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December 1996, Week 1


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Leo Enticknap <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 28 Nov 1996 11:43:03 +0000
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On Thu, 21 Nov 1996 21:43:58 -0500 Jenni Olson
<[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Over the years the definition of what can fall under the rubric of gay and
> lesbian cinema has been broadened in many ways.  If one approaches this
> particular film from a lesbian perspective (and, for the sake of argument,
> let's consider something like Dorothy Arzner's film Craig's Wife in the same
> boat) we can see a certain critique of normative heterosexuality -- Gorris
> and Arzner's women will be married but only on their terms -- which has a
> very unique resonance for gay and lesbian audiences.
The key point here, I think, is "if one approaches this
film from a lesbian perspective."  Certainly I didn't;
something which is not surprising given that (i) I am not
homosexual, and (ii) I saw the film in a mainstream cinema
in Holland, where "Twister" and "Primal Fear" were on in
the other two screens.  The reason "Antonia" was being
shown there was because it was a product of that country's
indigenous film industry and, what's more, it got an Oscar;
not because of it had the label of "gay and lesbian cinema"
attached to it by a certain group of critics.  At that
time, I was completely unaware that Marleen Gorris' work
has been shown widely at Gay and Lesbian film festivals.
> In the case of Arzner, we know that she was a lesbian working in a Hollywood
> system and at a period in time when she would not have made an "explicit"
> lesbian film.  But we can bring this information to our viewing experience
> and see ways that her sexuality must surely have had an influence on her
> work.
Granted, but surely there is a probability that by
examining and critiquing her work primarily in the context
of "gay and lesbian cinema", we run the risk of overlooking
other, equally important influences on her films.  Surely
Arzner's sexuality had an influence on her work, but was it
the only one, and, more importantly, was it always the most
dominant one?
I know of a military historian who has argued
that "Christopher Strong" can be read as critiquing the
reluctance of the American aviation industry toward
research and innovation, prefering to leave it to the
individual "star" aviator[ix] who risks his/her life,
rather than jeopardise their own financial stability.  In
constructing such an argument, surely the director's
sexuality is not really an important factor.
> Personally, watching Antonia's Line and being familiar with Gorris' previous
> work, I felt keenly aware very early on in the film that the lesbian
> character was a lesbian character (we don't explicitly learn this until much
> later in the film).  Although the lesbian character is not the central figure
> of the film (her mother is), she is certainly the second most significant
> role.
I didn't pick this up, possibly as a result of my failure
to master the Dutch language, more probably due to my own
> In short, different viewers bring different insights and expectations to a
> given film.  In my eyes Antonia's Line (and Craig's Wife) are lesbian films.
>  And I understand perfectly that they are not lesbian films for everyone.
> And, of course, as with any identity-based qualifiers, a given film has
> numerous "identities." It is a Dutch film, a woman's film, a family film,
> etc.
Absolutely.  To try and move on from simply acknowledging
the existence of numerous identities, the thorny question
seems to me to be one of priorities: in a given context,
what is the most significant focus of a given
film/film-maker and why?  For example, if someone were to
ask me what my thoughts were on Sagan's "Madchen in
Uniform", my brief reply would be that it is a lesbian
film. In response to the same question apropos "Antonia", I
would say that it was yet another of those pan-European
co-productions we've been seeing recently, paid for by
various government film instutions and TV companies.
Best Wishes
Leo Enticknap
Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Cinema and Popular Culture
*** look at our website on ***
University of Exeter, UK
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