Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.3&4 (2001) 555-557
[Access article in PDF]
The Queer German Cinema
The Queer German Cinema. By Alice Kuzniar. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000. Pp. 314. $55.00 (cloth). $19.95 (paper).
In her latest book, The Queer German Cinema, Alice Kuzniar turns her attention to the twentieth century and to German film. In Outing Goethe and His Age, an earlier edited volume, her studies and excellent introduction examined eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century German cultural history. That collection aroused a great deal of general interest in a period and place that many treat as distant and obscure. It is to be hoped that this new book will also draw general interest to its topic; it will certainly interest readers with backgrounds in German studies, film studies, gay and lesbian studies, and queer theory.
The Queer German Cinema does not list Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet (New York: Harper and Row, 1981) in its extensive bibliography. We can take this as a significant indication of the parameters of her study, setting it clearly off as a contribution to queer rather than gay film analysis. The Celluloid Closet broke ground for the study of the images of gays and lesbians in film and as such can be understood as a fundamental contribution to gay studies. Russo's extensive history of gay representations relied on a repressive model of sexuality, following a trajectory from struggle in coded images to open liberated images and beyond. Although Kuzniar's analyses do follow a chronological order, she by no means attempts such a comprehensive cataloging of the representations of gays and lesbians in German film, nor does she employ a repressive model in her analysis. Indeed, in her introduction Kuzniar expresses [End Page 555] provocatively the desire to "problematize what a single trajectoried idea of gay and lesbian 'history' or 'movement' would be" (p. 18). She also eschews any form of analysis that would automatically valorize as progressive the representation of gays and lesbians or would make a central issue of the sexuality of the director. Furthermore, this work will not provide a narrative of gay liberation history. It may frustrate readers with an anthropological interest in gays and lesbians as a species. Nor does the rationale that determines the selection of films and drives the analysis derive from a film's or director's commitment to a political movement--although many of the films and directors evidence such a commitment.
Kuzniar relies instead on an understanding of allegory in her choice of films, focusing on an "allegorical queer cinema." Such a focus reminds us that Kuzniar is a professor of German and comparative literature. Queer cinema for her is that which "develops the 'possibility of perversion' by indulging in an array of supplementary, scopic pleasures--the theatrical exaggeration of gestures and costume . . . the playful allusion to pornography . . . the imaginary anatomy of the multi/transgendered body, the supplement of the lesbian dildo . . . and the seductively androgynous look of the cartoon character" (p. 14). Kuzniar further contends that German cinema evidences a particular relationship to this queer cinema. This relationship, initiated in the Weimar era, has lasted to the present. Such an assertion derives from the seminal role of Anders als die Andern (Different from the others, 1919, dir. Richard Oswald), the world's first homosexual emancipation film. This film appeared at the outset of the Weimar Republic, creating a significant controversy even in the midst of all the chaos of that moment. Kuzniar draws on this film as in effect an allegory for its own contemporary theories of gender inversion. Here allegory appears as a relationship of the text to its sociohistorical context. In this first chapter, Kuzniar goes on to explore the particularly popular Weimar genre of the "Trouser Roles," or cross-dressing films, mainly female to male. This is the first time these films have been discussed from this perspective and at length in film studies. However, by her definition of queer cinema, it would have been possible for her to have gone farther back and...