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.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


This was the actual heading of a discussion thread in the online forum for one of the TV shows I watch, and it was dead serious. These forums nowadays are swarming with these types of comments. In another thread, the following exchange took place among three users:
"I stopped watching when it seemed all of the characters turned gay."
"There are nearly 25 characters and having 4 of them gay is not all the show. If you have problems with people being gay, [this] is not the show for you. There are plenty of other shows where gay people seems not existing."
"Yes, [the show] has more gay characters now than in the beginning. Not that this is a bad thing. I think [the show] has one of the most mature set of gay characters out there. Most gay characters in TV or film are over the top flaming kind, that's mostly used in a comedic role. [This show] has only one of those."
One way to go with this would be to find out what percentage of the population is gay, and try to figure out whether the show producers are overdoing it or not. I would find this irrelevant, and a little bit boring, too. After all, film and TV have never been about mirroring reality, but rather about shedding light on heroes and events, giving a space for self expression, and for communicating ideas or prevalent ideologies.
It seems to me that the LGBT community is very intent in saying something, and in order to understand it, I'm afraid we're going to have to look back at their history in the media.
So yesterday I was trying to figure out whether there was some kind of gay version of the Lumiere Brothers, and planning my trip to the library or the closest Media Studies professor, when I started getting texts from friends who had seen my new project and, alas!, it turns out I am not the only one with a hidden passion for all things queer.
"I remember when I watched this movie... I loved it... The Children's Hour (1961)", texted a friend.
Pretty soon they were talking about Greek scrolls from Lesbos, and I had to remind them that my blog's title did include the words Film and TV.
And then another friend texted me about a wonderful documentary about the history of queer cinema she had watched a few years ago, and how she had just jotted down the names of movies out of sheer passion, and then she had just put it aside because there was nothing better to do with it. Well, it turns out that the first identifiable homosexual coupling in cinema is in a film actually called... wait for it... The Gay Brothers (ca. 1895). And no, I did not know this when I made the joke about the Lumiere Brothers.
So there. It seems she had been saving her seemingly useless resources for me. I weighed my options. I could either read the work of known researchers, or start my own exploration with my friends' dubious resources.
I chose to start the adventure with my team of unlikely but willing consultants. Sure, I will probably take the long road to arrive to the same conclusions a lot of people have already reached. But perhaps ignorance will ultimately give me the ability to look at things a little differently. And if it doesn't, at least I will have owned my journey.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Into the Uncharted

My sister just called to see whether I was being productive. "Well, I am starting a blog", I replied cautiously. "Oh! What is it about?" Here it comes, I thought. "LGBT in Film and TV". "What? I didn't understand a thing you just said." "It's about lesbians and gays, and how they are portrayed in film and television." "Are you crazy? How are you going to write a blog about that? You don't know the first thing about it!"
And although I felt like bitchslapping her, she was of course absolutely right. I don't know anything about the LGBT community, their history in the media, or their important names and where they stand today. (I didn't tell my sister that. I told her I was an expert and shame on her for not knowing that about me.)
But I have this growing, hungry interest. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that every time you watch a movie or a TV series nowadays the theme just jumps at you. Obviously the LGBT community is fighting hard for its rights and the more it fights, the nuttier and more vicious responses it gets from certain conservative groups, and the harder it responds again from the media. It's fascinating to watch.
But most likely it is because someone very close and dear to me came out, and as I learned about their pain, I started to see and dwell on things that before I could have just shrugged off.
And I thought that the best way to deal with this new obsession was to write about it. This blog will help me to organize my information and my thoughts. That way perhaps the next time my sister quizzes me, I will have enough to fool her.