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1 STEREOTYPE, AMBIVALENCE, AND INTERPRETATION: BLACK MALE IDENTITY IN THE FILMS BORDERLINE AND LOOKING FOR LANGSTON By HAILIE MARIE BRYANT A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DE GREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2010
2 2010 Hailie Marie Bryant
3 To Teri
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This thesis has been an incredible learning experience and could not have been completed without the guidance and support of my faculty mentors, family, and friends. I would like to thank my commi ttee chair, Amy Ongiri, for her continued patience and commi tment to this project Her breadth of knowledge concerning film and cultural studies has been especially helpful during my journey. I would also like to thank my committee co chair, Tace Hedrick, for providing a dynamic learning experience in her seminars and for always pushing me to work through difficult material with wisdom. I am indebted to both Dr. Ongiri and Dr. Hedrick for truly helping me to become a more confident writer and researcher. Outside of the University of Florida community I would like to extend my gratitude to my family and friends for helping me remain optimistic and focused during this journey. I would like to thank my husband, Shane, for always being my rock and keeping me sane and lighthearted I would also like to tha nk my daughter, Sydnee, for being a bright shining reminder of youthful optimism. Finally, I would like to thank the Mercers, the Stoner Perrys, the Schmuckers, and the Baltozers for their help and support. Their generosity and caring has eased this proces s tremendously.
5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 4 TABLE OF CONTENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 5 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 6 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 7 2 NEGROPHI LIA AND PRIMITIVISM: WHITE PATRONAGE DURING THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE ................................ ................................ ...................... 13 3 TOMS, BUCKS, AND COONS: RECURRING BLACK TYPES IN EARLY FILM AND THE RISE OF THE AVANT GARDE ................................ .............................. 20 4 POOL, BORDERLINE AND RACE ................................ ................................ ........ 24 5 BORDERLINE THE FILM: RACED BODIES AND FILMIC STRATEGIES ............. 31 6 LOOKING BACK TO HARLEM WITH ISAAC JULIEN ................................ ............ 41 7 LOOKING FOR LANGSTON: THE FILM ................................ ................................ 46 8 CONCLUSION ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 55 LIST OF REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ............................... 58 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ ............................ 62
6 Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the R equirements for the Degree of Master of Arts STEREOTYPE, AMBIVALENCE, AND INTERPRETATION: BLACK MALE IDENTITY IN THE FILMS BOR DERLINE AND LOOKING FOR LANGSTON By Hailie Marie Bryant December 2010 Chair: Amy Ongiri Major: English Mainstream depictions of black masculinity in film literature and art in the twentieth century that are still prevalent today, have typically upheld racist stereotypes that can be traced back hundreds of years. This pro ject, specifically, begins during the modernist period of the 1920s by analyzing the effects of race relations on current depictions of blackness and the ambivalen ce with which certain stereotypes have been reproduced through the century. Of particular importance are the relationships between black artists and white patrons of the Harlem Renaissance which were often driven by an imagined idea of blackness that contr ibuted to the alignment of blackness with the primitive, or the uncivilized. By examining two films, Looking for Langston produced in 1989 and Borderline produced in 1930, this thesis seeks to highlight how the filmmakers Isaac Julien and Kenneth Macpherson respectively, work within and against stereotype by portraying dynamic visions of blackness.
7 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION In Hughes exclaimed: The Negro artist works against an undertow of sharp criticism and misunderstanding from his own group and unintentional bribes from the whit es. write about nice people, show how good we Here Hughes articulates the dilemma of race relations that many black intel lectuals and artists found themselves in during the Modernist period, and more specifically the Harlem Renaissance. As an influential and prominent voice of the Renaissance, Hughes continually expres sed that he did not want blacks to be afraid to be themse lves or feel caught in the middle of a race war The fear of the self that often drove black artists to deny their history and be accepted by white audiences was exaggerated by the desire s of white patrons and the promise of success Although Hughes himsel f struggled with his own identity, including issues of blackness 1 and white patronage, he worked to promote an appreciation of black arts and expression as its own category with its own characteristics, open to new forms and ideas and less restricted by imaginative primitivist discourse. For African Americans during the modernist movement the common problem between balancing artistic freedom and the pressures of white patrons came down to 2 response to the fascination and obsession with black culture by white patrons and 1 For more on Hughes and identity see Remember Me to Harlem ed. Emily Bernard 2 ngrophilie, (9).
8 modernists. Originally meant to convey an admiration of black art, the term is now more often Other recognition that black artists gained from this negroph ilia was heavily weighed down by Like the term negrophilia, the idea of the primitive that began to surface in the early twentieth century is dynamic in meaning. Man y modernists saw the primitive as something inspirational and their fascination with it was not driven by overt racism. However, it is difficult, if not impossible connotations. For example, the primitive can be defined in opposition to technological While white, modernist artists looke d toward the primitive for inspiration, black artists were associated with a primitive tie to Africa because of the color of their skin. Thus white audiences assumed that their blackness was an indication of an innate relationship to all things natural. As such, African American artists struggled between obtaining popularity with white patrons and remaining aware of the negative stereotypes that often surrounded their work. On one hand Houston A. Baker rt seemed to offer the only means of adva ncement because it was the only area in America from an Afro American perspective where the color line was not rigidly arly studies of the Harlem was both sides of the color line that played into a primitivist discourse, it must be
9 recognized that something larger than a simple producer/consumer relationship was a t work. While examining visions of black masculinity in the twentieth century it is evident that the idea of white as a superior race has contributed to negative and imaginative depictions of blackness. Henry Louis Gate s Jr. expresses that lack intellectuals their racist treatments in art. Accordingly, if life did indeed imitate art, if reality imitated the image, then to manipu late the image of the black was, in a sense, to manipulate 164). A manipulation of reality which leads to racist depictions 3 of blackness feeds into the primitivist discourse negatively by continuously upholding white supremacy; or, as Whether packaged and sold as something negative or positive, the focus of maintaining the ideology of racism has always been on difference and most times on the imaginary. Blackness is degrading or blackness is remarkable because it is different. In either scenario the call to that which is unusual unconsciously creates a system of hierarchy placing white at the top as the norm; everything else is then measured against white and placed b elow it. hooks argues that within the framework of white supremacy, as racist/sexist iconography has been Feminism Inside 127). The black bod y as an imaginary Other in combination with the surrounding primitivist discourse of the early 1900s permeated film and art and led to a perpetuation of the 3 and Lola Young argue that,
10 idea that blackness is inferior. The focus of this study, in particular, is the way in which that i dea affected some aspects of visual representations of black masculinity during t he twentieth century. This thesis is a cultural studies approach that will examine two independent films, Borderline and Looking for Langston, and seeks to connect ideas of ne grophilia and primitivism to white patronage during the 1920s to show that both films, while locked into a stereotypical aesthetic of blackness, successfully offer dynamic and complex views of blackness. Borderline directed by Kenneth Macpherson and Lo oking for Langston directed by Isaac Julien are two films that would initially seem worlds apart. The first film, released in 1930, staring Paul Robeson and the modernist poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), is a story of jealousy, passion, and racism that takes place in a non descript European town. An anxious white woman, Astrid, is attempting to break up the relationship of her white husband, Thorne, and Adah, a black woman. She invites the husband of Adah, Pete, to the town in the hopes that he will re unite w ith his wife and thus leave Thorne. The story involves passion and murder and depicts inter racial love, through the main characters; androgynous sexuality in the characters working in a bar; and racism with the final expulsion of the black characters from the town. The second film is the much more recent Looking for Langston released in 1989. Julien revisits the Harlem Renaissance in order to explore black gay identity during both the 1920s and the 1980s piece, the film does not follow a linear timeline but instead relies on various scenes of memorial memory, and dream sequences. The m ain character Alex goes through different states of consciousness while pursuing the affections of Beauty, a statuesque black man who is involved with
11 This plot is interwoven with archival footage of the Harlem Renaissance. These two films could be potentially connected in many ways, but my focus lies in their treatment of race and am bivalence towards representations of blackness within a framework of early twentieth century ideas of primitivism race relations, and the relationship of white patrons to black artists depictions of Robert Mapplethorpe are similar in that they work within the framework of stereotypical black masculinity while seeking to oppose the very idea of it. The importance of examining these two films fits into a contemporary discussion of the continued stereotypical portrayal of raced bodies within art and film today. Some important ideas that make up the bulk of the contextual information fo r this project include: white patronage during the Harlem Renaissance, negrophilia, primitivism, and modernist depictions of race. Next, an analysis of both films and those involved with the production of the films will situate each within their respective historical contexts. Finally, the treatment of race within the films, the filmic techniques, and th e location of space will highlight how these projects reflect on society and race relations by attempting to offer alternatives to stereotypical depictions of race. The film Borderline is important to this study because it is a commentary on race relations during the 1920s and it provides an early example of representing race within film. As James Donald expresses in a review on the most recent release of Borderline: or cultural studies [the film] provides rich possibilities for analyzing the sexual creators
12 sought to produce a film that would challenge and subvert mainstream ideas of race and sexuality which proved to be a challenge in itself. Looking for Langston is also invaluable to this study because of the ways in which Julien comments on white patronage and showcases the black male body. Since his film is situated within and around the same time period as Borderline it is useful to imagine that the two films whil e looking back to the Harlem Renaissance and Hughes for inspiration, who serves as a representative for the time period.
13 CHAPTER 2 NEGROPHILIA AND PRIM ITIVISM: WHITE PATRO NAGE DURING THE HARL EM RENAISSANCE The time of the Harlem Renaissance was marked by divisions and unions of black and white cultures and questions of identities. First and foremost, black intellectuals wanted to create a positive image of themselves and to be taken seriously as artists, whi ch was no easy task. One term that developed during this period amongst white who used the term did not see it as negative; in fact to be in love with black culture wa s situation were those between black artists and white patrons. White intellectuals were ncing, nightclub s, and art and literature that conjured up vision of Africa. As for the black artists themselves, the relations also proved to be beneficial; they produced their art and gained support from mainstream audiences. Petrine Archer Straw in Negr ophilia: Avant Garde Paris and Black Culture in the 1920s contends that or black people, the Other k culture spread over to Europe and evidence of this could be seen especially in Paris, which was also a popular destination for many African American expatriates at the end of World War I. The attitude that existed in Paris at the time was similar to the Harlem scene with its outpour of black art but different because Europe offered more freedom and possibility without the overt racism that still existed in the States. As black writers, musicians, and actors gained popularity with both white and black audiences in the early 1920s what became to clear to all involved was that revenue and
14 profit could not be gained without the interest of white intellectuals and patrons of art. Many writers, such as Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen depended on the fina ncial support of white patrons in order to be able to continue to work and publish. One well know n example is Carl Van Vechten, a white writer and patron of arts during the Harlem Renaissance, who was an avid appreciator of black culture. According to Arch er Straw many young black writers and artists, including Hughes and Robeson, and frequently tertainers could mix easily, free from racial restrictions that constrained the rest of mainstream Straw 172). Critics have been torn on whether Van Vechten was honestly dedicated to the black cause or if he supported the blac k arts in ord er to contribute to his own popularity and success Like other white patrons of the time, Van Vechten has been criticized for romanticizing black culture and playing into negative Nigger Heave n published in 1926. Black critics, such as W.E.B. DuBois, and various press attacked the blackness. Arc her the image of Uncle Tom and Sambo. The New Negro wanted to break away from negative stereotypes of the past in order to establish a better future. On the other han d,
15 writes ce rtainly he lost no friends because of it Vechten was in it for himself or if he truly believed in the work he promoted is not clear. What is clear, however, is that white patrons with good or ill intentions wer e vital to the promotion of the movement. by imaginative desires about blackness. The ideas about what black culture was above equation seems promising but the so negative image. To intervene meant that whites would channel their own desires into the creative endeavors of African American artists. he black writer both thrived and suffered, torn between well meant encouragement from the white saw it as opportunity to enter into mainstream circl es and were willing to make sacrifices for that inclusion. There is no sense in labeling these historical moments as good or bad, as the relationship of black artist to white patron was essential considering the ways in which the rest of white America look ed down on African Americans. However, it
16 cannot go unrecognized that white imaginings of black culture contributed to continued racism. Many white intellectuals and patrons believed that all black artists had a connection to African culture. New and origi nal works, that did not involve a call to the exotic or primitive, did not receive much positive attention in the art world. As an effect, white audiences and pa trons would demand that African Americans showcase their propensity towards all things primitiv e. For example, black artists were encouraged to acknowledge their sometimes imaginative African roots by maintaining an artistic presence that was closer to nature and in opposition to the modernity of progress. If a black male artist was to break away fr om this discourse or recognize purely American roots his white patrons would reject him. This dilemma weighed heavily on the movement for equality because if blacks were to be only viewed as primitive they would remain inferior to their white counterparts. Langston Hughes, in his autobiography The Big Sea remarks on the primitivism a She wanted me to be primitive and know and feel the intuitions of the primitive. But, unfortunately, I did not feel the rhythms o f the primitive surging through me, and so I could not live and write as though I did. I was only an American Negro who had loved the surface of Africa and the rhythms of Africa but I was not African. I was Chicago and Kansas City and Broadway and Harlem. And I was not what she wanted me to be. So, in the end it all came back very near the old impasse of white and Negro as do most relationships in America. (325) project, wished to fix, objectify, and solidify blackness into a specific type recognizable was an exciting way for African Americans to connect reach wider audiences and gain
17 popula rity. But as the decade wore on, artists such as Hughes and Robeson realized As discussed by John R. Cooley, primitivism is used in several different historical contexts and can refer to very different ideas 1 For example, lands beyond the city, farm, and pasture may be described as primitive. Primitive is also a value judgment to describe uncivilized people, lifestyles or landscapes. Primitiv e may elevate or denigrate the subject or land depending on who is using the term. The primitive may be seen as inherently evil and uncivilized, or in contrast, the primitive may be a romantic vision of the good in nature. Cooley describes this polarity as 2 3 terms typically used within discussion of the Romantic period. The modernist movement of the early to mid twentieth century can be connected to the Romantic period since some modernists opposed the theme of progress, capi talism, and fast paced production. With the many ways in which the term primitive has been used it is no wonder that it posed such difficulties fo r the representation of African Americans during the modernist period and Harlem Renaissance. For the purpose of this study, primitivism is ways of life and unrestrained sexuality. Marianna Torgovnick says this of the primitive: 1 For more on the definitions of the primitive see Marianna To rgovnick, Gone Primitive, pp. 18 23. 2 (Cooley 12). 3 a belief always rooted in a
18 libidinous, irrational, violent, dangerous. Primitives are mystics, in tune with nature, part of its harmonies. Primitives Torgovnick positions the primitive within a hi erarchy determined by the relation of the subject to progress. The primitive is the marked Other that is always placed in a subjugated position. Modernist artists and early avant garde filmmakers can certainly be critiqued by their use of the Other as a cu ltural opposite because of their tendencies 4 White modernists who are known for their tendency to draw on the primitive for inspiration could have been harkening back to what they thought was a simpler, l ess complicated time. Many modernists wanted to leave the immediate past of the restrictive Victorian era behind while reminiscing about the cultural past. For example, many artists and writers drew on the idea of Africa or ancient civilizations for inspi ration. (71). The Plumed Serpent and Joseph Heart of Darkness employed the primitive by including passages and elem ents that showcased white visions of non white cultures and ideas; Picasso included African artifacts in his art 5 ; Willa Cather, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemmingway 6 and Sherwood Anderson (to name a few) turned to notions of the cultural Other in their 4 Orientalism points out the misrepresentation and mis interpretation of 5 For more on Picasso and primitivism see Michael North, The Dialect of Modernism pp. 59 76. 6 See Christopher Schedler, Border Modernism ch. 2.2 & 3.1
19 work s; H.D. drew on ancient Greece and Egypt for many of her poems 7 Early and also wanted to explore what was unfamiliar. Modernists also may have been responding to futu re anxiety about rapid change in combination with primitivism vs. the development of civilization. Lisa Rado adds: century scholars have pointed out in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the vast number of ethnological museums and the developing science of anthropology introduced nati ve art, ritual, and custom to a mass audience who had never ventured past their own opened to showcase the objects claimed from other lands. This also allowed foreign artifacts to enter into the homes and lives of people wh o had never before seen such things. 7 See H. D., Helen in Egypt & Collected Poems 1912 1944
20 CHAPTER 3 TOMS, BUCKS, AND COO NS: RECURRING BLACK TYPES IN EARLY FILM AND THE RISE OF THE AVAN T GARDE The importation of African artifacts into the West had an interesting effect on race relations. Aside from t he above descriptions of negrophilia and primitivism, the rise of film in the early twentieth century brought about new possibilities for envisioning black culture. Whi tes were able to invite African Americans and ideas of Africa into their private spaces via the movie screen. Unfortunately, most the films featuring black actors in the early twentieth century relied on presenting blacks as inferior to whites and visually re affirmed the stereotypes that were already being depicted in art and literature. Don ald Bogle, in his book Representing Blackness in Film and Video, examines the ways in which blackness has been presented through visual images character in 1903 with Uncle all future black characters were used to categorizes stereotypical de pictions such as the Tom, the coon, and the buck 1 The and kind hearted deeds, and his resolution to never turn against the white man. He is black buffoon who is strictly there for amusement. Bogle asserts that both the Tom and 17). 1 For more on these types see Patricia Hill Collins, Black Sexual Politics pp. 53 60.
21 The Birth of a Nation 2 screens. The buck is defined by his barbaric black rage from repressed sexuality. Bucks sexed, savage, violent, and the every black man longs for a white woman Bogle stresses (21). His study concludes with the idea that underneath even seemingly harmless portrayals of blackness, the old familiar types still exist. In addition Henry Lo uis Gates, Jr. points out that brutishness and lust have proven to be the most long lasting stereotypes of black males, and these 12). The buck serves as represe ntative of the brutishness and lust that Gates points out while also calling on the visual image if a wild male animal. The black man as animal is at the root of the success of white sup remacy. By imaging that African Americans are somehow closer to the an imal kingdom, biological inferiority has been stressed as one of the most identifiable aspects of racism. In the canonical Black Skin White Masks Franz Fanon bluntly expresses the negativity th at has been attached to African Americans: The Negro is an a nimal, the Negro is bad, the Negro is mean, the Negro is because he is cold, the little boy is trembling because he is afraid of the nigger, the nigger is shivering with cold, the cold that goes through your bones, the handsome little boy is trembling because he thinks that the nigger is quivering with rage, the little white boy throws himself into his 114) Aside from t 2 The Birth of a Nation was released in 1915 and is commonly recognized as one of the most racist films ever made.
22 the opposite of modernity and progression, primitivism of black cultures offered an alterna tive to bourgeois ideals that modernists wanted to rebel against. This was mainly based on a romanticized idea of the Other a natural world untainted by modernity. Archer hether perceived as Afr ican or African American, primitive or modern, blacks provided other models for intended to be a positive call to the natural and an alternative to restrictive ideals. Wh ile mainstream Ame rican films continued to showcase the above discussed stereotypes, the development of avant garde and independent films in both Europe and America provided an arena for exploration of themes that broke out of restrictive cultural guidelin es. The modernist involvement in early avant garde film challenged and undermined the films coming out of mainstream Hollywood by using new film techniques, original camera angles and radical editing styles. In Lovers of Cinema: The First American Film Avant Garde 1919 1945 Jan Christopher Horak illustrates: Wh ereas classical cinema features central perspective, composition in depth, continuity editing, spectatorial identification through cross cutting close ups realist acting styles, and closed narratives, early cinema is defined through centrifugal, de centered compositions, discontinuous editing, and long shots that block spectatorial identification, stylized acting, and open narratives demanding pro filmic k no wledge. (6) The most extensively used and recognizable component of the avant garde is montage, an editing style that puts frames together in rapid succession. The development of montage changed film editing forever because of its power to alter the con tent of the piece by compressing time and space which can represent a lengthy event in a short amount of time. Montage can also add to the symbolism or surrealist aspect of a film by
23 juxtaposing two frames to produce an alternate state of consciousness. Se rgei Eisenstein, Russian filmmaker during the 1920s and a pioneer in the use of montage believed that the psyche could be explored and depicted by rapidly editing frames the standard for the future of films. The ability for montage to portray many levels of the psyche can be seen in both Borderline and Looking for Langston creators strongly believed in the power of Eisensteinian montage and used it extensive ly in the film to bring out the theme of psychoanalysis. In Looking for Langston the use of montage contributes to the inner di alogue of the characters and complicates the relationships of the characters as they try to discover their own identities
24 CHAPTER 4 POOL, BORDERLINE AND RACE The creators of the independently produced film, Borderline, belonged to a group called POOL, an artistic collaboration of visionaries who were interested in exploring the experimental side of film. POOL consisted of the Scottish born Kenneth Macpherson, America modernist poet H.D., and the Margate, Engla n d born Br yher (Annie Winifred Ellerman), who provided financial support of The three lived and worked in Territet, Switzerland and the relationships between them were somewhat complicated. H.D. and Bryher were lifelong frie nds and lovers, Bryher was married to Macpherson, and H.D. was said to be in love with Macpherson although he was in fact a homosexual. Bryher, Macpherson, and H.D., because of their own life choices, wanted to address issues outside of heterosexual, white and European culture in their films. In the 1920s, POOL films produced three short films and one feature. The shorts, Wing Beat (1927), Foothills (1929), and (1929) were mainly obscure and not seen by many. The longer f eature, Borderline was on Paul Robeson. Another important contribution of POOL was the magazine, Close Up, an intellectual film journal of which Macpherson was the editor of. publications spanned from 1927 1933 and promoted the theory and practice of film art. The journal was printed in France and distributed in Paris, London, Geneva, Berlin, New York, and Los Angeles and he officia he
25 Man Ray; theorists, such as Eisenstein; philosophers, such as Hanns Sachs; and of course H.D., Macpherson, and Bryher, among others. Lik e Close Up Borderline was a collaborative effort as Macpherson, H.D., and Bryher contributed in the acting, filming, and editing of the film. The three worked together to produce a film that would address a multiplicity of issues. Anne Friedberg points ou Borderline contained everything that seemed important to the POOL group, combining, as it did, the psychological realism of Pabst, the psychoanalytic insights of Hanns Sachs and the montage the 218). In addition to their choic e of filmic strategies, POOL wanted to make a film that would not only be a piece of art, but that also would work against the mainstream film indus try. Susan McCabe points out: he creators of Borderline were part of an avant garde aesthetic movement tha t viewed film as a conduit for change 639). Change during the 1920s involved depicting things in film that would not typically be accepted such as throu gh interracial relationships and androgynous sexuality. Additionally, one thing that film does particularly well in its efforts to speak against racism is by portraying the black characters positively and joining blacks and whites as al Modernism in Avant Garde Film: Paul Robeson and H.D. in the 1930 Borderline modernism are connected. She, like George Hutchinson 1 contends that a racially separate vision of modernis Debo sees Borderline 1 The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White supports the notion that the Renaissance was an inter racial artistic movement.
26 371 381 ) ideas contribute to the fact were part of a group that genuinely cared about breaking away from stereotypical and degrading depictions of blackness and participated in a collaborative effort to work against such things before 1930 did not come without challenges, however, one of which proved to be the inclusion of the African American actor Paul Robeson and his wife, E slanda. Because the film dealt with race, mainstream audiences would not approve of inter racial love and black characters that were not modeled after the familiar Tom or Buck typically seen on screen. But since Borderline was never originally intended to please the majority, the more important issue here, and most critiqued, is the presentation of race. S ince Borderline was produced 2 creators were already in a sense responsible for responding to the notion that blackness was in the limelight. This came with the challenges of how to present their characters without re enforcing old stereotypes or creating new ones. Homi Bhabha ar gues that the form of knowledge and identification that vacilla tes between what is The creators were working within this conundrum of sorts beca use they were, as white intellectuals, aware of the need for change but in danger of rom anticizing the Robesons by aligning them with an idea of blackness that may not necessarily be true. 2 for whom the Negro Langston Hughes, The Big Sea
27 Macpherson, H.D., and Bryher did not want to uphold previous stereotypes but rather depict blacks and whites as equals by portraying the Robesons as the p rotagonists of the story. Consequently it is argued that while trying to construct a level playing field for racial interactions, the modernists fell prey to the iconography of Paul Robeson. H.D. and Macpherson are specifically connected to an obsession wi th the Robesons. Barbara Guest expresses : The Robesons [. .] revived a nostalgia within [H.D.] for the America she had left. From that time on she would begin to collect Negro songs of the American past and would use them later when she wrote of her c hildhood. In other words, the Robesons brought her back to the identity of the early H.D. and to the country she now longed for. ( Cinematic 198 199) Further, McCabe recognizes that r the film H.D. memorialized her sexual feelings C inematic 168). contribute to an acknowledgment of the complicated situation that the filmmakers were in. They were aware that they wanted to work a gainst racist representations but their so called fascinati on with the Robesons as African Americans placed them in a position not unlike white patrons of black art from the Harlem Renaissance. While these factors esentations of blackness are evident in the film as sincere moments that work in opposition to negative stereotypes. In addition the fact that the creation of the film was a truly a group effort shows that the white members were genuinely interested in th e Robesons as actors. It is recognized by Debo that Macpherson, as a director, promoted a collaborative working environment and encouraged Robeson to use his own ideas in imagining and representing the character of Pete. ( 377) Some contemporary critics suc h as Susan Stanford Friedman and Carolyn Kelley proclaim that Macpherson and H.D. relied too much on racial stereotyping when
28 constructing the main character, Pete. I t is continually argued that while Macpherson acknowledged race, he went about it in the w rong way by focusing on his earthly qualities and connection to nature. Friedman argues: Borderline participates in a kind of racial primitivism that associates Pete with nature, not culture, with the waterfall, not the knife, and with a simple integrity discussed earlier, during the 1920s black men, in particular, were continually viewed and represented as having ties to the natural, primitive realm. As such, it was difficult for clusion of Robeson to be viewed as otherwise. While the inclusion of Robeson as protagonist has been read as essentialist in nature because of the ambivalence surrounding race relations in the 1920s. Hazel Carby argues that truth and esse modernist ideal of the Negro m ale, ou 68). After careful consideration of the historical framework surrounding the film, I would disagree with Carby. Instead of freezing Robeson, I believe Macpherson was freeing him. To freeze Robeson would be to depict him as a subservient, hostile, beastly black but this; he is dignified, even tempered, and independent. His dynamic characterization is not restrictive because it gives the viewer a sense that he is an autonomous free thinking and free moving m an. Regardless of the complex race relations surrounding the film, t he POOL group produced something that was different in its represent ation of
29 Aside from the critical response to the film, its popularity is even debated. screenings throughout Europe that took place in at least forty cinemas. Further, while Friedberg acknowledges mostly negative re sponses to the film, Debo attests that numerous have distribution troubles as it was not se en in America. The fact that Borderline never reached the United States should not be considered evidence of its failure when in fact it was most likely stopped at the border because of its depiction of inter racial relationships 3 ( 380). Macpherson, in opposition to his critics, saw no problem with his representations because it was before its time. After the release of the film in Europe in 1930, H.D. and Macpherson publ ished two writings in Close Up is an explanation of the film, a somewhat defensive, yet un apologetic description of the which follows g, expresses his opinion on the reception of the film: I have said that Borderline has many faults. How idiot ic to pretend that it has not. Traversing new ground, it has all the rawness of a pioneer. But pioneer it was. And I have said to my critics in te ch they complain will be plain as punch. And I think it will take ten years for them to recognize it. (237) 3 A Distributors of America became Both stated that miscegenation was forbidden in film. This code was not lifted until the mid 1960s. (Mast 2 13 214)
30 Macpherson could be responding to either the filmic techniques, the psychoanalytic aspect of the film, or the r psychoanalysis would be best understood as Freud gained more recognition in the have been fully realized until muc portrayal of race lies in the fact that there are so few films that have dared to challenge stereotypical depictions of blackness.
31 CHAPTER 5 BORDERLINE THE FILM: RACED BODI ES AND FILMIC STRATEGIES Borderline is a silent, black and white film that centers on the psychological dangers of love, cheating, and jealousy through its use of montage and an emphasis on psychoanalysis. As its classification of an independent film and its use of avant garde film technique, creators were in the position to subvert previous depictions of racism and make a bold commentary on race and gender. Small details about the film are important to its impact as a whole. The fact that Macpherson chose to go silent when sound had been introduced to film four years before was a decision that impacted the power of the images in t his narrative whose story is told indirectly through a parataxis of silent images funct ions multiply and presciently Macpherson and his associates believed that the overlay of sound into the film would take away from the artistic meaning of the film. The lack of sound or script certainly forces the viewer to focus on the images with a greater intensity. Another aspect that contributes to an increased focus on racial images is the use of montage within the black and white fi n bla ck and white contrast between black and white bodies is especially ev ident in black and white film and further exaggerated when spliced and repositioned. Macpherson utilizes what H.D. more rapidly than Eisenstein had originally intended. McCa be writes: most unusual and self conscious devices is the use of clatter montage, what H D
32 describes in her pamphlet as the elaborate, quick splicing between multiple small 649). An important aspect of m ontage that contributed to the filmmakers desires for the film was its ability to portray the interior states of the characters. Friedberg confirms Borderline Sigmund Freud The Interpretation of Dreams H.D. ca desire was to combine psychoanalytic theory with cinema for a new filmic experience that had only been tried once before with Austrian filmmaker G.W. P Secrets of a Soul (1925) going to take my film into the minds of the people in it, making it not so much a film of ). While a psychoanalytic reading is beyond the scope of this thesis 1 it is impossible to a nalyze the use of montage in Borderline without addressing the internal consciousness of the characters. Borderline is set in a small, non descript European town. T he town is Territet, Switzerland, but it is shot to hide the specificity of place so that the story could be thought of as potentially happening anywhere, giving the film a far reaching q uality. he film transposes into Europe the familiar cultural narratives 1 For an in Uncoordinated White Borderline Borderline Sensation, and the Machinery of Expressi
33 transposed into a variety of racial narratives. For example, Debo argues that, Borderline deconstructs the popular post slavery myth of lynchin g as apt punishment for black men who rape white women, which ignores the reality of how lynching was used to reinforce white control (375). Because of the extensive use of montage and underlying psychoanalytic themes, the story is somewhat indiscernibl pamphlet and is best pieced together after viewing the film in its entirety. The four main characters are Pete, played by Paul Robeson, Astrid, played by H.D., Adah, played by Eslanda Robeson, and Thorne, played by Gavin Arthur. Other characters include a barmaid, played by Bryher, and a piano player played by Robert Herring. The white couple, Astrid and Thorne, lives in the town where Thorne has been having an affair with a black woman, Adah, who is also in a relationship with Pete, a black man. Pete has come to the town in order to win Adah back; in fact, he has most likely been called to the town by Astrid. The opening sequence of Borderline shows a train, and then cuts to Astrid, who is making a teleph one call. It is assumed that the call is to Pete and that the train is bringing Pete to the town so he can try and get his wife back who is having an affair with Thorne. Both Pete and Adah are presented in the film as having an ability to move about the to wn and the world. The first frame of the film which shows a quickl y moving train and last frame of Pete waiting to depart from a train station represent s freedom of movement. Adah frequently pictured near her suitcase and close ups of her suitcase b y itself often serve as a representation of her transient character. The fact that
34 how black bodies move through the film and thus through the modernist period. In contrast, Astrid and Thorne seem trapped inside their neurosis and physical spaces, which shows their static positions within society. Astrid, making the phone call from her room, is nervous and f idgety while the next shot of Thorne and Adah in an argument shows Tho rne acting violent and erratic. The importance and power of montage within the film is evident right from the beginning with this first sequence. The camera cuts back and forth between Astrid and Thorne and highlights their neuroses with rigid and contorte d body movements and strained facial expressions. The next scene takes place in a bar, where t here is music dancing, and people smoking and drinking. Pictured are a lively white barmaid and a white woman who appears to be the owner with short, cropped ha ir wearing a pants suit. The proprietress resists gender norms with her manner of dress and possible intimate relationship with the barmaid. Additionally, there is a piano in the bar with a white male piano player who keeps a photograph of Pete on the musi c rack. The stark opposition between the mood of the patrons and the ways in which the editing juxtaposes the spaces. In Borderline, the bar provides a safe place for people of various races and androgynous sexuality to commune and have a good time. The bar also serves as the entranceway to as drinking, smoking, and non hetero relatio ns take place; it is also a space that Pete feels comfortable in. In one scene he and the barmaid laugh together while Pete wears a rose in his ear that she has given him, effectively disrupting gender norms by aligning the rose with Pete instead of the fe male character.
35 The next fifteen or so shots continue to compare the physical spaces by rapidly cutting back and forth between the rooms of Astrid, Thorne, Adah, and Pete, and the bar. ike a border, montage separates and connects t hrough juxtaposition: white/black, man/woman, straight/queer, good/evil, earth/sky, e Other represent freedom, calm, and enjoyment; in a sense these spaces and characters are more human. The white spaces and characters, then, are depicted as primitive, or less evolved, in comparison. The different spaces in the film effectively convey the interior moods of the characters and the bar are more comfortably lit and appear inviting. The two white characters actions reflect the uncomfortable lighting in their rooms as they both seem uncomfortable with their place in the world. They also represent instability, they are not ground ed like the other adults; Thorne is a child and Astrid is a bird. In one scene, Astrid plays cards with a dead, stuffed seagull. Through the montage of shots between her and the bird they seem to have the same staring wild look complete with beady eyes. As she wraps around herself concealing her arms, is like a cover of white feathers. Fringe on the robe represents wings. Macpherson acknowledges the comparison of Astrid and the film like the very swift ely compared to
36 the bird; in addition the scene is edited to show Astrid/the bird/Astrid/the bird. Thorne, as the other white character, is like a child. Hi s internal conflicts are shown through his constant dejected facial expressions and poor posture. In the confrontational scenes between him and Adah or Astrid, he acts like a child having a temper tantrum. He often retreats to a corner of the room and slou ches down like he is pouting. In one scene, after a fight with Astrid, he lies on a bed in the fetal position looking indignant. In that same scene a kitten comes to him and, like a child, he seems to forget that he is angry and engages with the animal, pe tting it and talking to it. Thorne also has an obsession In opposition to the white characters Pete and Adah are mentally stable, di gnified, and certainly resist categorization as primitives. Although Pete and Adah eventually have to leave the town because of the racism of its citizens, they are both presented as respectable people and are not associated with the recurring stereotypes of African Americans that are typically seen in film. Debo contends: character is constructed through both his physical traits and the spaces th at he inhabits. to, as a couple of scenes show him there on the bed contemplating. No scenes of conflict take place in his room either; instead it is a place of reconc iliation. This is where he and Adah go together after they have reunited and it is also where he and his rival, Thorne, meet. During this scene it is especially obvious that Pete has control of the situation. While Thorne is visibly nervous and sweating he cowers before the calm,
37 smiling Pete who mocks Thorne with his arms crossed. Here Thorne is the vulnerable fool while Pete is the dominant male. The use of close ups and montage together additionally highlight the differences between the white and black c such as the hands and the face exaggerate the physical and mental appearances of the camera fetishizes Pete by linger ing on close ups of his body parts For example whose bodies are obsessively fragment ed through close ups of immobilized body parts 642). However, while I would agree that the filmmakers are making a point by distinguishing the white characters from the black ones this is mainly done through characteriz ation and montage. The film features close as Astrid and Thorne. These fragmentations can be seen in close hands. Most of the scenes in the film feat ure a close hands mimic her character they are claw and strong. In the clenching and unclenching of fists, various emotions such as nervousness and aggression are conveyed. Critics also say that Macpherson and his colleagues elevate Pete to inhuman like proportions. For example, Judith Brown writes humanized in the film [. .] his figure is aligned with the primitive, with es refer to the close within various scenes in the film but he is not the only one who is filmed in this way; all of the
38 characters are subject to drawn out close ups of their bodies. If Pete was the sole s critique would be more valid. While the use of montage and close up connects the treatment of the characters like appearance and exaggerated facial expressions add to her internal neur oses and cause her to implies a long (454 456). Astrid is frequently shown with a strained look on her face and an unnatural stiffness of her body. The camera angles seem to elongate her limbs to almost freakish proportion. In contrast, Adah, the light skinned black character has a more compact body that appears rounder 2 She also wears a rounded cap f or almost the entire film Thorne, with his childlike actions is also rendered powerless. Although he exerts power over both female characters with physical aggression, he ends up losing them both. In a heated scene after Thorne finds out that Astrid has called Pete to the town to reconcile with Adah and thus leave Thorne Astrid collapses to the floor and pretends she is dead. When she jumps up she has a knife in her hand and cuts Thorne in the face and hands who reacts by grabbing the knife and stabbing Astrid. With the quick editing and action of Thorne and Astrid struggling with the knife it is difficult to ascertain 2 C.M. 170).
39 women in his life. It is not unlikely, with his cowardly ways of beating up on women, that he killed Astrid with intent. Before he is discovered as the killer Thorne goes to the police and in a round Adah leaves the town at her own accord an d Pete is kicked out by the mayor. Pete, in contrast to both Astr id and Thorne, is depicted as a likable character with self buck; 3 he is not dumb, he does n ot answer to the white man, and he is not running around killing folks and raping wh ite women. McCabe points out that, ather than showing the black male as succumbing to uncontrollable impulses of sexual desire and violence, Borderline inverts the mythology promulgated by Birth of a Nation himself since it is he who is having an affair and he who takes out his aggression physically on Astrid and Adah. The final scenes of the film convey the racist treatment of Pete and Adah at the hands of the whites Adah departs, leaving behind a note that says she feels responsible for everything. An angry older white woman wearing a black hat and stockings, reminiscent of a witch, appears at the bar and a sequence of frames showing a poster of a black body, fists, and flames ensues. The white woman wants Pete out 3 routinely applied to African A merican men all worked to deny b lack men the work of the mind that routinely translates into wealth and power. Instead, relegating black men to the work of the body was designed to keep them poor and powerless. Once embodied, black men were seen as being limited by their racialized 153).
40 is he is not imprisoned. He leaves a free man, free to travel again. for its time, is clearly a complicated story with many twists and turns and symbolic undertones. He depicts the white characters as the un stable negative ones, while t he black characters are depicted as non threatening and likeable. Additionally, Macpherson chooses to include characters who are on the edge of typical depictions of gender. For its time, Borderline was groundbreaking for its t reatment of race and gender. If the POOL group wanted to produce a film that was different in its representation of race, they had to know that they were up against the historically prevailing notion that black men were closer to nature than their white co unter parts. I believe they succeeded in breaking away from a primitivist discourse of blackness by re imagining previously depicted black masculinity.
41 CHAPTER 6 LOOKING BACK TO HARL EM WITH ISAAC JULIEN British filmmaker Isaac Julien has contribu ted widely to the theory and scholarship outside of the formal boundaries of filmmaking by dealing with issues that are not ien emerged in the early 1980s as an independent filmmaker who wanted to explore social issues but within the realm of the experimental and is best known for depicting racism, sexism, and homosexuality in his films. H is first well known film, Looking for L angston examines sexuality and race in relation to the Harlem Renaissance and 1980s British and American culture. Jos Esteban Muoz argues that the film cultural productions that ided histories that need to be both Julien combines and re imagines both the 1920s and the 1980s through careful editing and cross cutting between frames of contemporary scenes and archival footage. lms exhibit classic avant garde technique, but Looking for Langston and his other films such as Territories (1984 Canada) and The Passion of Remembrance (1986 London), recall the editing styles of the early avant garde with montage and black and white film Looking for Langston in particular, utilizes montage in order to weave together a story with a multi media approach. Muoz remarks that, juxtaposing of layered dream filled with passion and remembrance that can be classified as an avant
42 g arde film. The field of the avant garde 1 that Julien works within provides more flexibility for filmmakers who care to focu s on more than appealing to mainstream audiences and making a large profit Julien, like other independent filmmakers are in a uniq ue position to challenge what has been typically fed to the public through popular media. bell hooks agrees that vant Reel 103). And the work of Julien, because of his role both a s a filmmaker and an intellectual is central to alternative views of blackness. Julien and filmmakers today work within and against hundreds of years of visual representations of black masculinity that most times works in conjunction with racist and sexis contemporary film to one from the 1920s is important to these historical constructions because it reminds us that the past informs the future and vice versa. Early filmmakers were up against the same kinds of ch allenges that still exist today. John G. Handhardt representation or construction in film as an issue limited to one genre or historical In this way history can be thought of as many cyclical processes where images are repackaged and repeated throughout time. of black masculinity is not a difficult task, but rather a necessary one because it highlights 1 avant garde cinema that is, see it as not only an economic/personal res istance, but also as a formal opposition to classic Hollywood cinema then the field of avant garde practice is indeed greatly expanded to include all those discursive practices outside the institutional mode of representation, including avant garde, docume
43 the ways in which negative images of black men have been merely repackaged through the decades. In Looking for Harlem: Urban Aesthetics in African American Liter ature Maria Balshaw argues that Julien focuses on the Harlem Renaissance in order to point co ncerns of the 1920s, and it is the historical dialogue between past and p resent that allows new and productive c the United States and Harlem for inspiration shows his investment in Hughes as a representative figure of black, gay identity. Julien revisits the Harlem Ren aissance and the iconic status o f Hughes by expanding the imagined sexual identities of black men during the period Additionally, Julien explores the relationship of white patronage to representations of blackness during the modernist period. Balshaw sugg ests that he film looks back to Harlem, not race and sexual identity that one sees in the writers and cultural producers of the 126 134). The ambiva lence that Balshaw mentions is a recurring theme that surfaces when discussing the dialectic of African American identity in the early twentieth century, as informed by the dynamics of race relations. Julien following this theme, works within and a gainst the stereotypical image of the black male of the Harlem Renaissance in combination with issues of gender and desire. He looks to the past in order to create a re vision of history while aligning the image of the black man with sensuality which is in marked contrast to the typical brutal black buck that has so often been seen on screen. patronage of black art during the 1920s and 1930s, homosexual identity, and the AIDS
44 epidemic of the 1980s. Although to James Baldwin and participates in a recollection of the effects of AIDS on the homosexual community of the 1980s. Henry Louis Gates Jr. explains that Looking for Langston an act of mourning, i n memory of three men who died in 1987, Bruce Nugent, James Baldwin, and Joseph we hear Essex Hemphill say in one sequence, re This kis s could turn to 232). ary on AIDS is seen both in the use of escorted to by a black man dressed as an angel. Looking for Langston the widely debated belief that Hughes was a homosexual. Although Julien never tried to market his film as a biography, the text does interrogate the difficulty of living as a homosexual man during both the 1920s and the 1980s. His willingness to interrogate black masculinity have been reproduced through persistent racism. Kobena Mercer comments: The film d o es not claim to discover an authentic o r essential homosexual identity (for Hughes or anyone else). Rather, the issue of authorial identity is invested with fantasy, memory and desire, and serves as an imagined point of departure for speculation and reflec tion on the historical and social relations in which black gay male identity is lived. (206) ideas of black masculinity have been imagined and repeated. Although Muo z argues orientation. (59) In stead, my focus is on the re imagining of rigid histories an d
45 con structions of blackness Julien uses specific techniques to connect the 1980s to the 1920s which include: his use of the works of Harlem Renaissance poets Langston Hughes and Bruce Nugent; his film style and adoption of early avant garde technique; hi s editing/cutting of archival footage and contemporary scenes; the character of of black male bodies by Robert Mapplethorpe; and his commentary on white patrons as depi
46 CHAPTER 7 LOOKING FOR LANGSTON : THE FILM In black and white cinema tography, Julien combines contemporary staged scenes with archival footage from the 1920s and interweaves them with dream like sequences that loosely depict a same scenes juxtaposes the two time periods in a way that forces the viewer to think of them as if they are in conjunction or dialogue with one another which stresses the idea that history is a cyclical process Julien complicates the idea of the black male of the 1920s by stressing the role of the body in the creation of black masculinity normally seen as violent or animalistic. Julien also informs the period of the 1920s and 1930s by examining the ambivalent relationships between blacks and whites. John Hill points out Looking for Langston is not so much a conventional historical film as a meditation upon the proces Jul existing documentary 221 231). Julien not only examines what it means to be a black homosexu al during the 1920s and the 1980s; he also challenges the static interpretation of black masculinity by refusing to uphold specific stereotypes of animalistic or violent sexuality The cast includes Alex, played by Ben Ellison, Beauty, played by Matthew Baldoo, and Karl, played by John Wilson. Alex, a light skinned black man, who can be read as Hughes, is on some sort of quest to find sexual satisfaction with Beauty, a very dark statuesque black man. Karl, a thin, pale w r by demanding the affection of Beauty and acting jealous. Woven throughout the narrative of desire is a commentary on death, as there are scenes in a graveyard and at a
47 funeral, and scenes portraying angels. Other themes involve androgynous representation s of gender, the fetishization of the black male body and carefree sexuality. The action of the film rotates from tucked away private spaces such as a funeral parlor, a speakeasy, and a bedroom to outside spaces like a cemetery and a field of flowers. Scen es in the nightclub are occurring simultaneously with the scenes of a funeral parlor that is housed in a balcony above the club. The funeral parlor later becomes a possible passageway to heaven with men dressed as angels who look down on the nightclub. Jul ien interweaves acted out scenes with archival video and still photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe and James Van Der Zee In place of on screen dialogue, the narrative of the film is constructed with the spoken poetry of Hughes, Essex Hemphill, James Baldwi n, and Bruce Nugent and music by Black berri. As Gates puts it; jazz, Motown, and contemporary dance music, London and New York: a transtemporal dialogue on the nature of identity and desire and The e stablishing shot of the film opens with Harlem. There is a train passing by, heading swiftly downtown. The fact that this film, like Borderline opens with a train signifies the movement of raced bodies through the film and thus through time which is an important theme considering the way Julien looks to Harlem for inspiration. Physical bodies move through time and the idea of those bodies also moves through time. The next sh ot cuts to the scene of a funeral where within the casket lies Julien himself The viewer is probably expecting to see someone resembling Hughes or Baldwin but instead we are face to face with the director which Bhaskar Sarkar suggests comes from a recogni
48 (222). The very next scene is a busy speakeasy or Nightclub where men are dancing and drinking champagne ; they are all wearing tuxedos A glimpse of 1920s Harlem is then cut in wit h archival footage (evident by the film quality) of a woman singing in a bar. desire to examine 1920s culture through a contemporary lens. Quickly the scene then shifts to a graveyard where photographs of Langston Hughes and James Baldwin are displayed and held in frames by black men dressed as angels The next scene is a low angle shot of the balcony above the club which also functions as the space of the funeral parlor where a group of angels (men with large red. They look down on the club below while the camera shifts back downstairs The following scene sets up the relationships between Alex, Beauty, and Karl. As Alex enters the nightclub he no tices Karl and Beauty sitting at a table together. The camera immediately begins to fetishize Beauty. Initially there is a close up of his crotch area and subsequent shots focus in on his lips, his face, and his profile. seat behind him at the bar. From that position Beauty can no longer see Alex without turning around and Alex is subject to the direct gaze of Karl who becomes very jealous when he notices Beauty and Alex looking at one another. Here, a triangle of looking is created between the three men. Karl is looking at Alex who is looking at Beauty who is caught between the two other men. Mercer points by operating in and against tropes of racial fetishism that Julien lays bare the ambivalent way s in which questions of race, identity, and power enter into the
49 attention and Julie same time is forced to gaze upon them. Muoz he ambivalence that a spectator encounters when interfacing with these images is not only a racist exploitation Julien is working within and against fetish by putting focus on the black body as an attempt to re c laim it, not degrade it. Karl explores the conflicted relationship between black artists and white patrons during the early to mid twentieth century and as his name indicates he most likely represents Carl Van Vechten As discussed e arlier, Van Vechten was a prominent figure during the Harlem Renaissance and supported many black artists during the period. Like other patrons, he has been criticized for romanticizing black culture and aligning black men with an essentialized primitivism ambivalent relationships between white patrons and black artists. To further complicate n the early 1930s Carl Van Vechten gave up his wr iting career to become a full time amateur photo grapher. He mainly focused on portraits, usually of high profile African American writers and artists. After his death, however, a lls argue s exposes his Smalls calls and depict the fetish of both black and white men. Additionally, Smalls claims that: erary and philanthropic influences, these photographs force the acknowledgement of a fact: that white
50 patronage carried with it a concomitant racial agenda that was motivated by a bias for modernist primitivism that viewed things African and African Americ an as a means through which the patron could enter what he or she believed was a more authentic relationship with the world. (79) scene where he fondles photographs of black nude bodies. In this scene there is a long, dark hallway with numerous photographs hanging about. Karl walks through the hall caressing the photographs which were t aken by Robert Mapplethorpe 2 Theses photographs of Mapplethorpe are very similar to the ones that Van Vechten kept hidden. The photos, of nude black men, fetishize the body and are se xual in nature. Karl seems to obtain pleasure out of stroking the lips and chests of the pictured men. The final shot of t his scene concludes with Karl handi ng a black man some money which indicates his ability to bu y the affections of his racial Other fetishizing the black portraits do not necessarily confirm that Julien is arguing t hat the interest of white patrons in blackness was driven by racism or a desire to better he dependency of artists and writers of the Renaissance upon their white patrons, and th e links between the movement and Modernist Primitivism are revealed in Looking for Langston as moments of ambiguity and am the dilemma that so many artists in the Renaissance had to face by positioning a white male char acter as ters and confirms the 2 For a thorough discussion of Mapplethorpe and fetish see Kobena Me Welcome to the Jungle pp. 171 204.
51 difficulties that these relationships pose on black male identity without necessarily putting him at fault by making him an object of desire. In Race and the Subje ct of Masculinities acial maleness is the orientation between the social and the psychic, of negotiations among popular forms of representation and political ideologies, and of technologies of This orientatio n between the social and psychic can be seen in the following montage scene. In the setting of the nightclub, another black man enters the and affection. The shot s rapidly cut between the black man, Karl, and archival footage of a black artist working on a statue of a black figure. Seeing the yearning of the black man and the annoyance of Karl in combination with the sculpting of the black body, shows that the crea tion of that black body is dependent upon a number of factors which create an identity. It also shows the desire of the black man to have the attention of the white man which also speaks to the relationship of patron to artist. At a later point in the of Bruce Nugent, friend of Alaine Locke, friend of Wallace Thurman. Admired for their intelligence and their art; were they seeking the approval of the race or of the black Other issues of identity creation within the film are expressed through the character of Beauty, who is depicte There are multiple levels of desire for Bea uty ; with the camera and thus the viewer the black man (Alex), and the white man (Karl). Interwoven with the bar scenes are two sets of dream
52 sequences. The first takes place in a bedroom where a naked Alex lies on a bed. Next to him stands Beauty and Karl who are undressing each other. Alex, like the viewer, is a spectator in the scene. His position on the bed shows that he wants to be a part of the sensual exchange between Karl and Beauty; however, they do not seem to see him so he remains a voyeur. The next dream state shows Alex, fully clothed in a suit, walking through a field. He eventually comes to the figure of man. Beauty stands, in the field, naked, with white calla lili es at his ankles. The camera slowly pans from his ankles, past his round buttocks and up his muscular back. Alex and Beauty then stand face to face. body close against his. film. Beauty is a character who exudes sexuality and confronts notions of how black masculinity is c Kenneth MacKinnon, in Representing Men: Maleness and Masculinity in the Media so obviously there, and it is so obviously physical, the suggestion is that if it is male, its the scenes filmed in the nightclub Beauty is always pictured nude. Th e initial scene in the club is the first scene where Beauty appears; his p osition is evident by the way the camera showcases his physicality. Like when he is in the club, in the scenes of him in the field the came ra first focuses on his body then moves to the face, lips, and eyes. Jos Arroyo argues: through a process of fetishization, and it is made desirable by making it the object of both the spectator The camera is re enacting the gaze of
53 the white colonizer or white patron by the submissive position that he is in the camera i s in control and sees what it wants, when it wants. is that these characters really aren in Looking for Langston is a safe haven for the black and white homosexuals who wanted to enjoy drinking and dancing with one another without being ridiculed. The bar is where men can come together and do the things that heterosexual couples would be socially permitted to do out in the open. The men are all dressed in their finest attire, with hair slicked back, drinking glasses of champagne, and smoking cigarettes. Some sit as couples at the tables, some danc e, and others stand near the bar. They are obviously very comfortable in knowing that they are tucked away from being scrutinized by the public. because at the end of the film t he club is raided by an angry mob of homophobic men. Other hidden indoor locations within Looking for Langston include a movi e booth, where two men engage in a sex act; a smoky dark room laden with photos of male genitalia; a nd a bedroom. All of the indoor locations that allow free sexual expression are dark and tucked away from the world. Even the outdoor scenes in the film portray the necessity to hide as intimate s cenes are depicted in a graveyard at night and in a dark al ley. It is impo rtant to note that these urban scenes are all shot with low key lighting One place within the film where Alex does not need to hide is in the pastoral landscape. Shots of h im walking during daytime through fields of black poppies and calla lilies
54 towards Beauty that are intercut with shot s of a black and white me n intimately touching represents that sexuality can be expressed in natural landscapes. However, these well lit, o utdoor scenes are all meant to be part of a dream/fantasy that Alex having. Perhaps this is a real fantasy of Julien too, that he and other black homosexual men might live in the open without the fear of being harassed or ridiculed. Isaac Julien has put t ogether a complex, insightful narrative that not only comments on history but also makes it evident that history is not simply in the past because it is always already informing the present. Looking for Langston informs Borderline with its examinations of race relations and Borderline informs Looking for Langston with its historical depictions of black bodies. Both contribute to an arena of critical thought that needs to be further pursued with other film and visual culture analyses.
55 CHAPTER 8 CONCLUSION Placing the two seemingly very different films, Borderline and Looking for Langston in conversation with one another allows us to gain further insight into the ambivalent relationships of white patr ons and black artists and the effects of those relationships on constructions of black masculinity. I t is evident that the relationships between blacks and whites were complicated at times and that white patrons and their ideas of blackness have had a dire ct effect on how African Americans are portrayed in the arts. Both Looking for Langston and Borderline, I would argue, succeed in their efforts to repres ent black masculinity in opposition to the prevailing stereotypes of blackness that are normally depicted in art and film because they make it clear that it is necessary to work within the stereotype in order to work against it. In addition, they both comment on race relations of the 1920s and 1930s and the historical dependence of racism on repeating the idea that blackness is inferior to whiteness. It is also apparent Looking for Langston Borderline re imagine black masculinity as something more dy namic than what has normally been fed to mainstream audiences and unfortunately continues to be seen today. Certainly between 1920 and 1990 other filmmakers have set out to do the same, some were successful and some not. However, these two specific films t ogether have helped me fill in some of the reasoning behind ideological racial representations and race relations of the 1920s and 1930s. Contemporary African American feminist scholars such as bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins have argued that many fi lms today have failed at showing different kinds of blackness and continue to reify the old stereotypes. Collins describes what is happening
56 disseminate the ideologies need thus making such types feel normal and natural. In addition, Anthony J Lemelle, Jr. t is possibl e to imagine patriarchy has changed, when in fact society only manufactured minor modifications. Society has reproduced different but similar forms of So, perhaps since these negative stereotypes continue to thrive efforts such as unknown film from so long ago must not have any effect on the future. Scholars prove this all the time by pointing out the importance of re visiting writing, art, music, and film. By re visiting Borderline, it is possible to see a re vision of the black male body because the creators succeed in their effo rts to work within and against prevalent types and the politics surrounding race relations. The portrayal of Pete and his opposition to Thorne, helps re imagine black masculinity by re working the hierarchy of racial interactions. It is not an easy task given the historical dependency on stereotypes of blackness and the ambivalence with which they have been reproduced. What I n away from studying the s e two film s is that the complexity of post slavery race relations needs to be further interrogated to discover the power behind ideologies such as negative stereotypes of black men. Examining these two films is a good start toward understanding how stereotypes continue to be upheld and recognizing this within other films and art can help to change the impact of stereotypical representations on racism. It is, of course, impossible to be free of all types, norms, or categories because like Louis Althusser argues, there is no exis tence as we know it
57 without ideologies, types, or categories 1 This is a rather futile situation to come to terms with. We can never get away or be free of stereotypes, we can only recognize that they are there and work on changing their effects on society. Doing so includes allowing and accepting difference. In his article, Space in Representation, Ed Guerrero states: What is now needed is an expanded, heterogeneous range of complex portrayals of black men that transcends the one dimensional, positive most common strategy for representing blackness, that is, channeling most black talent into the genres of comedy or the ghetto action adventure. We mus t now proceed to fill the empty space in the movies with deeply comp licated and brilliant black men (185). The end of racist depictions of blackness is dependent upon these complex portrayals so t hat they too will seem normal and natural. In addition to future endeavors, examining historical depictions of blackness is equally important. Studying the correlation between race relations and the creation of negative racial stereotypes, imagined or othe rwise, is essential to ensuring that blackness can begin to be thought of on a wider spectrum that permits difference and is held in equal esteem with white, hetero normative masculinity 1 Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays
58 LIST OF REFERENCES Archer Straw, Petrine. Negrophilia: Avant Garde Paris and Black Culture in the 1920s New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000. Print. Armstrong, Tim. Modernism Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005. Print. Cinemas of the Black Diaspora: Diversity, Dependence, and Oppositionality E d. Michael T. Martin. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995. 318 338. Print. Baker, Houston A., Jr. Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. Pri nt. Balshaw, Maria. Looking for Harlem: Urban Aesthetics in African American Literature. London: Pluto Press, 2000. Print. Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture London: Routledge, 1994 Print. to T he Birth of a Nation Representing Blackness in Film and Video Ed. Valerie Smith. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1997. 13 24. Print. Carby, Hazel V. Race Men Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998. Print. Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Se xual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism New York: Routledge, 2005. Print. Cooley, John R. Savages and Naturals: Black Portraits by Wh ite Writers in Modern American Literature Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1982. Print. Debo, Garde Film : Paul Robe son and H.D. in the 1930 Borderline Quarterly Review of Film and Video. 18.4. (2001): 371 383. Web. Garde and the Black Imaginary in Looking for Langston Wide Angle 13.3 4 ( 1991 ): 101 115. Print. Donald, James. Rev. of Borderline Dir. Kenneth Macpherson. Modernism/modernity 15.3 ( 2008 ): 594 598 Web. Borderline Close Up: 1927 1933 Cinema and Modernism. Ed. James Donald, An ne Friedberg and Laura Marcus. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998. 221 236. Print. Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin White Masks New York: Grove Press, 1967. Print.
59 Borderli ne Close Up: 1927 1933 Cinema and Modernism. Ed. James Donald, Anne Friedber g and Laura Marcus. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998. 212 220. Print. Borderline N etworking Women: Subjects, Places, Links: Europe America. Towards a Re Writing of Cultural History 1890 1939. Ed. Marina Camboni. Roma: Edizioni de Storia e Letturatura, 2004. 125 134. Web. Gates, Henry Louis Jr. Moder nism, Gender, and Culture: A Cultural Studies Approach Ed. Lisa Rado. New York: Garland, 1997. 161 174. Print. --Black American Cinema Ed. Manthia Diawara. New York: Routledge, 1993. 200 207. Print. --Black M ale: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary Art. Ed. Thelma Golden. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994. 11 14. Print. Black Male: Representations of M asculinity in Contemporary Art. Ed. Thelma Golden. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994. 181 190. Print. Guest, Barbara. Herself Defined: The Poet H.D. and Her World. New York: Doubleday, 1984. Print. Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary Art. Ed. Thelma Golden. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994. 85 90. Print. Hill, John. British Cinema Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999. Print. Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary Art. Ed. Thelma Golden. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994. 127 140. Print. --. Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies New York: Routledge, 2008. Print. Horak, Jan Christopher. Lovers of Cinema: The First American Film Avant Garde 1919 1945 Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995. Print. Hughes, Langston. The Big Sea New York: Hill and Wang, 1994. Print. --The Nation 122.3181 (1926) : 692 694. Web.
60 Modernism/modernity 15.3 (2008): 447 475. Web. Harlem Renaissance Re Examined. Eds. Victor A. Kramer and Robert A. Russ. New York: Whitst on, 1997. 121 132. Print. Lemelle, Anthony J., Jr. Black Masculinity and Sexual Politics New York: Routledge, 2010. Print. Looking for Langston Dir. Isaac Julien. Perf. Ben Ellison, Ma tthew Baidoo, and Akim Mogaji. Strand Releasing, 2007. Film. MacKin non, Kenneth. Representing Men: Maleness and Masculinity in the Media London: Arnold, 2003. Print. Close Up: 1927 1933 Cinema and Modernism. Ed. James Donald, Anne Friedberg and Laura Marcus. Princeton: Pri nceton University Press, 1998. 236 238. Print. Callaloo 25.2 (2002): 639 653. Web. --. Cinematic Modernism: Modernist Poetry and Film C ambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Print. Mercer, Kobena. Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies New York: Routledge, 1994. Print. The Movies in Our Midst: Documents in the Cultural History of Film America Ed. Gerald Mast. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. Pr int. Muoz Der Zee, Mapplethorpe, and Looking for Langston Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 199 9. 57 74. Print. Race Culture and Difference Eds. James Donald and Ali Rattansi London: The Open University, 1992. 198 219. Print. Paul Robeson: Portrait of the Artist (Bord erline). Dir. Kenneth Macpherson. Perf. Paul Robeson, Eslanda Robeson, and Hilda Doolittle. DVD. Criterion, 2007. Film. M odernism, Gender, and Culture: A Cultural Studies Approach. Ed. Lisa Rado. New York: Garland, 1997. 283 300. Print.
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62 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Hailie Bryant received her Bachelor of Arts in English at the University of Florida in 2008. Her research interests include Post Colonial Theory, Cultural S tudies, and twentieth century American L i terature. She plans to teach English for a year before applying to Ph.D. programs in English to reach her career goal as a college professor.