Sunday, July 5, 2015

Gregory J. Markopoulos | Christmas, USA / James Broughton | Adventures of Jimmy

two early us gay films of 1950

denying what you say as it’s being said
by Douglas Messerli

Gregory J. Markopoulos (director) Christmas, USA / 1949
James Broughton (director and actor) Adventures of Jimmy / 1950

Gregory J. Markopoulos’ 1949 work, Christmas, USA is a trance film that pretends, at least, on the surface to be a film about the central figure’s homelife. Critic Adams Sitney has described such films as follows:

                  These deal with visionary experience, protagonists are som-
                  nambulists, the possessed, priests, initiates of some ritual system, 
                  characterized by stylized movements of actors, movements that 
                  are recreated by camera, protagonist wanders through potent 
                  environment (symbolically charged) toward some type of self-
                  realization, some type of confrontation with the self.

       At the beginning of this completely silent film (shown originally without musical accompaniment) we see a handsome male wanderer in an amusement park, “The Cavalcade of Worlds” cuising through the park through the various rides (a merry-go-round, a Ferriswheel, etc), through the back alleys of freak shows, and past the dance and music halls of “Little Harlem.” At the same time, our young hero awakens, washing, putting on a fashionable bathrobe, and later shaving. He receives a phone call and speaks for some length.

We observe another boy wandering, this time through a woods, dressed in a Japanese robe, lighting what appears to be a ritual lamp, while the boy on the phone continues to play with a letter opener and other nearby objects, which also appear, through Markopoulos’ editing, to be somewhat ritual in nature. Are these the same person, including the man we’ve seen meandering through the amusement park? 
     The family begins to prepare for the Greek Christmas dinner, the mother vacuuming and cooking, the man’s sister reading a book. The ritual Greek foods are laid upon the table. 
      The young man enters his house again, this time exiting, candle in hand, in great determination, walking through the industrial fields under a freeway and across a railroad tracks to encounter another man, shirtless with a beautifully chiseled body. With the candle held high, he greets the stranger, who clearly is a kind of Christ, who with the fervent recognition of his powers, backs up against the landscape before falling in an obviously re-enactment of the crucifixion, the boy playing the role of the Mary’s in holding the crucified body.
      The hero returns home, as does the father. Christmas dinner is observed, but soon after, to the apparent shock of family members, the young boy puts on a hooded jacket and leaves the house in what appears to be a final farewell.
      Clearly the sleeping figure at the beginning of this film has, through the encounter with his own Christ, come to a recognition of his own being, of his own sexuality which can no longer be contained within the confines of the home in which he lived. The last date, January 1, 1950, seems to declare a date of recognition and freedom. The young boy of the film has become a gay man.

     James Broughton’s 1950 film Adventures of Jimmy is, in many respects, a similar voyage of recognition—except that in Broughton’s work everything the hero says seems to say the opposite of what he does and says. Jimmy, having been left alone by the death of his family, has inherited a mountain shack, coming of age but feeling quite alone, expressing, as Broughton does throughout this work, a kind witting expression of the facts: “I had no one to play with. I could play with myself,” etc.

      Determined to find someone to love, Jimmy ventures out into the world, his isolated location requiring him to travel a long time before finding other friendly faces. He first encounters others playing in the waters, sailing and sunbathing along what is clear is a beach community. From his small circular suitcase—one of the several visual jokes of this film—Jimmy pulls a sailors cap, which, when put upon his head turns him almost immediately—particularly given his high reedy voice and his slim, good-looks—into a gay icon. Pulling a telescope from the same small carrying case, he first looks to a boat filled with beefy males, followed up by a small vessel of floating female vamps, out clearly out to get him. 
      The dialogue in this film is quite clever, suggesting always one thing but saying something else: “Finding what one wants is hard to do,” the young sailor-boy suggests. With camera in hand and shewing off the obviously advancing female figure, he wonders “Could I make fit the picture to what I had in mind?” Obviously none of these females appeal to our hero, for he is soon off to the city to find what he can there.
      Almost immediately he encounters two prostitutes who each vie for his attention, forcing him to enter a building where he waits for them to follow before making his escape. How can “an awkward fellow with high ideals” find the right person, he wonders. Of course, all of his self-descriptions suggest his sexuality is other than what he is seeking, and in between each set of up possible female companions, Broughton imposes various male on male configurations of men wrestling, visiting Turkish baths, or just hanging out together, making it clear that our troubled hero is looking in all the wrong places.
      Indeed, Jimmy is so perplexed and dissatisfied with women, particularly when he tries to turn a plain looking servant into a beautiful woman—hilariously pulling a pair of women’s slippers and a featured hat from his little round carrying case (one can only imagine why is carrying these items in his luggage)—but, once again, failing in his search for love, that he seeks the help of a psychoanalyst. Again Jimmy queries: “Was I too refined, too well read that I gave the wrong impression? I was getting more confused.”
      Soon after, we see the well-dressed Jimmy leaving the church with a bride—only this bride has a complete veil hanging over her face, which forces us to speculate what she (or obviously he) might possible look like.
      Broughton, quite wryly refuses to go where he movie has logically taken us. Instead we see him back at his mountain cabin where a woman appears in a window, before another, and another, until several women come together to represent, purportedly, a complete family of cheerful servants. Isn’t this after all, what the American male truly seeks, Broughton seems to be asking? Not a true sexual companion, but a being who, perhaps even with others, can properly cook and clean the house?
      The director, accordingly, turns the obvious desires of the searching Jimmy on their head—forcing us to realize that what Jimmy really wants, he can’t have. At least not yet!

Los Angeles, July 5, 2015

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