Amoeblog

Happy Birthday, Oscar Wilde!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 16, 2010 03:00pm | Post a Comment

The second most-read writer in the English language is also, in my opinion, the funniest. Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16th, 1854 in Dublin, Eire. He is probably the most quotable figure in the English language as well, having coined too many clever epigrams to choose just one to represent his wit.

Oscar Wilde was a married man with two children but an affair with Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas led to his imprisonment for homosexuality. After two years of hard labor, he was released a broken and broke man. He moved to Paris where he died at 46 years old in 1900 from acute meningitis, following an ear infection. By some accounts, his final quip was “Either these curtains [or wallpaper, by other accounts] go or I do!”

Our greatest comic, whose life was as much (if not more of) a work of art than his plays and short stories, Wilde’s been the source, subject or merely inspiration for many films in many languages. Consider these many films, most of which formerly were gathered together in an Oscar Wilde section at the end of comedy but now float around Amoeba Hollywood’s mezzanine in various locations. If you can't find them, ask at the info counter.

1908 - Salome

1910 - Dorian Grays Portræt

Continue reading...

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Silver Lake, Los Angeles's Gayborhood

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 8, 2010 09:33pm | Post a Comment


Silver Lake
is a largely gay and hilly neighborhood (one of its nicknames is "The Swish Alps") in LA’s Mideast Side. To vote for more Los Angeles neighborhoods to be featured in a future post, click here. To vote for LA County communities, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.

 

INTRODUCTION TO SL

First things first… Silver Lake is two words! Don't believe me? Count 'em! There are fifteen Silver Lakes in the US, thirteen of which are two words (one of the offenders is in Texas, and therefore doesn't really count). It is supposedly the second gayest place in the Southland, after West Hollywood and in front of Broadway Corridor.

 
Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Maps of the Mideast Side and Silver Lake*



Its neighbors are Los Feliz, Franklin Hills, Sunset Junction, Virgil Village, P-Town, Atwater Village, Frogtown, Elysian Heights and Echo Park. For this episode, I was joined by my traveling companion, filmmaker Diana Ward.

Constructing the reservoirs

EARLY HISTORY & THE RESERVOIR

The area that is now Silver Lake was once populated by the ancestors of the Chumash, who arrived around 13,000 years ago. The Tongva/Kizh arrived from the Sonoran Desert to the east some 3,500 years ago. In 1542, whilst exploring on behalf of Spain, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo claimed all of California for the Empire after having set foot in San Diego Bay, Santa Catalina Island, San Pedro Bay, Santa Monica Bay, and a few other coastal points. Nevertheless, more than two centuries passed before Spain moved to protect their till-then mostly nominal possessions from the possible encroachment from the English and Russians.

Setting the stage for conquest part to secure California, in 1769 Spain sent explorer Gaspar de Portolà de Rovira on an overland exhibition of what’s now California. In 1777 a plan was put into place to establish civic pueblos to support the newly established military presidios. In 1781, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles de Porciuncula (Los Angeles) was founded near the banks of the Los Angeles River. Los Angeles was granted four square leagues of territory, the northern border of which corresponded closely to what’s now Fountain Avenue and the western ran along what’s now Hoover Street. 


Detail of an 1887 map showing the Southerly portion of Ivanhoe

In the 19th century, Scotsman Hugo Reid named the area just north of Los Angles's northern border Ivanhoe and many streets still have Scottish names or names taken from Sir Walter Scott's famous novel, including Ben Lomond, Hawick, Herkimer, Kenilworth, Rowena and St. George. In the map above, the future site of the Silver Lake and Ivanhoe Reservoirs is merely designated as the LA City Res Site, which was before its development as a reservoir a seasonal wetland and part of the Ballona Creek Watershed.

Detail of a map from 1894, still showing the area as Ivanhoe

In 1906, the neighborhood’s two reservoirs were named the Ivanhoe Reservoir and the Silver Lake Reservoir, the latter after LA DWP commissioner Herman Silver.


Detail of 1913 Los Angeles map showing Silver Lake - Elza Ave is now Silver Lake Blvd 


Detail of 1945 Los Angeles map showing Silver Lake - Elza Ave was by then Silver Lake

The reservoir was first drained in 1951 and there was no sign of the infamous Sylvie, the Silver Lake Serpent.


The August House  


 The Canfield-Moreno Estate

 
The Burrows Residence


The Garbutt-Hathaway Mansion

THE SILENT FILM ERA

In 1909 William Selig and Francis Boggs established a film studio in Boggs' rented bungalow in Edendale, an historic Los Angeles neighborhood centered in what is now Echo Park and the eastern portion of what’s now Silver Lake. Soon, Edendale was the center of the burgeoning industry. Meanwhile, Monogram, Vitagraph and Walt Disney all established studios in another Silver Lake neighbor, Franklin Hills. Silver Lake, situated between the two, immediately attracted industry figures and creative types. With the silent film industry including many homosexuals, by the 1920s, Silver Lake also supported a thriving gay population which continue to reside in the neighborhood to the the present.

Silver Lake was also, like neighboring Echo Park and Elysian Heights (nicknamed “Red Hill”), a hotbed of Communism. Beginning in the 1920s and continuing into the 1930s, many real estate developers began to build up the neighborhood. One home, The August House, built in 1913, is one of the neighborhood's oldest. Antonio Moreno, was a "Latin Lover" who commissioned the development of the Moreno Highlands as well as his own Canfield-Moreno Estate (co-named after his oil heiress wife, Daisy Canfield, and also known as The Paramour Mansion and The Crestmount). There's also the Gaudi-inspired Burrows Residence, designed in 1921. Cinematographer Frank A. Garbutt had the Garbutt-Hathaway mansion built on top of a hill and it was a frequent shooting location since its completion in 1928.


The Avenel Co-Op 


The Droste House


The John R. Hunt House


A Neutra home


Another Neutra


Diana checking out another Neutra



The O'Neill Duplex   


Silvertop  


The Tierman Home

Moving beyond bipolarity - da meeja, favoritism, fairness and equality

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 17, 2010 11:25am | Post a Comment
Just a little pie chart to ponder... First, the demographic percentages of the US's major minority populations:

 

...versus the google results for their respective national, month-long cultural observances.

...which suggests that, as I assumed, Black History Month is far more of a concern than Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Native American Heritage Month. Black History Month is all good, but why not recognize the rest? And, although not a minority, Women's History Month deserves some recognition too... as does Gay Pride Month. This year of the tiger, resolve to move beyond bipolarity! 

Timeline:

Black History Month began in 1893 as Colored American Day.

Women's History Month began in 1911 as International Women's Day.


Native American Heritage Month began in 1915 as American Indian Day.


Hispanic Heritage Month began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week.


Asian Pacific American Heritage Month began in 1978 as Asian American Heritage Week.



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No sound no tell, Gay Cinema in the silent era

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 31, 2009 12:12pm | Post a Comment

Frederic Lord Leighton's Flaming June

June, in addition to being Vision Research Month, Fireworks Safety Months, Light the Night for Sight Months, National Candy Month, Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month, Cancer in the Sun Month, Dairy Month, National Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Month, National Iced Tea Month, National Pest Control Month, Safety Month, Scleroderma Awareness Month, and Zoo and Aquarium Month, is also Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, first established by Bill Clinton back in '00. Therefore, I may in the coming weeks blog about iced tea or become aware of Scleroderma, but for now I will focus on Gay Cinema.

One of the first things I noticed about gay people's feelings toward Gay Cinema is that they're almost all negative.  Exceptions are usually foreign films, which are almost invariably downers. The first year Amoeba observed Gay and Lesbian Pride month in the movie department in the form of a display, we all had an uncomfortable chuckle about the unfailingly depressing storylines of the films we featured. Films based on the lives and deaths of famous gays like Joe Orton, Brandon Teena, Oscar Wilde and James Whale all ended tragically. And here I thought gay meant happy!


The history of Gay Cinema is quite unlike most minority driven alternatives to Hollywood. Unlike American Asians, blacks, Latinos and Natives -- whose identities have always been fairly obvious (except in cases of passing) -- gays have always had the option of remaining invisilble. Therefore, gays were never required to sit in the back of the bus, attend special schools or live in segregated neighborhoods. In the silent film industry, most gay actors understandably chose to hide their identitites. Though there are few overt representations of homosexuality in silent films -- mostly in European films -- most are merely hinted at. More importantly, however, the contributions of gays both in front of and behind the camera are many and noteworthy.


In 1895, Irish celebrity, genius, comic, dandy and second-most-read author in the English language, Oscar Wilde, was arrested on charges of "gross indecency." On the stand, he eloquently defended his position:

      "The love that dares not speak its name" in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a      
      younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his
      philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep 
      spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art, like     
      those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in
      this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as "the love that 
      dares not speak its name," and on that account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is
      fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it
      repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the
      younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world
      does not understand. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it."

The courts were unmoved and Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor, which destroyed his fame and person. Given the climate of the time and the relative ease at concealing their sexual orientations,  Gay Cinema was, in most cases, coded and subtextual for many years. In the US, depictions of homosexuality were forbidden in by the censors. Thus there would be no minority-serving alternatives along the lines of Asian-American Cinema or Black Cinema for decades to come. As a result, what is Gay Cinema is much more up for debate in a way that other minority cinemas are not and arguing about what/who is/isn't gay seems to be practically a pastime.

     

Then as now, Hollywood was full of gay and bisexual actors such as William Haines, Edmund Lowe, Lilyan Tashman, Alla Nazimova, Charles Bryant, Clifton Webb, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Louise Brooks. In order to keep up appearances, many paired up in front marriages, sometimes with straights and other times with gays of the opposite sex. For the most part, many were widely known to be gay or bisexual within Hollywood.



A few gay actor made no efforts to hide their preferences. Tallulah Bankhead, for example, was one of the few actresses to live her life completely out of the closet, bragging that she bedded Greta Garbo, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford. But most actors stayed in the closet for their own safety. When an actor's homosexuality was too well known, violence often resulted. When William Haines and his boyfriend Jimmy Shields were too obviously gay, they were attacked by an angry mob. Minority gays seemed to have it twice as bad. Luis Antonio Damaso de Alonso not only had to anglicize his name to Gilbert Roland to be accepted within Hollywood, he also married a woman in order to maintain his commercial appeal as a "Latin Lover." Another Latino actor, Ramon Novarro, ended up being beaten to death.



Gays behind the camera were uninteresting to celebrity worshippers and therefore mostly ignored by scandal rags. As a result, they often went to less trouble to hide their homosexuality than those in the public eye. Gay directors of the silent film era include Edmung Goulding, F.W. Murnau, James Whale ("The Queen of Hollywood"), Jean Cocteau, Mauritz Stiller and the completely uncloseted, butch Dorothy Arzner. That's not to say they didn't sometimes run afoul of scandal. Gay director George Cukor was arrested at least once on vice charges, although his connections got them dropped and the scandal rags said nothing of it. Few risked depicting homosexuality overtly, instead relying on subtle gay subtexts that went past the offendable. Nonetheless, there is evidence that some of their careers were impacted by knowledge within the industry of their homosexuality, with several finding difficulty sustaining careers despite their commercial viability.


1890s
Some argue that the first gay film is 1985's Dickson Experimental Sound Film, directed by William Dickson. It's also the first known sound film. The film depicts Dickson playing "Song of the Cabin Boy" whilst two men dance. Some have argued that there is no actual suggestion that the dance partners are meant to depict a couple but, "The film depicts Dickson playing 'Song of the Cabin Boy'," and it does, in its seventeen seconds, include more homoeroticism than the entire Philadelphia. In Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet, he asserts (without citation) that the film was known as The Gay Brothers although the term "gay" was rarely used to refer to homosexuals in the Gay '90s.


1900s
I don't think reading L'éclipse du soleil en pleine lune as gay actually requires much in the way of mental acrobatics. Not that it offers much in the way of overtly sympathetic portrayals of homosexuality, just a camp chuckle and some amazing pre-CGI special effects.


1910s
Some have suggested that Alice Guy-Blaché's Algie the Miner depicts the first obviously gay character. I would argue that he's merely a sissy, an archetype not always associated with homosexuality as it is now. In A Florida Enchantment, characters ingest magic seeds which turn them gay for comedic effect.



When Sweden's Mauritz Stiller (himself gay and best known for Sir Arne's Adventure) directed Vingarne, he depicted the first overt and non-comedic gay (and bisexual) characters. Commissioned by sexologist Magnus Hirschfield, Anders als die Andern followed a few years later as a protest against the infamous Paragraph 175. After stirring up controversy, it was subsequently restricted to audiences in the medical profession.

Algie the Miner (1912), A Florida Enchantment (1914), Vingarne (1916), Anders als die Andern (1919)

1920s
Germany ruled the gay roost in the 1920s, thanks in part to the atmosphere of the Weimar Republic. Mikaël was Carl Theodor Dreyer's adaptation of the same novel that had previously been turned into Vingarne. Alla Nazimova purportedly requested that Salomé's parts be entirely cast from gay performers. The resulting film, a highly stylized, decadent visual feast, was a financial flop.

   

Salomé (1923), Mikaël (1924), Jean Cocteau, fait du cinema (1925), Gesetze der liebe (1927), Geschlecht in fesseln - Die sexualnot der gefangenen (1928), Die büchse der Pandora (1929), Das tagebuch einer verlorenen (1929)

In conclusion, whilst gay actors and directors may've kept all things gay hidden (for the most part) in the silent era, it's hopfully obvious that they nonetheless played a considerable role in advancing all aspects of film as an important art, paving the way for everything from the cult, gay experimental films in the early sound era to the mostly not-worthy-of-a-raised-eyebrow gay films of the present.

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