Monday 13 August 2012

Our Beautiful Wickedness: On Reading Films Queerly. In Memory of Alexander Doty

An audiovisual collage made by Catherine Grant in memory of Alexander Doty, 
brilliant author of numerous key texts in LGBT and queer film and cultural studies, 
including the one quoted from in this video: Flaming Classics: Queering the Film Canon 
(London and New York: Routledge, 2000)

[C]lassic [film] texts and personalities actually can be more queer-suggestive than “openly” gay, lesbian, or bisexual texts. That is, the coding of classic or otherwise “mainstream” texts and personalities can often yield a wider range of non-straight readings because certain sexual things could not be stated baldly—and still cannot or will not in most mainstream products—thus often making it more difficult to categorize the erotics of a film or a star. Of course, if you aren’t careful, this line of thought can begin to sound like an argument valorizing the closet, for understanding queerness as always something “connotated” or suggested (and never really there “denotatively”), for “subtexting,” and for “subcultural” readings. But since I don’t see queer readings as any less there, or any less real, than straight readings of classic or otherwise “mainstream” texts, I don’t think that what I do in this book is colluding with dominant representational or interpretive regimes that seek to make queerness “alternative” or “sub” straight. [Alexander Doty, Flaming Classics, pp. 1-2]
In short, my whole life had led me to that piece on The Wizard of Oz. Only by drawing together aspects of autobiography, fandom, pedagogy, and academic training could I express (and, for some, justify) my “queer reception” love for the film, while also recognizing its ideological lapses–largely centered on the butch Elmira Gulch/the Wicked Witch of the West, I might add. [Alexander Doty,  in Henry Jenkins et al, 'Acafandom and Beyond: Alex Doty, Abigail De Kosnik, and Jason Mittell (Part One)', Confessions of an Acafan, September 28, 2011]

Film Studies For Free was shocked and very saddened at the news, just over a week ago, of the untimely death of Alexander Doty, a truly trailblazing film and media scholar.

Doty, Indiana University Professor of Gender Studies and Communication and Culture (and chair of the latter department) was the author of two classic and highly enjoyable books in queer audiovisual cultural studies: Making Things Perfectly Queer (University of Minnesota Press, 1993) and Flaming Classics: Queering the Film Canon (Routledge, 2000). He also co-edited, with Corey Creekmur, the hugely important collection Out in Culture: Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Essays on Popular Culture (Continuum, 1995) and edited two special issues of Camera Obscura on divas.

While Doty didn't claim to have invented queer cultural reading as a scholarly practice, he wowed us with the brilliance, daring and sincerity of his interpretations, ones often deeply rooted in his personal, affective experiences of the cultural forms he was studying. In so doing, he succeeded in showing countless other students of film and media texts why it is so vital to engage in these critical practices in public, why it is essential to be good at them, as well as what is seriously at stake in many identity or, indeed, existence-based scholar-fandoms, like those often engaged in by LGBT subjects.

If, as the Wizard of Oz tells us, 'A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others', the many tributes to Doty that have appeared in the last week prove, beyond any doubt, that he had an excellent heart. He certainly had a very courageous one. He, his unique voice, and the work he would have gone on to produce, had his life not been so cruelly cut short, will be hugely missed.

As well as putting together the video collage at the top of this entry, which introduces Doty's compelling justification for queer reading, if not the (possibly even more compelling) details of his actual queer reading of The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939), FSFF has also assembled a list of links in Doty's memory to online studies which perform queer readings of films and moving image culture, as well as openly accessible studies of some films that perform their own queer readings. Two further FSFF video essays are embedded--on Elizabeth Taylor and on "queer Hitchcock", both of which intersect with, and were partly inspired by Doty's own work on these and other themes.

That long list is preceded by a growing collection of links to the online tributes to Doty that have appeared since his death (this will be kept updated), as well as to his own, openly accessible, scholarly work online. FSFF's author very gratefully acknowledges the generosity of Anthony Bleach and the Facebook group Friends of Alexander Doty in assembling the first two of these three lists. Although she only knew Doty through his published work, she would like to convey her condolences for his loss to all those whose lives were graced, as so many evidently were, by knowing him personally.

Finally, at the very foot of today's entry is a call for contributions to a new website for the Global Queer Cinema project (to be launched in September). It will seek to live up to the high standards that Doty's work set for queer cultural critique as it aims to provide a new, openly accessible, internationalist resource for queer film and cultural studies. FSFF will update its readers about this exciting project in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, FSFF is sad that one of those who have most inspired LGBT film studies scholarship will not be around to witness his influence on this project.

Rest in queer peace, Alexander Doty.

Online tributes to Alexander Doty
Online work by Alexander Doty 
Online studies, or performances, of queer reading

Framing Incandescence: Elizabeth Taylor in JANE EYRE by Catherine Grant

Skipping ROPE (with audio commentary) by Catherine Grant. First published in Frames, 1, 2012. Transcript available.

Call For Queer Reading/Writing Contributions 
to the new Global Queer Cinema website

Contributions are invited to the Global Queer Cinema website, hosted by the School of Media, Film and Music at the University of Sussex, UK. The site will be launched in early September 2012. 
The website forms part of the Global Queer Cinema project, an international academic research network project funded by the UK's Arts and Humanities Research Council and based at the University of Sussex. The project is led by Rosalind Galt (University of Sussex) and Karl Schoonover (University of Warwick). The network held its first event in May of this year.
The project website will be run in conjunction with Catherine Grant (University of Sussex and Film Studies For Free) and Laura Ellen Joyce, GQC Project Co-ordinator, and will continue beyond the length of the project, acting in part as an open access archive and news filter for project-generated material, and related queer film studies resources. 
We welcome contributions from researchers interested in queer (and queering) cinema, cultural studies, media, global studies, gender and sexuality, filmmakers, artists, writers and interdisciplinary scholars, or those with an interest in the practice, exploration and dissemination of film. The below list of topics and frameworks. 
  • Queer frames
  • Queer uncanny
  • Queer sounds and music
  • Queer illusions
  • Queer film festivals
  • Queer decades
  • Queer directors
  • Queer avant garde and DIY
  • New Queer Cinema
  • New releases
  • Classic films
  • Androgyny and pandrogyny
  • Queer cosmetics and prosthetics
  • In-depth essays on single films
  • Short essays on single images

We therefore invite short takes of 250 - 300 words, or longer essays (MLA style) of around 1500-2000 words for more in-depth analysis. Multimedia work (non-copyright infringing - using fair use/fair dealing principles) is very welcome. The above list of topics is not exhaustive, and we invite contributions on any topic or theme which you feel would may (queerly) fit our general ethos. Please correspond with us about any proposals for content by email at GQCproject[at]gmail[dot]com, on Twitter at @g_q_c, and do please 'like' us on Facebook. Thank you.

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