them together. We bring into the discussion recent television work by Ryan Murphy as well as the work of Pedro Almodóvar. We touch on the significance of the re-release of five Hitchcock films in the 80s in the context of gay male representation, as well as on E.M Foster adaptations such as Maurice, Room with A View, Howard´s End and the recent theatrical deployment of some of those structures and tropes in The Inheritance. Finally the conversation refocuses on his work on Under Capricorn, the presentation of which is David´s reason for being in London, putting it in the context of Ingrid Bergman´s ‘trilogy’ with Hitchcock (Spellbound and Notorious are the others). Under Capricorn is enthralling but is it goodP? Finally David offers some recommendations on how to introduce yourself to Hitchcock´s work if you haven´t already done so. If you don´t love Under Capricorn, you don´t love Hitchcock, and if you don´t know how to appreciate Hitchcock, you don´t know how to appreciate cinema. An informal but stimulating and all too brief conversation.
A long, wide-ranging and informative discussion with scholar Adrian Garvey on the career of James Mason , the subject of Garvey´s interest and research for over a decade now. We touch on various aspects of the particularities of Mason´s career and achievements but with a particular focus on his work in the UK in the forties, and then in the United States in the 50s. The conversation ranges from the differences in his level of stardom in the UK and the US, his choice of projects, the quality of the people he sought out to work with, how a star becomes a lasting star in spite of never quite becoming a box-office star in America, what his star persona was in the UK and how that was re-deployed but also re-inflected in America. We touch on the directors he worked with: Reed, Ophuls, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Minnelli, Nicholas Ray; we compare his career to that of other British stars of the period and after– Stewart Granger, Dirk Bogarde, John Mills, Richard Burton, Peter O´Toole, Richard Harris, Alec Guiness…. A must-listen for anyone interested in James Mason.