IotD: Parker Tyler at Narcissus screening

From the Anthology Film Archives website, a delightful photo by photographer Katherine Bangs from a preview of the experimental film Narcissus by Willard Maas and Ben Moore in 1955.

Parker Tyler Marie Menken James Broughton by Katherine Bangs

Those pictured, from left to right, are pioneering queer filmmaker James Broughton, Julian Beck, the co-founder of The Living Theatre, painter and experimental filmmaker Marie Menken, and Tyler.

Menken and Maas were married, and their friend Andy Warhol famously called them “the last of the great Bohemians. They wrote and filmed and drank (their films called them ‘scholarly drunks’) and were involved with all the modern poets” (Nel 208). It has also been long rumored that Edward Albee based Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?‘s infamous Martha and George on the temperamental pair.

In his collection Underground Cinema, Parker writes at length about Narcissus, which he characterizes as a “Cocteau-influenced film:”

The myth of Narcissus and Echo is set forthrightly in a sort of city slum, a socially deserted warehouse district, where the hero is an infantile young homosexual living a hermit’s penurious life of wandering the streets, collecting toylike fetishes, and daydreaming… (219)

He goes on to state:

Narcissus is a serious and sensitive commentary on a deluded type of homosexual whose infantile withdrawal flows from mental and nervous instability. Without its mythological sensibility, however, the film would have achieved its poetic level” (219)

Anthology Film Archive also has a lovely gallery of stills from Narcissus, which I have long wanted to see but have yet been able. A few choice images:

willard maas ben moore narcissus still 1956willard maas ben moore narcissus still 1956willard maas ben moore narcissus still 1956willard maas narcissus 1956 4


Katherine Bangs
“Portrait of James Broughton, Julian Beck, Marie Menken, and Parker Tyler, at the preview of the film Narcissus” (December 15, 1955)
Source: Anthology Film Archives

Willard Maas and Ben Moore
Stills from Narcissus (1956)
Source: Anthology Film Archives

Works Cited

Manchester, Lee. “Who’s the Source for Virginia Woolf?” Wagner Magazine, 2013.

Nel, Philip. Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature. University Press of Mississippi, 2012.

Tyler, Parker. “History and Manifesto.” Underground Film: a Critical History, Da Capo Press, 1995, pp. 197–220.


Magic and Myth of the Movies: Parker Tyler Cover #1

The old adage warns against judging books by their cover, but who can deny the effectiveness and appeal of well conceived cover art? Over the years as I’ve encountered various editions of Parker Tyler’s film writing I’ve been consistently struck by how consistently eye-catching the covers have been, and came across the idea of collecting them together on this site in a kind of archive. That project begins here.

So first up we have the first edition of Magic and Myth of the Movies, published by Henry Holt & Co in 1947:

Parker Tyler Magic Myth of the Movies First Edition 1947

For a book published just two years after World War II, this cover exhibits a very contemporary sensibility–I can easily imagine this dust jacket gracing a 2018 new release. Unfortunately I have so far been unable to pinpoint the exact artist behind this striking design.

I particularly like the technique of presenting the various faces of stars in negative, rending them at once recognizably human but also otherworldly, even phantasmal. The synopsis on the inside flap (included below) characterizes Tyler’s approach to film analysis as getting “under-the-skin,” so collaging x-ray-like images of the Hollywood stars he studies is an extremely clever way of visually signaling both his specific interests and even critical methodology.

Also of note–and probably deserving of its own post–is that Magic and Myth of the Movies would later become beloved by Myra Breckinridge, the irrepressible heroine of Gore Vidal’s novel by the same name. As Myra writes in her diary, “Tyler’s vision (films are the unconscious expression of age-old human myths) is perhaps the only important critical insight this century has produced.” David Bordwell cautions that Vidal’s treatment of Tyler’s film writing in his novel should be taken as double-edged, “partly respectful, partly mocking” (112), but nonetheless this would undoubtedly be the edition Myra owns and refers to as she undertakes her late husband’s mission to write a definitive study of 1940’s Hollywood cinema.

Parker Tyler Magic and Myth of the Movies 1947 Inside Flaps

And to state in an author bio on a book about film that “he loves the movies, but… also hates them” is about as patently Parker Tyler as it gets.


New York Public Library Digital Collections

Works Cited

Bordwell, David. The Rhapsodes: How 1940s Critics Changed American Film Culture. University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Vidal, Gore. Myra Breckinridge; & Myron. Penguin Books, 1997.

IotD: An Intimate Glimpse of Francis Rose by Christopher Wood

Nude in a Bedroom Francis Rose by Christopher Wood 1930

Portraits by Sir Francis Rose have been featured previously on this site; here he becomes the subject of an intimate bedroom scene by fellow British painter Christopher “Kit” Wood. The two men were lovers at the time, and the scene is the room they shared at the Hôtel Ty-Mad overlooking the Tréboul Bay in north-western France (it looks like the hotel is still there, but has changed quite a bit over the years!).

I quite like the commentary on the painting Richard Ingleby provides in his 1995 biography of Wood:

Nude Boy in a Bedroom, in keeping with Rose’s tone, was one of Wood’s more overtly erotic paintings, not because the model is a boy and the boy is naked, but because the model is not obviously modelling. He is washing himself, going about his normal, private business in the corner of his bedroom. It is an intimate portrayal of everyday domesticity. This is presumably what Rose would have us believe when he prefaced his description of the picture with the sentiment ‘I loved him deeply” (246).

Referring to several sketches depicting similar scenes, Ingleby notes that they all have “an unmistakably post-coital feel” (246).

Wood’s expressive paintings and fascinating life has recently sparked my interest; this is almost certainly not his first appearance here.


Nude Boy in a Bedroom (1930)
Christopher “Kit” Wood
Oil on hardboard
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Works Cited

Ingleby, Richard. Christopher Wood: An English Painter. London: Allison & Busby, 1995. Print.

Radclyffe Hall, Una Troubridge–and Auntie Mame?

In my recent post spotlighting the several lesbian party guests glimpsed in the background of Auntie Mame I mention how for several seconds a tiny little interpersonal drama seems to play out, conveyed through gesture and expression. What I didn’t note was how these women actually brought to mind two specific historical figures: longtime partners Radclyffe Hall and Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge, perhaps the most well known lesbian couple of the early twentieth century. During the last years of the 1920’s, the exact period in which this scene in Auntie Mame takes place, Hall was at the height of her public notoriety due to public outcry against her novel The Well of Loneliness, culminating in an obscenity trial in British courts in late 1928. It’s kind of fun to think of her and Una dropping by one of Mame Dennis’s extravagant evening soirées, an unexpected convergence of queer modernist and mainstream Hollywood aesthetics.

Here is the first glimpse of the women in the tumult of the party:

lesbian party guests Auntie Mame 2

as well as a closer look:

auntie mame lesbian guests closeup detail

Here is Troubridge and Hall in 1933:

Embed from Getty Images

In the photo above Hall isn’t wearing her signature hat and it is impossible to make out the details of her jacket and other garments, but there are undeniable similarities between Hall’s distinctive facial features and the woman on the far left, and the hairstyle of the woman on right very much resembles Troubridge’s silver coiffure of this period.

Throughout her adult life Hall almost exclusively wore masculine suits, while Troubridge alternated between masculine and more conventionally feminine clothing. Which is interesting, considering the most well-known image of Troubridge is the striking portrait Romaine Brooks painted in 1924 where she appears as a lesbian dandy with a severe bobbed haircut:

romaine brooks una lady troubridge portrait 1924

Brooks’s portrait has since become an essential image of pre-Stonewall lesbian iconography.

Nearly as well known is this handsome 1928 portrait of Hall in profile:

Embed from Getty Images

So did the filmmakers of Auntie Mame, portraying a wild bohemian party from the late 1920’s, intentionally make a sly reference to the period’s most famous lesbian couple? Impossible to say, of course, though it should be noted that it was something of an open secret in Hollywood that Auntie Mame‘s costume designer, the prolific Orry-Kelly, was a gay man, and he would almost certainly have been aware of Hall, and likely Troubridge as well. And it’s not at all a stretch to imagine that as both international celebrities and artistic figures, Hall and Troubridge would have found the oversized doors of Mame Dennis’s penthouse thrown wide open to them, their hostess delighted to have them join her assembly of “eccentrics.”

But whether or not these visual resemblances between these extras and Hall and Troubridge was a deliberate choice is, in the end, somewhat beside the point. By the 1950’s, when Auntie Mame was made, the figures of Hall and Troubridge were so firmly established in the public imagination as archetypes of lesbian identity and sapphic sartorial style that American film audiences would directly link them back to The Well of Loneliness and its famous author anyway–so why not extend them a cinematic invitation to the party?


(Top to Bottom)

Auntie Mame
. Dir. Morton DaCosta. By Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Perf. Rosalind Russell, Forrest Tucker, Coral Browne, Fred Clark, Roger Smith, and Peggy Cass. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1958. DVD.

Troubridge and Hall attending first night of When Ladies Meet (1933)
Credit: Sasha / Stringer
Getty Images

Una, Lady Troubridge (1924)
Romaine Brooks
Oil on canvas
Smithsonian American Art Museum

Radclyffe Hall (1928)
Credit: Russell / Stringer
Getty Images

Spotlighting the “Mythical Lesbians” of AUNTIE MAME

auntie mame rosalind russell dvd coverSometimes a detail that appears in the frame of a film instantly seizes our attention and momentarily crowds everything else out–a situation I encountered during a recent rewatch of the 1958 film adaptation of Auntie Mame.

In the film’s second scene the young Patrick is introduced to his Aunt; she has misremembered her nephew’s date of arrival and he and his prim caretaker subsequently stumble into one of the lavish fêtes she regularly hosts at her extravagant Manhattan penthouse. Dumbstruck, the pair ogle the scene before them, and the film carefully showcases the wide range of eccentric individuals Auntie Mame associates with at the height of the hedonistic Roaring Twenties: a pianist playing ragtime while on his back, elderly Russian expatriates, raucous flappers, any number of “colorful” Asian and/or Middle Eastern figures in “traditional” garb–basically anyone conservative American audiences of the 1950s would likely find outré and/or politically suspect. As Mame careens through her rooms introducing her young nephew to anyone she encounters, she pauses momentarily to listen to the philosophical musings of one Acacius Page who is holding forth… to an indifferent room.

auntie mame lesbian party guests 3

But honestly I’m a bit hazy about the whole interaction because I was immediately distracted by the two other figures literally perched on the edge of the widescreen Technicolor frame: two older women, clearly coded as bulldaggers. I was equally mesmerized by their unimpressed glaring–they contemptuously amused by Acacius’s demagoguing–as by their chic fedoras, tailored pinstripes, and wide masculine lapels.

auntie mame lesbian party guests 5auntie mame lesbian party guests 6

Going back to take these screen captures, I also noticed that the pair exchange an eye roll and even a knowing wink when Acacius declares that the uniform at the children’s school he founded is to “wear nothing.”

auntie mame lesbian party guests wink 1

The appearance of these women–who never utter a line–reminded me of the fantastical and outlandish opening chapter of The Young and Evil, where the second line which reads:

“There before him stood a fairy prince and one of those mythological creatures known as Lesbians.”

There’s lots to unpack here–which I do in my thesis!–one of which is the tongue-in-cheek presentation of lesbian women who indeed have been historically treated as “mythological creatures” (consider the widely circulated legend that lesbianism was never illegal in Britain because Queen Victoria refused to believe such a thing existed). This isn’t a far cry from how they are presented in Auntie Mame, kooky “types” just as strange and “exotic” as a brownface maharajah with a monkey perched on his shoulder, intended to make the audience pop their eyes in wonder.

And yet, problematic representation aside, I have to admit I was still glad to see them there at all.

I also later realized I hadn’t registered that the same women appear earlier in the scene, foregrounded for several seconds during Patrick’s first glimpse of the party. Only this time they are smiling and sharing a laugh with another guest–a woman who presents as more femme, but on closer inspection sports neckwear that evokes a man’s string tie.

lesbian party guests Auntie Mame 1

Slowing down the pace to capture images, it also became clear a small interpersonal drama seems to take place between the three, which include a disapproving grimace and indifferent drag on a cigarette…

lesbian party guests Auntie Mame 2And for the briefest of moments, these queer ladies seem more than mere “types” and seem to possess a life of their own.


Auntie Mame. Dir. Morton DaCosta. By Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Perf. Rosalind Russell, Forrest Tucker, Coral Browne, Fred Clark, Roger Smith, and Peggy Cass. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1958. DVD.

Ford, Charles Henri, and Parker Tyler. The Young and Evil. 1933 New York: Masquerade, 1996. Print.

IotD: Djuna Barnes’s Brevity

djuna barnes signed postcard to robert wilson 1970

This made me smile when I saw it; it seems to so perfectly encapsulate the punctilious austerity that defined Barnes’s public persona during the last decades of her life. The brief description provided on the auction listing confirms the recipient as Robert Wilson, owner of the Phoenix Bookshop in Greenwich Village. What Barnes is specifically declining remains unspecified—and almost preferably so.


IotD: Wescott & Wheeler’s Queer Domesticity

While searching online for something else entirely I stumbled across this lovely image of Glenway Wescott (left) and Monroe Wheeler (right) at home.

glenway wescott monroe wheeler stone-blossom by bernard perlin

Taken by their friend painter Bernard Perlin around 1947, it depicts the two men at Stone-blossom, the farmhouse the two men shared. Stone-blossom was located on Wescott’s brother and sister-in-law’s large rural farm in Hampton, New Jersey. Biographer Jerry Rosco has written that the home “balanced Wescott and Wheeler’s world,” and quotes Ralph Pomeroy’s impression of it: “this was an eighteenth-century household, filled with art, music, literature, sculpture, and wonderful talk” (156). Wescott lived there full time while Wheeler, who was director of exhibitions at MOMA, commuted back and forth from New York City.

According to information included on the flickr site, the three portraits about the fireplace are silverpoints of Lloyd Wescott, W. Somerset Maugham, and E.M. Forster by Perlin.


Wescott and Wheeler at Stone-blossom (circa 1947)
Bernard Perlin flickr

Works Cited

Rosco, Jerry. Glenway Wescott Personally: A Biography. Madison, WI: U of Wisconsin, 2002. Print.

Book Review: ECCENTRIC MODERNISMS by Tirza True Latimer

eccentric modernisms cover tirza true latimerTirza True Latimer’s most recent monograph is a slim yet substantial examination of a “network of enterprising outliers” that profoundly influenced art and culture making in the first half of the twentieth century, but have been generally been omitted from most accounts of modernism. But “why,” as she asks in the opening lines of the introduction, “do their names no longer strike a chord?”

Of course, this is a question and topic familiar to anybody who has spent any amount of time reading through this blog, so it is perhaps no surprise that Eccentric Modernisms deals with exactly the same type of material featured here: the communities of transatlantic queer modernist artists that established social networks to support their artistic endeavors.

Rather than launching a project of recuperation or attempting to “fix” established historical discourses, however, Latimer simply characterizes her book as “three case studies,” devoting a chapter each to Dix Portraits, a collaborative and lavishly produced publication which featured poems by Gertrude Stein and artwork by five of her then-current protégés, the mounting of the Stein and Virgil Thomson’s opera Four Saints in Three Acts in 1934, and View Magazine, the innovative art journal edited by Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler during the 1940’s. The decision to direct all focus solely on three specific examples of “collectively produced art publications, performances, and ephemera” proves to be an elegant one in its dexterity and concision, with Latimer providing evocative details and minutiae to tacitly state the case for her larger arguments.

dix portraits ten portraits gertrude steinBut why eccentric modernisms, as opposed to any number of other modifiers—queer, bad, pop, improper, impossible, cosmopolitan, and so many others—that been attached to modernism in recent years? Latimer admits that “the distinction between queer and eccentric may not matter,” though it serves as a useful differentiation from other synonyms, such as marginality (4). In a conversation that aired on Yale University Radio, I was interested to find out that Latimer had actually started out using “queer modernisms,” but ultimately decided that for this project “queer” wasn’t intended to be “necessarily attached to a specific notion of sexuality,” but was instead a “more capacious term.” The distinction makes sense within the context of Latimer’s overall argument, even as it also reaffirms why I continue to use “queer modernisms” in my own work (I do want to retain some kind of basis in sexual orientation and/or behavior).

It was thrilling—and sometimes with a twinge of jealousy, I admit—to read through Latimer’s monograph, as she explores many of the exact same topics that I’m working through in my thesis: the difficulties of retrospectively applied terms and categories, the appeal of queer artistic networks, the motivation behind collaborative art making, the pleasures and perils of Gertrude Stein’s patronage, the nature of Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler’s artistic relationship, how and why so many things—even things which seem critically important—become “lost,” as well as the most effective strategies for recovering them. I suspect much that is here will find its way in one form or another in my own thesis, whether directly or conceptually. Latimer has been at the forefront of so much of the key scholarship of queer modernism (particularly her books dealing with lesbian expatriatism, the “modern woman,” and Stein’s enduring and multifaceted influence on modernism), and I suspect that Eccentric Modernisms is opening up space for a lot more work on these topics—which hopefully includes my own.

Eccentric Modernisms is available for purchase through the University of California Press.

View Magazine cover by Joseph Cornell, 1943

View cover designed by Joseph Cornell, January 1943

Works Cited:

Latimer, Tirza True. Eccentric Modernisms: Making Differences in the History of American Art. Berkeley: U of California, 2016. Print.