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Film Spectatorship  
page: 1  2  

This process of appropriating or "queering" film assumes various forms and uses multiple tactics. At a general level, glbtq spectators are acutely adept at appropriating film to their own frames of reference and imbuing it with specifically queer affect. A pertinent example here would be a film such as The Wizard of Oz (1939).

With its status as a mainstay of wholesome "family" cinema, The Wizard of Oz seems an unlikely candidate for queer popularization, but generations of glbtq spectators have responded to this film in ways that have rendered it patently queer. Out of the seemingly banal tale of a young girl's trip through a fantasyland, queer spectators have interpreted a mytho-epic journey from mundanity into queer difference and have reconstructed the film as an empowering ur-text of queer survivalism and community.

Some critics suggest that glbtq spectators learn almost as habit to read film symptomatically, to scour texts for casual signs of queerness--a "colorful" supporting character; an ambiguous line of dialogue; a furtive glance between same-sex characters--that may seem insignificant to the film's immediate narrative function but that enable the production of coded queer subplots.

Others claim that queer spectators prize film not so much for its stories, which are invariably heteronormative, but for its moments of spectacular transcendence and bewitching glamour--Dietrich in top hat and tails stooping to kiss a woman in the audience; Norma Desmond's staircase descent into madness; Mrs. Danvers' frenzied torching of Mandelay--and that they value these moments as symbolic gestures of social and sexual defiance.

Other critics again highlight extra-textual elements such as star gossip and their use by queer spectators to subvert the heterosexual coding of a given star and his/her roles, thereby rendering the star available for specifically queer identification. In this context, one could consider the films of a star such as Rock Hudson that are replete with all manner of queer double-meanings when read in light of knowledge of his homosexuality. Today that knowledge circulates more or less freely, but during the height of Hudson's stardom in the 1950s, it was available to queer spectators through discourses of subcultural gossip.

The common element across these diverse strategies of queer spectatorship is the desire to remake mainstream film in a way that better accommodates and supports queer interests and desires. Glbtq people have always shown great resourcefulness in making their own cultural meanings and spaces, often out of the very material of dominant culture that would seek to exclude them. Queer spectatorship is a potent example of this resistant creativity at work.

Brett Farmer

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arts >> Overview:  Film

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arts >> Overview:  Film Festivals

The queer film festival circuit came into its own in the early 1990s and has since burgeoned into a major international phenomenon.

arts >> Overview:  New Queer Cinema

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arts >> Overview:  The Western

A distinctive American narrative genre that has developed over more than two centuries, the Western is now consumed worldwide; characteristically depicting homosocial relationships, it is also frequently suffused with homoeroticism.

arts >> Dietrich, Marlene

Actress and cabaret performer Marlene Dietrich scandalized society almost as much by wearing trousers in public as by her numerous love affairs with both men and women.

arts >> Garland, Judy

The fragile persona and emotion-packed voice of actress and singer Judy Garland are powerfully linked to gay culture and identity; she appealed especially to gay men, but also to lesbians.

arts >> Hudson, Rock

A product of Hollywood's star system, Rock Hudson became an international symbol of heterosexuality, wearing a mask until it was savagely ripped off when he was diagnosed with AIDS.


Creekmur, Corey K. and Alexander Doty, eds. Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian and Queer Essays on Popular Culture. Durham: Duke University Press, 1995.

Doty, Alexander. Making Things Perfectly Queer: Interpreting Mass Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Farmer, Brett. Spectacular Passions: Cinema, Fantasy, Gay Male Spectatorships. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.

Hanson, Ellis, ed. Out Takes: Essays on Queer Theory and Film. Durham: Duke University Press, 1999.

Weiss, Andrea. Vampires and Violets: Lesbians in the Cinema. London: Jonathan Cape, 1992.

White, Patricia. UnInvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

Wilton, Tamsin, ed. Immortal Invisible: Lesbians and the Moving Image. London and New York: Routledge, 1995.


    Citation Information
    Author: Farmer, Brett  
    Entry Title: Film Spectatorship  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2003  
    Date Last Updated November 19, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2003, glbtq, inc.  


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