In their excellent general history of queer sexualities in American film over the past 100 years, co-authors Benshoff and Griffin gracefully realize their goal of creating “a volume that would update and theoretically complicate Vito Russo’s The Celluloid Closet.” In their up-to-date consideration, they contextualize films in relation to cultural, political and social issues surrounding homosexuality and its perception. From the subtle suggestions in silent movies through classic Hollywood pre- and post-Hays Code, experimental and underground film and the New Queer Cinema of the late 1980s to the present, the college professor authors maintain an accessible style and vocabulary even while tackling prickly points and turns of queer theory. Beyond queer films or characters in films, the study also puts forth a lineage of queer filmmakers from Dorothy Arzner and George Cukor to Todd Haynes and Gregg Araki, and explores how queer movie audiences read, learn from and deconstruct the images presented both of them and by them. While hardcore gay pornographic film is under-considered, early physique films, gay documentaries and AIDS films are well covered, though some mainstream films are conspicuous in their absence (Dog Day Afternoon, for instance). Like Russo’s groundbreaking study, this new contribution to the field is essential.
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