Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘film’ Category

Dear air conditioner enthusiasts,

You may have heard that June is LGBT Pride Month in these United States, marked by rainbow-banner parades in cities across the country. Boston’s passed a few Saturdays ago (favorite sign: “gender is a drag,” courtesy of a Traniwreck marcher), but I’ll confess, the parade that still means the most to me is the one in New York City, from Greenwich Village to Central Park, held every year on the last Sunday in June. Part of my fascination is historical—I wonder how many participants and spectators will know that this is the 40th NYC pride parade. The first was held in 1970 in commemoration of the riots outside the Stonewall bar on Christopher Street. (You can read a scan of the Mattachine Society’s account of the riot on sociologist Toby Marotta’s excellent Community Roots Archive. And see some photos from the first Gay Liberation Parade, like the one below, thanks to the New York Public Library’s digital archive, here and here.)

Diana Davies, NYPL Digitial ID: 1619943

But beyond the political history, NYC’s pride parade still means the most to me because it was one of the crucial ways I tracked my own coming out. In the four years I lived in the East Village and Brooklyn, I never missed the parade, but my reactions to it kept changing. The first summer, I literally stood a few feet back from the main line of spectators, probably afraid some drag queen would literally grab me, pull me over the metal divider, and force to me to march alongside her (or more likely that my face would somehow appear in a local news broadcast). The second summer, I went with a new set of friends, and cheered on a group I meekly referred to, literally, as “lesbians on motorcycles,” not quite ready to embrace their more common moniker. And the third and fourth summers, I went with my boyfriend—though those two honestly start to blur together, which in itself feels like progress.

I went back to grad school, in part, because I wanted to learn more about the cultural history I felt myself to be a part of—a pursuit in which my laziness has been, and remains, key. The latest case in point: OutHistory’s Since Stonewall Local Histories Contest. The online archive invited readers to post their own exhibits, and the results are pretty extraordinary. Where else could you find a history of LGBT visibility in Bloomington, Indiana—now billing itself as the “fifth gayest place in America”? Or a look at FTM trans mentorship in San Francisco? Or photos from the 1978 Reno Gay Rodeo?

For a lesson in more recent history, you can also spend hours digging through the complete run of Outweek. Though it only lasted from 1989 to 1991, Outweek was an important voice in AIDS activism and awareness, taking a more militant approach than the older Advocate (particularly as co-founder Michaelangelo Signorile began “outing” high-profile sorts). It’s worth downloading some PDFs, just for the ads and cartoons. (FYI: You can also view issues of The Advocate from 1994 to 2006 and Out, co-founded by Outweek columnist Michael Goff, from 1999-2006 on Google Books.)

To view an archive in the making, you should also check out I’m From Driftwood, featuring an impressive range of true LGBT tales. Think of it as a queer Storycorps, which of course has its own share of queer tales.

And one last thing for you theatrical types: a re-mastered video of the great Charles Ludlam’s  silent (and campy) horror film Museum of Wax, thanks to the Outfest Legacy Project.

Yours fabulously,

Stephen

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Dear diligent-ish followers,

Today marks the premiere of a semi-regular feature in these pages: the Lazy Scholar Interview. Each entry asks scholars of American culture a series of questions about the books, resources, and trends that inspire, excite, distract, or vex them—often at the same time.

With that flourish, I’m pleased to introduce the first scholar under scrutiny: Tania Modleski, Professor of English at University of Southern California. Professor Modleski may be best known for her 1982 book,  Loving With a Vengeance: Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women, which brilliantly re-reads harlequin romances and soap operas through feminist and psychoanalytic theory, with an index ranging from Adorno to The Young and the Restless. She followed that book up with The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory; Feminism Without Women: Culture and Criticism in a “Postfeminist” Age; and Old Wives’ Tales: Feminist Re-visions of Film and Other Fictions, among many other works.

Her essay, “Clint Eastwood and Male Weepies,” featured in the latest issue of American Literary History, offers a glimpse at her newest project. Nimbly connecting Million Dollar Baby and Freud’s theory of melancholia, the article looks at the manly melodrama—in Modleski’s words, “those movies featuring a strong, stoic type whose sorrow lurks under the surface but who is wept over by other characters and by the audience.”

What digital resources do you rely on, or would you recommend?
Still a neophyte in online research.  But OED online comes in handy.

What is the best research and/or writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
I can’t remember the best, but I do remember the worst—from a senior colleague who advised me to go with a tiny press that was interested in publishing my dissertation as a book.  The book’s title became Loving With a Vengeance. When it came time for tenure, some faculty questioned the worth of a book not published with a major press.  The senior colleague who advised me to go with the small press, “The Shoe String Press” (the name says it all), asked me at tenure time why I didn’t go with a larger press—apparently she had forgotten her earlier advice.  I was devastated.  I don’t mean this anecdote to reflect badly on The Shoe String Press, which was very good to me within the limits of its ability to market the book.

What advice would you give someone working on their dissertation?
Choose a topic that you love, love, love.  It’s better to write a good book on a subject you are passionate about than a mediocre book tailored primarily for the job market.

How does your teaching connect to your research?
I often teach the works I write about at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  Of course, at the graduate level the students are also required to read a great deal of theory.

Name one book or article published before 1970 that has inspired or haunted you?
The Golden Notebook, a novel by Doris Lessing published in 1962, inspired a generation of women.  For me personally, it provoked such rage against men that I had to break up with someone after continually pointing out how he acted just like Lessing’s male characters.  I do not teach this novel, however, because I would be in danger of flunking my male students.

Name the last book or article you read to inspire or haunt you.
It was published a while ago, but as my recent article shows, the book that has most inspired me is Juliana Schiesari’s The Gendering of Melancholia. It’s a book about how male loss is dealt with in literature (it also applies to films) in a way that elevates men’s pathos at the expense of  women and minorities whose grief is appropriated by the male melancholic.  The very term “melancholy” has a grandeur about it which is denied women, whose sorrows are generally written off as mere “depression.”  Schiesari’s work has been and will continue to be influential in my writing about such figures as Clint Eastwood.

What website most often draws your attention away from work?
Oh, okay, I’ll confess:  “Television Without Pity” and “Eight Letters in Search of a Word.”

What do you see as the most annoying tendency in contemporary scholarship?
What has long annoyed me is the tendency of popular-culture scholars to use  terms like “progressive” or “regressive.”  As I wrote long ago, I  think we should not (or not simply) seek to justify any cultural text we happen to be fans of (romances, tv shows, etc.) in terms of our own politics—feminist, Marxist, or what have you.  There is often a faulty syllogism at work in cultural criticism that goes something like this:  I enjoy The Real Housewives of New Jersey; I am a feminist; therefore the program must be feminist).  Better to admit we are all cultural dupes rather than to say that no one is a cultural dupe.

Read Full Post »

Dear viewers like you,

The website Snagfilms usually gets pegged as “Hulu for documentaries”—a pretty generous comparison when I think about how many episodes of 30 Rock I’ve watched on our Mac. But while Hulu gives a chance for major TV networks to distribute shows both popular and flagging, Snagfilms shines its spotlight on filmmakers with far less funding and exposure. Most of its documentaries were created in the last ten years, but historians of the recent-but-not-too-recent past will also find ample reasons to browse.

For starters, take a look at Peter Rosen’s beautifully shot 1971 documentary Bright College Years on the student uprisings at Yale in the late 1960s.  It was included in PBS’s “Sixties Legacy” series, first aired in 1979—suggesting just how quickly the decade was commemorated and mourned.

Nick Broomfield’s Tattooed Tears from 1978, meanwhile, provides a look at a maximum security juvenile correctional facility in California. And for something completely different, check out Broomfield’s wry documentary about the British class system, 1973’s Proud to Be British.

The archive also includes some fascinating (if sometimes slow) profiles of artists, including Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Sellers, and Orson Welles. The oddest of these by far, however, is Henry Miller Asleep and Awake, a 1975 tour of the famed novelist’s bathroom. Yes. His bathroom, covered with photographs of every subject from “maniacs to whores.” In other words, what you would more or less expect from the author of Tropic of Cancer. As Miller explains, “People often come in here and get lost. They’re in here for, I don’t know how long, and I imagine maybe something happened, that they got constipated or something. But it isn’t that of course. They get fascinated with these pictures.” A little like looking at Jung’s Red Book.

Just two more for your weekend viewing: See what happens when a 7th grade class establishes its own imaginary country in 1979’s The Ruling Classroom. And for all you Internet addicts, see what happens when three college students give up their computers for three weeks in 2008’s Disconnected.

Digitally yours,

Stephen

Read Full Post »

To the relaxation-inclined,

Like many people, my first exposure to theater came not from any Broadway house but the humbler stages of our local high school. Trust me, you haven’t seen Fiddler on the Roof until you’ve seen my brother in his walk-on-role as a priest! Or Twelve Angry Men performed by twelve not angry so much as angsty boys—in the round!

I’m happy to say, my theatrical horizons have expanded considerably since then, from the mainstream to the avant-garde, Broadway to the Edinburgh Fringe. And while we can rarely  go back and see a live performance once it’s over, thanks to the digital archive, we can see what the actors wore, and what their sets looked like.

Mordecai Gorelik, for one, designed sets for the famed Group Theatre, and eventually Hollywood. Over at the CARLI Digital Collections, you can view many of his drawings, including this one from the 1925 modernist play Processional. Take a look, too, at Miami University’s Randy Barceló Collection, featuring drawings by the Cuban-born costume designer behind Jesus Christ Superstar, and many lesser known productions. Below are two costumes he created for a 1994 ballet ¡Si Señor! ¡Es Mi Son!, produced by New York’s Ballet Hispanico. I’d like to see the folks on Project Runway attempt these.


Last but not least, the Motley Collection from U. of Illinois includes many costume and set designs from New York theater, throughout the twentieth century. The image on the left comes from a production of Romeo and Juliet, on the right from Paint Your Wagon.

Sartorially yours,

Stephen

Read Full Post »

Rabbis, Incompetent and Feisty

To the always already caffeine dependent,

The nominations are in! No, not for the Oscars or the Golden Globes, but the awards we’ve all been waiting for: The Independent Spirit Awards. Let the office pools begin! In all honesty, while I tired of televised award ceremonies long ago, the ISA’s—or is it the Indies? the Spirits?—past winners are oddly in line with the types of films I tend to enjoy: artsy, clever to a fault, vaguely alienating. You know, fun. Which is why I’m pleased, at least, to see that Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest, A Serious Man, will receive the Robert Altman Award, in recognition of its director, casting director, and acting ensemble.

If you haven’t seen it yet (and why not?), the film follows the steep downward spiral of Larry Gopnik, a mild-mannered physics professors in 1960s Minnesota. Besides the generous use of Jefferson Airplane and perfect set design, I found particularly uncanny its portrayal of suburban Judaism at the dawn of the counterculture, with its enthusiastic though largely out-of-touch rabbis and a general hollowness in the face of genuine spiritual searching. I wish I could say such anomie no longer characterized many synagogues today, but alas, the empty sermons felt eerily reminiscent of the Long Island synagogue I attended as a child, and some of the services I’ve attended as an adult.

The search for meaningful spiritual connection is, of course, nothing new among American Jews. Just take a case in point from the late nineteenth century (how do you like that segue?!): the  archives of Isaac Mayer Wise on the American Jewish Archives site. Unveiled earlier this year, the collection showcases essays, books, photographs, and letters of the Bohemian-born Rabbi Wise, who was one of the founding leaders of American Reform Judaism. And he wasn’t a bad dresser either.

Wise seemed particularly concerned about the place of Jews within a Christian nation–an issue he strikes on most clearly in his lecture “The Wandering Jew.” But Wise also weighed in on larger political debates, like temperance, arguing that a pint of beer was hardly a sin. And he wrote some passionate love letters to his wife. In one from 1876, he wrote,  “Now I have my regular hours in which to write to you. I write to you in the afternoon and immediately after dinner. This hour ought to remain kiss hour in our memories not including the other kisstime—right after dinner… If you laugh at me, Selma, for being so stingy about the kissing I shall laugh at you for being so much in love that you wrote eight ardent loveletters in a week… Your letters, my wonderful Selma, are really perfect. They show the highness of your soul and the nobleness of your heart.” Read the full translation here.

Sagely yours,

Stephen

Read Full Post »

Dear readers suffering from archive-related-asthma,

Allow me to introduce you today to the fabulous Europa Film Treasures, which brings together rare archival movies from 28 of the best collections across the continent. But don’t let the name fool you: you need not be a Franco-, Russo-, or Swedophile to appreciate these silents and talkies. A number of films come from American filmmakers—or parody them. French Jewish director Max Linder came to the United States to film The Three Must-Get-Theres (a broad spoof of Douglas Fairbank’s Three Musketeers) starring Linder himself  as “Dart-in-Again.” EFT’s restored digital version of the 1922 film also includes a delightful new score by Maud Nelissen.

three must get theresAlso check out one of John Ford’s earliest features, Bucking Broadway, about a Wyoming cowboy who falls for a rancher’s daughter, and heads to New York to rescue her from a villainous captor. Chaos ensues.

john fordjohn ford 2

And last but hardly least, enjoy Tulips Shall Grow, a creepy stop-motion depiction of—no, not The Fantastic Mr. Fox—the Nazi assault on the Netherlands! Not even the church escapes destruction.

tulips shall growYours cinematically,

Stephen

Read Full Post »

To my fellow homebodies,

If you, like me, have found yourself reluctantly addicted to FOX’s high school dramedy Glee, then you know that this week’s episode shined its bemused spotlight the show’s wheelchair-riding, background singing Artie Abrams. The character has raised the ire of some disability advocates because he’s played by a nondisabled actor. But what strikes me as far more egregious than the casting is the degree of misguided, even degrading sympathy the episode points Artie’s way. When the glee club hesitates to help raise money for a bus that could accommodate Artie’s wheelchair, the director insists the students “learn a lesson” by using wheelchairs for at least three hours a day, you know, so they can understand what it’s “really” like to be disabled.

artie

This violence of viewing the disabled as “weaker” or “afflicted” is one of the central critiques of the emerging discipline of disability studies. The highlight of the episode, for me anyway, was an early sequence where Artie wheels around the high school singing Billy Idol’s “Dancin’ With Myself.” (Watch the clip for yourself here.) What makes the scene so surprisingly sublime is the way the boundary between body and apparatus blur, much in the way Petra Kuppers describes in her wonderful essay, “The Wheelchair’s Rhetoric” (you can download it here, with the kind permission of Professor Kuppers.) Artie’s joyful ability to dance within and with his wheelchair (thanks in part to stunt double and wheelchair athlete Aaron Fotheringham) begins to expose the pernicious norms inherent in the very term “disabled” and re-cast Artie as an artist, much more so than the wheelchair minstrelsy that ends the episode.

All of which I say by way of introducing a valuable resource for the digitally-inclined: The Disability History Museum. The archive includes both documents and images, like the 1933 advertisement below.

You can also read an 1863 article from Scientific American, The Great Lilliputian Wedding,” noting the marriage of the performing pair Charles S. Stratton, a.k.a. “General Tom Thumb,” and Lavinia Warren. As the author dimly advocates, “It is generally admitted, we believe, that these little people have as good a right to marry as the larger folks.”

And be sure to check out this videography of physical disabilities on film from the 1920 silent The Penalty (watch an excerpt here) to 2007’s Diving Bell and the Butterfly. And for a more political take, listen to the oral histories collected at UC Berkeley’s Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement site.

Until next time.

Sincerely yours,

Stephen

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »