Thursday, 29 October 2009

310: Tales from the Tombs: Behind Gay Bars

“Tales from the Tombs: Behind Gay Bars”
from “National Lampoon” May 1982

written by Michael Reiss and Al Jean.
drawn by Howard Nostrand

Seven years after writing this Reiss and Jean would go on to success writing and producing “The Simpsons”. Mike Reiss is gay, and would write and produce “Queer Duck”, another cartoon that deliberately left no gay stereotype unemployed.
Howard Nostrand had illustrated the horror comics of the 1950s, which this parodies. Nostrand’s style is quite close to Jack Davis’s. Davis largely defined the E.C. horror comic style, and so Nostrand was a clever choice for this piece.
This parody has got the poetic justice aspect of E.C. comics down pat. As well as the dreadful puns.
All the usual straight anxieties about prison rape are made ubiquitously manifest, but the homophobic protagonist is completely oblivious. The strip inverts the idea of “prison gay” since everyone in prison is a willing, voracious homosexual. “Everyone in the World is a homo!” is the ludicrous if natural culmination, but is also one of the historical aspects of anxiety about gays, that undetected homosexuals are everywhere. Which therefore is why bigots prefer their obvious gay stereotypes, since it gives them the illusion of having some social control. As Homer says, "You know me Marge - I like my beer cold, my TV loud and my homosexuals FLAMING!". The joke here being the protagonists can’t even spot his flaming homosexuals.
Here, gay men are obsessed with sex - blowjobs, and sodomy - and crude innuendoes. If it weren’t for the fact that this appeared in “National Lampoon”, and therefore could be assumed to be playing up to its youngish male readership’s own anxieties and assumption, it’s easy to imagine this playing as some cheap trashy spoof on a gay channel without a single gag cut out. The gay characters are drawn maybe a touch too grotesquely, but then again that ties with the horror-comic style. The fundamental assumption being that the gay prisoners are the monsters who will inevitably and rightfully get the protagonist, although they’re also silly monsters since the’rey just sissy, effeminate prison bitches in semi-drag.Of course, there is also an innocence about this, since about another year or so and it would be impossible to do this without the spectre of AIDS looming.

Some jokes about Liza Minnelli, which was possibly pushing their luck since the magazine had had to make a fulsome apology to her only a couple of years earlier.

P.S. A comedy-horror conclusion of sorts

Having just browsed through all the Halloween-y stuff again I’m suddenly struck by how often the fear of sexual assault repeats for for humorous effect. Certainly more than is usual in any other random selection of material. What’s the most horrible thing a homosexual could do? What’s the most unnatural and unreal and therefore comedic thing a homosexual could? Make a sexual move, that’s what.

309: Gay Frankenstein 2

“Doctor Colon’s Monster”
By Charles Rodrigues

from “National Lampoon” January 1972

from “National Lampoon” March 1972

from “National Lampoon” April 1972

from “National Lampoon” May 1972

from “National Lampoon” June 1972

from “National Lampoon” July 1972

Oh how I do love the worlds that Charles Rodrigues conjures up in his cartoons. Unending fantasias of bad taste. “Doctor Colon’s Monster” was one of the first strips that Rodrigues drew for “National Lampoon”. “The Aesop Twins” is probably better remembered if simply because it went on for years and years. “Doctor Colon’s Monster” only ran for half of 1972. Evidently something was in the air in 1972. Ed McLachlan’s gay Frankenstein was from a little later in 1972.
As with all of these gay Frankenstein cartoons, half the joke lies in the discrepancy between the murderous immensity of the monster and the cartoon version’s sissiness. In the same way there is the discrepancy between the panels and their details to get pay-offs about assorted gay stereotypes. Yet they never seem particularly belaboured. It’d almost be an insult if gay men didn’t elicit a “Queer” from the pen of Rodrigues. If a couple of the jokes seem slightly groanworthy then I like Rodrigues is inviting you to groan along with him, rather than simply laugh at the fags. Of course it’s caught in an act of hairdressing. Half a page of inarticulate mumbling and groaning to get a joke about similarly indecipherable lisping is pleasantly ingenious. Topped by a monster who after his frustrated lumbering is suddenly arranged like the cover photo on a Liza Minnelli album.
Rodrigues does expand his array of gay references since at least half of these strips end with a joke explicitly reliant upon homosexual rapacity. Cartoons of handjobs are relatively thin on the ground. While the final panel of March with the Doctor urging his monster to “SUCK!!!” as though it has the meaning of “Kill!” cracks me up, with its connotations of a terminal draining different from the typical vampire’s.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

308: Gay Frankenstein 1

Any homosexual subtexts in the Frankenstein story have been made quite explicit already in the “Rocky Horror Show” (stage show 1973, film in 1975).

I've been making a man
With blond hair and a tan
And he's good for relieving my tension
(Sweet Transvestite)

WILL: I'm intimidated, okay? It's like I've-- I've created a guy that's too hot for me to date. It's the same reason Dr. Frankenstein didn't date his monster.
GRACE: What? Dr. Frankenstein wasn't a homo.
WILL: Oh, really? He sewed together a bunch of guys to create the perfect man? Wrapped him in linen. Give him a flat head, so you can set a drink on it. Dr. Frank was a 'mo, my friend. [CHUCKLING] He was a 'mo.

- Will & Grace 20 February 2003 (an episode I only happened to watch because it featured Dan Futterman. Mmmm, Dan Futterman)

Of course we have to discount the two above, because they are jokes intended for a gay audience from gay writers, which isn’t what this never-ending farrago is all about. Incidentally, the idea that Dr Frankenstein might be the gay one in the story is the interpretation less usually employed by humorists, unless they’re gay. The more typical gay gag plays off the idea of the experiment going wrong. That rather than creating the perfect new human life, the good doctor accidentally creates a homosexual. And so it’s a revelation of what the cartoonist thinks constitutes a funny gay stereotype.

From “Help” July 1965
Not terribly enlightened this one. But they’ve certainly gone to town, trying to cram as much in as possible. Hand on his hip, kicked-up heel, a limp wrist holding a flower, a handkerchief draped in his pocket, hair done in a wave, and more than a hint of make-up on the eyelids and cheeks. Every sissy cliché known to man. Frankenstein’s monster overlaid by every remembered stereotype of the Widean aesthete.
No idea who Jim Jones is. This was from a section in “Help” giving new cartoonists a try-out. I suspect that this was probably passed because it met Terry Gilliam’s expectations. Harvey Kurtzman was the main editor of “Help” but gay stereotypes are absent from all the magazines he’d edited up to this date, he doesn’t seem tos how any interest in gay stereotypes in his own cartoons until a few years later.

by Edward McLachlan
in “Private Eye” 25 February 1972

I like McLachlan’s cartoons in general. Silly thingsa b out giant hedgehods, and a particularly suburban style of surrealism. Even if I hadn't got the original issue, "Hello Sweetie" would unmistakeably date this cartoon to some time in the earlier '70s. When McLachlan draws a homosexual, there’s usually a hint of lipstick/pursed lip and slightly effeminate eyes. (Examples 1 and 2)

A few humorists play off the idea, that in creating the perfect man, the doctor takes every aspect of the human form into account, and so we have a few cartoons obsessed by a particular aspect of the monster’s anatomy.
Looks size-queeny to you, looks gay to me. Of course, that both these specimens originate in the pages of “Playboy” may have other implications.

by Howard Shoemaker
in “Playboy” May 1977

by Sam Harris
in “Playboy” October 1980

307: Cocksuckers & Bloodsuckers - Gay Vampires 7

Dracula’s Not Gay
From “Saturday Night Live” 15 October 1994

Copied from

Male Guest.....Kevin Nealon
Female Guest.....Janene Garafalo
Count Dracula.....John Travolta
Renfield.....Chris Elliot
Wolfman.....Michael McKean

[ a dark and stormy night: open on interior, Count Dracula's castle, to find the Count sitting at his table with a Male and Female Guest ]

Male Guest: Count, once again, we want to thank you for your hospitality.

Female Guest: Yes. Are you sure we're not imposing by staying the night?

Count Dracula: Oh, no, not at all. I find your company.. most delightful. And tomorrow, when the weather improves, you can.. continue your journey. But tonight, you are mine! Now, if you will excuse me for a moment.. [ he leaves the table, eying a bloodthirsty glance at his "guests" ]

Female Guest: He certainly is a very elegant man.

Male Guest: Yeah. But don't you think there's something weird about the guy?

Female Guest: He's a little eccentric..

[ the Count slowly returns to the room, ready to strike upon his prey ]

Male Guest: Oh, he's a little more than eccentric, honey.. I mean, put it together - staying up all night, the outfit, that weird accent of his.. those screams. The guy is definitely a fruit! He's gay!

[ the Count quickly shirks out of the room, shocked by the accusation ]

Female Guest: Alright, so he's gay. So what?

Male Guest: I'm just saying, there's something weird about him. I mean, I don't see a Countess around, or anything. Put two and two together..

[ the Count returns to his guests ]

Count Dracula: Uh.. since we are destined to become friends, I think you should know more about me. Perhaps you have formed the wrong impression of me. Allow me to correct..

[ the Count's idiot servant, Renfield, interrupts the party ]

Renfield: Count? Count? I've prepared the spare bedroom for the guests.

Count Dracula: Oh, well, thank you. [ to his guests ] Let me introduce Renfield.

Female Guest: Nice to meet you, Renfield. Do you live here in the castle as well?

Renfield: Yeah. For over twenty years. The Count has been very good to me. He takes me when he travels, and he cuts my hair, and he buys me..

Count Dracula: Enough, Renfield! Don't you have something else to do?

[ Renfield leaves quietly ]

Female Guest: So, uh.. how long have you and Renfield been together?

Count Dracula: Now, what do you mean by that?

Feale Guest: Um.. how long has he been your companion?

Count Dracula: What are you implying, that Renfield and I are lovers? That's absurd! First of all, he is my servant. And secondly, I am not gay! I mean, I am man of many secrets, but humping a mental defective is not one of them!

Male Guest: Okay. Whatever. You don't have to explain..

Count Dracula: [ annoyed ] You don't believe me, do you? Renfield! Renfield! [ Renfield re-enters ] Tell them that we are not gay. Go on.

Renfield: [ whispering ] The thing is, I am gay.

Count Dracula: [ shocked ] What?!

Renfield: Yeah, I'm gay.

Count Dracula: [ to his guests ] Well, I had no idea! I mean, he lives at the other end of the castle. Why should I know what he does? I don't even care! Get out of here, Renfield! [ Renfield runs off ] Now, listen, I do not behave like most men, it's true. But you must believe me, I am a vampire! I'm not gay. I suck human blood!

Male Guest: Sure, Count. Whatever.

Female Guest: Yeah. You know, your sexual preference is your business. We respect that. Honestly.

Count Dracula: [ exasperated ] You still don't believe me! Okay, watch. Watch this, I'll turn into a bat!

[ the Count walks out of the window and disappears. The Couple look out the window to see what happens. ]

Male Guest: Wow! Look at that!

Female Guest: Unbelieveable! He turned into a bat! He is a vampire!

Male Guest: Hey, there's another bat! It's another male bat! Oh, my God! They're doing it!

Female Guest: Wow, are you sure that's a male?

Male Guest: Yeah. Look at the red markings on the wings. Boy.. he's really giving it to the Count!

[ a flash of light appears, as the Couple move back to let the Count flutter back through the window ]

Count Dracula: [ dismayed ] Oh, God! I don't know what that was! I know this looks bad.. but I didn't even know there were gay bats!

Male Guest: Maybe it was Renfield.

Count Dracula: No, no.. Renfield's not a vampire. He's just an idiot I hired out of pity. Why do you persist in thinking that we are sexually involved?

Female Guest: No, really.. it's not important to us..

Male Guest: Yeah..

Count Dracula: [ grabbing a deck of cards off of a shelf ] Look.. let me show you.. Look, there are playing cards with naked women on them. Why would I have these if I were homosexual? It doesn't make sense!

[ the door opens behind the couple, as the Wolfman enters ]

Wolfman: Hi! Listen, I'm sorry to interrupt. I know I'm the world's biggest pest. But I've gotta borrow your pastry brush! Don't mind about me, I'm not even here!

Count Dracula: Now, if you want gay, that's gay!

Male Guest: Yeah.. but you two seem to know each other pretty well.

Count Dracula: Yes, he's a friend of mine. You see, dear man, I am secure in my masculinity, unlike you, who is obsessed with it! Now, I'm sick of it! Both of you, get out of here!

Male Guest: You can't send us out there with that gay bat flying around.

Count Dracula: Look, if you don't leave at once, I will suck your blood!

Male Guest: I bet you'd like that!

Count Dracula: [ angry ] Out! Both of you, get out!

[ the Couple quickly exit the castle ]

Wolfman: [ passing through ] Party's over?

Count Dracula: Listen, did you know that Renfield was gay?

Wolfman: Duh! Are you kidding?

Count Dracula: [ intrigued ] Did the two of you ever..?

Wolfman: No! He's totally not my type! It's not like he didn't try, though.

Count Dracula: Really?

Wolfman: Oh, yeah. He's been coming on to everyone. Especially since he learned how to turn himself into a bat.

Count Dracula: [ disgusted ] Oh, God! Renfield!

Monday, 26 October 2009

306: Cocksuckers & Bloodsuckers - Gay Vampires 6

My Best Friend is a Vampire, 1987
directed by Jimmy Huston, written by Tab Murphy

Robert Sean Leonard as Jeremy Capello
Fannie Flagg as Mrs. Capello
Kenneth Kimmins as Mr. Capello
Evan Mirand as Ralph
David Warner as Prof. Leopold McCarthy
Paul Willson as Grimsdyke
Rene Auberjonois as Modoc

This is a rather innocuous film. It could almost be an after-school special. The only offensive thing about it is that it’s rather a waste of David Warner and Rene Auberjonois. Oh how I do so very much adore Rene Auberjonois.

There’s not an actual homosexual in this, but it is a vampire movie about homosexuality. This is a sort of dry run for all those “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episodes where the monster is a metaphor.

So the plot of the film is that a teenage boy, Jeremy Capello (played by Robert Sean Leonard) becomes a vampire after meeting with a lady vampire. Describing it as an infection after a careless one night stand, and subsequent talk by the vampire hunters about containment of vampire infection ties in fairly explicitly with contemporary AIDS hysteria.
The boy is then befriended by an older vampire mentor, Modoc (played by Rene Auberjonois). Modoc gives him various pep-talks which wouldn’t be out of place in a gay encounter group, describing being s vampire as an “ alternative lifestyle”, the compensations of a fascinating new lifestyle, and the need to deal with those who would persecute minorities . Possibly significantly the vampire hunter played by David Warner is called McCarthy, and he learns acceptance after losing his sexual repression. Some reviewers have described Rene Auberjonois’s character as camp. But frankly, this must be the judgement of people who don’t know what camp can mean. Nor do they know what kind of performance Rene Auberjonois is really capable of.
Jeremy reveals his new nature to his best friend, who gradually comes to accept him. As Jeremy says, “I’m still the same person, I’m not some monster”
And if it weren’t obvious enough by this point, the plotline following Jeremy’s parents makes its gay allusions explicit. They’re nice liberal, slightly concerned, but caring parents, who are taken aback by their son’s life-style changes, such as adopting a more stereotypically vampirically stylish appearance. Jeremy’s also made comments about feeling pestered by girls (since he secretly has his heart set on one particular girl). Furthermore, they see their son trying to conceal all the time he’s spending with Modoc. They put all this together and come to the conclusion any parent might come to in a world without vampires.

So we get a brief scene with the parents reading paperback copies of "One Teenager In Ten", and “Are You Still My Mother?: Are You Still My Family?” (gay guides for parents in the mid-80s).

Dad: We have to face the facts, honey. Our son is gay. How do you feel about that?
Mom: I really wanted grandchildren.

The parents are shown as perfectly understanding and caring. Although they take the idea that their son might be having an affair with the much older Modoc with surprisingly good grace. Of course, at the end of the film, just as the parents are about to mistakenly declare to Jeremy their acceptance of his homosexuality, the son introduces his new girlfriend. So all the homosexuality is denied at the end. At least the parents demonstrate no crass “phew that’s a relief”.

There is one homo-comedy moment, when Jeremy is practising his vampire love-slave trance glare in a nightclub and accidentally hits the tubby vampire hunter who suddenly burst out proclaims his affection for the son’s best friend.

305: Cocksuckers & Bloodsuckers - Gay Vampires 5

Once Bitten, 1985
Directed by Howard Storm, written by David Hines, Jeffrey Hause, and Jonathan Roberts

Jim Carrey as Mark Kendall
Cleavon Little as Sebastain
Thomas Ballatore as Jamie
Skip Lackey as Russ
part1 (mostly Sebastian)

“Fags in the Showers!”

Oh look. It’s a 1980s teen sex comedy. Let’s all lower our expectations accordingly, shall we? No, lower than that, please.
Then set lame gags about sex-starved teenagers embarrassing themselves to stun!

I dimly recollect this playing in the background on Channel 5 while doing homework some twenty years ago, but didn’t remember it being so mediocre as this. Then again, American network TV in the ‘80s tended to cut and edit and censor left right and centre, so some of the more banally abrasive material may not have been judged suitable for my screen. I once saw a broadcast of “Blazing Saddles” on Channel 11 with a totally silent version of the campfire beans scene. How bad is this film really? Well, even if you’re the world’s greatest Jim Carrey fan, do you recall it? Nuff said. Wouldn’t you rather watch “Fright Night” with Roddy McDowell? Even the smut is underpowered.

The gist of the film is that a vampire Countess in modern day California has to suck the blood of a virgin if she is to keep her youthful appearance, and so she sets her sites on the still-virginal Jim Carrey character. It’s the Countess’s black man servant Sebastian (played by Cleavon Little) that’s the first big gay joke (Yeah, a black manservant, like that’s not going to give anyone the PC heeby-jeebies?). Why a homosexual manservant? Well to give it more thought than it deserves...if you’ve got a female vampire, then a homosexual character allows for a give and take between the two, without any possibility of upsetting the balance of power or entertaining any thoughts of sexuality since she already has her other sexual Renfield-type thralls. Anyway, Sebastian is introduced languorously strolling around the Countess’s Los Angeles mansion, tidying up, and making ornaments nice. He’s even clasping a flower, for god’s sake. Prissy and swish without saying a word it’s obvious that he’s gay. There was a mini-trend of gay black characters in other comedies of this period, “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Mannequin”, but unlike those camp screamers, Sebastian is played as a haughty fashion queen. The character plays off the stereotypes of the prissy fashion-obsessive since he is the Countess’s personal stylist and interior decorator. His manner is overly precise gestures, his face is permanently set with lowered eyelids and arched eyebrows, and he’s bitchy too. There are some one limp wristed get-away-with-you gestures. If he’s not in conversation with the Countess, then he’s standing off the side pulling moues. Otherwise he’s being knowingly lascivious. When the pair happen to be in a women’s clothes shop, then he’s overly attentively fondling ladies clothes. And if you’d hadn’t got the homos are transvestites implications in that, then the next joke’ll kill you. He’s in the Countess’s walk-in wardrobe, and when he’s steps out of it he’s wearing some of her attire. See, it’s a gay man coming out of a closet, see, see! They have the audacity to do that joke several times. And like almost every gay character when threatened, it’s taken as a sexual come-on:

How d’you like your crotch set on fire
Woooo, rough trade!

Cleavon Little did redeem himself later, winning an Emmy in 1989 for his guest appearance in an episode of the sitcom “Dear John” as a gay man who falls in love with the lead character.

Besides all the stuff with Sebastian, Mark’s two friends keep finding themselves in distinctly gay encounters. At a phone bar (how 80s), there’s a brief scene where one of the friends is picked up by a guy in drag, then there’s the moment of realisation the friend makes his excuses and runs off in panic.
Then there’s the scene where the two have to try and spy bite marks on Mark’s upper thigh, with Hilarious Homoerotic Consequences. It’s two guys trying to look at another guys genital area without embarrassing themselves, until it almost becomes a shower rape scene. As everyone then runs out to the cry of “Fags in the shower! Fag Alert!” Probably the only funny thing is the camera work so you can’t seen everyone’s arses. As the next scene makes clear, it’s not just any sexual humiliation, this homosexual humiliation.

Jamie: This is horrible. This is the suckiest thing that could ever happen! The whole school thinks we're... gay!
Russ: Hey, our past history speaks for itself! No one's going to think we're gay.
Jamie: I don't have a past history, okay? And neither do you! This is it. We might as well move in together and get his and his towels.
Russ: What were they doing in the showers in the first place.
Jamie: They were washing. We were re-enacting a prison rape scene!

Jamie: No! I knew it. We enjoyed it!
Russ: Would you shut up?
Jamie: No that's it! We're homos! We're rump-rangers!

The two main writers were incredibly ashamed of all this, claiming that their script had been largely rewritten by the director, and therefore they didn’t deserve their execration by Vito Russo in “The Celluloid Closet”.

304: Cocksuckers & Bloodsuckers - Gay Vampires 4

by David Austin
in “The Spectator”, 23 March 1985

There were a lot of versions of the same cartoon in the mid ‘80s with the rise of AIDS. I assume thinking behind so many cartoonists producing the same gag went something very much like:

Topical gag, topical gag. AIDS! Right, AIDS, AIDS, something to do with blood, something to do with blood. Vampires! AIDS and vampire, AIDS and vampires....

And so innumerable damn cartoons of a cliché vampire sat in a clinic waiting to get a blood test. Ho frigging ho.

David Austin at least takes it a little further. What else do we know about AIDS? Homosexuals have it! So a clichéd clone, in a “Proud to be Gay” shirt (just so no one misses the joke) repels a hungry vampire. Homo-hemo-no-go.

303: Cocksuckers & Bloodsuckers - Gay Vampires 3

"Disco Beaver From Outer Space", National Lampoon HBO Special, 1978

You should go to first, since much of this sketch is adapted from Tony Hendra’s original “Dragula” comic in "National Lampoon", November 1971. That’s the first case of the bloodsucker / cocksucker joke, though its not reused in this version. Indeed, for all that I’m not a great fan of that piece, it’s certainly better than this sketch. This material is cannabilised here since this special was partly produced by Hendra.

Part 1

Part 2

Peter Elbing as Dragula
Lynn Redgrave as Professor van Helsing
James Widdoes as Lou Murray

First off, it really doesn’t help that this looks really cheap, and shoddily shot. The bits in the first half which are adapted from the comic are not handled well. The second half, which is new material, and tries to spin off the more familiar Dracula material looks as though it’s been filmed during the first run-through.
The only credit I will give it is that Peter Elbling puts some effort into his performance as Dragula. Of course, Elbling has always been a somewhat arch and mannered performer, but not unenjoyable with it, which doesn’t hurt if you’re playing a gay version of Dracula.
His performance makes something of the common idea of the cultured, elegant vampire, ideas about louche Europeans, and then showing how these overlap common assumptions about stereotyped gay attitudes. He at least manages to put some spin on some clunking lines. Honestly the second half frankly falls below the standards of a Bowery Boys film, with poor puns, and the lame shtick attempting to bite the editor.
How on earth Lynn Redgrave ended up in this as Professor Van Helsing? Maybe community service?
The additions in the first section aren’t gold either. To give it its due, when the hardhat is vampirised it’s hard to think how any gay signifier wouldn’t seem crass in context. Although whimpering “I feel pretty” is quite lame. The audience is supposed to recall that the rest of the verse goes “I feel pretty and witty and GAY”. And the gay version of the vampirised hardhat isn’t very au courrant. When you think about what gay men were getting up to at the time, a sissy making limp-wristed primping gesture and feyly saying “I’ll go get the other girls” is a few years behind the times.
The homoerotism of old hockey footage is a new addition. Though “Monty Python” got there first with its celebrating footballers.

Indeed all the vampirised gays are coy mimsy performances. This reaches its nadir when James Widdoes as the magazine editor is turned gay. The office decor, and his costume with the sunglasses, and his over-emotionalism all look looks as though they’ve been cribbed from “La Cage aux Folles” (1978)
Dragula being repelled by meatloaf, brut, and tasteless crass Americana is a sort of joke about finicky design queens.

302: Cocksuckers & Bloodsuckers - Gay Vampires 2

Blacula, 1972
Directed by William Crain, written by Raymond Koenig and Joan Torres

William Marshall as Blacula
Ted Harris as Bobby McCoy
Rick Metzler as Billy Schaffer

Starts at 9:11

Finishes at 6:10

I cheat slightly. There are two gay characters in this film, and yes, they do become vampires, but we’re interested in their portrayal as homosexuals, since once they’re vampirised they’re just shambling ravenous indiscriminate monsters like all the other converts. They are not “gay vampires” who might go swishing around lisping “I want to ttthhhuck your blood”. “Blacula”, an early blaxploitation film, is a fairly serious vampire film, but I include the pair here, since they are obviously intended only as comic relief before the film gets started.
That they’re in a blaxploitation film suggests a few questions which I’m not qualified to answer. Blaxplotation films are usually about presenting a certain type of black masculinity. White people and society are usually the subject of criticism, if not absolute denigration, as the villainous oppressors, with sexual deviance often used as an indication of whites’ perverted characters. These two gay men aren’t villains, only fools. But I do wonder whether the white gay guy is a ploy to stall any criticism from the black community because of portraying a black gay character.
That they’re an inter-racial couple is the most striking thing at first. There’s a gay inter-racial couple in “Dirty Harry” (1971) but the audience only sees them for about 45 seconds and then only through the scope of a sniper’s rifle. So an early appearance of a black and white couple, and we also get stereotypes of white and black gay behaviour.
What we witness are embodiments of contemporary stereotypes for the early 1970s. Though subtle it’s not. Words like “camp” and “queen” are casually used. They cast coy glances at each other. Both have expressive hands like fluttering birds, otherwise their wrists are limp hanging from rigidly outstretched elbows, emphasised by the one’s use of his prop of a long cigarette holder. The white one’s not played terribly well, but it’s not too effeminate nor too drawling, so at least he manages to be sort of casual. The black one is interesting because it’s possibly one of the earliest instances of some of the clichés of the black homosexual. His sassy manner, calling people “honey” and “baby”, even crying out “Owww!” while snapping his fingers. The male purse is what the audience would expect of a gay man at the time. Besides all this, the two fit the fussy antique dealers/interior decorators cliché. At least they’re young and hip, since the stereotype is usually of antique dealers as late-middle-aged queens. It’s also made fairly obvious that they’re more than just business partners. They’re shameless, in various ways, mincing and swishing about when they enter the warehouse scene, but not actually screaming stereotypes.
But then to top it off, they become hysterical girls when hurt, with the black one nursing indulging in a slew of bitchy reproaches. Thus distracted Blacula consequently has them for breakfast.

301: Cocksuckers & Bloodsuckers - Gay Vampires 1

Hey, hey, it’s Halloween and all that sort of thing, donchaknow.

The Fearless Vampire Killers, 1967
Directed by Roman Polanski, written by Roman Polanski and Gerard Brach

Jack MacGowran as Professor Abronsius
Roman Polanski as Alfred, Abronsius's assistant
Iain Quarrier as Herbert von Krolock

A spoof of the vampire myth and Hammer Horror movie styles. There is a loving attention to all that Transylvanian atmosphere and some lovely cinema work just for its own sake. So we’re lavishly situated in the consensus-gothic horror film-reality before we ever get to such inversions and comedic frustrations of trad-vampire-lore as Alfie Bass playing a Jewish vampire impervious to a crucifix waved at him. The bit we’re interested in here though is Polanski’s turning on its head of the usual sexual vampire menacing the virginal female trope.
So, fairly ingeniously for the day, the shy, bumbling, feckless ,fearful young assistant, Alfred, played by Roman Polanski, finds himself the target of a lascivious gay vampire, Herbert von Krolock.

Albert has two previous brief encounters with Herbert von Krolock before this scene. The first is when the vampire hunters have infiltrated the castle of Count von Krolock, and are being given a tour by the Count himself. They happen to meet Herbert and the Count introduces everyone. When Herbert first meets Albert, he looks him up and down, then Herbert fingers his cravat as he looms over the anxious Albert to gently shake his hand. As the Count leads the vampire hunters away, Albert nervously looks over shoulder to see Herbert looking back at him.
Later the pair discover the two vampires asleep in their coffins, so by this scene Albert knows Herbert is a vampire, to compound the general fear and awkwardness of Albert.
The reason Albert enters this room and this scene is that previously he had encountered the girl he is in love with here taking a bath, and so he expects to discover her here again. Instead of which, his sexual anticipation is deflated by the presence of Herbert, and the following hijinks ensue:

What the scene really offers us is an early, and well-executed example of the standard humour of homosexual panic when a straight man finds him the object of gay advances. The whole vampire aspect gives it an additional flavour so that the scene doesn’t thump you crassly about the head.

Herbert isn’t a large character in the film, so there’s not that much to say. Part of the joke is that the usual foppish poses of the Byronic - the dandyish concern and affected manner - readily lend themselves to gay interpretation.
As a characterisation to sustain the gag/horror of the scene, Herbert’s portrayal slowly but effectively escalates. First there’s the surprise of finding that it’s Herbert, not Albert’s girl. Secondly, it’s a Herbert clad only in a shirt and underpants. From there Herbert is solicitous of Albert, then comes across to him to adjust Albert’s attire – a gesture both slightly fussy, and also introducing a physical intimacy. Even as Albert tries to escape (because of his discomfort, or because of his fear of the vampire), Herbert implacably yet gracefully leads them both to sit on the bed together (ramping up the intimacy discomfort). Herbert then becomes slightly flirtatious, comparing Albert’s eyelashes to golden threads.
Up to this point, though slightly soft-spoken, Herbert’s accent obscures obvious homosexual mannerisms. Herbert starts to become a bit more fey now. Pulling a bit of a moue when complimenting Albert on “guessing with his pretty little head” (and note how everything is “little” this or that), this builds into the camp gesture of waving his hand above his head to complement “you’ll be able to dance” and then Herbert gets up to swish about to his own trillings. So if there were any doubts, its obvious Herbert is not manly.
Finally, we get Herbert making an actual move on Albert. I think “Shall we allow an angel to pass?” is a lovely line, delivered with just the right hint of insinuation from Herbert. So the scene reaches its climax as the fear of sexual attack gives way to an outright physical attack from the vampire on his life. Which as far as homosexual panic goes is probably not much of a subtle difference.

For a more contemporary take on homosexuality by Polanski, have a look at Peter Sellers as “A. Queen” in “A Day at the Beach” (1970)

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

George W.S. Trow: 1943 - 2006

I find George Trow a fascinating writer, since his attempts to reconcile his WASPy aspirations with his intense attraction to black culture and the lifestyle to be found in New York gossip columns and his repulsion by the predations of mass media on the mainstream consciousness means that there is an intensity and dislocation to his writing that is possibly unique.

from “National Lampoon”, December 1971 – “Editorial Fantasies”

George W.S. Trow (to rhyme with “grow”) wrote for the early “National Lampoon, but had a longer career at “The New Yorker” where he wrote assorted social reportage and some lengthy cultural criticism. Trow is rarely remembered as one of the founding members of the “National Lampoon”. Doug Kenney is remembered as the genius of Baby Boomer nostalgia. Michael O’Donoghue was the master of violent, nihilistic comedy that wittily and surrealistically obliterated everything in his path. “National Lampoon” grew out of the successes of the “Harvard Lampoon”. Trow had been Kenney’s mentor at Harvard, setting an example of how to manoeuvre through the world of Eastern establishment mores and preppy manners. Trow’s family were only low on the WASP hierarchy, but Trow appeared to effortless possess the WASP trademark of social superiority. Yet, Trow was also attracted to its subversion, and at his prep-school had been a devotee of r’n’b and the beatnik writers. Trow was forever split between wanting to belong to the social security of the WASP order and also recognising its inadequacies and deterioration in the modern world.

After graduating from Harvard, Trow met Michael O’Donoghue in New York City and they became friends. Again, O’Donoghue found a model in Trow, a social and artistic persona to help contain his furious satire. When the “National Lampoon” was founded, Trow was one of the first brought in because of his previous experience and facility as president of the “Harvard Lampoon” and Trow brought O’ Donoghue with him. Just before “National Lampoon” Trow and O’Donoghue wrote the script for an early Merchant-Ivory film “Savages”, released in 1972. Modelled on Bunuel, it follows the spontaneous evolution of a tribe of mud people to high society epigones when they discover an uninhabited stately home, and demonstrates sophisticated high society manners can be just as vicious. Trow and O’Donoghue shared a taste for the Art Deco and the style of the ‘30s. It had been Trow’s idea to set this story within the confines of a weekend houseparty. Trow wrote much of the social scene, catching the undercurrent of bigotry and hierarchical oppression while O’Donoghue wrote most of the subsequent reversion to barbarity.

If Trow’s contributions to “National Lampoon” are less well-known it was partly because for the first year he was careful to efface any evidence from the actual magazine using pseudonyms. Trow had already been working at “The New Yorker” for several years and he did not want to jeopardise his position there. Because his set had associated with Wallace Shawn at Harvard, they had attracted the attention of his father, William Shawn, the editor of “The New Yorker” and been adopted en masse as new writers for “The New Yorker”. If Trow’s personal style is a little less distinctive then others at the time, it may because he was often writing in collaboration. When he wrote on his own, his subject matter became more evident. Each “National Lampoon” writer had his special subject contributing to the magazine’s broad view, and Trow’s proved to be his WASP inheritance, subverting its high tone and impenetrably snobbish manners. For “National Lampoon Radio Hour” he played the part of Mr Chatterbox, imploring his listeners "Do try to mix with a better class of people", bringing WASP society to earth in “White-sploitation” films, or simply mocking the mediocrity of middle American taste. The titles of the three issues he edited of the magazine read in retrospect like a manifesto for the critical essays he wrote at the height of his career: “Post-War” “Boredom” and “Stupidity”. Trow was only involved in “National Lampoon” for the first 51 issues, though some also give him credit for introducing P.J. O’Rourke to the magazine. In the mid-70s; he also wrote a few parodies for “Harper’s” but the overwhelming majority of Trow’s work from thereon was to appear in “The New Yorker”.

from “National Lampoon” March 1972

from “National Lampoon” April 1973

Trow was temperamentally suited to the magazine. It was a continuation of the aspiration to elite privilege which had marked his life up to that point. It was a continuation of his family’s tradition of working in New York newspapers and magazines. “The New Yorker” in itself also represented a continuation of a certain cultural and social ideal. Whether it deserved it or not, there was a feeling at the magazine that Mr Shawn (as the editor was knows) was defending the highest values of civilisation and literary traditions against the vulgar commercialism of the modern age. In Mr Shawn, Trow found a mentor:

“The New Yorker is a place where an honourable man is teaching other men who are trying to be honourable . . . What is remarkable about it is that it exists in the real, commercial world as a magazine that sells copies, that sells advertising, at the same time that this other thing, of honourable people who are looking out for you, is going on. That used to happen a lot. But The New Yorker is one of the last places that happens.”

For the first decade all of Trow’s contributions were to the “Talk of the Town”, the opening section of the magazine with its unsigned reports and comments on contemporary New York life. “The New Yorker” was smart ,both socially and also intellectually, and the elegance of Trow in person and style was a natural fit. Beside the usual run of parties for exhibits and new advertising campaigns, Trow staked his particular territory of rock n’roll culture and also the emergent black social scene and its arts. “Whatever it is that some white Americans suspect they have lost, they seem to suspect, further, that they can find it in black music” (23 December 1972). “Talk of the Town” normally cast a bemused interest on the products and lifestyle of New York City, but the object of Trow’s attention was new to the magazine’s usual audience. So Trow’s beat moved between formal parties and Dina Vreeland of Vogue magazine, the Fillmore East, the Warhol scene and Max’s Kansas City East. He introduced “New Yorker” readers to Sly and the Family Stone, James Taylor, leading drag performers, and recommended the black “Amsterdam News” as possessing possibly the most interesting columnists in New York. Yet for all their wit, Trow’s pieces have only an historical interest today. There are hints of Trow’s later angular style as he explains new styles, the emergent youthful counter-cultural standards and their meaning, but these pieces rarely escape the gravity of the “New Yorker’s” manner. Trow brings rock n’ roll within the authority of “The New Yorker”, he does not want to indulge in New Journalistic pyrotechnics. Trying to fit black styles and rock n’ roll into that format is less productive than being the debutante and polo correspondent for “Rolling Stone”. Livening up the feuilletons of “Talk of the Town” is akin to dispensing ecstasy at a retirement home – there’s not enough movement to get the chemicals flowing.

In all this, there is a larger process at work. Social order and taste are disintegrating. At this point it is barely hinted at. It is more a sense of amusement than anguish. Trow reports on parties where rock artists mingle with old money, and there is some puzzlement as to who defers to which style, and so Trow can write of the usefulness of “protective ironic clothing”. Trow’s old WASP society of elegant Manhattan dissolves into the world of Diana Vreeland and Studio 54. People are often described in terms of their Effective Style, what their taste in shirts, coast, hats and dress reveals. Trow is effectively “The New Yorker”’s black culture correspondent at this time, as he finds that the emergent black culture has a glamour and energy because of black people’s ruthlessness about fashion and what they like. The editor of Vogue, Diana Vreeland, likewise fascinates him, because of her sense of authority, her emphatic manner in judgement and handling people, asserting her taste, and sometimes shocked at other’s ignorance. Trow starts to focus on the style and affective methods used to sell commercial products and the means of communication (McLuhan meets Marx). Usually it is all written in a tone of equilibrium and confidence, yet very, very occasionally, sometimes there is a comically fearful intimation of the senseless of modern society, such as when he tries to parse the nonsense of a US celebrity journal.

The idea of the fragmentation of society was first seriously expressed in his lengthy profile of the music mogul Ahmet Ertegun. All the disparate social scenes and styles of his “Talk of the Town” pieces are brought together here. Trow is entranced by Ertegun, how he functions, and what his success means for contemporary society. “I began to understand that it would be his style (eclectic, reminiscent, amused, fickle, perverse) that would be the distinctive style of the first years of the new decade.” Ertegun presents a restlessness attempting to unite or at least reconcile disparate elements by an internal authority and then exert this taste over others. Ertegun’s allegiance is neither to white nor black culture, but his success has required study of them both. A description such as “Even in his adolescence, Ahmet was made restless by the thought that he had missed it, that authority had drained from the figures he most admired and from the aesthetics he most wanted to master” could almost be autobiographical on Trow’s part. In this essay Trow is concerned to identify the powers and choice involved in this eclectic idiosyncrasy.

As a child, Trow’s father had impressed upon him the need to understand and integrate every element, and that the whole of them together would constitute George W.S. Trow. His newspaperman father had trained him in analysing media meanings, subtexts and processes. Trow admitted that his power of interpretation was his means of survival. “I have made sense of my life by developing an ability to analyse Mainstream American Cultural Artefacts.” The assumption was that this would allow him to ascend to the top of the natural WASP hierarchy. However this training and social induction came at the very time that the WASP idea of civic and cultural order was collapsing. So Trow found himself consumed by conflicting feelings of “entitlement” (that he was part of a social continuity) and “feverishness” (that the social order was all cracking up). Similarly Trow moved between high and low society. There was Trow the ultra-WASP, the fetishist of black life (his boyfriends were often black or working class), the gay man, and the nightclub socialite. These different selves could never cohere together at the same time, as some were in direct opposition to the privileged authority to which he had been taught to aspire. He enjoyed black and gay social scenes that could only exist and flourish with the demise of the repressive mainstream society of the 1950s. Yet it was the cultural authority of Ivy League country club assumptions that gave him the confidence to infiltrate every aspect of New York City life.

The latter part of Trow’s career is marked by his desire to identify the cause of the collapse of organised society and its civic ties and values. The failed world view and cultural authority under which he had grown up he called the “Collapsing Dominant”. Trow truly believed America had been at its apex culturally, spiritually and materially in the immediate post-war period and could describe Eisenhower as the “guy of guys” who inhabited and exercised the power of the zeitgeist. His essay “Within the Context of No Context” opens with this paean: "Wonder was the grace of the country. Any action could be justified by that: the wonder it was rooted in. Period followed period, and finally the wonder was that things could be built so big. Bridges, skyscrapers, fortunes, all having a life first in the marketplace, still drew on the force of wonder." The subsequent anger and despair that infuses his essays stems from his perception of America’s terrible fall from dignity. America has lost its sense of adult responsibility and is obsessed only by “pleasure with an edge to it”. “The mode of authority in America, the mode that deals with real experience, the mode that is neither dead (as the adult mode seems to be) nor compromised (as the childish world of television seems to be), is the adolescent mode—the mode of exploration, becoming, growth, and pain.” Trow attributes America’s fall to a deformation and infantilisation of the American mind which he blames on television.

History had provided people a sense of order, and a scheme of references to organise their place and the significance of their actions. People no longer had a sense of history or order, only a tremulous subjectivity which made them vulnerable, anxious and therefore easily manipulated. America had become a nation of unrooted adolescents wanting affection, for whom television was the “third parent”. For the Baby Boomers growing up in the post-war period History had been reduced to a preference for styles. Society had become Sophomoric, hungry for new styles, new experiences, and concerned only with what is popular. TV panders dis-ease and false solutions of fashionable approval, delivering immediate hits of “pseudo-intimacy” where problems and feelings are presented to be solved without context or Authority. Trow foresees a world where Oprah is the supreme cultural icon and arbiter. The need for TV to deliver hits means it can never properly explain, and so “TV is the referee and has won the match”. TV only delivers more TV. "The work of television is to establish false contexts and to chronicle the unraveling of existing contexts; finally, to establish the context of no context and to chronicle it." A report on violence in television is oblivious of its context in history, society, and independent of human values; it is only concerned whether the violence is gratuitous within the context of programme, not the context of its place in history.

TV has reduced America to a nation of lonely individuals. There is the grid of 200 million - the entirety of America - and the grid of 1 watching the TV, but no intermediate civic organisation or structure. People don’t have a history, only shared characteristics and demographics. TV has usurped Authority. His father’s instruction taught him that every newspaper had possessed an Authority of point-of-view for its particular readership. In a good magazine or newspaper a rhythm and trust was established between editors and readers leading to a natural formation of a certain Authority over the history of the relationship (hence Trow’s overweening respect for Mr Shawn). Yet even as his father explained the identity of the different newspapers, there was an implicit undermining of the Dominant WASP p.o.v., since these papers offered alternative views and status consciousness. By the end of the ‘70s the Dominant Mind that is TV is evident since a magazine such as “People” or a newspaper like “USA Today” can only follow TV’s lead.

Others have made similar arguments. Trow stands out because his employment of style and organisation is almost as fragmented as a night spent hyperactively flipping between cable channels with an occasional blizzard of frequency static. Unlike almost any other “New Yorker” pieces, Trow’s cultural critical essays are experimental nonfiction, almost gnomic in expression and eccentric in arrangement of material, whose foci of argument never stop wandering. His essays are bricolage, examining the meaning of magazines and items to hand, to make larger arguments about the history of society. Phrases and images are repeated again and again. An explicatory analogy is reused until it becomes a metaphor of society’s (or Trow’s) madness. Words are capitalised to emphasise their importance. Brief sequences of paragraphs come with their headings like “The Cold Child” or “The Authority of No-Authority”. Elliptical as it often appears, he directs his abstractions like formations in a sheep dog trial. It is easy to envision some of his pronouncements as giant slogans plastered on the wall of an installation piece. Even as he attacks the fragmentation of modern culture, his work is fractured and would not look out of place in a textbook of post-modern literature. There is a brisk rapidfire referentiality which Trow makes explicit in “My Pilgrim’s Progress” when he tells his readers “You’ll have to trust me on that one”.

Trow also turned to fiction and drama, finding new ways to demonstrate that he was an end of history writer, for whom society was no longer whole and unified in any sense. In works such as his play “Tennis Game” and his novel “City in the Mist” Trow found metaphors and settings to reveal society evolving from the 19th century into a contemporary display of frenzied competition. The short stories he wrote for “The New Yorker” (some of which are collected in “Bullies”) are bitter assaults on the characters and society he covered in “The Talk of the Town”. They owe a little something to Barthelme’s own short stories for “The New Yorker”. But like his essays, Trow’s short stories are oblique, telegraphic, aphoristic, postmodern collages of images, icons and significant phrases. There is an overwhelming sense of distress and social anxiety, expressed through characters whose minds have been colonised by media, business and self-help jargon-gabble. Various critics picked up on “the mentally disturbed repetitions that Trow sometimes used for weird characters”, but it is evidently the same style Trow employed in his essays. Possibly a tutelary spirit may be Gertrude Stein. A useful contrast might be Tom Wolfe, possessed of a rat-a-tat style and a conservative interest in all the specifics of contemporary culture.

In 1994, when the new editor of “The New Yorker” Tina Brown brought in Roseanne Barr to oversee an issue about women Trow quit in protest. After that he wrote “My Pilgrim’s Progess” and there was a collection of previous criticism, but otherwise Trow was quiet until his death in 2006. The subsequent years of his life seemed devoted to removing the net of support he had previously established. A man who had made his rapid rise in his 20s because of his social connections, cut off his friends one by one in later years. Friends speak of a loneliness. It’s obvious that his work is concerned with the loss of a shared community. He can write of “the sense of loneliness that is a condition of life” that TV so expertly exploits. Trow and TV both share a view of humans as weak and willing to be deceived. Trow believed that an authoritative culture was the net for almost inevitable failure, and his later years are proof of the consequences of having “to face some near infinite pain about delusion, about lack of protection, and about abandonment”. In the later ‘70s he writes little satires about businesses which sell friends as a commodity or as guaranteed consumers on demand. Trow ultimately rejected the spectacle of modern America. “The message of many things in America is ‘Like this or die’ . . . Suddenly the madness of death begins to seem attractive”. He spent time hospitalised for mental illness, travelled America, living in Alaska for while, occasionally shocking remaining friends with an unexpected sexual frankness, then died while in residence in Naples, Italy.

Trow’s last story for “The New Yorker”, though published as early as 1990 proved prophetic. In “Are We Kids or What?” William Akers Framner, is disturbed by the AIDS-related death of a contemporary, rejects his identity as a “Framner", quits his job, travels as “Billy” while he becomes obsessed with pornographic videos. Trow’s fluid social identity was mirrored by a myriad of alternating names: George Trow, George W.S. Trow, and George Swift Trow, besides being known to friends as “Swift”. Like his prose, there was a dazzling shifting of surfaces about the man, but no proper reconciliation, and so there was always the threat of slipping between those surfaces. If Trow is sometimes so fascinating to read, it is because there is often one view point too many, so that even when writing at his smoothest, there is always some elusive extraneous element of interpretation that catches and pricks because it doesn’t quite belong. That sense of tortuous personal contradiction, excluded from something for which he was purposely trained because of too much knowledge, is epitomised by his conclusion to “Within the Context of No Context:

“Irony has seeped into the felt of any fedora hat I have ever owned - not out of any wish of mine but out of necessity. A fedora hat worn by me without the necessary protective irony would eat through my head and kill me...It turns out that while I am at home in many strange places, I am not free even to visit the territory I was expected to inhabit effortlessly. To wear a fedora, I must first torture it out of shape.”

Trow's profile of Ahmet Ertegun - part 1

Trow's profile of Ahmet Ertegun - part 2

opening sections of "Within the Context of No Context"

excerpt from "my Pilgrim's Progress"

Is Dan Mad? - a savaging of TV news

parody of Princess Diana

Where the Weird Things Are

from “National Lampoon” October 1972
by Michael O’Donoghue
art by Wally Neibart

For once, nothing to do with any of what this is usually about. With all the hoo-haw about the forthcoming film it seemed nice to post this. So for once, I can post something really, really good from the glory days of “National Lampoon” without any other ideological considerations. It’s really just too good to let the opportunity slip
Michael O’Donoghue employs Maurice Sendak’s book as a template to chronicle the degeneration into anarchy of the hippy dream. However it’s not a haphazard choice of any old children’s book to do the job. “Where the Wild Things Are” is a dream about confronting anger, and O’ Donoghue subverts that message,detailing how wilfully dreamy escapism will result in squalor and violence.
Besides it’s a very good pastiche of Sendak’s style. And if you really want to, why not pretend that Max is Don draper for added perversity.
Sendak is gay, so I suppose I could use it to make some tangential link to my usual gubbins, but I shan’t.
And “Where the Wild Things Are “ was one of my first books, which is appropriate, since I was an angry, angry child. (Not every three year old boy when brought to his new prospective parents’ home takes it as an opportunity to lob a brick at them.)

While pressing the magazine on the scanner I was sufficiently bored that I read the original address label on the cover. I was surprised to see that it was addressed to a George Trow living at Grand Street in New York City. I thought it couldn’t be the George Trow who was one of the original founders and editors of “National Lampoon”. But when I checked my other copies from this period they were either addressed to George Trow or Tony Hiss (son of Alger) who was a friend and colleague of Trow, by way of the offices of various New York magazines. How the hell I came to have them I can’t explain, since I bought my “National Lampoon”s indiscriminately and en masse from ebay. But how wonderful to discover that I own copies that actually belonged to an original mover behind the magazine. It’d be even niftier to have a copy owned by Michael O’Donoghue or Doug Kenney, but since Trow was the only gay writer from the golden age of “National Lampoon”, it seems sort of appropriate. Trow is probably better remembered for several lengthy cultural essays he wrote for the “New Yorker in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, which are written in an abstruse, sometimes nearly psychotic manner. I find Trow a fascinating writer, since his attempts to reconcile his WASPy aspirations with his intense attraction to black culture and the lifestyle to be found in New York gossip columns and his repulsion by the predations of mass media on the mainstream consciousness means that there is an intensity and dislocation to his writing that is possibly unique.

I was going to write a bit more about Trow, but it seems to have got out of hand. So click here for more about this unusual man and his legacy.

I’ve previously posted something by Trow – this quasi-gay fashion magazine for the military service.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

300: Edward Sorel and S&M

in "The Village Voice", 28 July 1975

Edward Sorel is a fantastic caricaturist and illustrator, with a deft scratchy style sometimes as detailed as a daguerreotype or etching. Sorel is also ferociously left-wing, an anomaly in American editorial pages, hence his regular stint in the “Village Voice” at a time when that actually meant something. Sorel’s cartoons and illustrations cover four main topics: an aggressive interpretation of American politics, a vehement anti-clericalism, a nostalgia for the films and stars of his youth, and a personal concern for the life of his home, New York City. This cartoon would be almost wholly unexpected from Sorel, except that it does fall into the last category. Sorel doesn’t normally deal in minorities, not when he can give cardinals and popes, tele-evangelists, Nixon, Ford and timeserving local politicos a frenzied thrashing. So readers in the “Village Voice” usually knew what they were going to get - an attack on the common enemy, possibly with a light scourging of liberal doubt and hypocrisy thrown in for a personal ironic touch a la Jules Feiffer. This cartoon provoked a few angry letters in subsequent issues.
think, to be charitable, Sorel is amused by the whole ridiculousness of the thing, with an underlying criticism of politicians pandering to whatever looks likely to appease some voting bloc, even the nascent gay vote. S&M is a development from the gays are effeminate fairies stereotypes, but in its excessive elaboration of an active, almost violent, masculinity’s it’s not really an advance. As a public image, it makes gays just as alien as before - although if you’re persistently getting your rocks off then who cares about good PR for your mutual Tom of Finland fantasies. Which isn’t to argue that S&M wasn’t a distinct subset of gay life. And also that the inhabitants of major cities, with significant gay populations, weren’t unaware that the gay identity was changing. NYC had the Eagle’s Nest, the Anvil, Keller’s and whatever other venues leather fetishists want to get teary-eyed over. So this cartoon probably marks a change, but it’s more than just butch rough trade on display here. A ball-gag is intentionally shocking, particularly on the editorial page, so Sorel is taking advantage of the “Village Voice”’s liberality. The only other ball-gag I’ve found is in a panel in the Dixie Nixon comic strip tucked away in the back pages of “National Lampoon”

Friday, 2 October 2009

299: The Choirboys 1977

The Choir Boys
Screenplay by Christopher Knopf, adapted from the novel by Joseph Wambaugh
Directed by Robert Aldrich

I thought a productive police-comedy-with-gay-content contrast to “Barney Miller” would be the 1977 film “The Choirboys”. But it proved to be even more appropriate than I could have imagined.
Foremost “The Choirboys” is a slack-sphinctered gusset-dribble of a film. Before we even take into account the gay content, this supposed comedy is as amusing as discovering that your wallet has been stolen and the thief has slipped a turd into your pocket. It really is absolute, unmitigated diarrhoea on celluloid. Anyway, enough of the shit analogies – I’m sure you get the idea.
The film covers all the hilarious hi-jinks a Los Angeles police squad use to let off pressure. Squalid frat pranks, by people in authority, indulging their worst nature is a better description. There are some hints of the “Police Academy” series of films in this, but really, it’s probably the unacknowledged progenitor of all those early ‘80s frat-boy flicks, such as “Meatballs”, “Porkies”, et sodding cetera. But pranks which are supposed to be funny when undertaken by horny teens who know no better, are deeply unpleasant when perpetrated by flabby, washed-up immature, sniggering louts in their forties and fifties. There is probably some deeper truth, that men in their forties and fifties would dearly love to behave like stupid teens, but this film barely manages to rise to the level of crass. Sexual humiliation of various types plays a large part and so gibes based on stupid homosexual stereotypes and anxiety about gay men are as natural as breathing
It is a casually macho world in which homosexuals are “fruits” and “faggots” and “cocksuckers”.

A scene about police entrapment for cottaging is probably a new one at this time. It’s a prank going more and more wrong as each cop thinks that the other in this public restroom is a homosexual on the prowl. So you get a wind-up, and that it results in a scene of actual assault only demonstrates the confused tone which makes this film so unpleasant.
It’s hard what to make of the old guy pretending to be gay. Spinning around on tip-toe singing “I’ve got a crush on you...sweetie-pie” in falsetto then blowing a kiss, and then simpering ostentatiously and lasciviously. If you want to be generous, then it’s funny because it’s so wide of the mark of what a homosexual actually is, let alone the mechanisms of a toilet pick-up. But that is to credit the film with a greater sense of irony than it possesses. I suspect, and you’ll probably agree, that it’s supposed to be funny because it’s a burly guy playing a fairy. Objectionable too, is the suggestion that being gay is like being a cripple.

It’s the notorious homosexual with pink poodle scene.
A trouserless cop has been handcuffed to a tree in the middle of a park at night by other cops, and is discovered by a nocturnal homosexual walking his poodle. The poodle is there, and pink to boot, so that before the gay character even opens his mouth the audience will know from the pet, and the leash held on a very high but limp wrist, precisely what he is. And look who’s playing the homosexual Luthor Quigley. It’s Jack De Leon, fresh from playing Marty Morrison in “Barner Miller”. See, it’s all synchronicity. Or lazy casting. Maybe both.
Unfortunately Jack De Leon acquits himself terribly here. He’s not helped by some atrociously written lines, so unnatural as to defy performance. “My God! A naked perssson!” “I can’t believe it! A naked man...tied to a’s a crazy, mad, salacious fantasy” in a coyly disbelieving manner. The joke of the scene is the embarrassment of the cop being found in a compromising position in public by a gay man. But De Leon’s performance is weak and simpering, like some inept breathless southern belle (a fact played up by the romantic soundtrack) constantly clasping his hand to his head. From one shot to the next Quigley doesn’t make sense. It’s just funny to see cops discomforted and angered by the presence of homosexuals. Let alone being hit on when vulnerable.
When subjected to a litany of threats by the restrained cop, De Leon’s camp response of “You’ll do that for me” makes no sense. It’s neither fearful, sarcastic, nor even masochistically appreciative. Also this sort of homosexual wandering around a park late at night doesn’t make much sense either. I suppose the suggestion is that he may be cruising, but an actual cruising sexual homosexual would probably be too much and so the film gives us this fey, leering alien from another world. It’s the same sort of problem reconciling stereotypes to be found in Harvey Kurtzman’s “Annie Fanny” cartoon. .
Of course, the barrage of homophobic abuse in this scene hasn’t helped to endear this film to gay audiences either.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

298: Barney Miller 1975

“Barney Miller” was a sitcom set in a small NYC police office, whose chief of police was the titular character played by hal Linden. This setting reasonably allowed for many oddballs and unusual social specimens outside the normal remit of sitcoms. One of the recurring characters was a gay thief, Marty Morrison, played by Jack De Leon.
Marty first appeared in only the second episode of the series, made another appearance in the first series, and made several more appearances in later series, often with another gay character, his friend (maybe lover?) Darryl Driscoll, played by Ray Stewart.

Marty was largely intended as a relatively positive character. Including him in the second episode of a new series at this time, was one way of demonstrating some degree of commitment to realism. However, what controversy the character provoked, came from the gay community, who had qualms over the character the his portrayal. Strangely enough, I don’t. Either several years of looking at this stuff has left me inured, or else this isn’t as bad as was made out.

Strongly insistent upon the idea of a dignified gay identity, mid-70s gay groups who took an active interest in gay media images would probably be appalled by many of the comedic gays who appear on screen nowadays. Particularly, by the fact that many of them are offered by actual gay men. What offended in the 70s and 80s may not today. And I think this is the case with Marty Morrison.


“Experience” written by Steve Gordon
30 January 1975

Marty is introduced as a secondary character in this episode, and is there mainly as more obvious comic relief to a plot about a mad bomber. A gay thief stealing purses may seem a touch clunky today, and probably struck Gay media advocates as wholly crass then. Marty as a character gets surprisingly strong lines in this episode, and gives as good as he gets. Which can only be a bonus. He speaks in a slight drawl and camply effete manner. Plenty of bitchy retorts (which works well in the normal gag manner of American sitcoms). However, since it’s easy to see how all these could have played in a much more whiny and fey way, or simply pissy manner, Marty therefore seems a stronger character. All in all, De Leon’s performance seems within hailing distance of the characterisations offered by Anthony Cotton over the last decade, or the sort of jokes which are accepted within “Ugly Betty”, particular about fashion, slightly vain, faintly ridiculing unthinking machismo, and slight sexual insinuations.

“Kleptomania is a disease not a crime. Besides. I’ve thrown away better purses than that” (with a whole sequence of gags upbraiding the tackyness of a stolen purse)
Marty upbraids the police photographer for the shoddiness of his picture-taking ability
When Marty talks to his lawyer about police brutality, a line like “Wait until I tell what they gave me for lunch” could have come from any character in that situation witho0ut necessarily seeming over-gay.
“I applied to be a cop. They turned me down. What’s wrong with a gay cop? There are gay robbers. I mean. For god sakes. They always expect me to come on like Paul Bunyan.” (then apes a butch thuggish cop)
When the woman whose purse he stole say “You’re just lucky the police got to you before my husband”, Marty replies “The same to you”.

Undeniably, there are certainly a lot of standard gay mannerisms employed. When Marty’s first shown, he’s languidly propped on the desk, supporting his head on his desk. When sat, he’s usually crosslegged, resting his hands clasped on knee. He also has a slightly limp hand, usually splayed downwards. Walks with slight sashay, elbows hovering above hip and hands, and often speaks so head slightly tilted. Speaks with animated eyebrows and shoulders. When put in the background in a police cell, he tends to pull various moues just to remind us that he’s there. And crosses his arms across his chest, sometimes clutching his shoulders in the process, for a diva-ish manner. And note in the photo how nicely he holds his hands on the prison bars.

He very mildly flirts with the store robber who’s put in his same cell, and when threatened Marty doesn’t quite crumble into shrill hysterics (unlike some of the homosexuals in crime films of the same period – although I’ll concede it’s a near call). And there is a scene where he shows envy of the police dealing with a male flasher

For all that the episode centers around the bomb plot, Marty/ Jack De Leon holds his own so that the character is not merely a simple camp comedic relief, is a bit more assertive. The character is played in such a way that the all elements cohere and so makes sense without being an obvious stereotype or mockery. Marty makes sense. Just as importantly, all the other characters on-screen accept him for what he is. There are no fag jokes at his expense.


“The Guest” written by William Taub
27 March 1975

This is Marty’s second appearance later in the first season, so evidently the character was felt successful enough for a return visit. Again Marty is in the episode as comic relief, while the ostensible motor of the episode is the squad’s attempt to protect a Mob witness. Again Marty is unashamed of his homosexuality, nor does he doe much to deny his thefts either, though there isn’t any cack-handed attempt to relate the two. Unlike the first episode, there are a few slight swish jokes by others at Marty’s expense. The policeman who brings him for shoplifting calls him “Dr Strangelove”.
There are a few opportunities for camp insinuations. Marty pulls a face when officer comments “There are no privates on the police force”
And when the Mob witness, scared for his life, complains that Marty wasn’t frisked, Barney Miller replies ”You’re right. I didn’t have the nerve...Marty’s not gonna kill you. Take you to dinner maybe”

Marty’s own strand follows from the reason he stole luggage from a shop, which he explains in Barney’s office.

Marty: “I’m getting married”
Barney: (interested) Really? Who’s the lucky...person?
(The person Marty describes is a woman, with lots of comparisons to his mother, leading to the confession he’s only marrying for money)
When Barney says “I won’t book. But I’m going to have to hold you”, this provokes a look from Marty, with Barney replying: “Just a police expression”

When Marty is locked up in the cell with the Mob witness, much of his contribution to the episode is slightly catty things said in the background – although in reality they’re no different from the wisecracks any other character might say, but done with a camp manner.
When the Mob witness starts detailing all the reasons why he never found the right woman and was distracted by other things, Marty takes a distinct interest, echoing him almost romantically, and casting wide eyes at him. When Marty is released he tells the Mob witness, “I really enjoyed our...brief encounter”. Marty is at the door about to leave when he turns back and ask “Are you a Scorpio?” When the Mob witness replies, yes, Marty moans” “Oh God I knew it” and leaves semi-anguished. Later in the episode, the police station receives a phone call, which evidently a hysterical tearful Marty phoning after Mr Schuster.

The Marty performance holds together again. But the way it’s been written this time indulge several other gay stereotypes - a certain mother-obsession, and also unmanly over emotionalism. Since Marty is marrying an unseen woman for money, but the falls for the Mob witness, it makes gay affections seem rather unreliable (but then this is a 23 minute comedy so realism is asking a bit much).


“The Discovery” written by Chris Hayward
30 October 1975 explains some of the background to this episode. The gay audience had not been pleased by Marty and their complaints were forwarded by the Gay Media Task Force. So to placate gay viewers, not only does this episode have a specifically gay theme, harassment of homosexuals, but it also introduces a non-stereotypical gay police officer. The harassment at first looks as thought it may originate in the police, with gays be shaken down for money. Barney is offended by this and is determined to find out what’s happening. Set against this, one of the officers, Wojo, makes his discomfort about homosexual evident with various small jokes. Wojo, a slightly dumb but usually well-meaning character, was often used in the series to point up the sort of low-grade, institutional bigotry many people employ. Significantly, after the perpetrators have been found, and Wojo has been incidentally reprimanded, he manages to reach some sort of accommodation with the idea of homosexuality. And so in the course of the episode, in the low-key manner available to a sitcom, Wojo demonstrates the police prejudice against homosexuals. The episode is not just about showing the two gay men as slightly more than comic relief (although the querulous cowardice on Darryl’s part doesn’t help), but also finding opportunities for Wojo’s education.
Also this episode introduces another recurring gay character, Darryl Driscoll, played by Ray Stewart. Both men are here in a non-criminal capacity to argue against injustice. Although as casual wear for two off-duty homosexuals go, these two are dressed oddly.

(Darryl and Marty appear quarrelling at doorway to the squad room)
D: I don’t like it her
M: Don’t be silly
(Marty swans in. When Wojo looks at him, Darryl gives him haughty look, and walks to Marty)
D: This is enemy territory

M (To Barney Miller) We have a problem
W: (dryly) no kidding
M (sotto to D) He was the one I was telling you about. Can we speak to you captain (so W hears) Privately
Goes into office (makes moue as goes past B)
W: if you need any help in there (to other guys) Those guys make me nervous

M: Darryl was arrested by a detective from this precinct
B: What charge
D: Being Unique
M: He was coming out of the Velvet Den when he was busted. He had to buy his way out for 50 dollars
D: I told you he’d be angry. We’ll never be seen again (turns away to shield his head in his hand). He gave me a choice. Either pay through the nose or bleed through it...he was ugly
B: Tall ugly or short ugly
M: When you’re ugly what’s the difference?
D: He was a bit shorter than me
B: 5’11?
D: No. 6’3. I was wearing my platforms
(All three go back in office to ensure that it was not one of B’s officers. M waves D with fingers to follow. B introduces W)
D: I haven’t had the pleasure (extends long limp hand which B doesn’t take, so folds his hand below his waist)
(When B sits D to look through records, M pats D’s shoulder approvingly
D: I hope this doesn’t take too long. I have a lecture at noon – I’m having lunch with my mother (weary look from M)
(A potential suicide has been brought in. He is divorced. He is questioned about personal life.)
Suicide: Of course I live alone. What do you think I am? (loud enough for M and D to hear and then turn to each other pulling offended faces)
(When the suicide suddenly runs off causing a disturbance – M puts hand to cheek in shock)
W: The guys some fruitcake (to M and D) no offence (Both give slightly haughty offended glares at him)
W: (sotto to Barney, confused) How do guys get like that
(shot of both pouring over records like happy old maids)
B: Who knows? Could be a small psychological phenomenon kicked off by anything
W: (chewing gum) Diet?
B: Possibly
W: I try and keep a good eye on my starches
B: (beat) You worried
W: (trying to laugh it off) Me? No........(abashed) Well, every once in a while I wonder (B gives him look) Don’t you?
B: No
W: I guess that’s one of the things I admire about you
(Later there is a conversation between M and the suicide now in jail, heavily suggesting M has tried suicide)
Suicide: We all have different problem
M (clasping and fingering cell bars) I wanted to be John Wayne until I was 17. (M’s fingers splayed near his throat) And then one day I didn’t anymore. I wanted to die. Then I heard Doris Day singing Que Sera Sera. And I though she’s right. There’s nothing wrong with me.
Suicide: I’m a perfectly normal man
M: (slightly huffy) Well if you want to settle for that, it’s perfectly alright by me
W: I have sheets here of guys who have a record of beating up sex
B: Are you referring to women?
W: No, I’m referring to those guys
B: (calmly) They’re not the opposite sex
W: Well they are so for me...aren’t they?
Other cop: No to me. I don’t care (walks off)
B: (firmly) They preferred to be called “gay”
W: I know. But .. I just have trouble saying it

(Policeman brings in another man. D jumps up)
D: O my God! That’s the man! (goes behind M as a shield) I told you he was ugly
M: (aghast) You were being kind!
D: Oh yes that’s him (goes close, then puts arm in front of face to suggest how hideous man is)
(Sergeant explains how man accosted him outside of gay bar. B laughs about how anyone could think a NY cop was gay)
Sergeant says pointedly “Que sera sera”.
Sergeant , man, M and D go off.
M – I told you they were human (refers to cops, or because one might be gay??)

In tag scene, W is finally able to use the word “gay”