Saturday, August 27, 2011

That First Erotic Dance

Unfortunately it seems that all my babbling about The Gay Brothers was just wishful thinking. It turns out that apparently it was not a film about gay people at all, and, worse yet, it was not even called The Gay Brothers. Which would have made a lot of sense if I had known that the word "gay" didn't mean anything but "happily excited" for the great majority of people until around World War II. Darn, it just had seemed like such a perfect title and such a perfect first film to start the history of Queer Cinema.That's what film historian Vito Russo also decided in 1981, when he arbitrarily gave that name to the little movie -which was originally boringly named Dickson Experimental Sound Film- and interpreted the content as homosexual. You can't blame Russo all that much. He was an American in the 80s, and he was watching two men dancing together, with another man playing a violin in front of a very suggestive and enormous cone in the background.
Dickson Experimental Sound Film, ca. 1894-1895
When you pay attention to the lyrics of the song being played, it describes the life at sea, so presumably the two dancing men are rather intended as a joke about two sailors without any women in their boat, and not at all as a homosexual couple.
However, as far away as we were from Queer as Folk's Brian and Justin playing around with that scarf during "Save the Last Dance", or both Captain Jacks' epic coming-out dance in Torchwood, it is still a same-sex image, and according to my brief research (which as we have already seen can be very flawed and in need of ammendment the next day) this is pretty much what we can expect to see at the early stages of Queer Cinema: ambiguous images, which people may or may not agree qualify as homosexual, or images of drags performed by silent comics.
Queer as Folk, 2001

Torchwood, 2007
Dance and romance have a tight relationship in North American culture, a fact I had to learn the hard way when I first arrived to this country. Coming from a place where you dance just as close with your sexual partner as you do with your dad or with a total stranger, it was one of those awkward cultural shocks for me to realize that closeness in dance had a very different meaning in the US. Yet in other nations, such as the one my husband comes from, men are used to dance with men, and women with women, which is not very common in our Western society. He and his friends also keep getting unwanted advances in parties because of misinterpreted signals. So the meaning of an image can change substantially depending on the cultural background of the person who perceives it.
The romanticism of the aforementioned dances in Queer as Folk and Torchwood leave no room for ambiguity, though. In these cases, the eroticism that can be achieved through the closeness, the necessary interaction between the couple, and the liberating feeling that music and dance provide would be undeniable even by the Torchwood aliens.
Maybe it is these qualities of dance and music which have built such a strong relationship between gays and musicals. Like Father Dan says in Jeffrey, "The only times I really feel the presence of God are when I'm having sex, and during a great Broadway musical." Being a dancer myself, I cannot but agree.
As to that first homosexual erotic dance onscreen, we will have to keep searching.

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