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1 THE SPIRIT OF SPECTACLE: ANXIETIES OF AUTHENTICITY AND THE PUNKED RENAISSANCE FILM By JAMES NEWLIN A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2009
2 2009 James Newlin
3 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ABSTRACT .......................................................................................................................................... 4 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION ......................................................................................................................... 6 2 VIOLATING DUSTY OLD PLAYS: DEREK JARMANS VISION OF THE RENAISSANCE AND PUNK DISCOURSE ........................................................................... 26 3 FAIR HUSTLERS IN BLACK LEATHER: HUSTLER NARRATIVES, SHAKESPEARE AND ALTERNATIVE MUSIC IN VAN SANTS MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO ........................................................................................................................ 43 4 THE (NO) FUTURE OF THE PUNKED RENAISSANCE FILM: CONSIDERING AUTHENTICITY AND PROPHECY WITH NELSONS O AND COXS REVENGERS TRAGEDY ............................................................................................................ 57 5 CONCLUSION ........................................................................................................................... 72 WORKS CITED ................................................................................................................................. 76 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............................................................................................................. 84
4 Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts THE SPIRIT OF SPECTACLE: ANXIETIES OF AUTHENTICITY AND THE PUNKED RENAISSANCE FILM By James Newlin May 2009 Chair: Richard Burt Major: English In this analysis of what I call the Punked Renaissance Film, I am querying the critical assumptions ab out authenticity and staged spectacle often made about both early modern British drama and punk and alternative rock subcultures. These issues are at the forefront of an underexamined subgenre of films that use the signage of punk subcultures to reinterpr et early modern or Renaissance drama for filmed adaptations. Specifically, my thesis addresses films by Derek Jarman, Gus Van Sant, and Alex Cox. Using theorists and critics like Stephen Orgel, Joel Fineman, and R. Allen Shoaf, I examine the familiar tro pe of conflating adaptation with raping a text. In this sense, punk, with its etymological link to prison rape, serves not only a stylistic function for the Punked Renaissance filmmakers, but also an ontological one as well. It is my contention that these films do more than just rape the texts that they are adapting: they punk them. It is precisely in their departures (departures which are also penetrations) that these sometimes quite shocking films tap into the spirit of spectacle that haunts our critical readings of early modern drama. My introduction partly addresses the problem of the punk rock film; namely, does it exist? Punk is a notoriously contentious term and concept, and I challenge a number of assumptions and claims about its defin ition by prominent cultural critics like Rombes and
5 Hebdige. I suggest that punks true frozen dialectic is not Hebdiges reading of punks interplay between black and white culture, but rather between queer and straight subcultures. This understanding of queerness informs the Punked Renaissance films, both in their understanding of adaptation/translation as rape and in their content (both Jarman and Van Sant are associated with the New Queer Cinema). In the following chapters, I read the impulses of J arman, Van Sant, and Coxs treatments of Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Middleton as punk. In my Jarman chapter, I read the often critically ignored pop promos that Jarman directed as a vital feature in his career long interrogation of the Renaissance. In m y analysis of Van Sants My Own Private Idaho, I focus on the way Van Sant positions Shakespeares Henriad alongside a variety of other paratexts (such as songs by the Pogues and B 52s and the hustler narratives of JT LeRoy) so that Shakespeare penetrates Van Sants text, and not vice versa. Finally, using Tim Blake Nelsons O (a hip -hop revision of Othello ) as a counterexample, I assess whether a twenty -first century example of the Punked Renaissance film like Coxs Revengers Tragedy can make the same cl aims of authenticity and spectacle as earlier example, focusing on Nelson and Coxs claims of prophecy and realness regarding the Columbine massacre and the attack on the World Trade Center. It is my hope that this discussion of the Punked Renaissance F ilm provides valuable insights into the use of figurative language in critical discourse, as well as a helpful critical understanding of this genre of film.
6 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Punk rock died when the first kid said punks not dead. The Silver Jews Tennessee Does the punk rock film genre even actually exist? There are certainly films about punk, punks, and punk rock. As of early 2009, Netflix listed 307 items under the category punk nearly half as many films as they list under the catego ry France. And even at its outset, punk rock and its accompanying youth movement was a filmed and filmic phenomenon: not only were many of the earliest gigs filmed, but the impulses and artistic concerns that grew into punk impresario Malcolm McLarens SEX shop and his conception of the Sex Pistols first arose in his discarded Oxford Street film project, begun while he was an art student at Goldsmiths College (Savage 40 1). According to Jon Savages indispensable history of the British punk movement, a s well as other sources, McLaren always envisioned his Pistols in cinematic terms. Early in the movement, he emphasized the distinction New Wave over punk, because of the obvious allusion to French cinema, and he began constructing the Sex Pistols movie that would grow into The Great Rock N Roll Swindle well before the band even had a recording contract. Though probably the most famous punk band, the Pistols are not wholly representative of this highly disputed subculture (former punk musician, novel ist, and general punk historian Stewart Home argues the Pistols were not a PUNK band at all) (10). While not every punk band had a manager/Svengali like McLaren, a stage show rooted in spectacle is clearly a prerequisite of the genre. That punk was s omething to see as well as (perhaps more than) something to hear may help explain the proliferation of documentaries about punk rock that emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including Amos Poes The Blank Generation (1976),
7 Don Lettss The Punk Rock Movie (1978), Lech Kowalskis D.O.A. (1980), and Penelope Spheeriss The Decline of Western Civilization (1981). Each of those films are a generalized study of a single, localized punk scene, but the documentary film impulse splinters and extends to indi vidual punk bands as well: the partly fictionalized Swindle (dir. Temple, 1980) and Rude Boy (about the Clash) (dirs. Hazan and Mingay, 1980), X: The Unheard Music (dir. Morgan, 1986), and the plethora of tour diary videos that make up the bulk of the Ne tflix list. Perhaps tellingly, the finest examples of the tour diary film (films marketed primarily towards the bands fans and released directly to home -viewing formats like VHS or DVD) appear during the 1990s: Sonic Youths 1991: The Year Punk Broke (d ir. Markey, 1992), Fugazis Instrument (dir. Cohen, 1998), and G.G. Allins Hated (dir. Phillips, 1994).1 Can individual bands command a fuller focus only after discussions about the historical moment of 1970s punk concluded?2 Or is the growing demand fo r documentaries about punk and independent rock bands simply a result of the growing affordability of home video media, as films like Lettss The Punk Rock Movie no doubt are indebted to the growing pervasiveness of Super 8 in the 1970s? Regardless, there are a lot of documentaries about punk rock and punk rock bands. But are these films themselves inherently punk films? Stylistically, most of these films are no different from that prototype for the tour diary film, D.A. Pennebakers Dont Look Back (1 967). Even the more adventurous or avant -garde examples of the genre (such as Instrument or The 1But the trend has certainly not ceased. The twenty first century has seen no abetting of punk bands or videos. Some punk bands who have released tour diary, concert, or retrospective documentary films in the 2000s include: the Bouncing Souls, Against Me!, the Dropkick Murphys, the Refused, and Blink 182. 2 The debate over whether or not punk is dead will inform, but not be a focus of, this paper. Discussions of punks death are legion. Those interested in historicizing the splinter genres of New Wave (also known as New Pop), Hardcore, Post Punk, and Indie Rock, which grew during the 1980s, should consult Reynoldss Rip It Up And Start Again, which focuses largely on U.K. acts, and Azerrads Our Band Could Be Your Life which focuses exclusively on American underground rock bands.
8 Year Punk Broke ) are no more so than Jean -Luc Godards Sympathy For the Devil (1968) or Robert Franks Cocksucker Blues (1972). But we do not refer to Dont L ook Back as a folk film or Cocksucker Blues as a rock film. Documentaries like Martin Scorseses The Last Waltz (1978) are generally considered music films, but they are distinctly not considered musicals: the distinction refers to the subject mat ter, and not the films genre or method. Perhaps the punk film, if it exists, is a fictional, narrative one; Derek Jarmans imaginative Jubilee (1978) is commonly considered the first punk movie, and scene documentarians Poe and Spheeris both went on t o direct fiction films focused on characters or starring actors who identified as punks (Gibson 364).3 But this is ultimately the same question that the punk documentaries raised; namely, do we identify the genre based on its subject matter? Take these t wo differing views of Alex Coxs punk rock biopic Sid and Nancy (1986), a fictionalized account of the final days of Sid Vicious, the ultimate punk, and his girlfriend Nancy Spungeon: the punk history, which takes up roughly the first half of the film, g ets it only partly right. But once Sid and Nancy move to America, the romance kicks into overdrive, and, in an odd and even charming way, with that romance, the movie becomes legitimately punk. It thrashes expectations who would have thought to tell th e story of punk by depicting the love of two people for each other? Perhaps no one, and thats the punk thing about it. (Rubio 149) and: Punk rock movies are shambolic. Or at least they ought to be. Both Coxs Sid and Nancy and Spheeriss Suburbia may b e feature films which have the veneer of punk punk characters, punk living, punk music but neither are essentially punk rock movies. Lech Kowalskis D.O.A., on the other hand, is. Of course, there is a natural divide in that Kowalski is no filmmaker and he lacks the technical competence of Cox and Spheeris, but Kowalski brings to his film an impetuous energy his shortcomings as a filmmaker result 3 Spheeriss Suburbia (1984) is concerned with a group of teen runaways who build a squatters community in the midst of the Los Angeles punk scene, and features performances from D.I., T.S.O.L., and the Vandals. Poes fiction films, often featuring punk luminaries like Debbie Harry, Anya Philips, and Lydia Lunch, are best understood as a part of the New Yorkbased No Wave scene of the early 1980s. For a discussion of No Wave, see Masters or Sargeant.
9 in a form of earnest anarchism and the film itself the visual equivalent of the Three Chord Trick. (Kereke s 69) In these two punk analyses of Sid and Nancy we can detect a series of assumptions about what this vexing word may mean for film and cultural studies. From a purely formal standpoint, Kerekess criticism seems unfair. In his equation, the punk fi lm is a documentary, the not -punk one a fictionalized biography. The latter requires a script and an element of foresight and planning that the documentary does not; a shambolic documentary could well be fascinating because of its subject matter, wherea s a shambolic fiction film would likely be unwatchable in spite of its subject matter. But Rubios analysis is unfair as well: what exactly does it mean to be legitimately punk? To be able to thrash expectations? Then how could the Ramones, who wore the same outfits and never veered from the same basic song structure for nearly a quarter of a century, be considered punk? Rubios understanding about the punk viewer or listeners expectations seems illogical upon reflection, but Kerekess correlation between earnest anarchism and the three chord trick (i.e. the I IV -V progression) is equally contradictory. What is anarchic, or even all that impetuous, about reverting again and again to a predetermined and easily identifiable chord progression? Bot h analyses teeter between concrete observations and suggestions (clarifying the films romance or technical competence) and a mystical understanding about punks energy. In one reading, Sid and Nancy demonstrates a sufficient amount of energy as i t kicks into overdrive; in the other, Sid and Nancy lacks energy because it lacks impetuousness. But if punk was anarchic and impetuous, does that suggest that punk music is always improvised? While a Sex Pistols concert may well be anarchic or c haotic John Holmstrom described the bands infamous San Antonio performance, where Viciouss attack on a fan with a bass led to a full -on riot, as what Punk Rock was supposed to be, the ultimate show the record Never
10 Mind The Bullocks is flawlessly pla yed, carefully produced, and without a missed or wrong note (qtd. in Savage 449). The songs are certainly energetic, but they are never shambolic; the party line is that the punks could not play their instruments, but even a cursory listen to Bullocks pro ves that, at worst, the band had technical competence. Why is Kowalskis film more punk for lacking it? Kowalski says Sid and Nancy is not punk because Coxs filmmaking is too accomplished; Rubio says that the film is punk for something that it does not really do. The American passages of Sid and Nancy are where the film kicks into overdrive? Those scenes maintain a far slower tempo than the earlier, largely expositional scenes set in Britain often quite literally so, such as during the gorgeous, i conic, and slow -motioned shot of Sid and Nancy kissing in the midst of cascading garbage. What Rubio means by the films overdrive may have to do with the tension imbued in the viewers awareness of the plots trajectory. Even for viewers who were unaw are of the titular characters early passing will know how it ends: Coxs film opens with Nancys death and then flashes back. But Rubio writes that it has more to do with Sid and Nancy s traditionalism: that it is, in many ways, an old Hollywood roman ce. In Rubios reading, Sid and Nancy is punk precisely because it is not really all that punk.4 The logic of these punk film critics seems to be as fluid as Justice Potter Stewarts: as with pornography, we know punk when we see it. By contrast, Stacy Thompsons materialist analysis of punk cinema is far more inflexible: two vectors run through punk as a whole, aesthetics and economics. The history of punk is the history of the interplay between these two lines of force which find expression in and thr ough one another. Within punk productions, the aesthetics always give voice to the underlying economics and vice versa. Consequently, there is no purely punk aesthetic or economics; neither can stand alone. (22) 4 Alex Cox himself describes the films narrative structure as fairly conservative (qtd. in Mendik 197).
11 By punk economics, Thompson means produc ing punk records outside of the Big Five system; therefore, the punk cinema must produce film outside of the Big Nine. 5 According to Thompsons understanding, a band like Green Day would not be punk just because they released their breakthrough album Dookie on Reprise, and Sid and Nancy would not be punk simply by virtue of its distributor (New Line); questions about its energy or technical competence are moot. The problem with this dogmatic reading of punks economics is stated but not exactly recognized in Thompsons essay.6 Namely, the problem of availability related to punk cinema. According to Thompsons economics, punks purposefully relegate their productions to the margins of each industry: the Big Five labels take up between 80 and 90 percent of the global music market but the Big Nine studios make up 98 percent of the American film industrys revenue. There is an enormous difference between a punk consumers access to ten to twenty percent versus two percent of a market: punk fi lm viewers can only be satisfied with a fraction of two percent of the films produced each year? And they can only enjoy them in theaters or from DVD distributors who have no corporate affiliation at all?7 5 Th ompsons Big Five refers to the Major labels Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, the EMI Group, Warner Brothers Music, and BMG. His Big Nine refers to the major studios Warner Brothers, Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Columbia, DreamWorks, Newmarket, Universal, Paramount, and MetroGoldwyn Mayer/United Artists. 6 Not surprisingly, Thompsons punk materialism is indebted to the controversial punk zine MaximumRockNRoll MRR and its founder Tim Yohannon have often faced criticism from other s within the punk community, perhaps most vocally from former Dead Kennedys vocalist Jello Biafra. Biafra claimed in an interview in rival (and in my view, the far superior) publication Punk Planet that MaximumRockNRoll maintains the same kind of fundame ntalist mind set that makes fundamentalist Christians so dangerous and suggests that if the seminal Dead Kennedys song Holiday in Cambodia were released today, it would be banned from MaximumRockNRoll for not sounding punk (Grad 32). 7 One cannot help but wonder what Thompsons reading would do with a product like Rhino Recordss No Thanks!: The 70s Punk Rebellion. No Thanks! a four disc box set, is an invaluable resource for both newcomers to and devoted fans of punk rock, collecting the A sides of every major group from the era except the Pistols. Yet Rhino is owned by Warner Brothers. Are bands that were in Thompsons view economically punk, like the Vibrators or the Dead Kennedys, no longer so because of this belated association with the Big Fi ve?
12 This fracturing, whether it is as purposefully self -inflicted as Thompson claims, is so rigorous that not even those influenced by Thompsons work seem to take it particularly seriously.8 The writers in Nicholas Rombess collection New Punk Cinema posit their subjects as the heirs to what Thompson cr itiques, but regard films like The Blair Witch Project (dirs. Myrick and Sanchez, 1999), Timecode (dir. Figgis, 2000), Fight Club (dir. Fincher, 1999), and the works of Harmony Korine or the Dogma 95 group as somehow legitimately punk despite their distr ibution and/or production affiliations.9 To incorporate a group of films this diverse, Rombes defines the New Punk Cinema not as a formal movement or genre like the Cinema of Transgression (which Kerekes claims is the only true punk celluloid) but rath er a tendency and an approach to filmmaking that share certain key gestures and approaches with punk (Kerekes 69, Rombes Introduction 11). I began this essay questioning if a films subject matter determined its genre (i.e. is Sid and Nancy a punk film just because Sid and Nancy were punks?); Rombes begins his collection positing that a films subject matter is not important, only its gestures and approaches are. The criteria of a New Punk film, or a film with New Punk tendencies, include: addressi ng the aesthetics and politics of 1970s punk, maintaining the same do ityourself approach of independent music, and sustaining the animating spirit of punk (Rombes Introduction 2 3). Again, we return to the mysticism inherent in Kerekess and R ubios readings of Sid and Nancy (Rubios essay is drawn from Rombess collection), the punk spirit that is also detectable in 8 The purposefully marginal reading seems problematic to me. After all, if Green Day and Chumbawamba are no longer punk because they record for major labels, and purposefully relegate their productions within the margins, they are not necessaril y purposefully rejecting the punk label. It is the punk arbiters of taste (namely, writers for zines like MaximumRockNRoll ) who strip them of that designation. 9 Thompson is primarily interested in No Wave films, with a particular emphasis on Amos Poes The Foreigner (1978), though the version of the Punk Cinema essay reprinted in New Punk Cinema includes a punk critique of Godards In Praise of Love Predictably, Godards film is dismissed as not being punk, because despite its socializing impulse s, the movie ultimately makes money for Vivendi/Universal (37).
13 what Jon Savage calls the Punk DNA (xvii). As a punk rock fan, I have an inkling about what this spirit may be; as a critical reader, I am as skeptical about the terms application in Rombess collection as I am about calling Michael Moores documentaries, the protests of the WTO in Seattle in 1999, and even the internet punk.10 The critical impulse to encapsulate punk musi c and culture because nobody denies its impact on fashion, filmmaking, and publishing with a spirit, DNA, or general ethos is the compulsion to address what Jude Davies has called punks problem of consensus (8). Other than as a generalized opposition to the 1970s hit parade, Davies argues that it is impossible to construct a unitary politics or aesthetics for punk (9). In addition to the debatable questions about punks aesthetics, politics, and economics, punk also raises questions of identity: can a musician who is not a punk play punk music? Can a punk musician play anything but? No identity, like no man, is an island, and punk has always formed a curious relationship with its forefathers. An understanding of what Dick Hebdige calls punks dubious parentage leads to, in his understanding, a kind of cultural paralysis in punk (25): [the tension between rock and reggae] gave punk its curiously petrified quality, its paralyzed look, its dumbness which found a silent voice in the smooth mold ed surfaces of rubber and plastic, in the bondage and robotics which signify punk to the world. For, at the heart of the punk subculture, forever arrested, lies this frozen dialectic between black and white cultures a dialectic which beyond a certain point (i.e. ethnicity) is incapable of renewal, trapped, as it is, within its own history, imprisoned within its own irreducible antinomies. (69 70) By declaring No future!, the punks may not have paradoxically created one (as The Record Mirror dryly not ed upon the release of the God Save The Queen single in 1977) so much as 10 Here I am referring to the conclusion of Don Lettss 2005 documentary film Punk: Attitude Legs McNeill, clad in a Ramones t shirt: Michael Moore, making that movie against Bush, is rea lly punk! Jello Biafra cites punks influence in the WTO protests, and filmmaker Mary Harron claims the actual, whole internet is a very punk idea. The reasoning behind these claims is not only their birth in grassroots movements (or, in the internet s case, its capability for encouraging grassroots movements) but in their overall symbolic gesture and attitude which is translated by Biafra, Siouxsie Sioux, and Henry Rollins as fuck you!
14 they declared themselves to be history (qtd. in Savage 356). The racial makeup and the conflicting racial antecedents of punk lead to an interplay between white and black cultures that never actually enters into play. Punk, then and now, is about looking backwards: whether it is a defensive reading of punks significance, ala Marcuss understanding of punk as a continuation of the Situationists and Dada, or in the British punks appropriation of the swastika.11 Let us look back further than the Nazis, the SI International, and reggae and race records. According to the OED, the word first appears as early as 1575 (spelled puncke) in a folio of bawdy lyrics; this sense of the wor d also appears four times in Shakespeare, twice spoken by Lucio in Measure for Measure :12 My lord, [Mariana] may be a punk, for many of them are neither maid, widow, nor wife. (5.1.1778) and: Marrying a punk, my lord, is pressing to death, whipping, and ha nging. (5.1.5156)13 The first punks were whores. And if we indulge our perceptions of coincidence, we may notice a number of similarities between Lucios definition of puncke and punks problems of consensus. Lucio identifies Mariana, and other punks by extension, by what she is not; it is a definition of negation that is not dissimilar from the way punk rocks many shifting definitions skirt between negation and nihilism.14 And if we can suggest, as Katherine Eisaman Maus has, that Isabella and Angelo s fervent yearning for constraint seems luridly imbued with sadomasochism long before either Sade or Masoch were alive and able to imbue anything, then 11 One of the more curious mistakes in Coxs Sid and Nancy is tha t Sid Viciouss famous red swastika t shirt is replaced with a red t shirt depicting a sickle and hammer. 12 The other instances are in The Merry Wives of Windsor (2.2.122) and Alls Well That Ends Well (2.2.19). 13 All quotations from Shakespeare are drawn from the Norton. 14 See the prologue of Greil Marcuss Lipstick Traces particularly pages 8 9.
15 we may as well recognize Lucios sexualizing of punishment in the second quotation (310). Three hun dred fifty years before Malcolm McLaren marketed bondage gear as fashion, Shakespeare had already associated punks with S&M. Punks link to Renaissance England, as minor as it may seem, will be of more consequence to this papers broader concerns about fi lmed adaptation of Renaissance drama. But first we should return to the OED to trace another definition, one that made a more transparent impact on the punks of the 1970s: 2. a. Originally: a boy or young man kept by an older man as a (typically passive) sexual partner, a catamite ( obs .). Later: a man who is made use of as a sexual partner by another man, esp. by force or coercion. Now chiefly Prison slang. to make a punk of : to make (a man) the passive partner in homosexual intercourse (obs.). The obsolet e usage is the only one that suggests anything resembling consent; the word punk is saturated with force, captivity, and queerness. On the same page of McNeil and McCains oral history of punk rock in the 1970s, Please Kill Me where you find James Grau erholzs claim that punk was a direct descendant of William Burroughs life and work yet another claim for Hebdigian dubious parentage you will find Burroughss own quizzical response to the genre: I always thought a punk was someone who took it up the ass (208). Punks relation to queerness is its true frozen dialectic. Hebdige comes close to recognizing this in Subculture with his repeated close readings of Jean Genet including Genets fetishizing of the identification jerk which, considering what the OED says about prison slang, could just as easily and accurately be translated as punk. Aside from the overall sense of closetedness in punk (both Hebdige and Marcus compare the subculture to a secret society), the transferences between the punk and queer subcultures are legion (Marcus Lipstick 36). SEX clerks Jordan (the first Sex Pistol) and Michael Collinss contacts in Londons gay scene filled the store and helped define the earliest punk scene in London; Patti Smith and Richard Hell each
16 quoted Rimbaud incessantly (and Crass singer Penny Rimbaud adopted the poets surname for his stage moniker); the first place most punks felt welcome were Londons gay clubs (Simon Barker: straight clubs didnt want us); the label Rough Trade was n amed after a slang term for hustling; Dee Dee Ramone recounted his own experiences as a hustler in the song 3rd and 3rd (Savage 93, qtd. in Savage 186). Punk singers as diverse as Wayne County (a.k.a Jayne County), Darby Crash, Phranc, Pete Shelley, and Bob Mould were or are queer; the homocore and queercore subgenres appeared throughout the late 1980s and 1990s.15 But the usage of queer terminology and signs does not mean the scene was necessarily progressive: friends of Darby Crash blame his sui cide on the prevalent homophobia in the Los Angeles scene, Shelleys most explicitly queer -oriented song (Homosapien) was released after he left the Buzzcocks, and references to the rough trade, the notorious SEX cowboy t -shirt, and bandnames like the Queers and the Homosexuals are, in the opinion of Tavia Nyongo, meant as a fuck you rather than an identification (Punkd Theory 25).16 Still, in Nyongos Lacanian rewrite of Hebdiges semiotics, queerness is punks sinthome, and if the punks did not identify as gay, they still identified as sexual others (Do You Want Queer Theory). Namely, they were a not gay. Its hard to remember just how ugly the first punks were, writes Marcus in Lipstick Traces (73). Using Adorno, Marcus reads the punks displays of ugliness as a political assault in line with banishing the love song (so that people discovered what else there was to sing 15 For a discussion about Darby Crash and the Germss influence on punks treatment of homosexuality and how this treatment is reprocessed in Dennis Coopers fic tional examination of the punk scene in the short story Horror Hospital Unplugged and the graphic novel (with Keith Mayerson) Horror Hospital Unplugged see my Gimme Gimme This, Gimme Gimme That: Confused Sexualities and Genres in Cooper and Mayerson s Horror Hospital Unplugged (forthcoming) in ImageText Summer 2009. For an analysis and brief history of San Franciscos queercore scene, see Schalit. 16 For an oral history of Darby Crashs band, the Germs, see Bolles, et al. For a discussion of the SE X cowboy shirt, see Savage 100 103.
17 about) (77). That may well be, but what strikes me as more important to the punk project is that the pu nks means of assaulting sexual desire were spectacle and theater. Savage, on McLaren and Vivienne Westwoods use of pornography at SEX: Printed in brown on pink, or red on green, these images were simple but complex: as McLaren and Westwood knew, there w as a world of difference between an image in a brown -bag pornzine and a silk -screen blow up worn in public display. The effect could be curiously asexual [McLaren and Westwoods] blow ups of fetish imagery were polemical, a comment on the images primar y use. The overt sexuality became an abstraction of sex. (100 1) The codes of homosexuality provided punk with a sense of otherness, but it was not other enough. To achieve what Marcus identifies as punks goal of reversing perspective and values, what is overt must become abstract; what happens behind closed doors or is demarcated into protective brown bags must go on public display; the pornographic must become asexual. If punk is a masculine concept (and, given its etymology, why not think of it t hat way?), then it emasculates itself as soon as it goes onstage. Punks emasculation is intrinsic to the jailhouse rape scenario that its very name alludes to. Summarizing the situational homosexuality depicted in the Oscar -winning documentary Scared Straight! (dir. Shapiro, 1978), Tavia Nyongo remarks: What the inmate confesses to is his readiness to play the masculine role in prison society, and his readiness to feminize the youth, to turn them into women Male rape, along with coarse street t alk, is called forth to supplement the social order. (Punkd Theory 27 8) Since Nyongo considers the punk scene antisocial, the shock effect of a jail -punking is not cited, as Scared Straight! does, in order to protect the social order, but rather to oppose or subvert it (Do You Want Queer Theory 107). And this subversion, with its feminizing impulse, is notably a gendered in version as well. Punks translations, its punkings of Queen Elizabeth in Jamie Reeds God Save The Queen image, in bands cover versions of songs that
18 they hated rather than admired, in its various references and allusions to its dubious parentage are a kind of textual rape.17 R. Allen Shoaf writes in Chaucers Body that: The translator always does some violence to the bo dy of the original. The translator is always at some risk of becoming a rapist The translator betrays the body of the original by effacing it, substituting his own body for the originals he puts his in (the place of) the other. (116) We know that usi ng one text as a source for a second one makes no actual physical changes to the first, yet we often discuss texts this way. Notice the tenuousness about violence that we find in a seminal critical text like Between Men : the violence done by my historic izing narrative to the literary readings proper shows perhaps most glaringly in the overriding of distinctions and structural considerations of genre At the same time, the violences done to a historical argument by embodying it in a series of readings of works of literature are probably even more numerous and damaging. (18) For Shoaf, translation which is itself a kind of adaptation, a mimetic treatment of anothers mimesis is not just a substitution of one text for another, but it is an actual penetratio n of the primary text: what Sedgwick calls embodying, is for Shoaf an in-bodying. The translation, as the penetrator, is always male and not only takes something away from the first text (Shoaf reminds us elsewhere in Chaucers Body that rape also me ans theft), but also leaves something behind as well what Donne might call the tillage of a harsh rough man (Shoaf 100, Donne 38). Sedgwicks discussion takes the point even further: her concern is less 17 Punk rocks use and treatment of the cover song demands its own article. In Englands Dreaming, Siouxsie Sioux recalls an early Banshees gig (featuring Sid Vicious in the band) made up primarily of covers of canonical songs like Smoke On The Water and Knocking On Heavens Door (as well as the genuinely canonical Lords Prayer). Sioux: It was taking the piss out of all the things we hated (Savage 21920). See also Marcuss Lipstick Traces particularly the d iscussions of Road Runner and Johnny B. Goode, featuring Johnny Rottens interruptive I hate songs like that Stop it, stop it! Its torture (59 60). One of the more fascinating demonstrations of what Lester Bangs famously referred to as punks s elf hate was also a cover song: the openly bisexual punk performer Black Randys eulogy to the closeted Darby Crash (275). Crashs suicide was overshadowed by John Lennons murder the next day; Black Randy performed a bizarre rendition of Lennons Ima gine (Imagine theres no Darby) to a largely shocked audience. See Bolles, et al. 264.
19 with the violence done to Shakespeares son nets or Our Mutual Friend than in the transference between the arguments within her own text. And like Shoaf, she takes care to place her concerns about criticisms textual violence alongside concerns about actual rape, admitting a page later that she rel ies on a perhaps inappropriately gentle treatment of gender issues rather than rashly cover the complicated relations among violence, sexual violence, and the sadomasochistic sexualization of violence (19). Both critics take care to emphasize that no disrespect is meant in discussing the body of a text the same way we discuss the body of a person. There is no real comparison between raping a text and raping a person. But we make them anyway. All punkings are violent; they might all be rapes. But un like readings and translations, punk could be literally as well as literarily, violent. When Adam Ant recalls how he used to wear rapist hoods, and just attack the audience, he is not just speaking figuratively: he punks the crowd in the same context of the actual riots that occurred at Sex Pistols concerts (qtd. in Savage 376). The San Antonio concert that John Holmstrom described as the ultimate show was also referred to as a Shoot Out in the local press; captured on film, you can see for yours elf when Sid Vicious takes a full can of beer to the face and, unshaken, continues to perform with blood pouring down his chest. He later plunges into the crowd and swings his bass at an audience member.18 Punk rock was more than music because it was also spectacle; a very key aspect of its spectacle was a very real, very authentic sense of danger. Perhaps the reason why a truly punk cinema does not exist is because recorded danger is never as transgressive or as exciting as actual danger: Never Mind The Bullocks still shocks listeners, but does it scare any? But I am ultimately more interested in the critical question about 18 The most readily available place to see this footage is its excerpts in Julien Temples The Filth and the Fury (2000).
20 punks spectacle; namely, how does the individual critic write about a spectacle that he or she was not personally privy to? Again, let us look backwards to the English Renaissance. The Renaissance stage must have been quite a show, even on nights when onstage cannon fire did not literally bring the house down.19 It is a critical commonplace to read the Renaissance stage as, in Jonat han Goldbergs wonderful assessment, a venue that was permitted to rehearse the dark side of Elizabethan culture (Sodomy and Society 80). Goldbergs dark side is both politically subversive (kings were the puppets of writers) and sexually liberati ng (sodomites could be publicly displayed) (80). Goldbergs subject is Marlowe, and one needs only a cursory catalog of that authors stage directions to imagine the spectacle that Renaissance audiences enjoyed: brainings, rapes with spits, self immolat ion. But unlike the violence of Sex Pistols concerts, Renaissance spectacles were scripted and therefore organized, perhaps to the point of meticulousness. Recall the organization that Catherine demands of Guise: What order will you set down for the mas sacre? ( Massacre At Paris 1.4.27).20 But the planning and scripting was there presumably to give these spectacles the illusion of frenzy, particularly in regards to the depictions of violence. As Simon Shepherd has noted, while most of the staged represe ntations of place and setting may have been sketchy, the corporeality of the characters violence was not just realistic but actually real in that a sheeps bladder full of animal blood might be used (38). Though Shepherd elaborates that these effects were a kind of technical illusionism, his first point is more interesting: the blood onstage, though not belonging to the actors, was real Molly Easo Smith has linked the audience of Renaissance theater to that of executions, suggesting that the violences realism was not just a 19 I am referring, of course, to the June 29, 1613, performance of All Is True 20 All passages from Marlowe are excerpted from the Penguin edition edited by J.B. Steane.
21 prerequisite, but that the gores reality -effect may have had to compete with reality itself. Again indulging our sense of coincidence, can we not suppose that the effect of seeing an Elizabethan actor covered in animal gore wa s comparable to seeing Sid Vicious or Iggy Pop drenched in their own blood? What I mean to raise by such a comparison is not to insist that these various viewing experiences are somehow equivalent, that a Sex Pistols concert is of equal historical merit as a performance of All Is True or that we think of Shakespeare as a punk, proto or otherwise, or that the Globe functioned in any way similar to the Masque, CBGBs, Maxs Kansas City, or any other punk rock stage.21 Instead, I want to reflect on my own impulse to make these comparisons. Critiquing these historical documents be their author Shakespeare or Sid Vicious demands an awareness of the spectacle they accompanied. Yet in discussing both Renaissance drama and punk rock alike, there is also a log istical inability to read these spectacles so much as theorize about them. What can we make of this tendency to treat our primary sources even those as rare and authentic as the First Folio or the extremely valuable A&M pressing of God Save The Queen as paratexts to an absent and irretrievable text: their staging? 22 Stephen Orgel has raised a variant of these concerns in his treatment of what he calls the authenticity topos: 21 Although it is suggested in Trevor Kelley and Leslie Simons Everybody Hurts: An Essential Guide to Emo Culture a jokey guide t o the punk subgenre emo, that we make no mistake about it: William Shakespeare was emo to the core (4). 22 I do not intend to denigrate the scholarship that has so aptly documented both of these eras, nor am I unaware that many of the historians of the punk era (Savage, Marcus) were also participants in that era and are often their own primary sources. I am merely commenting on the problem of historicity that critics face: our desire to, in Stephen Greenblatts words, speak with the dead ( Shakespearean Negotiations 1).
22 What is authentic here is something that is not in the text; it is somet hing behind it and beyond it that the text is presumed to represent: the real life of the characters, the actual history of which the action is a part, the playwrights imagination, or the hand of the master, the authentic witness of Shakespeares own hist ory. The assumption is that texts are representations or embodiments of something else, and that is that something else which the performer or editor undertakes to reveal. ( Authentic Shakespeare 256) Orgels examples include James Macklin dressing his Mac beth in a kilt or Orson Welles speaking his with a Scottish brogue. But Orgel is equally concerned with not the something else that performers and editors reveal, but the critics search for an authentic Shakespeare, to whom every generations vers ion of a classic drama may be ascribed (256). In other words, we want confirmation for our own readings, and the pursuit of that confirmation/authenticity, can be to obsess over the something else outside of the text. The realization of a Shakespeare text, Orgel writes earlier in the same chapter, involves a considerable departure from the text (238). Returning to the imagery of Shoaf and Sedgwick, why do critics and viewers so often think of departures as the polar opposite of an exit: as penet rations? In a practically hysterical analysis of Tim Blake Nelsons O (2001) and Ronald Joffs The Scarlet Letter (1995), James Welsh writes: The movie would have more accurately been titled The Harlot Letter, or Hester Fucked, for that is what Joffs soft pornographic treatment is really about: that is its true content. What happens to Hester also happens to Hawthorne. Later on Hester is nearly raped by a randy Puritan named Brewster, but Hawthorne has utterly been raped. (223) By conflating treatme nt with content, Welsh glosses over the creative goal of cover songs and filmed adaptations alike: this is a question about style, the primary concern of punk scholarship since Hebdige. And Welshs blunt synecdoche (Hawthorne has utterly been raped) makes Joffs silly additions to The Scarlet Letter more than just departures, and more than just a textual rape: Joff punks Hawthorne. But Shakespeare does not possess the same kind of textual purity as Hawthorne; Shakespeares texts are supposed to be per formed, supposed to be departed from, and therefore
23 supposed to be raped. As Orgel suggests, it may better to think in terms of the text as a departure from the performance, rather than vice versa: what was performed before the King was not what was perfo rmed before the audiences at the Globe and what was performed before the audiences at the Globe was not what was performed before students at Oxford and none of these performances was the text that came from the authors pen ( Authentic Shakespeare 22). Indeed, it is perhaps because of the way the authentic spectacle of the Renaissance stage lingered in an audiences memory that it was not for generations that any staging claimed authenticity, to be as written by Shakespeare.23 If any Shakespeare, tex t or person, has been raped here, perhaps it is this: what the authentic Shakespeare that is the actual, historical figure who was writer, actor, and shareholder of the Kings Men imagined as a staged spectacle has been violated by our authentic Shakespea re that is, the vast editorial reconstructions and grouping together of an array of texts. But it is also, as Orgel reminds us, a mistake to believe that our sense of Shakespeare, whether we are scientific bibliographers or casual playgoers, is not con taminated, and indeed determined, by a myriad of other texts (35). Our readings may violate Shakespeare, but they also as Sedgwick ponders about her own historicizing impulses violate themselves. The translation, violations, and punkings are historical ly layered. Orgel quotes Peter Hausted, one of the least of the Sons of Ben, on the virtues of a bare stage: I doe confesse we did not goe such quaint wayes as we might have done; we had none of those Sea -artes knew not how, or else scornd to plant on Canvas so advantageously to catch the wayward breath of the Spectatours ; but freely and ingenuously labourd rather to merit then ravish an Applause from the Theatre (qtd. in Authentic Shakespeare 60). 23 Here I am conflating Orgels observations in two chapters of The Authentic Shakespeare : Acting Scripts, Performing Texts and The Authentic Shakespeare. In particular, I have in mind Orgels discussion of David Garricks 1744 production of Macbeth
24 Hausteds pompousness is laced with so much false mod esty that his ironic confession seems like a genuine one. Which came first? The scorn for breathtaking canvas backdrops or the realization that he knew not how to make them? And what does it mean to ravish an Applause from someone? What kind of a n audience applauds their own rape, and what kind of rhetorical merit would want to compete for those affections? It is difficult to find our theoretical footing here: who is (figuratively) raping whom? The historical Renaissance audience is raped by t he spectacle which is then raped by our historicized reading, staging, or editing. And what of staged rapes say, Edwards execution in Edward II or Lavinia in Titus ? Which has the more scarring effect on the reader or viewer? Could there be, conversel y, a diminishing of tension and anxiety about rape, when we are confronted with so many non physical violations? New Historicist Stephen Greenblatt began with a desire to speak with the dead; Never Mind T he Bullocks begins with a desire to see some history ( Shakespearean Negotiations 1, Holidays In The Sun). Looking backwards is the shared, impossibly fulfilled need of literary critics and punks alike. There is a spirit of punk, but it does not animate, like Rombes suggests in New Punk Cinema It functions more like Orgels notion of the Authentic Shakespeare: it is behind and beyond the text, haunting our readings whenever we recall that our enjoyment of the text could not be at more of a remove from its original, intended spectacle. The sp irit of spectacle haunts us when we bring what was once shocking, something that is comparable to a Bakhtinian carnival, into our offices, homes, and classrooms.24 These various concerns about adaptation, authenticity, history, spectacle, and sexuality are all addressed in a peculiar film subgenre that stages Renaissance dramas in the context of 24 For this notion of spirit I am indebted to conversations with Richard Burt.
25 punk or independent rock music. Expanding on Shoaf and Sedgwicks notions about textual violence, it is my contention that these films do more than just rape the t exts that they are adapting; they punk them. Yet it is precisely in their departures departures that are also penetrations that these sometimes quite shocking films may tap into the spirit of spectacle that nags our reading of Renaissance drama. By tapping into the punk impulse to not only view spectacle, but to document and film it as well, the Punked Renaissance film manages to converse, perhaps even argue, with the dead and see history precisely by disregarding our anxieties about anachronism and a bout violating canonical texts.25 25 My interests lie primarily in Renaissance drama, but I can imagine reading other historical films as punkings as well. Sofia Coppolas Marie Antoinette ( 2006), with its Jamie Reedinspired opening credits and its New Wave packed soundtrack, springs immediately to mind. And though I use it as a counter example in this essay, a similar argument could be made about the use of hiphop in rewriting classic texts in Tim Blake Nelsons O or the made for MTV film Carmen: A Hip Hopera (dir. Robert Townsend, 2001), starring Beyonce Knowles and Mekhi Phifer.
26 CHAPTER 2 VIOLATING DUSTY OLD PLAYS: DEREK JARMANS VISIO N OF THE RENAISSANCE AND PUNK DISCOURSE My art has always been Tory art. Politically Im not a Tory; culturally I am. Derek Jarman Derek Jarmans treatment of earl y modern literature and art, specifically the canonical texts of his homeland, has been well and extensively documented by critics both in and out of academia. Kirsten Wchter, with as much focus on his command of forms other than filmmaking as well as his recurrent subject matter, dubs Jarman the last Renaissance artist; the introduction to Rowland Wymers book-length study of Jarman is subtitled Renaissance Man in Search of a Soul; David Hawkes calls Jarmans oeuvre a Renaissance Cinema and Jim Ell is refers to Jarmans Renaissance. Each of these critics are making an argument not just about Jarmans subject matter but about his subjectivity as an artist; he is not just an artist inspired by or even obsessed with the Renaissance, but that he is, d espite the obvious anachronism, an actual Renaissance artist. As opposed to a director like Kenneth Branagh, a contemporary director who uses Renaissance text, Jarmans adaptations are somehow authentically Renaissance texts themselves.1 The irony is, of course, that Jarmans Renaissance films are decorated with exaggerated anachronisms themselves: Caravaggios lover fixes a motorcycle, AIDS activists appear in Edward II and his Tempest is costumed in, in his words, a chronology of the 350 years [since] the plays existence ( Dancing Ledge 196). These too have been cataloged and analyzed by The epigraph to this chapter is drawn from an interview with Jarman by Hugo Davenport entitled Making the M ost of His Gifts. 1 For a representative example of criticisms contrast between Jarman and Branagh, see Colin MacCabes A Post National European Cinema. MacCabe rebukes Branaghs Henry V for its sheer bad taste and for being tepid, whereas MacCabe finds Jarmans Edward II to be the true heir of Oliviers Henry, for its bold response to pressing contemporary concerns (154).
27 critics, the consensus being that the films of the 1980s, in particular are constructed in direct opposition to the jingoistic, British heritage cinema.2 Accordin g to Jim Ellis, Jarmans films function as political weapons by constitut[ing] a series of such counter -memories, which function as challenges to the nostalgic, Thatcherite construction of Englands glorious past (Queer Period 290). In Jarmans view, filmed history is always a misinterpretation which is both indicative and supportive of widespread, cultural delusions (collective amnesia) ( Queer Edward II 86). His films, by fully embracing anachronism, resist that misinterpretation. Except for tha t, admittedly, they dont: Social realism is as fictitious as the BBC news which has just one mans point of view. Like my film Our Edward as closely resembles the past as any costume drama (which is not a great claim) ( Queer Edward II 86). Jarman confesses to the same sin of subjectivity that distorts the costume dramas view of history; both are fictitious and neither is great. If there is anything to celebrate about this approach, it is the self awareness of a specifically post -modern arti st. So why the claims of a Renaissanceauthenticity? My contention is that Jarmans understanding of the Renaissance is intertwined with the signage and attitudes of punk and underground music, beginning with and most obviously in the first punk film J ubilee (1978), but reflected in his less explicitly punk-oriented films as well. Even aside from the obvious do it yourself ethos of films like Last Of England (1987), which utilizes home video and abstract montage techniques that could be reasonably co mpared to the collage of punk rock zines, Jarmans films often carry the same intensity and forcefulness of punk rock, the resistance epitomized by the Sex Pistols declaration that we dont care! ( Never 2 Jarmans hatred of Hugh Hudsons Chariots of Fire (1981), perhaps the most famous and widely acclaimed example of the heri tage cinema, is well documented in his own writing; he describes the film as jingo, cryptofaggy Cambridge stuff in (the book) Last of England and as a damp British Triumph of the Will in Dancing Ledge (112, 197).
28 Mind the Bollocks Pretty Vacant).3 The threat o f violence, as well as the flair that makes up what Kerekes dismisses as the veneer of punk, is what makes it seem so serious, and what justifies the intermingling of the authentic with the artificial (69).4 Take Jarmans indignant preface to Queer Edwa rd II, the published shooting script of Edward II (1991): How to make a film of a gay love affair and get it commissioned. Find a dusty old play and violate it. It is difficult enough to be queer, but to be a queer in the cinema is almost impossible. Het erosexuals have fucked up the screen so completely that theres hardly room for us to kiss there. Marlowe outs the past why dont we out the present? Thats really the only message this play has. Fuck poetry. The best lines in Marlowe sound like pop songs and the worst, well, weve tried to spare you them Thomas Cartelli notes a mystery and erotic charge carried by the word violation in this passage (214). Jarman is clearly playing with the familiar metaphor of an adaptations rape of a text as well as, in the title of the published script, the notion of queering a Renaissance text. He queers Edward II as a reversal and counteraction to the fucking up of the screen by heterosexuals and the process of queering is a process of raping, a myster ious and erotic violation. And, of course, this is a play where a male character is raped by other male characters in prison in what Martin Quinn-Meyler calls the plays death fuck: in what way is Jarman not describing a punking (129)? 3 Though I am unaware of any readings comparing Last of England to the collage techniques of the fanzine subculture, Jarman was clearly influenced by such publications for both the scriptwriting process and final filmed product of Jubilee, as detailed in the diary collection Dancing Ledge 16870. 4 Simon Frith writes in Sound Effects that punk queried the naturalness of musical language these musicians valued the pop quality that rock fans most despised artificiality (162). This is punks inverting of artifice: by celebrating artifici ality, punk lets its audience in on the secret, thereby inviting the audiences participation through the breakdown of the binary of audience and performer. This sense of inclusion is intrinsic to a listener or critics notion of authentic or real punk. See also Barker and Taylor.
29 Whatever we ca n say about punks attitude and general insolence, even without resorting to the mysticism of its spirit, I think we can relate it to Jarmans preface, with its repeated, blunt profanities. Declarations like fuck poetry lack the arbitrariness of Johnny Rottens fuck this and fuck that and fuck it all, because, unlike Rotten, there is a righteousness to Jarmans indignation ( Never Mind the Bollocks Bodies). Still, Jarmans rejoinder carries Rottens punk rock succinctness, as well as the political -mindedness of later punk groups like Crass. If Jarmans fuck poetry is not from Johnny Rotten, perhaps it comes from Penny Rimbaud: Do they owe us a living? / Yes they fucking do! (Crass).5 Notice as well the dichotomy between poetry and pop songs that Jarman focuses on. This binary is crucial to the goal of outing the present namely, punking the past. Poetry in this sense is associated with the ideal of British high culture, which Alan Sinfield has demonstrated is characterized by stereot ypes of effeminate, homosexual sensitivity.6 Jarman says fuck that, recalling our dialectic of penetration/departure from before: in Edward II s eroticization of Gavestons (played by actor Andrew Tiernan) body, we see him both slow dancing with his lov er to Cole Porters Every Time We Say Goodbye, dressed in matching Marks and Spencer pajamas, and clad in the shared sign of both the punk and gay subculture, the leather motorcycle jacket. The binary of pop song and poetry is a bit of a ruse, as is the 5 Near the end of Englands Dreaming, Savage discusses how punk [tore] itself apart, when the political and social realities of 1978 proved the Pistols prescient (No Future came true) (479, 480). Those who continued t o be punks had to address the use of swastikas and other racist imagery, even ironically, during rise of the National Front and New Right, as well as the effectiveness of punks deliberately vague libertarian politics (Savage 481). The most interesting post Pistols punk bands, at least until the advent of New Wave and post punk (and even most of those), tended to embrace radical left politics. Crass is the most influential and vocal of these acts; singer Penny Rimbaud: Our anathema was no future (qtd. in Savage 481). See also Rimbauds memoir, Shibboleth: My Revolting Life 6 See Queers, Treachery and the Literary Establishment in Literature, Politics, and Culture in Postwar Britain 6085.
30 binary of past and present. Jarman regularly embraces the visual codes of what he is rejecting or querying. Edward II is Jarmans penultimate narrative film Wittgenstein (1993) is followed by Blue (1993) and the posthumous Glitterbug (1994) and it i s often noted for being his angriest (though it is improbably enough followed by Wittgenstein perhaps his brightest and easily his funniest). Perhaps the anger in Edward II is unintentionally concurrent with the anger of punk and post -punk music; Jarman s targets are well documented and highly personal. Wymer claims [Jarman] had become angrier and angrier with the state of British society, the film industry, and his own failing body in the years just prior to Edward II (143). Still, the anger in Edwar d II is clearly the descendent of the punk fury that Jarman documented in Jubilee ; in no other film does he so clearly satirize living political figures than those two. And if Edward II is the coda to Jarmans work of and, in Wymers estimation, his escal ating anger from the 1980s, then it is also a coda to his association with the New Romantic movement, an off -shoot of punk and New Wave fashion.7 For all of his treatment and use of anachronism, Jarman was equally fond of the presence of the authentic in his films. In the Projections interview with Gus Van Sant, Jarman claims to have cast his actor to the historical descriptions of Edward, that Im certain that Steve Waddington looked exactly like Edward (95). Still, though his films demonstrate a fa scination with Renaissance culture from paintings by Caravaggio to drama and poetry by Shakespeare and Marlowe to the discourses of Neoplatonism, hermetism, and alchemy, he showed practically no interest in historical or classic modes of music (Ellis Qu eer Period 291). Unlike Jarmans 7 The New Romantics are more often mentioned than they are analyzed. My summary and reading is indebted to Michael OPrays essay New Romanticism and the British Avant Garde Film in the Early 80s. For a personal, and highly cynical, memoir of the scene, see Rimmer. However, Rimmer is barely concerned with the filmmaking concerns of the New Romantics.
31 rival Peter Greenaways films, whose work with composer Michael Nyman references and often mimics Purcell, Mozart, and Dowland, Jarmans are scored and soundtracked by almost exclusively modern and underground rock artist s. Jarmans recurrent composer of choice, Simon Fisher Turner, played for both Adam and the Ants and The The, and performed as the King of Luxembourg, a postmodern rock collaboration with Mike Alway. The industrial, avant -garde band Coil scored Jarmans version of the Sonnets, The Angelic Conversation (1985); Coil also contributed to The Garden (1990) along with Turner and the band Miranda Sex Garden.8 The Last of England features songs by Marianne Faithfull, the Red Krayolas Mayo Thompson, Gang of Four s Andy Gill, and Magazines Barry Adamson, in addition to Turner; Blue (1993) features contributions from the legendary producer and post -punk artist Brian Eno, as well as songwriter Momus. The two films that do address or feature classical or non popula r music were twentieth century compositions like War Requiem (1989), based on the 1962 Mass composed by Benjamin Britten, or a part of a collaborative compilation film (Depuis le Jour in Aria (1987)). Jarmans friend and critic, Michael OPray, claims t hat Jubilee is the film in which Jarman found his voice and style; that Jubilee is a confrontation of Jarmans concerns about Englands past with the exorbitant style of punk is all but metonymic for the rest of his career (Dreams 99). Jarman had been a curious participant in the earliest days of the punk scene: scenery from Sebastiane was used to decorate the set of an early Pistols gig, and some of Jarmans super 8 footage of the group appears, uncredited, in Julien Temples documentaries (Savage 147, Wymer 54). But, like Savage, Jarman was skeptical about just how liberating this movement really was. Though punks extension from the gender -bending glam rock seemed to 8 An interesting piece of miscellany: Coil shared Jarmans love of Pier Paolo Pasolini as well as his interest in gay and AIDS activism. The 1986 album Horse Rotorvator largely influenced by the AIDS related de aths of several friends, also includes the song Ostia (The Death of Pasolini).
32 signal a new openness about sexuality, as the movement attracted more and more atten tion, the link with the subterranean sexual world would be conveniently forgotten (Savage 190).9 Jubilee remains one of Jarmans most ambitious feature films, and one of the few to emphasize exterior cinematography ( The Angelic Conversation, The Garden and Last of England all obscure their exterior locales with their distorted visuals). The use of location shooting placed the documentary in Jarmans early characterization of the film as a fantasy documentary fabricated so that the documentary and fi ctional forms are confused and coalesce (Dancing Ledge 177). In a number of ways, Jubilee is an upending of the Sex Pistols definition of punk: rather than Jamie Reeds image of an oblivious Elizabeth II sporting a punk safety pin, Jubilee s Elizabeth I is an appalled observer, and it is the punks who are oblivious of her presence.10 Jarman, for all of his sympathy with the punk scene, still sides with Elizabeths revulsion:11 [Punks] were posturing violence, they were singing about it, they were writing violent things, but one knows that when it actually happens it is going to be a completely different thing. This was what I wanted very much to underline in the film, because there was a climate of intellectual violence Dada violence and that sort of thing can very easily become the forerunner of the real thing. (qtd. in Wymer 64) Jarmans words proved somewhat prophetic, anticipating both the ironic tragedy of Sid Viciouss passing and the way the National Front co -opted the punk rock image and scene. Though he 9 Savage and Jarman even collaborated together on the scrapped film project Neutron, a sci fi version of the Book of Revelations that was to star David Bowie (OPray Dreams 12930). 10 David Huxley on Reids famous collage: Although still immeditately recognizable as a photograph of the Queen, not least because of her still visible tiara and necklace, the words [God Save The Queen] rob the face of its human characteristics. There is also an inherent violence in the image [because of the blackmail type cut up lettering] It implies an anonymous, criminal message, with a hint of threatened violence. Yet for all the apparent amateurishness of the lettering the layout is very carefully designed It is, in effect, a highly recognizable corporate logo (87). 11 Jon Savage quotes Jarman saying: I thought punk was an understandable and a very correct disgust with everything, but it wasnt focused (377).
33 would return again and again to the imagery, fashion, and general attitude of punk, Jarman disowned the distinction and, through his association with the New Romantics, is more often (and perhaps more accurately) linked with New Wave or New Pop music.12 Whereas punks films originated as vrit documents of the scene, New Romanticism grew out of the flashy, surface aesthetics of groups like Spandau Ballet and Depeche Mode; New Romantic filmmakers turned to Cocteau for inspiration, not the Maysle s brothers. Though Jarman and Greenaway are the most cited examples of this genre, perhaps New Romanticisms most enduring legacy is detectable in the promo films made for pop artists like Boy George. Though by no means the inventor of the genre, Jarman was an early innovator of the pop music promos that would evolve into the music video craze when MTV was launched in 1981. Jarman directed a short film for Marianne Faithfulls 1979 album Broken English which featured footage from the Jordans Dance sh ort included in Jubilee as well as a rather blunt montage that compares Hitler and Mussolini to the National Front (OPray Dreams 126). Jarman claimed to work in the music video format for financial reasons, but it was a medium that allowed him to play out most of his artistic obsessions and which demanded the challenge of collaboration that he valued about filmmaking. In addition to work with more overtly commercial New Wave groups like Wang Chung and Lords of the New Church, he also collaborated on a f ilm for the extremely confrontational group Throbbing Gristle called TG Psychic Rally in Heaven which provided the opportunity to (in Jarmans words) take experiments with superimposition and refilming as far as I can go (qtd. in OPray Dreams 12 Not only did Jarman disown punk, but punk partly disowned him as well, most angrily in Vivienne Westwoods Open T Shirt to Derek Jarman (see Jarmans At Your Own Risk 868)
34 127).13 But the slow motion effects and abstraction of the subject (singer Genesis P Orridge can be detected only in fuzzy outline) of the Throbbing Gristle film is clearly a predecessor for the technical construction of The Angelic Conversation (OPray Dreams 128). It is not surprising that, given his interest in the jarring dissonance of Throbbing Gristle, that his only full -length film of this period would be the heavily distorted Angelic Conversation (Conversations unique tableau was crafted by videotaping the projection of a Super 8 image and then blowing the resulting video up to 35mm film).14 But, inarguably, it was the collaborations with the Pet Shop Boys and the Smiths that were Jarmans finest treatments of pop music. In the case of the Pet Shop Boy s, Jarmans expertise as a set designer on Ken Russells films and stage productions were used to design the bands entire life performance; the groups first tour featured a backdrop of videos directed by Jarman and elaborate props like a large mock phall us (which recalls the opening sequence of Sebastiane and the Rolling Stones 1976 tour) and Kenneth Anger inspired costumes (OPray Dreams 176).15 As with the Pet Shop Boys, Jarman appears to have been drawn to the Smiths because of frontman Morrisseys fop pish treatment of masculinity and sexual identity. 13 For an examination of Throbbing Gristles fascinating deconstructions of punk and industrial musi c, including a discussion of this papers shared concerns about identity and authenticity, see Reynolds 12438. 14 Genesis P Orridge provided the soundtrack for Jarmans short film about William S. Burroughs, Pirate Film/Tape (WSB) (1982) with his later band Psychic TV. In Dancing Ledge Jarman discusses his admiration for P Orridge (providence in the form of Genesis P. Orridge arrived today) and their shared admiration for Aleister Crowley, William S. Burroughs, and Caravaggio (2356). 15 The Pet Shop Boys are not a punk group, per se ; they are more accurately characterized as a synth pop group. But the group marks an interesting example of the splintering of punk into subgenres like New Wave, post punk, Brit Pop, and house music. Tennants music career started not as a musician, but rather as a critic for NME and he attended and wrote about many of the earliest Sex Pistols gigs (including the notorious performance at the London club the Nashville on April 23, 1976) (Savage 168). Tennants role as a det ached observer of performance may explain the Pet Shop Boys use of artificiality and pastische in their music, covering and remixing pop classics like Cant Take My Eyes Off Of You and Always On My Mind, as well as recruiting Dusty Springfields vocal s for their What Have I Done to Deserve This.
35 But in addition to the shared reference point of queer identity, Morrissey and Jarman both use their art to engage in a very personal conversation with their national history, particularly literary history In the song Cemetry Gates [ sic ], Morrisseys morose speaker retreats with a friend to a mythical cemetery that houses Wilde, Keats, and Yeats, on a dreaded sunny day: So we go inside and we gravely read the stones All those people all those lives, w here are they now? With loves, and hates, and passions just like mine They were born and then they lived and then they died. ( Queen Is Dead ) The speakers companion goes on to plagiarize Richard III (The early village cock / Hath twice done salutation to the morn becomes ere thrice the sun hath done salutation to the dawn), but is unable to outwit the well read speaker who has heard [these words] said / A hundred times (maybe less, maybe more) (5.5.1634). Here, Morrisseys speaker conflates famili arity with identification; because he is better acquainted with the writers texts, he is better acquainted with the writers themselves. This acquaintance leads naturally to a kind of authority, in the songs conclusion which places a funny twist of its own chorus: I meet you at the cemetery gates / Keats and Yeats are on your side, but you lose / Because Wilde is on mine. Adding the insistent but you lose which almost garbles the speakers metre, not only further bests the companion in their competition over British literary history, but it singularizes the identification with the dead that the speaker postulated by read[ing] the stones. The companion loses, because the speaker has loves, and hates, and passions just like Wilde.16 In his journals, interviews, and other writings, Jarman would clarify similar identifications; in Queer Edward II he remarks that 16 Morrisseys obsession with Oscar Wilde is well documented in interviews and concert footage. He frequently appeared in a t shirt with Wildes visage and claimed to base his stage persona and appearance (su ch as always carrying daffodils in his back pocket) on Wilde. In a 1984 interview with Ian Birch for Smash Hits Morrissey was photographed with his collection of books by and about Wilde, and explained I used flowers because Oscar Wilde always used flow ers. Jarman also thought of Wilde as a kind of literary soul mate; for a discussion of Wildean aesthetics in Jarmans later films, see Porton.
36 Gavestons lines about a lovely boy in Dians shape are in the play because, not unlike Jarman himself, Marlowe was such an intellectu al queen ( Edward II 1.1.61, Queer Edward II 14). OPray recalls that the Smiths and Jarman seemed a perfect match because of their shared interest in Englands past and their worries over Englands present ( Dreams 154). Jarmans The Queen Is Dead pro mo video a thirteen -minute long film later spliced into three separate music videos The Queen is Dead, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, and Panic for broadcast is a fascinating mlange of influences and of Jarmans style past and future. Jarman s treatment of the pop video is an under -examined facet of his career; The Queen Is Dead promo is his finest accomplishment in that genre. Filmed and edited, according to OPray, between completing Caravaggio and beginning Last of England, The Queen Is D ead promo feels like both a return to Jarmans avant -garde roots (with its scratched film and quick cuts, it is the work that most demonstrates his debt to Brakhage) and as a dryrun of the looser narrative of Last of England.17 If Last of England is a r esponse to the frustrations of working with the restrictions of Channel Four and the British Film Institute, who required he work in 35mm and who sliced his funding, the frenzied vision of the Queen promo should be considered a part of the same response (W ymer 92). Though Jarman stated in interviews that he disliked making music videos because they were childish (a bit like being seventeen always) and because he disliked editing as eighty cuts per minute, I suspect that the director protests too much ( qtd. in Gomez 91). If the frenetic editing of videos annoyed him, why use that technique in his most personal projects? Last of Englands disco sequence contains at least 1,600 cuts in 17 In the Van Sant Projections interview, Jarman claims that his interest in filmmaking began with American undergound cinema like Brakhage, or Michael Snow, Warhol, Bailey, Anger and that my films came out of that (98). In the same interview, Jarman elaborates on his notion of loose and tight narratives (978). Loose narratives are films like The Garde n and The Last of England, which were pieced together from several, largely improvised shoots with the Super 8, rather than larger scale tight productions made on 35mm, where the narrative is constructed before the shoot, rather than afterwards, during e diting.
37 only six minutes of finished film (Hoyle). With Last of England, t he director was stepping away from Caravaggio far more than from The Queen Is Dead Actually, Last of Englands most infamous sequence features Jarmans lover Spring stepping on Caravaggio. Earlier seen in the film preparing to shoot up and wandering thr ough a catacomb like environment holding a sparkling flare, clad in a leather jacket as a precursor to Jarmans image of Gaveston, stomping upon a copy of Profane Love with the heavy jack boots associated with punk groups like Sham 69.18 But what seems, at first, like a disavowal of his earlier film and of his romanticization of the past (when Nigel Terrys narrator sneers all you did in the desperation was celebrate the Windsors yet again!, is Jarman writing about himself?) is complicated when a montag e made up of flashes of Jarmans mother picking a flower, Jarman filming his own shadow upon a dune, and the negative photo -strip of a moth (clearly an allusion to Brakhage) ends with footage of Spring attempting to copulate with the painting. Panting can be heard, and the scene is filmed from multiple angles at varying speeds, ending with the placement of Jarmans shadow into the shot, blanketing Springs thrusting buttocks. In the book The Last of England, Jarman remarks that Springs assault on Profan e Love is a love/hate relationship and that the intrusion of his own shadow marks that his is not a passive camera but a cinematic fuck (190). Jarmans goal of an active gaze that functions like a phallus is not a wholly original concept, as those fa miliar with the work of Laura Mulvey will attest to. Still, what is interesting 18 Wymer compares the image of England s figures who move through this landscape holding aloft a flaring torch to the image of Virgil guiding Dante through Hell in Dors illustrations of the Divine Comedy (112). As for the jack boots, in addition to punk, they signify the ultra right wing group the National Front, which coopted the look of the punks during the early 1980s, claiming bands like Sham 69 as their own (see Sabin I Wont Let That Dago By). Why Jarman is alluding to punks more thuggish persona here may be purely coincidental, as Wymer suggests that the screened Spring is not entirely out of keeping with his off screen persona (116). Though perhaps there is a commentary on how nonthreatening the punk guise had become by 1987, that punks rebellious veneer needed a queering in order to upset or disrupt.
38 here is that Jarman is not trying to translate one artform into another as he had by adapting Shakespeares drama for The Tempest or in the staged models of Caravaggios most famous images in Caravaggiobut rather trying to translate a physical action into filmmaking: not drama into film, but fucking into film. He is not wholly successful. Jarmans intentions are impossible to discern without his own footnotes; as an autobiog raphy, Last of England is all but impenetrable without its epitexts. How else would you know the woman in the Super 8 footage was Jarmans mother, or that Spring was his lover? That is far too much mediation and commentary for the organic fucking that Jarman is aiming for. But what does come through in each viewing, tempered by paratextual references or not, is the scenes forcefulness in capturing a eroticized defilement of high culture: not every viewer is privy to the cinematic fucking, but most det ect a cinematic punking. The cues and discourse that make up this punking are detectable in Jarmans Queen Is Dead The three short pieces that comprise The Queen Is Dead are focused around the conceit of layering images through dissolves, and many of the images are inversions of themselves presented as the images negative. But the fact that Jarman uses these methods in Last of Englandas well as relying heavily on the disorienting effect of the Super -8s tendency to speed up, so that each sequence lo oks unnaturally fast when spliced into another film stockis not as key as the way he recycles icons and images from the earlier film. Many critics have noted, as Chris Lippard has, that England is set in the same decaying urban landscapes as Queen Is D ead but few have seen the films other shared images (Introduction 4).19 Tilda Swintons 19 And, of course, the portrait of decaying urban landscapes must recall the exterior sequences of Jubilee, yet another shared code between these films and punk discourse. Jarmans video for the Smiths Ask also alludes to Jubilee ; a punk in a Roman guard costume, sporting a shield decorated with a Union Jack, ala Jubilees Rule Britannia sequence. Ellis suggests that both The Queen is Dead and Last of England are built around hermetic symbolism (Queer Period 296). Perhaps, but the use of flowers may just be coincidence, considering Morrisseys Wildean obsession (see above).
39 gorgeous dance as the nameless bride at the conclusion of England is a rewrite of a sequence in Queen Is Dead where an androgynous woman bears her breasts (as Swin ton cuts open her dress with a knife in the latter film) and dances with a giant Union Jack, blowing in the wind (as Swintons dance is accessorized by dramatic wind gusts). Springs hedonistic punk is a revision of Queen s spraypaint -can wielding punks; the burning houses of England recall the burning car thats the focal point of the There Is A Light That Never Goes Out sequence; the soldiers who wrestle on top of the Union Jack in England (are they fighting or fucking?) recall the androgynous lovers kissing in the park in Queen (is this a homo or heterosexual act? if it is hetero, which lover is male and which is female?). And the latter films many images of execution are a recycling of the one shot of Morrissey in Queen Is Dead ; in a shot near the end of the Panic sequence, the singer kisses a skull and then gags, in what Wymer argues is a clear allusion to the dukes death in Middletons Revengers Tragedy (14).20 Both films are, like Jubilee before, Jarmans confronting nationality and eroticism in the shadow of a metaphorical apocalypse (representing, alternately, the AIDS crisis or Thatcherism). Last of England is, in OPrays estimation, arguably Jarmans most brilliant film, a major artistic achievement, and it is also, like Jubilee a fea ture length engagement with punk discourse, existing the way that it does because of Jarmans experiences and experiments as a music video director ( Dreams 156). The last film Jarman would make that so directly confronted his concerns about national ident ity and his sexuality would be Edward II Like most of Jarmans films and like all punks, Edward II looks backward. Perhaps one reason why critics think of Jarman as an authentic Renaissance artist is because he is interested in more than one artist of t he Renaissance; while adapting a Shakespeare play for film guarantees a certain cultural currency for your project, the 20 Surely this image inspired Alex Coxs Jarmanesque take on Middletons drama, discussed later in this paper.
40 likes of Middleton and Marlowe are less of a draw.21 With Marlowe, it is not hard to see why: while Shakespeares plays revel in ornate language that is apt to intimidate film audiences, Marlowe all but disavows language throughout his plays.22 In spite of all of his elaborate speeches, Tamburlaine prefers when our swords shall play the orators and learns upon Zenocrates death that word s do not serve, that all his raging cannot make her live (188.8.131.52, 184.108.40.2061). Books may cause Faustus to sell his soul, but not necessarily their text: the necromantic books are heavenly because of their lines, circles, scenes, letters and cha racters, not because of their words (1.1.4950). And when discussing which way he will draw the pliant king how he pleases, Gaveston knows that as much as Edward loves music and poetry he loves the image of a lovely boy in Dians shape concealing those parts which men delight to see with an olive leaf far more (1.1.54, 61,65). Marlowe, perhaps more than any other Elizabethan playwright, reminds his audience to focus on the spectacle of the stage, rather than the ambiguity of words. Jarman is ver y cognizant of this aspect of Marlowes drama and, in his improvement, emphasizes the spectacle even more than Marlowes original text: we do not just hear about the lovely boy from Gaveston, we see him, draped in a boa -constrictor, as Gavestons monol ogue becomes voiceover. By showing us the masque, Jarman is consciously referring to his earlier realization of Renaissance drama, The Tempest That film moves Miranda and Ferdinands marriage masque to the films conclusion and drapes it in with dancing sailors, a coy interplay of the campy imagery of both Cole Porters Anything Goes with the outlaw -erotics of Genets 21 See Cartmell. 22 Cartmell calls this the Shakespeare films anxiety of influence, which she sees in direct opposition to the punk, disrespectful attitude towards Shakespeare that she detects in Jarmans Tempest (31, 30). Cartmell argues t hat the punk Shakespeare film was short lived; I respectfully disagree.
41 Querelle In Edward II s masque, there is no such sense of play: the lovely boy has none of the Tempest sailors effeminacy, the gold l aurel on his head comes to jagged points, and when he kisses the snake it is as menacing as it is erotic. Stephen Orgel claims that, for Renaissance audiences, every masque moved toward the moment when the masquers descended and too partners from the aud ience, annihilating the barrier between the ideal and the real (50). By beginning his film his most angry film with a masque, Jarmans political implications are clear: the audience needs to be involved. Since obviously Jarman cannot, Purple Rose of Cai ro -style, bring audience members onto his stage/screen, he uses anachronism to come as close as he can: Along with Annie Lennoxs performance, the OutRage activists are the most jarring and insistent intrusions of the present into the film, although they c an both be linked to Renaissance theatrical practice When the film reveals at the end that it is a performance staged for the activists, it make sense to read their earlier entrance into the fiction as the masquers, the forces of good who do battle with the anti -masquers, as emblematic of all that threatens civil society. (Ellis Queer Period 309) I admire Elliss reading; paired with Ariel greeting the camera as though it were a wedding guest in The Tempest I think that it could be argued that Jarmans vision of the Renaissance film is always a kind of participatory masque. Still, considering the films particularly dark vision, the visage of a New Wave-Annie Lennox dressed in funeral black instead of The Tempest s harmless pun (Stormy Weather, get i t?), and the violence of the OutRage activists battling with a riot squad, I would say that Jarmans attitude in this film is more indebted to the Hollywood club The Masque than it is to any Renaissance notion of the masque. Punks stage, too, belonged to the audience as well as the performers: at one Throbbing Gristle concert, Genesis P Orridge invited half a dozen members of the audience onstage and handed them instruments (Reynolds 129). Jarman turned to the Renaissance again and again because he lov ed it and, like Spring with Profane Love in The Last of England, he wanted to somehow mark the way he loved it.
42 But you cannot film or stage an emotion the way you can film or stage an action; what the Punked Renaissance cinema of Derek Jarman shows mos t candidly is not his love for the Renaissance but his love with the Renaissance, a love that is sometimes forced and rarely gentle. Jarmans films fuck the Renaissance (up).
43 CHAPTER 3 FAIR HUSTLERS IN BLA CK LEATHER: HUSTLER NARRATIVES, SHAKESPEARE AND AL TERNATIVE MUSIC IN V AN SANTS MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO I identify quite a bit with the punk kid gay culture. Gus Van Sant Around the same time that disgraced author James Frey was outed for attempting to pass off wholesale literary invention as his own exper iences under the guise of a memoir, another literary faade crumbled. JT LeRoy, the bestselling high risk author whose tales of teen prostitution and sexual abuse attracted the acclaim of both established authors and various hipster celebrities, was r evealed to be a fiction invented by author Laura Albert. LeRoys few public appearances were actually enacted by Alberts lover Geoffrey Knoops half sister, Savannah Knoop, with Albert in tow, as LeRoys hanger -on Speedie. Even hot on the heels of O prahs public shaming of Frey, The San Francisco Chronicle famously called the LeRoy charade the greatest literary hoax in a generation (Benson). More than just using a pseudonym, LeRoy was an elaborately constructed persona with a devastating backstory: though LeRoys work was ostensibly fiction, Alberts agent and publisher emphasized that LeRoys fiction was autobiographical.1 In the preface to the Paris Review interview where Albert officially confirmed that LeRoy was an invention, Nathaniel Rich dryly notes that the many articles about [LeRoy] tended to focus less on his writing than on his life story (144). The irony, of course, is that not only was LeRoys life (how he came from West Virginia, was often homeless, and had drifted around the country with his mother, Sarah, The epigraph to this chapter is drawn from an interview with Van Sant by Adam Block and David Ehrenstein entitled Inside Outsider Gus Van Sant. 1 For my summary of the JT LeRoy s aga, I am drawing from both Richs interview in the Paris Review and reports of the hoax in The New York Times printed in January and February of 2006.
44 working as a truck -stop prostitute and street hustler) more or less identical to what was printed in his books, making any focus on one over the other slightly redundant, but that LeRoys life was a piece of writing (Rich 144). It was not always text, exactly performance art, perhaps? but it was always fiction. The connection with Frey proves intriguing: Frey deceived his audience by designating his work nonfiction, but LeRoys three books (the novel Sarah, the collectio n The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things and the novella Harolds End) were always presented as fiction. As far as the literary product goes, Albert had not deceived anyone : if anything, what was once thought to be fiction should still be thought of as fiction more so, even. If readers confessed to feeling deceived by the emotive power of LeRoys writing, they would have to confess to a readerly fallacy: that it was the books fetishistic authenticity as the product of an abused child, rather than t heir realism as works of well -crafted fiction, that they found so moving. What interests me about the fallout of the JT LeRoy/Laura Albert revelation is not Alberts readers personal conundrum, but that Albert continues to make claims of authenticity about the LeRoy persona even after being exposed as a charlatan. In the Paris Review interview, Albert insists that LeRoy was not a hoax, but rather a veil upon a veil a filter and that readers who read Sarah, The Heart is Deceitful and Harolds End as L eRoys autobiographies were not far off: Everything you need to know about me is in my books, in ways that I dont even understand (167). Suggesting that she writes about herself and yet does not understand her own writing is an extension of Alberts cl aim that JT LeRoy existed independently of her own personality (it really felt like he was another human being) (qtd. in Rich 156). In one of the interviews oddest revelations, Albert describes her friendship with Smashing Pumpkins singer Billy Corga n; Corgan was aware of the secret, and yet Albert would alternately converse with the
45 singer as LeRoy or herself, often during the same conversation: and JT would say things to Billy that I, as Laura, wouldnt dare say to Billy (qtd. in Rich 164). Among the many celebrity admirers that LeRoy accumulated was filmmaker Gus Van Sant, who commissioned a script from LeRoy for his school -shooting film Elephant (LeRoys script was not used, though he retains an associate producers credit) (2003). Their frie ndship, like most of LeRoys associations, was primarily based on conversations over the telephone, two of which appear on the Criterion Collections deluxe, 2005 DVD release of Van Sants My Own Private Idaho (1991). One is an audio clip of a conference call between LeRoy, Van Sant, and filmmaker Jonathan Caouette, and the other is a partly transcribed interview between LeRoy and Van Sant included as an essay by LeRoy in the DVDs booklet insert. The very brief essay, titled Boise on the Side, features a handful of elegiac descriptions of scenes in the film (a lost kid, unloved, unmoored, unmourned on a desolate road) intercut with quippy back and -forth between Van Sant and LeRoy, including a discussion about a memory of sharing a hotel room together: considering the later revelations about LeRoys identity, I wonder if the story ever happened (perhaps it was Savannah Knoop in Alberts stead?). Filling out the rest of the three pages are a number of long quotes from the film that appear to be drawn fro m Van Sants published script, rather than the film itself (8).2 LeRoys text alternates between bold, italicized, and natural font and caps -lock with little rationale, perhaps to emulate the naturalized stream -of -consciousness of an outsider artist. The essay, with its variations in font and its genre bending, has a collage like feel. Or perhaps, given its use of LeRoys journalism both as a reporter for music magazines and as a kind of diarist it should more accurately be described as a scrapbook: 2 A reference to Van Halen in the script was changed to Sinead OConnor in the film; LeRoys excerpt ref ers to Van Halen.
46 THIS IS NOT AN AFTER -SCHOOL SPECIAL. THERE IS NO SOCIAL WORKER OR ADULT WITH A HEART OF GOLD THAT RESCUES THESE KIDS. THERE ARE TRICKS, DATES, MEN WHO GIVE MONEY FOR WHAT YOURE CARRYING, YOUR BODYS WORTH. AND THEN THERE IS BOB. THATS THE STREET. THE ADU LT WHO IS LOVED IS THE ONE WITH THE BEST DRUGS. [Wed stand outside a theater in the Castro waiting for My Own Private Idaho to let out. Guys came streaming from the movie hungry for meat like a pack of lions smelling their first deer in a month. Those n ights we could charge four times what we normally got (8) LeRoys caps -locked text emphasizes the films neo realist authenticity (THIS IS NOT AN AFTER SCHOOL SPECIAL) by laying out a minimalistic summary of the film in blunt slogans. Then, using the m ethod of stage directions (italics and brackets), LeRoy launches into a (fabricated) memory about prostitution, implying that, despite the films grittiness (THATS THE STREET), Idaho romanticizes prostitution, at least for a certain kind of viewer. Before turning to my reading of Van Sants film and, in particular, its punking of Shakespeares Henriad and Orson Welless earlier version of the Henry plays, Chimes At Midnight I would like to focus on another of the films paratexts: the song The Old Mai n Drag by the Irish folk -punk band the Pogues, which appears over the films final credits.3 A first person narrative of a London rent -boy, the song is shocking in its explicitness: There the he -males and the she -males paraded in style And the old man wi th the money would flash you a smile In the dark of an alley youd work for a five For a swift one off the wrist down on the old main drag And now Im lying here Ive had too much booze Ive been spat on and shat on and raped and abused 3 I do not focus too much on the similarities between the two films narratives, but rather the way Shakespeares language helps inform Idahos traversal of genre. For a clearer catalog of similarities between the Henriad and My Own Priv ate Idaho, see Arthur and Liebler, Wiseman, or Davis. As for the Pogues, newcomers to the groups music may not detect much of a punk influence other than in the bands use of tempo and in MacGowans sneering vocals. But their link to the SEX scene has been documented in both Savages Englands Dreaming and Temples Filth and the Fury as well as in MacGowans dubious but incredibly enjoyable autobiography A Drink With Shane MacGowan (co written with Victoria Mary Clarke). The band has inspired a legio n of Irish folkinspired punk acts, such as Flogging Molly, the Dropkick Murphys, and Black 47. See also MacGowans first band, a more obviously punk act, the Nipple Erectors (a.k.a. the Nips).
47 I know that I am dying and I wish I could beg For some money to take me from the old main drag.4 The Pogues genius was not just the way their music married traditional Irish balladry with punk rock but how, at the height of their powers, they transitioned so effortlessly between their own work and that of their forefathers. Old Main Drag shows the mastery of the tropes of folk song storytelling the rhymes are prominent but unobtrusive and never inane the speakers details are immaculately chosen that demonstrates songw riter Shane MacGowans skill. But it is not just a question of quality. MacGowans command of form (as well as the bands arrangements of traditional folk instruments like fiddles, pipes, banjos, and mandolins) does not mean that songs like The Old Main Drag are meant to stand on their own, but rather that they ought to stand alongside classic folk songs like Jesse James, Ewan MacColls Dirty Old Town, or Eric Bogles The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, all of which are featured on Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash. By placing his own songs among these covers, MacGowan is not just inviting the comparison of his work to the folk canon, he is proposing that his work is a new classic; that despite the punk influence, these are authentic folk and Irish song s. The poetic realism at play in Old Main Drag is a facet of the Poguess more general claim of authenticity. MacGowan is not claiming to be authentic rent boy, but rather an authentic folk music troubadour like Bogle, speaking for the people by spea king as the people.5 Perhaps the catalog of ailments listed by the disenchanted soldier in The Band Played Waltzing 4 For the sake of space, I have only included the second and fifth verses of Old Main Drag. 5 My understanding of folk music, outside of my own listening history, is largely indebted to Kleins famous biography of Woody Guthrie and Greil Marcuss Invisible Republic (now in print as The Old, Weird America ). I am aware that both of these texts focus on American folk music and that their rubric may not apply to MacGowan (who is Irish) and Bogle (born in Scotland, naturalized Australian). Still, while both Bogle and the Pogues lay claim to the folk traditions of th e British Isles, as late twentieth century folk composers, they tend to be as inspired by American politically minded folk singers like Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, and Guthrie as they are by, say, the Child Ballads. This is readily apparent in Rum, Sodomy, an d the Lashs inclusion of Jesse James and in the Pogues bside Body of an American (which has since been immortalized on HBOs The Wire ). For a discussion of troubadour, in the sense of medieval poetry, and its influence on recent folk music, see Ha ines.
48 Matilda (the legless, the armless, the blind, and insane) may be echoed in the line Ive been spat on and shat on and raped and abused as the songs title sounds somewhat similar to Dirty Old Town. But by placing Drag near the beginning of Rum, Sodomy, and the Lashs song sequence and by placing Matilda at the very end, it actually sounds like the reverse: that Bogles song is indebted to MacGowans. MacGowans song strikes me as both more authentic and more realistic than LeRoys narrative not just because his language is more graceful and because we know that LeRoys anecdote about tricking outside of Idaho screenings is a comp lete fabrication, but also because he is only claiming to be an observer, not the songs speaker himself. Both pieces are about male prostitution, and both are attached as paratexts to My Own Private Idaho specifically because of their subject matter no thing else about the film is particularly Irish and there are no other creative pieces by novelists or prostitutes in the DVD booklet other than LeRoys.6 The examples of LeRoys essay and MacGowans ballad suggest that hustling narratives make a claim ab out authenticity or realism through attempting to document either participation or observation: are we positioned inside or outside of these boys experience? If it is a question of placement, where does Van Sant place the viewers gaze in My Own Private Idaho? Where does he place Shakespeare? Multiple critics have identified a gritty realism in Van Sants film, often linked with cinema vrit or Italian neorealism.7 Kathy Howletts materialist reading of the film heavily influenced by Jameson suggest s that the films gritty realism emphasizes the gulf between 6 The rest of the DVD insert books is comprised of an essay about the film by Amy Taubin written for the DVD release, an essay that previously appeared in American Film upon the films theatrical release, and two interviews from Interview magazine. 7 Neo realism is a common reference point for the New Punk critics; McRoys essay about the Italian influence on the New Punk filmmakers features an extended reading of Van Sants Elephant (2003).
49 rich and poor in order to demystify the ideological function of Orson Welless vision of the tavern world in Chimes At Midnight (171). But in her often very astute reading of Van Sants de grading of Welless film and its utopian vision of the past, she never clarifies exactly what makes Van Sants vision realistic. Similarly, in Mark Adnums rebuttal to the popular reading of the New Queer Cinema, River Phoenixs Mike is described as h ustl[ing] to survive and to escape the no hope hell of his Midwestern home. This is an overly romantic reading of the film with the youth at risk genre projected onto it. Despite its explicitness, this is not firstandforemost a hustler narrative any more than it first and -foremost a Shakespeare film. There is no escape from the Midwest depicted in the film; Idaho begins after Mike has left home, never mind whether it was or was not a hell of any kind, and, far from escaping, he voluntarily returns, in search of his mother. (He also involuntarily returns, in the uncanny reappearances on the road like a fucked up face). Secondly, aside from a teary request for a couple of extra bucks from a john early in the film, which could just as easily be rea d as an affectation, since the plea is based on an elaborate lie about his fathers suicide attempt, there is little in the film that suggests that Mike views his straits as being particularly dire. Mike, who has been called one of the most profoundly unconscious heroes of cinema, never exerts the kind of desperation or struggle of someone hustling to survive (Arthur and Liebler 28). Gritty realism? Presumably a gritty and/or realistic depiction of prostitution would want to show sex scenes that are gritty or realistic, but none of Idahos couplings are either. There is the trick where Mikes orgasm is represented by a farm house falling out of the sky and crashing into the ground in slow motion; the one where Mike dresses like a Little Dutch Boy, and the date transforms into a parody of old Hollywood musicals, set to Rudy Vallees Deep Night; the mnage a trois with Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves) and Hans (Udo Kier), filmed in the same
50 imitations of still -photography as Scotts love scene with Carmel la, and which Adnum notes is in the style of porn magazine photo stories. Not only are these scenes not realistic, they verge on the ethereal: instead of grit, Van Sant comes close to glorifying these boys lifestyles.8 The gritty realism reading ap pears to assume that Van Sants hustler narrative makes the same kind of claim for authenticity or realism that hustler narratives normally maintain and that we expect, be it the actual autobiographical elements of Genet or Rechy, the fabricated autobiogra phy of LeRoy, or the man of the people folk singer affect of the Pogues. But though the film does incorporate at least one explicitly vrit moment (when two actual hustlers give interview -style monologues describing their first tricks, both of which in volve rape, during the diner scene), it is intercut with the fictional interaction between Mike and an unnamed female character. The tension from the hustlers practically detached, matter -of -fact recollections (he put a fuckin wine bottle up my butt, r ight?) is diminished by what Van Sant punctuates their stories with in the films editing. First, according to their sightline, the hustlers are addressing an unseen interviewer to the right of the camera, documentary style; the woman eating with Mike lo oks directly into the camera, puncturing the established vrit gaze with fiction. This puncture occurs on the soundtrack as well, not only with Phoenixs cacophonous, exaggerated coughing fit that interrupts the two monologues, but also with the use of Madonnas Cherish on the soundtrack. As Madonna sings Romeo and Juliet / They never felt this way I bet, one of the hustlers remarks that his first trick had this big old fucking cock and shit, and, um, it was this totally awful experience. 8 JT LeRoys memories of charging four times his usual rat e after an Idaho screening suggests that the film does not exactly discourage hustling. A personal anecdote to support this glamorizing reading: a (heterosexual) friend of mine once detailed his high school obsession with Idaho, which led to briefly wea ring a cock strap as a bracelet, ala Scott Favor in the Falstaff/Bob Pigeon scenes, much to the shock of his parents and teachers.
51 The ju xtaposition with Madonnas reference to Romeo and Juliet placed in the context of a formerly promiscuous speaker convincing her new lover that she is ready for commitment and is finished with casual encounters erases the hustler narratives claim for aut henticity and replaces it with a sick joke. Van Sants placement of the Pogues song over the closing credits works much the same way. The closing moments of the film, where the narcoleptic Mike, passed out on the side of the highway is first robbed of hi s shoes and duffle bag and then, in a very wide shot, carried sleeping by a stranger into another car to the films light motif of America The Beautiful appears to be an allusion to the parable of the Good Samaritan. But the Poguess accordion replaces the dreamy pedal -steel rendition of America the Beautiful as the mystery car drives off into the horizon. Read alongside MacGowans lyrics of being raped and abused, as well as the probably sarcastic final title card (have a nice day), the Samaritan s rescue becomes an abduction and, quite likely, the prelude to an off -screen rape. Still, if we read the final scene of Idaho as an abduction and assault, we should not jump to the conclusion that the scene itself is necessarily gritty or even realis tic. Van Sants primary goal in this film is not in writing a morality play about rent -boys, but rather in exploring the fluidity of form. If queerness is about transcending identities, specifically identity binaries, then this is clearly one of the que erest films ever made.9 Though unquestionably a mlange of sources, tones, and attitudes, these features of Idahos cinematic collage are addressed dialectically, so that the film presents and then resists categorization: hustler narrative bleeds into 9 Without rehashing or oversimplifying the history of queer reading and queer activism, I will quote the introduction to Mi chele Aarons New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader to justify this generalization: queers defiance is leveled at mainstream homophobic society but also at the tasteful and tolerated gay culture that cohabits with it [queer artists] were defined as muc h, if not more, by their opposition to gay culture as well as straight (7). My Own Private Idaho is often cited as a one of the flagship films of the New Queer Cinema appearing at the same film festivals alongside Tom Kalins Swoon (1992) and Gregg Arac kis The Living End (1992) where B. Ruby Rich first noticed the trend. Still, there is no essay length treatment of Van Sant or this film in Aarons Reader which seems to be more concerned with NQCs influence on post 1992 queer films.
52 roc k film bleeds into Shakespeare adaptation bleeds into road movie bleeds into surrealism and so on. The treatment of earlier genres, specifically the way these genres look at the past, recalls Jarmans decree that filmed history is always a misinterpretat ion, so why not embrace the anachronisms ( Queer Edward II 86)?10 And like Jarman, perhaps even more so, Van Sants intertextuality is almost always informed by the codes of popular music, specifically underground and punk acts. The switch from America, The Beautiful to The Old Main Drag illustrates the films odd, under discussed nationality dialectic, replacing the dream -vision of one country with the gritty narrative about another (Drag begins When I first came to London). The blunt Britishnes s of the Pogues song both echoes and represents the intrusion of the Henriad into the hustler narrative with the appearance of Bob Pigeon. Why would a film with a title that immediately inscribes it as a work about a (particularly American) sense of inwar dness make so many allusions to the British stage? And, as has been noted again and again, the film does far more than just allude to the Henriad; tucked between the research consultant and the production accountant in the films final credits is an additional dialogue by credit for William Shakespeare. But Van Sant does not just transcribe Shakespeares language, he translates it. Hals chiding unless hours were cups of sack and dials the signs of leaping-houses becomes unless hours were li nes of coke, or dials looked like the signs of gay bars (220.127.116.11 7). But, though Jonathan Goldberg suggests it is Hal we desire, I find that it is all but impossible to resist the attractions of John Falstaff (or Bob Pigeon) ( Sodometries 145): 10 In an interview with Jarman for Projections Van Sant describes Jarmans influence on his own work stylistically and as a fellow queer artist: Derek Jarman was a symbol of the future, of what my life as a filmmaker would someday resemble. He was breaking new ground as a n openly gay film director, and his politics and lifestyle were exciting new things to behold (90).
53 You have corrupted me, Scotty. I was an innocent before I met you. And now look at me, just a little better than wicked. I used to be a virtuous man! [Scott laughs loudly.] Well, virtuous enough. I swore a little, I never gambled more than seven times a week Poker! I never picked up a street boy more than once a quarter. [A boy shouts: Of an hour!] Of an hour. Bad company has corrupted me. Ill be darned if I havent forgotten what the inside of a church looks like. The sound of church bells (chimes ) faintly appears as Bob Pigeon finishes this monologue, in a not so subtle clue about its source material: Thou hast done much harm upon me, Hal God forgive thee for it! Before I knew thee, Hal, I knew nothing; and now am I, if a man should speak truly, little better than one of the wicked ( The Prince begins to laugh. ). I was as virtuously given as a gentleman need to be, virtuous enough; swore a little, diced not about seven times a week, went to a bawdy house not above once in a quarter ( Pauses ) of a n hour Villainous company hath been the spoil of me. If I have not forgotten what the inside of a church is made of, call me a peppercorn (Welles 48). And Welles, of course, is not transcribing Shakespeare either. Instead, like Van Sant, his film is a kind of collage. The above speech is pieced together from Falstaffs dialogue in 1Henry IV 1.2.3085, 3.3.1215, and 3.3.6 7, not unlike the Burroughsian cut up constructions that Jim Ellis notices in Jarmans Tempest (Conjuring 265). Hebdige read t he first, British punk culture as a white translation of black ethnicity; by accessing Shakespeare through Welles, Van Sants translation of another culture is far more complex than the one to -one relation of, say, the skinheads (64). Welles, an Ameri can in exile, was forced to place the Boars Head Tavern and the Battle of Shrewsbury in the deserts of Spain. Van Sant is an American like Welles, but an outsider due to his sexuality. He films the Chimes homages in his hometown of Portland, yet gives h is film an expatriates restlessness, by returning Mike to the desolation of Idaho again and again throughout the film and briefly strands him in Italy. But the method is much the same as the punks, and if the ethnic differences between America and Englan d do not carry the same tension as the frozen dialectic of the
54 punks, perhaps it is anxieties about authenticityeither as a Shakespeare film or as a hustler narrative provide the impetus for what Van Sant has done with Welles and Shakespeare. When, during the caf scene that introduced viewers to the vrit hustlers, Scott tells Mike that he and Bob had a real heavy thing going, that he taught me better than school did, and that Id say I love Bob more than my mother and my father. The implicat ion is, despite Bob being fucking in love with Scott, that Bob is responsible for Scotts foray into prostitution. That Bob, in other words, turned Scott out and that, in JT LeRoys estimation, is loved because he provides drugs to his young, impres sionable victims. Even with Scotts clarification of who was the object for whom (he was fucking in love with me), it is still implied that Bob is an abuser and that Scott, like the boys who share their stories with whomever sits next to the camera, has been abused. Until Van Sant puts Shakespeare into the film. Bob and Budd (who speaks variations of Shallows lines) enter to the sound of Renaissance faire music on the soundtrack and a chorus of boys shouting from the rooftops; their ramshackle hotel, with its empty wall -frames, resembles the claustrophobic set of Chimes of Midnight s Boars Head Inn. Van Sant does not just allude to Falstaffs presence in Portland (the way that the Good Samaritan may or may not be in Idaho at the films conclusion), h e announces it. And by doing so, he upsets the viewers expectations about the characters previous abuse; Falstaff is, as Jonathan Goldberg has demonstrated, a masochist, and not a sadist.11 Arthur and Liebler disparagingly call the use of Shakespeares text the films Elizabethan intertextual baggage, and Susan Wiseman argues that, like in the earliest silent films, which co -opted Shakespeare for respectability, My Own Private Idaho uses the Henriad as 11 See Sodometries 1534.
55 a cultural anchor (26, 201). But the use of the Falstaff character, in all of his pathetic glory, is not only to imbue Van Sants film with more cultural capital; it serves to invert the stereotype of the predatory homosexual. John Falstaff may visit a brothel four times every hour, but if Bob Pigeon is a pimp, then picking up a street boy that often is more than just self-destructive. Falstaff could know nothing in a bawdy house; going to one every quarter of an hour, one imagines he would know nothing, Elizabethan slang for the pudendum, quite well! But Bob Pigeon claims that he was a virgin, an innocent, and that he has actually been deflowered by his love for Scott. The use of darn rather than one of the swears that he apparently uses so often now is a feeble rebuke of Scotts influence. Kenneth Rothwell suggests that at the end of the twentieth -century, critics gradually, subtly changed their interrogations of Shakespeare films: we have ceased to ask Is it Shakespeare? but instead Is Shakespeare in it? (91). Perhaps unintent ionally, Rothwell makes the same pun that R. Allen Shoaf uses about translators: what kind of a penetration is it when Shakespeare is inserted in to another text? In the case of My Own Private Idaho, I think it is as a kind of rape. Far from a cultura l anchor lending a teen heartthrob movie a little art house respectability, Shakespeare subverts our expectations of narrative by replacing gritty realism with theatrical verse and inverts our notion of abused and abuser. Shakespeare punks the films n arrative, just as the Pogues punk America, The Beautiful at the films conclusion. The film does something to Shakespeare as well, but I am not sure that it is a radicalization like Wiseman suggests (209). Rather, it is a process of inclusion, rather t han inversion. While Welless and LeRoys collages were pieced together from like pieces produced by the same writer (Welless sources being Shakespeare, and LeRoys being LeRoy), Van Sants work claims the randomness of bricolage. There is a punk herita ge here, as well; David Huxley
56 ascribes The Great Rock N Roll Swindle s punk -ness to its resemblance to a mobile equivalent of a Jamie Reed collage (88). Van Sant uses Shakespeare the way he uses the Western, porn mags, and rock music: as a source pres ented without commentary. And, as viewers able to diffuse the various sources, we conflate these disparate forms as well; we are forced us to treat Shakespeare like a cowboy and like a punk. The films title is drawn from a B 52s song, Private Idaho. But Van Sant changed the songs directive, in the second -person, to a first -person confessional. So what seems to the listener like a tirade against introversion (Youre living in your own private Idaho Get out of the state youre in!), becomes a celebration of escapist fantasy. But what Van Sants film is really escaping is the call for representing the authentic. LeRoy speaks for the hustlers; MacGowan speaks for the folk singers; Van Sant speaks for himself. And though Jarmans films resemble mas ques, and Van Sants film takes its text from a history, perhaps it is better thought of as a romance, where authenticity is not much of a concern, because it is superseded by the interplay of the fantastic, the pastoral, and the social: the kind of place where, in Scotts words, time itself could be a fair hustler in black leather.
57 CHAPTER 4 THE (NO) FUTURE OF T HE PUNKED RENAISSANC E FILM: CONSIDERING AUTHENTI CITY AND PROPHECY WITH NELSONS O AND COXS REVENGERS TRAGEDY Even in terms of its broader cultura l influence, it is arguable that punk had its most provocative repercussions long after its supposed demise. Simon Reynolds In what may be a metatextual commentary on all of the staged carnage that preceded it, both Othello and The Revengers Tragedy end ings feature a call for silence.1 Vindice whispers to Lussurioso, the man whose confidence he gained while serving as a bawd, that VIN. Now thoult not prate ont, twas Vindice murdered thee! LUS. Oh. VIN. [ Whispers] Murdered thy father! LUS. Oh. VIN. [ Whispers] And I am he! Tell nobody. (5.3.7680) Even if we read Lussuriosos final remark (my tongue is out of office) as describing a physical ailment like his father, he is struck dumb before he is struck dead his interjections seem weirdly calm (5.3 .75). Vindices quick, direct stage -whispers, by contrast, seem insistent, no doubt because of the exclamation points: so often seen in disguise as Piato, he not only gives Vindice credit for the murders, but also clarifies that he is Vindice, even thou gh, since he is no longer in disguise and has been serving under his real name (and has killed Piato), that is unnecessary. Vindice takes an extra line or two of verse to name himself as he takes credit for the murders when a more succinct use of the fi rst -person would have perhaps made the stage whispers a touch more believable. There is a similar mark of excess with the final dictum (tell nobody); after all, Lussurioso is unable to tell anyone, since he cannot prate ont. But these The epigraph to this chapter is drawn from the introduction to Reynoldss Rip It Up and Start Again. 1 Though I am aware of recent scholarship attributing The Revengers Tragedy to Thomas Middleton, all excerpts are from the Fraser and Rabkin, where the play is attributed to Cyril Tourneur.
58 murders were a lso theater Lussurioso and his nobles were stabbed by the characters during a masque and I think we should read Vindices somewhat unnecessary elucidation as a kind of reality effect: for either himself, his victim, or a shocked audience, he must make the murders feel more real. Vindices decree (tell nobody) is an almost exact reversal of Iagos vexing final lines: Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. / From this time forth I never will speak word (5.2.30910). Whereas Vindice demands recogni tion and understanding from a private audience that he addresses in whispered asides (an audience who, incredulously, seems almost uninterested), Iago denies the assembled cast the explanation that they demand about his exposed villainy. Vindice tells his victim not to speak; Iago will not speak. Their use of silence says plenty about the two plays dramatic effect. Vindices need for recognition is the trajectory for the plays final moments; confessing to Antonio strikes the audience as both foolhardy and disingenuously generic, fulfilling all too cleanly the expectations of a revenge tragedy.2 But though Revengers Tragedy contained the masque, it is Othello that breaks down the binary of audience and performer. Iago chills us because he becomes li ke us; he is a spectator, watching silently as Othello pathetically tries to explain his sins away and then commits suicide. Considering how much these films manage to say with and about silence, it is somewhat fitting that two recent film versions of Oth ello and Revengers Tragedy are read as commentaries on current events that they do not actually comment upon. The theatrical release of Tim Blake Nelsons O a tradaptation of Othello set in a South Carolina boarding school, was delayed for more than t wo years because O s finale (supposedly) too closely resembled the Columbine High 2 Vindice himself comments on the genre expectations when he tells Hippolito Tis time to die when we ourselves are foes (5.3.110).
59 School massacre.3 And Alex Coxs cyberpunk adaptation of The Revengers Tragedy4 originally concluded with, in Coxs summary: a shot of the World Trade Center collapsing, as Vindicis wifes skull screamed for revenge. I thought it was timely and appropriate, given that we (the Pentagon and NATO) had just embarked on an open -ended war for revenge. At the time I imagined that the press would treat these new wars of aggress ion no different from the US wars against Vietnam or Latin America as acts of revenge, and that the words Revengers Tragedy would soon be commonplace in our political discourse, in order to describe this folly and self -destructive wickedness. (269) The f ootage of the September 11 attacks was pulled from Coxs film at the insistence of his producers at the New Cinema Fund and replaced with footage of an atom bomb exploding, with Cox suggesting a similar reading of American military revenge, though one l acking the immediacy of the WTC footage (Cox 273).5 Both controversies O s plotlines similarity to the Columbine massacre and Revengers s nixed allusion to the September 11 attacks arose during the films post -production work. Nelson, in an editorial f or the New York Times remarks that O seemed to imitate the news footage from Columbine, even though principal photography ended weeks before Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris terrorized their fellow classmates and the nation. Like Coxs astonishment at his film not becoming a household name following September 11, Nelsons editorial for the Times contains some unconvincing modesty (Sadly, O had the feel of truth), concluding that Miramax dropped the film because it was too real. Both filmmakers, in the se defensive epitexts, make claims about their films authentic commentary on events that followed any conceptual screenwriting, acting, or principal photography. Like Derek Jarman describing 3 The phrase tradaptation is Michel Garneaus, applied to O by Hodgdon (99). 4 Like Nelson, Cox renames his source material in his films title. For a discussion on why The Revengers Tragedy became Revengers Trag edy, see Spiller. 5 Coxs autobiography, X Films is a charming and entertaining litany of such compromises, such as the decision to change the title Love Kills to Sid & Nancy
60 Jubilee Cox and Nelson present their movies as being not just accurate, but as actual works of prophecy.6 Analyzing how texts from the past can illuminate the present is not unheard of or even a fallacy; some texts can, upon historys remove, seem alternately prescient or monstrous. For instance, consider the many responses to John Careys 2002 TLS article (A Work In Praise of Terrorism?) about Samson Agonistes s many similarities to the September 11 attacks.7 But what interests me about the responses from these two filmmakers is that their claims of authenticity about these events (September 11 and Columbine) appear to supersede the commentaries each film features about other, earlier cultural or political references that are addressed explicitly in the mise -en -scne : e.g. O s allusions to the O.J. Simpson murder trial or Revengers Tragedy s visual treatment of the news medias handling of Princess Dianas death. Since both films are adaptations of Renaissance plays, we get a sense of anachronism in overplus: the films initial commentary made with anachronism is displaced by an anachronistic application of a more current news items impact on the films message. It is specifically because these films are identified as Renaissance films that their seemingly contradictory traversal of past, present, and future i s not easily dismissed. As Deborah Cartmell notices, Shakespeare on screen is now firmly placed within the literary canon; giving the bard a screen credit is an almost guaranteed means of achieving academic respectability (29). O with its nearly faw ning recycling of Othello s plot -structure, fully embraces the expectations of a serious art -house, Shakespeare film, even as it also embraces 6 From Dancing Ledge : Afterwards, [ Jubilee ] turned prophetic. Dr. Dees vision came true the streets burned in Brixton and Toxteth, Adam was Top of the Pops and signed up with Margaret Thatcher to sing at the Falklands Ball. They all sign up one way or another (172). 7 For a fine treatment of and rebuttal to Careys argument, s pecifically his clash with Stanley Fish, see Mohamed.
61 the teen movie or youth at risk subgenres. In a corrective to the films initial mixed critical reception, Ste ve Criniti argues that the films claims of genre are its very point: the very fact that a Shakespearian tragedy, especially one as utterly dark as Othello could be convincingly transplanted into a contemporary South Carolina high school is the entire dis turbing point of Nelsons production Nelson, though, is the first [filmmaker] to lay Othello in the hands of mere teenagers. The fact that he could credibly do so is the films very meaning. Inherently, O is a comment on the dark and tragic behaviors t hat often plague contemporary high schools and the timelessness of such primal human emotions like jealousy and rage. In order to truly make his point that the message is in the concept, Nelson adheres closely to Shakespeares original text. (116) Can a film have an identity crisis? Crinitis defense of O hinges on how the film is convincing, yet the critics he rebuts all unanimously decry the films inauthentic representation of American high school life.8 Regardless, in order for the film to work the way Criniti describes, it would have to be both authentically high school and authentically Shakespeare; otherwise, the portrayal of primal human emotions like jealousy may not strike viewers as timeless so much as familiar, possibly clichd. With this formulation in mind (the film is true because it is Shakespeare and it is Shakespeare because it is true), Nelsons description of his film as being too real for Miramax becomes a question of canonicity as well as a moral examination of a filmmakers depiction of violence as realistic or authentic. Implicit in the films title is the claim that this film is not by Shakespeare: this is O not Othello It is not just the plays name that has been changed, either: Othello becomes Odin, Iago becomes Hug o, Desdemona becomes Desi, Emilia becomes Emily, and Roderigo becomes Roger Rodriguez. The effect of the name changes is, for those who know the play particularly well, somewhat distracting. Like naming a hotel where Odin and Desi have sex The Willows, the reference points seem to exist only as reference points, fulfilling some imaginary Shakespeare 8 Criniti cites Amy Taubins Village Voice review (Its simply impossible to accept that these are high school kids) and Peter Traverss Rolling Stone review ( O relies on plot mechanics from the Bard that make no sense in a contemporary context) (qtd. in 115). O s devotional attachment to Othello s plot is central to my argument.
62 quota to separate O from other teensploi Shakespeare revisions like Ten Things I Hate About You .9 The Roderigo character seems particularly dispensable i n Nelsons revision and, like Vindices persistent self -naming while he murders Lussurioso, there is something telling about the insistent doubling of Roderigo in Roger and Rodriguez, especially since the actor cast as Roger is not Hispanic. O wants to have it both ways: it wants to rename Othello and un-name it at the same time. This, as readers familiar with Joel Finemans extraordinary essay about the play will attest, is tricky ground, because taking Othello out of Othello is taking Shakespear e out of Othello Fineman attributes the Moors name to the Greek verb ethelo meaning wish or will, so that the title of Shakespeares play could well be translated The Tragedy of Will (marking the title as Shakespeares signature on the play) or The Tragedy of Desire (marking the play as proto Lacanian) (145). I do not know if Nelson, or his screenwriter Brad Kaaya, is familiar with Finemans essay, but if he is, this passage would certainly explain the decision to title the film O instead of Odin : [Desdemonas Willow Song] marks the place where Shakespeares own name, Will, is itself marked off by the invoked, cited sound of the sound of the O in Othello Sing will ow, will -ow, will ow. If this is the case, then we can say, at least in this case precisely what there is in a Shakespearean name that makes it Shakespearean. It is specifically the O calling to us from an elsewhere that is other, that determine the Shakespearean subject as the difference between the subject of a name and the subjec t of full being, or, even more precisely, as the subject who exists as the difference between the Will at the beginning of Will -iam and the I of Williamss I am: WillO -I am (158) 9 The term teensploi and its related Shakesploi originate with Richard Burt (see Unspeakable Shaxxxspeares ). For a d iscussion of why O should not be relegat[ed] to the teensploi category, see Semenza (106). O s many overlaps with the teensploi and Shakesploi subgenres are difficult to ignore, however. Like Ten Things and Never Been Kissed O features the prer equisite classroom scene where the characters discuss an actual Shakespeare text; Iagos machinations are briefly interrupted by a nosy English teacher who asks if he can name one of Shakespeares poems... And, of course, the film aligns itself with the Shakesploi subgenre by casting Julia Stiles (the Dame Judi of Shakesploi) as Desi. See Deitchman for a careful analysis of Stiles, girl culture, and Shakespeare adaptations.
63 The sound of O which persists throughout Othello is the mark of poetic su bjectivity that obsesses Finemans work. O is both a signature and a reminder of the reign of the signifier, a ghostly wail from elsewhere that is other reminding us that the subject is inherently subjective, and therefore not wholly determinable. Th ere is something melancholy about this subjectivity, the inability to make what seems be. Finemans epigraph is Lacans catastrophe of Love, that it is not the meaning that counts, but rather the sign, and Fineman is able to reduce that estimation (an d perhaps the play as a whole) to something much more succinct and powerful: a cry, O! (qtd. in 143). O s title retains the cry but, in taking out the thello it plugs in a J. Perhaps overshadowed by the controversies related to the Columbine traged y is the films co -opting of the discourse and anxieties surrounding the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Aside from the films portrayal of Othello as a sports star instead of a soldier, there is also the matter of Odins initials (his last name is James). In her close reading of O s poster, Barbara Hodgdon even notices similarities between O s advertising campaign and Time magazines notorious doctored image of Simpsons face in 1994 (100). Still, Nelsons after -the -fact reading of his own film ( O is about Columbine now, not O.J.) is representative of his films process of adaptation. The allusions to the Simpson trial and the surrounding uproar serve to, in Hodgdons reading, flesh out Iago/Hugos notorious motiveless malignity: O s narrative is driv en by the envy of a white boy who loses his place to a black man (101). This fleshing out is, Fineman would no doubt remind us, more like filling in the Lacanian gap.10 O s rewrite of Othello is more than just a translation, it is a deconstruction, t aking the play apart and putting it back together in such a way that while the individual parts remain, such 10 Finemans reading of the gap (a.k.a. the absence, disjunction, hole) is in the Othello essay (The Sound of O in Othello ) in The Subjectivity Effect in Western Literary Tradition (154).
64 as the characters names and the plays key speeches, which are reworded into American teen dialect.11 But in O s re -construction, there are new parts as well. In other words, in filling in Othello s gaps, O highlights its own inadequacies: by telling more than Othello it proves itself less than Othello By equating Othellos mastery on the battlefield with Odins skill as a basketball player, Nel son interjects battle scenes into Othello since we see Odin on the basketball court. Similarly, Nelsons film fills in the gaps of Othello and Desdemonas marriage: Odin and Desi not only consummate their relationship in the films controversial hate fu ck scene, but O s audience is also privy to Othellos seduction of Desdemona, where with a greedy ear Desi devour[s] up Odins discourse (Desi to Odin: You do have the best stories) 11 For a characteristic example of what I mean by translation, compare Odins final speech to Othellos. Odin: Somebody needs to tell the goddamned truth. My life is over. But while all of you all are out here living yours, sittin around talkin about the nigger that lost it back in high school, you make sure you tell em the truth. You tell em that I loved that girl. I did. But I got pl ayed. He twisted my head up, he fucked it up. I aint no different than none of you all. My moms aint no crackhead. I wasnt no gang banger. It wasnt some hoodrat drug dealer that tripped me up. It was this white prepschool motherfucker standing r ight there. You tell em where Im from didnt make me do this. Othello: Soft you, a word or two before you go. I have done the state some service, and they knowt. No more of that. I pray you, in your letters, When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate, Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak Of one that loved not wisely but too well, Of one not easily jealous but, being wrought, Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand, Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes, Albeit unused to the melting mood, Drops tears as fast as the Arabian trees Their medicinable gum (5.2.34760) Both Odin and Othello make, like Hamlet before them, pleas to be remembered co rrectly after their death (goddamned truth = speak of me as I am). Both also raise the question of racial otherness and how their actions will be confused with stereotypes (gang bangers, base Indians), but are in fact the fault of the one who per plexed [them] in the extreme: Iago/Hugo.
65 (1.3.1489).12 But since Desi has far more agency than Desdemona, s he interrogates him as well. Odins disastrous chances are, like some of Othellos, fabricated (1.3.133).13 And Nelsons film fills in the blanks about why a (white) maiden never bold might fall in love with what she feared to look on when Desi recounts a bizarre fantasy built around Odins otherness: You said that I was so fine that youd let me dress you up and play Black Buck got loose in the big house (1.3.94, 98). Desi/Odins Mandingoinspired fantasy it is not clear who wants this role pla y scenario is all the more disturbing placed in a scene where Desi is wearing a tank top with a Confederate flag on it. Still, the films boldness regarding contemporary anxieties of miscegenation and sexual power -dynamics does not extend to its treatment of Shakespeares text. These themes are not strange to Othello which opens with references to thick lips and old black rams tupping white ewes, but it is not surprising that the most audacious moments in O (the hate -fuck, the seduction scene) are in the addendum scenes, rather than the translated ones (1.1.66, 1.1.889). For all of Nelsons claims about the timelessness of Othello s themes, more often than not contemporary concerns are placed alongside the plays course of action, rather 12 Semenza: In her description of the scene, Amy Taubin uses hate fuck, a slang term for vicious sex between consenting parties, instead of date rape or rape The terminology is a problem in all three cases. Hate fuck ignores the fact that Desi eventually pleads Odin to stop. Date rape and rape ignore the fact that the sex is consensual until the very last moment. (121) Hodgdon also discusses the hate fuck (103). The scene is unclear about what e xactly is transpiring at this very last moment where Desi screams for Odin to stop, but I think the film is suggesting both by Desis initial come on (I want you to be able to do anything, I want you to do what you want with me, I want you to have me ho wever you want Dont hold back) which suggests that Odins sexual needs are somehow unusual, as well as the implicit homoeroticism of Odins dream sequence (where in the mirror his visage is replaced with Michaels) that Odin has switched from vaginal to anal penetration. For more on the scenes homoerotic undercurrent, and how that relates as a threat to Odins racial identity, see Hodgdon 103. 13 Othellos fabrication is the narrative about the handkerchief. Rephrasing one of his pre narrative seducti on stories (told first to seduce his wife, later to terrify her), for Desdemona the origin of the napkin is an Egyptian, though actually it was a gift from his father (3.4.54, 5.2.2234). Similarly, Odins story about being a C section baby and they cut too far is a lie (I fell off my skateboard).
66 than penetr ating it.14 Like the opening scenes transition from Verdis Otello to hip hop music, the past and the present often coincide but never quite intermingle in O : Shakespeares text is rearranged, but is never raped, never punked; it has merely been repackage d and, when necessary, ignored. Coxs Revengers Tragedy, on the other hand, more ably fits my rubric for a Punked Renaissance film; rather than merely transferring the plays setting to a different period, like O it positions it in a timeless otherworld where the past interacts with the anachronistic and with a clear attachment to punk or post -punk musics as well as the original Jacobean verse, Cox implies a comparison between the two, like Jarmans claim that Marlowes best verse sounds like a pop song. But, like O Coxs Revengers Tragedy is a film that is emphatically situated post -punk.15 O attempts to jar its viewer by juxtaposing Verdi with Outkast and Black Star on its soundtrack but, ironically, by setting the film in a wealthy, primarily white So uthern prep school, Verdi is a much more marked subcultural other than hip hop.16 At the party scene early in the film, where 14 This coinciding/ence effect is perhaps most blatant at the films conclusion, where Hugos rewrite of Iagos final lines (From this time forth I never will speak word becomes From here on out I say nothin) are nullified by concluding the film with Hugos voice over. What Hugo says after he promises to say nothin is, aside from rewriting the opening voice over (the films much discussed I always wanted to live like a hawk speech), an allusion to the kinds of rhetoric associated with school shooters: One of these days, everyone is gonna pay attention to me. This voiceover narrates the films chilling images of police cars and news station wagons arriving at the school to document the carna ge and is, like Hugos opening monologue, scored by Otello s Ave Maria. But despite the nod to Verdi, this is not a rewriting of Othello which ends with Lodovico closing the bed curtains and letting Iagos work be hid, rather than displaying the bodies like Nelsons film does. It is a rewriting of the familiar signs of violence captured by news reporters, specifically school shootings. O makes no particularly clear link between the news medias depiction of violence and Shakespeares depictions of violence other than that they are both violent. The complaints about O s resemblance to the Columbine massacre are practically unfounded: Odin and Hugos rampage through a prep school dormitory converted from a plantation house bears no visual resemblance to the expansive, twisting hallways of a large public school. Still, Hugos desire for attention is clearly a reference to the familiar (and simplistic) reading of school shooters motives. For a provocative but helpful dissection of the school shooti ng and rage murder phenomenon, see Ames. 15 Odins threat to fuck [Rogers] punk ass up all but proves Nyongos observation that the hip hop term punkd has eclipsed punk rock as the preeminent definition (Punkd Theory 21). 16 For analyses of the white consumers relation to the primarily black culture of hip hop, see the work of Tricia Rose, in particular Hip Hop Wars 8789.
67 Odin is clearly the schools only black student, rap music is blasted, not opera. Revengers uses its treatment of musical subculture to inform the early modern text with Coxs contemporary concerns about film genre and politics. Cox, for those who know his work at all, is known for his adamant political stances and bravado, such as his pro -Sandinista production Walker (1987), filme d in Nicaragua during the Iran Contra scandal. In his autobiography/treatise on filmmaking, X Films he explains why, contrary to most filmmakers interested in the Renaissance, he rejects the Bard: Shakespeare, for all his greatness as an artist, was a re actionary. His plays esteemed kings, and portrayed groveling before them as appropriate it makes Shakespeare less admirable than the author of The Revengers Tragedy Add to this his acquisition of a coat of arms (mocked by the jealous rebel, Ben Jonson) and his utter failure to educate his daughters, and the historical Shakespeare seems a bit of a sexist social climber. It isnt bold to dedicate yourself to pleasing the powerful. Shakespeare had brains and brilliance; but the author of Revengers had balls mocking dukes, lords and a corrupt, syphilitic court. (2456) The merits of Coxs reactionary understanding of Shakespeare aside, this is a very telling passage regarding the motives of some Punked Renaissance filmmakers. There are hints of Jar mans rhetoric here, particularly his remark in Smiling In Slow Motion that if Elizabeth I was dishing out knighthoods, Shakespeare would have been at the front door with a begging bowl, Marlowe would have run a mile (162). Both Jarman, particularly aft er his work on The Tempest and Cox claim a certain kinship with early modern dramatists, just not the most revered early modern dramatist.17 For both filmmakers, Shakespeare represents England itself because of his coat of arms and because he would hav e accepted a knighthood. England/Shakespeare/ the System can be cut up and criticized, the way that Jarman uses the Burroughsian method in 17 Cox tellingly refers to the Middleton/Tourneur text by his own respelling ( Revengers instead of Revengers ), collating au thorship.
68 The Tempest18 and by excising any indication of heterosexuality from the Sonnets in Angelic Conversation, or the w ay that Cox stages Julius Caesar in Walker where Shakespeares drama functions for the titular character as a de facto justification for slavery.19 Shakespeare can be deconstructed, but only the supposed lesser dramatists can be re -constructed, rescued fr om obscurity. But this may be self defeating since, as is the case with the subculture of the punk rock scene, obscurity is half of the allure. Here it is worth remarking on the soundtrack to Coxs Revengers Tragedy, which is completely composed by the L eeds anarchist rock group Chumbawamba. Though best known for their 1997 hit song Tubthumping, which married football chants with dance music, the band began as a Crass -inspired punk act known for its vicious attacks on the pop music elite. Their debut record (1986s Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records ) was an album length skewering of Bob Geldof and Live AID, and even during the bands stint with major label EMI Records, Chumbawamba placed its anarchist politics up front and center.20 But the ban ds music has long ceased to sound punk, instead, Chumbawambas recent work alternates between folk and techno oriented songs; the bands soundtrack for Coxs Revengers tragedy is indicative of its techno influence, specifically, the Ecstasy -driven dance music associated with the rave scene. Since Chumbawamba is a punk band co -opting the rave culture of the Madchester/Summer of Love scene, a musical genre associated with decidedly non -political acts 18 In Dancing Ledge Jarman recounts his cut up technique with something resembling impish glee: In such a fragmented culture messing with Will Shakespeare is not allowed. The AngloSaxon tradition has to be defended; and putting my scissors i n was like an axe blow to the last redwood (206). 19 In this scene, the soldier of fortune turneddictator William Walker bounds up onstage to take over the role of Caesar, then uses the stage as a bully pulpit to proclaim the countrys switch to slavery ( so the South will rally to our cause). 20 For example, when Chumbawamba performed Tubthumping on The Late Show With David Letterman, they added a chant in support of Mumia AbuJamal; singer Alice Nutter also recommended that fans shoplift copies of the bands album when she appeared on Bill Mahers Politically Incorrect in 1998.
69 like the Happy Mondays and DJs like Paul Oakenfeld, yet maintaining their radical Leftist politics suggests that Cox chose the group for his film because they will function subversively.21 But this may not be the case. Coxs portrayal of rave culture in Revengers is clearly parodic: the two heroes, Vindici and his brother, are working-class stiffs at the mercy of their decadent employers, the dukes, lords and corrupt, syphilitic court clad in the over -the -top cosmetics of neon silk shirts, glitter -paint, and piercings.22 Coxs post apocalyptic, distopian vis ion of Liverpool is one of a subculture triumphant, a world where the punks and club kids rule. This demonizing of the subculture, as well as a number of visual references to the earlier film, suggests that Revengers could be read as a remake of Jarmans Jubilee Or is it a rewrite of the Jamie Reed collage where Queen Elizabeth was mocked by being made punk, with a safety pin inserted through her nose? Or is punk itself being punked, by virtue of being made respectable? When an actor as revered and se rious as RSC veteran Derek Jacobi (who plays the Duke) starts sporting the exaggerated makeup and nail polish of a club-goer, what kind of oppositional power does the signage of this subculture still possess? Revengers s vision of the future corresponds with the problem we find in O s vision of the present: that the subculture has ceased to speak for the oppressed or ignored. In O hip hop music and speech does not signify Odin anymore than it does Hugo or Michael; in Revengers Tragedy, rave, punks desc endant, is used to represent the ruling class, even as it continues to be a vehicle for an authentically 21 For an academically minded history of how punk became new wave which became house and rave music, you could consult Neil Nehrings autobiographical essay Everyones Given Up and Just Wants to Go Dancing: From Punk to Rave in the Thatcher Era ( Popular Music and Society 30.1 pp 118). But Factory Records founder Tony Wilsons memoir (and the 2002 film it inspired, directed by Michael Winterbottom) 24 Hour Party People is a fa r more informative and much more delightful read. 22 Coxs films Vindice is clad in a nondescript black frock coat for the duration of the film, whereas his brother (called Carlo in the film; another character is dubbed Hippolito) is some sort of a police officer or security guard, dressed in a fluorescent traffic patrol slicker. The outfits of the Dukes court, specifically his sons Supervacuo, Spurio, and Junior (Younger Son in the play), may also be inspired by the costuming of Julie Taymors Titus ( 1999), where Tamoras sons are dressed as club kids. For a discussion of some of this papers concerns in regards to Taymors Titus specifically the screening of spectacle, see Starks Cinema of Cruelty.
70 resistant group like Chumbawamba. One of Hebdiges most famous examples of punks frozen dialectic is Richard Hells claim that punks are niggers (qtd. in 62). What are we to make of punks future, where punks are not niggers, but CEOs or politicians? Perhaps Coxs film is prophetic not because it addressed revenge right before the American militarys retaliation for the September 11 th attacks but because it foresaw a world where Rolling Stone s Anthony DeCurtis observed in an interview with the BBC that the Republicans have gotten much more punk rock than the Democrats and where GOP National Committee chairman Michael Steele speaks with The Washington Times about an off the hook public relations strategy to apply conservative principles to urban -suburban hip hop settings (Fowler, Hallow). Cox and Nelsons revisions of Renaissance texts using alternative music forms as an apparatus of adaptation suggest not the death of punk or the death of hip hop, but the death of a particular kind of spectacle. Coxs Revengers Tragedy features at least one stunning set piece: a game of table soccer played in an empty soccer stadium. The game is sti ll an event (fans gamble on the game, which they watch on TV at a local pub, and the Dukes sons party in a skybox suite) but only the Lord Antonio and his wife watch the game live in the stadium and, even then, they are so far from the table, one wonders what exactly they are cheering for. If there are no spectators, is there a spectacle? And if the spectators are at a mediated remove, is the spectacle itself diminished? Hebdige observed that punk is in a constant state of assemblage, of flux so that its reader is able to slip into the disorientation of meaning (126). But Cox and Nelsons film do not fill in the gap of punk or hip hop, they attempt to fill in the gaps of early modern spectacle with punk or hip hop. But that assumes that either of t hose significations is somehow stable, which makes these adaptations fundamentally conservative and safe. The Renaissance spectacle
71 remains evasive, and the spectacle of punk is too tired from all of its constant revisions to provide a sufficiently shocki ng substitute. Then again, those of us who actually care, who allow ourselves to be haunted by the spirit of Renaissance spectacle are, like the tiny audience present in the enormous, empty stadium in Coxs film, an elite. Or, rather, a subculture. Shakespeare?, says Hugo in Nelsons O I thought he wrote movies. Then we laugh, because we get the joke.
72 CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSION Truth may seem but cannot be. William Shakespeare, The Phoenix and Turtle Joel Finemans essay, The Significance of Literatu re: The Importance of Being Earnest is so brief and so exhilarating (not to mention disorienting) that one is tempted to compare it to a punk song. The essay builds with towards one of Finemans most provocative inventions a prime example of the kind of zaniness that Stephen Greenblatt writes about grappling with in his introduction cum -eulogy to Finemans posthumous collection of essays, The Subjectivity Effect in Western Literary Tradition that the fundamental desire of the reader of literature is t he desire of the homosexual for the heterosexual, or rather, substituting the appropriate figurative embodiments of these abstractions, the desire of the man to be sodomized by the woman (xii, 37).1 The desire, in the terminology that this paper has insi sted upon, to be punked by an imaginary phallus. We can theorize about what this imaginary phallus actually signifies, its origins in Lacanian semiotics, about the obvious link between the imagery of sodomy and a play so obsessed with bunburying, or eve n about how this leads to Finemans own desire (what he would like) at the conclusion of his essay to draw the moral (38). But I would like to focus on the interplay between fundamental and figurative that Fineman posits. What is fundamental is what is fixed, basic, and permanent some things that desire never is. Does whats truly fundamental need figurative embodiments or abstractions? 1 Greenblatts introduction is both a touching remembrance of his friend (concluding with a haunting portrayal of Fineman on his deathbed) and a quizzically critical reading of his colleagues scholarship. Greenblatt himself makes this distinction, referring to Fineman by his surname when he is willi ng to grant and emphatically not willing to concede various points made by Fineman throughout his career, and to Joel during the deathbed narrative he concludes his essay with.
73 I am not trying to rebut, rebuke, or try and out reason Finemans inspiring display of deductive logic. I merely want to reflect upon a few of his observations and how they pertain to the central concern of this paper: how does one text affect another? Finemans concerns are, perhaps, both more microscopic (concerned with how not just texts but individual words affect one another, as his readings on Will attest to) and macroscopic: the problem of how, to amend Stanley Cavell, we say what we mean. In an extensive footnote, added for the conference papers publication in October Fineman examines, in his c haracteristically baroque style, the nature of farce. According to tradition (that is, Aristotles Poetics ), farce is the least important genre, because it imitates imitation (literature or literariness), which is nothing (39). What Fineman means b y nothing is not just the fact that literature is mimetic and therefore a signifier (meaning it can seem but not be) but that its primary signified is idea: as serious tragedy to trivial farce, so philosophy to literature (40). Fineman may be impl ying that the Platonic or Aristotlean impulse to equate philosophy with something, as though it were not still the product of signifiers, is unfair; what concerns me more is the way literature (nothing) is categorized in the equation. How can one kind of nothing be worth more than another? And if nothing can be imitated at all, could it not be imitated endlessly without losing any of its (non)worth? Here, of course, the equation breaks down for the shear logistical problem that we like some (peo ples) signifiers more than others and we like some (peoples) imitations more than others. If all mimetic representation of previous mimesis was lower, than what does that mean for cover songs, filmed adaptations, or Shakespeares plays, which themselv es are composed out of any number of determinable sources? Whatever each of these nothings do to each other when they become something new needs a name and, as I have been exploring, we tend to name it after
74 something violent, but potentially productive or fertile: rape. These formulations suggest that texts have the capacity for desire, if only because they have the capacity to be forced to do something that they do not desire. But what of the reader s desire to be sodomized? Is it still rape if we des ire it? Is the readers desire to be the passive partner in sodomy a return to the earlier notion of punk, a consensual catamite? If, according to Finemans abstraction, readers want to be sodomized by another traditionally passive sexual partner, what we desire from a text can only come from a text that has already been penetrated somehow. This is the desire of the reader for a text that has already been read: adaptations, farces, cover songs, and other recycled narratives. But this paper is not co ncerned with reading as much as it is concerned with viewing. Finemans reader is also a writer, the writer -critic who writes readings. But who is the viewer of the Punked Renaissance film and what does he or she desire from watching the result of one text raping another? Is that viewers desire at all comparable to the desire of the Renaissance audience? Is it a kind of pleasurable anxiety, as Stephen Greenblatt suggests: Anxiety takes its place alongside other means erotic arousal, the excitement of spectacle, the joys of exquisite language, the satisfaction of curiosity about other peoples and places, and so forth that the players employ to attract and satisfy their customers. The whole point of anxiety in the theater is to make it give such deligh t that the audience will pay for it again and again. And this delight seems bound up with the marking out of theatrical anxiety as represented anxiety not wholly real, either in the characters onstage or in the audience. ( Shakespearean Negotiations 135) One of the Punked Renaissance films lingering concerns is the question of whether spectacle can be authentically captured on film or videotape, or whether or not it has to be real. Yet Greenblatt suggests that what we consider real in the more spectacular theaters is still represented and not wholly real. It is the understanding of the falseness of mimesis, that this is seeming and not being, that makes the sight of anxiety and spectacle tolerable, but it is our ability to suppress our own unders tanding and submit to delight that makes it enjoyable. A
75 pleased audience (a ravished one, as Peter Hausted would say) is a submissive audience, but it is a self -endowed submission. The anxieties about authenticity are, at least partly, a wild goose chase: no representation can ever be truly authentic. But this is what Fineman is elucidating when he argues that our desire as readers is both fundamental and abstract. Like anything else, desire and anxiety can only be understood in the ambiguity of si gnifiers. Hebdige writes that punks death was presaged by a write up in Cosmopolitan, a sign that the flux of the subculture has been frozen into generally available commodities (96). Punk died, that is, when its signifiers became unambiguous, just as the Punked Renaissance film flourishes when it indulges in the near limitlessness of anachronism Jarman had 350 years of reference points for his Tempest as opposed to whatever temporal possibilities an authentic adaptation might have and never quit e settles into definition. Greenblatt writes in his introduction to The Subjectivity Effect that Joel Finemans dream was that there is nothing but writing, and that that dream was punctured by Finemans awareness of his own failing body (xix). The Punked Renaissance films are texts and do not have any such awareness, yet their trajectory as an actual film genre, from Jarmans films to Coxs Revengers Tragedy, seems like an inversion of Finemans notion: beginning with the idea that the Renaissance coul d be resuscitated as more than just words on a page, the genre dies when it is recognized as a not a spectacle but a textual impulse with recognizable signs and symptoms. It dies when it is read.
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84 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH As an undergradua te, James Newlin studied at Davidson College, with a semester abroad at Edinburgh University. His undergraduate work, primarily with Gail McMurray Gibson and Randall Ingram, focused on the portrayal of sexual performance anxiety in early modern British ve rse. After graduating from Davidson, James spent two years teaching literature at a private high school in Naples, Florida, and writing record reviews for an online magazine. He received his Master of Arts in the English Department at the University of F lorida in the spring of 2009. He currently lives in Gainesville, Florida, with his dog Gail.