Diário de Karlsruhe III – cross-dressing no primeiro cinema (minha apresentação)

Mais um post da série sobre o Stummfilm Festival de Karlsruhe, na Alemanha, para o qual eu fui selecionada como membro do Collegium / Workshop com a pesquisadora Laura Horak. Os outros dois posts da série podem ser lidos aqui e aqui.

Como eu já disse, o tema desse ano foi Cross-dressing no Cinema Silencioso. Cada um dos 5 membros do Collegium devia fazer uma apresentação de 15 minutos sobre qualquer questão relacionada ao tema. A minha fala teve como foco o primeiro cinema.

Todas as dicussões foram em inglês. Decidi publicar minha fala na íntegra e, por isso, vou transcrever aqui em inglês mesmo. Sei que pode ser meio estranho colocar um texto em inglês aqui, mas foi assim que eu apresentei e, quando comecei a traduzir para o português ficou super estranho e ia dar um trabalho enorme! Espero que, ainda assim, possa ser proveitoso. E se alguém puder me ajudar com correções e questionamentos, seria muito bom! Eu não entendo muito desse assunto, então adoraria aprender mais!

Se alguém quiser ler em português, indico meu post “Cross-dressing no primeiro cinema: quais os efeitos?“, que é uma ampliação do texto que eu mandei para o festival quando me inscrevi para o Collegium. Não é o mesmo que a minha apresentação, mas quebra um galho!

Bom… Então lá vai. Tirei algumas partes do começo em que eu dizia quem eu sou e qual meu foco de pesquisa… Não preciso dizer isso aqui no blog, né? Fora isso não mexi em nada. Está como eu apresentei lá, no dia 6 de março de 2014.

palestra karlsruhe

Eu, durante a minha apresentação no Stummfilm Festival de Karlsruhe, Alemanha (março/2014)

I am here today to talk about some senses of cross-dressing in early cinema. I am the only collegian who is going to talk specificly about this period so I hope we can take this moment to focus on it… It is a period of experimentation and singular characteristcs.
I will start by talking about cross-dressing, then I will say some words about early cinema and then I will show and analyse a film made by french director Alice Guy in 1906.
I would like to apologize in advance for any mistakes that I shall make… I am not used to doing presentations in English like this yet. I am not a specialist in cross-dressing in film, nor in gender related issues, nor in Alice Guy’s work… What I intend to do is to bring our discussion to this early period of film history.

Cross-dressing describes the practice of wearing clothes or accessories commonly associated with the “opposite” gender. We know many cases in History of people who disguise as other gender for many reasons. Women have dressed like men to access forbiden spheres, like the war or work places, for exemple. Men have also done this to hide their identities in cases that they had the possibility of being arrested for some crime or something… In carnival, cross-dressing once was a key element of anarchic expression. And, of course, people have done it because of their gender identity.
And as Laura Horak, specialist in gender and sexuality in media and entertainment culture, says:

Cross–gender casting has a long history in theater. Although men played women more often than the opposite, women too performed their share of male parts—from the “breeches” roles of the 16th through the 19th century, to the male impersonators of the vaudeville stage and the “principal boys” of British Christmas pantomime. [1]

Besides knowing many cases of cross-dressing in History, it’s very difficult to find transvestites, homosexuals or transsexuals in the early films. Movies portraying these kinds of characters in the beginnings of cinema, if existing, were probably exhibited marginally. Most likely, the social stigma attached to these kinds of images kept them from making the official film histories.
We know that the public sphere is historically dominated by men. And the social differences between men and women are still a current issue. But we also know that the turn of the century was a moment of huge changes in that scenario. The struggle for the feminine suffrage helped women to start leaving the domestic space. They started to occupy the streets, amusement parks, departament stores and other spaces of consumption and social coexistence…
Gender theorist Judith Butler suggests that the “acts” through which gender is constructed have similarities with theatrical gestures. [2] They would then be associated to an exteriority of the body. Since the body, in early cinema, is central and the interiority of the characters is not relevant (as will be in the hegemonic cinema of the teens), it could be productive to analyze the representation of gender in this period.

Early cinema
The movie I brought to show to you today is Alice Guy’s The consequences of feminism. As I said it is from 1906 and this year is an important date for early cinema history. It was from 1906, for example, that fictional films started outnumbering actuality films.
The so-called “cinema of attractions” period ends precisely in 1906-7. Tom Gunning describes it as

a cinema that directly solicits spectator attention, inciting visual curiosity, and supplying pleasure through an exciting spectacle – a unique event, that is of interest in itself. Fictional situations tend to be restricted to gags, vaudeville numbers or recreations of shocking or curious incidents. The cinema of attractions expends little energy creating characters with psychological motivations or individual personality. [3]

So it is an exhibitionist cinema, very different from the films that follow, which are longer and focus much more on telling a story. Cinema of attractions does not disappear after 1906, but rather continues as a component of narrative films, more evident in some genres like the musical. And we can also see some elements of attractions in avant-garde cinema and even later…
From 1904, an important genre, the “chase film”, embodied the transition between attraction and narrative. This kind of films shows a character that is chased by a group of persuers from one location to the next. Each shot is held until pursued and pursuers exit the frame. The next shot begins this movement through the frame over again. So these films present a series of attractions linked by a visual and sutle narrative continuity.
But let’s go back to cross-dressing! Most of the films of this period in which we find cross-dressing are those in which a female character is interpreted by a man for comic effect (The old maid having her picture taken, Edison, 1901, for example) or for “practical” reasons: when the character appears wearing only her underwear (and it is not an erotic film) or when the role requires some physical effort (Her first ride bike, Pathé, 1907, for example). In other films, the change is subtler: not necessarily containing cross-dressing, but in which the woman has the dominating role while the man is naïve or fragile (The Landlady, Gaumont, 1900).

Alice Guy
In the work of french director Alice Guy we find a productive field for this discussion. She occupied positions commonly dominated by men: she is considered to be the first woman filmmaker, beginning making films in 1896. Later, in 1910, she founded her own company, Solax, in the United States, and then built her own studio in Fort Lee (New Jersey) in 1912.
Cross-dressing and gender issues in general appear in the films of Alice Guy in many ways. There are films which show marital equality, women using weapons normally handled by men, role reversal without cross-dressing…
At the hypnotist’s (Chez le Magnétiseur) a movie from 1898, shows a mesmerist hypnotising a woman, then using a magnetic force to remove her clothes and reveal the fact that the woman is actually a man. But this is just a simple example… Let’s watch the film I brought. As I said, it is called The consequences of feminism.

Film analysis
It takes place in the future, when women, through feminist struggle, have taken the place of men. The women carry canes, wear ties and men’s top hats, are aggressive and leave home for work. The men carry sunshades, wear flowers on their hair and take care of the children and the house. The oppression of the women over the men is such that they create a rebellion, retake the public space and celebrate, ironically, over beer.
The film is from 1906 and it has 7 minutes. [Nesse ponto eu mostrei o filme na íntegra, então aí vai!]

At the beginning, we see some men working at a hatmaking shop, a traditionally women’s occupation. And then we see women smoking and reading papers while men iron; women carrying guns and smoking pipes… Disputing to be with a man… It can be a little difficult for us to understand, but there is a narrative. A man is used by a woman (in the original script she is called Doña Juana). He leaves his family to be with her but she prefers to stay at the bar. By the end of the film, when they meet again after many years (so it seems) the young man begs her to return home with him. She ignores him, so he throws acid in her face. Then he and other husbands, tired of being abandoned by their wives, create the rebellion.
I think the movie is an example of the “period of narrativization”. In a way, like the “chase film”, The consequences of feminism shows a synthesis of attractions and narrative. In this case, the attractions are, I believe, the ambiguous characterization of men and women. But the most interesting part of the film, more than the clothes, is the behavior of the characters.
Unlike the “temporary transvestite film” – like “Some like it hot” (Billy Wilder, 1959) and “Victor and Victoria” (Blake Edwards, 1982), analyzed by Chris Straayer [4] -, in which there is an emphasis on biological sex differences, Alice Guy’s film shows precisely that gender differences have nothing to do with nature. When we see men doing things and acting like we are used to see women doing and acting, we start to think about gender comportment as a historical construction. And an important aspect of the film’s scenario is that it is set in the future… Like the title of it’s remake from 1912 (made by Alice Guy in Solax Studios, in the United States), the story takes place “In the year 2000”. By setting the story in the future and showing a time very different from ours (in a way), it suggests that gender comportments change over time.
In the “temporal tranvestite film” the cross-dressed character normally learns how to be “a better man” or “a better woman” by experiencing the apposite gender life. But in Alice Guy’s film there is no such thing. There is also no “unmasking” in this film. Who can learn something about gender behavior is perhaps the spectator.
In the film the interiority of the characters is not very relevant. More interesting is to see women and men in the opposite gender situations and see how they deal with it.
But I should talk more about the ending of the film, when men banish women from the café. This ending is ambiguous: does the film show the superiority of men? That men and women should remain in their socially bound spaces? Or does it show how gestures and garments construct gender identity? Aside from the comical effect, the picture also makes us think about the roles we play in a sexist society. The exchange of roles in the movie is absurd, as is the widespread idea that behaviors related to gender are the work of nature.
The ending is interesting because it brings back what is “normal” in our society, in other words, the domination of men over women. But at the same time it shows a rebellion of the opressed.
So I believe that the most important aspect of the film is the denaturalization of the opression of men over women.
We know that clothes and other objects can carry gender-specific meanings… So I would like to finish my presentation bringing an interesting question made by Alison McMahan, an specialist in Alice Guy’s work: “If the markers of our gender identity are so easily changeable, what does that say about identity itself?” [5]

[1] “Edna ‘Billy’ Foster, the Biograph Boy”, Laura Horak, p 256-261. In: “Not so silent – women in Cinema before Sound”, Sofia Bull, Astrid Söderbergh Widding (eds.).
[2] “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: an Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory”, Judith Butler.
[3] “The cinema of attractions: Early film, its spectator and the Avant-Garde”, Tom Gunning, p 58. In: “Early cinema: space, frame, narrative”, Thomas Elsaesser (ed.).
[4] “Redressing the “Natural”: the temporary transvestite film”, p. 42-78. In: “Deviant eyes, deviant bodies: sexual re-orientations in film and video”, Chris Straayer.
[5] “Alice Guy Blaché: Lost visionary of the cinema”, Alison McMahan, p 226.


No próximo e último post da série sobre o festival de cinema silencioso de Karlsruhe vou escrever sobre os filmes exibidos que mais chamaram a minha atenção!

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