Friday, July 10, 2009

Reflections (4 of 4)

Part Four

My son and I had a discussion last night, during which he interpellated me as a digital native. We talked about how, having been active in the computer bulletin board movement, I had shown them to him, regrettably at the end of their popularity. Since then, we have moved to the Internet, and he has taught me to write HTML. It seems then, that I have gained a measure of digital nativity, sometimes growing into it with him. We differ, however on gaming, which he loves, and which bores me. He also loves his phone, while I find more as much a nuisance as a convenience and often leave it unconnected, or, depending on my mood and the caller, ignore. I have abandoned a landline however, and when I do elect to utilise telephony, it is through a MagicJack attachment to my computer. My partner uses either Skype on his laptop, or his cellphone, like my son. I seem to be midway between digital immigrant, and digital native in this respect. I do notice though, that I am much more connected to digital technology than most people of my age.

That may be one reason why I chose to create a video for my lesson plan assignment. I actually enjoy editing video on my computer. That seems very nativist. I was also aware of the limitations of video technology, probably because I had created video before, and noticed that it cannot bear large amounts of information transfer at one time. One concern I have with the new technologies is appropriateness. Because we are able to undertake something with new technology, does not mean automatically that we should or must. We must be aware of limitations, and pitfalls. It was rought very forcibly to my attention when I tried to show The Gay Brothers. It fell victim to software foibles. The college does not keep its system updated with current video codecs so Windows Media Player would not play the video. The system did not have the Videolan player, so I was stymied. On my laptop, Videolan (VLC) would not play, but crashed continually. It finally occurred to me that I used Media Player Classic rather than Windows Media Player, although they often confuse me. I tried Classic, and my video played fine, so that despite a delay, we were able to view it. The new technology always needs to be viewed critically, and provison for replacement or augmentation made.

Dan and I put together a statement of educational philosophy, and it is based largely on our negative experiences and how critical pedagogy should work. While we had minor differences, primarily over the emphasis of certain considerations, it is, I think, both interesting and horrifying that our experiences
nearly fifty years apart, are so negative and so similar.

We both agree that responisable pedagogy will revolve around respect and regard for the student. Accepting the student as a person, and one as close to an equal as is consonant with the teaching process, will result in a better relationship, and facilitate transfer of knowledge. The use of a traditional, top-down sort of educational paradigm may not always produce a desired result, and may leave feelings of alienation and bitterness. We further agree that while technology can enhance the learning process, it is not the sole means of teaching and learning. Interpersonal relations will determine the quality of the educational experience, to which technology, carefully monitored and chosen, will add greater depth and convenience. Some people uncritically accept or adopt technological advance and innovation. It is better to chose carefully the best items, and also, since technology is not always universally dependable, to come prepared with a non technological or low technology alternative in case of unfortunate occurrence. We have been exposed to egregious examples of poor teaching, and we resolve NOT to teach in the manner, in which students are viewed as empty beakers to be filled by the instructor. We advocate a partnership, sometimes a two-way street in which student and teacher inspire each other, and the learning becomes bi-directional.

I think this demonstrates our interest and committment to the idea of critical pedagogy.

I know one of the things which I found most interesting, and potentially a useful tool in either teaching or analysis, or both, was the SCWAAMP paradigm. It is a useful, short tool for film analysis that opens many prospects for creative interpretation. That with considerations of gender and sexuality, and Giroux's discussion of the abuses by the Disney company, let us look very critically indeed with various aspects of pur culture and environment. SCWAAMP explains a lot about topic selection in early film, and why gay people are absent. These are important and valuable ways to look upon our world.

Reflections (3 of 4)

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Part Three

Here are useful links to online materials which explain, expand and offer leads for further study.

Early Film:

Gay Film:

Critical Pedagogy:

Gender Studies:

Reflections (2 of 4)

Part Two

This lesson plan exists as an isolated element, for inclusion either within Dance 309, or as the basis for a possible class in Gay Film, ideally at the college, or through, perhaps, The Learning Connection. If used with the dance course, it could be used as is, or modified by adding clips of Carmencita, Little Egypt and Annabelle Whitford's Serpentine Dances. As the opening for a college dance class, it would be an introduction to later films, 1904-1920, of which there are very few.

Alice Guy Blache's Algie The Miner (1912) is probably the earliest film with an identifiably gay character. There are a number of cross-dressing films in which straight actors played women for purposes of humour. Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, Stan Laurel, Wallace Beery and others all tried their hand at these rĂ´les. Sometimes professional female impersonators were used, as Boothwell Brown in 1919's Yankee Doodle in Berlin. During the 1920's, many more gay characters and gay milieus were filmed.

Different From the Others
, made in Germany by Richard Oswald and Magnus Hirschfeld, was the first of a number of German films dealing with gay people and gay themes. There is a significant gay subtext in Fred Niblo's Ben-Hur, and Salome (1923) is reputed to have been produced entirely with gay actors and technical staff. Discussion of immorality in films led to the imposition of the motion Picture Production Code, which banned gay people from film, except for the "sissy" which remained the standard portrayal of gay people until after World War II.

From 1944's Laura on, gay people begin to become more visible, but with also, a dark and sinister quality. During the 1950's we see a loosening, including the appearance of Kenneth Anger's first films, the appearance of more gay characters, or gay actors, such as Rock Hudson trying to look straight. By the 1960's the Code has been overthrown, but gay people are still being shown in a negative light. After Stonewall, it seems that visibility is very much increased, but gay people always seem to suffer for being gay, as in Boys in the Band.

It is not until the mid 1980's that gay people seem to be relatively normal, and often funny. Later films deal with gay people in ordinary ways, but also allegorical depictions of gay problems, as in The Wolves of Kromer. By 2000, gay characters have been largely accepted into the mainstream, and gay directors examine social problems related to being gay, such as Elephant (2003). This lays out a very general approach to such a course, but detailed lesson plans have yet to be written.

Here follows the plan for the introductory The Gay Brothers:

The Gay Brothers
This video is designed to establish a discussion about early gay film, and to look critically at both film and criticism. Vito Russo, while first to examine gay film, sometimes lacks scholastic rigour. Russo seems to have let his agenda outstrip his ability as a researcher. Video is not always able to carry information with the same - depth or intensity as lecture or written material. In this video, the intertitles are kept deliberately simple for this reason. In addition, language use itself needed to be carefully crafted for simplicity. The short nature of the films selected, in most cases being 50 feet or under dictated that the video be very short. The Dickson Experimental Film, is the oldest surviving dance film; it has also been called the oldest gay film, on questionable authority.


1. Critical consideration of gay content in Dickson's film.

2. Review of other contemporary films with possible gay. content.

Activity 1:
Showing of The Gay Brothers video.
Activity 2:
Discussion of films.

The Dickson film was never released
to the public. Its purpose was solely to test the feasibility of synchronising image and sound. There is no evidence that the men on the film are brothers, or that they are gay. The music is the "Song of the Cabin Boy", from Les Cloches de Corneville, composed by Robert Planquette in 1877. The lyrics celebrate a life at sea with no women, but the Dickson film is merely an instrumental. The title The Gay Brothers seems to have originated with Russo himself.

Is this, as Vito Russo claims, the first gay film?

What are features of the film are, or may be gay?

What suggests that it may not be gay?

Discussion of other films: Sandow, Princess Ali, Dewar's and The Old Maid Having Her Picture Taken.

What gives Eugen Sandow's film gay interest?

What can we say about Princess Ali?

Is Dewar's a gay film? Is something else involved?
Can you tell on first viewing the film, that Gilbert Saroney is a female impersonator?
What do you think is the first gay film?

Reflections (1 of 4)

The Gay Brothers (1894?)

Part One

Vito Russo, in his book The Celluloid Closet (1976) gave us the first study of gay film. Even today, 35 years later, it remains a valuable reference. In his book, he claims that the Dickson Experimental Sound Film, which he calls The Gay Brothers, is the first gay film. Yet, when we look closely at the film, and the conditions under which it was produced, it seems less and less likely that it is truly a gay film, and that there are several other period films which have at least as strong a claim on the title.

I have long had an interest in film, and graduated with a second B.A. in Film Studies in 2006. My first BA, in English, I received in 1971. I am also gay, and have an interest in gay culture and its expression in film. I have just completed an MA in Film Studies, my thesis being titled Transgressive Masculinities in Selected Sword and Sandal Films, which dealt with items of gay interest. During my research I discovered that Vito Russo did not address all aspects of Hollywood film in his book, and, looking at The Gay Brothers, I was somewhat skeptical of his claims. The more I looked into the film, and studied it, the weaker Russo's claim seemed to become. I believe that two concerns were in force that motivated Russo's claim: 1) that he sincerely wished to find an early gay film, the earlier, the better; 2) that he allowed his intention to colour his reading of the film. He looked at the film from a modern, rather than contemporay point of view, and read as sexual, opportunistic homosocial actions designed simply to keep the action centred before the camera.

In order to explicate the film, I chose four other contemporary films made between 1894 and 1901 which had possible gay themes. I also researched The Gay Brothers to see if there was any information which supported Russo's contention. By using intertitles, I tried to make as much of this information available as possible. The film's history is itself somewhat involved.There is some evidence that it may have been considered for public showing, but none that this ever actually happened. It remains an experiment in image and sound synchronisation. Some critics claim that the experiment was a failure, but a number of Kinetophones were built and shipped before the Kinetoscope craze ended. This alone suggests that the experiment was not a failure, but a success. For many years, only the film portion remained. In 1964, a broken cylinder recording was found marked "Dickson-Violin by W.K.L. Dixon with Kineto". When it was eventually repaired, in 2000, the sound was transferred to digital media, and the sound and image were reunited after an interval of 106 years. Following the Dickson Experimental Sound Film, Sandow, Princess Ali, Dewar's and Old Maid Having Her Picture Taken were shown. The viewer was then invited to offer his thoughts on the films.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Reworking Media

Some Thoughts on Using Media for Teaching
In order to use media, you first have to obtain it, then manipulate it. Many older people are not aware of the ways in which media can be spread or manipulated, though students are usually very savvy. First, in order to obtain media or sometimes software, you need to be aware of the file sharing or P2P (Peer-to-Peer) networks. This might be something you would wish to research to understand how the system works, and problems with it. We will assume that we are working with public domain files. Forms of Bit Torrent do most of the work here transferring files. I recommend U-Torrent (technically, this is mu-torrent). The download is free, here: After you have a Bit Torrent client, you need a torrent, which is a file with information on where the client will find connections to the file you are seeking. You could use Google, but a specific torrent search engine is preferable. Some P2P sites are private and require invitations. Try these to start:

Freaky Flicks ( can also point you to a number of rare films not easily found. There is a large collection of public domain video at Some sites require you to maintain a minimum download/upload ratio. When you have located the torrent that interest you, download it, then click on the file. U-Torrent will load it, and you merely have to configure things (download space, etc. U-Torrent will do the rest, downloading sometimes in a matter of minutes, sometimes over a number of days. Be sure to look for a torrent with the highest number of Seeds. Read the comments on the torrents, as many are defective, damaged or fakes.
After you have your download file, you will need to burn it to a DVD, or edit it. ConvertXDVD ( )is good for burning. Your students would probably hunt for a a torrent for it, and download it. The same is true for MagicISO ( or PowerISO ( ISO is a format you will run across, as is daa. Nero ( should be able to burn ISO's also. daa's would need to be converted. Freeware converters ( are available. Freeware ( DVD burners, copiers and rippers are also out there. You simply need to hunt for them.

I like Pinnacle Studio ( for video editing. For the Mac, there is Final Cut ( Adobe Premiere ( is available with educational discounts, and there is, or used to be, a free version of Avid ( In order to make archive copies of some of your DVD's you may need DVD Decrypt (, which copies all the files. You would then copy them to a DVD with DVDShrink ( To obtain video to edit for your classes, you need a ripper. AoA DVD Ripper ( is good, and they have other media utilities. I recommend the .avi format for files, as the quality is higher. Once you have you file loaded for editing, you can clip out what you don't want to show, add intertitles if necessary, and have a video at substantially higher resolution than YouTube. You may wish to collect a variety of fonts for your titles. For audio work, Audacity might be helpful (

Friday, July 3, 2009

Down, Down, down

What a range or emotions yesterday! We started with a marvelous discussion of sex, gender and sexuality, and followed it with a visit from Marko McWilliams, who i had known previously. His presentation was brilliant, but I noticed that people did not want to actually voice the content of his Vogue cover. I felt somewhat this way myself, but the more i think about, the nastier those implications seem. His World War I recruiting poster gave, and still gives me shivers. Who was that white woman being ravished? I think perhaps it may have been intended to represent Belgium, and that brings the period phrase "Rape of Belgium" to mind. So are we actually looking at a repressed representation of interracial rape? Is the idea of interracial rape what we are disturbed by? Suppose it were on the other hand consensual sex? Are we being tantalised by the possibily of mixed race encounters and the mythology of the black man as sexual superman, and the white woman as eager participant? is that why an issue about health and swim suits shows both partners clothed in manner than conceals their bodies? Are we afraid to address or confront them as attractive physical entities? A disturbing picture, with yet more disturbing thoughts.

The afternoon was, on the other hand, a disappointment. Disney's Up was a downer. Here's a piece that suffers from way to little development. The plot is underdeveloped. Certinly things happen, but since the characters are also poorly drawn, no one really cares. In the guise of adventure, the values distributed are largely hegemonic, with just a cynical soupcon of the transgressive to trick the viewer into thinking that it is not patriarchal. It is hard to find a charcter to identify with, except perhaps Ele, who is dead. Russell, Charles and Carl are unattractive, lacking maturity and dynamism. Only Kevin seems in any way likable. he is in fact, a throw back to the old disney type character, while the others are contemporary, cutting
edge corporate bilgewater. Kevin seems to be a reincarnation of the aracuana, from Disney's 1947 Clown in the Jungle.

For me, Up was a waste of good money, I spent 2 hours bored, and even a bit offended by clumsy mecahnistic way in which Pixar assumes that glitz can substitute for content. To be sure, some of the 3D effects are good, and impressive, but wearing the glasses gave me headache for which I felt I received no compensating return. Glitzy crap remains crap. I was offended the more when I realised that I much preferred Midnight Meat Train to Up. Disney's cynical manipulations left me cold.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Up, Up and Away

Most critics seemed to like Pixar's Up, although a number had significant reservations. The opening scenes seem to win almost universal praise for being sensitive, artistic and cinematic. On the other hand, it was also criticised for banality, particularly of plot choices, and sentimentality. One reviewer even thought it bleak and depressing, as well as boring.

It clearly copies a number of great films, a technique to add imaginary richness. The voice-overs received praise. The animation techniques were extolled at great length, but ultimately critics found the film pleaurable, but wanting. Pixar's earlier works had raised expectations to a higher level than they cared to satisfy. The consensus was that it was a good film, but flawed, and unlike;ly to be accepted as a great film .

Three sample reviews: