Routledge , 320 pages , £19.99 , HB
Bitesize: Fascinating history of gay and lesbian representation in Hollywood films.
Screened Out is the history of gay and lesbian representation in Hollywood films from the silent era up to the Stonewall riots of the 1960’s. Unlike for example The Celluloid Closet (which the book applauds for its pioneering work twenty years ago), this is about actual representation of gays and lesbians and not codification of homosexual iconography in film. In a nutshell, the argument here is that early cinema may well have had stereotypical gay characters but that these were (generally) tolerated, accepted and not punished within the film narrative. It is argued that gay representation was part of film’s vocabulary, either in an offhand way or to “spice” matters up. However, as with so many aspects of film, the Hay’s code put paid to representation, effectively outlawing gay characters from the screen from the mid-1930’s onwards. The subsequent decades were treated in a far more closeted manner and any overtly gay figure was normally a victim, victimiser or source of scorn.
Barios’ account is particularly lively when debating the transitional period from the mid-20s to mid-30s, The studios had to play a game of to-and-fro with the production board and the Catholic board of Decency (whose list of condemned films read out in Sunday church services memorably gave John Waters a handy list of films to go and see each week!) to try and make some sense of the censorial climate. In particular Biblical epics such as DeMille’s Sign of the Cross proved particularly problematic to the censors.
Well written and clearly passionate about its subject, the book’s only flaw perhaps lies in its desire to be thoroughly comprehensive within its remit. In order to cover as many films as possible, it doesn’t often deal with them in great depth or a wider context, which is a shame, but probably a compromise that
had to be made. However, there are a number of inserts that provide delightful insights into some of the more flamboyant or interesting characters in Hollywood, and those whom history has often ignored.
Any Cop?: A fascinating read that not only deals with its intended subject matter, but also provides an alternative history of Hollywood cinema and censorship.